By Frank Kelly
I zip up my coat. Throw my bag over my shoulder. Put on my hat. Tell my wife and daughter I love them and that I’ll see them in an hour or so. I’m off out to collect my dole. A weekly trip that allows me some time to walk, think and if the que allows, grab a coffee and maybe read a magazine or write in my notebook.
I close the door. Easy for most. Not on my falling down house. We’ve been trying to get this door replaced for five years, my grandmother for five years before that. Ten years in all. A decade. It’s a council house you see. And the council don’t like to stretch themselves. Oh, they’ll be fairly lively if you fall a week behind in your rent. But it takes them ten years to do one of the three things they agree to do in the tenancy agreement.
So our front door is in poor condition. It swells with every degree in temperature. Making in nearly impossible to open or close. In our attempts to slam the door shut one day the knocker fell off. So now I have to hook it back in through the fixture to close it. It’s a hassle every time and makes leaving the house a chore. I don’t know how many minutes, hours, of my life the council owe me, but I’m sure it wont be put into consideration when tallying up the back rent owed.
I walk up the hill. Up the slimey muddy hill. Covered in mud from the careless motorist who drive down the footpath, ripping up the green and leaving a trail behind them like some giant rude snail I wish I could squish. I walk passed the row of houses. As falling down as my own. Where two young mothers stand and smoke and gossip. I pass hundreds upon hundred of soggy cigarette butts lying strewn about the place because they treat our street like their own personal ashtray. Makes me glad I’m moving in a few months. Makes me think it couldn’t come sooner. It was a nice street in my grandmother’s day. She wouldn’t stand for this. I’m just tired of it. And I’d rather sleep than argue.
I get to the top of the hill. Admire the brief view across the valley to the houses on the other side of town, and then turn. I pass the butcher’s that only opens on odd days. Face the bedsit where a drug dealer hung himself last year. A house made from the alley between two other houses by a money grabbing landlord, currently in the process of renovating it as cheaply as possible.
I stand and wait for the traffic to break. Motorist don’t stop here. They’ll speed up to get ahead of you. It’s a dangerous place to cross. A woman was killed here a few months, crossing with her shopping, walking home with her dinner, mowed down by a speeding motorist who wanted to get ahead, get there five seconds faster. One life taken. One life ruined. Nether of them got to where they were going, never will. My grandmother was hit by a car on this street. Left paralised from the waist down. Still the motorists speed by. Obviously to the fact that their driving a ton of motorised steel. That if they glanced me they would tear me apart. Makes me glad I never learned to drive. Make me glad I’m not one of them.
I eventually get across. I pass the chinese takeaway. The owners live in the appartment attached. The drainage pipe to their sink flows onto the path. I resent having to skip over their dirty dishwater. I recent that they don’t take in their bins that block the foot path. I resent that their delivery people always park on the footptath making it impossible to get by. I resent their half sized car-park carved out of a lost garden, means that cars hang out onto the footpath and block passage. But they do make nice curry.
Down Palace street. The land of doggy dodo. Like Elephants going to the Elephant graveyard to die, dogs pilgrimage to Palace street to shit. It’s unbelieveable. But there are dogs on this street that I like. A friendly golden lab who comes to his gate everyday to say hello. His friend, a king charles, who stays at the door, but bows a respectful nod. An old dog we call Seamus, who’s owner is caretaker at the school down there. He sits on the steps and waits for him everyday. Though I don’t think his owner is very nice to him. Come to think of it, I haven’t seen old Seamus in a long time. Maybe he’s gone on holiday.
I cut across William St. It’s changed quite a bit since I was a kid. There was a shopping centre built on it at the end of the boom. Nice place. Mostly empty. Makes for a handy short cut, if not a somewhat expensive one for whoever built it.
I exit onto Laurence st. I’m on town now. It’s bustling. Everyone’s out. It’s dole day. Possible children’s allowance day too. I hope not. Doubles the que. I pass familiar faces. Say hello. Nod across the street at acquaintences. Weaving through convoys of strollers and miandering toddlers. Pass the coffee shop at the bottom of the street where my wife worked for a year and a half.
I cross the new pedestrian crossing, another game of cat and mouse for pedestrains and motorists. Blasse motorists glide through, oblivious. The amount of times I’ve seen people almost hit. I know some have been. I’d love to see those drivers caught. A cop in the right place at the right time… Oh wait here’s one, driving with one hand on the wheel while talking on the phone and doing exactly the same thing. Hopeless.
West st. is the main street. Bustling. Always. Bad buskers here and there. A girl with a weak voice, drowned out by everything. A college kid with his mates banging out bad covers of bad songs. An booze hound with a soleful voice singing ‘My Girl’ for the price of his next pint.
Scumbags and drug dealers. Little maggots skiding BMX bikes. Mothers with screaming kids. Aul fellas and their walking sticks. Aul one’s and their bus passes. St. Peter cathedral and bus full of tourist in to see The Head. Yes, we have the severed head of a saint in our main church. Life’s bunting clattering in the breeze.
I cross the street again to the post office. Good, the que isn’t too bad. I shouldn’t be long. A man in his sixties talks about finding work in Poland, how he’s leaving for three months, has to go to where the work is. Don’t we all. How times have change. A younger man. Tatoos. Shadows under his sunken eyes and a deep scar on his slack jaw. Fresh payment. For what? Who knows? Who cares? Nothing to do with me.
I hope I don’t get her. I do. I pass my card through. She scans it. I sign the receipt. Then pass my rent card through and my bills. €70 on the rent. €80 on the bills. She’s always very pleasant when I come in on normal post business, sending packages, buying stamps. But when I come in to collect my dole she’s different. Cold. Rude. She doesn’t look up. Doesn’t make eye contact. Doesn’t smile.
I want to shout, ‘Hey, look at me. I’m not a free loader, I’d rather by working, in fact, I do work, I write, I make films, I wish I could make pay, some day soon I hope to, until then I will work at it. Everyday all day. I won’t, I don’t, rest. When you clock out at 5pm I’ll still be working. When you have your dinner at 6pm I’ll still be working. When you sit down to watch your evenings TV I’ll still be working. When you go to bed, fall asleep, drift into dream, guess what? I’ll be up, at 2am, working and then up again at 8am when my 3 year-old daughter wakes me. I’m not a free loader. But go ahead, shun me, scorn me, think ill of me if it make you feel better. But I bet it doesn’t. Look up and smile at me. That might.’ But no. You won’t. You don’t.
Humilaition done for the day I head to the bank. €40 on a loan there. Then to the credit union €50 on another loan there. Leaves me with about €20 for the rest of the week. I feel the sting of panic. A rush of hot blood to the head. But I know I’ll get through. My wife buys the food. We wont starve. We don’t go out. We don’t go to the movies or even rent movies that much anymore. We’re not extravagent in anyway. Can’t afford to be. So we’ll muddle through. Till September. When we move. I try to figure out how I’m going to afford to immigrate with my entire family with €20 a week after everything’s paid. But somehow, I will, somehow, I must.
Heading for home. I take a different route. Up and up peter st. I stop off in the St. Vincent de Paul nic-nac shop to see if I can pick up a little something for my daughter. I bought the entire Disney classics collection for less than a tenner on VHS in there. They look fine. She doesn’t know the difference. We’ve been enjoying them together in the unemployed afternoons. I’ll say one good thing for being unemployed, I’ve got to spend everyday with my daughter since she was born. I would never trade that. Not for the largest salary in the country.
I find some paper sleeved TV shows, The Wind in the Willows, maybe they’re more for me. Nostalgia lifted them from the shelf and happily paid the 20¢ a disc. Home again home again top of the hill. It’s sunnier now. I can see out to Monasterboice, and the rolling hills where the rain clouds still hang. I can see the hospital where I was born, the chruch where I was christained, the school where I drifted in and out of daydreams. And in front of me, my house, once my grand parents house, where I spent much of my childhood. My life in four walls. My life as far as the eye can see. All around me. The walls of the old jail soaking up every moment to preserve in memory, incase I forget.
The door opens and Georgie, our border collie, bolts toward me. They tell you dogs don’t smile. But dogs do smile. She circles the green. I like to see her run. Border collies should run. My wife smiles up at me. I hear my daughter’s tiny voice ring like a bell “Daddy, daddy, daddy,” and I meet her at the end of the path. She throws her arms around my neck and I pick her up. “I love you,” she says, “I love you too,” I say, “I love you three,” her newest joke, she cracks up. I laugh, my heart swells. I kiss her cheek. I kiss my wife. Place my hand on her growing tummy, our son inside, and say hello to bump. I call my dog. We all go inside.