Last Train to San Fernando by James Martyn Joyce
James Martyn Joyce is from Galway. He has published three books, including editing Noir by Noir West: Dark Fiction from the West of Ireland (Arlen House). His work has appeared in The Cúirt Journal, West 47, Books Ireland, Crannog, The Sunday Tribune, The Stinging Fly, The Shop, The Honest Ulsterman, The Stony Thursday Book and Skylight47. He was shortlisted for a Hennessy Award in 2006, the Francis McManus award in 2007 and 2008 and The William Trevor International Short Story Competition in 2007 and 2011. He has had work broadcast on RTE and BBC and has won the Listowel Writers Week Originals Short Story Competition. He won the Doolin Writers Prize in 2014. He was a winner of the Greenbean Novel Fair in 2016 with his novel, A Long Day Dead. His second poetry collection entitled Furey is forthcoming from Doire Press in March, 2018.
Barely breaking his stride, he pulled the baseball cap low and snapped the junkie’s wrist. Cheeky fucker, putting out his hand like that, trying for the delicate touch.
‘Goodnight sur….’ the junkie slurred, and he leant close enough to inhale the rotting ketones, grasped the outstretched claw, rotated the stick-thin limb, and bent the hand upwards. The junkie tried to fly, flapping his loose arm like a wing, Nureyev style, before the sudden push snapped the bone. He sank on to the wide footpath, people stepping around him, his ‘Ah Jaysus’ feeding back through the cinema crowds, everyone keen to make the Luas, the last bus home. Happy taxis for those with deeper pockets.
A girl came through the open doors of the late-night outlet. A random redhead with her headphones on, this was good. But it was the tune feeding around her from the shop speakers that really made him look: ‘Jamaica Johnny, Last Train,’ old-style, the happy wail. He felt the heat, the rolling tumble. It gripped the pit of his gut and tightened it.
He’d need more than a snapped wrist to fill him up tonight.
He slipped in behind her as the doors swished shut, following the curly cloud of red hair. He longed to touch it, moved close, his hand twitching in his jeans. The tune burbled in his head. He could hear the echoes. He hadn’t heard it in so long.
Ellie loved that tune. Whore. She was the one who’d turned him on to that whole laidback Jamaican thing, slipping him the headphones at their lectures, smiling her promise, their lives moving ‘slow-style’. How jealous the other students were, they were the happy couple.
‘Excuse me! Excuse me!’ Some weedy fucker in a duffel coat was coming towards him, pointing like an idiot. ‘Your T-shirt sir? It looks like the Eiffel Tower. I’m running a marathon there next month.’ What was the old fool on about? He had a banjo in a rucksack, the neck sticking skywards. A folksinger? Marathon? Must be seventy at least, emaciated, but still an idiot.
‘It’s a guitar.’ He held the old guy’s stare. He’d lose her if he didn’t hurry.
‘But if you look at the line, how it points up like that? It looks like the Eiffel Tower?’ The old guy was really looking at him now. Just registering a flicker of regret? He’d try once more.
‘It’s. A. Guitar.’ The bothersome fool lowered his gaze, the beginnings of retreat. Old people? No purpose. He’d lost her now.
A Luas crossed at the GPO, slowing the hordes, a glimpse, and there she was, the red hair again, a flaring burn in the sodium glow. He wouldn’t run. Time was never tight.
Ellie was some bitch taking off like that to the university in Belfast. The tune burns in his ear, ‘Last Train, Last Train.’ He tried to hunt it from his mind.
They were almost at O’Connell Bridge. A few junkies mooched around the late-night pharmacy on the corner, eyeing the security man, not relishing their chances. She swung right, down the quays. In his mind he read the map, recalled the dark places on past the Four Courts. A good combination, blackness and the law. He closed the gap again. She was on her phone talking to someone called Joanie. Maybe it was just a ploy? So many women did that now, conjuring up friends to fend off the night.
Peripheral flash, he saw movement. All the shops were closed but, still… movement? Definitely. He slowed, his attention swinging to the under-glow from the cycle shop. He read the sign. A mother stood among the expensive bikes, light feeding from the office at the back. She leant against the counter, nonchalant, absorbed, her children playing in the slanting brightness. Identical twins, slapping the wheels, their infant fingers catching the black tyres and spinning them. The mother smiled as a tall man came from the office area and swept the twins high, an arm each, hugging them, his cheery shout barely audible through the glass.
He was mesmerised, pressed his face close to the window glass, letting his eyes burn up the scene until the mother noticed him and said something to her husband. He breathed hard on the cold surface, widened his eyes, showed her the burn of hate, could imagine his face disappearing as he moved on. She’d remember the eyes, fear for her children in the night. Happy family. Like his own never was…. That was why Ellie had hurt so much, he had nourished a ‘maybe’ for their future. But she just checked out. A study colleague for fucksake. He’d missed the bloody signs for months until she told him.
‘A fucking cuckoo bird, Ellie? That’s the best you can do?’ That was all he said, never shouted, never hit her. Smiled through the lot. Her time? She’d never guess. There were things no one saw coming.
Waiting was an art.
He’d lost the girl now. Gone, either across the Halfpenny Bridge or into the darkness towards Stoneybatter. He wouldn’t run. Chance was everything. He found himself humming the tune, the wind watering his eyes as he crossed the black river. He hated this part of town, the gormless tourists, stags and hens, the perpetual circling of desire. Crowds milled around outside a busy pub, He’d bide his time. It would throw someone up.
His previous victims had been so simple. Late-nighters, wombling home alone. He loved that word. It summed up how people were now, disconnected, out of touch, assuming they were special. No one was untouchable, he’d seen to that. Amazing that last girl had survived.
He skipped around the ‘zombies’ outside the teen club. Another redhead caught his eye, bottle job, too young. He increased his pace as two Gardai ambled past. Midget and Juggernaut, the Guards were building them awful small now and pairing them off as well, Juggernaut thumping you while Midget nipped at your heels. He’d avoid that if he could, he smiled. They were so slow, never got the picture. Amateurs.
He scoped the bulk of the darkened bank, swallowed the traffic coming from Trinity, he’d have to wait. A homeless bagman shuffled past on his mobile phone asking some hostel if they had any spaces, telling them his name is Jack. She came from behind him out of nowhere and pressed a coin into the old man’s palm. He heard the tune again, ‘Last Train, Last Train.’ The lights clicked to green. It was game on.
© James Martyn Joyce