Writing for the past 10 years, I have completed five novels to date. The first chapter of my most recent manuscript, ‘Me and Dom,’ can be found below. Thematically, my writing tends to focus on the challenges faced by young men coming of age in contemporary Irish society.
‘Me and Dom,’ tells the story of a young man in his late twenties who is struggling to find his place in post-recession Dublin following a personal tragedy. Existential in nature and written in the first-person, it charts his struggle to come to terms with both himself and the world as he swaps his dead-end job and the bedsit he rents at the end of a garden in the south Dublin suburbs for work and board on a farm in northern France.
My left foot’s half a size larger than my right. I couldn’t tell you when I first noticed. All I know is it makes finding a pair of shoes a pain. I hate shopping so I’m itching to be finished quick as I start and I’ll often feel the familiar pinch in the side of my foot minutes after I’ve left the house with my new shoes on for the first time. That or the right one will be too loose, which isn’t really a problem, I suppose, because then I can wear two socks on the one foot. But it’s the little things, though, the things you wish could be that bit easier, that you didn’t have to think about along with all the rest of it.
There’s an image that comes to mind when I feel the fabric cutting into my foot. It’s been that way since a weekend spent in Poland when I was sixteen. That would make it more than ten years ago now, a few months before credit crunch and austerity took the place of weather and football as idle chat in lifts. Mam stayed behind because she’s never liked flying, still doesn’t. Da’s bank couldn’t find the staff and he was out to a different city in Poland each month, coaxing fresh graduates onto planes Dublin bound with promises of steady salaries and steady lives, enough to live on even after the money’s been sent to the family at the end of every month.
– “Those Poles know the meaning of a day’s work.”
That was what he’d always tell me. I’d never met one and I wanted to see how it all worked in that country of grafters. I imagined the place being one open building site, a bustle and swagger to the lot of them and rows of cranes so thick they’d blot out the midday sun and give the army of builders stacking bricks below respite from the summer rays. Da had already been there three days when I arrived on the Friday evening. There’s nothing compares to a trip like that when you’re young. You couldn’t care less if you’re rooming with your Da who snores, too busy as you are with dreaming about the infinite maybe of all you don’t know, all you can only imagine.
I was still a virgin but that didn’t mean I hadn’t worked it all out. I remember the fantasies during the flight, that I’d arrive and Da would meet me and introduce me to a group of graduates, give me fifty quid and tell me to enjoy the evening. Not in a weird way, as if he’d hired them to turn his son into a man, only in a way that it slathered a gloss of maybe onto my storytelling. Me and Da were close then and I saw myself strolling into the breakfast buffet in the morning and catching his eye as he lowered the paper. Then he’d give me… What was it he’d give me? Paternal nod of pride? Fist bump? Hardly. But that’s how I thought when I was that age and I know I’m far from being alone in having had a head full of such notions, same as I know I’m far from being alone in having different sized feet.
I remember the heat from that weekend. It was early June and scorching, sun still squeezing hard when I got to the hotel around eight in the evening. We walked the five minutes to the Main Square and ducked into the first Irish pub we saw. Da was in good form, joking away. The place was packed and I was struggling to take it all in, senses dragged in all directions like a cub at his first honey tasting. I can still see the girl sitting at the bar that I couldn’t stop staring at, black mini crawling up her crossed legs as she’d shift on the bar stool. I think she was Polish and I wanted to get close to her, maybe even try to talk to her, the conviction she was returning my gaze growing stronger with each slug of beer. At one stage Da followed my line of sight, glanced over his right shoulder and spotted her. He turned back and said nothing, the corners of his eyes creasing as he took a sip of his pint.
We’d never had a drink together before, had never even discussed the topic, but it felt normal and I wasn’t about to start asking questions. There we were, two lads enjoying a pint, nothing odd or awkward about it. But that changed. He came back from the bar with the second round a different man, the joy sucked from his face. I looked at the girl and the bloke next to her, wondered if he’d had a word with Da. He wasn’t to be rushed and I waited, eyes glued to him as he took a long draught and peered about the bar as though we were only spooks posing as father and son for the weekend.
– “I’m going to Auschwitz on Sunday.”
He said it as though he hadn’t a choice, as if he’d been summoned and wasn’t sure he’d ever be coming back. He stroked his beard and stared at me, thumb and index finger bristling off the grey strands that up till recently had only speckled his chin but which I now saw would soon devour it.
– “What do you reckon?”
It’s strange to visit a place like that on a sunny day. I’d always thought misery could only happen in the cold. But I suppose the sun was also shining in Rwanda and Turkey too. We got a tour of the camp but I couldn’t get into it, felt guilty for not feeling as sad as I knew I was meant to, though I didn’t let on to Da whose stiff movements told me what it meant to him. Near the end the tour guide excused himself in front of one of the crematoria and shouted at this young lad, around the twenty mark he must have been. Shades on, he was lying on the grass and puffing away on a smoke. He hauled himself onto his side after a few seconds to see what the fuss was all about. The guide kept screaming even though he had the offender’s attention, ordering him to get off the grass, to put that cigarette out, to remember where he was, to show some respect. Smiling as he did, the young lad got to his feet and strolled off, ignoring the shouts, smoke still dangling from his lips like a ragged prisoner about to breathe his last.
I’ve always since wondered who the fellah lying there was, whether that was his way of paying respect to family members who’d died there, taking a few moments to reflect, soak up the rays and puff on a fag; enjoying the little things while he still could. Or maybe not, maybe he couldn’t have cared less. Hard to say. I was still thinking about him when I saw the stacks of shoes all jumbled up behind the glass at the end of the tour, those thousands of dead shoes that hit me harder than the gas chambers and the stables where they’d housed the damned who I’d being having a hard time imagining had been like me: people who had loved and also been loved. My mind went still when I saw the shoes and all I could do was stare.
It’s those same shoes I see when I feel the pinch on my foot. And when I do I wonder how many of those shoes, colour now faded with time, had owners who had different sized feet, had owners who had the same problem finding a decent pair that I do, who walked around with one shoe too loose and one too tight. And of those who had the same little problem, how many of them came to see it as I since have? That the pinch reminds you you’re still here all the same, doing your best to get wherever it is you need to go, while you still can.