February 12th 2015 – Ulster Hall, Belfast
On Thursday morning I discovered an elderly man living inside the upturned double bass case of an orchestra member. It was obvious from the smell and the way his neck and shoulders had stretched to meet the confines of his new home that he’d been resident for some time.
“You can’t live here,” I said, “it’s a concert hall, not a nursing home and besides, where will we store the double bass now?”
“Damned if I care,” replied the old man and shut the lid firmly on this and all future conversations which got me wondering about the other instrument cases and what might be crouching quietly within their velvet-lined innards.
February 13th 2015 – East Belfast
There were several things they’d never got round to discussing properly: the stain above the coffee table, the Civil War, the parking tickets and the time he’d told her, in no uncertain terms, how to load a shotgun safely, demonstrating each step of the process with an old hockey stick.
Mostly however, he wished to have shared with her his suspicion that after death there was not Heaven nor Hell immediately but rather a brief period of unexpected living. Two or perhaps three years would be returned to every human being as compensation for all those wasted minutes spent waiting in doctors’ surgeries and fast food outlets.
“Like extra time at the end of a rugby match,” he would have explained to her if the chance had not passed him by.
February 14th 2015 – East Belfast
Even after she’d bought the carpet and paid the electricity bill there was still almost fifty pounds left. She bought herself a watch; an old-fashioned watch with hands and a brass winder protruding like a tiny wart from the side of the face. It was the first watch she’d ever owned and the pinch of it felt unnatural, like a second hand circling her wrist. She could not, at a glance, tell the time and envied her friends who, quickly raising and lowering their shirt cuffs, could distinguish between three forty five and a quarter past nine.
The watch caught on her coat sleeve and left a circle of clammy skin on her forearm, smooth as sliced ham. The ticking of it, inches from her pillowed head, was a second heartbeat , reminding her just before and after sleep, that she was not yet dead, that time would have her in the end.
February 15th 2015 – Short Strand, East Belfast
Items found abandoned on the Lower Newtownards Road between the Holywood Arches and the Short Strand, (exempting, for brevity’s sake, the usual street detritus common to all Belfast footpath’s: beer cans, fast food paraphernalia, crisp packets etc.)
- Punctured football (three)
- Lady’s glove (singular
- Approximately two dozen biscuits, some partially eaten, others crushed underfoot
- One dart
- One child’s birthday present, unwrapped
- The decapitated head of Shaun the Sheep.
February 16th 2015 – East Belfast
In preparation for Chinese New Year they made resolutions.
“I will only eat brown bread from now on,” he said.
“And I will read everything Agatha Christie wrote, in chronological order,” she replied.
By Tuesday of the following week he was once again fixing his sandwiches from milk, white, shop bread whilst she was half way through “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd,” blissfully unaware that there were sixty similar novels to come, plus shorts stories, plays and a half dozen dubious romance novels penned under a pseudonym. Thankfully she had always been the more ambitious part of the outfit.
February 17th 2015 – Cathedral Quarter, Belfast
When the closing credits began he recognized a man whom he’d once worked with in the Royal, sitting just below him. Taking the carpeted steps in two strides he drew level with this man and clasped his right shoulder warmly.
“I thought I saw you coming in,” he said.
The man stared at him blankly, struggling to place his face and then, quite clearly still confused, began the pretense of asking a number of non-specific questions: “how was the family?” “Was work treating him well?” “Did he have plans for the holidays?”
They continued to talk in polite, uncommitted circles until, arriving in the well-lit lobby, he realized that this was a stranger before him and not the man he’d once worked with in the Royal or elsewhere. Out of politeness they continued their vague conversation as they walked past the concession stand and through the doors, parting, with a conspiratorial handshake, just outside the cinema.
In the car his wife asked, “who was that?”
And he replied, “damned if I know,” and imagined the man having similar words with his own wife.
February 18th 2015 – Ulster Hall, Belfast
Up from Downpatrick they came, to Belfast on the bus. He in an anorak. She in a slightly more feminine version of the same anorak. “Waterproofs,” they called them, when the need for a noun arose.
Stopped in Costa for a pair of cloud-topped cappuccinos and split a caramel slice with the dull edge of a teaspoon. Then, on to the lunchtime concert at the Ulster Hall, twenty minutes early for a balcony seat. He, with his ticket printed on the back of an old email. She with a crossword puzzle purposefully printed on the back of hers. Handed both to the usher with a remark about the weather, or lack thereof. It was possible, upon looking closely, to tell his hand from hers, filling in the crossword clues in feint pencil as the bus bumbled its way Northwards from Downpatrick.