When it came to weathering a hangover, a bench beside Belfast Lough was as good a place as any. If I hadn’t already shaved that morning, the sharp wind blowing in off the sea could have done it for me. The steady blast glided across my face, letting me feel the angles of my jaw and cheekbones. The wind roared in my ears, dulling the sea’s harsh lapping, which sounded as if a long-tongued dog was trying to drink it in a hurry. I needed some water. If only I’d the motivation to get off this bench. My fuzzy thoughts fumbled their way through my jelly head, to dissolve forgotten at the back of my mind.
The cement walkway behind me was clear of pedestrians; the morning rushers were all in work now. From here the city was mostly drowned out, and with my back to it, I could pretend it wasn’t there. I was alone with the sea.
Looking down, I noticed a blackbird nipping at the remains of a puddle of boke, probably left there the night before. The bird’s yellow beak tapped the half-digested diced carrots and sweetcorn. Its chirp-chirruping went through my head as if someone had stuffed an electric toothbrush in my ear. I stared at the bird, but it continued to peck at the vomit. I stamped my foot, hoping it would fly away, but instead, it hopped round my feet, as if to let me know how important it was.
A quick, angry swing of my boot caught the blackbird, scooping it up as my leg straightened from the knee. My kick slung it airborne over the lough. Watching the bird rise, I sniggered, impressed with my own skill, but I also felt a tinge of hope, that the stunned bird might flex its wings and fly. Instead it dropped like a turd. With a wet splash, it burst through a clump of dirty yellow froth, treated sewage from the River Lagan. From my bench, where I could again be alone with my thoughts, I watched the receding tide carry the sewage and the blackbird on out to sea.
GERARD MCKEOWN’s work has been featured in The Moth, 3:AM, and Litro, among others. In 2017 he was shortlisted for The Bridport Prize, and in 2018 he was longlisted for The Irish Book Awards' Short Story of the Year.