Years With No Head
He remembered their days of walking, off their faces, from one end to another in slow graceful curves, across bridges that made him think of Venice, though when Sean reached out his hand he touched the top of the number 80 rather than a passing gondola. The names spoke to him from the past: he had no idea who Charles Barry, William Kent or John Nash were then, but liked imagining whiskered patriarchs accompanying them on their rounds, helping the old folk fumble for keys and complain about the damp. Back then, Sean would find auguries in bird shit and stained ceilings, parse the graffiti: Live – don’t exist, Pray for war, Fight the Satanist State, all the ‘A’s circled. Sweeney, black-hoodied, spray can in hand, added to the city’s mute speech: Sinn fein amhain, Hands off Malvinas. Now there was nothing for Sean to read; he felt illiterate.
He wondered what had happened to those old ones, forgotten even by themselves, living on alongside those who’d called themselves vocalists or percussionists, explorers or renegades, postmodernists or expressionists. The shambling grey figures hadn’t left so much as a ghost while the squatters had moved into property, media, urban regeneration. Sean had seen Sweeney featured in the backpages of a broadsheet, fatter around the face now, the hoody swapped for a Paul Smith suit, but those soft girl’s eyes still intact.
When they were feeling adventurous they’d go into town, flaneurs of the Arndale giddy on cheap class As. This is all coming down, Sweeney said, pupils the size of ten p pieces staring out from under his cowl. One day soon, washed away. They’d go back and watch his worn VHS of Taxi Driver or First Blood, and even Sean would worry, make his excuses and leave.
They’d known each other since school, the kind of friends who could never quite shake each other off, sitting at the back, sharing detention, finding themselves on the same Vincent de Paul camping trips, sneaking off to smoke B&Hs he’d nicked from his dad and avoid fiddling Father Patrick.