Decided to serialize this over the next couple of weeks. If you like, then do please share the joy. Let people know.
Kenny was the last person anyone could have imagined coming loose in time. Kenny was the last person you could imagine coming loose anywhere. He was always so ridiculously grounded. It was as if a rock had started levitating and performing the entire back catalogue of the Bee Gees. You would have to know him, I guess, for such a ludicrous metaphor to make the most perfect, the most boring sense.
What does Kenny’s story prove? That nothing is as it seems? Or that everything is doomed to eventually become its opposite?
Looking back, I guess, he’d never exactly been normal. Not that I had any idea what normal was, not back at school, where I left a house run by lunatics every morning to join an institution staffed by other, albeit more sullen lunatics.
Looking back, I should have grasped that Kenny’s hyper-normality suggested the most tragic, the most jaw dropping madness of all, but a lot of things passed me by in those days.
Stolid was a word that would have described Kenny in those days: stolid and slightly scary. He was one of those characters who inhabited absolutely his own cone of time and space, a space no one ever felt the need to violate. Even at the age of fourteen (I surmise he was fourteen only because the rest of us were) he had the body of a bricklayer. He was tall, but also wide in a way no teenager had a right to be.
The other amazing thing about Kenny was his hair. As month followed weary month, the rest of us flitted between mops and flops, between tragic dreadlocks and even more tragic adventures with peroxide – almost, as it were, to fill time and space – but my memory swears blind that Kenny’s hair never altered in the slightest degree of shape, length or texture during all the five years I saw him at school. Somebody else might have been beaten up for that, but never Kenny.
Then there was his face, which was a no go area for the acne that colonised the rest of us, retarding still further any miniscule prospects for sexual progress. Acne kept away from Kenny, but then, so did girls, so did change.
Kenny belonged to that odd race of burly Loonford natives who don by twelve the faces they will wear at forty, at fifty. In a classroom inhabited by changelings in various stages of greasy, leaden voiced chrysalis, Kenny stood out like, well, a forty year old man in a room full of teenagers.
He looked older, or at least more haggard, than most of the teachers too, and naturally, even the most vicious minded pedagogue never went near him.
I have no recollection of Kenny ever opening his mouth at school, though logic tells me he must have done, even if only to yawn. I was much too terrified to ever attempt a conversation with him, and I don’t recall anyone else doing so either.
Time was the only thing in Loonford that seemed on its way somewhere in those days, and even time could catch you out, catch you napping.
School shocked and disturbed us all by ending. We were convicts, incarcerated for sins committed before we were born, cut loose and clueless into a world that seemed weirdly devoid of possibility.
Most of my schoolmates simply joined the disappeared, becoming statistics in one of the sentimentally titled ‘diasporas’ by which Ireland periodically rids herself of her bothersome young. A very few of us saw very tentative dreams dashed by enforced stays in Loonford.
My non-journey brought me to the family shop on the corner of Loonford’s busiest street, where I remained for twenty seven years, though that’s another story.
It gets me down from time to time, that lack of movement, that failure to be footloose. I try to console myself by imagining that I learned things there; sometimes I believe these imaginings to be true.
One of the things I fancy I learned has to do with the physical nature of time itself, of those seemingly disconnected chunks of flotsam that tinkled through the door and shambled around the shop’s stone floor. Years passed, and I thought I could detect patterns.
For example: if a morning was marked by the unannounced arrival of a drunk, muttering of foul breathed possibilities for violence, I knew that drunk would be the first of several that day, each with their finely varied tinctures of dementia. I’d grit my teeth for a day which I knew would end with me longing to be one of them, giving the abuse instead of taking it.
If a puckering transvestite passed through the door before lunch (it might sound bizarre, but yes, Loonford had transvestites in those days. They weren’t very convincing or coordinated, but they were there.), wondering if I could change a fiver, admire his tragic plumage and call him Rachel, I knew sure as shingles that others of his frantically fey brethren would be wafting under the bell later that day, with their clownish rouge and manic lust for attention – maybe they were having a convention.
I might not have laid eyes on a drunk or a tranny for months, but suddenly, there they would be again, in oddly repeating twos and threes, disappearing again for months before starting the cycle all over again. I thought I had divined something in their patterns, something reality would have preferred me not to know, but it’s also possible that I too was simply going mad, building a personalised escape from reality.
Kenny showed up one morning, years after school had played its final nasty trick, its disappearing act. We had, I am certain, never exchanged a single word during that long confinement, but he came into the shop anyway.
Maybe it was the memory of having once awkwardly occupied that same space. Maybe it was just that he had awakened to an odd form of loneliness. People like Kenny don’t, after all, have friends. They don’t seem to have much use for them.
He stood opposite me on the stone floor, size, hair and features entirely unchanged, apart from a vague sense of being worn around the edges, as if (I later decided) his steely eyes were finally showing the haunting of years without sleep.
“Well,” said Kenny to me. It was neither a question nor a statement.
“Hello Kenny,” I said.
“Well,” he repeated, hands on his waist as if this was some sort of challenge. “Urr … what’s this your name is again?”
I told him. I don’t know why he asked me, because he never used it.
He said ‘well’ again and mooched around the shop for a bit. In all the years he was to spend hovering around the stone floor, he never once made a single purchase, though he did occasionally tap me for some cash, so we weren’t entirely beyond transaction.