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The Spring Festival, a.k.a Easter, came round. Kiran took the end of the week as Good Friday, and spent several hours on his knees in the chapel overlooking the river. Codlik joined him for part of the time, but had the good sense to keep to a distance, thus giving each other plenty of space.
Late afternoon Kieran went outside and walked along some of the walkways that jutted out over the river. Unfortunately Codlik, fearing that Kieran was depressed, decided to join him. Codlik was genuinely well-meaning, but he had the hearty man's fatal flaw of thinking that any symptom whatsoever of melancholia was a sign of an impending suicide attempt!
Kieran managed to shake him off and walked home. When he got into the house, he heard Julian berating the clowns in the dining-room. He went into the living-room instead, and found Hillyard on the patio, polishing boots and shoes, and occasionally taking swigs from a pint-glass of beer. A dilapidated lawn-mower had been abandoned in the middle of the lawn. And one of the goats was helping itself to the remains of a cake on the tea-trolley.
"Chase her off, Kieran", said Hillyard "I've got me hands full".
Kieran picked up Julian's cane, which had been propped in the corner, and prodded it menacingly at the goat.
"Go-arn! Get out of it, you greedy divil!" Kieran cried.
"They'll eat anything", said Hillyard.
"Hey, what's going on across the hall?" said Kieran "Only Julian seems to be reading the riot act to the clowns".
"They wrecked the barber's shop in town", said Hillyard, much to Kieran's astonishment "Oh nothing serious. Nothing's broken, just a few cleaning bills. They went in there with their friend Zooks, and I think some kind of argument broke out. Anyway, Bengo and Bardin went for him with the shaving-cream. And now Muggins here has got pay the cleaning bills!"
"You must feel like a mobile piggy-bank at times", said Kieran.
"Some things I don't mind", said Hillyard "Is it alright if I make Ugly Git a present of a new lawn-mower? Only he keeps complaining about that one".
"It is a wee bit clapped-out", said Kieran "Anything that gives Joby one less thing to complain about is alright by me!"
The voices in the dining-room increased in volume, and there was a cry of "Don't blame us! We're not to blame!" from Bengo.
"Sounds like it's heating up", said Kieran, mischievously "I think I'll slip across and eavesdrop".
He scooted across the hall.
"It was all down to Zooks", Bardin was saying "He was carrying on like such a pratt. His wanting a manicure was the last straw! I mean, this was the man who carried out the most feeble assassination attempt in history! And the man who couldn't clown if his life depended on it!"
"He was being so pretentious", said Bengo.
"Pretentious?" said Julian "Good God, Bengo, that's a word of more than one syllable!"
"He asked for it", said Bengo "That's what I'm saying".
"The fact remains that you two are getting to be far too much of a handful", said Julian.
"Aha, they're really going to get it now!" Tamaz yodelled, joyfully.
He had supposedly been laying the table for dinner, but instead had been skipping round the clowns in obvious enjoyment at their plight. Julian grabbed him by his t-shirt and pulled him across his lap, anchoring him in place with his arms across his back.
"You have too much time on your hands", Julian continued.
"But we like it like that", said Bengo.
"I don't care", said Julian "I'm sending you back to the Cabaret of Horrors. Ully will have you like a shot".
Numb with disbelief, Bengo and Bardin dropped to their knees in an impressive gesture of pleading.
"It's no good", said Julian "I've made up my mind. Ransey will fly you down there, along with Freaky".
Tamaz gave a start of horror and tried to sit up, but was pinned in place like a butterfly on a board.
"Ully will most definitely take him", said Julian "Quite a little godsend I would've thought".
"You can't send Tamaz", said Bengo "You can't separate him from Joby!"
Bengo began to cry with despair. It really was a desperately pitiful sight. Bardin though was much quicker on the uptake. He got back to his feet and tried to pull Bengo up as well.
"Bengo", he sighed "It's a wind-up. He might just be cruel enough to subject us to the gunge-tank twice a day, but not Freaky!"
He wiped Bengo's face with the hem of his singlet, as though he was a little boy. Julian released Tamaz, who hissed indignantly, particularly so when Joby came in carrying one of the dishes.
"I'm always being punished!" Tamaz squawked.
"Well you're always being naughty", said Joby.
"I thought you meant it", Bengo wailed at Julian "And all for a bit of shaving-foam too!"
"Which went all over Zooks", said Julian, who was secretly rather amused by the thought "Even I'm not sadistic enough to send you back to the Cabaret of Horrors. If you still have nightmares about that place, so does anyone whoever had the misfortune to sit in the audience! But the fact remains, as Adam has told me at great length today, we cannot have you running around the town terrorising people and wrecking shops like a ..."
"Like a bunch of public school jerks", said Joby.
"I was going to say like a bunch of football hooligans actually", said Julian "I am going to find ways of keeping you busy from now on. Use up some of your excessive energy".
"Watch out", said Joby "You never know what he's got in mind!"
"Digging the garden for you perhaps?" said Kieran.
"Have you heard I'm getting a new lawn-mower?" said Joby, lugubriously.
"Yes I did", said Kieran, with the appropriate level of grave respect.
Joby nodded with satisfaction, and went back to the kitchen to fetch the rest of the dinner.
"Anyway, what I've got to say is this", said Joby, as everyone else began to file in for dinner "You can't expect any of the younger generation to behave in public, when the oldies don't exactly set a good example themselves when they're out and about".
"I am always a model of decorum in public", said Julian.
"Adam isn't", said Joby "He caused a right stir when we was down the market today. He wafts around in those obscene shorts, they're cut so high you can see the bruises on his cheeks! Everyone was looking! They already think he's a sado-masochist because of his nipple-rings. Mind you, they're right!"
"I haven't got bruises on my cheeks!" Adam exclaimed.
"Yes you have actually", said Joby "It was embarrassing!"
"Nothing about Adam's arse is embarrassing", said Hillyard "It's too cute for that".
"Look, could we talk about something at the dinner-table other than my butt, please!" said Adam.
"It's Joby's fault", said Kieran "He's got a one-track mind. What he really means by all this is that HE couldn't keep his eyes off your arse, and that's why he was so embarrassed!"
"It isn't right, Adam", said Lonts, shaking his head sorrowfully "When I was younger, you'd have got really angry if I'd gone out in public dressed in skimpy clothes".
"Because I wanted to protect you, that's why", said Adam "Whereas I don't need protecting, not at my age".
"Ada, you have always needed protecting!" said Julian "You constantly give the impression that you're too airy-fairy to cope with life".
"What nonsense", said Adam "Utter nonsense!"
After dinner Adam sat in one of the heavy wooden chairs in the hall, and watched contemplatively as the others moved around him from one room to the other. Mieps came in from his evening walk to say that the fog was rolling in, a fact borne out by the foghorns starting up in the distance.
Adam went up to the top of the house, where he found Julian standing at his bedroom window, with the sash slightly open so that he could let out his cigar-smoke. It was how he often used to stand at the porthole of his cabin on the Indigo, and Adam realised with a pang how much they all still missed her.
"More blasted fog", said Julian, slamming the window shut and stubbing out the butt of his cigar in a silver ash-tray.
"It's so cold up here", said Adam, walking around the room, dodging the furniture.
"Of course you're cold", said Julian, going over to the whisky decanter and pouring himself a glass "You're walking around with hardly any clothes on!"
"Well it's been such a nice day up til now", said Adam "But the fog always makes it chilly. The others are taking the boxes and bundles over to the town hall this evening".
"What boxes and bundles?" said Julian.
"Oh for heaven's sake, Jules!" said Adam "They're all stacked up outside the back door! People have been donating to the homeless at the town hall, but they insist on bringing them here. Perhaps they get town hall muddled up with Town House!"
"This place feels more and more like a vicarage everyday", said Julian "We'll all be darning socks and living off watery cabbage next! I blame Kieran myself. Are you going over?"
"No I don't feel like it", said Adam, sitting in one of the armchairs and coiling his legs up like a young boy "They don't need me over there, getting in the way".
"As you're staying then I'll put a match to the fire", said Julian, taking a long spill out of the vase on the mantelpiece "It's all laid up. Wrap a blanket round yourself until it gets going".
"I could just go and put some warmer clothes on", said Adam, mischievously.
"Don't you dare!" said Julian.
The refugees of the Collapsings were a surprisingly cheerful bunch. This may of course have been partly due to the endless supply of booze, donated from all the various bars in Toondor Lanpin, which found its way to the town hall, plus substantial quantities of hash. This, combined with the fact that in all honesty no one was particularly sorry to see the back of the houses on the south side of the river, helped to keep spirits up.
Kieran prowled around the main room on the ground floor and the warren of small rooms on the floors above, much in the same way he had prowled around his mother's guest-house as a child. He had liked to walk around quietly watching people. Not in any sinister Norman Bates way, but simply because he was fascinated by people. He liked to watch them go about their little rituals, and try and guess what they were thinking as they performed them. The people in the town hall took no more notice of him than the guest-house customers had. To them he had been simply a quiet, harmless little boy, the sort of thing you'd expect in a surreal place like the west coast of Ireland. To the people of Toondor Lanpin he was simply Kieran, someone who mooched around in the background, usually lost in a world of his own.
Going up one narrow, wooden staircase he met a young woman coming down, herding her children in front of her like a flock of sheep. She gave Kieran a tired smile and then astonished him by saying very bluntly "Don't worry about me, Kieran, don't worry about me". She said this with such a strange combination of tiredness and vehemence that Kieran was quite taken aback.
In a room on the right-hand side of the stairs a bunch of old men had discovered some papers detailing very old battles, and were now re-enacting these using buttons and coloured plastic bottle tops. There hadn't been a war on this planet for well over a century, but the fascination with battle-strategy was one that would seemingly never go away.
Sitting on a hard bench on the landing was a young woman in a black frock, her back straight and her hands on her knees like an Egyptian statue. She wasn't asleep, and she wasn't thinking. She was simply tired and could do nothing else but sit there and exist.
In the room on the left-hand side Kieran came across Joby and Lonts unpacking some books and arranging them on the shelves, to create a makeshift lending library.
"You two are working hard", said Kieran.
"All this is giving me the irrits", said Joby "Why don't we just leave the books here and let 'em decide for themselves what they wanna do with everything. No one likes to feel they're on the receiving end of charity. We're only gonna end up resented if we keep this up".
"But nobody's making you work!" Kieran exclaimed "I thought we were only delivering the stuff. You were the one who started opening the boxes and putting it on the shelves!"
"That's true, Joby", said Lonts.
"Alright!" said Joby, tetchily "I was getting carried away".
Someone started hammering out a tune on the beaten-up old piano on the ground-floor.
"Sounds like he's playing the piano with his head!" said Joby.
This image tickled Kieran so much that he started giggling and then found he couldn't stop. After a while he began to recover and suggested they went home. On their way back down the stairs they passed a man who was leaning against the wall, swigging from a bottle of beer.
"Off home?" he said, genially "G'night then".
"Night, mate", said Joby, and then added when they were out of earshot of him "Surprising how nice people around here are to us".
"Why shouldn't they be?" said Kieran "What's so shitty about us?"
"The fact that we're going home to a comfortable, detached 5-bedroomed house", said Joby.
"Which 13 of us live in!" said Kieran "There's no reason for 'em to be off with us. We don't mean any harm, we don't put on any airs and graces, we don't employ servants to do our dirty work for us, and we don't tell people how to live. You're being worse for guilt than me if you're feeling guilty 'cos our house wasn't one of the ones that fell down!"
"Think of Cockroach Mansions, Joby", said Lonts, who was following them downstairs.
"Why?" said Joby "That's the one good thing about all this, that that place doesn't exist anymore!"
"We've known extreme hardship, that's what I mean", said Lonts "Like when we had to live at Cockroach Mansions. We were really hard up in those days. We had no money at all, apart from what Bengo earned at the theatre, and what Hillyard got at the bath-house and for doing blow-jobs on Woll".
"Lonts!" said Joby, looking round them in embarrassment.
"One of the things about having money is that it's easy to forget the days when you didn't have it", said Lonts.
"No it's not!" said Joby "I'll never forget it".
They wound through the building, attracting the other Indigo-ites (the clowns, Tamaz and Toppy) to them like moths to a lightbulb. On the ground-floor a ragged closing-time style sing-song was in progress. Some children were batting balloons about, and Joby joined in on his way past.
At the main doors Lonts firmly hussled Tamaz into his oilskin jacket, and then they all stepped out into the fog. At the bottom of the town hall steps they ran into a fat man, aged somewhere in his thirties, who was considerably the worse for drink. As soon as he realised he had encountered Kieran he immediately launched into a tirade against just about everything he could think of.
"I don't know why you're wasting your time on those lazy scroungers in there!" he shouted "They're doing alright. Free grub and booze they're getting, and sackloads of clothes I see going in there".
"Some of 'em have lost everything", said Kieran "They had only the clothes they stood up in".
A fresh gust of singing broke out, and it was obvious the fat, embittered drunk resented the fact that they were all having a good time and he wasn't. He had his own home, a wife, children, and a job. But he would have quite happily seen them all in the river if he could have been as irresponsible as the homeless inside, sleeping on a mattress and being given free food and booze, which he hadn't had to work his balls off to obtain. That's how he saw it all anyway.
"It's alright for you lot", he said, emotionally.
"We weren't always rich!" said Tamaz.
"I don't mean that", said the drunk "Although that plays a part in it. You don't have the worries I have. You've all got life sewn up".
"Nobody else can have exactly the same worries you have ..." Kieran began.
But Joby grabbed his hand and pulled him away.
"You always try and reason with 'em", he said, as they abandoned the drunk and went towards the Town House "And there isn't any point in reasoning with 'em. Anyway, what does he mean? We've all got life sewn up?"
"We all do exactly as we want I suppose", said Kieran "We can drink as much as we want, stay in bed as much as we want, don't do any work, and no one nags us".
"Huh, he wants to try living with Adam some time!" said Joby.
When they got back to the house Hillyard was crossing the hall in his bath-robe, carrying a teapot.
"Has everyone else gone to bed?" said Kieran.
"Yeah", said Hillyard "You should see the old dears! Both lying up there flaked out and fast asleep!"
"I'm not surprised", said Joby "They're getting too old to be carrying on like that!"
"Now who's sounding like an old nag?!" said Kieran.
Julian woke up suddenly. The room was much colder, with the fire now reduced to a few glowing embers in the grate. From the ground-floor he could hear the muffled sounds of voices, glasses clinking, and the gramophone. He reached for his bedside clock and found the hands indicating that it was 20-to-3.
"Little bastards", he muttered.
"Jules?" said Adam, sleepily raising his head "What's up?"
"Can't you hear it?" said Julian "Listen".
"The others are back from the town hall", said Adam.
"I should say they are! It's 20-to-sodding-3!" said Julian.
"Well we haven't got any neighbours to upset, so go back to sleep", said Adam.
"I can't", said Julian, stubbornly "They've ruined it. We're going to have to go down there and talk to them".
"You can go down there and talk to them", said Adam "I'm not! I'm tired of having to be the wet blanket who breaks up cheerful gatherings. I'm going back to sleep".
Julian got out of bed, pulled on his nightshirt and then stamped over to the wardrobe. He began to ransack the contents.
"For God's sake Jules, you're making more noise than they are!" said Adam.
"Why can't Ransey do something useful for a change and go down there and shoot them?!" said Julian "No, instead he'll stand on the landing and grizzle!"
Adam pulled his pillow over head and tried to ignore him.
Julian retrieved his horsewhip from the bottom of the wardrobe, and went thumping down the stairs. Lonts was in the middle of changing records when Julian got down to the living-room.
"Don't bother putting another one on", said Julian "I'm imposing a curfew".
"This must be an example of all that freedom you was telling us we had!" said Joby to Kieran.
"We'd better go up", said Hillyard "Or he'll probably walk round turning all the lamps down!"
"Don't bother coming up to the top", said Julian "Adam's staying with me tonight".
"In that case I can spend the night with Lonts", said Tamaz, which got Lonts very excited.
"Where am I supposed to go then?" said Hillyard.
"Oh I'm sure Mieps can find you a cosy corner again", said Julian, dismissively.
He noticed Toppy, who was lying fast asleep on the sofa, with his knees drawn up to his chest for warmth.
"Check a blanket over that boy first", said Julian "Or he'll freeze like that".
When Hillyard walked into Mieps's room, he found the Ghoomer lying awake on his back, with his bare breasts exposed to the moonlight.
"Alright if I cadge your floor again?" said Hillyard, clutching a blanket and a pillow.
"Sure", said Mieps, quietly.
"Adam's in my place", said Hillyard, setting out the blanket on the floor "And Tamaz is going in with Lonts".
"That kid is permanently on heat", said Mieps, shifting position slightly.
"You should've come down and joined us if you couldn't sleep", said Hillyard "Although I know you like to spend a lot of time alone".
"It's not a case of like", said Mieps "But what I got used to. Even now, holding long conversations tires me".
"Yeah, I can see it would, after all those years when you didn't see anyone to speak to", said Hillyard.
He sat down on the side of Mieps's bed and slid off his bath-robe. Hillyard had never been one to beat about the bush when it came to seduction. He had always reasoned that the worst he could get was a smack in the kisser for his troubles. Instead Mieps trailed his fingers languidly over Hillyard's shoulder and gently tugged him towards him.
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