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                                                                            by Nathan O'Hagan
That’s the first thing I see when I step off the train. The graffiti on the wall. Used to
be black scum, and Irish before that. Nice to see the town is moving with the times
at least. I jog up the steps and out onto the street. A bit has changed in ten years.
The pub is still across the road, except it’s closed now. The chinky next door is still
there, as is the offie. I think about heading straight in there for a bottle, but decide
against it, and keep walking. “Paki scum go home”. Over the road, past the park.
Same rusty old swings. Same tennis courts with no nets. I walk. I keep walking down
that street, with the same houses with their same front doors. Except the new cars,
hardly a thing has changed. I reach the house. I step through the gate and take the
key out of my pocket. “go home”. I hesitate before I put it in the door. I shove it back
into my pocket, turn and head back out the gate. Further on down the road to the
I head straight to the bar and order a pint and a shot of whisky. I knock the whisky back and order another one, and down half the pint while the old bird behind the bar pours it. I knock the second whisky back and sip my pint as I take a look around the pub. No familiar faces. Right now, that suits me just fine. I order another pint and another whisky and take my drinks to a table in a quiet corner. I down the whisky and the rest of my first pint. I sip the next pint slowly. Three years, four months and six days without a drink. Less than an hour back in this town and I'm already half cut. Fuck it, in for a penny, in for a pound. I order a treble whisky and sip it slowly, savouring it. I finish off the last of my pint, and I'm ready. I walk back to the house, and without hesitating for a second I put the key in the door. The first thing that hits me is the smell. That unmistakable, sickly-sweet smell of recent death. I know by now trying to cover my nose will only make it worse, so I breathe it in. Once my nostrils have acclimatised, it isn't so bad. I walk into the living room and the first thing I see is his chair. I swear it still has the imprint of his arse in it. I walk over to it and pick out a tiny tuft of his hair that had become entangled in its fabric. I sit down in it, resting my arms on the sides of it just like he used to. I stretch my legs out onto his foot stool, close my eyes and fall asleep.
I wake with a jolt from a dream where I was drowning. I check my watch and realise I've been asleep for three hours. That's more than I've slept since I got the news. Since I knew I had to come back. I walk to the kitchen sink and splash my face with cold water. I make myself a strong black coffee and decide I've sobered up enough to walk down to the solicitors to sign all the legal papers. I'm still legally his next of kin after all, even if we hadn't spoken in years. I'm surprised the vicious old cunt hadn't had me written out of his will. I suppose he just never got round to it. Too busy drinking himself to death. Plus I need the solicitors to take care of my requirements, i.e. to give everything he's left me to charity. There's not much of it, but I don't want a single fucking penny of his money.
After the solicitors I consider going straight back to the pub. But I take a detour. I head
further into the centre of town, the town centre with half its shops standing derelict.
This town is on its knees, just waiting to be put out of its misery. Managed decline, they
used to call it. One of the few open establishments left is the funeral home. The man
on the reception tells me he's about to close. I tell him who I am, who I'm there to see,
and he says I can have five minutes. I tell him I won't need that long. He ushers me into
the chapel of rest and leaves me alone. I stand back from the casket. From where I'm
standing I can't see him. I consider turning and walking straight out of there, but I know
I have to do this. The booze that's still in my system gives me just enough mettle to take
a few steps forward. I look down on him. With the clean-up job they do in these funeral
homes, the make-up on the outside and the preserving chemicals on the inside, he
actually looks more alive than when I last saw him. Like someone's done a real-life
Photoshop job on him. I've seen enough. I turn and head for the door. The undertaker stops me before I get there, and starts talking in the hushed respectful tone he probably thinks befits the occasion about the arrangements for tomorrow. I hold my hand up to stop him. I tell him all I need to know is what time I have to be there.
                                                                                                 I stop at the offie to pick up a bottle of the most expensive whisky they sell. I go back                                                                                                    to the house and take my suit out of its bag. I hang it up on the doorframe and                                                                                                              smooth out the creases. I check my shoes and decide they're clean enough. I sit back                                                                                                    in his chair, open the bottle and drink until I'm unconscious.
                                                                                                 Morning comes and I shave, shower and dress. I get there early and sit at the front                                                                                                        with my back to the door. I autopilot my way through the service, not getting up to                                                                                                        say a word. I leave that to people who cared about him. When all that shit is over I                                                                                                        walk around in a semi-stupor, shaking hands that are thrust in front of me, feeling                                                                                                        sympathetic pats on the back. I accept condolences from vaguely familiar faces, and                                                                                                    nod at verbal testimonials to his greatness and all-round likeability. I sit back down and watch people form a bread-line to pay their respects at the open casket. The grieving line transitions nicely into the queue for the buffet. I wait until everyone has said their goodbyes to him. Then I step up to the casket myself.
The body is dead. His skin is dead and rotting under the ridiculous make-up. His organs are dead and disintegrating. His every cell is dead. He, and all parts of him, have been dead for nearly a week. I know this. Everyone here knows this. And yet I have to make sure. "Dad," I say quietly. I turn my head slightly to make sure nobody is within earshot, "wake up, Dad." I reach into the casket and nudge him slightly with the back of my hand. "Dad," I say again, louder this time, "come on. Wake up. Wake up, you old fuck." The conversational hum of the room has quietened, and I know, but no longer care, that they are all watching me. "What are you waiting for? Get up. Get up and fucking hit me. Come on." I nudge him again, harder this time, rocking his body to the side slightly. "Come on," I shout, "a real man would stand up. A real man fights, doesn't he? So what the fuck are you waiting for?" I clench my fist and this time I punch him in the chest. The corpse jolts as though it's been zapped with a defibrillator. I feel arms on my shoulders, reassuring voices telling me to stop, that I'll be OK, that this is inappropriate. But I resist their attempts to lead me away, and I punch him again, harder. "Why aren't you fighting back? What's wrong with you?" I punch him as hard as I can, and I feel his ribs crack under my knuckles. I punch him in the same spot, wanting the shards of broken rib to stick into his heart, into his lungs, to puncture and deflate every organ inside him. I get a few more punches in before I am finally dragged away. I sprint straight for the door.
Down the street, past the pub, back to the house. I run in and grab my bag and run out, leaving the front door wide open and the keys on the step. And I run. Down the street. Around the corner. Down towards the station. Past the park, down the station steps, two at a time. I jump onto the train just as the doors are closing. As the train pulls away, I see the graffiti.
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