Vicious Circular by Kieran Marsh
Ten stories have been shortlisted in our Legends of the Fall short-story competition. We will publish two a day this week and reveal the winner on Friday
What the judges said about Vicious Circular
Éilís Ní Dhuibhne Frank and searing slice of life, revealing what it means to be completely down and out. Good details. Very moving. A brave attempt to rise to the challenge of describing the worst tragedies of the recession.
Donal Ryan Vicious Circular is really well done. Gut-wrenchingly bleak and deeply unsettling. I couldn’t look away.
The boys lie sleeping. Stephen wets a towel. There is no hot water – the boiler over the sink has never worked – so he uses the kettle to make it warm. He wraps it around his face. It feels welcoming, but he cannot breathe through it at all.
And the boys lie sleeping. He grips the towel tightly, standing over them.
“The choice is yours,” says Yellowhair.
Stink, humiliation, rot, helplessness. All these elements dance through his tightly coiled brain, screaming. Nausea overwhelms him. There is a moment, a movement. He closes his eyes and is engulfed by the procession of senses that mark his day. The front door from the street, coming into the ever-present reeks that rush into his nostrils like vomit. Musty dampness, cigarette smoke, a rotten pungency of boiled cabbage. The inevitable Spaz O’Toole perched on the stairs, bumming fags. The trail to his “flat” out the back door, past the cat shit and discarded televisions, to the half-rotten prefab that is his home.
“Should have asked me,” Spaz had said, a couple of days back. “You know, like, when Bento showed you the flat. I’d have said run a bleeding mile. Place is cursed.”
“Place stinks,” said Stephen.
“Anyway, Stevie, my man, you wouldn’t have a fag, would you? I sent me butler out for some, like, but he’s taking his time.”
He felt in his pockets, handed one over. Spaz took a sniff of the length of it as if it was a fine Cuban and, with a big grin, slipped it into his shirt pocket.
“Any luck looking for a job?” asked Spaz.
“Not a fecking thing. Security, warehouse work, nothing.”
“Mug’s game! Give it bleeding up, enjoy your freedom and stop fecking about with that stuff, if you want my advice.”
“Nah, couldn’t do that. Worked every day of my life since I finished school.”
“There you go, you see. All those days working, where’s it got you? Same fecking palace as me, earning the same as me, and all. Except you give half to that bird as fecked you out? Waste of time, Stevie.”
He looked up at the man on the stairs; you would have taken him for mid-50s, but he was in his early 40s. An ex-Belvedere boy, if you could believe him, got expelled, then spent his teens and 20s on the streets, touting for drugs. Three times in hospital on life support. Clean now, but his words were hollow.
“I’ll see you later, right,” said Stephen.
“Oh, you will that, and all.”
Somebody had put another old fridge out the back so that Stephen had to squeeze past it to get to his door, which was unlocked, open an inch. He had an awful feeling, but when he pushed it open the place was undisturbed.
Inside, he was freshly assailed by the smack of mould, and several insects made a dive for cover when he switched on the bare bulb in the middle. He lay down on the sofa. There was a bed, but the roof leaked and it was rotten with mould. There was a telly, huge old thing that wasn’t worth anybody’s time to nick, no Saorview or cable, though.
“Have a good day?” asked Yellowhair.
“Kids still coming?”
“Yeah, they’re still coming.”
“You shouldn’t have them here. It’s not right.”
He looked around. Chaos and decay.
“They’re my kids.”
“Putting yourself first? That’s what I always did.’
“We’re not that different, you and I.”
He turned away from her. He tried to think of better times, but the smell kept dragging him back.
He was woken next morning by a loud thumping. He sat up quickly as Bento came in. He shivered, convulsed. The cold had set into his bones.
“Stevo, y’ould bugger. Up and about with ye.”
“Ah, look, can you not be letting yourself in, like.”
“No bovver, Stevo, I’m out of your hair soon as I has me rent.”
“I need a bit of time, Bento, me kids are coming round.”
“Sorry, Stevo, I don’t take kids as payment.”
“No look, I’m still waiting on the rent allowance and . . .”
“Look . . .” Bento reached into his pocket and pulled out a wad of notes, counted out six 50s and two 20s. “Here’s your bleeding deposit. Out you go and we’re all square. Can’t say fairer.”
“I just need time . . .”
“Buckets of it, Stevo, in your own place. Show me what you’ve got.”
He pulled out his pocket. There was €30 and some change. Bento was on it like the plague.