(with a nod to Donald Barthelme)
That midsummer she wrote him a love letter from Leenane. But it was not exactly a love letter, more a sort of teleplay about King Kong and Godzilla sharing an apartment off Douglas Street, long after their various escapades in Japan and New York and across the world’s oceans.
He’d kept the letter in his back pocket all evening, and when at last the pub was swept clean and wiped down and locked up, he walked along by Sullivan’s Quay and stopped on a riverside bench there. Taking out the letter, he felt that heavy compression of expectation in his chest.
He turned the scuffed white envelope over in his hand and then watched the black river purling away towards the College of Comm. A few stragglers lingered on the opposite boardwalk, delaying the inevitable. It was a balmy July night. With a long exhalation of sweet worry, he opened the letter.
Morning in the apartment. King Kong poked his dishevelled head out of the bedroom doorframe, taking in the scope of the kitchen and living area.
‘You cleaned up,’ Kong said. ‘Sorry.’
Godzilla sat at the table, browsing away on his laptop, his cup of tea to one side. ‘You’re grand,’ he consoled, not for the first time.
Kong crossed to the kitchen on shaky legs and began the ritual of going through the cupboards, hanging out of them and grumbling, looking perhaps for something that wasn’t there.
‘How bad was it?’ he eventually asked.
‘You owe me a pint.’ Godzilla’s claw deftly scrolled and clacked—google searches no doubt. ‘Red wine and broken glass all over the floor.’
Kong crumpled. ‘Oh jesus. Sorry.’
It was a small apartment, each of their rooms tight doubles, the kitchen-living area dark and compact, but they counter-acted this by keeping the place relatively tidy and more or less free of mementos or trinkets. For obvious reasons, they hadn’t kept much from the old days; they just wanted to see out middle age with a modicum of dignity and anonymity. Which was difficult given Kong’s indoor drinking and Godzilla’s constant struggle to cover his rent. Kong settled at the table now with some BananaBix and yesterday’s crumpled paper. ‘Thanks for cleaning up after me, man. I’ll make it up to you.’
Godzilla raised a claw-thumb while his beady eyes roamed the screen; the laptop engine revved with the effort of it all.
‘How’s the job hunt going?’ Kong asked.
‘Not much out there. Menial jobs, minimum wage jobs, but I’m too long in the tooth now to be going back to all that.’
Kong thought it was a bit rich to be looking down on jobs when a fella had nothing, but he wouldn’t make the mistake of saying that again. They were still re-building Turner’s Cross after that last drunken argument. So instead he said in solidarity: ‘Something will come up eventually.’
‘Yea,’ Godzilla agreed. But then he said: ‘It’s amazing. It doesn’t seem fair that a fella can make an effort his whole life and yet end up in his fifties and stressing out about covering the rent.’
‘Yea.’ Kong felt it coming now and buried his head in his cereal.
‘It doesn’t seem fair, does it? Like, I’m not a mess. I don’t have addiction issues; I never messed anyone about. I’m not lazy or stupid. All I ever did those times was defend myself, and other than that I worked hard my whole life. And now here I am on the dole at fifty-three and — no offence — sharing a gaff with a giant gorilla with a penchant for classic movies and smashing the place up of a Tuesday. No offence.'
Actually, they were a good team. Godzilla did most of the cleaning and knew when the bins went out, while Kong was the better cook, the better company, and had those big loving eyes when it came to plamásing people. Not to mention that he covered more than his share of the rent and bills, more often than not, and never asked for it back.
‘It’s amazing how life passes you by,’ Godzilla said. ‘How you just keep on moving. Reacting. Making decisions on the hoof for years on end without ever really taking stock. Never looking around and figuring out who you actually are. Like, mentally, I still feel twenty-two. Like I’m still on the cusp of figuring myself out. D’you know what I mean? Like, how did I even become whatever it is that I am now? Who even am I? A fucking nuclear explosion is what I am, and all the rest is contamination. Recovering ground. Scurrying to keep up.
How does anyone even go about becoming the person they wanted to become? How does that happen?’ He was all aglow, there at the kitchen table, the laptop prone between his scaly elbows. ‘What do you think?’ he asked Kong.
Kong thought about it, or pretended to. ‘I dunno. I think you’re in a shitty situation. But something will come along.’ He thought better of saying he’d ask around the site for work. ‘What about re-training? You’d make a great teacher, you know? You’re organised, intelligent, and yet you’ve lived.’
Godzilla raised his eyes to the ceiling and sighed. The glow cooled. ‘I miss the old days… The gallavanting.’
‘Yea. You and me both.’
‘What about you? Do you have regrets?’
And funnily enough, as Kong pretended to reminisce he did reminisce. And things came flooding. ‘Yea, I do. Loads in fact.’
‘… I regret not finding a way to deal with myself earlier. To listen to myself. I regret taking things too seriously. I regret not reaching out to people earlier. I wish I’d done CBT twenty years before I actually did…’
‘But that wasn’t your fault. You were on your own. We both were.’
‘Yea, but do you ever think about how many people we hurt over the years?’
‘But we were fighting for our lives?’
‘Yea but still. A lot of regrets.’
‘Are you thinking about her?’
‘Well, yea. But it’s not that simple. Not just her. A lot of people. I did damage.’
‘We both did.’
‘And here we are.’
‘Here we are, taking stock.’
Godzilla closed the laptop down. ‘The funny thing about it is that you grow up thinking about who you’ll become. When I’m older… All that. But you never get beyond planning mode. Even now I still feel like I’m growing up. I’m copy-pasting CVs there and I’m thinking in the future-conditional tense. I’ll be doing that on my death bed.’
‘Yea,’ Kong said. ‘And yet you’ve been someone for fifty-three years. And me for forty-eight.’
‘Yea… That’s mad isn’t it?’
Godzilla leaned back, stretched. ‘You headed to work?’
‘I better do a bit I suppose.’
‘Mind if I walk in with you? I could do with a stroll along the quays…’
The letter ended there, with a kiss, and this man found himself on Sullivan’s Quay again, thinking: how in the name of god was that a love letter? She had specifically said in the text message that she’d posted him ‘a love letter’.
Was this it? Well what was the message? Did she have regrets? Had he done something wrong and this was an elaborate way of breaking it off? Or was it a reference to some conversation they’d had, some morning after? Would he see her again this summer? Or ever?
He folded the letter up and this time put it in his shirt pocket, over his heart. Over by the boardwalk they were setting down for the night, and he realised they were not lingering but homeless. He stood to go.
It was true that he lived near Douglas Street. And that he was fifty-three and she forty-eight. They were two things in common with the teleplay. But he loved his job. And she would find something, surely, if she moved to Cork for good.
He remembered again, as he walked the dark-windowed streets, her blatant, giddy arrival into the pub that first night.
‘You’re old for a barman,’ she’d grinned. ‘Not like the usual shiny college kids.’
‘I’m a career man,’ he’d answered casually.
That was a summer night too, long ago now it felt.
‘Like the French waiters,’ she said.
‘Exactly,’ he said. ‘I’m a refined individual.’
‘My friend,’ she said. ‘We are all refined individuals.’
Danny Denton is a writer from Cork. His current novel is The Earlie King & The Kid In Yellow and he is working on a second. He is also the editor of The Stinging Fly