Flip­ping Burg­ers

Jan­uary 2018’s win­ning story

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - PATRICK FREYNE - WORDS BY EA­MON DOGGETT

Hen­nessy New Ir­ish Writ­ing’s Jan­uary win­ner by Ea­mon Doggett

Iflip one burger over and then an­other and then an­other. A man sighs as he rises to his feet, picks up a tray and sucks in his stom­ach as he walks to the bin. I am 24 years old and have three chil­dren. The burg­ers sizzle – their skin chang­ing colour un­der im­pa­tient heat. Two are mine and the other is the prod­uct of sex­ual in­ter­course be­tween my girl­friend, Laura, and a man called Der­mot. The door opens to ad­mit the sound of the city, a bus pulling up with the wheeze of an asth­matic child and the mute obe­di­ence of its pas­sen­gers. Der­mot has run off. Va­len­cia, Laura thinks, but she’s not sure. The till opens, the metal drawer rolling along its tracks. I work five days a week to help feed and clothe my chil­dren, at least that is what it seems like. Mary closes the coin-heavy till drawer, push­ing it back into the safety of flush metal. They are real chil­dren I tuck into bed. I press down on the burger with a spat­ula, forc­ing the meat up through its gaps. A plume of smoke rises from the grill and set­tles some­where in the metal vents on the ceil­ing. I get home around seven. I open the front door and the kids come run­ning, throw­ing their arms around my legs and drag­ging me into the liv­ing room. Laura shouts Hi from the kitchen and I shout Hi back. The meat is cook­ing. I don’t know what it smells like any more. Laura tells me there is a meal to put in the mi­crowave. I thank her and she watches us play­ing with Lego, drag­ons, ac­tion men and minia­ture an­i­mals. And it all doesn’t feel real. A man comes up to Ro­nan at the counter. Can I use yizzer toi­lets? They’re for cus­tomers only, Ro­nan says. It’s like we are in an Amer­i­can tele­vi­sion show or a com­puter game. But I can touch it all. It’s all ma­te­rial and real. I got a fuck­ing burger, the man says. Off who? Yer man. He’s gone now. I’m dy­ing for a piss here. Sorry. Fuck off. We have a kitchen. And there’s the din­ner ta­ble. There’s the chairs. And here’s the liv­ing room. The tele­vi­sion. And what else do we need in here? Oh right, yeah, we’ll get a book­case. And now there’s books in the book­case. Huge en­cy­clopae­dias about all man­ner of things. I watch the man use the un­der­side of his hand to knock a metal con­tainer of straws off the ser­vice counter. Straws roll across the floor. Peo­ple stop eat­ing and watch on. Joseph, our Nige­rian bouncer, rushes over and grabs the man by the hood. The man makes a wild swing for Joseph’s head but is forced to the ground. And there’s our kids run­ning around the house, from room to room, bounc­ing off things and fall­ing down holes like snooker balls. I take a quick glance at Ro­nan and we share a giddy look for a split sec­ond. Leah, my man­ager, comes up to me and shakes her head. Ter­ri­ble, she says. Yeah, ter­ri­ble, I say. And there’s the kids’ bed­room and the bunk bed from Ikea in pieces on the ground. And there’s Laura, my blonde-haired girl­friend. Daugh­ter of an elec­tri­cian and hair­dresser. And there’s me. I’m there too. I sit in the liv­ing room af­ter my tele­vi­sion din­ner and sip on a beer, con­fused. Span­ish tourists chat ex­cit­edly about a fa­mil­iar meal. A fuck and a bol­locks from Ro­nan on ice-creams. The low whirr of the mech­a­nised bin as it churns the rub­bish into smelly pulp. I take the chil­dren to the play­ground. It’s a short walk from the house and en­closed by tall metal rail­ings. The sea is close by. A cool wind lashes your face and gen­tly turns the round­about like it’s be­ing pushed by a ghost. The melodic thud of Janice’s foot­steps as she moves from ta­ble to ta­ble, tray to tray. Other par­ents sit down be­side me on the benches. We all ex­hale, groan and smile at them. Some­times I get up and run around with the kids un­til I am pant­ing. Other times, I just sit and fan­ta­sise about beat­ing up a pae­dophile. Num­ber 47, Cather­ine re­peats but no one is lay­ing claim to six chicken ten­ders. I get a bun from the rack and place it in the toaster – the crown goes into the large sec­tion of the toaster, the mid­dle and heel into the smaller part. There is a shop across the road from the play­ground and I hand them the money to give to the shop­keeper for bags of jel­lies. What do you say? I ask. Thank you, they say. And this makes me feel like a good fa­ther for a lit­tle while. There is a shout to fill up the ice cream ma­chine and every­one looks at each other. A woman is howl­ing across the street about the govern­ment and peo­ple arc their walk around her. The burg­ers are al­most done and I’ve two hours left of my shift. I think of the woman on that re­al­ity show. She is in her early 20s danc­ing in a metal­lic dress with ends shred­ded into teth­ers that climb up and down her legs as she moves to the beat, re­veal­ing, bounce to bounce, that tan­ta­lis­ing area where leg meets arse. I long to touch her skin, run my hand along it, up and down, feel the soft­ness with the grain, and the tin­gle against it. How long on them burg­ers, Damien? Forty sec­onds. Right, hurry it up. A man folds a broad­sheet, wedges it be­tween his arm and side and walks out. Laura cheated on me in be­tween our first and sec­ond child. I was ly­ing on the bed watch­ing the news. She took the re­mote con­trol off the bed­side locker and turned the vol­ume down, said we need to talk. I was ir­ri­tated that she would tell me in such a cliched way. She got up­set that I wasn’t cry­ing and punched me in the chest. I get a box and place the toasted crown on top of it. On top of the crown, I place the mid­dle, be­fore putting the heel into the bot­tom of the box. A fam­ily en­ter and their noses twitch at an evanes­cent smell of vine­gar. There was a party thrown by some­one I didn’t re­ally know. I drank warm beer in the gar­den and chat­ted to a girl about how bril­liant al­co­hol was. A child uses his last few chips to mop up what’s left of the tomato ketchup

Rosie loves the idea of a flood, long­ing for it to rain all day and for our street to turn into a lake filled with fish. Is it go­ing to flood? she asks me ex­cit­edly when it starts to rain

smeared on the pa­per box. I take the gun and squirt sauce on the mid­dle and heel of the burger. I didn’t know she was a mother and nei­ther of us wanted that child or the one af­ter but it felt in­evitable. I think a part of me wanted to be pitied – for peo­ple to see what an un­lucky bas­tard I was. Ro­nan makes a joke. Peo­ple laugh and shake their heads. Now the pick­les, two of which I place on the mid­dle. And cheese. Don’t for­get the cheese! One slice of cheese on the bun. I don’t know what to think. My man­ager Leah groans as she watches the new guy fum­bling with the deep-fat fryer. I pick up metal tongs, take two burg­ers from the grill then place one on the mid­dle and one on the heel of the bun. My old­est, Rosie, is full of ques­tions. Why is the moon there? she asked re­cently. I said it’s there to keep check on the Earth. She didn’t seem sat­is­fied with that and looked out the win­dow at the rain splash­ing off the car roof. Num­ber 54, Cather­ine calls on the in­ter­com and a man walks for­ward hold­ing a re­ceipt. Ro­nan comes over. How many inches do ye reckon Joseph is pack­ing. What? How long ye reckon his dick is? I don’t know. Like a baby’s arm, Ro­nan says. Prob­a­bly. I take the mid­dle bun with the top­pings and place it on the heel be­fore clos­ing the lid. I go drink­ing with Ro­nan most Fri­days. We buy rounds and I let him do most of the talk­ing. He got us into a fight once when he started mouthing off to these stu­dents. I just re­mem­ber my mouth tin­gling and blood col­lect­ing on my tongue. Ro­nan said it was fuck­ing un­be­liev­able. The burger is ready to feed some­one now as I look at the deep-fat fryer and its bub­bling oil, a yel­low­ish-brown blur, chuck­ling away to it­self. Rosie loves the idea of a flood, long­ing for it to rain all day and for our street to turn into a lake filled with fish. Is it go­ing to flood? she asks me ex­cit­edly when it starts to rain. It could do, I say. A teenager lets his mo­bile ring out as he stares va­cantly at a fin­ished meal. I take de­hy­drated onions and shred­ded let­tuce from a plas­tic box, re­mem­ber­ing sim­i­lar child­hood fan­ta­sises of the green in our hous­ing es­tate flood­ing with water, so I could swim in it or buy a toy boat to nav­i­gate its trib­u­taries. And still I get an im­pulse for catas­tro­phe, for a flood or some nat­u­ral dis­as­ter to dis­place every­one from their po­si­tions of fa­mil­iar­ity and we’d all be there try­ing to sur­vive. A woman rus­tles greasy pa­per into a ball as she di­gests the last of her chicken burger. Out­side, a taxi driver turns on his light for an­other day’s work. The smell of some­thing. The thought of some­thing. The af­ter­noon ex­tend­ing out to evening.

ILLUSTRATION: KATELYNN McKENNA

Ea­mon Doggett is from Bet­tys­town, Co Meath. He is cur­rently work­ing as a digital sports re­porter in Dublin. He holds a mas­ter’s de­gree in writ­ing from NUI Gal­way, and has ap­peared in on­line lit­er­ary pub­li­ca­tions, in­clud­ing Prick of the Spin­dle and Dodg­ingtherain

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