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Dublin: 8 °C Monday 18 December, 2017
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A short story before bedtime: Levitation

Taken from Levitation, the latest collection by Irish writer Sean O’Reilly.

Sean O'Reilly Writer

SHORT STORIES ARE ideal when you want a fiction fix, but don’t have the time to get stuck into a new novel.

Tonight, we have an extract from a story from Sean O’Reilly’s new collection, Levitation. (Contains some adult language.)

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Valentine Rice turned left on Capel Street, skirted the road works for the new tram lines, and hugging the outside lane of the granite-edged pavement, he offered the occasional nod for someone inside one of the shops, the few older shops that had survived, selling things much more useful than sushi or Polish crisps or shirts made from hemp, until he reached the splendid roar of traffic along the quays, and soon found himself crossing the arches of Grattan Bridge towards the pillars of City Hall, a tricolour at half-mast. It was around eleven in the morning. The day stretched ahead of him, and high above him too. He could do whatever he wanted. Normally, out on the streets like this, doing his rounds, he was on the clock and had to be back at the shop before too long. Today, he was his own master. The hours were his own to fill. He waited at the lights to cross Dame Street.

Fuck, is that Rachel Holt over there in stripy tights at the corner? Not in the mood for that at all. Skip down this cobbled lane.

As every native knows, the charm of Dublin is all about who you might meet when you’re out and about on its miserly handful of streets. It might be someone you haven’t seen in a long time or a face from only the night before. It might be a lover you’ve never forgotten or your brother’s handsome headmaster or an old landlord you still owe money to. The encounter could bring remarkable news or distressing information or more of the same old drama despite the years that have passed. Passion might be rekindled on Watling Street, barefaced lies told on Wicklow Street, a secret shared on Sráid na gCaorach Mhór. And, of course, this feeling that you never know who is round the next corner can lead to some strange behaviour among the natives. People on bicycles, for example, flying around so no one can stop them and demand to know what they’re up to these days. Or the number of people in disguise. Or impregnable behind prams and pets and phones.

It can also mean you are regularly forced to abandon your destination altogether. You have to think on your feet in Dublin, stay alert, keep your options open. Pick any pub and study the expressions of those coming in the door; what you see is disbelief that they somehow, God knows how, have reached their port of call, or the equally famous resignation that this place would have to do. Some days there is so much avoiding to be done, so and so over there who made you take an unexpected turn down one street, only to be forced to veer off again to escape the approach of that other so and so, which leads you into the path of someone else, endlessly, inescapably. You can accidentally come face to face with your destiny because you thought it wise to avoid a tricky interaction with someone in stripy tights whose fortieth birthday party you ruined five years earlier.

And this is, more or less, what happened on this particular day when after Rachel, he saw Quinlan, and next Mad Emmet, and three more, and before he knew it Valentine was standing somewhere else and a voice said to him, Anything strange, Valentine?

On his wooden pallet, lotus-style under a fisherman’s cape, his long gunslinger’s moustache turning yellow, there was old Ultan. In his lap was positioned a sign stolen from a hotel which read Do Not Disturb, and squeezed in below, handwritten, the words, please donate quietly.

Extracted from ‘Levitation’ the title story in the new collection from Sean O’Reilly (Stinging Fly Press, September 2017).

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Sean O'Reilly  / Writer

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