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The scream in Eric’s neck started Bronx cheering at a higher volume than it had been for a whole week. ‘You’re scum. You’re scum. You’re scum.’
Lying on his bed like a steel ruler, he wasn’t long home from a sweaty night shift at The Doughnut Factory. He’d already taken a long, slow-motion, getting-all-the-jam-and-flour-off shower. With all the windows open and sucking fresh air, he’d hoped the soundtrack of the outside world wafting in and over and under him would overpower the disharmony in his neck still loudly Bronx cheering, ‘You’re scum. You’re scum. You’re scum’.
The post woman walked up the front garden path and rammed letters into the house. His mother grabbed them as they fell through the air and bum-rushed up the stairs and into Eric’s bedroom. Just as he accepted the black-enveloped letter with a gold trim from his mother’s trembling hand, Janey climbed in through his bedroom window and stood before him, waving a piece of paper.
‘Dah-dah! Eric, it’s from Chuck D. And it’s co-signed by Grand Wizard Theodore.’
Eric sprang onto his feet.
‘What did they say, Janey? Yes or no? It must be yes, that’s why you’ve swaggered over so fast. Like Conor McGregor. Tell me Janey.’
Janey breathed in and out, in and out, in large gulps while holding a damaged muscle at the top of her stomach near her lungs to keep it from screaming.
‘You’re crippled with the pain again Janey. Is it really that intense?’
‘No, not any more, Eric. Sort of. It’s still there as chronic as ever – don’t get me arseways or anything – but already the adrenaline boom-boom bapping from this letter in my hand is coursing through me with such a whoosh that its punching my pain’s decibel level head on thus cancelling it all out. Both sides of the quadratic equation are getting crossed off. If that makes sense. Like algebra at school. And that’s before I even tongue down into our artform with any sort of vigour.’
Eric staggered a little bit woozily himself now with his own pain in the neck for a few seconds or so. But he didn’t let it repress the smile that was surfacing on his face like a nuclear submarine graffitted with rainbow warriors.
‘That means yes, doesn’t it Janey? Yes, yes, FUCKING YES!’
Janey had to steady herself by grabbing hold of the windowsill for a moment or two, her breaths coming thick and fast, before being able to respond. The pain was beginning to claw a little ground back.
‘Yes Eric. It’s official. Chuck D from Public Enemy and Grand Wizard Theodore, the inventor of the scratch no less, have confirmed that a woman like me, from the concrete projects of Ballyfermot, is within the hip hop limits. I’m allowed to rap Eric. And create my own beats. I’m in!’
Eric’s mother was overjoyed but concerned about their health and safety. They were getting too worked up.
‘Come on now, folks. Diminuendo. Relax a bit, pull back. Sit down on the bed for a while and rest up. You’ll need all your strength Janey for your art, from here on in. Nurture that now with chill factor 90.’
Eric ripped the letter open with his teeth as she spoke. He punched the air three times and did a little dance. The splits, James Brown style, and back up again.
‘I’m in too Janey! Ma, did you hear that, I’m in! Chuck D and Grand Wizard Theodore say I’m a working class lad from the projects of Ballyfermot which means I won’t be culturally appropriating their music. It says it all here. Officially, I’m allowed to use their artform in any way I see fit. Just like Janey. I can’t quite believe it.’
Eric’s mother hugged both of them gaspy and started the hip hop hoorays herself up at the ceiling and out the bedroom window and into the street like confetti. Eric sat back down on the bed.
‘Thank God for that Janey, I thought that the weekend away to Bray five years ago I went on with my Ma and Da would have pushed me up over the hip hop limits – but no, we’re not middle-class at all at all. Chuck D and Grand Wizard Theodore have said so in cool black and white – and look, KRS-One has co-signed mine as well. I think I’m going to weep. They undertake a monstrous amount of research and reasoning before dishing out these letters I’m told. I’m getting mine framed in gold teeth. What a truly awe-inspiring day. Say, ‘Awe, Janey. Say awe.’
‘What? Are you a dentist now, Eric, are you?’
‘Yes. I am Janey. A hip hop dentist. Officially. With a letter. And a well oiled pliers. I’ll pull out all your pain with my rhythmic spitting, Janey – who needs nitrous oxide. Sit down in my chair and say awe!’
And both of them said awe, awe, awe and said awe, awe, awe and said awe, awe, awe for a bit too long a period and said it in too intense a manner and then said awe, awe, awe a few more times after that added on. Catching the nascent wind and fearing imminent death, their respective pains started to get vocal again. Much more vocal. Janey’s damaged muscle in her stomach started to Bronx cheer, ‘You’re a scumbag Janey you are. You disgust me. Get off of my face you scummy skanky wank queen. Get out of my face.’
That was always its second line. And it would repeat this on a loop for hours at a time when it tired of its usual, ‘You’re-scum-you’re scum-you’re-scum’ full fat diet. Janey sat down on the bed beside Eric and started to weep.
‘I can’t take this abuse anymore, Eric. How much longer do we have to wait for our hospital appointments? It’s too much for one person, it’s overwhelming me. There must be backstreet consultants or surgeons somewhere we can find.’
‘Stop it Janey. We’re nearly there. We can emancipate the dissonance in our lives now quite effectively with hip hop – without doctors. We can be our own bandages. Just as Schoenberg prescribed more than a hundred years ago. But you’ll have to grit your teeth for just a little bit longer. Just a little. I have the perfect beat for your first hip hop assault on the pain.’
He took out his phone and started to fiddle around looking for said soundfile.
‘You’re a lazy dole sponging scumbag of a filthy criminal. Fuck off out of my face!’
It was now the turn of Eric’s neck-pain to do some Bronx cheering. Eric had a full-time job. He just couldn’t afford his own housing at the moment, still living with the Ma, but that didn’t warrant this level of abuse from his own pain in the neck. Maybe it did. He wasn’t sure any more. The pain was jamming any coherent thought processes. He dropped the phone. It was too debilitating to concentrate on the outside world most of the time these days. He sat back down on the bed. His mother had raced down the stairs and was already back up again with painkillers for both of them. They didn’t usually work but one day they might – she hoped. She’d bought them from a reputable pharmacy. The bouncers had finally let her in. Two glasses of orange squash to wash them down. Ten minutes passed and the pain subsided somewhat. Eric found Janey’s beat and pressed play. She stood up and started to rap all over it.
Boiling a Gun
Frankie giant-stepped through the back door and straight over to the red kettle. He whipped a gun out from his inside jacket pocket and slapped it onto the worktop. In two minutes flat the kettle boiled. Puff. Puff. Puff. He filled a pot with its bubbled water and lifted it onto one of the adjacent cooker rings. Then he splashed the gun into it and slammed the lid on top with a tap tap tap of his fingers. He took out a pack of cigarettes, lit up and puffed himself across the room towards the door. Choo. Choo. Choo. A woman he didn’t know came into the kitchen and marched straight over to his pot. She lowered the heat because steam was still coming out of it at speed. And opened a window. He tried to get out the door before she saw him smoking.
No such luck. She turned and saw him just as his hand reached for the handle. She shouted, ‘Stop it now. There’s no smoking or guns allowed in the kitchen. You should know that. Did you not see the signs?’
Frank turned towards her scratching his chin and wondering.
‘Excuse me but did you say guns?’
Did she know something? Had she seen everything?
‘Yes. Frank, isn’t it? I said no smoking or guns inside the kitchen at any time. Alright?’
‘Ok. I’m just on my way out to the smoking area now.’
Something innate told him to rush but always when under pressure he fumbled and slipped on a banana skin somewhere. He twisted the door handle the wrong way. It wouldn’t budge for crucial seconds. Sweat ran in insect-clusters down his forehead.
‘No – stop! Frank! Listen to me! Where’s the bag?’
‘What are you talking about?’
‘The fucking black bag – Jeremy has been on to me.’
She turned, took the lid off the pot and plunged her hand inside, eventually picking up the gun. She pointed it at Frank and shouted.
‘So where is the black bag?’
He smiled up at her.
‘Do you think I’m stupid? You’re hand is going to be burnt to a crisp shortly. The pain is making its scaldy way to your brain as we speak. There’s no way you’ll be able to hold that gun for even a split second longer. No way. I win.’
She started to count. One, two, three – she got to twenty and fired at the ceiling before pointing it again at his head. He screamed. And said, ‘Apartment 112 South Fitzgerald Street. Under the bed.’
‘Thank you Frank. You are a wonderful man.’
She fired three bullets into his head and dropped the gun back into the pot with a splash.
Now she screamed. Then ran her hand under the tap for twenty minutes until her car arrived, right on time.
‘It’s hard to believe Eric but that short slice of unreconstructed hip hop has cancelled out all my pain. And that was the effect of just the first stanza. For when I spit-fired into the second, my chronic stomach spasms actually soared above me like an eagle into ecstasy. It’s regalvinised my entire body. My pain is still there, unfortunately it’s still there, yes it’s still there within, but hip hop makes it more than endurable’.
Eric’s mother said, ‘Janey, your hospital appointment is in less than two years. You’ll now be able to rap yourself over that time period quite jauntily indeed. I can see it in your eyes already. The time will just fly. Janey, you’re Yoko in The Plastic Ono Band, in old money terms.’
Janey returned the complement and found the perfect beat for Eric on her phone. She pressed play. He stood up and rapped all over it.
I was sentenced to three months in an art gallery strapped to a white chair for my sins. Which I personally didn’t think were sins at all. I threw a brick through a window to record the cymbal sound it made as the glass cracked and smashed and the brick thumped the floor inside. Say distance. Distance. Distance. Check out all that sibilance. It sounds just like a hi-hat. I considered myself a professional sound artist, but the judge didn’t quite agree. That was my downfall because I didn’t run away instantly. Too excited. I wanted to play the recording I’d just made to see if it was any good. Which meant the police always arrived and caught me bopping my head along to it in a cymbal trance if I liked it, or scowling at my phone if I didn’t. I had a domed attic full of cymbal sounds coming from speakers situated in every available crevice. It kept my headaches away. My doctor prescribed it. I always have headaches. I carried the prescription in my wallet all the time but the police confiscated it and put it in a plastic bag which they were never able to retrieve. That’s why I’m here in this art gallery doing my porridge with only a cymbal hanging by a string from the ceiling and a brick for company. It’s called an installation, in modern art parlance.
‘What’s your name?’
‘Nice to meet you Suzanne. That story is why I’m here in this art gallery, the judge sentenced me to three months in this room. That’s why I’ve locked the door you’ve just came in through, Suzanne, with my beep-beep device.’
‘But you’re not strapped into your white chair like you’re supposed to be.’
‘Correct. And I shouldn’t really have locked that door either, Suzanne. I’ve escaped. You’ve got to work this artwork out for yourself.’
‘So this is what modern art has come to, has it?’
‘Yes, Suzanne, correct.’
I made a fist and tried to punch her face. She dodged to the left and my knuckles hit the wall. I howled in pain then lurched towards her neck trying to strangle. She went low and nutmegged me throwing herself under my legs and out the other side. I tried to turn but lost my footing and fell. Suzanne banged frantically on the locked door to no avail while I picked myself up and lurched towards her humming a tune and dribbling slightly down the chin. She looked at the brick and got an idea. She picked it up over her head and tried to get as much strength as she could muster into her arm, but then stopped to think again. She lowered and then smacked the brick off the cymbal dangling from the length of twine in the centre of the room.
I dropped both hands to my sides and said, ‘That’s lovely Suzanne. Magnificent. You’ve worked it out in superquick time. Congrats. You really get modern art. And I didn’t even need to bruise you. Do you want an autograph from the artist?’
The door behind her automatically unlocked and creaked open to a round of applause from a crowd in red dresses that had been watching everything through a side window. They were now waving in.
‘Yes, I do actually, thanks. But can I keep the brick?’
His mother said to him, ‘Eric, your hospital appointment is two and a half years away. You’ll rap yourself all over that time period quite jauntily indeed. I can see it in your eyes already. The time will just fly. Eric, you’re Frank Sinatra with a cocked hat, in old money terms.’
Downstairs, they turned on the telly and apparently a rich bloke in Blackrock had been shot and killed after he’d released his first rap record on YouTube. On screen everyone was nonplussed at the whys and the wherefores. But he’d not received Chuck D’s letter. Never even applied. Sure he’d been on a seven day holiday to Berlin recently, the reporter said. What the hell was he thinking?