CIARAN’S FATHER WAS 29 and travelling through Italy when he hurt his first woman. It was late August and unbearably hot in Naples, the air heavy with the stink of a garbage strike. After what happened, he stuck around for two more months as though shocked into inertia.
He had assumed he would feel more at home there, having felt moved on his first evening by something he saw from the window of a taxi en route to his hostel. In the early evening sun, he had seen a decrepit and beautiful green house with a single tanned man emerging from one of its windows, drawing on a cigarette, shirtless. The man had seemed to briefly embody a yearning, an expression of earnestness and desire that was never visible in Ireland or England. Ciaran’s father looked at the scene and compared it to the dense futurity of London, just emerging from its recession and obsessed by the new, by construction. It seemed harder to believe in a future that was being thrown together with quick money when you were looking at a building people had lived in for a century.
After a few weeks he had tired of it, of the noise and dirt and of sitting alone in cafes listening to incessant chatter. He became irritated by the behavior of the animated young couples that sat beside him outside tavernas, holding cigarettes and glasses of wine with their limbs tossed over each other, touching each other’s faces and hair like monkeys.
The night before he was due to leave, he tracked down an outdoor cinema that was showing a film in English. He brought bottles of beer and a pack of cigarettes in with him and was happy to see there was nobody else there. The film began, something in black and white, a heroine with enormous plaintive eyes, but he could not follow what was happening—the volume was set just below the point where he could comfortably hear it. He tapped his foot and then moved closer to the screen, becoming angrier as he strained to gather the plot.
He walked back out to the lobby, where the cashier, a large teenage girl with a network of burst blood vessels beneath her left eye, was reading a magazine. He tried to explain to her what was wrong, that he needed help, but she shrugged and spoke no English and the older man who had sold him his ticket was gone. He went back to his seat, and willed himself to grasp the words, concentrated so hard he felt his temples throb.
All he had wanted was to come here in the dark and have the music be so loud he couldn’t think, and the screen so big his eye couldn’t wander outside it. He asked so little. He didn’t care what he saw, only that he would sit and let himself be moved by whatever cheap thing they wanted to move him, to feel the salt move in the back of his throat and know it was from these tears and not from blood, to let the pictures wash over him again and again; to be inside of something that, when it ended, could be set right back to the start again, over and over, as many times as he might want.