Looking back in anger

DISPLACED IN MULLINGAR: I PRESUME I'M not the only person in the world who talks out loud when no one else is present, heaping…

DISPLACED IN MULLINGAR:I PRESUME I'M not the only person in the world who talks out loud when no one else is present, heaping chastisements upon myself. The neighbours must think I'm losing it sometimes, or that I spend a lot of the day on the mobile phone, giving off to inferiors.

I think it began in childhood. There was a mirror in the bedroom and I was always afraid someone would come out through the glass and engage me in conversation. My worst fear was that a dentist might emerge, with his pliers and giant needles and tell me to open wide.

That anxiety returned last Tuesday morning. I had an appointment with the dentist, at 9am. I was all stressed out, giving off stink to myself because I couldn't find my wallet.

I crossed the canal by the metal footbridge near Market Point; the roof of the railway station to my left, and the train for Dublin sheltering on platform one. I resisted the urge to race to the ticket office and escape.


But I almost enjoyed myself in the fancy clinic, which resembled a gym or a leisure centre, with white walls, and flat-screen monitors, and New Age music in the corridors.

The dentist was a cheerful young man from Fermanagh, who plucked a useless wisdom tooth from my frozen jaw, and told me to come back for lots of fillings during the summer. He made it sound as innocuous as ice creams. I headed for home, through Dominick Street, which was where I first noticed someone staring at me with a distinctly hostile grimace.

I wondered if it was the bulge in my face, which was drawing attention, but I wasn't sure.

I was confused and certain of only one thing; that every lady who passed me with a bag of shopping stared at me with a disgust that would chill a penguin, and each young executive in her business suit, fiddling with the keys of her fancy car, sneered as she went by.

Maybe I should have hopped on the Dublin train earlier, to escape my life - like a famous rogue who, according to legend, abandoned everything one night after a card session, during which he had lost all his family savings and the new suit he was wearing, to a man who later that night was drowned in the river. The body was recovered a few months later, and was buried, mistakenly, as the rogue.

But the rogue had taken the morning train, and the boat to England. He finally returned 10 years later, not knowing the full details of the suit that was buried on the wrong body, and frightened the wits out of his wife when she opened the door.

Women rarely stare at me nowadays. So when young girls shod in pink high heels and wearing denim miniskirts start giving me big eyes, I know I'm doing something terribly wrong.

A bell was ringing the Angelus; in the cathedral car park, a young mother in a car was shouting into her phone. I wondered was she talking to herself. The angry-faced baby in the back seat certainly looked capable of driving anyone insane.

I stopped at an ATM. People continued to stare. In the town park I sat down, exhausted from trying to act normal, and from all the scrutiny I was getting from strangers, eyeballing me with mild horror. In the distance, a blue crane swayed. And behind me on a tennis court, young boys were shouting at each other.

The doors of the swimming pool were open; from the blue walls and water within came the squeals of happy children. At the nearby swings, a girl in a school uniform played with someone else's child. Perhaps if I had played more tennis as a boy I wouldn't need to talk to myself so much now, I thought.

They were still staring at me. When I finally got behind my own closed door, I looked in the mirror and saw nothing more than a stressed-out male with his fly undone. "Ah for feic sake," I muttered, and unleashed a tirade of abuse at the mirror which the neighbours may or may not have supposed was me, threatening to kill an unruly cockroach.

Michael Harding

Michael Harding

Michael Harding is a playwright, novelist and contributor to The Irish Times