Authors: Ruth Frances Long
To Pat, Diarmuid and Emily.
So many people helped make this book happen, this crazy story that didn’t seem to fit in anywhere. I can never thank all of them, but if you have had a hand in this, thank you! More specifically, I have a few people to thank in particular.
Whoever painted the angel graffiti on South William Street, first of all, because that was the spark of this story; my wonderful and ever-supportive Shiny Shiny Critique group for all the … oooh, shiny!; my agent, Sallyanne Sweeney, for her faith in me; the lovely Celine Kiernan for an inspired suggestion; everyone at The O’Brien Press and my editor, Helen, for really getting the world and its inhabitants in a way few others did.
And most of all my ever-patient friends and family. Especially Pat, Diarmuid and Emily. Here’s to a lifetime of trips to the wishing stone and saying our (carefully respectful) hellos to Brí.
zzy had only just pushed down the lever on the toaster when it exploded with an audible pop. Sparks flared up like fireworks and pungent black smoke filled the kitchen.
Dad cursed loudly – words he seriously wasn’t meant to say in front of her – and jumped up from the kitchen table.
‘Stand back from the bloody thing,’ he said and ripped the plug from the wall. ‘Are you okay, Izzy?’
She nodded, trying not to inhale the acrid fumes. ‘Fine, Dad. I’m fine.’ He looked comical standing there with the cord swinging from his hand like a pendulum, glaring at the toaster as if he had a lifelong grudge against it.
It wasn’t like this was the first time. She knew the drill. She punched the switch on the extractor fan and opened the windows while Dad prodded the toaster suspiciously, waiting for it to attack again.
A deathly silence settled over the kitchen until Mum rustled the paper. ‘The technological curse is definitely
then, is it?’
Izzy grinned, aware from her mother’s voice that she was stifling laughter. She couldn’t help herself. It was funny.
Dad gave an affronted huff. ‘Your daughter wasn’t hurt, since you’re so concerned.’
‘Oh, good. That’s a relief, as always. What item is going to suffer the wrath of the two of you next?’
She folded up the paper, poured herself the last cup of coffee and winked at Izzy, who leaned on the counter and suppressed a giggle. Dad picked up the toaster, crossed to the back door and tossed it onto the patio. It clattered onto the stones and he slammed the door after it.
‘There, all gone. And good riddance. Better use the grill, Izzy.’
‘You aren’t leaving that out there,’ Mum protested. ‘It’s a garden, not a dump!’
‘The toaster’s dead, love. Let it rest in peace. I’ll take it to the recycling centre later.’ He put the jug under the coffee machine and hit the red button. It gurgled away happily.
‘Careful!’ said Mum. Of all the machines in the house, Izzy thought, they couldn’t afford to lose that one. Neither of her parents would be able to function. She went to the fridge and got a yogurt instead. Far safer. She and Dad had an uncanny way with electrical items. Mainly with destroying them.
‘I won’t break it,’ Dad argued. ‘I’ve never broken the coffee
machine! The coffee machine
God, they were embarrassing.
‘Just stay away from my laptop, David,’ Mum warned him. ‘I’m not sure I could take another
helpline conversation.’ That made Dad grimace dramatically. Izzy rolled her eyes to heaven, because next thing she knew they were kissing in a way that ought to be strictly forbidden to anyone over twenty-one.
But at least they were happy together. Not coldly ignoring each other or getting divorced like the parents of half her classmates. They were happy, and she was happy for them.
Even if they were mortifying.
‘Better get dressed,’ Dad said. ‘Izzy, do you want a lift? I’m heading out by the Temple of Mammon.’
She winced. The enormous shopping centre in Dundrum didn’t call itself a ‘shopping centre’, but rather a ‘Town Centre’. And Dad didn’t even call it that. He had opinions about shopping centres. Opinions with capital letters, quotes, underlines and italics. Probably why he barely had enough business to get by these days. You’d think in a recession, an architect would be a bit more circumspect about whose buildings he was criticising. But that was Dad, through and through.
Problem was, she agreed with him. She was the only teenage girl she knew who hated the place.
‘No, thanks. I thought I’d head into town later on. Dylan’s band have a gig this afternoon.’
wasn’t something man-made, or designed. Town was
the centre of Dublin, an unwritten but perfectly understood area that had created itself, grown organically, carelessly – a grubby, worn-at-the-seams paradise divided by a river. A place of narrow lanes left over from the Viking settlement and the stately Georgian avenues of the Wide Street Commissioners.
Izzy loved Dublin, loved just mooching about, down laneways or around the iron-railed squares, listening to buskers, looking at street art and window shopping. It was a place to just generally hang out, sometimes meeting friends, sometimes on her own. Summer was heaven for that.
She should have known the city centre like the back of her hand at this stage, and yet she always found something new in it. That was its magic, the maze that was Town, a hodge-podge of public and secret places from countless eras, squished together over the course of a thousand years, always new, always old.
‘Oh, where are they playing?’ asked Mum eagerly. Too eagerly.
Izzy was still living down the last time they turned up to one of Dylan’s gigs. Marianne loved bringing that one up. Izzy had known Dylan so long her parents seemed to think of him as their own kid rather than Izzy’s friend.
‘Just a promo thing. No biggie. Anyway, you’re at work. It’s in the afternoon.’ The words came out in a quick rush and she took the opportunity to escape before they could ask any more details like exactly when and where.
The DART rattled along the tracks, green and ugly. The train was a lifeline for anyone living on the outskirts of the city, a way to get out of the suburban seaside and swing around the sweep of the bay right into the heart of town. Izzy gazed out the window instead of listening to music or playing with her phone like her fellow passengers. The treacherous sand flats of Sandymount Strand, beloved of Joyce, stretched out beyond the wall, the sea rushing in on them with white horses in the waves, breaking off the submerged sandbars. The wind was getting up, but the sky was still clear and blue. Summer wasn’t always so beautiful. Usually it was notable for the extra rain, but not this year. This year it was golden and beautiful, like a childhood memory of summers past. It transformed the whole place.
Izzy pushed her way off the train at Pearse Station and joined the crowds streaming down the steep slope to street level. She wandered around the edge of Trinity College, dodging tourists clustered around their coaches and beggars holding paper coffee cups.
‘Spare change, bud?’ someone mumbled from the level of her knees and she saw a flash of yellow teeth in a grimy face. Gimlet eyes met hers, stopping her in her tracks. Breath caught in her throat, but she couldn’t move, not right away. It felt like someone was holding the back of her neck in an iron grip. ‘Spare change, love?’ he said again, his grin even wider now.
Someone pushed between them, breaking the contact, and Izzy could move again. She jerked away, crossing the road and trying not to look as if she was running. There was nothing to run from. Just an old guy looking for money. But her heart hammered against the inside of her ribs.
It didn’t calm until she’d reached Grafton Street, where she paused outside the bank among the shoppers and foreign language students watching a fairly crusty busker playing the guitar like a Spanish master. And here she was, getting freaked out. Stupid, really. She knew better than to let her imagination run away with her. Dad always told her that things were what they were. No one needed to imagine anything worse. Just an old beggar and her overactive imagination.
Izzy let herself breathe more calmly and the noise and conversation, the laughter and shouts, swept over her. The street was full of colour everywhere, and sound like a physical force. She lingered at the shop windows without going inside. It wasn’t a day for shopping, even if she had any money to spare. This was just a day for herself. The school holidays weren’t the same when you got older. She worked every hour she could get in the coffee shop down the road from her house, while most of her friends were content to waste the summer away. Well, maybe that wasn’t fair. Part-time jobs and summer work were tough to come by these days.
Still, Marianne, Dylan’s sister and Izzy’s classmate and
, could be less of a prima donna about it all.
She was looking in the window of the camera shop, lusting
after an SLR she couldn’t ever hope to afford, when in the reflection she caught a glimpse of the beggar again, on the far side of the road, sitting in a doorway surrounded by cardboard and a ratty-looking blanket. The same man. She was sure of it. Her spine stiffened in alarm. He didn’t move, still as one of those fake statue people further down the road, just staring at her with eyes that caught the light in a weirdly metallic way. He wasn’t painted gold or silver though. If he had a colour it would be ‘grime’.
the one she’d seen earlier on Nassau Street. He grinned the same way, held her gaze as if to hypnotise her and hold her there. Like a cobra with its prey.
The street cleaning truck rumbled by, breaking the spell. Izzy shuddered and turned with a start, able to move again in an instant. He was gone. As if he’d never been there. No sign of him at all. Just an empty doorway, a tangle of blanket and some ragged ends of cardboard. No one was there at all.
Izzy shook her head. She’d imagined it, seen some sort of trick of the light in the reflection. There was nothing there.
But at the top of the street, she thought she saw him again, lurking by the vast grey arch of the gates to St Stephen’s Green. Izzy turned away, wincing and wishing there was a cop around. The creep was shadowing her.
She jumped as her phone rang in her pocket. As she fished it out, her hands were shaking so hard she almost dropped it. She glanced over her shoulder. He was gone again and a loud group of tourists stood there instead, comparing
brightly coloured maps.
‘Let me guess.’ Dylan’s voice sounded deep with amusement. ‘You’re sightseeing.’
Seeing something. Not sights. Not good ones.
She looked around, half expecting the beggar to be back, half dreading catching sight of him again.
Her voice shook. ‘How can I sightsee here? I’ve seen it.’
Dylan didn’t notice her tone. He laughed. ‘Yeah, sure. You can sightsee anywhere, Izzy. Especially here. I know you. Okay, you’re wandering around town looking at the buildings and pretending you’re window shopping?’
Or at least that was what she
been doing, before she’d acquired a potential stalker.
‘You in town?’ she asked, deliberately not answering his question. That amused him even more. She could hear it in his voice.
‘Just got in. So are you coming?’
‘Now?’ She couldn’t check the time and talk at the same time. She tried to balance the phone against her shoulder and twist her wrist around to look at the watch. After two. Shit, how had that happened?
Mari’s voice sounded in the background, saying something about Izzy always being late – which was a lie if she was talking about work – and then she laughed. Izzy knew that laugh. It was the flirty,
laugh she reserved for those guys she fancied beyond reason. Like the
bass player in Dylan’s band.
‘Soon,’ said Dylan. ‘You’ll come though, won’t you?’ He broke off before she could answer, said something she couldn’t quite make out to the others and then he was back. ‘I’ve got to go. Soundcheck’s starting. Look, this thing won’t even take the whole afternoon. We’re going to grab a bite to eat and maybe go clubbing later?’
Izzy frowned. Like she could afford that. She’d love to, though. It had been so long since she’d been out with Dylan. With the guys from the band they’d get in wherever. That was probably what Mari was counting on. Dylan was two years older than both his sister and Izzy, finished school and starting university. Hanging around with him – embarrassing
brother or not – opened up a world of possibilities for Mari.
‘I’ve kind of got to go home,’ she muttered, wishing she could just blithely say ‘yes’ and not think about the
. ‘I’ve work in the morning and I promised Mum and Dad. But I’m on my way now. Be there soon.’
It wasn’t far to Exchequer Street. She could make it with plenty of time. All she had to do was cut down by the side of the shopping centre, past the theatre and head down South William Street. Ten minutes max.