January 8th 2015 – East Belfast
At the age of 67 I went deaf, overnight, without warning. I could hear nothing beyond my ears but understood that sound had not left the world for the curtains still caught in the shuffling breeze and there were raw lights turning on police cars and ambulance roofs. Inside my ears the sounds were louder than ever. The cautious creak of old bones settling. The click catch of each tight breath. The wet kerplunk of veins and ventricles still pulsing. And, loudest by far, the stop start, seldom pausing, thoughts; more audible, more insistent than any word overheard or spoken.
January 9th 2015 – Albert Bridge, Belfast
January 9th and every third person over the Albert Bridge is running. The marathon looms like the hope of Heaven and other judgments to come. Sleek are some, as river fish, in all their proper gear. Others make do with tracksuit bottoms and shirts, occasionally slept in. The worst lack all conviction. They move from one mile to two, flat-footed in Converse high tops, their feet flip flopping past the station and the market. From a distance they are pedestrian slow. Up close they have the look of women who return library books half-finished. The noise of them running is the last hand of the applause, parting to cup the silence.
January 10th 2015 – Cathedral Quarter, Belfast
“Ladies,” says tonight’s taxi driver who is, by default, the bald and mouthy twin of every blessed taxi driver in the East, “there is nothing like a good power ballad.”
We agree and, from the backseat, argue for Starship. He won’t be budged on REO Speedwagon and we all agree that Celine Dion should not count in this and other matters. However, it is “The Power of Love” I’m humming as I fall asleep, picturing the early evening couple, (she fringed, he bearded), who eyed themselves from one end of Muriel’s bar to the other, taking three hours and tremendous gin to meet in the middle, kissing beneath all that highly strung underwear.
January 11th 2015 – Central Station, Belfast
It was almost impossible to tell when he was. The time machine, having been programmed by a man with no particular interest in geography, had deposited him in a grassy field overlooking a number of other grassy fields, each one indistinguishable from the next. With less than half an hour on the clock it seemed pointless to wander. He sat down in his grassy field, smoked a cigarette and watched the clouds fuddle past.
Later, when they asked what the future was like, he would reply, “much like the present.” Though this was the honest truth, no one would wish to hear it.
January 12th 2015 – Royal Avenue, Belfast
On Sunday afternoon, when the sadness had begun to take on its own taste, he stumbled upon an exceptionally happy man in the Food Hall of Marks and Spencer’s. Trailing two paces behind this man he filled his shopping basket with identical items: tinned salmon, coleslaw, expensive crisps, mid-priced Chianti, and paid at the same till. Afterwards, he followed the man down Royal Avenue, sat one table removed in Café Nero and drank the same clouded coffee from a cup, barely capable of containing his disappointment. When the man rose to lift a newspaper from the rack, mercifully, there were two, and he also read the Mail on Sunday, back to front for an hour, wondering why he did not feel exceptionally happy yet. Perhaps, he concluded, happiness depends upon shoes or haircuts, or the particular sweater you lift from your wardrobe in the morning.
January 13th 2015 – Queen’s Quarter, Belfast
Anne Weinhold and Chloe Thwaites
Every day Jean had less words to hold unto. The opposite of see through, the town which cornered Carrickfergus, Michael’s wife, the thing you touched when the lights came on; all had folded into that mumbling place where thoughts caught and stuck like angry rag nails. Jean imagined these old sayings edged out of practice with the acquisition of each fresh word, like the bronzed coins in the two p machine at Barry’s, avalanching under pressure. This was a jolly thought and cheered Jean until she recalled that, at her age, there were no new words for finding, or caught herself frozen in the corner shop, pointing for, “one of those blue, white, shelved things for woman, with plastic;” her mind playing charades with itself.
January 14th 2015 – East Belfast
Jon and Jenny Parks
January 2012, a dozen strangers and occasional friends holed up in a guesthouse with wine.
“Like something from an Agatha Christie,” you said when it started to snow and the snow settled on the white blue beach huts and the bicycles and the beach itself so the sea was a smile grinning into the drift.
The roads closed. The tide demurred.
“And we’d all be suspects,” you said when midnight found one of us missing and he returned, hours later, frozen; the ocean his only alibi.
But in the morning no one was dead nor close to dying and we ate cake in the window like Christmas morning, with the snow.