How It Works | David Hayden | Granta

How It Works

David Hayden

Dinner plates empty in front of me, and the present softens and melts, and I’m sitting in a cab headed for Facets in Chicago with an overdue VHS tape of Věra Chytilová’s Daisies. It’s an eight-dollar ride and I have six and change. I will get out early and walk. The night is shining black; it’s wet, it’s beautiful. No one talks. I hand over the money, open the door and step into my own kitchen.

There is a call from upstairs and I go to settle my daughter, although she’s really too old for this now. I pick her up, like I shouldn’t, and I kiss the top of her head and give it a little snuffle, and I begin to walk up and down the box room singing about the night and the moon and the marvellousness and appropriacy of this particular night for dancing. She settles droolingly into my shoulder, she is warm and doughy and the very weight of perfection. I keep pacing, but when I stop my dreadful singing she wakes and slaps me on the cheek, with surprising vigour. I walk and my vocalising degenerates into an ever more tuneless drone and I am asleep on my feet.

I come round carrying a lighter child, my son, and I am singing another song, about a man called Joe who everybody knows and who likes to sing on tabletops somewhere, or maybe he has to sing on tabletops because, for all I know, he’s held prisoner. The boy falls asleep and I lay him carefully in his cot, and pull the blanket up to his shoulders and tuck it gently around his body.

I get into bed and moments later I wake in the back of a car with at least three other people, all sleeping. I am cold to the bone. I wipe the condensation from the window and there is forest on three sides, a slate blue sky and a sweep down to a trembling green lough. I open the door and see Sol swaying slightly from side to side, smoking a roll-up. I turn and Lina is standing, staring directly at me. I am looking into a heavy question which I cannot recreate in my mind in any kind of answerable shape. I feel bad about this. This familiar feeling. I turn my back and peer in the direction of Castlegregory. Lina speaks to me and I find that, at last, I know the answer and I am on the Eastern Promenade in Portland, Maine, facing the ocean. I am playing with a package of buttons in my left pocket that I have bought to repair my overcoat and in my left hand is a plastic bag containing an old illustrated book on Max Beckmann.

I take the book out of the bag and hand it over the table to my son. We are in a cafe in Brighton where he is at university. He holds the book as if it is some kind of bulky flotation device and he hands it back to me. ‘I don’t really like this kind of thing, Dad. I know you know that.’ And I admit that, yes, I do know that, and I realize that I have tried to give him this book before, perhaps more than twice, and that I should not do this again. I open the book and see Max in a tuxedo, right elbow crooked, hand high over right hip, left hand pointing a smoking cigarette to the floor, looking out, waiting to leave everything behind, and I try to tip myself into the picture, but my sight slips off its shiny surface.

I feel a heavy heat on top of my head, a pair of chopsticks are in my right hand and I am steadying a plastic box on my lap containing sushi, pink slices of ginger and a small plastic fish with a red cap nose. I am sitting on the grass in front of a sundial in a corner of Hyde Park in Sydney. A whitesmith from New Zealand called James Stewart made the octagonal dial, but I do not know who carved the motto: I mark the time, dost thou? The gnomon was long ago snapped off and taken to a new home, or perhaps thrown into a bush and never recovered, but the legend is still legible: Some tell of storms and showers, I tell of sunny hours. My father has died, far away in County Wexford. I think of walking to St Mary’s Cathedral to give thanks. I imagine walking into the cool, dropping some coins into a black metal box and lighting a single candle. I imagine inhabiting the absence of prayer. I imagine breathing in incense, breathing in shadows, breathing in the murmurs of devotion, breathing out and out and out.

I open my eyes and I am at my desk in Sydney, in London, all the Londons. The dead one has returned. There are tears deep in my body, there will be an organ on fire, there will be rebel cells misfiring in the heart, speeding and slowing and slurring, throwing it fist-like against muscle and bone. There will be waking from one night into another and into another. There will be a cold hearth with kindling that will not catch light. There will be panes that stay cracked and crazed after the repair is completed and the glazier has gone. There will be pasteboard scenery falling over and a billow of dust. There will be love. There will be love. There will be love.


Image © slimmer_jimmer

David Hayden

David Hayden was born in Ireland and lives in England. His writing has appeared in A Public Space, Zoetrope All-Story, The Dublin Review, AGNI, New York Tyrant and The Georgia Review. He is the author of three collections of short stories Darker With the Lights On (Carcanet/Transit), Unstories and Six Cities, and a novel titled All Our Love.

More about the author →