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The Pearly Fence - Short Story by Eoghan McGrath

Bits of paper and shit build up in the bottom of your pockets. It’s an underappreciated benefit of getting so inebriated you fall asleep with folded up pizza plates in your pants. You wake up the next day, chuck your sweat-greased Levi’s into the machine, and in a week you have a full mossy ecosystem in there. Now, if you work in a job which draws your mind to everything else you can make a sort of game with the mulch. You can draw a line through it with a fingernail, dare yourself to sniff the scree and then go ahead and smell it. It’s an amusement akin to the joy smelling your own farts produced in school. The joy at idly producing a gas which disturbs and garners the attention of those around you. Simon Charlton was a subconscious pocket scree sniffer. His nose wrinkled at the till.

Simon’s abuse began as a means to alleviate the chronic pain in his lower back which came as a result of the car crash. I say ‘crash’ rather than ‘accident’, in case you’re one of those folks who don’t ascribe accidents to negligence, as most ought to be. Indeed, Eoin had been speeding, and his recklessness had resulted in the death of Simon’s son and the slow decline and collapse of Simon’s marriage. Eoin received an eighteen-month sentence while Simon’s life imploded. Simon discovered Eoin’s address but in the end had refused vengeance. Chronic pain, my friends. In the intervening time Simon had accrued an extended knowledge of every pain pill in every pharmacy in Galway city; the dosage, the absorption speed, the longevity. Mixtures were his speciality. If two drugs had different mechanisms of action, you could mix them to double the effect, and you needed to be at least three cans deep before popping to produce an enhanced effect with alcohol. Simon was a chronic pain wizard.

Still a bit buzzed from a 5am slide Simon swayed almost imperceptibly at his till. While he ploughed another furrow in his pocket his mind floated to an article he had read somewhere online. It was about a young guy in the Netherlands or maybe the States, (he had a Dutch name anyway) who suffered from chronic pain and depression. The guy had tried smoking weed but it somehow made his physical pain permanently worse. The agony was so bad that he saw no other way out than to die. Euthanasia was prohibited in whichever country he lived so he eventually ended up hanging himself in a motel. His father had spoken to the press about how he didn’t blame his son in the slightest. He had said something like; “there was no point in him being alive. It was just pain again and again, worse each day. I would have shot him myself if it had gone on any longer. How could I expect him to stay alive like this? My own flesh.” Simon recalled that the article was written in a way which vilified the boy and his father. The man had “encouraged the suicide of his own son” after all.

The boy’s journal had been dug up post mortemand a few of the lines which featured in the article flushed so easily in to Simon’s brain he recalled them almost every day without realising. “Thing is, I know people will say that I was selfish or that I took the easy way out. But I know for certain that 99.999 % of people would do the same. Thing is, most people who hear about me have never experienced pain like this. I’ve been called overdramatic more times than I can count. Nobody really knows what it’s like to feel pain this way. The law-makers, the press. How can they make informed decisions about what is best for people like me when they have no idea what it’s like? If you couldn’t enjoy your life, you’d want to end it too. I guarantee”.

Simon shook his head absentmindedly. He was inclined to side with the journalist; the boy in the story was kinda weak he guessed. It was all a matter of managing the pain, and then just pure taking it like a man. Simon could take it, he wasn’t a child. The stench of the crap trapped underneath his nail pulled his mind back to the present. He had developed a sort of ranking system. This one was a strong eight. Work was almost over anyway and the rest of the night was his to enjoy.

Most evenings Simon liked to get shit-faced and maraud through Galway city like Jack Torrance in the hallways of the Overlook. The Romanian lady really shouldn’t have tried to sell him the bouquet of flowers.

“Why don’t you sell your fucking golden teeth? F’you need money so bad?” he said, pointing to his mouth with his middle finger.

Some tourists stopped to look.

“Well? Why the fuck doesn’t she?” He expression flicked from grimace to grin. Tourists were his favourite. “Hey Italianos, dio porco, dio lardo, dio can!”.

He could talk to anyone when he was in the right mood and medicated in just the right way. He always felt he was doing his bit for Irish tourism. This is what Galway was all about.

The air in his Dominic Street apartment was always heavy with stale piss and smoke. The fumes condensed to little creeks on the walls, staining and warping the places where they met the floor. That night the cheese and base of the pizza he’d bought in Spar melded into a sort of gritty paste in the oven but he finished it anyway. When he checked the box it was a week out of date. He necked two cans of Pratsky then a handful of pills before easing his way under the sheets feeling everything from the middle of his back down to his balls aching. A rigid wank brought sleep soon enough after. The streams from the walls crept along the fault lines in the pine floors as he slept. A finger of liquid stretched out to loop into the rim of a discarded pill bottle. The humming in his brain drowned the buzz from the city and he slept deeply.

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