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Sloot (Extract)

By Ian Macpherson.

This is an extract from Sloot (Bluemoose Books, 2019).

Hayden had set out the next day with the confession transcribed and signed on Eddie’s best vellum. He’d intended to drop into the Garda station, hand the confession to Lou Brannigan and become forever free of his sense of duty towards his Uncle Eddie. But Brannigan was off for the rest of the week and Hayden didn’t want to leave the signed confession at the front desk. What if they lost it? Besides, he wanted to see the look on Brannigan’s face when he was proved wrong. Eddie had been murdered.

The confession could wait. He patted his breast pocket affectionately and turned his attention back to his book. If he gave it his full attention now that the Eddie case was solved, he’d have something readable in no time. So that, you might be forgiven for thinking, was Hayden sorted. Did it all run smoothly as planned? Not quite. He did the usual thing writers do with a blank page. Ignored it. A good deal of time was spent staring out the window at Eddie’s fruit trees and the statue. The latter he found mesmeric. As the sun moved slowly across the sky, it seemed to change shape in extraordinarily subtle ways. At 11.27, for example, it bore an uncanny resemblance to iconic suffragette Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington. At 13.01, 14.36 and 15.12 respectively, it appeared to have metamorphosed into Gráinne O’Malley, Maureen Potter and Eileen Gray.

The hours between were spent engrossed in yet another novel he hadn’t written himself. He sat there wordless for what seemed like weeks — twelve minutes in real time — and then, undaunted, refreshed himself with a quick blurb from the back of one of Bram’s books. Seconds later — three hours in real time — he’d unmasked the culprit. A Norwegian novel called Perp, about a man who becomes obsessed with the fact that everyone is stealing his woodpile. Not true. He’s delusional, but he decides to nick it back anyway. The cops are closing in but, just as he’s about to be unmasked as the biggest serial wood thief since the log stove was introduced into Scandinavia by the Vikings, the woodpile collapses and kills him. It’s positively Lutheran in its take on private morality and public rectitude.

The film version starred none other than our very own Wolfe Swift, lauded as the finest screen actor of this or, arguably, any other age. Method actor of genius, he’s known for total immersion, inhabiting every part. For Perp he learned Norwegian and manufactured a dispute with the Nordic Federation of Lumberjacks which led to an unfortunate incident with a buzz saw. The film shoot was delayed for three years while Swift served his time. In character.

But the book. Hayden put it down and returned to his own blank page.

Nothing.

On the other hand, he’d solved Eddie’s murder, so a pretty good week all round.

I know I’ve been guilty of taking my authorial eye off the story at times. With Eddie’s murderer unmasked, however, and Hayden wrestling with his own story over the next few days, I had to answer the big question: which story should I follow? The tension of the one I’d embarked on had started to sag like overused underpant elastic. I was left with a choice:

Bin it.

Take a short break and indulge my thirst for knowledge.

I chose the latter. A short break was exactly what was needed, and I had the very idea as to how I’d spend the time. I’d seen Professor Stern cycling off in the mornings, presumably to his office at City of Dublin University. I checked their website to see if the learned Professor was holding a summer course in comedic arts. Theory? Practice? Who cared. It’s a vast subject, and Professor Stern embraces its vastness in several seminal works. In Beyond Tragedy, for instance, he explores areas you almost wish he didn’t. Nothing on the website, but maybe they thought they’d be inundated. Word of mouth alone would more than fill a course run by this intellectual colossus. With Hayden seemingly settled in for the day, I took this as the perfect opportunity to borrow Eddie’s bike and cycle off in search of cultural stimuli. With any luck, I’d return the bike before Hayden noticed it was gone.

The bicycle was sturdy, though slightly lumbering and in need of a good dose of oil. On the plus side, the tyres were firm and full of fresh air thanks to Pascal. I benefited from a tail wind along Kincora Road and past Herr Schrödinger’s, struggled up Castle Avenue, and approached Killester with some relief. Collins Avenue is gradient-free, and there, at the Ballymun Road end, my cycle ended. City of Dublin University. Bright, modern, buzzy.

I didn’t have a padlock for the bike, so I wheeled it into reception. They assumed, apparently, that I was a visiting academic, so this was deemed an endearing eccentricity. The assumption was inaccurate but understandable. Adjectives used to describe me include ‘cultured’, ‘raffish’, and, on one memorable occasion involving the chairwoman of a Surrendered Wives conference in Dunfanaghy and a misunderstanding over seating arrangements, ‘predatory’. The blue-haired young receptionist couldn’t have been more helpful. Until, that is, she discovered the reason for my visit. The lowering of status from visiting intellectual with bicycle clips to mere would-be mature student, also with bicycle clips, was transparent.

Was Professor Emeritus Stern, I asked, holding any short summer courses? A self-contained weekend for comedy Level Fives, I suggested, would be ideal. The receptionist, Áine Ní Cheannáin if her name badge was to be believed, peered at me over a pair of imaginary half-frame glasses.

‘I’m afraid we don’t have a Professor Stern in situ at this particular facility. Emeritus or otherwise. And bicycles are not permitted on the premises.’

Pithy, I’ll give her that. She was about to return to her work, but I was ahead of her.

‘Perhaps you could double-check,’ I said. ‘Professor Emeritus Larry Stern. Department of Comedic Arts. City of Dublin University. It says so on his website.’

‘I’m sure it does,’ said Ms Ní Cheannáin. ‘I think you’ll find, however, that this is University of Dublin City, not City of Dublin ditto. UDC (1), if you will, not CDU. I haven’t heard of a CDU myself.’ She removed her glasses, still imaginary, and gave me the full Ní Cheannáin go thither stare. ‘Nor am I au fait with their current policy vis-à-vis bicycles in the foyer. If, indeed, they exist in the first place. And finally, regarding the Department of Comedic Arts,’ she may have trembled with emotion at this point, ‘we don’t facilitate, nor have we ever to my almost certain knowledge facilitated, any such faculty.’

My brain was in turmoil. I’d made a basic error. I’d superimposed one university on the other. CDU on UDC. So where was CDU? I didn’t feel I could ask Ms Ní Cheannáin to check online. We didn’t have that sort of relationship.

 

 

I was perplexed as I cycled back to Clontarf and replaced the bicycle against Eddie’s wall. I’d seemingly mislaid City of Dublin University, yet Professor Emeritus Stern cycled off somewhere every morning, so somewhere is where it must be. I’d also, as I soon discovered, mislaid Hayden. He was not, as I’d hoped, strapped to his desk, busily pumping out some Celtic screwball noir. So where was he? As the author, I knew that locating him was my top priority. I shouldn’t have left him alone. He’d wandered away from his desk and could be anywhere. The Nautical Buoy? Dollymount? Elsewhere?

I was eliminating the possibles one by one and had just reached the end of Eddie’s driveway when I spotted Hayden’s three aunts weeding the petunias.

‘Good morning, ladies,’ I said.

‘It’s afternoon. You artists!’

‘I’ll bet he doesn’t know what day of the week it is eider.’

‘What millennium is it, Een?’

They giggled happily, like the gurgle of water over stones on a sun-kissed mountain stream or similar. I was about to ask if they knew anything about Hayden’s whereabouts when they were off again.

‘We do follow your career wit interest, Een.’

‘Oh, you’ve done very well for yourself. What was that playlet on the BBC Home Service?’

Prune Surprise.’

‘Very Shavian, Een.’

‘We hooted.’

‘Speaking of scribblers, Een, we seen Hayding is at it now.’

‘The very man I was looking for,’ I said. ‘Do you lovely ladies have any idea where he is?’

‘Lovely ladies indeed, Een. Duly noted.’

‘You haven’t lost it.’

‘But to return to the subject, to wit Hayding, last we heard he was off down to Dollyer for a swimbulation.’

‘In the sea, the snotgreen sea, the scrotumtightening sea.’

‘That’s only a quote, by the way, but it puts us off.’

‘Not that we have scrotums, mind you. It’s the principle of the ting.’

‘Clitoris-shrivelling more like.’

‘Florrie! Spare the poor boy’s blushes.’

‘Dottie. And he’s got to learn sometime.’

‘Anyway, that’s where Hayding’s gone, Een.’

‘In search of his autorial voice.’

‘Actually.’

‘His words.’

They giggled in unison at the pomposity of it all.

‘Well, it’s been lovely catching up, Een, but these hollyhocks aren’t going to weed themselves.’

Petunias, as I said, but let it pass, let it pass.

‘We’ll tell Hayding we seen you. Bye now.’

And they returned to their work with nimble, arthritic fingers, and continued their three-way monologue.

‘I don’t know about you, Dottie, but I tought he was Hayding.’

‘Dodie. You mean he isn’t?’

‘Must be the dementia. And by the way, isn’t it ‘scrota’?’

‘Oh now. Hark at you wit your Latin. You’ve never been the same since you got back from Argentina. It’s all Gabriel García Márquez this Gabriel García Márquez that.’

‘Maria Vargas Llosa if you don’t mind. But what a truly magnificent —’

‘Point of information. I tink you’re referring to Mario.’

‘You could be right at that. There was someting fishy about her lower bits.’

I zoned out. I’d just spotted Hayden approaching with a wet towel draped over his shoulder and a positive spring in his step, whistling merrily and twirling his togs.

I resolved not to lose him again.

(1) I’ve changed the name to protect the university’s reputation for academic excellence. Same address, though.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ian Macpherson is an Irish writer and performer based in Glasgow. His books include Deep Probings and Posterity Now — published in one volume as The Autobiography of Ireland’s Greatest Living Genius — and The Book of Blaise. He is currently writing Hewbris, the follow up to Sloot, published in October 2019 by Bluemoose.

 

 

 

 

This is the Republic of Consciousness Book of the Month for November 2019. The Republic of Consciousness is an organisation that rewards and supports small presses, primarily through its yearly literary prize.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Wednesday, November 20th, 2019.