Robbie was in what his friends referred to as “swaying tree mode”. This meant the slender greying hipster was pissed, his eyes barely open, and not engaging with anyone but moving slowly side to side, mouthing the lyrics to a song that wasn’t playing. He was tall but no one worried he’d fall over. His skinny jeans were tight enough to turn his long legs into pylons that served as a rock-solid foundation. The ritual had begun. Around 2am, the others’ attention turned to finding a few bags and a session, whereas Robbie exercised his right to abscond via an “Irish goodbye” without a word to his friends, stomach churning, in search of a slice.
Leaving The Workman’s Club on Wellington Quay, the crisp air off the Liffey hitting his face was somewhat sobering and his eyes opened fully to admire the river’s glow. He stepped in to Di Fontaine’s, and was greeted with a smile from a familiar face, before leaving with an enormous pizza. Parking the big box atop a bin, he dug through his pockets for his headphones. It wasn’t far back to the apartment Robbie shared with his friend Barry, in the Liberties. Jaw clicking, he nursed his “walking home slice” tearing at the doughy wedge, on the uphill walk past Christchurch, then downhill towards St Patrick’s Cathedral. Against the backdrop of these strikingly lit monuments, he hummed along to Handel’s “Arrival of the Queen of Sheba,” and commended himself for another flawless extrication. Once again he had dodged the eyebrow-licking, coke-fueled shite talk his mates had in store, and unlike them, Robbie would be fresh for training the following morning.
His roommate, Barry, was probably out on the piss with his own mates or the Tinder-date-of-the-week. An empty apartment was what Robbie needed. The love of his life was a gorgeous grey feline. Grimes would be waiting at the foot of the bed, with a hypnotizing purr that would sooth him to sleep. Robbie could see Fallon’s bar on the corner of New Row South and although just minutes away from home, he began to doubt whether he’d make it in time. A nonnegotiable need to piss came over him. Prompted by the swelling between his legs, he scanned the surroundings for the least inappropriate place to have an urgent slash. Relieved that no one was sleeping rough in the alcove at the entrance to the Centz discount store, he seized the opportunity to avoid soiling in his favourite faded jeans. Placing the still warm pizza box on the ground and out of harm’s way, with his back to the road, he released a steady stream of steaming stinking piss.
Retrieving the box, Robbie arose to meet the flinty eyes of two lads clad in tracksuits. The older one moved closer, mouthing something at him while the younger hung back, smoking a cigarette. Robbie removed an earphone.
“Giz a slice of yer pizza, Man” the older one demanded. The younger lad laughed at the hipster, blinking and cornered. “Go on Man, don’t be a scabby cunt, just giz a lil’ slice, for fuck sake.” Before Robbie could find any words, the young lad lunged forward, flicking the lit cigarette with precision directly into Robbie’s face, its red embers bursting upwards and into his eyes. The older brother smacked the pizza box out of Robbie’s hands, which opened up, sending several slices and two sealed plastic cups of garlic dip spiraling down to land on the urine-soaked concrete. The guy then grabbed Robbie by the throat, pushing him up against the shop’s metal shutters. The young one then snatched Robbie’s phone from his hand, severed it from the headphones with a tug and took off running towards Kevin Street.
Along with a proclivity for skinny jeans, craft beers and ridiculous mustaches, the modern-day hipster harbors a penchant for watching and practicing Mixed Martial Arts. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in particular. Robbie, being no different to his cohorts, trained quite a bit. Once acquired, the mechanics of locking up, taking an unsuspecting cunt down, and chokeholding him into submission was no problem at all. Even for a gangly chap like Robbie. Drunk or not.
Now on the ground, and with arms flailing wildly, the older brother blurted out threats about how Robbie was going to get “fucking sliced up.” A serenade made brief, once Robbie’s legs and arms hooked in, and he applied enough forearm pressure to choke out the threats, which went from barks to hardly audible gurgles to silent gasps.
When the guy stopped struggling, Robbie allowed him enough of an airway to breathe. “I’m fuckin’ sorry man…Let me go, and I’ll get your phone back.” His pleading went on for a while and Robbie half expected him to start crying, but he didn’t. It was cold, very cold, and the puddle of piss crept closer.
A passing couple were kind enough to ring the Guards, but they didn’t care to stick around. Within a couple of minutes the squad car pulled up, and its flashing blue light gleamed across the surface of the puddle, just as Robbie rolled the guy over in to it, face first.
A female officer cuffed the shivering suspect. “Up to your old tricks, Damien?” asked her senior officer with a smirk. “C’mon O’Reilly, I’m not into anthin’ anymore. This lad fuckin attacked me!” answered the detainee, now in custody and being packed into the back seat of the squad car. O’Reilly turned to Robbie, “Garda Keogh here will take your statement. Have you been drinking, yourself?” Robbie admitted that he had and after giving his statement, Garda Keogh instructed him to present himself at Kevin Street Garda Station, the following day.
Damien and his brother were known to the Guards, who upon entering the nearby family home, found a bedside locker drawer full of phones and other contraband, in a room the brothers shared. Robbie’s phone was returned to him, as it matched his detailed description. He was advised that he could press charges if he liked, but unless he was hurt, it wasn’t worth the bother. The younger brother was a minor, but Damien awaited sentencing for a slew of more serious offenses.
Robbie didn’t venture out the following weekend or the one after. He offered no excuses for his absence, nor did anyone ask. When he did eventually resurface, so did the ritual. At least it seemed so, to his mates, but Robbie had employed some imperceptible changes. He became conscious of leaving before getting “too-too” pissed, and he skipped the pizza. Hands free, he walked with only one earphone in, listening to Wagner’s “The Ride of the Valkyries.”
The little bump of coke he had done was keeping him alert. Barry’s black leather studded belt had been left in a pile of clothes in their laundry room for weeks. It’s buckle featured a removable set of fully functioning brass knuckles. Barry wouldn’t miss them.
Grinding his teeth, Robbie felt his knuckles pop as he gripped the brass in one sweating palm, jammed in his jacket pocket. He was looking over his shoulder with every couple of paces and distracted by a group of lads crossing the street behind him, he smacked right into someone at the corner of Kevin Street. It was Damien.
Out of his pocket came Robbie’s fist, cocked and ready to rain down. For weeks he had fantasized about the sound of Damien’s bones crunching, and now he saw one side of Damien’s face was bruised in healing hues of yellowish green. On the other, was a fresh slice. The pink scar bubbled up and ran diagonally down his cheek.
Recognizing Robbie in an instant, Damien clocked the gleaming knuckles before shielding his face and screaming, “I’m sorry man, I’m sorry…Sorry!” When Robbie hesitated, Damien dashed down the street, running at an incredible pace.
At home, Barry had a little session brewing. There were a load of people drinking and smoking weed on the balcony. Grimes was asleep on the couch, unperturbed by the speaker’s base or the voices raised over it which carried through the sliding door someone left ajar. Retrieving her would have drawn unwelcome attention, so soundlessly, Robbie made straight for his room.
How much debt would you need to be in before a dealer would cut your face, Robbie wondered examining his own mug in the bedroom mirror. Then he conjured a similar scar and finally decided his dilated pupils made him look like an alien. Burying the brass knuckles deep in his sock drawer, he put in earplugs, and switched off his bedside lamp. He tried to have a wank for some relief to calm down but couldn’t stay hard. Robbie was not used to coke.
Behind closed eyelids, Robbie watched a woman crying. From the kitchen of a dilapidated Dublin flat, she peered out of the window into a littered courtyard, ashing in the sink and wishing her sons would come home. He still heard Damien’s nylon tracksuit swishing in the wind. Beautiful in a way, it was much like the sound of a serrated blade moving backwards and forwards through wood, or maybe bone. In the darkened room, Robbie raised his right hand, barely able to stare at his shaking fingers.