Jerome has a head like a melted wheelie bin. Dirty dun freckles run across her weekend nose, witchblack strips of wet hair eel down her sunburnt back. George Dyer sits next to her on the this coach home from a Galway weekend. Fuckin ghosts, thinks Jerome. He stinks the same as a corporeal who hasn't washed in weeks, an exceptional public transport phenomenon, despite his posh suit and shiny boots, with his big apologies and fizzy looking eyes and dolorous shite she'll have to deal with. He hums, a Chet Faker tune she's enjoying through her earbuds. It's mad sick how the dead know you.
But first let's talk about Plankman, and how he came to mug Jerome. Like most people, the thing that drives him is a big purple need to be exonerated. Under the wise oaks and dog roses and sycamores of Coolmine woods, he is sweltering, like a scraggy Thoreau with added bits of tinfoil and broken bottles. His intermittent fury shivers the wood pigeons; only the insects will land on his cracked aura in the night. This morning, his red mouth is opening and closing very fast. In his wakeful sleep, he speaks bits of granny Flemish, the trees standing tall around him, men of ire. His real name is JohnPaul de Vroom, which suited him very well in his halcyon boy racer Suzuki Swift pizza delivering days. The races across roundabouts to the Esso for skins and the regular tips from the bras of the Traveller women, their dobermans leaping across his bonnet making whichever girl he had in the passenger at the time squirm, with her Topshop sensibilities. He used to be a tiler, with a concave chest and a propensity for pneumonia. “That fella has a head on him like a damp Welsh monument!” his stepda used to roar across him when he came in stoned off the bus, all milky brained and ready for his dinner, a permanent clear mucous string hanging out of his nostrils, sometimes the left, sometimes the right, like the waters of his emotions, pendulous and undecided in their rhythm. His girlfriend in later years, Tara, found him pissing into a letterbox on the way home from a night out on Talbot street some time after the Welsh monument stepda had fucked off, the last in a string of men who had mostly rough housed him in a way he didn't want or need throughout his childhood, and his Ma had been committed to the hospital for the last time.
Tara was perfect for him, an enabler mermaid from Cabra with hair seventeen kilometres long. She wrapped it up in braids, so they could go robbing lobster and champagne from Marks and Sparks; his boys called her a peach, and she was. Masso Picasso, all svelte waisted, straight backed, cat eyed and never without little baggies for him to start the nights. He worked then security in the Rotunda, bits of coleslaw on his uniform after lunch and frayed epaulettes and getting to eyeball the Nigerian and Polski Da's coming in to visit their moths. Tara's best friend was Jerome, a tooth in the mouth of the Celtic Tiger. She liked to study and save money, but Plankman, or JP as they knew him then, had swum to life in the Pinkeen river, a tributary of the Tolka, which was of course on the wrong side of the Liffey. Jerome was his neighbour and didn't liked his ennui and the messing him and Tara did together, the mess they made of themselves. She saw packets of ghosts exit his ears on buses home from nights out, held that information inside her eyes. Put it down to a bad waterfall when she was fifteen, that had coincided with watching The Excorcist, which had given rise to veils lifting at inopportune times. Like overtired at the till in work, swimming eyes, or mad synaesthesia at gigs or in front of art. Jerome's art school friends were a different crew, but she was loyal to Tara, and the dying crabs and fish scales falling from her presidential hair since she'd met yer man was worrying Jerome alot. So they grew into a wonky triptych, for a while. Jerome kept her anxiety in check for some of that time, like when Plankman dropped them home to Tara's aunty's from the Buddha bar that time in the shopping trolley. “Me pots are gone with yiz!” Tara's aunty shaking her head but let them use berocca as a vodka mixer. Tara and Jerome had their own firepit corners to the friendship, where they took risks too. Like the time Jerome kissed the wet behind the ears garda outside the Palace on Camden street, and him about to knock off for the night, and they got a lift home out of him. They were all with the Jaeger in mini shampoo bottles and getting into scraps and Bobby Boland the doorman locking them in the cloakroom to calm their jam, and hopping railings to put washing up liquid into the Stephen's Green fountain, and robbing wheelbarrows from building sites, and getting into lock ins in Blanch village with oul fellas and mad Lithuanians with zero percent body fat who were fresh off the Ryanair. One particular summer evening, having maxi dressed their way through day drinking at a christening in Phibsboro, they got back to Tara's aunt's house with no key. They had found a packet of stick on moustaches behind the sanitary bin in the pub's toilet cubicle, and had donned them with reckless abandon for the day, even strutting up to the bar like tanked up twin Tom Sellecks with dangly feather earrings and highlights in their hair. The house had single glaze, wide opening windows. There were roadworks right by the kerb, and by an extraordinary stroke of luck, young Madser Kinsella from around the corner was driving the JCB. Tara licked her lips, “here Maaaaaadser, giz a lift up to me window will ye.” Young Madser was very obliging, and a few minutes later, wobbly Tara opened the front door from the inside, herself and Jerome collapsing in a heap of giggles in the hallway, nearly knocking the Sacred Heart picture off the wall. “Yiz are alright girls” winked Madser, shaking his head at them. “Madser you're givin' me life,” belched Tara with perfect seriousness, moustache still on.
One day, the bottom fell out of the world. Tara died, bad yokes on a Majorcan holiday with all her Peter Marks girlos. Plankman was broken, and started using hard things. His Ma was mad, he'd never had a real Da, he'd grown up with hair like straw and a filthy dirty face, burned by falling chip pans and marked by the recession of hearts, and Jerome was a stupid bitch, with her brothers in college and all that. His estate was called the Bermuda Triangle, due to the high levels of thanatos the air had been thick with for three decades. Dead from drugs, electrocution, ossification and boredom; the remainers were either overachievers like Jerome, or completely wild like Plankman, rebellious in their eros and ready to fucking party. But it was a trick; the ghats of his hearts chambers had no map, no architects, he was a ghetto unto himself now. He was consumed with flashbacks, scraps of joy; collecting frogspawn and tadpoles in a pink baby bath with Ma and his little pal Paulie, Jerome's brother, froglets and scummy moss and the garden lit up for them in the mornings in summer, ten penny bags and screwballs and showing Paulie how to cycle with no stabilizers, and that first kiss with Jerome when they were twelve in the field with the long grass and his hay fever and her putting tea bags on his eyes, and football matches with the boys on the green that lasted aeons, and the couple of trips to Belgium to meet the paternals and a dim memory of the heft of his real Da, throwing him high in the air, high high and his big bell laugh and straw hair. At the funeral a sliver slipped into his brain; he'd like to tear the gee out of Jerome, fuck her up. He needed a joint.
Where we next meet Plankman, he has embodied the name. JohnPaul is a distant memory of his Ma; now he's all methadone and homelessness and trees. Clinging onto his mettle, he has a notion that he's going to get his Ma back for all this. He sleeps pendunculate, spread out like a bat, thin skinned and veiny. The sycamore canopy susurrates and helicopters it's loveliness at him, the spiders crawl into his slack mouth and the leaves and glass and tinfoil and miscellaneous flora and flotsam caress him. What's really happening is that he's been mugging girls from the local secondary school who are on their way through the woods to the shopping centre for potato wedges and a gawk around HMV, and will soon get caught, desultory eyebrows and flaccid musculature and all. Or maybe not, since he seems to have developed the ability to time travel. Last week he mugged two girls the bleedin' image of Tara and Jerome but their clothes looked all wrong and they were too young and they didn't recognise him. But that could have been a dream, like the dreams he has that Tara is sitting on him, hard, here, in the woods, with her big dead face, full of makeup like always. Sometimes she sits on his chest and it's not for sex, she's trying to kill him and he wakes up, immobile. But today he's feeling strong. He uses a plank he's found at the edge of the new council offices they're building, handy nails poking out one end of it. It's intimidated several of the older ones into handing over their gold chains and bracelets, but the younger ones have nothing to really give. There is a woman he has befriended. She is not quite homeless, but resides in a caravan up near the industrial estates past Corduff. With a quaint accent and a bunch of bristly, hungry eyed dogs and all her crap in a shopping trolley, Plankman totally misses the fact that she has a working Kodak Bantam and an Argoflex and bags of Brazilian emeralds. He's not the most opportunistic of thieves; Tara was always the wily one. She calls herself Leni Riefenstahl and is constantly shiting on at him about films and German mountains and how she had to get away. He's slotted into this world where people who recognise him have a flow, a thing they hold onto for the purposes of conversation. The repetition reminds him of Ma, how she would fix her gaze on something and the talking would come through her, but not from her.
Jerome is walking carefully along the road towards Coolmine woods, thinking she'll take a shortcut to the shopping centre and meet Tara's aunty there for a coffee. She's spent the night with a man who has a subcutaneous penile implant floating around under the skin of his shaft. The second of six such encounters, Jerome can only skirt around love. Since she lost Tara, she is cigarette vulnerability, burning through slow toxins. They're saying it's the hottest summer since 1975, and sure enough the windows were open to the sloop of the boxer's pelvic floor and staccatto ability to hop off her and dive with his mouth onto her blue-chalk legs and green and pink chiaroscuro stomach. With perfectly timed ability, he pulled the crescendo and rolled it out, made fevers of even the soles of her feet and she became the whole room and the room was a ghazal and he was muttering in other languages and she was shouting in no-language at all. This makes her smile now and slick too down there and it rises through again like echoes in the woods and she feels satisfied that she's far enough away now, from pain and things that are too big. Coming back here gives her the deja-voodoos, the just awake walking through foggy dream cemetery feels, places familiar but not. Not in the Camino mountains with awe way, not in the ways she's sought out, but in the icky old ways-way, the JP and Buddha bar and sticky floors way. She glances up at the trees and feels the tarmac scent hot under her heels, her black hair swishing.
Something is formulating itself from amongst the trees ahead of her, opposite the football pitches. The garda helicopter buzzes in the distance, and this Saturday morning slides into danger as the figure emerges ahead of Jerome. Ah fuck she exhales softly, a familiar cold snail trail crawling up her suddenly clammy back. Plankman has his plank-with-nails traversing his upper torso, and he's crucifrom now in his stealth, in this, his manky polestar. He steps like a wood pigeon, light and intentional towards her. “Don't be fuckin' runnin' now” he speak shouts at her. Jerome's peripherals are going mad; she clocks a metal traffic barrier gate entry into the football fields to her right, are they fenced? She forgets the lay of the land, and it's all shifted and developed during the years of her hiatus. The sun is directly overhead now, malevolent, insistent. She dodges left, into the woods, and this is a huge mistake because the short cut to the playground behind the Leisureplex is now gone and Plankman is fast, so fast. He laughs, his long teeth exposed by purpling gums, his eyes flash scorn at her now and he spits into Jerome's face, her back up against a tree. She looks down, sees the Native American totem tattoo on his right tibia, a wolf and owl combo she'd been there to see inked, with Tara one November afternoon in town. “Me ballix!” screams Jerome, suddenly furious at JP, the penny dropping at his grief, his sputum sliding down her left cheek. This is some ancient burial grounds or lay lines level incandescence, and Jerome is ablaze. Behind him, a rumble shakes the earth.
It's Leni Riefenstahl, with her dogs and her trolley. She whistles at Plankman. As he turns around, he takes a step back from Jerome, his plank slipping for a moment, a moment in which she unleashes her dogs from the shopping trolley. They leap at the plank, gnawing and biting as Plankman shrinks into himself, “Sorry sorry I didn't know it was you Jerome pal, I didn't know…” He trips backwards and lands on his arse in the trolley, Leni grabbing her cameras and jewels just before he lands bony into the rest of the newspapers and sleeping bags. “Well ye can fuckin' stick it up yer hole!” shouts Jerome, wiping her face and tripping past Leni, not sure whether to thank her or run for it. “For the love of fucking Jayziz” Jerome starts to cry, big fat salt tears mixing with spit.
Leni looks her over, approaches. “You are okay” she speaks across Jerome's head in a funny accent. “This guy is troubled, not quite dead. You are going to be fine. I will take care of him.” The dogs drop the plank, come to heel by Leni with her curlicued hair and smoked meat stench, their tongues hanging. “But he is dead” sobs Jerome, Leni taking her by the shoulders. “Everyone is dead.” The young woman and the tiny figure embrace, while Plankman snoozes in the trolley.
And so, the humans of Blanchardstown continue to go about their business in and out of the shopping centre a few hundred yards away, oblivious to the woodland Pieta and many ghosts – including George Dyer, drink in hand - circling. They continue to drink and drug and over eat and under eat and make floral arrangements and fold clothes and speed in German cars, they live and die, consume and procreate over and over, under an uncharacteristically continental sun.
Ingrid Casey is an Irish writer and visual artist. Her work is visceral, surreal, and feminist. Her debut poetry collection, Mandible, was published in April 2018 by the Onslaught Press in Oxford, available here: http://onslaughtpress.com/product/mandible-by-ingrid-casey/. She also produced a short documentary on family homelessness in Ireland in 2018, available to view here: www.throughthecracks.ie