“Perhaps you don’t understand.”
He was leaning forward, his right hand trembling in its hold on the chair’s armrest. I watched the frayed hair on his opisthenar trap sunlight and glow a terrible yellow and as his hand quivered the shredded flame danced with him. He was sweating but seemed unaware of fire and wetness on his body. His shadow alone seemed to recognise his greatness and drew him across the stretch of the room nearly touching my toes where I sat watching him. Ms. Dunkin would be back soon and she wanted me to keep an eye on the “ol’ fella lest he jump off the window and make a mess”. She had pork chops to buy and letters to drop. I had the same length of time with an option of walking Toby around the block and no reward or watching Mr. Dunkin and get some cookies at the end of it.
“You view the world differently, Chuck, and that is not how it should be?”
He paused and shook his head, his chin dragged back and forth in the pursing of his lips which stopped only when he slept without a dream. Chuck was always there, even when Mr. Dunkin woke up screaming one night and awarded Colleen the understandable right to run away from home (how can I live with this mad man?) and marry a linesman at the railway up at Kilkenny. Heard she ran away from there for a man who kept accounts at some bank. Ma had said one night, “Some people run, and some people run.” I thought she had had too much of the whiskey. But she had grated the potatoes fine after that, so maybe it was one of those adult things for which I am never the right age.
“Daft, you bugger. And you think that he even cares about this?”
He lifted his hand off the armrest and let it linger in the air for a while. It floated like when I was in the swimming pool and then returned slowly, setting his hand ablaze in the morning sun. I looked around to make sure that this was the same Chuck and that there wasn’t really someone else whom I had missed noticing. It was the same and I hugged my knees close to me. Mr. Dunkin’s shadow moved like a grey wave towards my toes and I lifted them off the floor to the seat of the stool. I wish Ms. Dunkin returned soon.
“He wants you dead.”
I couldn’t help cough and did try my best to keep it to a splutter lest I disturb the conversation. Somehow that worked counter-purpose and I ended up coughing in a stream.
“Who is that? Eric? Colleen?”, he paused before continuing, “She will come here some day, Chuck. There is a lot to settle. Who’s there?”
“It’s me Cormac.”
Mr. Dunkin stared through me at my shadow on the wall.
“Get out of here Sam. How many times do I tell you I don’t want to have anything to do with your bloody hands. You murdered her, you bury her and you wash your hands.”
Was he talking about Sam, the butcher, whose wife died of pneumonia last fall? The only other Sams I knew either didn’t have wives or had wives who were alive and murderous themselves.
“I am sorry, I’ll leave right away.”
I watched his whitened eyes peer deep to ensure that I had left. I knew this routine well to not be bothered but it was not always Sam or bloody hands. Last time it was O’Neill, the banker, who had stashed half a million pounds and earlier it was Shauna – but that was before my voice broke – and how her child was still alive in Dublin. It was funny how I was never the same to him but Chuck was. Chuck the air.
I continued sitting there while he turned to face Chuck.
“I hate Sam. Wonder what he’s doing here? Selling ham to my wife?”
And he started laughing slowly, then in a roll he began whooping and convulsing. Between each strained inhalation I heard a laugh which didn’t sound like Mr. Dunkin but echoes weren’t uncommon out here. He fell off the chair and I rose to help him. Suddenly with no aide Mr. Dunkin reversed his fall and was on his chair again. I felt the hair pull at the skin of my nape.
“Thanks Chuck. Being too much of a bother, eh?”
I didn’t let my heart beat lest someone heard it and did things I couldn’t imagine. The air around me grew louder and every ray of sun bounced heavily on the wooden floor. The late morning heat fluttered scalding sheets which pushed against my open skin. For some reason I knew it was Chuck.
“What? You can’t kill him. You need him. I need him. I need him, damn it.”
Mr. Dunkin screamed but somehow his words didn’t carry the force of terror. They became visible rivulets flowing from his mouth in blue-grey sounds around my legs and down the attic, dripping through the cracks on the panels onto the lives of others. Mr. Dunkin turned to look at me with pale orbs ensconced in paler ones. That was the colour of fear, of death. Then I saw him, leaning over Mr. Dunkin with his hands carefully rising up from the flames of Mr. Dunkin’s hands. They caressed him till they reached his throat.
“No, no. No, Chuck. Run Cormac, run. Run.”
That was the first time I heard Mr. Dunkin mouth my name and though he shouted it out it didn’t feel like mine as it glided over the tired cerulean waters of all sound. I watched it stuck between my ankles and then straightened as it flowed into a darkness that once was the entrance to this attic. I stood there and watched the blue and grey and yellow warmth climb my being and I watched Chuck take form as he throttled Mr. Dunkin. The blue became his eyes while the yellow paled to his complexion. The red torched his hair and his clothes were the finest grey which shone like a snake on a rock.
“Cormac! Wake up!”
I suddenly realised that the throbbing was due to my being pushed off my stool. All I could see was her heels growing into fat ankles and a pair of hairy shins.
“Nice future ahead for you, Cormac. Sleeping on the job already!”
She dropped the paper bag of cookies by my side and walked over to where Mr. Dunkin was sitting. I picked up the bag and walked to the ladder that led me away from the attic. I passed the pile of pork chops on the kitchen counter when I heard a scream from the attic. I opened the door and walked out.
“And do you know that she pilfed an extra half pound when Bain was not looking? She has always been doing that. She asks him about some meat at the bottom level and then shoves in another chunk. Why do you think she goes to him every time she needs pork chops or ham?”
Chuck always knew what others were doing.