The Portrush Flyer
By sean mcnulty
I got to know Oran Berrills five years back during my first working year at the Examiner. When going up Forgall Terrace one day, I saw something drop from an upstairs window and onto the pavement. Arriving at the fallen item, I picked up a big white mug with a picture of the Wolf Man (who I would later learn was Lon Chaney Jr in the Universal horror film) on it. Miraculously, the mug hadn’t broken. It must have been made of strong stuff and I checked the underside to see where it had come from. Didn’t say China or Taiwan, miraculously. Didn’t say anywhere actually. Maybe this mug was so unique it didn’t have to say anything. It was enough just to hold it in your hands to know it had been made somewhere. Then I heard a voice at the window, gruff, cheerless: Here you, that’s mine! It was Oran Berrills. Before then I knew him only through rumours. I’d overheard he was a gobaloon in the barbers, that’s where you’ll hear about all these unseens more often than not. The barber knows them all because everyone needs a haircut at some point (To be fair, Oran had some head of it to be kept in check). And of course I had heard that talk about the spindly twins and speculation about their depraved and incestuous practices.
It didn’t break so you’re alright, I yelled up.
I was fixing the sill and knocked it out. Could you lob it up to me?
Are you sure now? It may yet break apart on you.
Oh, you’ve a weak throw, have you?
Well, I wouldn’t say that.
I moved under the window, primed myself, and tossed the mug up. Oran’s hand jerked out to catch it but he wasn’t fast enough and the beaker forestalled lazily in mid-air before falling again to the street. And this time it did smash. To bits.
Don’t worry, he said.
I should have tried to catch it coming down.
It’s alright, he said, sorrowfully. It’s just a mug. Cheerio.
And he left the window and retreated back to whatever. With my foot, I swept the broken glass up against the wall of the house and continued on my way.
I was by no means a moralist but I felt I needed to make up for destroying the man’s mug. Perhaps this was due to its demise as a result of my weak throw. So next day I went into one of those discount repositories and purchased a new one for him. I couldn’t find a Wolf Man mug, so I got him one with a steam train on it. The Portrush Flyer. Made in China.
Then I went back to Forgall Terrace.
There was no answer at the door when I rang so I shouted up at the bedroom window and Oran eventually came again, pushing the window open and looking down at me with unease and outward disdain.
It’s you from yesterday, he said.
Don’t you have a job to be at?
Not right now. I have some days off.
So you’re just busybodying, is that it?
Ah come on, there’s no need for that. Anyway, how would you call what I’m at busybodying? Sure I only stopped to give a hand.
I reckon anyone loose on the streets at this hour might as well be busybodying.
I bought a new mug for you. To replace the one I broke.
Did you break it? Was it not me that dropped it?
I’m afraid I was the last to have it in my hands before it fell.
Yes, you’re right. Wait. I think I do know you. You used to work in Crazy Prices, didn’t you?
Ah, Crazy Prices. And Quinnsworth before that. I was there for years working my way up to the position of manager, a role I continued to play until a friend, who was employed at that time by the Examiner, told Lavery all about my extraordinary skills in the way of spelling. Famed for achieving INTERMINABLE at eight years old, FLUORESCENCE at nine, and classics like BUREAUCRACY and PHENOMENOLOGICAL by the age of twelve, you could say I was quite the progidy. At school I had spelled my way out of the dopier classes and into the smarter ones, even if I didn’t last long in the smarter ones on account of my lacking in other gifts. So these qualities convinced Lavery to ask me in for an interview and amazingly he hired me on the spot and I was put to work proofreading obits.
There was still a pecking order in town and having a job with the Examiner was a sight more respectable than working at Crazy Prices, so I quickly added: But now I work for the Examiner. Just so you know.
With this I had his attention.
Ooh, the Examiner, really? Lucky you. Sarcasm in his voice. But it was a mild kind which I believe had hiding beneath it a genuine interest he was simply not willing to reveal yet. Regardless, it wasn’t long before I was invited into his home. I’m not sure if that would have happened, or if I’d have become friendly with Oran, or met Phyllis, or if any of the events that I have so far described would have occurred had I only ever worked in Crazy Prices and never moved on to the Examiner. It was a decision which changed the history of the town, now that I look back on it with clearer eyes.
It’s no Lon Chaney, but it will do, he said, when I gave him the mug.
It’s the Portrush Flyer.
Fancy that, he said.
Who’s Lon Chaney?
The Wolf Man.
That first day in the house I was struck by the unpleasant variety of smells, that scent of mouldy herbs and vinegar, red wine punched with jasmine, and an air of dead insects and putrid mustardy paper. I discovered quickly the home’s abundance of physical media, stepping on and cracking a DVD case on the way into the living room (Twins by Schwarzenegger/ DeVito) but it was the wide and full bookshelves that primarily corralled my interest. Oran’s library included books I had heard of, many more I’d never, and numerous which appeared to be probably worth a bob. Later, I would often joke with him that he’d better be careful having me round because I might one day shove one up my jumper and bring it to the trade-ins for selling. The ones I thought the trade-ins might go for were an Everyman’s collection of the works of Tolstoy, the Tom Sharpe first editions, and some funky red encyclopaedias like the ones we’d have at the back of the classroom in school. He caught me scanning those books many times and all joking aside there were instances when I was set on doing it because stealing had never been a problem for me – sometimes you’d just want something, you know, and hang the consequences.
I learned quite a bit about him on that first day in the living room with his ripe volumes pouring down on us and broken plastic on the floor. He was not at all shy about giving over his circumstances. How he had read every book on those shelves. Except, he said, for the ones on the dusty shelf – which I could not immediately identify. How he had been struck with a unique form of sadness at a young age and how this had prevented him from venturing out and seeking conventional things like a job or a family. And how he had only ever wanted to make things up his entire life. He was rather adept at that, he informed me.
You might say I’m addicted to making things up, he said. I suppose I am rather adept at it. So I stay in and I do that. I never go out. The daily business of life is full of danger, and greatly doubled out there. I’ve no urge to participate anyway. I prefer to be in the audience. Away from the stage. Where missteps are easy and falling and failing forever feasible. There’s no knowing what I’d do if I got out there amongst the cosily huddled. I might kill someone for the hell of it. And that wouldn’t suit anyone, would it?
Also, I love the smell in here.
Really? What is that by the way?
Endless fictions, beautiful and insane and built to shower our new-fangled realism with so much glorious dung and piss. Or if that aroma is not quite apparent, then I’d direct you to the scent of paper. Ageing paper. I love the smell of it. What an intoxicant it is.
You’d love my job then, I said.
I would, Yes! he shrieked, the voice uncomfortably resonant all of a sudden, in a split second tuning back to adolescence.
Or maybe not, I said. Everything’s a bit too real in that arena.