Who needs tonic when you can just play dead?
I HAD A part in a movie last week. Not a big part. I was required to lie in a coffin and pretend I was dead. Which is not as easy as you might think.
I always thought of movies as a glamorous life, but sitting in a draughty trailer with a blow-heater on a wet day is no fun. And I was shoeless, and dressed in a black suit for the burial, as I waited for the design department to prepare the coffin.
It was a relief to get back to Leitrim alive.
On Saturday evening I went to my second barbecue of the summer. The meats were sizzling in the rain while the guests, most of them country people who remember something called hay, remained indoors, around a fire in the front room. Two farmers talked about spades. A woman confessed that she had left her dog in the boot of her car, and a man in his 80s who is waiting for an operation on his prostate told me he had a catheter in place.
“I take off the bag and tie the tube round me leg when I want to party,” he said, laughing.
And then two artists arrived. Creatures who live on the edge of enlightenment: drumming, chilling, and smoking dope. They were welcomed warmly because in Leitrim artists are like an exotic species who survive in remote and brutish corners of most mountains, like grumpy silverbacks.
One of them arrived on a pushbike because he was banned from driving a few years ago; a man of early middle age wearing cycling gear and with a rucksack on his back. He turned to me and said, “Where have you been all week?” “Making a movie,” I said. It sounded better than saying I was stretched in a coffin.
“I hope you’re not selling your soul to the movie business.” Soon he found a bottle of Bombay Sapphire gin on a table, picked it up and slithered off through the crowd like a fish. A few minutes later I noticed him amazing a 20-year-old woman in the scullery with his discovery. He’s an artist opposed to the trappings of middle-class culture in every other respect, but he can certainly wallop a bottle of bourgeois booze when it’s available for free. He just doesn’t put any tonic in it.
When he had polished that off he began working the crowd, being jovial and brutish. Kicking guests to say hello, and jumping on nervous men with diabetes to show his camaraderie, and forcing a young woman to endure a dance routine with him.
Eventually he collapsed on the couch, beside the host, who had just used the words “zero tolerance” and “marijuana” in the one sentence. Hardly able to articulate his words or contain his rage, the artist lashed out. “You’re the most horrible, judgmental person I’ve ever met,” he began.
I fled to the kitchen where the other artist, a big hairy genius, was impressing people around him with tales of Japan. He wore a scarf around his neck, which was courageous because the heating was on. But nobody was listening.
Suddenly he saw a beautiful woman, and turned on her. “I’m working my butt off to enrich the world with beauty,” he said. “But it’s not easy, when those bastards who run the country are threatening to cut the dole and make me go out and work like I was in some effing labour camp.”
That’s the great thing about Leitrim artists. They speak the truth. They have high ethical standards and clear moral positions, and they don’t mince their words.
The beautiful woman clearly wanted to be on another planet as he tried to interest her in the anti-fracking campaign: she was having none of it. After a few attempts he turned ugly and spat out the following words: “I can see by your wrinkles, and by your flat forehead, that you . . . are . . . nothing.” Then he leaned in close to her and said, “And you know I could have you killed in the morning.”
When he noticed me he hid his dark face beneath a shallow smile, threw up his arms in a grand gesture, and said, “Ah, how have you been? Are you writing?”
I said, “No; I’ve been lying in a coffin.”
“Oh,” he said, “Were you dead?”
“No,” I said, “I was just pretending.”
“And what was that like?” he wondered.
“Not as difficult as you must find it,” I replied, “pretending to be alive.”