I was born in Dublin, but I don’t know where I’ll die.
The early summer of 2011 was schizoid. I walked for hours in a soft downpour, the sun crawling in and out the haze, getting the best of both climates.
I kept my pace relaxed, cocooned in my anonymity, just the way I liked, the streets uncoiling before me. I carried my old sportsbag slung over my shoulder, within which was concealed the noxious implement for Leah’s death: a helium canister. The strap felt disarmingly light in my hand against my neck.
There was little cause for worry, though. Outside the city centre, Dublin was quiet that day. Both people and traffic were sparse. I ignored the familiarity of Harcourt Street, the LUAS snaking past, crammed with punters, clanging as it went. I tried not to think too hard about what I was about to do.
It was the 23rd of May. In just a few hours, Barack Obama was due to give a major address in College Green to a crowd of thousands, after being helicoptered up from Moneygall, the alleged hometown of his ancestors. The city centre was filled to capacity, or so I’d heard. The papers had been wanking with delight over the tenuous connection the American president had to the old sod, with headlines about roots and ancestral pride and the potential economic recovery that might happen as a result of his visit to Ireland. RTÉ live-tweeted the event as it happened, from Air Force 1 landing in Dublin Airport that morning to the pints of Guinness being supped by the President and First Lady in small-town Offaly pubs. To read all this, and how the majority of people spoke of it, you’d think the nation was about to undergo some sort of cosmic rite of redemption, after several years of bailouts, austerity, unemployment and the I.M.F., by Obama’s presence alone. Part of me believed it would, too.
Guards were swarming all over the city and traffic was halted for the day. A raised platform and speaking podium stood in front of the Bank of Ireland’s stone portico. Periodic hollers of ‘Yes we can!’ ricocheted all around the square. Actors, pop singers and politicians pranced one by one out onto the stage in a flurry of speeches and light effects. The crowd took up every square inch of the plaza as I passed the security railing: starry-eyed students who still believed Obama was some sort of 21st-century messiah, Secret Service agents in suits and shades overseeing security, photojournalists jostling to and fro, trying to snap the best shot, parents holding kids aloft on their shoulders, all waiting to be wowed by the Presidential homily. Everyone I saw was making in some way or other for the city centre.
I was probably the only man walking in the opposite direction. I could walk that route blindfolded, I knew it so well: the sickly neon light, the uphill curve of Harcourt Street, the glaring and swollen dome of Rathmines church, redbrick side-streets and electricity in my heels. The wrought-iron gate leading down to the door. The dim glow of the low-wattage bulb in the ceiling that kept the place lit. The promise of seeing her with each footstep. This was the route I took on the day Leah planned to die. For the last time, I knew.
I’ll bet you’ve never played Stoned Olympics, no? Ah man, it’s a fuckin’ scream, so it is. What you do is, you smoke your spliff down in one go, and then you try standing on a skateboard; you can’t take either of your feet off it. You then try manoeuvring it around the room and do a sliding jump over the sofa. Extra points if you manage not to break your back or your leg. I was never much good at it.
Leah came up with that game, though she never actually took part. She just sat on the scaldy-looking armchair in the corner, blowing smoke rings, while me or Jay or whoever tried to snap the board tail back with our heels and leap into the air, falling on our arses in the process. She was the only girl I knew who could blow smoke rings.
I knew her through Jay, who’d been my mate since primary school, and from whom I now bought most of my hash. I didn’t, and still don’t know, any other girl like her. Anyone else, and the lads would’ve told her to fuck off back to the kitchen, but they never did with Leah. They wouldn’t have dared. She’d this way of making you listen, of commanding your attention without even trying. Even her flatmate Lorcan, who spouted a bottomless river of shite, shut up whenever she spoke. You just wanted to hear more off her; know where she was taking you.
‘Everyone treats mass protest in this country as a joke,’ she’d say. ‘Guards, students, everyone. It’s all just a big day out for them.’
‘Well, can you blame them?’ Lorcan’d counter. ‘What normally happens when a protest is held here? Full power of the State falls down on you. That’s what it means to protest in this fuckin’ kip.”
‘Then why play along with the socially-acceptable form of protest at all? I mean, you see all these marches for abortion, with pink ribbons and signs and all that shite, and it just reinforces the idea that women are whining their way into getting what they want. It’s just government-sanctioned protest, to my eyes. No more effective than writing a letter to your local TD. It’s just so fucking quaint, and pointless, too. I mean, start a full-on riot if you want to get anything done. The last time women wanted something as significant as abortion was suffrage, and that was violent as fuck.’
She was on a roll, and, stoned as we all were, we knew better than to interrupt her. She was entrancing like that; you just knew she was onto something. She just didn’t give a fuck who heard or disagreed.
Lorcan encouraged her, grinning like a mad thing: ‘So, what do you suggest should be done?’
‘How do you mean?
‘Well, for starters, how would y’deal with the pigs? They shut down all the cop shops out in the backarse of nowhere because ‘there’s no funding’ for them. So, why are they always out in force whenever there’s a protest on?’
Leah inhaled her spliff and carried on: ‘Me, I’d treat it like a state of emergency. Get in their face, make it impossible to get into Dáil Eireann. We’re talking literally blocking the doors, and filling up Government Buildings. That’s how you get something done. Make it impossible to do their jobs until they deal with it. Make it impossible for them to live their daily lives. If you’re not willing to get a nightstick to the head, then just get out the fucking way. If you’re out on the street, it should follow that you’re passionate enough to get in someone’s face. You need to scare the shit out of people.’
‘And how would you scare the shit out of people, Leah?’
‘I’d get every woman in Ireland to fill up water balloons with their period blood, and lob them at Government Buildings. It’d take months to clean off. And I wouldn’t do it on a fucking Saturday either, when the government aren’t in session. I’d do it during the week, so they couldn’t ignore it.’
We were all laughing by now. ‘What do I know,’ Leah shrugged, cracking open another can of Tyskie. ‘It’s just one my sick fantasies.’
Her flat, just off on the crumbling laneway of Oxford Road, always reeked of hash, before she’d moved in, even. The more I went over there, the more I liked it. She found it after a nightmarish house-hunt which ended up costing her nearly a grand in phone bills, over several hundred emails, and her sanity. There’d been a sharp increase in rental prices that year. Leah was only in her second year in college at the time, but she’d lied about being a young professional on her application; Dublin landlords hate students the way neo-Nazis hate immigrants and travellers. She took the flat because fuck-all else was coming her way.
The guy she was renting off was an ex-garda, ex-garda detective no less, and he never checked his accounts, or his property. He owned six more houses around Dublin, his official tenants having all moved out. He still put up for rent on the sly for unsuspecting students, dole rats and lowlifes; the only time he’d ever call around was to collect the monthly cash Leah owed him. Far as I know, he did absolutely nothing to repair any of the hazards afflicting the place. He just didn’t give a fuck; so long as he got his rent money, he was happy enough.
And yeah, it was a shithole – a garden-level basement under a stock-brick Georgian townhouse, germ-infested and cramped, low-ceilinged and airless, reeking of unwashed clothes and the hovering, organic reek of hash, dried piss and cider cans, no insulation and the carpets speckled in a decades’ worth of dust – but it was warm. When Leah moved in, it could only ever have been a student’s gaff, frayed Breaking Bad and American Psycho posters festooned the living room, along with the lurid smear of graffiti on every surface.
Leah shared the place with three absolute spacers: Lorcan, an ex-architect (or so he claimed) and aspiring DJ with twenty-five grand in redundancy pay and fifteen grand’s worth of musical equipment in his room; my mate Jay, the closest we had to a ladies’ man, despite his potbelly and acne scars; and Olly, last of the Celtic Tiger Cubs, who described himself as an ‘earth-warrior.’ The four of them fucked off to Body and Soul one weekend, leaving me with several stacks of mould-smeared dinner plates to wash up.
How Leah put up with us, I’ll never know. Her and Olly was the only ones paying rent, for starters, while we were just glorified squatters. She’d put in a day’s work in college and usually had a job or an internship going somewhere; Jay and me were officer-class vets in Ireland’s standing army of the hardcore unemployed, drifting between bullshit FAS courses to occasional nixers on film sets as extras, all the while collecting your hard-earned tax dollars from the dole office and using them as beer vouchers.
I’d nowhere else to stay then, so thank fuck for the mates I had. On the rare occasion Leah or the lads couldn’t fix me up with a couch to kip on, I’d wander the streets of Dublin until my legs couldn’t take it anymore, or else I found somewhere I could lie down for the night. Usually I’d end up on the grassy patch under the bridge at Charlemont Street. Or else in a doorway somewhere, or down some shadowy laneway. I’d huddle into my sleeping bag, the cold sucking at me, listening to the water seethe in the dark. Then I’d get slowly out of it on my own, if I was able. The vodka and hash coursing through my system made me think I could endure anything. It dawned on me one night that I kind of liked living this way. It was only a miracle I didn’t fall into the canal and drown.
I was never officially living there, but Leah and the lads didn’t mind having me over too much, either because they were usually too drunk or stoned to care, or because I always knew when to make tracks. All I had to worry about then was paying Lorcan a tenner back for the odd Dominos we’d order. Whatever dole money I had went on cans, anyway.
I got the couch whenever I was over. The number of times I woke up on it after a night on the gargle is too much to count. It began to smell like me and moulded itself to my shape.
It was dead handy, having posh mates. Lorcan and me got our dole on Tuesday; Jay got his on Wednesday. There was a pub next door, so we were never stuck for a few cans. The barman there was sound; he gave us take-outs after the off-license closed, just because he knew we lived next door. We’d pool whatever we had into a six-pack each and as much hash as we could afford. Usually, I’d only my lighter and a packet of skins to dish out. We’d head back to the flat to get doggedly, religiously stoned in the front room, talk shite and play Gears of War 3 on the Xbox, while 2Pac or Aphex Twin blared scratchily on Lorcan’s poxy stereo speakers. We used the rear wall and a photograph of one of Jay’s exes as a dartboard. Other times, we’d bitch about austerity and the government disbursing the dole money that we blew on weed every month. And, despite the lack of insulation, we never got any complaints about the noise. Maybe the neighbours were too afraid to complain.
That was my life for a good while, counting the hours until dole day and taking cover at Leah’s gaff. Spliffing and swigging cans with Lorcan and Jay whilst Ollie hid in his room and Leah lost herself in her headphones. Gurning away at nothing as the volume was turned up and her head fell back and she was off in her own little nirvana once again.
Ollie was sound enough to lend me his laptop if I ever needed to check emails. Sometimes, if they were all out at work or college, I’d let myself in with the key under the mat, make myself a cuppa and lie back on the sofa. Or spend hours online, sucking up the net’s boundless wisdom. Unanswered emails. Facebook updates. Other times, I’d log onto Leah’s Netflix account, killing the hours with American crime dramas or art films, obscure documentaries on the Dark Web and Islamic terror groups, whatever the algorithms were able to dredge up for me. Go over endless paragraphs of vitriol, mutual friends arguing about whatever in the comments section. I could on like that for hours. Until someone arrived home and we got down to spliffing.
The welcoming pall of smoke never seemed to settle or lift, which was fair enough for everyone. Deep down, we knew the country was well and truly sunk and we were the rats left clinging to its driftwood. No-one had the ambition or even the energy to get angry about it. All we really wanted was weed and beer vouchers, and to enjoy our twenties while we still could; finding a job could fuck right off. The hassle with the banks, the endless plummet into national disrepair, the spike in suicide rates, was all I ever seemed to hear on the news. I actually gave up listening to it, I was that sick hearing about it all. I didn’t need to be reminded; everyone I knew was either skint or emigrating. Basically, the country was in a heap. I didn’t need the airwaves to keep rubbing it in.
So, for a full year, Leah’s gaff became our little fortress against it all. The discoloured brickwork, too-low ceilings, Lorcan and Ollie’s bikes chained to the railing outside, the relentless damp and mould-caked jacks we all had to share; bound together like a unit of survivors, we were cordoned off in a warm, wasteful cocoon of nihilistic lassitude. Or, as Jay put it, ‘ridin’ the state, doggie-style!’
But my main memory of that year was how cold it was; so cold, the canal froze over. The pavements were strewn with yellowed, crinkly leaves. Sheens of sugary-looking frost crusted the grass in the dawn air. Streetlights glowered in harsh, pelting blurs of misty rain. I walked far slower out of doors, still stoned from the night before, because any second I knew I might lose my footing and crash hard on the icy asphalt, the loveliness of winter abruptly shattered along with my elbow or kneecap. My face often felt like it was being scalped off me as I made for the dole office on Richmond Street.
Any family I had by then was lost to me. My aul’ pair had kicked me out, my sister Lily had gone to live off in Canada. My dealings with her were limited to the occasional email and at least one late-night catch-up session on Skype each month, if I was able to get my hands on a laptop. No Leaving Cert to show, a virtually non-existent history of employment. I wasn’t too hassled by any of this, though. I preferred being closer to Leah.
You never got the feeling she was as idealistic as she made out; she was at an age where one is usually ablaze with left-wing zeal, the first pangs of social conscience gnawing at the mind and heart. She repeated all the usual quixotic slogans declaiming equality and progress, but I don’t think she really meant any of it. She said them almost with a tone of bitter mockery, as if the systems of egalitarian belief picked up in lectures dedicated to feminism and intersectionality and post-colonial social theory had zero chance of survival in the real world. She earnestly lectured us on our male privilege, telling us time and again to check it, and then laugh off her own words after. She could seriously wreck your head that way; you never quite knew where you stood with her.
And she was far wilder than any of us, and I don’t mean in a good way. She didn’t need drink or yokes to feel the thrill. If she felt like it, she’d get her kit off, and I mean, we’re talking tits and gee on full display, and her and Olly would race each other down the full length of Oxford Street to the canal, whopping and wailing like mad things. And this was during the daytime! In fairness, it was a great laugh whenever they did that. Worth it for the look of pure shock on some yummy-mummy’s face from over on Mountpleasant Square who decided to jog down our way.
Other times, Leah might vanish for a week without so much as text or a call and then arrive back at the house out of nowhere, claiming with a flippant grin that she’d slept in the bedsit of some fella she just met at the Bernard Shaw, or had ended up in a rave out in Brittas Bay that got shut down by the guards. If what she told us was true, it was a miracle how she somehow always managed to emerge from these mis-adventures alive, or at least, relatively unscathed. She was mad. I know you’d have liked her.
Of the five of us, she and Lorcan were the only ones who’d finished college. Somehow or other, despite all the lunacy she got up to, Leah always managed to pass the year with flying colours. She stayed in her room, assiduously drafting essays on state power and Thomas Hobbes, all the while making plans to apply to masters’ courses overseas once she graduated. She’d get them, too. I knew that in school, she was a model student, always studying, destined for a great Leaving Cert and a place in Trinity. I’m sure teachers and parents and bosses, even her college professors, loved her, thought her mature, sensible, hard-working, a shining example of industriousness to her more wilful peers. But I’ll bet none of them ever saw her gurning off her face at three in the morning at a session on Baggot Street, or running naked through the general campsite at Knockonstockon in the early dawn air, wailing like a banshee. Leah was smart enough to know that, if you’ve the tiniest smidgen of respectability that comes with attending one of the A-list private schools and colleges in Ireland, you can get away, more or less, with whatever you want. I liked the way she always dyed her hair a different colour, usually over the space of three or four days. She dressed all in black, outsized sweaters and second-hand Doc Martens. She could deck herself out in a shredded bin-liner for all I cared. I’d still have fancied her.
Perhaps I was just hardwired to. But I’ve known from any early age to keep love buried in taciturnity. It fosters itself, like heat in a boiler, swelling until my lungs are in bits. I said nothing about it, so it wouldn’t be contaminated. I felt both free and taken hostage. My nights were sleepless, endless cigarettes burning themselves out between my fingers as I contemplated her face, watched her sleep, staved off the biting urge to grab and hold her to my torso. I’d have gone cold and without food just to kiss her throat.
There were nights when, unable to sleep, I’d get up from the couch and stand on the landing outside her bedroom door. Just stand there for hours, listening to her breathe and dreaming of climbing in under the sheets with her, letting her warmth and scent wash over me. The only thing stopping me from going into her was the dead certainty that I’d never be welcome in her gaff or near her ever again.
Not that I’d a prayer of getting with her. I’m better off on my own, anyway; I decided that about myself a long time ago. Aside from the lads, I can’t imagine who in their right mind would ever have me for a friend. Or as a boyfriend. Or even as a fuck-buddy, come to that. But I’d grown to kind of like not having to answer to anyone, bar the cunts in the dole office where I signed on. Relationships just really aren’t my bag. I’m happy enough with just my hand, my prick and my imagination.
But I wasn’t alone. All the lads fancied her. Soon as she left the room, they’d talk about her in vexed, fascinated tones, commenting on the fact that she was clearly insane and yet still seemed somehow able to function; they’d all insist in the same breath that they saw her as a sister at best, not as a girlfriend, nor even as a friend with benefits. I knew that was bollocks; she’d gotten off with all three of them at different stages in the past, and yet, miraculously, the equilibrium in the house remained more or less the same. No rows, no sour looks or split blood, no avoiding each other, no awkward silences, no fistfights, no-one moving out. She’d been with Lorcan the most, and still occasionally got into bed with him when she was really off her face. Plenty of our mates who’d come for a session tried it on with her; a good few succeeded. But of the three living there, only Ollie seemed to really ignore her, after the one night he’d shagged her when he was pissed on cider. I don’t think she even took much notice of me.
I can say with only the debatable clarity that retrospect brings, that none of us knew how ravine-like her depression really was. Living in that house definitely didn’t help. The more I stayed there, the more I noticed the white plastic tablet containers that she left lying around, as carelessly as she would her cans or her lighter. Towards the end, her hair, still lined with dull blonde highlights, grew more wiry and unwashed, her flat stare underscoring the pale outline of her bones.
I never saw her cry, but there were plenty of times when I’m certain I heard her sobbing to herself from behind her bedroom door. I’d glimpse the trail of ashen scars tapering down her shoulder if her blouse sleeve came loose, and say nothing. If any of the lads noticed, they never said.
‘She’s a fuckin’ looper, man,’ Jay said. ‘I mean, don’t get me wrong, she’s a ride and all, but I wouldn’t want to give it to her twice.’
‘Bit too intense for my likin’,’ Ollie agreed.
‘Too much baggage,’ Lorcan slurred, lobbing his emptied Tuborg out the back door where it landed with a dull clatter.
Things began to go wrong for us, as they so often do, almost innocuously. We went one afternoon in March for a few pints in the Bernard Shaw and ended up staying out the entire evening. As we staggered back down Oxford Street after closing time, Lorcan’s beer munchies kicked in, specifically for a popcorn chicken snack box from KFC. Lorcan’s need for KFC chicken was more or less the same as Jay’s need for gee: once he got a craving, it didn’t let up until he got it, and it usually ended the same way, tearful and unsatisfactory and discarded in some back lane somewhere.
Anyway, we ended up in the nearest chipper, and immediately started rooting around in our pockets for loose change. Some knacker was lurking at the end of the counter, hunched over what looked like a sherbet dib-dob. He eyed us all as we rolled in, and kept staring at us as we made our orders, before slithering over to Jay and whispering, ‘Here, lads. D’yis want a dip?’
We copped the small box in his hand. ‘What’s that?’
‘It’s 2C-I-,’ he whispered encouragingly.
We laughed. ‘Is in me hole,’ Lorcan grunted.
‘I’m not messin’ wit’ yis lads, it really is,’ the kid insisted. He sounded like he was pleading.
Ever the daredevil, Lorcan said, ‘Alright, so, let’s prove you wrong,’ dipped his middle finger into the box, scooped a bit of the stuff out, and licked it. Ollie, Jay and I followed suit, dipping our fingers in and placing it on our tongues, waiting for it to dissolve.
Bang. Turned out it was 2C-I- after all. That, or it was flour with hairspray laced in, because it had a horrible stingy taste to it. Went down fairly well with the spice burger and chips I ended up having, though. We all had only the one dip, and already we were flying. Lorcan, on the other hand, kept horsing loads of it into him, the grin on his face getting more and more gleefully stupid by the second. He’d be tripping hard for the next few hours, we knew.
By the time we got back to the flat, it really started to kick in as we lit up in the front room. We were still carrying on like normal, skulling cans and slagging and laughing like a troupe of gee-eyed clowns. I forget where Leah was that night; her absence, as always, was strongly felt, even under the loved-up haze we were all in. It didn’t stop me laughing at everything. The room, the chairs, the ways the lads seemed to be melting before my eyes; it was all such a fucking scream to me. I felt like I was on the verge of pissing myself, I was laughing that hard. I needed a new lung the morning after.
Anyway, Jay had split up with his most recent girlfriend at the time, and Lorcan was talking non-stop, trying to offer him some dubious advice on the matter.
‘Don’t let her bring y’down, man,’ he spluttered. ‘Sure, we all know she left yeh ’cause you’ve a tiny mickey anyway.’
‘Fuck up, you,’ Jay retorted, but not angrily. He was too out of it to be angry or maudlin about it. Besides, it wasn’t really like him to get hung-up on his exes.
‘Sorry, man, but it’s true. Sure lookit, don’t be worryin’, yeah? Plenty more fish in the sea, as the fella says.’
‘Suppose,’ Jay muttered. He was the most wrecked of us that night, so he turned and made like he was heading off to bed, passing by the chair where Lorcan was sitting.
‘Night so, Tiny Mickey,’ Lorcan called after him. Jay stopped, stood behind him, looming in. Lorcan was so out of it by now he didn’t seem to notice or care. Next thing I knew, Jay had unbuckled his belt, grabbed him by the wrist and shoved his hand down his trousers, cheering sarcastically. We laughed. Lorcan grimaced loudly in revulsion, trying to wrench his hand away. But Jay was the stronger of the two, so he managed to wiggle Lorcan’s hand around for a bit before allowing him to snatch it away. Then he turned and shambled out of the room as if nothing had happened, leaving his belt undone and his cock still hanging loose, his boots clumping down the corridor.
‘Y’ fuckin’ wanker!’ Lorcan yelled. ‘You’re a bleedin’ dirtbird, Jay, so y’are!’
Jay was in the habit of sleeping in the nip, even when it was freezing. So, an hour later, when Ollie had gone to his own room and I was left nodding off on the couch, Lorcan had gone scurrying up to Jay’s door. He’d crept up to the bed, threw the blankets off, grabbed Jay by the leg and tried dragging him out. Jay awoke and leapt up like a gorilla, roaring madly. He chased Lorcan out of his room and all around the gaff, still in the nip. Lorcan stumbled back to the kitchen, where I still was, laughing. Jay wandered blearily back to bed, locking the door this time.
That was when the trip got worse, as it always did with Lorcan. He just didn’t have the head for yokes. With him, you just never knew if it was going to be a good buzz or a nightmare. Trouble seemed to follow him the way fleas follow a dog. Off my face as I was, I’ll never forget what happened next.
Lorcan told me afterwards, he started thinking he was Johnny from Grand Theft Auto: The Lost and the Damned; he needed to get to the casino fast, or else he’d be shot. All I know is, he walked back into the kitchen, and started to violently bang his forehead repeatedly off the counter, convinced the bullet was coming at him. That just made me laugh even harder, the way his skull seemed to erupt into little bloody shards and then put itself back together again every time he slammed it off the Formica surface.
After a few minutes of this, Lorcan decided to smash the kitchen up. He opened the cupboard and smashed up every dish we owned, tossing them on the floor and letting the fragments build up around his feet. I was still sitting on the chair on the corner, laughing my hole off. It really was that funny to watch. Lorcan was on a mission that night. When he got bored with the counter, he put his foot through the oven door.
By now, he was really paro. He thought someone had nicked the last bit of hash he had in the house, when it reality, he just couldn’t find it. So between the loss and the hash, which, it eventually turned out, was just under his bed where he always kept it, he started smashing things, looking for stuff apparently. He wanted everyone to wake up and help him find his hash. He fell into the living room, and tried smashing the TV with his skateboard. He ended up breaking it clean in two. My heart sunk when I realized we wouldn’t be playing any more Stoned Olympics after that.
Lorcan took no prisoners. He shattered the windows, and ripped the smoke alarm off the wall. He broke the toilet and the cisterns. If the house was a glorified hovel with at least some chance of being cleaned up when I first arrived, it was an untenable kip by the time Lorcan was done with it.
He apologized afterward, but we’d no food for a week. We were reduced to eating crisps from the shop on the corner. Leah fairly tore him a new one about it. She was pretty scary when she was pissed off. The landlord suddenly remembered they all existed, came round, took one look at all the damage, and booted all of us, bar Leah, out. Jay found himself another squat, Lorcan seemed to have some sort of epiphany and jacked in the spliffing and sessioning for good, and I don’t know or care what happened to Olly. Leah told me I was still welcome to stay on the couch as long as I kept quiet. She had a plan, as it turned out, and a far better use for me in it than the others.
I’m not trying to be elusive, just to draw you in. I have a story to tell, and all I ask is that you listen. It runs as unevenly in my mind as it will in yours, like an unmapped stretch of road.
Over the course of the year she’d lived in that kip, Leah’s depression inflated, cloaking her like a veil, stilting every conversation we had, leaving me almost as fatigued and distraught as she was. When and how that funereal condition first took hold of her, I can’t say. I only know it got unbearable by the time I was around.
Leah was unable to find anyone else to share the place, and an eviction notice was promptly slid through the letterbox. Her immediate reaction was to wolf down a capsule of pills and wait for the long darkness to engulf her. Had it not been for one of Jay’s stoner mates, who was lying on the floor but still somewhat lucid, and who panicked when he saw her body sprawl next to his and quickly phoned an ambulance, she’d have been dead already. When she was finally let out of hospital, I was the man who she asked to help her give up the ghost. I wasn’t surprised by the request; had in fact been waiting for her to make it. She wanted to die still; and she wanted to do it right this time.
‘I want to die, Dara,’ she’d said, exhaling smoke. ‘I want to go away from here. I want to die and leave this world behind me.’
I held her gaze, trying to keep my voice steady, praying I’d misheard her.
And why do you want to die, Leah? You’ve plenty to live for.’
She looked at me with narrowed eyes, her eyelids obtruding like bruised fruit. I remember how raw they looked. I knew then that she wasn’t play-acting or trying to disquiet me. Outside, Oxford Street glowered under a streetlight. Leah leaned forward and joined her hands on the table.
‘I’ll be needing your help with this, Dara. I’ve always been able to trust you,’ she said.
‘My help with what? With toppin’ yourself?’
‘Call it what you like. I’m asking you, just this once, to not argue, and just help me. Can you do that for me?’ Her voice was slow with a weary infuriation, as it only did when she was very drunk or very forlorn. ‘You’re one of the few men I know who hasn’t fucked me over…’
‘Leah, you’re stoned and talkin’ shite. Y’have my sympathy and all, but I’m not stayin’ here if you’re goin’ to be like this.’ I grabbed my jacket from the couch. I hated when she got like this.
‘No, Leah. This is just fuckin’ ridiculous. I’m after doin’ the nice-guy routine with you, saw you in hospital, bought you your shopping, picked up your pills from the chemist, came over and listened to you when y’were down. Come to that, have you taken your Sertaline yet?’
‘I don’t feel like taking it tonight,’ she murmured.
‘Fuck’s sake, Leah!’ I didn’t mean to snarl at her. But patience isn’t my strong point. I strode for the kitchen, looking to find the pills and make her take them. The hash was starting to wear off. It was the only time I think I ever raised my voice to her.
She followed me and grabbed hold of my arm as I stood over the sink. Her hand felt claw-like, digging into my bicep. Her eyes were full of appeal.
‘Don’t do this to me, Dara. I need you here, alright? I need you here.’
‘There was a crack in her voice, frantic and trickling through her usually mumbling tone. She spoke those words with such quiet despair I felt my resolve weakening. So I sat down and listened to her. This was no false show, I knew, no childish bid for attention or pity. She sincerely wanted out.
I remember her eyes, how narrow they were on that final, cheerless day. They were the eyes of a woman who couldn’t, and wouldn’t, dream anymore. She lay face-down on the rug, her body rippling with winded sobs. Her hair long, unwashed and uncombed, her face raw and her voice roughened from crying, her fingernails plastered in dried blood. All her confidence, all her poise and calm seemed to be robbed from her. The frailty of her hands as I helped her into bed. Her fingers tightening on my bicep the entire time, as she pleaded with me not to go.
She said she wanted to go out on her own terms. Hers would be a painless death, coasting out of this life, hopefully with no imprint or even patent proof that she’d once existed. She spent the next few days drawing up her plans, as meticulously as she did her C.V. or an essay for college. She had a week to go before she was turfed out of the flat. So her death would take place on the day of Obama’s visit, as that way Ranelagh, as with everywhere outside the city centre, would be more or less drained of people. The landlord himself was going to the celebrations, so the building would be effectively empty. No suspicion could fall on me when her corpse was discovered. It would be taken for the suicide it was, and nothing else. I’d walk away knowing I’d helped her, without any weight on my conscience. There was to be no blood, no viscera, no carnal element to her demise. She would die cradled by the temperamental whisper of a city falling to sleep. I imagined her body’s paleness, how tranquil she’d make death seem.
You’re probably wondering why I let myself get sucked into this macabre plan. I’m just too weak-willed, to be honest. At the time, I thought helping Leah commit suicide would be a sign of my friendship and loyalty, a silent means of demonstrating my love to her, even. I could have just told her to sleep it off and come to me if she’d any problems, but I wasn’t thinking straight. Also, I was afraid that if I walked out of the flat, she’d either do it there and then, or else get someone else to help her. There was no talking her out of it; at least, not with me, there wasn’t. She wanted my help and my help alone in her dying. I was to go in and dole out the last rites.
The number of suicides used to belong just the Central Statistics Office. Now a victim of suicide gets their own memorial page on Facebook. There wouldn’t be one for Leah, though. I knew it.
As I crossed the bridge onto Richmond Street South, I noticed a drunk pissing in the canal before trudging off toward the LUAS stop. Despite the early hour, a crowd was already gathered on the canal lock just outside The Barge. Young office types in suits, drinking cans or glasses of white wine. The weekend was only just beginning. The willows lining the canal bank caressed the water, which swarmed with froth and crushed cider cans sunk on its muddy floor. The bellow of traffic, now muted to hard-edged hum. The first indigo morsels of night seeped over the sky. If the city was powered by some vast subterranean engine, then I knew that engine was slowly deactivating for the night. I sloped down the narrow alleyway by the scrap yard, trailing my hands along the wall.
I knew that Leah waited for me. I was reliable; I’d show up right when I said I would. When I reached it, I stood for a moment outside her door. The paintwork on it was flaking. Leah had given me the only key to the flat, just to ensure everything went smoothly. When I walked in, the gaff was a mess, as per usual. I don’t know why I felt a little shocked walking in though; a part of me thought she might have cleaned the place up as a means of imposing some semblance of finality to her last moments. But of course, what did it matter, really?
The adrenalin fizzed in my gut. I knew that whatever happened today, I’d carry with me for the rest of my life. As I entered the front room, I saw Leah splayed on the couch, her hair loose and spread-eagled like a net. I stopped dead in my tracks, put the sportsbag down; for a second I thought she’d gone ahead and done herself in without me. When her eyes fluttered open, I exhaled in relief; her eyelids were swollen and red, but a filmy glint still sparked under their weight. She smiled a little at me; she looked relieved.
I didn’t waste time on pleasantries. I asked her, already knowing the answer, whether she still wanted to go ahead with this. She nodded and then kissed me, for the first and last time. She then lay down on the bed, eyes on the ceiling, and held my hand. A part of me was convinced she just might change her mind, even now on the void’s cusp. But she took the nozzle in her mouth and inhaled deeply. I held the canister for her and left her to it, glancing constantly out the window, conscious of anyone who might be moving around outside. She sucked on the venomous fumes in short, sharp huffs for a full minute, her hand still tight in mine, before finally lying back on the couch, her breathing sounding ever-more stifled. Her limbs seemed to stiffen before finally relaxing. I watched her body until it stilled. She was dead in matter of minutes.
I sat back in the chair, and breathed in. My head felt clear, wiped clean of all confusion. I didn’t mind that there was now no turning back from all this; I’d find a way to ride it out. But to do that, I had to act fast.
I pinned a note she’d written with the words ‘Good night and joy be with you all. Leah’ on the table beside her, as per her instructions. I then deleted her number and every text she ever sent to my phone, along with the ones I’d sent to her. I wiped my fingerprints off the gas canister and door-handle, and finally, from her hand. Her flesh still felt warm, tantalizing, against mine. I found myself holding onto it longer than I meant to.
I then stood up and silently prayed for that cunt of a landlord of hers to keel over in shock the second he saw her body. Before leaving, I took in the sight of her again, calm and shut-eyed and unbreathing. I wondered how long it’d be before she was found; probably until the time came to be evicted. But there was no taking her away from this place now, I knew; not even after it was shuttered-up and sold-off and bulldozed and replaced by another building where a fresh throng of fruitless lives could be stowed away.
It was dark by the time I left the flat.