Special Development Zone

My son has an orange toy tiger that, if it were alive, would surely run away from home with all the abuse it gets around here. I’m trying to get him out of the habit of playing fetch with me. I can’t keep reaching down to pick it up every time he throws it with a giggle from his high chair. Not with my back you see, since I injured my back I can’t work on the buildings any more, not that there are any bleedin’ buildings to work on anyway.

I take a smoke on the balcony and spot some activity on the DART line down below. Grass has grown through the cracks and young fellas hang out there, usually, but this morning there are official-looking fellas walking around, measuring and stuff. Walking on the tracks! You could get arrested for that. One night last summer after one of my mates had his going-away-to-Australia party, we went down there messin’ around – a juvenile thing to do, I know. My mother would tell me to ‘grow up’ if she knew I’d done that.

We live in Cherrywood, in the Druid’s Glen part of it, less populated than Tullyville. It was supposed to be on the DART but the DART doesn’t stop here – yet. It’s on the map though, on the map it’s written in as a ‘future stop’. Lots of things that were supposed to have come to Cherrywood haven’t. The ‘ultimate in urban living’ is what me and the wife bought into in 2004. It was meant to be a ‘district centre’, a district centre that went off the rails, if you’ll excuse the pun; a ‘civic utopia’ that politicians, when they have believing-in-their-own-publicity shit dreams, tell us about.

I salute the girl on the next balcony. She is an au pair, also has to go to the balcony for a smoke and keep the door closed behind her. She says her boss says the DART is finally due in October.

“Fuck, I’ll believe it when I see it,” says I.

The bit of a population that is here is all yuppies (or former yuppies) and the old Dell factory workers, with their dole now, their Rent Allowances and their Plasma TVs. A number of ’em grow dope in their spare rooms, but even that market is saturated now. I don’t grow dope and I don’t use it. I would have one time but not now that I’m a father, no way José!

When I go to the dole office I have to bring my son ­– needless to say – and sometimes I hope he will scream his whole fucking head off while we’re in the queue, just to annoy the bitches inside the windows. My status is ‘single parent’. The mortgage is hell. I would take in a lodger, I suppose, but it couldn’t be female; two Polish girls were looking for a place, but hey, too much temptation there, way too much. You couldn’t trust the type of lodger you’d get here anyway. Decent people don’t want to live in a Special Development Zone; too much of a Celtic Tiger reminder.

I try not to think how my son might feel about seeing other kids with a father and a mother when he’s older. He’ll only have me, poor sod. There is a large car-free zone down below, the ‘Community Area’ it’s officially called, a huge space that was meant to be landscaped and stuff. I wheel my kid round and round there. When he’s big enough to cycle I can let him off and it’ll be safe, it’s an offence to let your dog shit in there and you’re not even supposed to smoke. No one uses it, I try to populate the place with the two of us, it has a kind of an echo – unusual for such an open space. I suppose in other parks you’d go to, you’d meet all the single mothers and the au pairs but here… no… sure nobody moved into the shaggin place.

The girl from the balcony waves – she has just stubbed her cigarette out on the wall and flung the butt over the balcony – says she’s heading for the bus, all 93 minutes at least into town, whereas when the DART opens she’ll be in ‘in no-time-at-all’. How she can quantify ‘no-time-at-all’ beats me but that’s what she’s been told.

We live on the third floor. Why my wife wanted the third floor of five I just don’t know, the ground floor would have done us, or the second to be mindful of global warming and the potential for flooding. Now my son and I spend perhaps 3 to 4 minutes down and 3 to 4 minutes up on the lift. If we go out 3 times a day that’s 18 to 24 minutes of our time wasted. Another half hour almost, that we would have added to our day if we lived lower.

No one uses it, I try to populate the place with the two of us, it has a kind of an echo – unusual for such an open space.

My son is restless again so I give him some cartoons on the TV, I only allow him short spells in front of it though. Right now I must ring my mother, see if she’ll be there on Sunday when I bring her grandson over. I know she will talk of nothing but jobs, jobs, jobs; ask me did I see such and such in the Evening Herald, tell me she prays for me every day, and lights candles on a Tuesday and that I’ll get a job soon. I almost lose my patience with her sometimes. And who would mind the kid, I’d like to ask her. Is she offering? One of these days I’ll get around to asking her that. I will ask her at just the right time, as my kid is being particularly dangerous on her ‘perfect’ carpet in the perfect house and her perfect friends coming to perfect tea.

He is only a baby now, but when he’s older I know she will criticize my parenting, just like she criticizes everything I’ve ever done. I hate my mother most of the time, well I suppose hate is a strong word; it’s anger really, I feel anger towards her. She always was out working in Dunnes Stores when we were growing up; a store manager, long hours, great pride in that, and less for us at home. Jaysus, you’d think she’d wipe Ben Dunne’s arse for him if he asked her to, and she never even met the fucker. I’d hate to be some of those workers that were under her. If she was like what she was like at home, then what must it have been like at work, God help them? It’s a Roscommon thing you see, my mother is from Roscommon, and all Roscommon people are like this: hard, wiry, practical, no sentiment, no sympathy – for anything. Bitter, that’s the main thing, bitter, and sarcastic, cuttingly sarcastic, she’s been like that all her life.

I used to appear in a bit of am-dram years ago at college and when I lived in Drumcondra. After moving here I’d hoped that in the vibrant new utopia of Cherrywood someone would surely start a drama group. We would be the best there is, we would enter drama festivals and win the All-Ireland Am-Dram in Athlone. We would be the best because we lived in the best, the most beautiful suburb of Dublin. Fuck!

Last night I continued my way through the box set of Beckett on Film, this time it was Krapp’s Last Tape with John Hurt. I felt depressed afterwards, hurt at my hurt and thought of the crap (krapp, get it!!!) that I had to clean away from my son’s arse shortly, before putting him down for the night.

His little cot is beside my bed. If I wake in the night his breathing is the first thing I listen out for, then I align my own to it and thus synchronized we drift off. I try to resist bringing him into my own bed – that would be a bad habit for him, and what if a lady-friend appeared on the horizon!

I think about Australia a lot, even dreamt of it one night; would like to try it out, but how would a single father fare over there! Then there’s all this stuff on the news about bush fires and flooding in Queensland and I think, ‘fuck, I’m not going there’. I think about America too, my brother is over there, but I dunno if I would want my kid to grow up in America.

I feel guilt at the fact that sometimes I wait to hear the au pair open her balcony door before I step out for my smoke. Her name is Nell by the way. Now in case you think this story is going in that direction it’s not, she is small, dark hair and… not my type, not my type at all. She asks if I have Sky TV. I shake my head. She says she is so bored, that her family only give her the ‘stupid Irish channels’.

“Ah, but I have Beckett on Film,” I tell her, “only on VHS though, not DVD.”

She doesn’t know what I’m talking about, so I explain about Beckett and Paris and ask if she knows the John Minihan photos. Then there is a little glimmer. “Ah yes, yes, yes, Waiting… Waiting for God dot.”

“Waiting for Godot,” I tell her.

She goes on to tell me she saw it on stage in her own country, translated into Polish. She is excited about the prospect of seeing the film and that it is in English, asks if she will bring some beer.

A few days later Nell has a problem. She tells me she has an interview for a hotel job in Temple Bar, but it is during the day and what will she do with the little girl she minds. We agree to go into town together on the bus, and for me to mind her kid and mine outside the hotel. She’s not a bit nervous about the interview but worries that she might have a ‘baby smell’ off her. I tell her she’s ‘grand’ and away she goes. Feeling like an eejit with the two prams, I light up a smoke. The other baby starts to stir so I rock her pram gently. The little one’s mother is supposed to be a busy lawyer. Shite, I hope she doesn’t appear across the river from the Four Courts and find her au pair has done this. I suppose Nell would be fired on the spot.

Then a bin lid crashes. A retreating cat. Both babies start to cry. A human appears, male, a homeless druggie. He starts to curse.

“I was trying to get acquainted with the cat,” he offers.

I say nothing.

“Cats RULE,” he continues,“cos they keep the rats from running up your trouser leg when you’re sleepin’.”

I still say nothing but am amused when I look at my son who is studying the down-and-out with wide and wondering eyes. I imagine I see my child’s nose twitch at the smell from the man.

Nell is happy enough with the interview. We decide to have a major treat; coffees and croissants in a little cafe with a smoking area. Then we go to the NCBI (National Council for the Blind) charity shop, I try on a Mack coat that looks almost new.

“They’ll be back in fashion this year,” the elderly volunteer woman tells me, “back big-time, I read it in Vogue.”

I begin to fancy myself in the coat and am chewing on the €10 price tag’s cull on my pocket when I look at Nell and she is laughing, her face is red. “No, no, no,” she says, “you must not buy this coat. You will look like, am… an exhibitionist…”

It takes a few minutes for it to dawn on me what she means.

“A FLASHER,” I say in a loud voice. “It’s like a bleedin’ flashers coat and I’m a SINGLE BLOKE, a single father.” I put it back on the rack and we depart with our buggies, sniggering at the reaction of the poor volunteer woman.

We go to Age Action Ireland then but they’ve no good coats in there. Nell spots a little five-inch-high figurine yoke painted in very fancy colours. She becomes animated, says it looks just like one she read about on a website. “They were made for just a short time,” she whispers, “in seventeenth century Imperial China.” I swallow a chuckle and tell her that if they were, what was one doing in an Age Action charity shop in Camden Street, Dublin, Ireland? She decides to buy it anyway, insists that even if it is not valuable that she likes it and “it will look pretty” in her bedroom.

We go back home to Cherrywood. Back in the apartment my kid starts to roar and I don’t know what’s wrong with him, his nappy is clean, he’s been fed… it’s then I miss the tiger. Somehow we’ve managed to lose his little orange toy tiger. I text Nell, ask her to check her pram. No joy. I nearly cry then … I know … a grown man crying over the loss of a child’s toy … get a grip. But there you go!

I haven’t mentioned much about his mother, I know that, and I’m not going to, it’s too painful. She is not dead. There is no sob-story. She is not ill, not one of ‘the disappeared’, not an air hostess or an actress or a singer in a band. She is alive and well and maybe will visit us sometime, I don’t know. She knows where we are. She knows where we are. She just doesn’t want to be with us anymore.

I Skype my brother in America. I miss him since he went. He was Godfather by proxy to my kid, keeps telling me I should come over. He is smoking something at the other end and it makes me feel I want to light up too. He tells me he had a close shave with the cops the other night (he is there illegally you see). Apparently all non-citizens in Arizona are now required to carry ID at all times, and can be asked for it anywhere, anytime. “The Arizona SB 1070, that’s the official name of the law,” he explains, “did you ever hear the likes of it – holidaymakers and all non-residents must carry identity papers at all times.” He asks me to show him the kid, to sit him on my lap in front of the screen.

“Aaah, the kids’s asleep,” I tell him, “and he was crying for hours till a few minutes ago, the miserable fuck.” I keep my face steady for my brother, don’t want to let any cracks of suffering show. He tells me there’ll be plenty of work ‘come Spring’, a new Mall, hundreds of fellas will have to be brought in.

The brother’s voice stays in my head after we hang up. Would I ever have thought I’d miss him so much? I find that hard to admit to myself. If he was here now we could just hang out, he’d even mind the kid I’d imagine, while I popped out to the offey for a few beers. We could maybe go to the gym or something, takes turns to keep an eye on the next generation.

I so wish I could go out on the town, just for one night, maybe Nell would babysit, but then I couldn’t pay her, could I? In the mirror I note that I so need a haircut, but I can’t afford one, I get something like a tight knot somewhere in the pit of my stomach with the thought of asking my mother to cut it for me at the weekend. I give a shout then and almost fist the mirror glass.

Ok – deep breath – smoke on the balcony – wonder if Nell is out too. She’s not. I go back in and decide to check out my favourite dating site, but there’s no one new on there, so off I go to www.dad.ie a website for other fellas like me. On it you get advice on Toilet Training Tips, Feeding Problems, Sibling Rivalry (I don’t need to worry about that one) Organic Homme, Dad Friendly Changing Rooms and stuff like that. Fellas are also blogging with tips and hints and recipes even! Then there’s this blog for fellas whose ex’s suddenly get back in their lives, or in the kids’ lives. Jesus, I can’t read any more of that. I save it and move on.

Next I look at www.jobs.ie, I always look at jobs.ie at night before going asleep, just in case. I avoid watching too much news or current affairs, too much negativity. I try to go to sleep positive. In the mornings, I count what’s in my wallet and assess what we need. Whatever happens I must stay positive, I must stay positive and calm. My son can’t grow up hearing only desperation in somebody else’s voice, that somebody being me.

Author:

Noel King: Noel King was born and lives in Tralee, Co Kerry. In this his 50th year, he has reached his 1000th publication of a poem, haiku or short story in magazines and journals in thirty-eight countries. His poetry collections are published by Salmon: Prophesying the Past, (2010), The Stern Wave (2013) and Sons (2015). He has edited more than fifty books of work by others and was poetry editor of Revival Literary Journal (Limerick Writers’ Centre) in 2012/13. A short story collection, The Key Signature & Other Stories will be published in 2016.

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