I expected, being out the pier so early, and the storm already through its
gears to fourth, that I’d meet no one, let alone himself.
Waves rushed in like row on row of white anger. I imagined them being the
enraged souls of infantrymen sent over the top, gallantly advancing
towards oblivion – doomed – dashed against a wall of enemy fire. Each
wave’s end was like another shell exploding.
The view beyond was largely whited out in a veil of spray and cloud, with
the island visible through it only in outline, like the future, or the face of a
Himself saw me and nodded, took out a fag. He tried to light up with his
shoulders hunched over, his hands cupped round match after match. The
wind triumphed every time.
He approached me then. I’d asked nothing but he shouted to be heard
above the noise – that non-stop noise – bouncing off the low sky, like the
roar that hoors up the flue when air sucks under the fire and flames grow
fierce. That noise fairly bellows. Out there the sound was similar, but cold.
He was, he said, at the edge of despair. He’d traced his troubles back to a
day last summer when he stood with you, looking out to the island. Out of
nowhere some demon made him wonder aloud how well he knew you, and
you – he told me – said with a sad certainty that you didn’t think you and
he were quite the match, but that you’d wait and see.
He was hunting this evil spirit now, hoping to throttle it and thus regain
the moment a second before he’d opened his gob at all.
I can’t forget his windblown head, his face red and wet from the cold and
wind and spray. His small eyes – gas-flame blue – were mad with passion,
alive with sparks like wartime nights. He told me ever since your queer
exchange that things were tempestuous – a good word, don’t you think?
Demented, he maintained, was the only word suited to him after so much
searching for a way back to where his own words and yours could be
Unable to hate him, I held open my coat, nodded at the matches in his hand.
He leaned his head into my makeshift shelter. We were like soldiers
ourselves, chums. The sight of him there bowed before me and the start of
a bald patch on his crown almost cleaved my heart. He drew back, lit, and
asked me what diabolical cause had me abroad on such a wild morning,
and was I demented too?
I left him yonder, smoking, sniffing around for demons. Back at the harbour
all the boats – held by strong moorings – rolled this way and that, and thus
mimicked your indecision.
This is your war, really; not mine, not his. When the battle’s done though,
when your mind – like that storm – has settled, you will roll this way or
that, and one of us will have lost.
Neil Banks lives in Bray, County Wicklow. His poems have appeared in The Stinging Fly and Shot Glass Journal. His fiction has been broadcast by RTE Radio and published by New Irish Writing, Crannóg Magazine and others.