George swung over Shelly’s body and stood on the floor. A fart wired its way to his anus but he burped it out, then wandered to the fridge, opened the door and the cold air tightened his belly, tightened his scrotum, and his sparse chest hair. There was a lone Coke left in the fridge and he drank it down in two swallows. He could drink anything down. His mates Pete and Simon used to make him drink down old Mrs Hannon’s toilet water. The old bitch never knew who got in the window and rifled through her photographs. She had a dead husband in some dead war. She had jewellery that turned out to be useless. Just plastic and cheap sterling silver, the boys had been told. Get something real next time. But George had said it wasn’t that fair to go through Mrs Hannon’s stuff. She was nearly eighty. She could have a heart attack. Simon turned his rat face to George. Like the old bitch, do you? Fancy old fanny, do you, Georgie?
George, he would say deep down in his gut. My name is George.
George and Pete and Simon had known each other since they were seven years old. Grew up in the same old place. Hung out from the flat’s concrete balconies. Dared who would fly. Dared who would die.
George crushed the coke can and threw it on the floor. He needed to puke. He crouched over Shell’s toilet and readied himself. Shell came in after him, toe-kicked his arse and reached for her toothbrush. George stuck his head further into the toilet bowl. It was full of last night’s boozed up piss. George’s guts revolted at the smell but he stuck his head further in and cold urine filled his ears.
He felt another toe-kick on his arse. ‘Move please,’ Shell said.
He sat on the floor while she sat over the toilet bowl. She reached for her cigarettes and lighter, lit one for her and one for him. Her nose had enlarged during the night and air wheezed through it as she inhaled. George willed his smoke into his head and lungs. He didn’t want to think of anything. He looked at his right fist. He glanced at Shell. She stared back. She looked like her driver’s license photo. Blonde hair caught up in a bun-stack, eye-liner still almost perfect
He watched as she concentrated on her vaginal muscles, cutting off her piss stream at intervals. It kept her tight, she said.
‘Take off those earrings,’ George told her.
‘They’re fucking gold, George.’
She gave him a smile that he wanted to stuff back into her teeth. You don’t hit a woman, his father had warned him. You hit yourself. George got up, rubbed his hair walked back into Shell’s sitting room and out of Shell’s flat. The sun was out and it was cold. He leaned over the concrete balustrade and puked some more. The air blasted his nose and eyes. Seven floors up and the wind turned hurricanes in March. Birds dropped wheelies from the trees at the far side of the small playground and George kept his head poised over the concrete parapet. He knew he could fly.
He grinned down at a kid kicking a ball in the playground below. George remembered reading in school that during some war, some men used other dead men’s heads as footballs. He inhaled hard and felt the cold wind sting his teeth. He looked to his right and noticed a parked Garda car. He stared at it until he raised his eyes and saw two female Guards at the flat five doors down from Shell’s. He inhaled on his cigarette. He cautioned his mind, breathed out then walked down towards the flat. The first woman Guard stopped him.
‘What happened?’ he said.
‘What’s your name?’ she said.
He gave it and he wondered if she could see any guilt in his face. She narrowed her eyes. George was known to authorities, he was ‘easily influenced by undesirable elements.’
It was my fault, George’s father had often explained to various social workers. I didn’t impregnate his mother properly. I didn’t give him my full share of genes. Then she dropped him on his head when he was two years old and that added to my son’s calamities.
The Guard asked if George knew the woman who had resided in this flat.
He shrugged. ‘Is she okay?’
He looked over the Guard’s head and into the doorway. The doorway went clean through to the open kitchen and George saw Fiona’s body on the floor. She looked dead.
‘Is she dead?’
He stepped back against the concrete balcony.
‘I didn’t know her,’ he said.
Shell’s door banged closed and he heard her jangle her keys and move fast down the stairwell.
‘Ambulance is on its way,’ the other Guard said.
‘We’ll be talking to you,’ the first Guard said.
George caught up with Shell.
Her nose was braced in white plasters.
‘If anyone asks,’ Shell said. ‘I’ll tell them you gave me a natural nose job.’
They walked on along the path, skipping litter and dog shit.
‘Is she dead?’ Shell said.
George said nothing.
‘Is she dead?’ Shell demanded.
He looked at her. ‘Maybe.’
‘Well, that’s not your fault. Not really, is it George?
They met Pete and Simon at the local café. Shell ordered a full breakfast. Pete had coffee and Simon asked if there was organic granola. The café woman looked at him.
‘Special K or Coca Pops and that’s it.’
Simon took Cocoa Pops.
‘You?’ George was asked.
‘Toast,’ George said.
‘You all right, Georgie?’ Simon said.
‘George,’ Shell said.
‘Excuse me?’ Pete said.
‘No more Georgie, Shell said. ‘Just George.’
Pete and Simon smiled.
‘George the killer,’ Pete said.
He left them there and made his way to the supermarket. He trolled the aisles for a while then stood at the frozen section to feel the cold.
His mind cautioned him. You did not kill her…did you?
If he froze himself then time would stop.
A security man told George to move on.
George made his way home over the small wasteland to where the new two storey modular homes had been built. He let himself in, opened his Dad’s bedroom door to a fug of fart and sweat. He unleashed the curtains and pushed opened the window.
‘Hello son,’ his father said.
His father resembled a four-limbed octopus, huge and pinkly white, his other six limbs long subsumed into his torso. Depression had sabotaged him, he said. Depression was a murderous bitch that assaulted my DNA and converted me into a blob. Depression sidelined my semen heading into your mother’s egg, then she dropped you on your head and that was a perfect combination of calamities.
I love you my Georgie boy. I love you more than my life.
It was a lie, because she left. She wore blue high-heels the day she left. She said she was going for a job interview and she never came back. George sat in front of the house and waited for her. He sat all night and the next day while his father went and bought beer and an Indian takeaway.
‘I’m making hamburgers,’ George told his father.
He went downstairs, shoved the hamburgers in the oven then turned on the radio. He listened out for the news and when he heard about the woman found dead in her kitchen in somewhat suspicious circumstances. There was evidence of sustained attack but no conclusive evidence of murder. George heard his father fat-creep from the bed to the bathroom. He stared at the sun outside. It looked ordinary. His father was fat-creeping down. One step, two step, three step, four step…then eight then the slow heave of his father’s body along the hallway floor.
George flicked open his phone and there was Fiona’s face. He stared hard at her. He wanted to see her for real. He wanted to see her how he had always seen her.
You want me to pretend to be your Mummy, sweet Georgie? Baby Georgie?
Her face on his mobile was thin and it had caved in under her left cheekbone where she had her teeth pulled six months ago. She was bleeding. Her eyes were staring at him.
‘She’s not pretty,’ his father said.
‘Fiona,’ George said out loud.
‘Fiona,’ his father said. ‘That’s a nice name.’ He sat down in his fortified armchair to wait for his hamburger and chips. George shut down his mobile and for the next many seconds then moments that it took for him to check the oven, plate his father’s dinner, George thought I will get through this. I will get through each one of these moments. I did not kill her. I did not mean to kill her.
Her face had lit up last night when she saw him then it lit down when she saw the others. She wasn’t used to more than one guest, she had explained but she had wine in her fridge and she had hummus and crackers and there was even the remnants of a sherry trifle.
‘She’s unique,’ George had told the others.
‘She’s a strange bird,’ Shell said.
Simon said, ‘Told you he liked old fanny.’
George had met her in the supermarket. She couldn’t reach so high for her favourite white wine, so he had reached up instead. She smiled at him and he followed her to the tills. He carried her bags for her to her flat and stepped inside into the cold clean interior. She didn’t believe in heat, she said unless it was tundra conditions. She offered him food and he said yes. She offered him wine and he said yes. She popped a pill then two and he joined her. The ceiling glowed soft. The floor shivered underneath.
Fiona had a velvet soft couch. Her knuckles pointed out of their sockets and George kissed them. Her knuckles were hard and lovely in his mouth.
She looked like a young mother in a T.V ad. He crawled into bed with her and listened to her heart underneath her breast. Sometimes he imagined her bones and his melting into each other, dying with each other. She told him that she was living in jelly, and that she was stuck there until she was dead.
He told her that he wasn’t who he should have been. He said his mother had dropped him on his head and his father’s semen hadn’t hit the mark.
Fiona laid back her neck on her pillow and laughed. She worked back the years and said, well double you age and there’s mine so I’m old enough, aren’t I?
He said she was a strange bird.
She suckled his ears and whispered oh Georgie boy.
Sometimes he found her half-comatose and he liked her like that. She was soft and sweet, with pale pillow arms and he dug in hurriedly, trying to get there into that soft dark before she woke up. He could smell her medication on her breath. The sun came in her kitchen window. It made him see himself on her, nearly smothering her, a large slug oozing into her receptacles. It made him thrill. It made him vomit.
She told him that if he thought hard enough like Albert Einstein then he could make time go backwards and George had stared long and hard at the ceiling above them both, and thought about time. Go back to when his mother had not left him, go back to when his father avoided Indian takeaways, go back to when his mother had not dropped him and further back to his father’s sperm, and he laughed because he imagined that the one sperm of his father’s, the one that realised it didn’t have the correct DNA suddenly skidding to a halt and calling for reinforcements.
Pete said, ‘She’s nearly old enough to be your mother.’
‘Told you he likes old fanny,’ Simon said.
Pete said, ‘Let’s do something, Georgie.’
‘Yeah, let’s do something, Georgie,’ Simon said.
And George said nothing.
Fiona kept her pills in a see through lunch box. Lyrica 25mg, Effexor 125mg, plain old Panadol for a small headache, Nurofen Plus for something to wrap your bones in cotton wool and float, baby Georgie. Float away now. George looked at Fiona’s face. Pete said come on Fiona, let’s see you take your pills. Fiona said no, she’d rather not, just yet but Pete wasn’t taking no for an answer.
He pushed one into her mouth then one into his.
‘This what you and Georgie do, eh Fiona?’
Fiona swayed on her heels and toes.
Come on Georgie, dance with your baby. Come on Georgie, Simon said. They had lurched him over Fiona’s shoulders and her face laughed up at him. Lyrica dribble on her lips. Effexor smoothness on her skin. Nurofen Plus in her eyes. Come on baby boy. Come on Georgie, she whispered into his ear. He put his head into her breasts. Come on, Georgie, she laughed. Poor little Georgie lost his Mummy.
Pete laughed. Simon squealed and Shell turned the music up. The room filled with sweat and sickness. Shell tried on Fiona’s clothes and screwed Fiona’s gold earrings into her own ears.
Fiona sat down at her kitchen table and began to eat her pills.
George said, ‘Don’t.’
Fiona’s gaze fell far back into her head, as if she was no longer seeing him but seeing something else or someone else far back in time. Her mouth was white with pill residue and minute gobs of phlegm.
He put his arms around her. Her head fell back against his shoulder and he got her as far as her front door just so the cold air to slap her back to her senses but Shell screamed into George’s ear. Come on Georgie. Come on, Georgie. George’s guts blistered. He turned and drove his fist through Shell’s nose. She stumbled back, blood in her palms, screaming blood through her nose and mouth, while George tried to lift Fiona up and open the door. The night air came in a crack.
‘Breathe,’ he told Fiona but they pulled her away. Things went silent inside George’s head. He thought of his father’s semen turning tail and running. He imagined his skin unzipping along his spine and another George stepping into his place. Energy rammed through his muscles. He shoved Pete against the wall. Pete went limp.
‘Jesus, Georgie,’ he tried to say.
‘George,’ George said and flattened his hand onto Pete’s Adam’s apple.
‘Jesus…George.’ Pete squealed
‘Georgie,’ Simon shouted.
‘Fuck you Georgie,’ Shell screamed
George pressed his thumb onto Pete’s throat just to feel the cartilage give.
‘George,’ Fiona said.
George turned. Fiona looked old. Her hair hung. Her mouth bubbled with saliva. She struggled to light a cigarette. He lit it for her. She smiled and said,
‘Go home Georgie.’
‘No.’ He stepped forward, knelt and put his face into Fiona’s lap. He smelled her sex and her urine.
He thought, I can live here between her legs.
Fiona’s fingers tugged him up. Her face was so close that he saw his mother.
‘Get out,’ she said.
He stared at her.
‘You nothing,’ she said.
He hit her. Her head snapped to one side but she snapped it back with a smile.
‘You flea,’ she said.
He hit her again. His hand zinged. She let her head fall and he had to bring it back this time. He didn’t want to hit her anymore but her laugh got inside his teeth and behind his eyes. He slapped her and he was pleased to see blood seep from her mouth onto her chin. He took out his mobile phone and snapped it in her face. Her photo didn’t look sad. It didn’t look sorry. He wanted her eyes to crack.
‘Scum,’ she lisped.
He screamed into her face. She laughed. He slapped her again and he felt a bone crack in her face. He stood and waited.
‘Is she dead?’ Shell asked.
George reached down and touched Fiona’s neck just where he knew the pulse should be. He waited.
‘You’re using your thumb,’ Shell said. ‘You shouldn’t be using your thumb.’
George switched to his index finger. He felt a pulse. Fiona opened her eyes and moved her mouth into a smile first then into something else.
George read her lips. Get out.
‘Come on Georgie,’ Pete said.
‘Yeah, come on Georgie,’ Simon said.
Outside, they lit cigarettes and shook out the tension and made themselves laugh. Pete hit Simon’s back. Simon shunted his torso over the balcony and pretended to wobble.
Pete called goodnight killer to George and Simon called out yeah goodnight killer. They laughed down the stairwell while George leaned backwards over the balcony. The night was dark but he could see concrete out-line all the way into the sky.
‘Tomorrow,’ he whispered.
‘Georgie?’ Shell said.
George didn’t answer her. Tomorrow, he told himself. Tomorrow he would listen to his father fat-creep down the stairs just like any other day but soon on another day, a different day into the future his father would fat-creep down the stairs for one last time. He would fall through the stairs, be impaled there and slowly rot from his gut outwards.
George opened his eyes and saw Shell’s broken nose.
‘I can fly,’ George told Shell. ‘I can fly.’
Tomorrow George would show Fiona what Einstein meant.
Tomorrow George would take his new semen into his hands and live a new life.
Órfhlaith Foyle’s first novel Belios, was published by The Lilliput Press (2005). Her first full poetry collection Red Riding Hood’s Dilemma was published by Arlen House (2010), and short-listed for the Rupert and Eithne Strong Award in 2011. Arlen House also published Somewhere in Minnesota, her debut short fiction collection in 2011; the title story of which was first published in Faber and Faber’s New Irish Short Stories (2011), edited by Joseph O’Connor. Her work has been published in The Stinging Fly, The Dublin Review, New Irish Writing and in the Wales Arts Review. Órfhlaith’s second short story collection titled Clemency Brown Dreams of Gin, (Arlen House) was published Autumn 2014. Find out more on her website.
‘Strange Bird’ is featured in the new issue of The Lonely Crowd, which can be purchased here.
© Órfhlaith Foyle, 2016. Banner image © Jo Mazelis, 2016.