An Excerpt from Sour by Alan Walsh
“Listen here: Dee O’Loughlin was an unnatural strange beauty. Bevan Morgan, the oul crone, with her cigars and trilby hat and her track suits and all the rest of her madness, she was correct about that one. Dee was right at that minute up in her bedroom on the second floor of Clonliffe House. She was locked up tight. Her room was bare. It was down to the white walls. Even the wallpaper was tore off. She was no longer surrounded by her fancy clothes, her computer, her music collection and fabulous plants and art she had made. Alls she could do was to stare like a madwoman out of her window, out over the rolling green pastures of the estate, into the wind and rain, and weep and moan. She could barely breathe from it. Time passed without her even blinking. Her pupils went down to dots with her eyes rubbed raw pink about them. If she could have, she would have gone and thrown herself out of that window and down onto the gravel below. But there were bars now.
You see, Dee used to be allowed friends. They were allowed come to the house, if she behaved. They drank the collection of vintage teas, told time by the priceless grandfather clock, old enough they said stopped anytime Cromwell looked at it (not true, he had his tea by the chime of it). They could run up and down the winding staircase, hand crafted from some of the oldest trees in the whole district, and I knew those trees and their families, and grudges are still borne over that. But Dee wasn’t sent to school like other girls. Dee was homeschooled. And on top of that, she was scarcely ever allowed off the grounds of the estate, or even outside the house for that matter. So it was practically impossible for her to meet any other people of her own go to make friends with. She had herself for company.
The fact was also that the other girls in the town seemed to hate her. There was no reason for this. It’s just how things sometimes are, and it’s a shame. Maybe it’s because she was so good looking. Maybe it was down to her wealthy family. I don’t know. When she was allowed out collecting dead birds, starting fires in the back field or flying her kite with that worst of all swear words emblazoned all over it in ruby red for the whole town to witness, which she did a fair amount, they pointed at her from far off. They had names for her. Worse again was what her father called his only rule. Actually it was one of about a thousand million rules he had, all of which added up to the same thing which was Dee crying in her room. This rule was that Dee could never have a male friend. No young men were allowed in Clonliffe House. When Dee competed in her cross country running events, at which she was fast enough to bring home silver for the town on a national level, not that it mattered a spit to any of them, she was chaperoned off from contact with any boys by some of the working men sent along with her in the car. She was driven to the race. She raced. Then she was driven home with her medal. I can’t be sure, but I think the engine of the car was even running as she was making her way along the finish-straight. I remember watching her run. She timed her swearing with her breathing and heartbeat. She breathed out all of the cigarettes she smoked out the crack in her window at four in the morning. It felt like expelling all the badness. It only got her silver. I always wondered what the gold placed girl was saying and smoking. Dee spent a good whack of time up in that room by herself, is what I’m saying. Long hours. Which left her a little odd. People who have more of a tie to books than people often picture the world a certain way. Usually they have it clearer than most, far as I can see. But then, I’m just a fool Puca around for about a thousand years, you don’t need any opinions out of me.
One of the things helped her along was Nemain. One day when Dee was six, she found she all of a sudden had a whole lot to tell and no one to tell it to. Her father was out on the estate and he never spoke to her anyways. Her mother hated her, of that she was sure. She hadn’t the patience for a diary then, and Facebook hadn’t yet been invented to make other people your diary, so she found herself talking to Nemain. Nemain was a little crow. She was a little crow that sat in the corner of the room and was sad when Dee was sad, and screeched wild murder when she was mad and cawed cackles out of her loud enough to break windows when something was funny. We won’t say if Nemain was really there or wasn’t really there, but she was there for Dee when Dee had need of her. Does this make Dee a feral, disturbed little child? Well, in a way yes, because she used to go sending Nemain to mess up the lives of the girls that pointed and laughed at her on the street. Nothing serious now, Nemain would just go and tear up their homework. Or shape shift into a beautiful young girl and kiss all their boyfriends. Or shite into their cereal while they were turned away. Nemain was a wild oul bitch and no mistake. Now, we won’t say if Nemain really went and did these things, but some of these girls deserved it and Dee needed to feel that they got it. I never actually checked into the facts, if they really did. I liked Dee, though. I think it was the profane kites, flown high enough the whole town could read, and the hell she caught over them. And I knew where she had come from, and where it would all end up. For all of that I liked her.
So one day I opened the door for her.
Some could say this was a wild big mistake. That it was the start to the whole thing. But those are little picture type people. I’m more of a big picture type. You look at a big fuck-up like this whole thing, usually there’s an injustice at the root someplace and it has little enough to do with one wee little matter like opening an oul door.
It was very simple. There was a local club hosting a junior disco down in the town community centre, where the youth groups went when it was raining and they’d run out of cans. The parish priest read in a Sunday supplement that the supervised drinking that carried on in Europe, and in France in particular, was an example to cultures like Scotland, England and Ireland, and that drinking and socialising with adults was beneficial to the community. So he organised this junior disco. I liked that Parish Priest. Man called Father Domnach. And I don’t like too many Parish Priests. He wasn’t too far wrong. Then, in other ways, he was completely wild off the mark. One of these ways was that the whole night would cavort straight out of control, sacrificed on a pagan altar of smuggled cigarette smoke, oceans of hip-flask vodka, crying girls smeared over in cheap lipstick in the corner, lads puking up most of their insides in the other, the guards called, the adults locked out the back, only raging, younger girls puking up most of their guts behind the car park, the sound-system only wrecked, the DJ threatened with strangulation and poisoning and towns of teenagers for miles around emptying in their direction once it got out there was free drink to be had. And Cormac MacNeassa was there too. Cormac showed up there with the boys he hurled with down at the centre. He bumped into some of the other lads he tended stables with on the Clonliffe Estate too, lads who had gone and gotten cans in, so he figured he’d stick with them. They found a corner to watch the madness unfurl and get through the cans.
“Did you think it was going to be this good?” one of them said to Cormac, early on in the night.
“You know what? I did. I had faith in Father Domnach,” Cormac said. There were two girls clawing out one another’s hair in the purple strobe lighting, the other hands free for their cans, and the priest blessing himself in the window. That was when Dee walked in. I opened that door for her.
“Would you look at that?” the same boy said to Cormac. “It’s Wild Dee O’Loughlin. What about that. If she isn’t a quare fine ride too.”
Dee strolled in among the chaos, looking unearthly. She had let her imagination go, up there in her room, getting ready for the disco. She knew her parents would never in ten thousand years let her anywhere near the place. So she asked Nemain to help open the window for her to drop out of. She had asked Nemain’s advice on what to dress herself in too, and Nemain had recommended a glittering Arabian scarf, a long, loose wrapped sarong, layers of random coloured materials, lucky charms hanging out of them, and lots of makeup lathered on thick round her dark eyes like she was Scheherazade herself. But I wasn’t sure if Nemain was up to actually opening the right doors, so I played the gentleman about it, starting with the door to her room.
“She’s totally sick in the head. Look at her. Look at what she’s dressed herself in. Like a school pantomime genie. Stand well clear of that, lad,” Cormac said back. “Wild O’Loughlin, she’s owned by her Da, so she is. He’s her jailer. He’s driven her fuckin’ mental. We’ve all seen the kites. She has a pretend crow that she talks to.”
“Still, though, would ye look at her?”
“Aye, I know.”
Dee moved through the madness like an ethereal being. Her robes flowed. Her jewellery caught the strobe lights. She had her own hip-flask, more than one, in actuality, her own cigarettes, she had no need of the unprotected punch-bowl which was by now lapping at somewhere between seventy-six and seventy-eight per cent proof. She saw Cormac Mac Neassa though. She looked through the jungle of other young lads stumbling and crawling toward her. She watched Cormac get up and leave with them two boys. The one of them incapable of shutting up talking to Cormac, the other who was just about too drunk to even speak. She watched them exit the front door and find the corner of the car park for a cigarette, holding the third lad up. Cormac was always the great one for watching the chaos unfold from without. Dee left the hall after them and circled the back of the car park, through the trees. She lit a cigarette. She cracked open a flask and listened to them talk.
“They distracted the guards. They lit bonfires down by the Widow Gorman’s land. Also by the Quarry and the furniture warehouse.”
“That old furniture is fierce good kindling. They thought that one out.”
“The widow Gorman will make kindling out of them. That’s the one keeps a loaded rifle under the bed. Has done these twenty years.”
“They all do that.”
“They all say they do that.”
And on it went.
“They say she’s possessed too, that widow.”
“Possessed by what?”
“Possessed by vapours, up out of the earth. Buried souls come back in gaseous form, to wreak havoc.”
“That would account for her demeanour right enough.”
Now we won’t say Nemain was there and distracted the two other fellas a minute away, or that she wasn’t and didn’t. But either way they were distracted. The drunk boy Damien fell over for sleep and took the other with him, leaving Cormac. That was the minute that Dee saw her chance. What she did was: she hopped up on his back. She hopped right up and grabbed him around the head, covering his eyes, crossing her legs tight around his gut and clinging on for dear mercy. He bucked like a rodeo bull some long time, so he did. He spun. He ran backward and forward. He tried to call out for help. But she had her hands over his mouth too.
“Cormac MacNeassa,” she said. “You’re a fine thing. I’ve seen you from the house. You work my father’s stable.”
“Get off of me ye wild animal. Ye cat. Ye wasp.”
“I will not either. I have you now. What do you mean by wasp anyway? Who’s a wasp?”
“You’re the wasp. Attacking from behind like an animal.”
But she clung on tight like a little limpet on a rock. He couldn’t shake the girl. There was volcanic swearing out of them both. After a bit, he started to tire out. She was still stuck to him when he collapsed to his knees, beaten. Well, all of that was how Dee O’Loughlin and Cormac MacNeassa finally met.
Nemain still thinks it was her behind them meeting. I just checked into the facts too. Turns out Nemain actually did do all those horrible things to them girls that I mentioned before. The oul bitch.”
About Alan Walsh
I’m a writer, designer and recently a father too, who returned to Dublin a couple of years ago after living abroad in Bologna, Florence and London, doing all kinds of jobs from teacher to delivery-man to commis-chef.
Sour is my first novel, published by Pillar and available in all the very best places. I tweet pretty often at @Alan_Walsh_77 and I blog as often as I can at: http://alanwalshblog.blogspot.ie/, and there’s a whole website about the book at: http://sourthenovel.weebly.com/