Beside the Tightrope
After six days of waiting I started taking walks. Sometimes all through the night. I would walk along the train tracks. Looking out at the river and the ripples of moonlight. Occasionally stumbling between the rocks and sleepers. Sometimes I would walk through fields, sometimes the town. Through places people say it is a bad idea to walk at night. It didn’t matter much. Movement was all that mattered.
It was months before I could sleep again. A few hours at first. Somewhere between two and five in the morning. The doctor had given me sedatives and sleeping tablets. I took them once and was appalled at how easy it was not to care. They stayed on the dresser beside my bed. Eventually I could get five or six hours a night. It was enough to function. Less and less she appeared in my dreams.
I woke up at eight one Thursday. The sky was a kind of sunny gray. Bleak but hopeful. I smiled though I’m not sure why. After breakfast I decided to call the school. McMurray’s secretary answered.
“Grayson? Is that yourself?”
“It is Maura, how are you?”
“Never mind me. How are you pet? How is everything?”
“Ah sure getting there. You know yourself.”
Silence for a second.
“I’ve an idea all right, you poor thing. Are you looking for the big fella?”
“I am Maura.”
There’s no waiting music. The kind you’d get from a hospital. Static shuffling of papers and pens. I hear Maura say that Grayson is on the line. McMurray doesn’t reply to her. I almost get a fright when he answers.
The two syllables stab. All he’s said is one word. A word I should be comfortable with.
“Pat, how are you?”
“I’m well and you?”
“A lot better Pat. I’d like to come back soon.”
“People usually don’t get as much time off. I’ll have to give the substitute some notice.”
“Pat, honestly, the worst is over I’m...”
“One second Grayson. I’ll ring you back.”
Before the phone goes dead I hear him shout “Morrissey where are your brogs?!” The line drones like a sad heart monitor. I put down the receiver.
McMurray is a good principal in the same way Mussolini was a good dictator. The school is well organized, there is no time for pleasant ring tones between phone conversations and the students, for the most part, are afraid to do anything too extreme. Often times he is wearing a blue shirt to work. Myself and several of colleagues have commented on this with sly smiles. None of us have shared the joke with McMurray.
Apparently walking a mile in fifteen minutes burns over two hundred calories. I’ve never timed my walks but I’ve certainly lost a bit of weight. Agatha says too much. Before telling me how much she’s prayed for me this week. Even though it makes her sour I remind her that she is no longer a nun.
“I never wanted the convent. T’was all Daddy’s fault.”
Pressure, she said, to be a right catholic young one. But she prays still. God is still God and Hell is still Hell. I see her waiting between sips of tea. To see if I’ll ask has she prayed for Aya. Realizing I won’t she says:
“I lit a candle for her Monday gone.”
I don’t know if it makes me feel better or worse. My sister making sure Aya is okay with the power of prayer. If Aya was okay I would’ve heard from her by now. The guards don’t say that to you but you see it on the telly. Those detective programmes. After a week that’s it. Assume they’re dead. I suppose that’s the most rational thing to do. Better off assuming she’s dead than hanging onto some fairytale. Realising you’ve wasted most of your life on something that wasn’t there at all. I’ll leave that to Agatha.
You miss a lot at night. There is no sense of a path. Walking in the middle of the night requires you to watch only what’s directly in front of you. To look at what you’re facing and tell yourself that every step is getting you where you need to be. The anxiety of not being able to ‘see’ everything. Not knowing what’s going on behind your back or what lies beyond. Daylight, however, is sobering. You’re thoughts are friendlier and there is no worry of the next day. You simply wait for the current one to end.
Knowing McMurray it would be at least a week before he rang back. Luckily I had been taking walks in the daytime for a while. I didn’t have to wait in purgatory beside the phone. In truth the walks seemed to connect me to something. Almost like a return to childhood. I would leave my house at nine or ten and choose a location. Not in my head or from a map but from what I saw in the distance. The burning yellow of a rape seed field or some broken castle across the river. I’d leave the house and walk. I had no idea how to get to any of these places. I suppose that was the point. The walk itself was an adventure. The journey would present itself as I put one foot in front of the other. There was no kind of ordinance. A vague internal compass and a willingness to lose myself. Across the river, past the docks and through the camping site. Today I want to find out what’s behind this.
‘When men yield the privilege of thinking, the last shadow of liberty quits the horizon’.
‘We all live under the same sky but we don’t all have the same horizon’.
‘Broaden your horizon’.
‘There is something on the horizon’.
I strain to think of a few more...nothing. Save for maybe ‘all that the eye sees can be yours’. In essence this all depends on the horizon. Where does this quote come from? I think for a few seconds before my mind settles on Lucifer. I wonder what Jesus would do if he could reconsider. Dying as ever lasting love drove rusting nails through his open palms. ‘Why have you forsaken me Father? I could have been rich!’
I’m on the docks when I realize I must have been walking for about twenty minutes. It’s not always a good idea to get lost in thought when you don’t really know where you’re going. Though I often feel like that’s the best part.
The docks are over the bridge. Primary coloured trawlers line up the side like an industrial rainbow. The smell of petrol and rotting crab meat are almost sweet. Or maybe it is sweet, the real problem is that I know where it’s coming from. For the many times I’ve seen the trawlers it’s rare that you find a fisherman. Add to that the fact that I’ve never actually seen a trawler leave or moor on the dock. It’s almost like a tourist attraction. A part of the sunny south east that must be there for the sake of the local economy. Aya always liked the docks. Often I’d come back from school and she would show me the fresh trout or mackerel she bought from the fishermen there.
“They never seem to be there when I’m on the quay.”
Sensing I was a little tired and knowing I’d be ratty Aya would tease me.
“They no like English people, only Japanese!”
She’d put on the accent and everything. It was impossible not to laugh. After a day of trying to teach pubescent teenagers, or the ‘walking hormones’ as McMurray calls them, it was nice to have someone try and make you smile.
Aya’s family came to Ireland before she was born. She never talked much about history. Never talked about how gruelling the trip must have been for her parents or how terrible their reasons for leaving. I didn’t need a degree in history to understand. There was no such thing as Japanese food. Over a decade of odd jobs passed before her father could afford to open a restaurant. The Emerald House, a Chinese restaurant. No one on in Ireland could tell the difference and the family pretended to be a dynasty. Aya laughs...laughed about that all the time. Her father would tell her to keep it a secret. Not to tell anybody. Of course she never once pretended to be anything other than what she was. Irish.
“And what about your name? Grayson...that’s not very Irish!” Aya asked as we were getting to know one another.
She was right. Apparently my mother had seen a picture of the major of London in a paper as a teenager. He must have been devilishly handsome because she forgot his name as she looked at the black and white print. Luckily, or unluckily, she knew that the origin of the word Grayson meant the son of a bailiff. Since my father didn’t work as one of the King of England’s officers it never made much sense. But she insisted and got her way. Delighted with the fantasy no doubt. My father would often say that paper never refused ink.
I told Aya this and she laughed. She was so unique, so unlike anyone I’d met before. A girl somewhere between the edge of the world and Ireland. But always laughing, always seeing the smile in everything. I feel something near the back of my head coming forwards. A dark, forming thought. Aya walking back from the quays at night. A car pulling in, the driver asking a question. She leans into the window. He grabs her, she struggles. I’m not there to help her. I pray this wasn’t the case. Would I rather it was all a charade? That Aya wasn’t really happy at all. She left me, left life, left everything...
I focus on the camping site. It’s only starting to fill now. The Germans are usually the first. Their giant jeeps with the un-readable registration plates. Why they are so keen on camping I don’t know. Personally I prefer a good hotel. Comfortable bed, nice room and a pleasant temperature. There’s the toilet situation also. It’ll still be a month or so before the sun breaks through. Something about Germany and gray seems to make sense. Maybe it’s the infrastructure.
Beside the caravan is a trail. It follows the edge of the river as it loops around the shore. I sit down for a moment and look to where the water ends. Years ago people would have imagined the sea falling into a kind of perpetual waterfall. The horizon was a cage, it trapped us all inside as water spewed over the edges. Did anyone ever think about where that water would’ve gone? Someone must’ve thought that maybe beneath the world there was a giant ocean. An ocean so big it could drown the sun with a drop. Four seagulls circle and dive over the water. Against the gray sky they look almost like doves. I decide to keep walking and wonder how often birds fall dead out of the sky. Drifting out with the current and falling into the giant ocean under the earth.
The trail eventually turns into a field which leads to a back road. It’s guarded with a red gate. Everything around the fence is a different shade of green. It looks ominous, like a spidery stop sign. I open the latch and walk onto the road. Typical country, pot holes everywhere and shoots of grass coming through the tarmac. In the distance there is an old iron bridge. It looks like the sort of bridge you’d ride across on a train. A crowd is gathered in the middle. Twenty, maybe thirty people. Commotion, shouting...it’s all happening. They’ve found something. They’ve found something in the water.
I start running towards the bridge, stumbling over the potholes. I imagine Aya dragged with the current. Drifting all the way out to edge of the ocean until the swell pushes her off the world.
It’s the first time we’ve met.
We’re at the doctors, he tells us we cannot have children.
We buy a loose cigarette at the cinema and share it on the interval.
I stand at my father’s grave, Aya squeezes my hand.
She smiles, kisses my cheek and calls me ‘Grayson the tan.’
What if the last time I see Aya she’s washing up on the shore?
I get to the bridge and stop for a second. My stomach heaves but nothing comes up. No one notices me. I push my way through the crowd. I don’t even notice the tears until someone asks me if I’m alright.
“Yes” I try to smile “I’m fine.”
“Shocking though isn’t it?”
“Give us a hand lads, she’s a heavy one!” someone shouts.
Three men with their backs to me. I’m stuck in a block of ice. The men walk back. My heart beats faster. Everything slows down. The men begin turning. They creak around like an old cog. I can almost hear time.
“I’ve never seen one that size before Joey!”
It’s mouth opens and closes, gasping for air. The moustache hangs down in defeat. It writhes for a few moments before going limp. The men struggle to hold it over their heads. It's the biggest catfish I've ever seen. It has reached the edge of the world. Fallen off. The people around me cheer and chant. I turn around and begin to walk back. I don’t belong here. I decide to go home and wait until the phone rings.