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Staying Alive On The Icy Road

I could probably have picked a better time to start reading Cormac McCarthy's The Road. In the recent cold spell I spent the day trudging through the snow looking for coal to keep my family alive.

Then, of an evening, I'd slip into McCarthy's world and join a man trudging through the snow trying to keep his boy alive. The snow, the battle for life, the snow: each morning my twisting and turning had the bed worn out.

Where did the real blizzard end and the imaginary one begin? One morning I turned the corner in the snow on to Grafton Street. The Christmas lights were out. I felt crushed, but not for me: "The boy would have loved the lights," I sobbed. "Could they not have left him that one little thing?" It took a while for me to remember that I have no boy, not really.

These are two worlds that should be hard to confuse. In The Road, the basic underlying horror is that you know the father will kill the boy rather than let the cannibals get him. In my life, the basic underlying horror is that my wife will kill me if the temperature in our house ever falls below 20 degrees!

This made Thursday interesting: I woke to feel the fell of dark, or more accurately the absence on the wall of the digital clock. It's a clock that shines a light on the wall so when you wake you always know the time. This is to make the point to you that with small children your time is never -- never, ever -- your own, not even your sleeping hours.

I quickly surmised that we did not have electricity. "What of it?" I thought. "We have gas-fired central heating, so all will be well." This I later realised is an old-fashioned, uninformed view. Gas heating is electrically controlled. When I discovered this in the icy shell of our kitchen I did what any man would do: I ran.

I got as far as the Dart. The phone rang: "We have no heat!" There was no precise threat, but in marriages that's never really necessary. It's like the Spanish Inquisition: often just seeing the implements of torture was enough. The mind does the rest. Marriage is like that. It was enough for me to know that we didn't have heat, and that she knew that I knew she knew, so to speak.

I phoned a friend: he informed me that the situation was hopeless, adding presciently: "She thinks this is your fault, doesn't she?" And he was right. Implicit in every question was a sneaking suspicion on my wife's part that I was somehow to blame for a power cut in south county Dublin. I am useless and all-powerful in equal measure.

In work, a listener explained the situation: "If you are smart enough to disassemble the gas unit and dumb enough to put a match to it, you will kill your entire family in one massive explosion." I resolved not to do this and pondered how short McCarthy's book would have been if I'd been the dad.

The world would, indeed, have ended as he said, but after the "series of percussive booms," there would, some months later, have been one more bang: "A domestic gas boiler," witnesses would have said. Not that there'd be witnesses.

Tune into Tom Dunne on Newstalk 106-108FM on weekdays from 9am to noon


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