I don’t remember when or how I became someone allowed to go to the Moran’s fridge to help myself too food. Sean’s family have the best ham, not the formed into squares stuff you get three packs for a pound in Dunnes Stores, but the leg of ham with the yellow stuff that looks like a disease, that I pick off. The meat is juicy and I stuff my cheeks with it, keeping it there like chewing tobacco. The Moran’s find me funny when I drink all their dad’s beer or stink out the bathroom. And if I ask for something, well, it’s a case of, “how much would you like?” I suggested we should build a recording studio in Sean’s shed to record our band. Two weeks later we were on our way to nick all the off-cuts of wood, plasterboard, and glass-fibre insulation from a building providers Sean used to work at and still has the key to—and we built our studio. So I think it was me who mentioned down the pub it’d be a great idea to all chip in and buy a speed boat. As Árón was there, Sean’s older brother who was loaded, I was suggesting he buy one.
I’m sitting at the Moran’s kitchen table talking to Sean’s sort-of-sexy sister, Blathnaid. It’s a booth in a diner-style set-up with two cream, high-backed seats either side of a caravan-style table next to a window—and looking at Sean’s new second-hand Kawasaki parked in the garage. He comes bounding into the kitchen from the hall and skids to a halt, disturbing confusing flirtation from Blathnaid—who’s started doing the Princess Diana eyes and the tilt of the head that she thinks is alluring but just looks mental.
“We’re going to Wexford. Go get some clothes,” says Sean, stopping in his spot in a way that makes me think he’s going to stay like that until I go all the way back to Crumlin from Walkinstown and return.
“What’s happening in Wexford?”
“Árón bought a boat.” His eyes are like two headlamps on full beam as he dances in his new motorbike boots that he hasn’t taken off in the two months since he got his Kawasaki. “It’s a powerboat.”
I jump to my feet without another word, head full of wakeboards and backflips, and pedal without stopping back to Crumlin.
The TV is on as usual and ma is sitting on her throne with her feet on the hearth next to a roaring smokeless-coal fire. She moves her eyes to look at me through the window while I lock my bike beneath the sill.
She bought a new front door by saving up all her children’s allowance. It’s a modern, dark-chocolate-coloured door to match the furniture in the house. And there’s a silly furry Irish flag toy stuck to the little round window. I let myself in and open the living-room door.
Her eyes are fixed on daytime telly, fag held up like a torch of freedom by her face, fingers on her other hand drumming on the TV remote.
“I’m going to Wexford with Sean,” I say, shuffling my feet, unsure if she still thinks she has the authority to kill my fun.
She has a long drag to the butt, stabs it out in an ashtray full of other singed butts, and takes a fresh one out of the box and lights it—all done without taking her eyes off the TV. “You’re nineteenth birthday is on Monday.”
“Yeah, I’m going to have it down there.”
She narrows her eyes and rolls them at the same time.
“Have you something planned?” I ask.
I know by the look on her face I’m in trouble and she’s about to spit out words like a nailgun. “I—bought—a—cake!”
“Ah, thanks,” I say, trying to sound genuinely grateful for spending money on me. “I appreciate that. But, eh—”
I go to the kitchen and tentatively open the fridge door—quiet enough so she doesn’t hear—and peek in to see if the cake is chocolate or the basic cream-flan with hundreds and thousands, it’s the latter.
“No drinking the milk,” she says, robotically.
Eyes in the back of her head and ears like a guard-dog.
I slam the fridge door, nearly smashing the four full bottles of milk, and go outside to the shed to get my flippers. Then I run past her and go upstairs.
“You’re going to knock something over,” I hear, as I bound up the stairs. I meet my younger brother, Ross, and our cousin, Finn, who has a new motorbike, too. When I tell them about the boat, Ross asks to come and I agree as I grab my togs, a change of clothes and my tub of Vaseline. I throw on shorts, take my da’s aftershave and a toothbrush, and I leg-it down the stairs, popping my head into the living room before I leave. “See ye. I’ll be back Monday night or Tuesday morning.”
I wait for her face to thaw but it doesn’t, and I leave. Believing it would be remiss of me to leave it like that, I go back in and stand in the room, willing to apologise for whatever I’ve done. However, I’ve blocked her view of the telly.
“Thanks for the cake.”
She ignores me.
“Sean’s brother got a speedboat.”
I’m looking at a block-of-ice.
“What’s wrong with me having fun?” I ask, knowing it’s a loaded question as she sacrificed her fun to rear us.
Fissures form in her ice-sheet and a corner of her lip tremors and rises like a rolling iceberg, exposing tar-stained permafrost. Her active layer folds at the crevices, before a hot gush of pressurized air is expelled from her orifices. It’s shortly followed by a deep droning noise that bellows from her zone of ablation. The plummeting temperature causes me to wrap my arms around my body, and her hands retract into compressed balls of ice under tension.
As the hissing sound of molten lava bores a hole through her glaciated eyes, making the hairs on my arms stand up, I run. I’m out the door, on the bike, rolling down the drive with one foot on the pedal, flinging the flippers over my shoulder and saying sorry. The other leg gets swung over the saddle as I tear out onto the road, driving one-handedly. I’m soon followed by Ross and Finn on a Honda and I pedal non-stop back to the Morans’.
Sean is by the table, in the same position, and throws the spare helmet to me. I tell him I invited my brother and cousin and they’re waiting outside with nothing more but a tenner, a towel and a pair of togs in their pockets. He’s delighted to have more lads closer to our age along as it’ll be mostly thirty-somethings in Wexford this weekend, his older siblings friends. He hands me paper-towels to wipe my hair clean of the new hair-wax I slather my head in every day—which is usually Vaseline as it’s too expensive given the amount I use.
Sean puts on his black leather biker jacket on his way to the garage, and he waits statuesque with anticipation on the Kawasaki. I come out, hop on, find the pegs for my feet, grab the handrails behind me—because he hates it when I hold onto him—and get loose for the high-speed ride to Wexford. How Sean knows what pub Árón and the rest of Sean’s older siblings are at is figured out using a sixth sense. He guesses rightly, they’re at Murphy’s down by the river.
As Sean takes the turn off the main dual carriageway onto a winding country road, the smell of suntan lotion together with petrol and candyfloss is in the air. Our impromptu adventures to the country in the two months he’s had his licence have so far had the smells of slurry, or peat bog, or diesel. But with the long hot weekend and the outdoor frivolities, a sweet smell hangs around. Men with crowns of brown-and-golden curls tweak motorbike engines with their tops off—showing off their home-trained, bright-red and milk-bottle white two-toned muscles. Multi-coloured, oil-stained Opel and Beamish hoardings are tied to bales of hay lining bends.
The road widens and overgrown yellow-flowering hedges line a long straight where Sean—now comfortable that there are no guards—hits a top speed of fifty miles per hour. We whoop as we pass disgruntled farmers hanging out the window of their tractors and bemused, slack-jawed cows. So far, Ross and Finn have followed behind, but now Finn is revving the engine with excitement. I notice the white feathery tops of wheat-grass lining the road, reminding me of cycling near Skerries in my childhood. They disintegrate when I lean back to lift my leg to feel them brush against my shins. Sean adjusts his wight to account for my recumbence behind him and squeezes the last cc from the engine.
I take the helmet off and my Vaseline slathered hair, unable to absorb sweat, sends salty streams into my eyes. I close them, and feel the breeze cool my face—I feel nearly nineteen and nearly free. Sean slows to take a sharp turn and I right myself, searching blindly with my feet for the footpegs. A hedge-lined, tree-covered road slopes downwards to a full car-park.
“Is this the pub?” I ask, and think I see Sean’s helmet nod once. I look at his eyes in one of the appendaged wing mirrors. He’s focused, but his mind looks to be somewhere else—probably the same place as mine: imagining the craic we’re about to have, or what colour the boat is, or what size motor it has, or whether it has two, and if it has room for a few heads so we’ll be able to have drunken-backflip competitions off it.
We see Árón’s white van amongst all the Ford Fiestas, Vauxhall Astras, and Datsun Stanzas. He always buys a new one every year because he uses it for his business delivering frozen chickens to all the Chinese takeaways in Dublin. The din of chatter from behind tall, neatly trimmed hedges together with the smell of baked-Guinness spillage is the signal for us to morph from centred learner driver and pillion passenger into spaghetti-armed gobshites. Sean skids the bike to a stop next to the van and hops off without saying a word, yanks the key out of the tank, and legs it towards the noise. I walk fast and catch up as he slows by a black gate at the side of an ivy-covered wall.
Sitting around small circular tables, crammed with empty pint glasses stacked high, are sloppy, sunburned drunk people. Full pints are held in hands as are bottles of Bacardi Breezers and Moscow Mules—displayed like they’re the new status symbol. We’re blocked from getting any further by a Crufts gold-standard obstacle course of outstretched legs and big feet with Nike and Adidas trainers proudly on show. I lead the way through the throng of sunburned arms, dried-out frizzy perms, and wilting Jennifer Aniston hairdos that bob along to the music. The noise is raucous: Bryan Adams’ ‘Everything I do, I do it for you’ is pumping from wall-mounted PA speakers; screaming kids wearing T-shirts with Bart Simson saying ‘Eat my shorts’ on them chase girls in little summer dresses with stick-arms and -legs covered in body glitter.
A freckled, sweaty barman grins at punters, sodden cloth mopping up the long weekend, emptying black plastic ashtrays into buckets and flinging down crisp beermats, before carrying two leaning towers of pint glasses in one hand back to the pub.
“Good luck getting a pint,” says Sean, as we inch our way between the bodies and pass the open door of the pub. The heat from inside is like stepping off a plane at Santa Ponsa airport. The happy Paddies are ten deep, elbowing each other and laughing.
“There they are?” says Sean, making it to a clearing. As he takes long strides in his motorbike boots to impress the ladies he’s sure are watching him, he takes off his leather motorbike jacket, twirls it over his shoulder, and stiffens the bicep that has his one tattoo—that says, Achtung Baby.
I hear the voice of Sean’s eldest sister, Moire. She has a husky laugh that’s like a homing beacon in a crowd, and I strut with Sean towards two long tables pushed together at the back of the beer garden. The rickety benches are populated with swaying bodies and droopy-eyed, sun-burned faces that I recognise some of but mostly I don’t. I’m grinning inanely at them, noticing pockets of locals who converse familiarly with Árón’s friends. He knows a lot of people who know a lot of people, and they treat each other in the same way I’m allowed to go to the Moran’s fridge. Árón looks like the rosy-cheeked inebriated king regaling his court or Jesus at the Last Supper sponsored by Bulmers.
There’s an irreverent coolness between them that’s a bit intimidating. Sean and me always get laughed at like we’re two cute springer spaniels jumping up on laps, which we never are because we always try hard to be cool. Ross and Finn are quietly waiting to see the speedboat. I nod and smile at a few more faces I know while Sean speaks to Moire, and they both stare at Árón who shakes his head and lifts himself to his feet using the table. “Right,” he says, stumbling onto a portly man with a blissed-out bonce. Árón is pushed back up and sways like long summer-grass. “The lads are here, come on.”
We follow a group of twenty people in their thirties through a gate at the far end of the beer garden and take a hedge-lined hill towards the sound of relaxed chatter. I see the long, limp limbs of weeping willows and a triangle of water glistening in the sun between hedges, and then the lazy river. A dock comes into view between the gathering of drinkers by the riverside, and a bit further up I see a white and red speed boat moored with a blue rope.
Some wiry lad dunks an arm into an icebox and puts a freezing-cold bottle of beer into my hand as I join Sean by the riverbank. The evening sun is a perfect temperature, but the day’s heat makes the air thick and dry, and people start stripping off and diving into the river further up.
Árón walks like a peacock towards the powerboat, glancing back at his little brother to savour the anticipation on his face. He steps onto the side of the boat and twists, falls backwards, and is caught by two men holding bottles of Heineken in their hands.
Sean runs by me and jumps on board and hops into the driver’s seat. He grabs the oversized key still in the ignition—now an expert driver of all vehicles after passing his motorbike test two month prior—and he grabs the wheel. His shoulders tense with excitement as Árón sits in the seat next to him, waving his beer in the air.
I’m staring at the huge V-shaped bow of the powerboat and then looking at the narrow river and wondering about its turn circumference, when I hear the twin outboard motors roar and then wail. In a flash, the boat rises in the water and mounts the riverbank. The sheer weight of the motors together with their ridiculous amount of horsepower makes it stand straight up like a humpback whale breaching. The crowd gaze helplessly as Árón falls from what seems to be two stories into the river. Sean is wedged in by the steering wheel as the boat sinks a couple of feet. Immediately, my little brother Ross dives in fully cloathed to save the guy he doesn’t know which makes me feel like a coward but as he’s the only only and the motors are roaring I think he’s reckless than brave. The motors splutter under the water but continue to run at full power, keeping it upright like a fibreglass obelisk that blocks out the evening sun creating a shimmering halo around it. Shadows dart beneath it, back-and-forth, as the boat is powered upwards again and teeters on top of the water like a ballerina on her toes. I waiting for Ross to pop up and as there isn’t the pool of blood rising to the surface, he’s still down searching for the guy he doesn’t know. I’m back to thinking he’s a natural hero.
The powerboat bobs there while the motors try their best to launch it into the sky. Another two men dive into the river as it begins to lurch backwards. It’s at this point that everyone realizes that the crazy story we might be telling later could in fact prove to be fatal. Frozen in shock, we watch the powerboat topple backwards towards Ross and Árón resurfacing in different parts of the river, Árón directly beneath it. The thud against his head is sickening. Sean, still trapped by his weight against the boat’s chair and the close proximity of the wheel to it, has a much softer impact into the water. Two more men dive in and I’m thinking about finally helping Ross or Sean who might be trapped under the fuselage or Árón who might be drowning but the propellers are spinning at full speed—the noise is terrifying—and the boat is rolling onto its side, churning up the water. I go to the edge and put my toe on the back of my trainer and Sean resurfaces.
“Someone left the throttle in the full position,” says a stranger in a thick Wexford accent. “Must have turned the engine off with the key.”
Still in shock at how quickly it had all happened, I idly watch Sean and Ross dive back down to help Árón—who resurfaces a bit further out in the arms of the two men who had stopped him falling earlier. One is still holding his bottle of Heineken above the water and laughing. Ross is laughing, too and Sean is in as much shock as I am.
“Are you alright, Árón?” asks Moire, in her husky Dublin brogue, while holding a perplexed look on her face as to whether this is hilarious or as life-threatening as it seems.
Árón throws his head back, blood streaming down his forehead and whoops. The child-like onlookers’ faces mellow with laughter along with mine, although mine is forced. Sean swims ashore as Árón and Ross are pulled up onto the riverbank, Árón asking where his beer went and sending the drunkards into an overdriven chorus of, “Ye mad bastard” and, “Go on ye good thing.”
As Ross is backslapped and handed countless beers for his bravery, Sean meekly hauls himself out of the river a bit further down. I see he has one of his motorbike boots missing and he stands motionlessly on the side, watching the upturned powerboat’s motors finally cut out while the thing slowly drifts away.
I go over to him. “The throttle was engaged when you turned the key. It wasn’t your fault.”
His face is gaunt. “I almost killed Árón.”
I watch Árón’s friends apply blue-paper towels to his cut while handing him a fresh beer, and he’s grinning maniacally. “He looks grand to me.”
Tears well in Sean’s eyes. “The boat’s drifting away.” He looks down at his sodden white sock half off his foot. “Ah, jaysus!”
“Yeah, you’re boot is gone too. Sorry man.” I put my hand on his shoulder and he shrugs me off.
Moire comes over and puts her arm around his neck, closer to a headlock than a comforting gesture. “Idiot.” She takes him up the hill.
I wait with Árón’s friends as he frantically calls people on a block of a mobile phone with an enormous retractable aerial—I assume it’s one of the many locals he knows—to help retrieve the boat. “Where’s Sean?” he asks me, between calls.
“Think he’s gone back to the van.”
“You can drive a motorbike, can’t you?”
“Yeah, sort of.”
“I’ll get his keys and give them to you, follow me back to the campsite.”
“What are you going to do?”
He marches up the hill followed by his entourage who drag Ross and Finn into the middle of them.
I’m at the back and being prevented by the crowd, accidentally on purpose, from getting through the gate to the car-park. When I’m finally let through I see Sean naked and gaffa-taped to the windscreen of Árón’s van. Árón is in the driving seat, mopping a huge gash with paper towels and starting the engine, muttering out the window. His noodle-legged entourage pile into the back as he throws me the keys to Sean’s Kawasaki.
“Don’t crash it,” says Sean, between pleading with Árón not to drive all the way to the campsite with him lashed to the outside of the van. As the van leaves, I hear Sean screaming out that the gaffa-tape is pulling the hairs off his legs, much to the amusement of the ‘grown adults’ in the back.
I start the engine of the Kawasaki, surprised that I don’t feel shocked about the accident, nor am I racked with worry for Sean. I’m getting used to the Moran weekends, or as I quietly call them, the moron weekends. I know the drinking will continue long into the night, and what just happened may be the least dramatic event.
Followed by Finn alone, Ross now the hero of the day, we race to catch up with the van, remembering bonfires me and Sean jumped over on barely derivable motorbikes in the Moran’s piece of wasteland at the back of their private caravan site; and the junker cars that we had demolition derbies against Árón and his mates; the traffic-cone karaokes on top of the caravans at 3 A.M.; the cow tipping in the next field—that had a mental-case of a bull in it; robbing a farmer’s wife’s clothes from her line, putting them on and seeing if we could get cars to stop for us; and the rope swings, one of which we hung from a tree by the caravan-park gate so we could fly out over the road, risking getting hit by anything taller then a Renault Clio—which was never really a risk if you had half-decent hearing.
As I catch up with the van the side-door slides open. Moire—who makes her living teaching primary school children and who speaks with a D4 accent—hangs half-way out the door with a large bottle of Bulmers in her hand, sticking her fingers up at me. I pull up on the other side of the van next to Sean, who’s screaming about the rope cutting into his balls, and I catch his eye.
“You alright?” I ask.
“No. I won’t be having children… I didn’t want any anyway.”
“This is mental.”
He has tears in his eyes but tries to smile.
“You’re all spacers.” I throw my head back. “I fucking love your family!”
He allows himself a second to see this moment from his drunken future, winks and cracks a smile. “Just another mad Moran weekend.”
THE END (of that little escapade.)