He needed to get out. Fast. The news that had he just heard was in the process of melting his brain, cell by cell. His hero had just been smashed into one thousand sick pieces.
What the fuck?
He thought he might keel over right there.
“Here, I’ll be back in five minutes…” he said.
“You ok?” she asked, knowing that the answer was no.
“Aye, grand. Just need to get something.”
He left the company and headed out of The Fly into Botanic Avenue. He loved Botanic actually. It reminded of everywhere he’d ever been; Germany, Spain and France, England, Scotland even. There was an energy about the place. The variety and passion of youth perhaps.
Tonight he headed up with his head down past The Other Place and the other various eateries, exotic, deep-fried and not so.
The oul’ bastard. The dirty oul’ fucker. What the fuck?
The large window fronts stared at him vacantly. They were home just then to many conversations, hustle and bustle, red wine, fun and choices of starters. His head shook and swirled with just the one thought:
The dirty bastard.
He reached the top of Fitzroy Avenue with its silent, hearing hedges and headed towards the third floor apartment he shared with his girlfriend. The ‘what if?’ call of Queen’s University was pervasive. He hadn’t made it after a decidedly non-scholarly effort at ‘A levels’ and wondered what he’d missed each time he was near the building.
Christ, what is she going to think?
He had worshipped this old man and now to find out this…
Students and punters walked past, chatting and getting ready for their night. His night was over, his world had changed completely.
But why? WHY? How the fuck did I not know?
Car doors reflected and contorted his likeness like some bizarre hall of mirrors. He didn’t recognise himself. One of the main pillars of his life had just been removed. Not just removed but gutted in front of him, if truth be told.
But I was safe. I mean nothing ever happened to me there. Why not?
He was trying to make sense of it. The news. The news that tells you of secrets; foul and disgusting life-altering secrets that have no right to exist. But Christ they existed now alright.
He reached the blue door of number ninety-six. It felt safe, familiar. He rushed up the stairs three at a time. It always reminded him of his family home in Newry, an old three storey.
He opened the apartment door, number three, and saw the flat cap he often wore, lost and found again, upside down on the couch near the TV remote control. He held it for a moment in his hands. The room smelled of cinnamon.
She loves those candles.
He didn’t mind them too much. It was a calming sensation just when he needed one.
Right, c’mon. Out.
He went back down the stairs at a more reasonable pace. He looked right and thought of The Hatfield Bar. It used to be great for a late pint or carry out. He had often availed of them. But not tonight. The myriad questions and feelings fought his sight and other senses to the point where he couldn’t do anything but run a million childhood scenes over in his mind. How could he balance these happy memories against this wrecking ball? How long had she carried this with her?
He was soon on Botanic again. The avenue dragged him back from his thoughts and he wanted to be on the bright side of the road. He suddenly felt the air. It was chilly and he pulled up his jacket zip. He had missed that before. Back he walked past the shadow-filled steamed-up windows. Someone had drawn a heart with an arrow through it. The moisture trickled down. Back past the shop fronts with CD and vegetable racks. Back past the semi-hidden train station entrance, the magazine and paper shops, until he stood now opposite the Empire Music Hall. He recalled great nights there listening to bands and surfing the hot chocolate froth of life. The cars scuttled up and down past him yapping at each other.
He re-entered The Fly and the faces at the table smiled. They were happy to see him.
“You ok?” she asked again.
“Aye, I think so…” a wee nod.
No not really.
She squeezed his hand out of sight of the others. He squeezed it back. His pint was still there, a little deflated. He quickly finished it off and surveyed the table. The others had gone ahead and got another round in.
“Yous alright for one?” he asked.
The question really meant ‘I know you’ve just got but I need a drink.’
“Aye, we’re grand.”
“Well actually, I’ll have another.” It was a request from the news bearer, his sister.
“No problem. No fuckin’ problem at all,” he smiled in reply.
She smiled back sadly but happier to have shared her burden. This was not the place to pursue such knowledge. It would be dealt with later. His girlfriend looked at him and understood. He approached the bar, placed his order and waited.