October 1st 2015 –Lisnaskea
Tim had been driving round the lake for almost an hour when he came across a small, secluded spot with a slim, sandy beach and rushes concealing it on either side. He parked his car on the hard shoulder, removed his book and picnic things from the boot and settled down for a quiet afternoon.
Half an hour later a young couple arrived on bicycles. “Look,” cried the girl, not noticing Tim, “it’s perfect. Let’s stop and picnic here.”
With hindsight he should have waved, made his presence known at this point, but he felt this might not be proper. After all, the beach did not belong to him anymore than these youngsters. They leant their bikes against a tree and clambered down on to the beach, only noticing Tim as they unfurled their picnic blanket. All three raised their hands at once in greeting, then smiled awkwardly and remained there, awkwardly eating their individual picnics in a space no bigger than a dining room table.
Tim left first for he could not relax in their presence. He made it seem as if he needed to rush away to another appointment. He did not want to make the young couple feel bad though they were strangers to him and would remain so.
October 2nd 2015 –Lisnaskea
Two nights in a row Elizabeth’s mobile has gone off at 3am. She has it set to silent on the bedside table so it doesn’t wake her though the buzz of it goes singing into her sleep and she finds herself dreaming of wasps and humming, kitchen freezers. In the morning she wakes to a missed call from home, which is still the home of her childhood, never quite replaced by the home she now lives in with her own husband and children. This can’t be right, thinks Elizabeth, her parents are in Portugal for the week. There is no one to call her from the home telephone. She imagines a burglar finding her phone number at the top of the list which her mother keeps, pinned above the telephone table. She imagines this same burglar filling her inbox with threats and vulgar talk. But when Elizabeth listens to her voicemails there are no threats or angry voices, only the familiar sound of pipes and woodwork settling, the old house groaning as if lonely for its former occupants.
October 3rd 2015 –Enniskillen
Clark and Cathy Blakeman
It’s Saturday afternoon in the shopping centre though no one would know if it wasn’t. There are no windows here. One door in and one door out, which was probably a safety thing in the 80s when this shopping centre was built and people were still leaving incendiary devices, like dropped parcels, beneath the coat racks in Marks and Spencer’s. The boy in the line for coffee works in River Island. A tag dangles round his neck reminding him where to go when his break ends. He is wearing skinny jeans and a checked shirt which is not a uniform, though it may as well be. He is flirting with the girl behind the coffee bar in that clumsy push and pull and talk at the same time way which teenagers do. She is wearing a uniform but has accessorized it with a pink bow, worn high in her hair, which is like a cloud or something Amy Winehouse might have rocked before she died. She has probably worn this bow, specially for the boy. They are taking a solid age to buy and sell a single coffee. You don’t mind waiting. You remember working in a shopping centre on a Saturday afternoon. You remember being young and awkward. You don’t have anywhere particular to go.
October 4th 2015 –Maguiresbridge
There were two of them trying to get to Enniskillen town. The more decent of the two stood on the hard shoulder, thumb aloft with a cardboard sign. The other, who was straggly looking with a ghost of a beard graying down his shirt front, had opted to hide in the hedge with their bags, which was good thinking on his part, for everyone knows that a single hitchhiker, sparsely-bagged, has better odds than a pair with suitcases. Not that these two were going anywhere, this being suburban Northern Ireland in 2015, they being eighty, if they were a day, and very possibly escaped from some sort of containment facility for the elderly, which reminds me, of course, of the two auld lads I once saw, ‘speeding’ away from Royal Portrush on a stolen golf cart, pushing fifteen on the Main Street as they waved their walking sticks lewdly at every passing lady.
October 5th 2015 –Ulster Hall
Myra has lost her teeth. She had then this morning in a glass beside her bed. Then, later on the bus into town they were in her mouth, and on a plate beside her soup bowl at lunch. Then, back into her mouth, though, opening and closing her mouth now, Myra finds they are no longer there. There is nothing with which to hold the walls of her mouth up and her cheeks are falling in like paper bags crumpling against their own emptiness. Myra has lost her teeth. She has also lost the word for teeth and so she points, and points again, at her open mouth, all the time looking like a woman who has lost a very vital thing. Her friends understand. They turn the place upside down looking for Myra’s lost teeth. They are not in her handbag. They are not in the ladies’ toilets. They are not on the coffee table with the scones and the side plates.
“Myra,” they say, smiling, smiling, smiling like warm blankets or scarves, “are you sure you didn’t leave your teeth at home?”
And Myra suddenly has a picture in her head of teeth bubbling in a water glass but she cannot remember if this picture is today, yesterday, or something from a film she once saw on television.
October 6th 2015 –East Belfast
On the way from the car to her front door Lois almost steps on a frog. It’s dark out and she is carrying several bags of groceries. She does not expect to encounter a frog. They are miles from the nearest river and there isn’t even a decent-sized puddle on her street. She is scared that someone will step on the frog or run over it in a large car. She rushes into her house and returns with a saucepan; the only scooping implement she could find with a lid. The frog slips in without complaining. Lois places the lid back on her saucepan firmly. It is made of glass and she can see the frog sitting right in the middle of the saucepan where the non-stick has peeled off. She thinks about taking the saucepan inside and cooking the frog slowly with butter and garlic. This is what she would do if she was French and Lois has always wanted to be French. But, it is almost midnight now and she can’t be bothered with heat and stirring, and afterwards, the dishes. She tips the frog into her neighbour’s garden and goes to bed hungry. The next morning she forgets to wash the saucepan and it is many meals later before she remembers the frog and gags into her mushroom soup.
October 7th 2015 –East Belfast
You were born with a bird’s egg grasped firmly in your right hand. It wasn’t big enough to be a chicken’s. It was pale blue with freckles like the eggs you sometimes come across in woodland nests. You don’t remember being born with a bird’s egg in your fist or how it got there, or why is had not cracked under the pressure of your fingers and the force of being born. It is a mystery to you, like breathing or knowing a thing you have not been told.
After you were born they took the bird’s egg out of your hand and kept it for days under a heat lamp but it did not hatch. Eventually they opened it, cracked its thin shell against a spoon and tipped it –yoke and all- into a teacup. There was a little dot, like the red of an eye in photographs. It was swimming in the yoke. It looked up at them and did not blink. Why would it?
So there you newly were, with an egg in your hand, with an eye in this egg, like a set of Russian dolls or how we all are, secretly, inside.