House For Sale
Published:A short story published in the Dublin Review
‘What would happen if you flushed the toilet in a station?’ he asked.
‘It would all go on to the tracks,’ she said.
‘And when the train is moving, where does it go?’
‘We’ll ask the ticket collector,’ she said.
‘I bet you wouldn’t ask him,’ Donal said.
‘What harm would it do to the tracks in a station?’ Conor asked.
‘It would be all smelly,’ Donal said.
The morning was calm, the clouds on the horizon were grey and the sea beyond Wicklow the colour of steel.
‘When will the tunnels start?’ Conor asked.
‘It’s a while now,’ she said.
‘After the next station?’
‘No, about three stations. It’s after Bray.’
‘This is too long,’ he said.
‘Read your comic,’ she suggested.
‘It’s too bumpy.’
At the first tunnel after Bray, the boys covered their ears against the rushing noise, vying with each other in mock fright. The next tunnel was much longer. Conor wanted Nora to cover her ears as well, and she did it to please him, because she knew how little sleep he had had, and how irritable he could be, and how easy it would be to upset him. Donal was already bored covering his ears, but he moved to the window when the train came out of the tunnel and there was a sheer drop into the rough waters below. Conor now had moved to the side of the table closest to the sea but tried to stay near her.
‘But it could easily fall over,’ he said.
‘No, no, the train has to stay on the tracks. It’s not like a car,’ she said.
He kept his nose up against the window, fascinated by the danger. Donal, also, did not move from the window even when the train came into Dun Laoghaire station.
‘Is that the end?’ Conor asked.
‘We’re nearly there,’ she said.
‘Where are we going to go first? Are we going to see Fiona first?’
‘We’re going to go to Henry Street.’
‘Yippee!’ Conor shouted. He was trying to stand on the seat, but she made him sit down.
‘And we’re going to have our dinner in Woolworth’s,’ she said.
‘In the self-service?’
‘Yes, so we don’t have to wait.’
‘Can I have a Coca-Cola with my dinner and no milk?’ Conor asked.
‘Yes,’ she said. ‘You can have whatever you like.’
They got off at Amiens Street and walked through the damp and dilapidated station. They moved slowly along Talbot Street, stopping to look into shop windows. She forced herself to relax, there was nothing to do, they could waste time wherever they wanted. She gave them ten shillings each to spend, but as soon as she did, she felt she had made a mistake, it was too much. They examined the money and looked at her suspiciously.
‘Do we have to buy something?’ Donal asked.
‘Maybe we’ll get some books,’ she said.
‘Can we get comics or an annual?’ Conor asked.
‘It’s too early for annuals,’ Donal said.
As they approached O’Connell Street, they wanted to see where Nelson’s Pillar had been.
‘I remember it,’ Conor said.
‘You couldn’t. You’re too young,’ Donal told him.
‘I do. It was tall and Nelson was on top of it and they blew him into smithereens.’
They crossed O’Connell Street, alert to the several lanes of traffic, cautiously waiting for the lights to change. Nora was aware as they walked into Henry Street that they must seem like country people. The boys managed to take everything in and, at the same time, keep everything at a distance. They watched this world of strangers and strange buildings out of the sides of their eyes.