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[Fiction] No One Owns the Sea

By Monica Igoe

I went walking last night. Out past the yachts with silly names like Molly and Suaimhneas, and the one-man dinghies, their naked masts jingling and jangling in the soft breeze; out beyond the golf course and all the way to the end of the narrow peninsula.

On my return, I snuck around the side of the Sailing Clubhouse for a gawk. I needed to pee. At least, that would be my excuse.

Happy Birthday to Sue blared from a bottom-story window. Men and women flirted, sipped on drinks, and smoked near an open door. The graveled car park was dotted with shallow potholes. The place was a dump really. I was about to move on, but then I spotted Tommy, dressed in a black t-shirt and tight jeans, hugging a beer barrel to his chest.

“Arthur,” he yells. “What you doing?”

“Friend of Sue’s,” I say. “Showing my face. Know how tis.”

When the last of the partygoers left, Tommy raised a bottle of Jameson from behind the bar and we got stuck into catching up on old times.

Tommy was glad of my company, any company I’d say judging by the speed at which he downed his malt. I, on the other hand, never say no to a free drink. Besides I’d already cased the joint by then; pocketed a few credit cards and phones, though what I’d really wanted was to damage a few jammers. You know, snap a mirror here, slash a car tire there, crawl my penknife along some shiny paintwork.

Tommy hadn’t changed since National school, he’d the same easy manner that screamed privilege. Said was studying Ag. Science. Planning to take over the 400-acre family-farm one day, suppose. Told him I was doing law. Actually, I was enrolled in an Arts degree; hoped to get in the circuitous route.

“Fair fucks. Plenty of dosh in law,” he says.

“That’s the idea.”

He stretches back his neck then and grins wildly. “See any of the old crew?”

I shake my head.

“Rember Mother Agnes? And the other auld one, woz er name?” He scratches his mop of black curls and screws up his face. “Learnt us nothing. Got the shite baten out of us when we went on to the Brothers. Coarse you were in your posh school in Dublin by then. Handy having a minted Granny, eh?”

“Mrs. Clancy,” I say stiffly.


“The vice-principal.”

“Some memory you ‘ave. No wonder it’s you goanna be the lawyer.”

I smiled self-effacingly. I could remember every person from my time at St Malachy’s National School, and it wasn’t because of any craic.

Thing was, Tommy hadn’t rated me back then. Didn’t make the cut, simple as that, and he didn’t miss an opportunity to let me know it. He was a right snob. I remember this one time, me bragging at breaktime, five or six young lads giving me half an ear and Tommy, the bollocks, butts in.

“Passed your house last night, Arthur,” he goes, all innocent like.

“So?” I bark, and I jut my chin forward, warning him.

“Just saying Arthur, that’s all, just saying,” he goes cool as a breeze, and everyone gawking at me and the blood barging up my neck.

Of course, I knew exactly what he was saying. Our house on St. Ibar Street full of knackers and ours standing out for its shabbiness. I remember these two ones from de Vincent de Paul used to call and give me treats at Christmas. Well, this one time, we are in the park, and I see one of them with a bunch of kids, Tommy among them, and they’re having a birthday party or barbecue or something, so I run up and the woman gives me two Lollypops, but she doesn’t ask to me stay.

And whatever way the wind is blowing the stench off Mammy smacks me in the face. And I hate the woman from the Vincent de Paul and everyone else in this town and Mammy even more for not being like them. I tell you Tommy had the size of me alright, and he was making sure I knew it.

I’d done nearly five years in secondary school in Dublin by the time my mother’s drinking finally got the better of her. She’d pissed away my inheritance by then too. Every cent of the insurance money we’d gotten after my father died. I travelled down with Grandma in her friend’s Audi for the funeral. Some relatives I didn’t know turned up too. Did the readings. Made things respectable.

A master and four of my classmates represented Caldera College. I appreciated that. They wore their blazars, looked all preppy and impressive. Grandma put on a spread in The Arms Hotel, which is the posher of the two hotels in the town, and I could tell the locals were impressed. Love a good funeral down these parts. The drama, and all that. There were flowers and hymns and people talking in hushed voices, all the usual stuff. A line of vaguely familiar faces queued up to sympathize with me and Grandma, heads bowed, all serious. Said my mother was a gentle soul, how she’d be missed - my arse. Said how I’d turned into a fine young man, a credit to her, I was. Some neck, they had.

My mother was dead a year now and this was my first time back since the funeral. The Corporation had written me saying it was taking back the old house and I wanted to see it one last time. Don’t ask me why. Besides, I’d a few scores to settle. Perhaps I’d visit the family grave too. Not to put flowers on it or anything. I’m not sentimental.

Tommy’s conversation is bouncing from one topic to another now. But I’m only half listening. He’s handing me binoculars to watch bloody sunrises. And he’s blabbering on about islands in the distance, and the rapids on the far side of the bay, and who owns what fancy house, and I’m thinking, God, he’s one hell of a bore.

Three cars pull up on the pier below. I train the binoculars on them. Women in Dryrobes clamor out. “Who’re they,” I snap.

“Must be doing a sunrise swim,” Tommy answers yawning.

“It’s the end of March,” I say.

He shrugs. “What d’ya say we go back to mine for a few bevvies? The folks are away.”

And so, we take a taxi back to his place. Tommy slips the Pakki driver a five euro note as a tip. He barely thanks him, like is loaded already. Don’t know what I'm doing studying law.

I wake the following morning, aching all over, courtesy of Tommy’s parents’ antique couch. I can hear him snoring through the thick walls. I drag myself into an upright position and consider my options, then I tiptoe into the spacious hallway.

A bunch of keys lie strewn across a console table. I toss the bundle low into the air, land it in my open palm and slip its cold bulk into the front pocket of my Levi’s. Then, I pull the front door quietly, walk to the shopping center at the edge of town, take the escalator to Sam’s Locksmith’s and cut myself a copy of the big brass key I’d seen Tommy use to lock up at the clubhouse. I walk back to Tommy’s then. There’s no sign of any life. I shove his house key into the keyhole of his front door, leaving the other keys dangling in the morning breeze and head away.

Over half the one-story semis on St Ibar’s Street are boarded up when I get there. Corpo’ clearly didn’t have much demand for gaffs with one outside toilet between every two families. I let myself in without much bother. The mail-train to Dublin is gone an age by now, which means I must wait until tomorrow morning or cough up for a train ticket, which I’ve no intention of doing. Problem is, I don’t fancy killing hours in the old place either. I’ve been here less than thirty minutes and already my head feels like it’ll burst from all the memories. There isn’t even a TV or radio.

So, I decide to make my way back to the Sailing Club, at least there’s grub in the fridges. The cleaners aren’t due in ‘til Sunday, Tommy had said. I’d have the place to myself.

I sleep well on the reception’s plush red sofas, but I’m awoken early by lights from cars on the pier below. The women are back.

Well, no one owns the sea. I’d spotted a wetsuit and snorkeling gear in the small room off where I’d kipped earlier. I try them on. My reflection in the black sheet windows reminds me of a character from a Marvel movie. Be a shame not to show off my new costume.

The fishermen must have been gutting fish the day before, because the pier stinks like hell when I get there. The women are already bobbing about in the tar-colored water. A semi-circle of sun sits on the ocean top, and the water directly beneath looks like an oil spill aflame. I dive deep and slide out in the direction of the women and for a few minutes I amuse myself tracing my hands close to bits of female flesh, taking care to stay low and out of sight, then high on adrenaline I scoot the uneven seabed back to the camouflage of the jagged rocks.

The women joke as they dress about having the sensation of being watched, then they saunter off giggling and drive away, leaving me all alone. Just me and the magnificent Atlantic, its lapping waves shouting hush, hush, hush, over and over, the white and grey gulls sailing the murderous sky in silence, the wind quiet.

My wetsuit is thin, and I’m shocked at how cold I am. There’s an eerie aura to the place that feels familiar. And I am minded of when I was a boy, and I’d come here, to the ferocious Atlantic, in the depts of Winter; my belly eating itself with the hunger, my mother’s alcohol-fueled raging scalding my ears and I’d belt rocks into the turbulent ocean, and she’d gobble them up and howl for more, and I’d belt in bigger ones and...

A boxy red Toyota pulls up on the pier, jolting me out of my introspection. Its engine shuts off after ten or fifteen minutes. A woman, wearing a yellow rubber hat, mid-thirties or there abouts, gets out. She slips with ease from a towel poncho and plunges into the trembling water. I walk to the pier-edge.

“Forgot about the clocks going forward,” she giggles up at me then she rolls over onto her back and tickles the water with her hands, propelling herself along. “Six degrees,” she boasts, like a two-year-old.

Holding her nose, she submerges herself beneath the murky water and glides away. And with a great big whoosh, she resurfaces moments later, whips off her hat and goggles, tosses her red hair loose, and begins to ascend the slipway. She walks like a queen. I raise her poncho from the damp concrete and hold it out to her. She thanks me, but I can see the uncertainty creep into her eyes. I pretend to take the hint and move away.

I lean against the bonnet of her car now and I shower her with my full attention.

“Everything OK?” she calls out, stalling three-quarters way up the slipway, the foamy water caressing her muscular calves.

“Having a rest,” I say.

“Where you parked?”

“On foot,” I deadpan.

Her gaze jerks about the deserted pier front, and her shoulders hunch. She makes balls of her fists. It’s just us now, and a big curlew, with an ugly curved beak, standing tall and proud, watching from the vantage point of a sharp black rock. Everyone is having a lie in this morning. There are no walkers or joggers. No cars on the winding road that cuts through the wooded park.

“What’s your name?” Her voice is shaky.

“Tommy,” I reply. “Tommy,” I roar after a short pause, thrilling at the opportunity to blacken my childhood tormentor’s name.

“Well, Tommy, if you could give us some privacy to change, I’ll only be a few minutes. Think it’s going to pour.”

Her eyes are stretched wide, her brow is knotted. And I know from the ghostly pallor of her porcelain face that she’s shit-scared, and I feel lovely and warm inside and all calm and powerful and I want to tell her that she doesn’t know she’s born, because what she’s feeling isn’t a patch on what I suffered growing up in this stuck-up town.

She moves both hands to her stomach, takes a few shallow breaths and braces herself to speak, her face pleading, desperate. Only her teeth are clattering, and she’s shaking with the cold, and I don’t know what she’s saying. Her words are jumbled, and all mixed up. Still, in between the incomprehensible utterances, she forces a half smile. And I can’t help but admire her guts, because she just keeps on trying. Like I used to. So, I watch her, and I say nothing.

Eventually she exhausts herself. She starts to cry. She doesn’t bother wiping her crumpled face. She just looks at me out of red swollen eyes. And I stare right back. And neither of us flinch. It’s like we’re looking straight into each other’s souls. And I soften.

And I want to pretend it’s all been a big misunderstanding. And I think how nice it would be to just sit here, on the wet rocks, with this woman who’s had a taster of what it was like for me, and we could chat about the sea and the birds and the weather, and maybe Tommy and the woman from de Vincent de Paul, and Mammy too, just the two of us, like regular people.

But when I open my mouth, I hear myself say, “I’ll close my eyes.” And I’m back into the swing of my own contrariness, and I don’t know why.

But she’s not listening. She’s already moving down the slipway so fast I worry, she’ll slip and break her neck, and she’s swimming frantically in the direction of the lobster pots.

I make a cup of my hands. “Mind the rapids,” I sneer after her shrinking shape.

And then, I let my arms drop limp by my side, and I laugh, and I laugh ‘til I have a pain in my belly.

And I wonder, was my father a prick too?

Monica Igoe studied Communications at Dublin City University. She has worked as a staff journalist and editor in London, Cork, and Dublin and as a freelancer out of Galway. She has been a featured reader at Galway's “Over The Edge” literary event, and her fiction has been published in Crannog magazine. She lives in Oranmore, Galway and swims in the Atlantic most days.

Photo credit Conor Luddy


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