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Short Fiction

Daniel Wade

 

 

I wasn’t in the humour for driving that night. Half-eleven on a Wednesday evening, and the O’ Connell Street taxi rank was dead. Not a sinner in sight. It was baffling, to say the least. Just a few hours earlier, rush hour had been absolute mayhem, an arterial flow of steel and exhaust fumes, traffic lights bleeping faster than a round of gunfire. And now, except for a few last buses and those of us still left at the rank, the place was deserted. So this is what a nuclear fallout must look like, I kept thinking to myself.

I wasn’t too surprised, though. Wednesdays are always quiet. No matter how poxy the economy, business is usually at full tilt on the weekend. But during the week, dead time rules the city centre. It’s my belief that people will look for any excuse to go out and get langered, however and whenever, but tonight, that just wasn’t the case. My graveyard shift. Fucking love it, so I do.

The mirror of my mind showed me the dog I ran over on the N11, late one night in winter. As it had been showing me every night since. Id always avoid driving that stretch of road if I could. I was still able to see its fur, vivid and shaggy against the shade of the tarmac. It was white, too; white like my mother’s hair.

I felt it in my waters, as I steered the cab in and out of the streets and backlanes of Dublin: tonight was going to be a tedious fucking slog. I’m bad with boredom; I need something to happen or to make something happen, always. Streetlights glared through the windshield, searing my eyeballs. The cab felt too small, cramped, even though it was only me inside it. I kept drumming my fingers on the steering wheel, harder and louder than your usual absent-minded tap; flicked the radio on and off, scanned the streets like a hawk, alert for an outstretched thumb. My own face, younger, clean-shaven and deadpan, stared at me from the ID card on the dashboard; I felt like I was being watched.

I cut the motor and parked at the front of the rank, slumped back in my seat, opened my copy of the Daily Star, and played the waiting game. Which got very testing very quickly, for two reasons. First, I wished I’d brought a proper book along with me for the night, just to stay occupied. My house is swarming with books I keep meaning to read; instead, I always end up settling for the rag of red-top bullshit that is the Irish Daily Star. Secondly, and more crucially, O’ Connell Street does my fucking head in at the best of times. It’s usually a failsafe option for finding business, but the thought of waiting there for a fare to shape along my way just sickened me. I don’t know what it is, but the place really gets on my wick. Scumbag Central, you know the way?

It might have been a wolfhound, or a great dane. The dog, I mean. I didnt see it too clearly. You see them so rarely nowadays. Its legs were bony and curved below the knee, its bristly coat flecked in soot. I remember how it stood in directly in my headlights path.

Anyway, I was about to give up and to go for a spin out Dawson Street way, and try my luck there, when this toolbox dressed in a knitted farmer’s cap and a t-shirt that read ALL THIS… AND BRAINS TOO! lurched past, holding out a finger at the cab. I rolled down the window.

“Howiya. Where to?”

“Can you take me as far as Kilmacanogue?” Whiny little ponce’s voice on him, with cider-breath into the bargain.

“Yeah, no bother. Hop in,” I replied, upping the metre. Kilmac is in the backarse of nowhere and well out of my jurisdiction. To get there I’d have to pass along the road where I buried the dog. But I thought, fuck it. Work is work. More readies for me. Assuming he had readies on him, of course.

He waltzed around the bonnet, dragging his hand over the paintwork, and slid into the backseat. Ah, the backseat. Where love stories begin. I groaned to myself. Whenever a lone customer gets in the back, it inevitably means they’ll try talking to you. Or at you, in my experience. It’s weird, if they sit beside me in the front, they rarely bother. Maybe they feel safer in the back; I don’t know. As a rule, I never talk, or even instigate a conversation with a passenger.

But then, I’ve lots of rules for this cab. And I never break them. There are certain people whom I never allow inside. Give you an example: if I see a girl who, from the looks of things, is over twenty-eight, on her own and well off her face, she gets no lift from me. They’re always the worst, in my experience. Self-centred wagons expecting to be babysat, and some them cheeky enough to try doing a runner on me. I never let them escape. The reason I never tell the likes of your man to sling their hook is because, annoying as they are, they always pay up, and they pay well. But Irish women? Not a chance. They’re a unique sort of crazy.

The cab must constantly smell of leather and air freshener. No smoking allowed. Of course, there’s the No Smoking sign pasted to the dashboard. It would be a great pleasure for me to just rip it off, chuck it out of the window, and light up. But if some drunk cunt spews their ring all over the back seat, they’re paying for it, end of story. Generally though, if a passenger is alone, the silence builds as I steer and gear the cab, the two of us locked together in reluctant intimacy. I never feel the need to talk to them, you know? After the mandatory question of how each other’s night is going, I’ll drive for as much as ten or twelve miles without saying a word. If I take an instant dislike to a passenger, and I usually do, then my mouth stays shut. Way I see it, the best journeys are taken in silence. And I can say with some confidence, that no-one likes silence; it unnerves them. Speaking for myself, I think it’s a fucking godsend, a nice interval between amiable shite-talk and the roar of traffic.

On the night I ran over the dog, I’d been driving up from Wicklow, having just visited my mother in the hospice where she’d spent the last few months of her life. I’d tell you she’d had a peaceful end, but really, she hadn’t. She died that night in my arms, not even knowing who I was. I guess I wasn’t thinking straight as I drove home. But the dog came at me out of nowhere, like a ghoul unleashed from a story or nightmare. I can still see and hear everything about that night so clearly. The dead emptiness of the road. The darkness of trees on the roadside. The scrape of a speed-bump. The squeal of the breaks when I realised what it was ahead of me. The whiteness of its fur, so similar to my mother’s lank, ashen hair. The way its cowled eyes sprang in surprise in the headlights glare. The flash of white as it bared its incisors at the car. The sickening clunk as I hit it, its gutted yelp loud enough to hear even as I stopped. The split second afterward, knowing Id hit it, the realisation washing over me like acid.

“Busy night?” your man slurred, as I keyed up the ignition.

“Ah, y’know, fair to middlin’,” I replied, sliding the car out of its space and just managing to miss a red light. I went into neutral and headed down the quays, toward Ringsend.

For a good five minutes, neither of us said a word, which was fine with me. He gawked into middle distance, wilting in his seat, eyes glassy with come-down. He reeked of hash and cider and body odour and Lynx. Once or twice I clocked him taking a swig of something from a hip flask which he drew from his inner pocket. There’d be hell to pay if he spilled any of it on the backseat. He broke the silence only to ask if I could turn the radio to Spin 1038, a station that I find especially repellent. I lied to him, said the radio was banjaxed.

I don’t mind the lulls in conversation. I anticipate them, welcome them with open arms. I’m happy just to drive, all gruff concentration and nicotine reek and five-o’-clock shadow. Silence is my suit of armour anyway; nothing intimidates a person more, or throws them off-guard, than simply holding your tongue. And it’s a great way of winding the fuckers up, too. The more pissed they are, the more paranoid they get, and it’s a fuckin’ scream to watch. It can be a right pain in the hole as well, but it’s easier for me to just let them ramble on without answering ’til we reach wherever they’re headed. I don’t get to do much of it anymore, torture them with silence; smartphones ruined all that. But that night, I wasn’t in the humour to hold court.

He smiled to himself the whole journey, a gauche, fixed grin. Sometimes, he’d drop his guard and let his mouth hang torpidly open, as if a breezeblock was attached to his jaw. He seemed to be cultivating a very thick handlebar moustache, only on him it looked more like someone had stapled a dead rat under his nose. The car’s movements made him sway slightly, as if to music only he could hear. And I won’t begin to tell you how fucking stupid that farmer’s cap made him look. Probably hand-made in fucking Donegal or somewhere. He certainty didn’t seem like a man who’d worked even a day in his life out in a field. Didn’t seem like he even knew what work even was, come to that. A farmer’s cap. For fuck’s sake. The giveaway sign of the gobshite. And I just knew I had one, reclining on the backseat, his cider-stink suffusing the whole cab.

The way the dog flipped into the air, as if fired from a catapult, vanishing into the dark for the briefest of seconds before landing with an ugly-sounding splat on the road some distance off from me. I sat there for what seemed like an age, the motor still running, before getting out to inspect the carcass. The night had turned as black as it was going to be. A quarter-moon lingered in the sky, hooked and porcelain-looking.

The city was well-lit. We cruised along the coast initially, parallel to the DART line. At the roundabout on the Strand Road, the night’s hassle began in earnest. Already I knew what route I was going to take (the scenic one), and if he even breathed a syllable of protest, then he could walk the rest of the way. This trip would cost him an arm and a leg, but I wasn’t complaining. As long as he paid his way at the end, everything’d be gameball.

Then, out of nowhere, he started the small-talk. He’d been staring out of the window for a while when he suddenly asked: “Here, man, is it, like, usually this quiet around now? I mean, where is everyone? It’s nearly Christmas, sure.”

“All home or else fucked off t’Australia, I’d say,” I replied, keeping my voice even.

He smirked groggily. “You said it, man.”

“You a workin’ man yourself?”

“No, man. Just finished college there a year ago. Then the dole happened. And kept happening.”

That lobotomised grin again. Frat-house mirth.

“Were y’never on one of them Jobbridge yokes, no? Or freelance, even?”

“No, man. I’m an English major. No-one wants to hire a lad who’s head’s been buried in books for four years. And sure, if I did get a job, I wouldn’t be able to collect my dole anymore. I‘m better off where I am.”

I feigned agreement. “I know. Terrible what lads your age have to face.”

“This is it. See they keep sayin’ in the papers, yeah, how like, unemployment rates are goin’ down, and we supposedly have more people workin’ now than at any other point in the last five years? Now, I don’t know if you buy into that. But, if it is true, I’ll bet it’s because everyone fucked off to Canada or Australia or wherever, so naturally, the numbers are down. They fit together, like.”

“Yeah, you’re right there.”

He leaned forward in his seat and, for a solid minute, stared at me. Didn’t say a word, just watched me, like I was an exhibition in a fucking museum. In that moment, I had him sussed. This looper had a talent for wrecking people’s heads. Finally, he started speaking.

“ ‘Mere to me, pal. I’ve a query for you.”

“What’s that?”

“Do you like girls?” he slurred. The reek of his breath, even from where I was, would have felled a horse. I ever-so-gently rolled down the window.

“Course I do. Sure, aren’t they what makes the world bearable?”

“Yeah-yeah, true enough,” he grinned. “So, you’re not gay?”

“I’m sorry?”

“You’re not queer, no? You don’t like lads?”

“Eh, I don’t, no.”

“Right. Well, I’m not gay meself, yeah? But there’s times I really fuckin’ wish I was.”

“Yeah? Why’s that?”

“Well, it’s my wife, like. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love her and all, as you do. Wouldn’t be married to her if I didn’t. But fuckin’ hell, man, if she’d two heads, she’d be twice as thick!”

He guffawed blearily, like a donkey on Ritalin. After about thirty seconds he calmed down. Fucking super, I thought. I’m stuck with a comedian for another ten miles, who reeks of gargle, is still off his face on whatever exotic substance he’s after ingesting, and who laughs feverishly at his own jokes. I didn’t know what to expect him to say next, but I knew if it were as inane as the preceding exchange, I’d just have to grin and bear it until the time came to be rid of him.

“So. Any jokes yourself?”

“I’ve more jokes than you’ve had dinners, son.” I hoped the edge in my voice would make him beat a sharpish retreat. He eyed my driver’s I.D. over the dashboard.

“Well, go on, so, ah…” He paused for a minute, creasing his forehead. “Ray. Gis a joke there.”

I winced at the sound of him saying my name. I know my I.D.’s right there and I’m required by law to keep it on display at all times and all that shite, but still. It just gets on my wick, when someone I don’t know addresses me with such familiarity.

“I don’t think you’re old enough for my jokes, pal,” I said.

“I am so!” he bleated. “ ‘Mon, man. I’m all ears.”

Already I was fighting the urge to tell him to get the fuck out of the taxi if he intended on being a pain in the hole all the way to Kilmac. But I’m a professional. I pride myself on it.

“Okay, here’s a joke for you, so. You ready? Alright. How do you confuse a dickhead?”

He shook his head, his left shoulder rising and falling in an abrupt twinge. “I don’t know.”

“Seven.” I replied, without looking at him.

He blinked foolishly, and looked away. Then, a fuzzy grin spread across his face, his teeth maniacally bared like uneven pearls. His head fell back as he grinned to himself. “Heh heh, good one, man. Good one.”

Well for you, I thought. For a minute there I thought you wouldnt get it.

That kept him quiet for a while. He fished his phone from his pocket and started jabbing away at the screen. I was glad that he at least wasn’t calling anyone or having the loudspeaker blare in his hand all the way home. I pressed on past the Tara Hotel, in the direction of Blackrock, hoping that would be the end of it. I never know what to feel about smartphones; on one hand, they’ve supposedly killed the art of conversation. Then again, I’m not much of a talker, as you know, so I suppose it’s a good thing I don’t have to keep up inane conversations with passengers.

Mind you, having said that, no subject is off limits in my cab. Passengers can babble slurred shite about their lives, lads can boast about riding women twice their age (“sure, they’ve been round the block long enough to know, man”), wet-nosed pill-poppers can give me the million-mile stare and drool all over the backseat while jabbering inaudibly about whatever rave they were at that night which had only just been shut down by the guards. And that doesn’t even include the hard-done-by monologues delivered by every looper, spacer, toolbox, fuckin eejit, bullshit philosopher and fly-by-night gobshite who swarm around nocturnal Dublin like maggots on a corpse.

There’s times when I seriously think that I should buy a Dictaphone, place it in my jacket pocket, hit ‘record’ and just capture every mad little chinwag that takes place on my watch. It’d be for my own amusement, of course, and for indulging in a little blackmail if things go seriously arse-ways for whoever is unfortunate enough to have me for their driver. Just knowing that I can make them squirm is an immensely gratifying thought. I’m a sick fuck, I know; I make no apologies for it. But, I have heard it all, and it’s left me entertained, depressed and enlightened in equal measure. If you want some hard, horrible facts about human nature, I suggest you go into my line of work. I’m a judgemental prick; my mates often say so.

Don’t get me wrong, now; they’re not all bad. Some can be sincerely bang-on, drunk or sober. Others teach you a lesson you never expect to learn. I remember chatting to this Nigerian fella I gave a lift to once. This was during March, a night of heavy rain. He flagged me down as I cut across the Beckett Bridge, and asked me to drive him out to Coolock. He was saying to me how, where he came from, even a light shower was a miracle, owing to his homeland’s extreme heat. In Ireland, there’s rainfall galore, yet we Irish don’t appreciate it. In fact, we gladly bitch and moan about it until hell freezes over, he reckoned.

“You Irish, you don’t appreciate the gift you have. You are living with a miracle and you cannot see that,” he declaimed from the back seat.

I meekly agreed, as I always do. Anything for a quiet life, you know yourself. I saw his point, but I was still sorely tempted to tell him that, where he came from, sunshine was plentiful fucking supply, and, were it ever possible, if he felt like doing a climatic swap, I’d be happy to comply. All I did though, was try to ignore the intense craving for a cigarette that rankled my jaws, and upped another fiver on the metre.

Still and all, it was one of the better conversations I’ve had with a passenger. The good ones get me thinking, and that one definitely got me thinking. I didn’t end up adopting a whole new outlook on life, just a sense of perspective, I suppose. It wasn’t a life-changing encounter, it just made me calm and pensive for the rest of the night. Enlightened, I suppose you could call it. I forgot about him by morning, anyway.

And then, there’s other passengers. The ones who just know everything. I’m sure you know the type. Gobshites brimming over with all sorts of fine notions and theories, self-styled experts on the game of life who just can’t wait to relay their wisdom to the first unfortunate bastard who crosses their path. They know what the ISIS’s next move is going to be and which world leader is next in line for assassination (Obama, Putin or Merkel, usually). Their tongue just works several gears quicker than their brain. They think the confines of the cab allows them to say whatever pox-bottle thought flits through their skulls. The temptation to run them over when they get out of the cab is never far, let me tell you. Can jet fuel melt steel beams? Maybe, maybe not, fuck-head, but something definitely melted your brain.

The tulip in the farmer’s cap, who I picked up on O’ Connell Street, he was one of them. No question. It’s a fucking miracle he alighted my cab without any grievous harm being inflicted on his person.

The road ahead and behind me was deserted. Not even the vague grind of an oncoming motor, or the flash of lights anywhere. Id left the motor running as I got out, and in the headlights double-barrel glare, I knelt over the dogs stricken carcass, still-warm and speckled in blood. My hands were shaking for some reason. I saw its hind-leg was dislodged. The lingering warmth of its body, the twitch of fur. It wore no collar. Its blood unfurled over the asphalt, stark and scarlet as a little girls hair ribbon.

I’ll just put my hands up here and say that I’m probably half the reason taxi drivers have the frenetic reputation that they do. Really, I’m probably as bad as most of the fuckers I pick up. I’m a chameleon. I play a different role every night, and frequently a different one with different customers. Spices the job up, I find. I know I said I’m not much of a talker, but when I do decide to talk, I pull no punches. On any given night, I can be as garrulous or as gruff as I please. My taxi is my kingdom.

Within the same evening, if the mood takes me, I’ll spout off about nigger drivers and Polish builders and the inborn despicability of foreigners in general, while also speaking affably about whatever football match or UFC fight was on the telly that day, or which politician/banker/general high-profile hate figure needs to be strung up by his or her balls, or how the world would be so much better off if it fell in with my line of thinking.

For a laugh, I make up a thousand different stories about myself on the spot. Sometimes I’m married, sometimes I’m single, sometimes twice-divorced. I have a house in the Black Sea that the bank foreclosed on. I was in the army, took part in several peacekeeping missions out in Kosovo during the nineties. I’ve a son I never see, because he’s too fucked up on drugs to communicate with his father. I love telling that one, especially to someone who’s drunk enough and sentimental enough to dole out some misguided sympathy. Have them eating out of my palm, so I do. Yeah, that’s me, the man of a thousand aliases.

None of it’s true, of course. I just say it for my own amusement, to stave off the boredom of trawling Dublin motorways for a fare, as well as to test the resolve and stupidity of my passengers. I don’t really have any problems with black drivers or with foreigners in general. I just get a kick out of needling people, seeing how much filth they’re willing to endure from me. It’s my cab, so I can easily boot them out if they get stroppy. Most of them know this, and just sit there in discomfited silence, waiting to get home, too afraid to backchat me, lest my barrage of vitriol be redirected at them. Like I said, I’m a sick fuck; I make no apologies for it.

This is no job for an extrovert. You need to be able to enjoy your own company to do it. You need to be able to hack the long hours and the relentless night-time. Your social and romantic lives will suffer greatly, believe you me, if you take on a job like mine. I’m grand for all that, though; I’m my own boss, and my own man. I’ll have a chat, a laugh and a pint with whoever, if I’m in the mood.

The lads at the base know when and when not to speak to me. Most of them are always just giving out about their lack of clientele, anyway. I always ask them, why not just start up and cruise for a while, go on the hunt, have a look round and see what’s happening. Lot better than staying in one place, and you get to see more of the city. And trust me, I saw a lot of the city during the boom years. The streets would be swarming with punters then. Business was usually hopping as a result. And I’ve no regrets about that time. It allowed me to build an extension on my house and take a few weeks’ off in the Bahamas. The last six years dwindled all that considerably.

Without thinking, Id picked the dogs corpse up, cradled it in my arms. I felt like one of those old marble sculptures you see in medieval churches, the Madonna holding the dead, naked body of Christ on her lap. I didnt know what to do with it. One of its eyes lay open. And I just paced up and down a little, in and out of the glare, forgetting where I was.

Of course, it wasn’t, and still isn’t, all fun and games. I’ve had knives held to my throat. Threats hissed in my ear. Blunt warnings to forget what I saw that night if I preferred staying alive. I’m probably an accessory to half a dozen murders at the moment, the shit that I’ve seen and have had to pretend I didn’t. But for the ones who don’t do that, they all pay their way. I pause the meter for no-one. Don’t care who you are, you get a lift off me, you pay for it. No exceptions, not even for mates or family. Traffic congestions, diversions, checkpoints, doesn’t matter. The meter stays running in my cab.

And Dublin’s a kip, I know. But it’s our kip, and no-one else’s. On wet nights, droplets of rain burnish the windshield. The neon glare slides blurrily past, turning corners, orbiting around pedestrians. A world unto itself. My passengers invariably live their lives after dark, nocturnal thrill-seekers who pour out of city-centre nightspots or fast food joints, reeking of drink and fun and failure.

And the girls, man; jaysus, the way they spill out of the woodwork, gulping from Smirnoff naggins kept discreetly in their handbags, faces alive with blusher and tan and hope, fully armoured in cocktail dresses and stilletos, legs smeared in fake tan, hair glimmering and full. They crowd the smoking sections of 21’s and Lafayette’s like concubines in a harem. I love watching them whenever I drive past. They’re not their daytime selves, oh no; the night is theirs, the air crisp with glaring neon, and they’re dressed to kill. Their presence alone breathes life into the city. I’d give every last one of them a lift and a lash, if I could. At first, anyway. I know what I said earlier about not giving lifts to young ones who are clearly off their face; but, at the same, I’d rather drive a girl home than Head-the-Ball in the back, no matter how jarred or obnoxious.

As for the lads, they move in predatory numbers, itching for sex while the young ones gladly hold it out of their reach. I do be feeling sorry for the poor fuckers; I pity them. Prowling the city centre for hours looking to score, all popped collar shirts and entry-level six packs, only to end up bringing home pissed dirt birds rather than the stunners they went out on the hunt for. And that’s if they’re lucky. All in the name of getting their hole; I don’t think men have standards anymore. They just seem to let their knobs do all the thinking, the saps.

I dont remember being especially horrified by it, or even remorseful. My only thought was to try and get the thing off the road before anyone saw me. Trust me, Ive seen far more unnerving shit in my time than the carcass of a dead dog. But I didnt anticipate the nightmares. In the end Id just hefted it into a cluster of brushwood on the roadside, got back in the cab and kept driving.

I always have music on when I’m scouring for passengers: I keep a stash of C.D.s playing on a loop. No iPod or headphones for me; the car stereo does me fine. I switch it off when I manage to get a customer, and as soon as they’re gone, it’s geared back into action. Stiff Little Fingers to keep me awake, Frank Sinatra if it’s a slow night, and Tom Waits to help massage the routine loneliness that comes with the job. Sometimes I play Bach’s cello suites or Chopin’s nocturnes to help me relax, if a passenger has been particularly insufferable. The warm, soft flow of chords stroked on a keyboard or cello lets me drive more effortlessly, relaxing me, letting the anger cool. Of course, I’d have to wait ‘til your man was gone, having told him the stereo was fucked.

What the fuck was the dog doing out there, so far from civilisation? Was it not spooked by the traffic? Was it waiting for me? Did some breeder out in Wicklow keep it on his land, I thought, and set it loose?

I needed a good excuse to get rid of him, though. Hopefully he’d give me one sooner, rather than later. Or he’d pay me handsomely. Christ have mercy on him if he tried shafting me. The pleasure I’d take in tearing his bony limbs apart would be far from healthy. He’d grown bored with his Twitter feed and was back to rattling on about nothing again. The hip flask was back out as well, and he was gulping instead of sipping, slurping it all over his jaw and not his shirt. I figured I’d let him waste his breath until his destination was reached. Better than letting the time pass slowly in overwrought silence, at least.

But all miracles are short-lived:

“Here, man, d’you know the way in films, science-fiction films like, there’s always them mad scientist lads?”

“I do.”

“I always thought, to meself, like, why are the scientists always shown to be the bad guys? It’s kind of an insult to science, like. I mean, they invented gravity, for fuck’s sake.”

I opened my mouth, but then thought better of it.

“I was just thinkin’ there, Ray. D’you know the film Taxi Driver?”

“I do, yeah. One of my favourites.”

“Is it? I always thought, though, righ’: you know the way de Niro’s a mad fuckin’ psycho in it?”

“Yeah.”

“Is that not, you know, a bit of an insult to your profession, like?”

“Ah no, I’d say it’s accurate enough. There’s plenty in this town I’d love to see knifed in a back-lane somewhere.”

“Yeah?”

“Fuckin’ sure. I’ve given lifts to most of them.”

That seemed to get through loud and clear. He shut up for a bit longer. I thought he’d fallen asleep; no matter if he had. I was feeling fairly bollixed myself at this stage, and it was only a few minutes after midnight. For me, this was the best part of any journey, when silence came naturally. A few more miles, and we found ourselves on the N11, cruising under the Loughlinstown bridge. The meter glowered as the amber chain of streetlights trailed off and we found ourselves speeding through the pitch dark. We were getting closer, too. To the place where I’d buried the dog.

Of course, all miracles are short-lived:

“Here, Ray? I reckon, yeah, when you become an alcoholic, your bladder gets bigger. S’only fair, like.”

I grinded my teeth and didn’t reply. No point encouraging him. A part of me wanted to dump him out on the road and head back into town. I couldn’t do that, though—the little fucker seemed like the type to report me, slaphappy as he was. To be honest, I wasn’t actually that pissed off with him anymore—at least, not within reason. I just suddenly felt like having a little fun with him. Give him a bit of a fright. Seemed like he could do with one. Now, I could just box him in the jaw—and I’d a good mind to—and be done with it. But in my experience, a box in the jaw won’t teach very much to brash youngfellas like him. It’ll make them a bit more afraid to move around and maybe keep their mouths shut for a while, but that’ll never last. It’s their nervous systems need to be short-circuited.

I thought maybe, I’ll run him over when we get to Kilmac. Make it look like an accident. Over-charge him maybe, just to watch him squirm. Just something to remind him who was actually in charge here.

I dont remember being especially horrified by sight of the dog, or even remorseful for having killed it. Trust me, Ive seen far more unnerving shit in my time than the carcass of a dead dog. My only thought was to try and get the thing off the road before anyone saw me. In the end Id just hefted it into a cluster of brushwood on the roadside, got back in the cab and kept driving.

I felt like a bit of a thrill. I get this way sometimes, I couldn’t really explain it to you. Any combination of things. I’m after having a slow night, shite fares and shite customers, or I’m just in a mood for a bit of commotion. There’s ways of filling the void, and I know them all. I’ve done some mad stuff in my time—stuff it’ll take me a long time to ‘fess up to any of my close mates about. But I need to see fear in people’s eyes, or else feel it trickle in a good, cold rivulet down my spine. I only get it once in a blue moon—and it lasts only until I’ve satisfied it. And I’ve been doing it right so far—no one’s reported me and the pigs have yet to knock on my door. I’m able to stay quiet about it. All I had to worry about really was head-the-ball remembering my name on the dashboard—but, given how off his face he still was, I doubt he’d remember me even doing this to him. Besides, I’d only do it for a laugh. It wasn’t long before I saw my chance. We were getting closer anyway. To the place where I’d buried the dog.

I knew Id gotten away with killing it. But I didnt anticipate the nightmares. They kept coming at me, murderous flashes of panic that left my head melted in the morning. In them, Im back on the road, and the dog is watching me approach. Im driving slower, so I have more time to swerve, but I cant move the wheel. Its jammed in my hands, and it wont budge no matter how hard I wrench it. Then an eruption of gore slathers the windshield and I wake up. At times it ran at me, large as life, its fur bone-white, eyes reddened and fangs dripping with gore, ready to finish me as I finished it. Its hot breath streaming from its nostril. It smelled blood, and was ready for more.

Im not a superstitious man. I think religion, all religion, is just bollocks and make-believe. Ghost stories are just that to me, stories. Dreams, nightmares, fantasies, carry no veiled meaning for me—the ones I can remember, anyway. They are just mental jolts, flaring across my brain. Im not even mad about dogs; the things annoy me. But I felt weighed down by it somehow.

Further on up the motorway, just at the point where the dog lay under the undergrowth, was a Garda checkpoint. Three patrol cars, one of them unmarked and one Ford Transit van were parked up beyond it, blue lights flashing on and off, spasmodic and seizure-inducing. Two officious-looking uniforms skulked nearby, torches in hand. You could spot the sickly glare of their high-vis stab vests a mile off. No doubt they were bored out of their skulls waiting around to prey on any unfortunate member of the general populace who happened to be cruising their way at this hour. As soon as they saw me, their backs straightened up and they pranced unhurriedly towards my door, while I slowed to a halt and began rolling down the window. The road was dead empty in front and behind me.

“Ah, fuck’s sake,” head-the-ball snarled from the back. “Would you look at these cunts.”

“Shut up, you,” I said. “I’m not messin’ now. One more word, and you’re on your own, d’yeh hear me?”

“I didn’t say anythin’!” he protested.

“Just stay cool, yeah? I won’t ask yeh again. And put your seat belt on, for fuck’s sake.”

“Here, this won’t be goin’ on me fare, will it?”

I didn’t answer, but glanced for the briefest of seconds over at the undergrowth where I left the dog. I stared straight ahead and saw a shaggy-furred wolfhound gallop through my headlights’ path. Large as life, its fur bone-white, eyes reddened and fangs dripping with gore, the whiteness of its fur so similar to my mother’s lank, ashen hair. My heart buffeted against my skin. I felt marked.

The dog was up and running. I could see it, flashing across my field of vision. It smelled blood; but it wasn’t me it was after.

Way I saw it, it was probably better that only me and him were out on the road that night. Not that I ever drink on the job, but at least we weren’t being held up by four cars in front of us who they’d decided to randomly breathalyse. If we both played our cards right, we’d only be held up for a minute, minute and a half tops. Still, a part of me secretly hoped he’d start running his mouth. A night in the cells of some out-of-the-way cop-shop would do him good.

I tried not wince as the guard shone his torch in my face.

“Howiya guard, how’s tricks?”

“Not too bad. Nice night for it, isn’t it?” A bogger. Wonderful.

“It is, yeah.”

“So, come here, d’ye have your license with ye there?”

I drew in a breath, glanced over at the dog’s burial spot. Ordinarily, I can deal with guards no bother. The majority of them are sound enough, if you play their game right. And if you’re a chameleon like me, you can play anyone’s game. I can be in the foulest humour possible, and still banter along with them. They need the laugh; it’s a shite line of work to be in. And if I was alone, I could be on my way in no time. Sadly, Head-the-Ball was having none of it.

“Y’njoyin’ yourself there, guard? Out nabbin’ all the hardened criminals tonight, yeah?”

I called back: “Shut up, you! Did I not tell yeh already?”

“And who’s he?” asked the guard.

“A passenger. I’m bringin’ him home.”

“Only the two of ye, is it?”

“It is, yeah.”

The guard kept his torch on me, but peered at Head-the-Ball. “I see you’ve been paintin’ the town red there, boy.” He smirked. His partner didn’t join in. “Left out in the cold, were ye?”

“And what’s that to you?” your man snarled back, his teeth gritted.

“Ah now, no need to be gettin’ stroppy. M’only askin’, like.” He turned back to me.

“Don’t mind him,” I said. “It’s way past his bedtime.”

“I’ll bet. Anyway, chief, have ye your PSV with ye? Dashboard ID and all that?”

“I have, yeah.” I reached into the glove compartment and handed it over to him. “All here in plain sight, guard.”

He looked through it for a few seconds before handing it back. “Right, that’s grand, go on. Don’t be racing, now.”

“Ah, I won’t. Perish the thought.”

“Good lad.”

I made to get going, when head-the-ball did exactly what I hoped he’d do: start a row. “Here, guard?”

The guard looked back at him, torch still drawn. “Yeah?”

Head-the-ball leaned forward, his face warped with hatred.

“Can I ask, when you’re ridin’ your wife, do you go at it doggie-style?”

I drew in my breath, doing my best not to laugh. The guard narrowed his eyes and peered at him.

“Say that again, boy.”

“I said, whenever you’re ridin’ your wife, do you prefer goin’ at it doggie-style? Yeh fuckin’ muck-savage cunt.”

The engine whirred. The blue lights flashed on and off.

“Right. Out of the car. Both of you.”

Now, ordinarily, here’s where I’d throw a wobbler and probably land myself in far worse straits than necessary, but I wanted to see where this would go. So I acted all resigned and obliging while head-the-ball started throwing his toys out of the pram, whingeing about how he didn’t do anything. I got out of the car and stood there with my hands against the window. The other guard patted me down. Two more of them sidled up from the checkpoint to inspect the boot. I glanced in the car and saw the little shitehawk move very quickly in the back seat, reaching forward and slamming the driver door shut, pressing down on the locks before they could get to him.

I stop the meter for no man. But by now I was past caring that I wouldn’t be getting any fare off him. Just seeing him huddled up in the back seat, looking scared and basically like the waste of sperm that he was, was very satisfying. He seemed to think I’d intervene in some way, plead his case, maybe. Would I fuck. The dog’s eyes were red, its fangs dripped with gore, ready to finish us both.

“Get the fuck out of that car!” I roared, shoving my weight against the car and shaking it. “Get the fuck out of it now!”

The guard grabbed me in a headlock and I felt the heavy rattle of cuffs snap onto my wrist. Head-the-ball was staring right at me, eyes puffed up like golf balls. If he’d been off his face when he got into the taxi, then he was glaringly sober now. He reminded me of a trapped animal.

I wanted to forget about the dog. I wanted the nightmares to stop. I could feel its breath streaming from its nostril, flurrying down my neck and hot as hellfire.

So what I did next, I did without thinking. I don’t know what came over me, really; rage, adrenalin, boredom, the fact that I felt like killing him the second he got into the taxi. But I drew my free hand back, tightened it into a fist, and punched through the car window. Glass erupted all over the back seat. Blood spurted off my hand, oozing over my watch. I don’t remember feeling any pain. I managed to grab him by his collar and didn’t let go. He clawed at my hand, shaking like a mad thing.

I heard one of the guards shouting. The crackle of a radio somewhere. Heavy footsteps as they rushed me. One of them drew out his club. Two of them managed to wrestle me away from the car to the ground. I felt the concrete scrape my jaw as they held my head down. I felt a boot pressed to my neck. The lights kept flashing on and off.

I looked over at the car. The window was in complete splinters. It’d cost me an arm and a leg to get it mended. Head-the-ball was still crouched in the back seat as they opened the passenger door and dragged him out. He was looking at me, completely shell-shocked. He’d be having nightmares tonight, I’d knew that much. As they cuffed him and led him away to the police cruiser, I winked at him and flashed my best shark grin, making sure to show off every tooth in my mouth.

“Careful there now, lads,” I hollered. “Use reasonable force only!”

 

 

Daniel Wade is a 25-year-old poet and author from Dublin, in the Republic of Ireland. He is a graduate of Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology, where he studied English and Journalism. His poetry has been published in Optic, Limerick Revival, Wordlegs (e-publication), The Stony Thursday Book (ed. Paddy Bushe), HeadSpace Magazine, the Seven Towers 2014 Census, the Bray Arts Journal, The Sea (charity anthology in aid of the RNLI), Sixteen Magazine (e-publication), The Bogman’s Cannon, Iodine Poetry Journal, Zymbol, The Runt, Headstuff, The Fredricksburg Literary Review, The Lonely Crowd, A New Ulster, FLARE Magazine and the Hennessey New Irish Writers’ page of the Irish Times.

He has also featured as a guest on Dublin South FM’s Rhyme and Reason poetry program, as well as on Near FM’s Writer’s Block. In June 2015, his radio drama, ‘The Outer Darkness’, was broadcast on Dublin South FM. A prolific performer, he has also read his work at various festivals, including the Electric Picnic, Body and Soul, Noeliefest and the West Belfast Festival. In October 2016, his first album, a spoken-word project entitled ‘Embers and Earth’, was released. In January 2017, ‘The Collector’, his first stage play, was staged at the New Theatre in Dublin.

Author’s website: http://danielwadeauthor.com/

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