On the train the man with the monobrow does the crossword. He holds his pen poised over the newspaper’s soft flesh. A hirsute man in a suit, astute. A knife of light slices the paper – diagonally – not down or across. As a boy he would never step on shadows.
He left his wife this morning, now certifiably dying, crying in the arms of his sister-in-law. ‘A little sniffle’ is what she’d said, her eye’s white, the edges of her features dark pink like an inflamed wound. The tissue was crushed beyond utility.
He would never step on shadows but he let them wrap round him in the night when he stood star bathed in a rural village house’s back garden. He stood, eyes shut, arms outstretched, short trousers, aged eight, feet in sandals, rooted. He wanted to feel the turn of the earth.
The sun is rubberstamped on the horizon. The wide water of Killiney Bay is lit as if with a million candles, to exonerate the blood sacrifice at the periphery. And then a crescendo of light. The gurgling infant sun becomes gold, regains its naivety.
‘I don’t feel broken’ his wife had said. ’It’s as if there isn’t anything wrong. I can walk down the street to buy apples. I can hold them in my hand and feel their wax, their shield. I can press my thumb into the skin and bruise it. I can take a bite, clean and tangy. You know what I mean by that’ she said, pressing her thumb into his skin above the elbow, placing her hand against his newly shaven skin, just a small nick, that stung. ‘When the sun shines on my head, my hair gets warm and I feel good’ she said. ‘And inside I’m being eaten up and later I go home and take a nap all of a sudden like I used to do when expecting the children.’ The sleep with no undoing.
His car was also kaput, hence the commute, the battery on his mobile phone is ailing. The train clings to the cliff above the bay and he always wanted to sail down such a sky in a parachute, to chuck himself out into fear.
In Oncology, unmasked, much later in the day, he strode out of Surgery to meet the relatives of his patient. Irony had faint humour. He feigned empathy as he had done all through the years to stem the flow of their tears, to shore up their devastation. He indicated in nods and in the press of his firm tips that he was to be depended upon, even when there was nothing he could do. Then he fled, with solid careful steps.
He wasn’t the kind of man to hold his head in his hands, but his wife had framed his face with her fingers and then entwined her fingers with his. ‘You’ she said, ‘you’ and of the radio ‘I love this song’. And then she undid her fingers and he had the sensation of falling backwards and falling and falling. At that moment neither of them were scared.