by Brian Coughlan
I’m prone to rather severe bouts of sleep apnoea, with associated choking. Which might go some way towards explaining why I was the very last person in our household to be woken by the sound of our continuously ringing doorbell; depressed by an unknown finger – producing one so very long high pitched ding but no dong. With no other reason than to provide an accompanying heavy back-beat, our recently acquired antique brass knocker began smashing, repeatedly, against its plaque. Our two small children were already in the room, crying, trembling, stuck to each other, utterly traumatised – although I will say that it doesn’t take very much to traumatise my children – two well-fed, over-protected lambkins who frolic in a completely benign world.
There were some people at the front door, Sophie said. Bad people, making lots and lots of noise. They were shouting and cursing interjected her little brother. My wife pulled them both into the sanctuary of our bed while we listened as a close-knit family to the appalling racket from outside. Candace suggested that I call the police. ‘Just let them deal with it’. Oh please. I could quite easily pretend to be the brave man when there was a door and walls protecting me; I scoffed at her wide eyed alarm, I pushed away her concerned clutching hand. I was the man of the house, after all. This was the kind of thing I could quite easily deal with. No cause for histrionics. Why make such a big fuss over nothing. Just calm down.
I told them I was going downstairs to check it out. Pierre begged me to be careful. He was frightened out of his tiny little mind. Sophie had gone into her shell, completely. Candace was angry and frightened. She warned me not to open the door. Under any circumstances. What the hell was that supposed to mean? I resented her insinuation that I was, what… gullible? As the man of the house it was incumbent upon me to investigate any disturbance on our property. I did not appreciate her undermining and frankly insulting tone, regardless of the circumstances, regardless of the odd hour of the night. If she wanted a row I’d give her one – but she was too busy with the children to notice my clenching hands, my shortness of breath. But if she’d turned round; lucky for her that she didn’t. Turn round.
Unsurprisingly while hopping around the room with one leg in and one leg out – the most recent dream I had been experiencing began to quickly dissipate: it involved a family of brown bears, a double-decker bus and an elevator that would not open its doors. Any more description of this dream would be superfluous so instead allow me to stumble down the dimly-lit stairs – the bulb has been on the way out for weeks now – my senses suddenly rushing back into place, and yes – I was a little bit scared, even a little bit apprehensive. But more importantly; why was Candace being such a bitch? That’s what was getting my goat.
While the doorbell was ringing and the knocking continued my eye pressed itself to the insignificant spy-hole: which yielded absolutely nothing – because a looming hand continued to knock the knocker – and I was half-tempted to go back upstairs and just let the proper authorities take charge while all the time that same ringing, high-pitched note; when finally, thank Christ almighty there was a relieving, almost ejaculatory dong – associated with that continuously irritating ding. Then a hoarse voice calling, ‘We know you’re in there Lanko!’ Did I hear correctly? ‘Lanko, open the door you silly twat, hurry up.’
On hearing my old school nick-name I gently head-butted the door. It couldn’t be. But it was: a voice that I recognised despite the many years since I had last heard it utter my school-yard name. It was then that I disobeyed my wife’s perfectly explicit instructions and after much unlocking and unbolting and twisting I opened the front door. There were two of them. One was clinging, inebriated, to a trellis – which he had pulled entirely free of the wall; laurel lay scattered, in vast clumps, on the tiles of our once neat front porch.
‘Isshh freezing out here,’ he managed.
The other one was not quite so messy but still very drunk and in a nasty kind of way.
‘Well, well, well,’ he intoned as he restrained his companion from impaling himself on our arrow-head railings. Gasping, I desperately groped for names.
Mongey. Yes that was it. Mongey was the name of big one. Something to do with looking like a mongoloid. Ratser was the other. Because his surname was Ratty. Two old school-chums from a vast gang which had assembled itself with the intention of destroying everything worthwhile, everything valuable in that hell-hole industrial town we all once called home.
‘Look at the state of this guy, he’s gone all grey – and the belly on him, ha!’ said Ratser.
The gauntlet thrown down: I asked him if he had any idea how late it was. His response was to stare dumbly at his watch, confirming that he did not know. Or could not know. Or could not see straight enough to know. The watch then held up to his ear. His attempt was to hear time. I saw no other course of action but to grapple them inside and sit them down at the kitchen table; but not before knocking pictures off walls, making shite of a vase of flowers, and not before dodging and countering the sudden swing of their elbows.
They both needed coffee, lots of coffee. Mongey also needed something to put over his legs. They were naked, trembling, and covered in livid goose bumps. Imagine all this. And me with work in the morning. That critically important presentation of downward trending sales figures for March. My family uprooted and scared shitless upstairs. Ratser getting warm to his task.
‘Look at the state of this place. Easy to tell who rules the roost. Pink everywhere. Good God you’ve put on so much weight. I can’t believe how grey you are!’
It went on in this vein while I tried to make them coffee, except Candace had moved things around in the kitchen, the pot was not in its usual place, above the stove. She must have found somewhere else to put it, a better place. Why-oh-why had I opened the bloody door?
Ratser was still talking away behind my back. Complete gibberish. God-awful rubbish about the good old days. The best days of our lives. Remember so-and-so; he had a heart attack last year. Remember such-and-such; making an absolute fortune. Toilet rolls, imagine that. Mongey mumbles if I mind him smoking in the house. Yes, I mind. I tell him so, but it doesn’t stop him from patting down pockets and locating a broken fag that he repeatedly tries to light with one match after another. I deal him a saucer as an ashtray but he flicks his ash on the floor. And now Ratser has an opportunity to say what he has been itching to, from the very moment I opened the door.
‘You didn’t come to the reunion?’ Awkward silence: a shrug of shoulders ‘Really I meant to but…’ My voice trailing away, evasively to…
‘Why doesn’t he have his trousers on?’ I ask, stupidly and Mongey comes alive like a dummy; tries to speak but has difficulty stitching a sentence together, and so relies on his sinister ventriloquist. An epic tale waits to be unfurled; punctuated by flatulence, drooling, and charming digressions but I have no great urge to be regaled: while hunting for mugs I listen half-heartedly to a story about some trollop in a shop. Hard to believe that once upon a time we expressed our truest innermost thoughts and feelings with an almost complete sincerity; preferring to smoke in bike sheds than play football as the other thirty or so louts in our class; preferring to wear long Crombie greatcoats down past the knee, as opposed to our contemporaries, in their short shiny bomber jackets; actively discouraging each other by fear of ridicule to be impressed by, or enthusiastic about, anything at all, whatsoever.
Back to their truly side-splitting tale: trousers too tight, a rip in the seat: which I interrupted, to state categorically my need to be up bright and early in the morning. So, unfortunately, I really must ask them…but no; they categorically refused to take the hint. And besides, Mongey needed the toilet. Urgently. A sudden lurch to his feet knocking mugs and plates from the table. I got him to the one under the stairs. The door left wide open. Staggering from wall to wall trying to hit the target. Some of it even making it into the toilet bowl; the piddling stream going silent, hissing over the walls, the seat, and the floor. The time is two forty-seven a.m., two forty-eight; two-forty-nine.
‘So what was your excuse?’ asks Ratser. He is examining a family photo over the kitchen table. The one taken in a studio. We’re all barefoot and grinning for our lives. How broiling hot it was in that studio.
Ratser turned, smiled wolfishly. But not at me. Candace was standing in the doorway, with her arms crossed in her silk dressing gown. The one with the tufting. The one that shows off her cleavage. I could feel my face turning red. Oh yes, from below the cheeks right up past my eyes. A hot flush of pure embarrassed wrath.
‘What happened to the vase?’ she asked.
I was too shocked by her cleavage to answer. Ratser smiling. Candace pouting, picking up a sliver of porcelain, throwing it into the rubbish bin. Meanwhile Mongey was returning from the toilet; the sound of things breaking; toilet-roll holder, towel-rack, medicine cabinet door handle, light switch cord, and other things too, no doubt – had I not run into the bathroom and helped him to regain his sense of balance. On my return to the kitchen Candace departed wordlessly. So I dropped Mongey in a chair to run up after her.
Ratser was immensely enjoying this farce. Of course he had reason to be bitter. I’ll grant him that. The manner in which his wife walked out, all those rumours about her discovering his affair, his bankruptcy, losing his job because of that scandal, the car accident, his drink-driving charge, the nervous breakdown. Perhaps I could have done more to help him. But that was years ago; what’s the sense in holding a grudge? Perhaps we all could have chipped in when he was going through that tough time. Collectively perhaps we were all un-caring in our attitude. I’ll put my hand up. Personally I could have done more. When he was down and out I pretended to be oblivious. Or perhaps I mean ignorant? In any case he must have been bitter about all this – he must think I’m not much of a friend.
Candace was so angry that she refused to speak. Despite my pleas for her to help me find the old tracksuit bottoms in the wardrobe she did nothing, said nothing – just stared at me. She has a temper, my wife. It’s not good to aggravate it. I know what she’s thinking. So I answer her questions: I opened the door because they would have stayed out there all night; once I give him the tracksuit bottoms they’ll leave; it won’t ever happen again I promise you that; yes, I’m just as angry as you are; yes, I really do know just how much you dislike him. Armed with soft promises, the tracksuit bottoms, the vision of our two children mewling like puppies, my wife in a state of incandescent rage – I launched myself down the stairs to request that the two visitors leave our house and our lives with immediate effect.
They had used my absence to locate a bottle of Champagne. Ratser bottle-feeding Mongey like a new-born at the zoo. They want to fill me in on the details that I’d missed: their endless anecdote. How Mongey confronted the shop girl, took off the trousers. My patience exhausted. ‘Look lads, it’s been great but I have to go to bed’. The tracksuit bottoms presented as a going away present. Mongey wants the toilet again. I have him very firmly by the arm when, with a raised gulping voice he tells me he’s going to get sick – Ratser follows closely behind us. All choreographed; the head-lock that the big monster holds me in as I thrash and buck. My trousers wrenched down around my ankles. Upper waistband of underpants jerked upwards. The hideous laughter, the grunt of effort and smell of stale sweat. What is the meaning of this? You remember this don’t you! They called it a wedgie. An assault on your underwear and rear end. The struggle is short-lived though. A shriek of pain. Head-lock loosened. Underwear released. Mongey clutches his ear. Ratser pleading. Candace serene. Angel of mercy, deliverer of supreme justice, wielding a shard of porcelain, face contorted with vengeance. She tells them to get out and they do exactly as their told.
I’m cleaning up the mess they made, rubber gloved, equipped with a bottle of disinfectant and a steaming bucket of boiling hot water. I could have left it until the morning but I’d rather get it done now, before she gets a chance to realize the true extent of the damage. When she sees what Mongey did in here – I’ll be in serious trouble – but that’s tomorrow. When she sees how they sullied the sheen of our perfect house, especially the laurel…I’ll have to think up something. It was due a pruning anyway. Something along those lines. I tidy up the mugs and wash them under a cold tap. Grains of sugar everywhere and spilled milk, but I won’t go crying over it – you have to grow-up sometime. Sulking in the oppressive afterglow I keep returning to why Candace will not allow me to have friends of my own. What is it about other people that so troubles her? Or is it simply a jealous possessive streak? Either way it’s not a subject to be broached until the dust has settled, so to speak. Still, it irks me, why couldn’t I go to the reunion? I can be trusted. I can look after myself. It just isn’t fair. Sponge, toilet brush, cloths – all put away in their rightful places.
Quickly nip back upstairs, closing the bedroom door gently. Don’t want to wake them now. Warm wonderful family. Returning to the bed I silently disrobe and edge close to Candace. Just so relieved that they’re gone. I slide in behind her and the kids, softly touching her buttock, softly caressing my beautiful sweet demonic wife’s considerable rear-end. I am rewarded with a reflex-movement of her elbow like a cow’s tail swatting at a fly. Straight into the sac. And as I writhe in silent agony, my sweet princess murmurs, ‘Stop moving around!’ She pulls all of the covers over to their side of the bed. Cold now and just as the dull ache has fully receded and I am returning once again to my nightmares of being forever late and delayed from doing something significant – I am woken by my wife: ‘You’re snoring again,’ she says.
Brian Coughlan has a Masters Degree in Screenwriting from NUIG. He has published work with The Bohemyth, The Galway Review, Storgy, Write Out Publishing, Toasted Cheese, Thrice Publishing, Litbreak, Lunaris Review, LitroNY and Unthology. In 2014 he was shortlisted for the Industry Insider TV Pilot Contest as a co-creator of the drama series Panacea. He is an active member of the Galway Scriptwriters Group since 2013.