I used to think that life had limits. Now I know they plan to send people to live on Mars and some things can never be measured.
I thought I could tell what Seany was thinking when I first met him. “Snoopy bitch with a pen in her pocket and a camera hidden somewhere.”I was wrong about that. “What’s a nice girl like you doing hanging around a place like this?” he said, and all of a sudden we were face to face in the courtyard of a drug rehabilitation centre. He sparked a cigarette and offered me one. I grasped at it a little too hastily and it fell out of his heavy hand, which was black, embroidered in ink on every inch right up to the knuckles. He was missing half of the baby finger.
“Hey, take it easy!” He laughed. I took a deep breath, introduced myself, and told him about the creative writing class I wanted to start up at the centre. He laughed again. “You’re in the wrong place love.” And he was right.
The class never took place although I refused to give up and Seany continued to show up every Monday. We got to talking, disagreeing over tobacco, politics and violence, and agreeing on other things, like the fact that we were not tigers, but indeed animals.
When the other people in the courtyard didn’t trust me and made shitty remarks about me, references to Veronica Guerin, and Seany told them to fuck off. “She’s sound!” And that was that.
I started teaching a class at another facility and met Seany for cups of tea around Dublin every few weeks. We would listen to whatever the other had to say. There was a similar bite where our loyalties lay. I could trust him with anything.
He was 45, separated, from Ballymun, and a dedicated father to his one son. He’d lost a lot of family for the wrong reasons, reasons that didn’t merit death, and reasons that could only be rectified through death. Seany didn’t want his son wearing the same chain of names around his neck. He didn’t like to talk about it either. He did tell me once, however, that he had to send his son out for a straightener. I didn’t know what a straightener was - a clean fight - and Seany thought this this was the funniest thing he’d heard all afternoon.
He asked, “What did you be at out there in Lusk?” Climbing hay-bails, building huts, chasing and getting chased by geese in the night, and spying on the only neighbours we had for mile (who, I believed, were in fact aliens). “I’m from the country,” I’d say. “There was no one around.” I read most days, wrote poems in my diary, and cycled back and forth to the shop.
When I was a little older, my friends got high and I smoked cigarettes in darkened sheds at weekends. When I got drunk I cursed their stoner ways. I was young. I spoke too soon.
Seany had his own collection of tales: gunpoint, bags, stashes, eye balls reeling, time in prison, he could keep going. It was death that stopped him.
I have had very little experience with death. I fear it. Seany was ready for it, whenever it was to come, in whatever grizzly form it might take. He wore his heart on his sleeve; pulsing, gushing, barbed, and hardened by thieves, it still brought him to his knees. He knew he’d find peace.
Peace swept over us for an instant that summer. The sun was shining and we met on bicycles across the road from Glasnevin cemetery. We were dressed identically in jeans and black t-shirts, and thought it was hilarious. Then, a moment later, Seany cracked a joke about my rusted bike, I didn’t think it was funny and I overtook him. “Slow down!” he yelled. I laughed back at him.
We were on our way to Finglas to see Seany’s best friend Smurf. Smurf was two years older than Seany and had grown up beside him in the flats. Brave and bold, they charged at every day, and at every door that turned them away. Together they snorted their first lines of cocaine (all the rage back then), and scaled walls to drop ecstasy while standing on top of the city.Sweating and panting, they roared out in hunger in the belief that there was more to the world than that concrete jungle. Crashing and burning, they died together the next day, only to reminisce and be resurrected the day after.
I had met him a few times at the centre, and he was always complaining about the pain he was in. His skin was thin and cracking over his joints. His blonde hair was thinning. The doctors didn’t know what was wrong with him and gave him a prescription of pills, that never seemed to be enough.
Smurf was always particularly kind to me. He told me about his wife and son, the holidays they took, and how they had turned everything around for him. Every time he was with Seany he would light up and smile. Sometimes Seany would have to tell him to do it, but Seany didn’t mind. They’d been through the war together. They’d had the worst luck. I often found it funny and they always let me laugh.
Outside Smurf’s house, Seany and I were getting impatient- no one was answering. Ten long minutes later, Smurf’s wife, Caroline, pulled into the driveway with their son, Damien, and her groceries. She invited us in, cursing Smurf for leaving us out there. I helped her put the shopping away before following Seany down the hall, through the neat sitting room, and the glass sliding door, to the wooden patio and the small wooden shed where Smurf was sitting.
Seany and I sat down on the spare stools while the radio on the corner table played Rory Gallagher. Seany told Smurf off for not answering the door. Smurf started rolling a spliff, saying he was sorry, it killed him to move. One of the lads dropped the hash in to him. It helped with the ache. It helped Seany chill out too. He’d been fidgeting since we’d got there, but to be fair, Smurf looked worse than I’d ever seen him. Arms moving slow and steadily, he hadn’t been able to eat for days. I complimented his house and said nothing about his appearance and neither did Seany. Smurf brought it up himself and asked Seany how he thought he looked.
“Rough,” Seany said.
“You’re some bastard.”
He had an appointment with a specialist next week, the third one in six months, he said. His wife was unbelievable, she was doing everything he couldn’t for him. She came outside as if she’d heard him, smoked a cigarette, talked about her hyacinths and lilacs, and then she went out of focus. I started to realise that the second spliff Smurf was smoking was draining the blood from my head to my toes. I was extremely aware of how relaxed the others were and I didn’t want to cause a stir. So I waited another dizzy minute before standing up without a word, knocking an empty cup to the floor and hopping outside.
I was mortified. I sat down. They burst out laughing. I laughed too after a minute or two, when I stopped feeling like a melting marshmallow, but I was tired. I looked at the time and told Seany we had to make a move. I was eager to get home before it was too late and the sun had gone down. Seany agreed, red-eyed and smiling widely. He and Smurf hugged and spoke in code. I said goodbye.
At a busy junction on the cycle home, Seany noticed that he’d forgotten his phone and was shouting at me to wait. The noise of the traffic drowned him out. I finally heard him, but the thought of going back to shed made me miserable again.
“I’m gonna head,” I shouted.
He didn’t hear me.
“I’m going!” I screamed, a bit too loudly, and I would’ve darted away had Seany not looked so stunned and silly. “I have to work,” I called out wearily.
“You’re grand, go on!” Seany waved back. I took off through the orange lights and up the hill back into town and home. My mind’s eye was unable to peel its gaze away from the day’s events- the blue skied peace and pleasure, puff, the half-hearted hoorays and my own pale horror in the middle of it all.
I lost sight of our stripes.
It was almost midnight and my eyes were heavy. I was watching a documentary about the preservation of Siberian tigers in the Russian Far East and drifting in and out of sleep. I woke with a start, to the roar of a female tiger caught in a wire loop trap that was strapped to a tree. Unharmed and dangerously angry, she was prowling, trashing, clawing at the air and the noose around her hind leg. Three conservationists stepped towards her. One loaded a dart filled with ketamine, aimed and shot her in her right shoulder, but she did not go down and seemed more furious than drowsy.
Brilliantly, an image of Seany and Smurf in their youths showed them waying and sniffing, swallowing yokes to find truth and escape the boundaries of their bodies in search of some sweet spirit. Maybe those moments are holy.
The second dart. The tiger passed out. The conservationists took her data and untied all 40 stone of her, leaving her asleep and free.