Panic! At The Function Room – Conor Doyle

‘Where?’ The taxi man. I’m in a taxi.

‘Fade Street.’

‘Fade Street. No problem.’ He takes a tight left turn. ‘Fade Street yeah, no bother. Fayy-haade streeeeta.’ He smacks his lips together. ‘After Mr Joseph Francis Fade no less. Banker, but not like the bankers today. Very generous individual, one of the early Irish philanthropists.’ Don’t start the fucking small talk bullshit.

‘You look very nice,’ he flicks his eyes up into the rear view mirror to get a good look at me. ‘Where you off to?’

‘My friends 21st,’ I say, searching beyond the window pane for a distraction. Oran’s 21st. With his whole family. All of whom I know long enough that they’ve each seen me naked, at some or other point over the years. So I can’t do it tonight. It would be inappropriate.

‘That’s exciting. 21st’s yeah. Always a good night I remember.’ Maria by Blondie is playing over the radio and he’s drumming his fingers off-beat on the steering wheel. ‘Mine was weird. I mean it was great, but ehm, one of my best mates Gerry, was on acid?’ He pauses to see if the word acid resonates with me. ‘Was doing all of our heads in to be honest. Talking about how the heroin epidemic was, I dunno, a coordinated effort by the ruling class to subjugate working people. I don’t think he’d ever met anyone who was working class though, so I’m not sure what he meant.’ For a blissful moment Blondie sings uninterrupted.

‘Big party?’

‘Pretty big, yeah.’ Very big, actually. The type in a function room above a pub with someone’s Ma who won’t get off the microphone. Big parties are a problem. They’re not a problem for me, per say, I quite like them. The problem is that I don’t have full control over me. My body, I mean. I mean, I’m not the only one who controls it. I’m afflicted with a very rare and peculiar condition. I have, inside me, a rebel militia.

‘Ah to be young and pretty and going to parties.’

‘Oh haha yes. Thank you.’

The militia, as militia’s do – occasionally attempt a coup. To overthrow me. Me, that is, the fearless leader of Me. They’re a pretty organised force, too. They run rallies and social media campaigns and interfere with my intrabody elections. As such, they sometimes capture pretty important strongholds. My windpipe and heart have each spent lengthy periods under rebel control. And I remember each of them – the coups, the bloody, violent affairs that they are. I can see them all as though plotted out on a graph, as if on an excel spreadsheet of the mind. I remember the date, the place, who was there, why it happened, the weather, smells.

‘What do you do, yourself?’

‘Oh, I’m in college.’

‘Nice. What do you study?’

‘Art.’

‘Oh art! And what would you do, painting?’

‘Yeah painting, drawing.’

‘What would you paint? People? Could you paint me?’ he laughs.

‘Whatever, really. Whatever comes in to my head.’

‘Yeah. That’s good. Just whatever comes in to your head. An artist as well on top of it all!’

The reason for rebellion is sometimes quite predictable. Public speaking, for example – a dead cert for violent disobedience. But it can also seem incredibly random. It once happened when I was asked my name. Momentarily forgetting – I didn’t answer for maybe five seconds. They thought it made me look like a fraud, as though impersonating an Alison. I wasn’t though, I am Alison. Regardless, violence. It once happened when I was in a small downstairs bathroom and the radiator was on. It was hot and there wasn’t a lot of air – granted, but I’m not sure it warranted an insurgency.

‘Did you happen to catch your one on Newstalk there the other day?’

‘No,’ I say, because who the fuck listens to the radio anymore.

‘She was one of these one’s going on about how there needed to be more women in the STEM subjects. Equal amounts of women she wanted. 50/50, like.’

‘Sounds good.’

‘Ah yeah, yeah, no it is. I’m sure it is. Or would be, I suppose. Just sometimes they go a bit far with the PC stuff, don’t you think? 50/50, she said. Now not to sound like a mad tricolour wearing right winger! But, a little bit I think.’

‘No, yeah, I get you.’ I’m not sure if I do.

While the reason may vary, the modus operandi of rebellion is always the same. They establish control of a body part – a throat maybe, or a voice box. Breathing becomes a little onerous. My brain, attempting to crush the hippy anarchists with the proverbial iron fist, pumps me full of adrenaline like, I dunno, some sort of skittish balloon. It’s difficult to speak under these conditions.

I’ll then excuse myself. Eventually, in the sanctity of privacy and without me fucking up in some way that’s to their distaste, the militia loses its dissident zeal. Acquiesces to my governance. Or sometimes I do that, but not tonight.

We pull through the lights at the end of Capel Street and across Grattan Bridge. Lights from the buildings that line the quays writhe on the surface of the Liffey. If I was driving, I’d have gone over O’Connell Bridge and around by College Green, but this way is grand.

‘On your own tonight?’ I meet his eyes in the rear view mirror for the first time. He’s still drumming his fingers, I don’t know the song anymore, though. He’s 35, I’d say, and completely bald.

‘Yeah.’ I’m late, so yeah.

‘Where’s your boyfriend?’ he laughs and tries catch my eye again but I don’t let him. His teeth are yellow, probably from the smoking. The car has that sickly air freshener smell that smacks of masking something.

‘Oh, I don’t have one.’

‘What? No boyfriend. That’s mad. A lone wolf. A lone wolf, untamed.’ He giggles. ‘Is that it yeah, a lone wolf? That’s gas. Hard to believe though all the same.’ We’re at the red lights halfway down Parliament street and it’s buzzing. There’s a group about my age in the front smoking area of Street 66. I love that place. One night me and Oran went, didn’t tell anyone, just went and danced. The whole night. No one can interfere when your dancing. No one can fuck it up, fuck it up by saying things, demanding things of you, asking you questions, questions like, and what will you do with art? Will you teach? Will you be a teacher? Aww god I could see you as a teacher. I don’t have to talk, just dance. Maybe I’ll just dance tonight.

‘Myself and the wife split up recently enough, actually.’ His eyes fill the rear view mirror again. ‘We’d been living in my parents attic. Couldn’t afford to move out. They let us pay cheaper rent y’know? Got tough though living in with the parents. In an attic too. Puts a lot of stress on things.’

‘Oh.’

‘And jesus man women can be cruel. You know, I guess. The little comments man. Little niggling comments y’know? I mean just say the thing, if you’re going to say it. The passive aggressive stuff, do you know what I’m talking about? She’d be like, and this is no word of a lie, but she’d be one way to me up in the attic – a fucking –’ He mouths ‘bitch’. ‘And then, she’ll go downstairs and be another way to me in front of my fucking parents? Perfect choir girl daughter in-law crap. That’s some women bullshit, men don’t do that.’

‘Maybe she was right.’ I mutter.

‘What?’

‘Nothing, sorry.’

‘Ah fuck it. Bringing you down with my fucking dumb shit! Fucking cunt I am for that. They don’t want to hear it Brian, Briiiian they don’t care! You’re doing that thing again that I hate, embarrassing me! That’s how it goes isn’t it?’ He laughs. His fingers, now drumming quite rapidly on the steering wheel, have lost any connection they may previously have had to melody. He’s still in the right hand lane as we pass Street 66. He turns right onto Dame Street, not left. He should have gone left. Left onto Dame street, then right onto Georges Street and then a short journey up to Fade Street.

‘Fade Street, yeah?’ I say.

‘Ah yeah, yeah, yeah. Fade Street. Mr Joseph Francis Fucking Fade Street.’ He floors it and takes an immediate left down the laneway by the side of City Hall. Suddenly, whatever it is, his aftershave or air freshener or whatever the fuck is too much, I feel like I’m going to get sick. He turns left at Leo Burdock’s and down into the back streets of Dublin 8.

‘What way are we going?’

‘Little detour.’ He’s driving fast. I feel my arse get shifted side to side on the leather. The bone chilling baraag of war trumpets echoes up my oesophagus – the presage of a burgeoning guerrilla warfare campaign. My breathing quickens. I grab for my pocket and feel the small bump, which settles me some. I don’t know this route or these streets. It’s like this isn’t my city anymore.

‘Busy tonight?’ I say. Well I dunno? fuck it.

‘No, no. Usual stuff.’

‘That’s good I suppose? If you wanted to chill I guess. Do you?’

‘Do I what?’

‘Like to chill?’

‘Sometimes, I suppose yeah.’

‘Me too. A lot actually. I work part time in an off licence and I’m always chilling. My boss is always ringing me, like ‘Alison I can see you on the cctv if you don’t start doing some work I’ll dock your pay!’ Or like, ‘I don’t pay you to stand around eating free Manhattan Popcorn!’ I laugh. ‘Y’know?’ He nods, I think. ‘It’s quite bad actually, I should work harder. He’s a very honest man.’

‘This’ll be my last of the night, anyway.’

‘PUMP!’ That one was my brain. The threat of domestic terrorism now so undeniable, there’s no logical choice but to release the adrenaline reserves. The skin on my chest feels stretched so tightly over my flesh it might rip.

I put my hand inside my pocket and feel the little wrap. It’s warm. I press on either side with my thumb and index finger, feeling it’s give under my pressure. The package wilts, succumbing to my press and I feel at once powerful. Funny though, these rebellions. It’s a little respite. Getting to focus on simply not dying is a nice distraction.

‘Brave girl heading out on your own aren’t you? Wouldn’t be scared, no?’

I’m not sure I can make words anymore. My autocracy is falling down around me like the last days of Rome. My lungs have surrendered – given over to a lawless free state, but my regimes forces are being pushed back through the windpipe, hence the issue with chit chat. The car is vibrating as we go over back-alley cobblestones of foreign streets but he doesn’t slow. This doesn’t make any sense. None of it makes any sense. Why wouldn’t I? I should. Why not if he’s going to do some weird shit to me? I won’t be going to the party, so why the fuck not? I take it out of my left pocket and my house keys from the other. I untie the little knot at the top of the baggy and place it in the palm of my right hand. I lift a little of the powder out with my key and put it up my nose.

‘What the fuck are you doing in my car?’ he says, but I don’t give a fuck.

‘Watch me if you like, I don’t give a fuck.’ I don’t. Fucking bastard. I feel it catch at the back of my throat for a brief second before it fuses with the blood vessels at the back of my nasal passage. The fighter pilots dispatch into my oesophagus – dropping powdery incendiary bombs over everything. Nothing is spared – foliage, townships, innocent civilians, all engulfed in white hot flames. I’m induced into a feeling that you might call fuzzy or rather warm by the muffled screams of insurgents as they’re wiped out, stronghold by stronghold. They’re terror wraps me in a loving embrace. The queen is back, baby, and she’s bringing law and order.

There’s a serenity to the aftermath of war, you know. They might not tell you in history books, but there is. A calm after the storm. No, maybe not serenity, surrealism. In the delirium of victory, time and space become a little malleable. There’s fervent celebration, too – inside of me. My brain paraded through the streets for bringing peace and prosperity back to our little land. And I’m there. He’s there. I’m in it, the parade. I have my own float and I’m waving at my people. And he’s there, driving the float. The float at once feels small and confined, yet also vast, vacuous. The sides momentarily crushing the outside of my thighs and then I’m draped across the back seat. Lazily draped across leather, fed grapes from the vine. Fed by him. In one second he’s far away, at the end of a tunnel calling my name and in another I’m on his lap. Kissing his mouth as he tries, with great care, to navigate our little float through crowds of adoring citizens. Up close there’s no masking his smell and it’s disgusting. Smoke and disappointment. In one brief second I appear to be dancing, yes – me and Oran are dancing. I can make him out in the crowd, the brass band playing the Bee Gees and we’re dancing and the next I’m stuck. Stuck in mud or quicksand. The float at once appears to be moving and also stopped, though I know it’s moving because I can see the tiny faces of my happy subjects as I pass them by.

‘Fade Street,’ someone says. ‘You’re getting out that side.’ He’s pointing me towards the left hand side of the float.

‘Uh pay, money? What is it?’ I fumble for a wallet I might have.

‘Don’t worry about it.’ He turns, facing me. ‘Mind yourself. Put that shit away before you go in anywhere though, will you?’ I get out and the cold air whips against my cheeks and I can breathe a little.

Twitter: @conor_doyle45

Image via Pixabay

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