Friday 23 August 2019

Brendan O'Connor: 'A midsummer ghost story'

'It's nice to go home and just disappear in the evening'
'It's nice to go home and just disappear in the evening'
Brendan O'Connor

Brendan O'Connor

One Litre Tesco skimmed milk.

2 X 6 pack Tayto Snax (on a deal, hence the 12 bags).

Half pound packet of Kerrygold butter.

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6 pack of tomatoes.

A bunch of spring onions.

One pack of Denny wafer-thin crumbed ham.

Bag of Tesco wine gums.

6 pack of Cornetto (on a deal).

There was something incredibly depressing about arriving home to the empty house on Bank Holiday Monday evening. I'd been on the go since Friday evening, rarely alone, bouncing between Cork, Kerry, West Cork, even taking in Bantry hospital. I had swum in the crystal-clear water of Derrynane beach four times in two days in between the lashing rain. I had an afternoon pint and crisps in Bridie's seafood at Dooley's in Waterville and at Ireland's only beach bar. I had a breakfast burrito in Kenmare, and mass fry-ups in the brother's house. I had driven over the Healy Pass between my ancestral towns of Kenmare and Glengarriff, pointing down from the top into the valley below to show the kids where I think their great-grandfather came from, showing them in Glengarriff where the shop was and where the other house was, though there was no time to stop. I had also had a few pints too many on Sunday night so the darkness was gnawing at the edge of me anyway by Monday evening. I get exhilarated out in the texture of West Cork and Kerry. Even the train back to Dublin, while the rest of them continued on their travels in the car, was nice, carving through the country, feeling part of the landscape, feeling connected to the trees and the fields.

And then home, alone, and the exhilaration abruptly wore off and I have one of my periodic experiments in living alone for the week. I become frugal and minimalist and monk-like. I had lovely sourdough bread from the French place in Kenmare in my bag, and having eaten too much all weekend, I was happy with a sandwich of that. There was cheese in the fridge. Cheddar cheese lasts forever these days. The bread might be a bit harder by Tuesday night so I'd have toasted sandwiches then. Then I was going to be out Wednesday and Thursday.

So off to the shop and got the provisions outlined above and that was my life for the week. Those were my needs. That's what you could boil it down to. If I wanted to go crazy, I could have a packet of Snax, or a Cornetto, or some wine gums.

Any impact I made on the house I remedied straight away. I methodically cleaned after any disturbance of the kitchen. And I made no other impression. TV on and off to binge watch Sky's new series Euphoria, which is trashy but also dark and disturbing and bleak and stylised, so it somehow added to the sense of grim order. I meditated, swam, slept, ate, watched TV, read my book, came and went without a sound. It was strangely comforting. Sometimes the contacts from my family would almost start to annoy me, to disturb my monastic silence and order. I knew that when they came back, I would be glad to see them, and they would reintroduce life into the place, and make it a home again, but equally, I would have become used to the solitude very quickly, and their messy presence would slightly irritate me.

But still, I miss them, and when I get sent a photo or a video of their happy, excited holiday faces, I could take a bite out of them. In the meantime, I enjoy that my life can be reduced down to this basic hum, this low power mode, to that meagre shopping list, to one cup and plate used and put in the dishwasher for the one run of it I will do before they come back.

I feel frictionless, almost like I barely exist. It's nice to go home and just disappear in the evening. Like a tree that falls with no one to hear it. But equally I know I would very quickly go mad if this went on for too long.

Is this what it feels like to be lonely?

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