Breakfast is a piss a cup of tea and a fag.
The van collects us at 7 and brings us straight to the cabbage fields. We’re handed long sharp knifes and Jamie instructs us in the process of decapitating cabbages at high speed and horsing them into the transport box as Ernie, the one eyed farmer, reverses the tractor at a speed which is difficult to avoid being crushed by.
Ernie was in the war.
He thinks he’s still in the war; only this time he’s not fighting the Nazi’s − he’s fighting the cabbages.
We’re cutting the heads of those fuckers at a speed not normal to human endeavor as the sun rises high and hot over the summer of 1995.
I’m enjoying it.
I like cutting heads off.
I put different faces on the cabbages.
The cunts are first.
The boys are cunts.
Friends are cunts. We came over together to work and save money for the summer. They’re from the same town as each other and they’ve been good friends for years. If they have to choose they will get rid of me before they will get rid of each other.
After I’ve done with them I think of every fucker who ever crossed me and I get busy with revenge. Things like that keep you going. When you’ve no lunch you need something to sustain you.
There’re cabbages running out to meet the horizon and the ones we’ve spent eight hours killing seem a paltry patch in a blanket fit for a race of giants.
We take home a few heads. Ernie nods saying little, but nodding in approval, signaling that we could work; that we’d put in a hard day of it.
I lift some ham and cans of tuna from the local store .We boil the cabbage and potatoes and we eat like we’re savages on the rampage in some desperate war.
Till one week later we’ve all got diarrhea from the cabbage diet. I’ve never shat green before and I feel like I’m finally becoming the Irishman I’ve always longed not to be.
Two stone down by Friday when the wages arrive and the caravan park sparks to life. We’re on the Superstrenght. 13%. A bottle of wine in a can for 1 pound.
Not bad at all.
There’s a fire.
Tablets from two Auzzie fags.
And Poopers or hoppers or something like that. They loosen up your hole. My hole needs no loosening after all that cabbage.
We meet Carlos, from London who’s got with him a hostage: A 40kg fairy.
She’s not a happy fairy though. There’s a twist in the tale.
She’s harbouring terrible things. You can see it when she tries to smile. Darcy’s her name or so she says. She’s a twig you could snap in two. A roll without a fig.
Her speech is not right like she’s got a few wine gums in her mouth clotting up her sentences.
Carlo’s all fake, all take, hovering around you with his wormy smile like he could shake your hand and at the same time plant the fucking cabbage knife straight into your back. That’s the kind of cunt he presents himself to me the first time I lays eyes on him.
He’s very different to Jamie Paul Davis.
We’re living in a caravan park in Lincolnshire.
We’re here because we got so fucked up in London we ended up homeless.
The first night we arrived in Lincolnshire we were broke and we were starving. Jamie offered us some cans of Superstrenght and said Slainte in his cockney accent. I drank the Superstrenght like it was a meal. It was a meal. His father was Irish he said. He’d visited once; his grandmothers house somewhere in Kilkenny. He cooked us up some potatoes he’d dug up from the field out the back. The first thing you’d notice about Jamie was the gold tooth in the centre of his upper incisors. He smiled a lot when he was getting drunk but not when he was drunk.
Carlo’s talking to the cunts. Me and Jamie are downing the cans and shooting the breeze about things lived and unlived. The fire is brimming with sparks, burning with voices and visions and giving me instructions to carry out some great cosmic task. Before I know it I’m gone. Falling into something and talking and shouting to the trees and the big blue sky filled with innumerable stars. I’m wandering, raving, pulling myself through ditches. Back in the camp I hear them calling out my name but no – I got to go somewhere.
There’s a vision I must meet.
A mission I must complete.
The night is taking me somewhere.
Next morning I awake in the middle of a forest with no top and no shoes on.
Am I dead?
Dead am I again.
I touch myself. I feel like I’m alive.
Is this heaven?
Good enough for me. I like forests.
Panic and the six heads of terror sweep in on-top a gusty breeze.
I check my hole to see I’ve not been violated.
I haven’t shat myself or pissed myself either though it’s hard to tell as my pants are all wet from the rain.
Hush little baby, don’t say a word, mama going to buy you a mocking bird.
Yes, them birds singing away, talking about me and I know the way I’m going is the right way.
I got sense like that.
And right I am as I emerge on to the road.
I start walking away from the sun.
Away from Ireland.
Signs tell me the local village is 10km away.
Must have made good ground during the night.
A concerned farmer listens to my tales as he drops me back to the caravan park.
Jamie’s up. It’s not yet 9 and his dinning on the remains of last nights feast. Superstrenght − your only man.
Yes I will.
Shur what else was I going to do? Suffer all day?
Jesus Dave, he says, where’d you go?
Don’t know says I.
Was it good.
Don’t know says I. I’m alive.
We enter the soul quickly and connect to all that’s unsaid.
A man is nothing without a vision I say.
He doesn’t understand he says.
I say read Rimbaud.
He says, he don’t read. I left school when I was 12. Was making money. What’s the point when you’z making money and playing snooker.
His father gave him ten pound every morning and said if he brought something back each day he give him a tenner next day too.
Ten pounds was a lot of money ten years ago. Still is. He lost his virginity in the school toilet to some slut named Charlotte Bridge. He brought her two twenty packs of Benson afterwards. That was the best thing that ever happened in school he said.
His fathers in jail now. Doing life for killing a man.
I don’t ask how or who. Does it matter?
I’m more interested in Charlotte.
Yes. Two different worlds we come from. But we have the same love, the same sickness, the same affliction, the same disease and the same brain.
I’m an educated looser and he’s an uneducated looser.
Is there a difference?
We stick together.
Every time we go into town Jamie’s robbing.
He’s what they call an incurable thief.
I keep look out, while he breaks into cars and pulls out the car stereos and fleeces whatever else he finds in there.
You should see him go.
He’s an artist. He unlocks the car in seconds.
Two feet up on the dash-board as he heaves-hoes out the stereos.
On the way home with a few bags of cans, and food, he eyes the houses we pass and says there’s good pickings in there.
I say no.
I’m not into that shit. I’ll shoplift but I’m not going breaking into people’s homes. Just not my thing and I’m scared of the consequences.
After a good days looting we get drunk in The Ram a local pub straddling the caravan park. We get kicked out. Jamie’s getting violent and wants to fight the Afrikaners, who are more than willing. They got blood in their eyes and I know if things kick off they are going to be coming out on top. I get on well enough with one of them, Vince, who’s a boner in the local abattoir, so between us we mange to diffuse things. We go back to the caravan.
Crying about this and that.
Confessing to me all the terrible things clogging up his brain: his father, his mother, the beatings he got, the beatings he gave, the prison sentence looming large over him.
I skin up joints and think that the sooner he smokes this shit the sooner he’ll poppy out into unconsciousness and then we’ll all get some sleep and never wake up.
But we keep waking up.
This place is inhabited by lunatics on the fringes of varying degrees of lunacy.
Yes, they wear signs which identify them as lunatics and if you look closer it even specifies the particulars of each affliction:
A six foot five semi-mute stoic Estonian workaholic.
A club footed Romanian.
Not a woman in sight
And whatever you’re having yourself.
We fit in well.
There’s a welt of Afrikaners and Eastern Europeans with hungry looks on their faces like they’d ate babies.
Because each caravan can hold only two people we had to split up. And that’s how I ended up in the carvan with Jamie Paul Davis who is from Peckam and is on the run for armed robbery. We picked straws but the cunts set it up so they could stay together. I could see their smiles and winks.
Cunts always stick together.
But they’re the only cunts I have, so I must play the game.
The jobs are coming and going.
The Cabbage is cut.
Each morning we don’t know where we are going to be working.
Do you like to eat pies?
Have you ever worked in a meat pie factory?
Well, if you have, you won’t like meat pies anymore.
I worked in factories before so I’m accustomed to the dreary mechanical soul sickening deadness it injects very very slowly over an eight-hour period.
I observe a young plump girl who must have just left school.
Her job’s to take the pies from the machine and put them on a huge tray. The pies are coming so fast there’s no time for fucking around.
She’s can’t keep up and the pies are falling everywhere.
I hope it’s her first day but I don’t think it is.
We’re all dressed in these stupid white paper suits which leave only our faces visible.
The tears are rolling down her pink plump face.
The noise of machines swallow everything.
I’m sure the girls she’s working with can see her.
I’m busy sweeping the meat from the floor and putting it back in the machine.
I don’t know what to do. I’ve just come here.
Surely she must have some friends here to take her out and give her a hug? To listen to her and tell her it will all be ok.
But no, she stays crying.
I think she cries for the whole eight hours.
Is she crying because of the noise?
Because of the smell?
Because she’s a vegetarian?
Because nobody cares?
Because she should have studied harder in school?
Because maybe in a brief second she saw her whole future projected out in front of her like a nightmare?
Poor plump-pork-pie-girl crying silently in a factory full of noise and dead cows and pigs. I want to save her, to hold her, to kiss her, to tell her it will be ok, to tell her she’s beautiful, to tell her she will get married and have lovely children and go on holidays to Spain and have the time of her life.
I feel her pain more than I’ve ever felt my own.
I’m almost crying myself.
Sometimes it’s easier to love others.
I want to scream out to her to love herself.
That she is more beautiful than she can ever know but she catches me starting at her and I smile a little and give her a wave.
Her face twists like she’s seen a wraith wriggling into existence.
She has. I’m hollowed in the face from the hunger.
Then she gets all embarrassed and cries more.
After that I just keep myself to myself.
I eat 5 pork pies for lunch and throw another five in my bag. Actually we’re not supposed to eat them but I’m fucking starving and I don’t care. I don’t care if they fire me. I don’t care if I get Mad Cow Disease or Mad Pig Disease or any kind of disease.
Two fucks I don’t give.
I’d fucking welcome it.
Bring it on ye bastards I think, as I devour the deliciously tasty porky poison.
One night we’re in the caravan; Me, the cunts, Jamie, Carlos and his damaged goods Darcy, and the two Auzzie fags. We don’t have any weed. Carlos says no problem, lets go to the gas station and buy some tins of butane. They use it all the time he says. Darcy gets excited, she loves it. This explains the brain damage perhaps. We hold a mass collection, scraping up the coppers and silvers, overturning cushions and digging our hands down behind every board in the caravan, in frenzy, like rats delirious on rat poison. So Jamie hotwires the van and Pat, the other of the cunts, the subordinate cunt, drives it to the stores and comes back with a few blue tins of butane.
Darcy passes out and Jamie goes mental. He’s threatening to kill the Afrikaners. They wouldn’t be easy to kill I says.
Carlos offers to let us fuck Darcy while she’s out. For a price of course.
Nobody takes him up on the offer.
I wouldn’t fuck her if you paid me I say – to meself.
She’s just a girl. I doubt she’s eighteen.
The night takes on a terrible colour and I go back to the caravan.
Jamie comes in later and wakes me up.
He asks me what he should do. He’s in a mad panic like suddenly he has become aware of the hopelessness of his existence and the futility of his current method of dealing with it. I tell him to go back to London and turn himself in otherwise he’ll be running for the rest of his life.
We start loosing jobs. We steal the van and ride to Skegness, a seaside resort – but it’s dungeon-dark and dreary like the plague just passed by. John’s drunk out of his mind driving up the highway and we’re pissing out the window doing a hundred. I do a lot of shop lifting there and get a loot of T-shirts. The boss of the dispatch company finds out because we’re supposed to be in work that day.
When we get back the two Auzzie fags offer to bleach our hair for us. I’ve never met fags before. Maybe I have but in Ireland it’s not something you go around broadcasting. One of them is a hairdresser or so he claims. They make me nervous. I dare not imagine what they do to each other. I have long hair in the grunge style of the day whiles Jamie’s is crew cut short. I’m tall and Jamie’s small.
The cunts get a great laugh out of our hair.
We look like right nutters they say.
We get to know the old farmer Pete whose land borders the caravan park. We have a common love – a common affliction; Pete drinks a few 3-litre flagons of Bitter a day. He’s never drunk but never not drunk.
Strange as it seems him and Jamie hit it off like they’ve known each other their whole life. Jamie starts helping him out on the farm and me − I idle the days away in hunger and longing; dreaming of women, fame and money.
One Sunday morning around mass time we’re sitting in the Caravan; the cunts, Carlos, Jamie and I are getting through a bag of weed.
Carlos is talking, talking, talking about all the scams he’s pulled off – all the money he’s going to make – all the women he’s fucked and so on.
I can barley see out the window the smoke is so thick.
The head is hopping off me and the heart is hammering in me chest with the fear. I hate weed – yet I prefer it to normality.
I’m not sure at first whether I’m seeing things or not, but when the apparition I see before me starts talking, and I can see the others listening − I start to believe myself. It’s the boss and he’s not alone.
There’re two fellows with him and they look like they’re ready for a game of baseball. Death can seem so incidental when it’s about to happen you think.
You’d almost expect more.
The heavies look like they are well used to using the bats. Professionals.
I picture blood and brain matter all over the caravan and a headline in the Tabloids:
IRISH BLOOD BAT IN A CARAVAN
It comes down like this.
We’ve two hours to pack our shit and get the fuck out.
Nobody says a word.
I looked at Carlos but his Spanish face has turned white as a KKK pillow-case.
After they leave we sit in silence for a few minutes until Carlos starts yapping about how he’s going to come back and burn down the place tonight. He gets the cunts aboard with his idea. They’re all psyched up as they start running around packing up their shit.
We go to Pete the farmer who offers to let us stay in an old abandoned caravan on his farm. Nobody’s lived in it for 15 years. It’s better than nothing so we start cleaning it up. Everybody’s quite when the van (with the heavies sitting up front) comes back two hours later and gives a quick drive around to check that we’ve left dodge.
We clean the caravan all day but it remains filthy. I find some interesting but strange books and a set of large tarot cards. The caravan has a very eerie feeling − like somebody died in there. I shuffled the cards and pick one: Death – the relentless bollox.
John’s had enough. He’s leaving. He makes up some excuse about how he’s got a job at home. He’s going back to work in Mammy and Daddy’s shop. Cunt. I envy him but despise him at the same time; waving the white flag when things are taking a brief downturn.
Pat gets really sick. Gives a week puking and shitting. I think the Caravan’s cursed. We sit around the fire smoking, starving, taking long walks in the fields and helping Pete the farmer. Pete and Jamie are getting on really well. When I’m not drinking I’m reading. The books I found were Alice in Wonderland, Aleister Crowley’s Liber 777 and Diary of a Drug Fiend. As Pats shitting and vomiting and perhaps dying, I’m sitting here reading Crowely’s tale of two drugged up lovers going down a path of destruction and chaos. They eventual find salvation and escape from their addiction through Crowley’s sex magick. I’d love to try that sex magick. In fact I’d happily just take sex of any variety shape or form. Crowley mirrored the novel on the structure of Dante’s divine comedy; hell, purgatory and heaven. I guess we’re somewhere between hell and purgatory. Pats raving and I’m wondering is he possessed. I better burn these fucking books I’m thinking. They’re warping the head off me. I’m bringing him water and taking out his shit bucket every hour but I think he’s going to die and that we’re all going to die and that the ghost of Aleister Crowley is fucking us in our sleep. I’d heard of him through his connection with Led Zeppelin and was interested in reading his stuff. My whole reading career has been like that; one book leads to another and books I’ve intended to read cross my path, buried in shit in a caravan that hasn’t been lived in for 15 years. Makes you believe in fate that kind of thing. At least it makes you believe you’re reading the right book. It all makes me wonder who were these fucked up people who last lived here 15 years ago and what are they doing now?
Pat pulls through. He’s a cunt all right but I wouldn’t want him to die. As soon as he regains his senses he says he’s had enough. He sends for money. And of course I put in a claim from some of it. Which he obliges. I’m a cunt too. We have to stick together. Cunts stick together. Jamie’s going to stay with Pete who’s going to take him on working on the farm. Jamie loves the farm work and the countryside.
We all decide to go back to London together, Carlos and Darcy too. I wonder will they one day reproduce? I’d prefer to travel alone but I’ve got no money and have to follow whoever has the money. We do one last piss up in the town of Spalding. Me and Jamie are on the whiskey. He says he’s going to come visit me in Ireland as we hold each other up in drunken goodbye embraces while the others on the bus roar for me to get the fuck on. Somehow I survive the night in London and somehow I get on the ferry next day and somehow I arrive in one piece back to Tipperary. Pat takes care of me. Cunt.
Back home things are not good, what, with me, my purple hair and the failed enterprise to save a bit of money to go back to college. My parents are very worried. The mother thinks I might have AIDS I’m so skinny and the auld lad thinks I’m on drugs. Guess he’s right.
A few days after I get home Jamie calls. I’m trying to talk to him in the kitchen, cause that’s where the phone is, but the auld lad is there listening to me and I can’t talk to him properly.
I should tell the auld lad to go fuck himself but I can’t.
I can’t stand up to him.
Jamie says he’s had an accident but other than that things are good.
He chopped of three of his fingers working with Pete.
Cutting weeds or something he says.
Must be some fucking weeds I say.
Him and Pete are getting on well so he’s going to stick round there.
I get the sense he gets the sense that I don’t want to talk to him − because I’m tongue-tied by my fathers presence. I say I have to go out of embarrassment.
He doesn’t call back.
Who was that the auld lad demands? He sounds like trouble.
I say it was nobody.
I feel bad after I say it.
I’m waiting for some cock to crow.
He wasn’t nobody.
If you’d known him like I known him you’d know that too.
What the fuck do you know I want to shout. But I don’t.
It takes me twenty years to figure things out − to figure out who Jamie was and who I was. Jamie Paul Davis, the shot gun-wielding armed-robber, was an angel with a gold tooth who lost three fingers working for Pete the farmer up in Lincolnshire.
And that’s it.
In 2014 David returned to Ireland after living in Japan for 12 years. He currently lives in Cork. In the last year he has won the Frank O Connor Mentorship Bursary Award(2016) and been short listed for the Doolin Short Story award, the Curtis Bausse Short story award and long listed for the Fish Memoire prize. He has also published stories and poems in Memoryhouse, The Ogham Stone, Crabfat, Tokyo Journal and Jungle Crows (a Tokyo anthology). He is currently working on a collection of stories, a novel or two, and a few other things!