“Scrapes,” by Trevor Conway

Apr 20th, 2023 | By | Category: Fiction, Prose

I walked into a pole one sunny afternoon. It was the makings of me. Never saw the thing. One of them tall, slender, grey yokes that melt into the background if you’re not paying attention. I felt like it did something to me. Whether temporary or permanent, I wasn’t sure. But change was afoot. I could feel it. Could end up with a job by the end of the day, I reckoned. Which frightened the life out of me.

I had one eye on the waters of the Corrib river as I went along. Fast and lumpy it looked, the colour of lead. Strangely alluring. But there was still some wandering to be had.

The first hint of a cloud sent me into the pub. The problem is, when I drink, I get notions. Not grand ones. Daft ones. And it rains frequently in this town, where the only proper place for a bit of shelter is the aforementioned public house. There was something about that phrase, “public house”. It drew me in. As if your own family were waiting beyond the squeak of the doors. Of course, we don’t always get on with our families. But that’s another story for another afternoon.

This pub was big, wide-open, not like the type that have lots of nooks and corners where men can hide from their wives or whatever else they might fear.

I took a stool at the bar, ordered a stout and closed my eyes. Today was a day for lounging around in my own thoughts, I figured. But others have ways of spoiling such notions.

I could see one such other approaching. He looked like a proper eejit in a white flannel suit and hat. Bit like a tall, emaciated snowman. He wasn’t your average brand of eejit, I’d soon find out. He cultivated a persona that’d leave a sour taste in anyone’s mouth. One of those fellas that have stupid ideas about women. Not that we don’t all have stupid ideas about women. But in the case of this fella, it was a defining characteristic. As if he genuinely believed the world was better off without them.

“They just can’t help themselves,” he pronounced. “They have to change a man, make him into something he isn’t. It goes back to their fathers.”

I blinked slowly, hoping he’d be gone by the time I opened my eyes.

No such luck was to be had.

“All of them?” I said with a raised eyebrow.

“Every single last one of them, practically. It’s in their make-up. Genetics. We’re nothing but projects to them.” He had a strange way of over-pronouncing his words, as though he’d had a brief dalliance with elocution lessons.

I had a notion to get away from him, but I’d already committed to sitting on the stool. Didn’t want to cause a diplomatic incident. Just keep the head down and get through my pint.

“I don’t know,” I said after a solid ten seconds of him staring into my face.

“You don’t know what?” He tilted his head so his dark, hairy nostrils were bearing down on me.

“I don’t think it’s fair to generalise,” I said.

“Ha!” He threw his head back. “I heard you in here once. You had no problem making generalisations about the English.”


“A fortnight ago. Maybe more.”

“Ah, but that’s the oppressor,” I explained. “They’re a different breed altogether.”

He folded his arms. Sent a blast of air through his aforementioned nostrils.

“Tell me,” he said, “do you actually know any English people?”

“I do.”

“And are they all… What was the word I heard you use?…’Pathetic empire-huggers’, wasn’t it?”

“It might have been… And no, they’re not all of that ilk. The ones I’d be friendly with aren’t real English, though.”

“What are they, so? Artificial English?” He threw a sly smile at the barman, a hefty fella with short hair and an unhealthy redness to his skin. My own skin was getting as red as his, I fancied, my blood working up to a simmer.

My persecutor suddenly took a different tack:

“What is it you do, anyway,” he said?

“This and that,” I answered.

“This and that,” he repeated slowly, like a retarded parrot. I was in no mood for birds of paradise.

The truth was, I’d been collecting the dole for a good fifteen years without interruption. I’d tried a bit of work when I was nineteen or twenty, but it turned my stomach. Not so much the work itself. The repetition. Boredom. That was my chief vice. Same as my father. Neither of us could sit still for more than a grand total of five seconds. However, I won’t waste my breath on that fella.

“And how do you earn your own crust?” I asked.

“I lecture,” he said. The corner of his thin lips looked like they had ambitions of forming a smirk.

“Right,” I replied. “I gathered that already.”

I thought I’d seen him somewhere before. It came back to me—he gave a lecture on Irish history that I hopped into once. I like the idea of college, you see, especially universities. All that learning swimming around the place. It’s just the notions it gives people that I don’t like. And the cost. So I prefer to dip in and out of the place every now and then. Take a few notes if I feel like it. I have a certain gravity pulling me towards history and science. Occasionally, I dabble in a bit of architecture. But I need to be in the mood for it.

He somehow got back onto the subject of women, despite my attempts to navigate him towards the Celts.

“I think it’s important to recognise the differences between us,” he said.

“Between me and you?” I said. (This was before I realised he was back onto women, having returned to that furrow with neither preamble nor the good manners to inject even a shift in tone.)

“No,” said he, “between us and the ladies.”

I widened my eyes, waiting for a bit of elaboration.

“And?” I said finally.

“They like pretty things, for instance,” he explained.

“Do they?”

“You don’t think so?”

“Not all of them.”

“True. But the majority.”

The pain in my head was growing. Not so much from listening to him. More from the lump that’d formed at the top of my forehead. I heard the clang of the pole through my skull again, as clear as when it happened.

“And they’re not the best at positions of authority, I think it’s fair to say,” he went on, “even though it might not be popular to say it aloud.”

“Which is why the majority of senior lecturers are men,” I countered.

“Exactly,” he nodded. Seeming to think I was agreeing with him.

I’d had enough.

“It’s just a pity it’s bullshit,” I said.

“What’s bullshit?”

“Your hypothesis.”

He pulled his pointy chin back a little.

“I… I don’t think that’s fair,” he said.

“What’s not fair is gobshites like you preaching from the pulpit to young ones that have twice the sense you have,” I said.

“That’s not very polite.” His forehead scrunched up into lines like the kind you’d see on a heart monitor. I couldn’t tell whether he was angry or confused. Probably both.

And then the notion just took me. Before I could think any different, I’d slapped him across the cheek. His daft glasses flew off his face. He looked down to them, then back at me. I hoped he’d swing. But his head shook. That was all. I considered following it up with another. Or maybe a proper punch. My pint was finished, though. And I wasn’t the fighting type. So I hopped off the stool and pushed him out of my way.

The fresh air felt good, though I didn’t know what to do with myself. I just rambled down by the curving canal and up towards the noise of the buskers. Kept going till I saw a bunch of tourists at the spot where they start the walking tour. There was a good dozen of them, looking at their watches, wondering where the tour guide was. Germans, I guessed. And I summoned up a shallow drop of the bit I’d learned in school.

“Deutsch?” I said.

“We are from the Netherlands,” said one, looking briefly toward the woman with him, wearing an identical green rain jacket.

“Are you the tour man,” she asked. I sensed from the hesitation in her voice that she had a lesser command of English.

“I am,” I nodded. “Sorry I’m a bit late. Quick stop in the toilet. You know yourself.”

More and more of the group starting turning in our direction. Until they’d all gone silent and were looking at me like I was the second coming of the lad from Nazareth.

“Must we give to you the money now, or must we do it at the finish?” the woman asked.

“Now’d be great,” I said. “I sometimes forget at the end.”

“How many?”

“Ten euro. It’s twelve usually, but ye’re a fairly big group, so I’ll give ye a bit off.”

I collected the heap of notes and coins. Luckily, I got plenty of change from the first few, so I was able to break the twenties and fifties I got after that. I still had a good clatter of coins left at the end, though, so I balanced them out between my two pockets.

“Right,” I said in the most official register I could muster, “are ye all ready?”

They were plenty of nods in reply.

“Sorry, what is your name?” one of them asked. More Scandinavian than proper continental, I reckoned. I wasn’t in the mood for giving the right one, so I gave the first name that came into my head:

“Gabriel,” I said. And I found myself holding my chin a bit higher, as if the name itself lent me some extra respect. Of course, it could’ve been the newfound role I’d landed myself in. “Are we all ready to get lashing into it?” I asked. There were less nods than before. Thankfully, no-one asked me to explain what I meant.

Off we went. Through narrow streets. Finally, after a good five minutes of walking—and many nonplussed faces among the group—I thought of something to say.

“This here wall,” I said, standing at a decrepit piece of cement, “was built by the Normans in 1462.”

“Excuse me, but who?” a short, sweaty fella asked from the back of the group. The one who was always trailing behind.

“The Normans,” I said, expecting he was about to correct me, since I had no idea what I was talking about. It turned out he just hadn’t heard me right. Buoyed by this lucky escape, I chanced a few more spontaneous facts:

“They came from Normandy, in northern France.” (This one, I was pretty sure, was true.) “They got this name since they came from the north, from the perspective of those who named them, in the middle of France. And they arrived on a Monday, “Mandy” being the old name for Monday back then.” (This one, I was even more sure, wasn’t true.)

I blathered on and eventually got the heels moving again. I took them over the bridge, towards the cathedral. It was only when one of them stopped—one who’d had the cheek to walk ahead of even myself – that I figured I should say something about it.

“The green dome is supposed to symbolise the breast of the Virgin Mary,” I told them. “The colour green, as ye might guess, is a nod to the very land ye’re standing in.”

The short fella at the back asked me to speak up for the third time. In fairness, the loud gurgling of the traffic going by didn’t help matters. I tried to speak above it all, but I could tell they were getting more and more frustrated.

“Let’s move on!” I shouted in my chirpiest tone.

We came to the university. I walked them over by the great big lawn, lied about the date the university was founded, the number of students and the typical cost of a year’s tuition.

“Did any famous people attend the university?” one of the Scandinavians asked.

I’d gotten tired of making things up at this stage.

“You know, I don’t have a notion,” I said.

The response was more curiosity than disappointment:

“Notion—I have heard this word many times here. What does it mean?” he asked.

“Oh, notions. Well…” I tried to think of all the different ways we use the word. Maybe I could actually impart some real knowledge here, I thought. Something of value, that you wouldn’t get on your average tour.

“If you don’t have a notion, it means you don’t have a clue, no idea,” I said. “You’re far away from the answer, like. And then, if you get a notion, you just want to do something, on the spur of the moment. Usually, it might involve a bit of mischief. Then, you have a different brand of notions. The kind some of the people around here might have. They’re high ideas about yourself, thinking you’re better than others.”

This brought out a few smiles, so I was getting pretty chuffed with myself. Until, that was, a bearded fella who’d been quiet all along piped up with the question:

“For how much time are you working in this job?” He said it in a way that really stuck in my craw. As if he reckoned it was my first day on the job. Of course, he’d be right, but that’s beside the point.

“A decent while,” was all I could think to answer.

He looked confused, his little ponytail shaking ever so slightly. Another joined in, the Scandinavian-looking woman:

“But you had done this previous, yes?”

“How do you mean?” I asked, thinking I could come up with a satisfactory answer given some time.

Her husband did some interpreting for her:

“You have done this work before, have you?” he asked, looking more serious than he had throughout the whole tour. “You didn’t decide to be a tour guide today,” he smiled. Though I was full-sure he only meant it as a joke, the reality of the situation was getting a bit too close for my liking.

“Ha!” I broke out into a rash of laughter. I didn’t know when to stop. To the point that it got pretty obvious what was going on. At least so it seemed to me. “It’s been a long time since I had a group as fun as ye,” I said. It seemed to allay the fears of the more gullible ones. “I’ll be sad when this ends,” I went on. “But I’ll need a quick break. Back in a jiffy.”

I headed for a big, modern building. Probably the newest one on the campus. Lots of glass and unnecessary frills on the outside. As I came to the door, I could see in the reflection that a few of the group were following me. Bent on joining me in the bathroom, I surmised. Or confronting me. Once I got around the corner, I headed for a corridor that led to the back exit. Slipped out of the building and high-tailed it for the college bar.

I took a corner there and made it my own. Great pint. I had it gone in five minutes. No lying. So I went up for another. Gravitated towards the same woman who’d given me the first one. A woman with shortish hair dyed a kind of deep maroon colour, not far shy of black. Odd choice, but we’re all entitled to our oddities.

I always like a woman to pull my pint of stout. They have a way of taking care with little things. Men just grab the tap like they’re flicking through channels on the TV, or hopping down off the wife after thirty years of practice.

There was one lad in the far corner, a sheepish-looking fella with black hair that looked like it hadn’t seen a comb in all its days. He had his head planted in a book. Not some textbook, I reckoned. He handled the thing with too much care for that. Turned the pages slowly, like he was trying to prolong the experience. I’d say I’ve read only a handful of books like that, where I didn’t want to finish it. Most times, I’d devote half the reading experience to checking how many pages are left in a chapter. I don’t read as much these days. There was one time in my life when I’d read a couple of books a week.

If someone was to land into the pub there and then and ask me to name a job—the perfect one for myself, like—I’d probably say something to do with books. Writing those descriptions on the backs of them maybe. In fact, I did have a job connected with books once. More than a job—I was a proprietor, no less. Took over a small area at the back of my aunt’s tea shop. Twelve foot by ten. Had it stacked with books from all corners of life. Sewing. Knitting. Biographies. Tibetan philosophy. Plenty more. There was a queer mix lumped in together. Trouble was, I kept giving the damn things away. I’d spend a good ten minutes enthusing to a customer over some book, only to find he or she’d turn cold at the thought of actually paying a bit of money. So, I was happier seeing them trundle off with a free book than going away with two light paws.

I was at the business end of my second pint, glass tilted like a muzzle around my face, when my focus shifted to the front door of the bar. Three of the tour group had entered. They were looking around. For my good self, no doubt. I quickly turned and headed for the beer garden. Despite my evasive manoeuvre, one of them spotted me. They pushed through the crowd as I wandered through the beer garden. I hopped over the fence. There was a bike just lying against in. No lock or anything. I wasn’t the type to do such a thing under normal circumstances, but the tour group were still on my tail, and I needed something to facilitate my escape. So I threw the leg over the saddle, and with a few quick grunts, I was off. Fully intending to return it later in the day.

I got pedalling, and was vexed to find that two lads from the group were still following me a couple of minutes later, shouting obscenities only they could understand. They must have been pretty fit, as they’d lost only a little ground. Or they were just determined to get their 10 euros back.

They were still within sight when I came to the first bit of student accommodation. And then, as you might’ve guessed, the chain started jangling. I looked down. It was hanging looser than my poor granny’s neck. I dropped the bike and looked back. The two lads jogged on with renewed enthusiasm.

I disappeared around the side of an apartment. Looked for anything that might offer me salvation, having no idea what the two lads would do when they caught me. Though I had a fair idea they wouldn’t be offering me a cup of tea.

The only thing that bore any resemblance to the aforementioned salvation was an open window. I surprised myself with the agility I mustered. One leap, and I was hugging the window frame. It would’ve been great if I could’ve held onto it, but my momentum kept me going till I came to an abrupt stop on the floor. On my back, to be precise. It took the wind out of me. As I waited for it to come back, I listened. Both to the sounds outside and those within the abode I found myself in. There appeared to be no-one here. Just your average student place. Lots of beer bottles stacked on the TV. Little evidence of cleaning. Then, I noticed there was a laptop lying closed on the sitting room table.

As regards the sounds outside, I heard footsteps and heavy breaths. It was the two lads from the group, I was sure. They soon jogged out of earshot, but their steps sounded slower. As if they were coming to a stop. Potentially hanging around, waiting for me to reveal myself.

A good six minutes later, I slowly got to my feet, clutching the window frame for support. I peered over it and couldn’t see any sign of the two lads. It didn’t mean I was home and dry, though. I was in no rush to get out into the open. And besides, I started into reading what was on the laptop—a journalism essay on the portrayal of terrorists—and I was fascinated. It made some very interesting points on how readers are influenced in subtle ways. Of course, there were a few weak parts, so I changed some words here and there. It was totally lacking in any kind of conclusion. The student—Jessica Denman, 1560472—seemed to have given up. In fact, she even admitted as much at the end of the document, just after the few one-word notes she’d managed to gather:

I give up!!!!!!

I always hated to see a woman in distress, so I went about the task of getting the poor girl a decent conclusion. Only took me five minutes. I suppose that was a testament to the clarity and the flow of her paper overall. I ended with a sentence pointing out that everyone around us is a potential terrorist. Our neighbours. Our colleagues. Our family members. Even ourselves. We’re all capable of justifying violence, and acting on it, given the right circumstances. At least it was a different ending to most of the essays the marker’d be reading.

I became aware of footsteps coming down the stairs. I know the sensible thing to do would be to get myself back through the window from whence I came. But sense was always a thing I had terrible difficulty with. I stood up. Into the room walked a pale, slender girl of about nineteen, who looked like she’d been sustaining herself on a diet of beer and crisps. She froze. Gave me one look and stumbled backwards before racing up the stairs.

I called after her. Eventually, I walked up the stairs and put my head to the door I’d seen her disappear behind.

“Look, I’m not here to hurt you. I just hopped in the window to get out of a bit of bother.” I waited for some kind of reply, but there was nothing. “I read your essay,” I said. “It’s very good. You had at least a good solid C there. Maybe a B. I added a wee bit to it. Hopefully, you’ll get up into A territory.” I thought that might bring a few words out of her, maybe even a thank you. I even imagined her coming out and reading what I’d written, giving me a big hug. But that was just another daft notion.

“I called the police!” she shouted.

“Ah, there’s no need for that,” I said. “I was just trying to help. I’ll be on my way, anyway.”

I didn’t think she’d actually called the police: there was a phone—or something resembling one—near the laptop. That thought was soon dispelled when I saw two guards walking around outside.

I slipped out the window again. Don’t know why I didn’t think of leaving through the door. Anyway, the guards came towards me. I decided there and then that I’d give up the drink if I got arrested.

They stopped me.

“Do you know where seventeen B is?” one asked. He looked dopier than your average guard, a tall lad with more hair than brains coming out from under his hat.

“No idea,” I said. Almost shaking with the nerves.

As I walked on, I thought about my vow to give up the drink if they arrested me. It crossed my mind to turn around and tell them what I’d done, breaking into the apartment and all. Maybe even the bike I commandeered. Just to get myself arrested and get off the drink. But what would that do? It’d only make me into someone else, someone society wanted me to be, other than what I wanted myself. Although I wasn’t sure what that was, to be honest.

I did fix on another idea, though. I’d go back to college proper. Not just sit in on lectures. Actually take notes. Do the exams. Get the qualifications, if I had the stomach for it. It’d take an almighty effort, hours in the college library, thrashing into books that might not throw up anything decent. Trying to stay awake during boring lectures. Making sure I didn’t veer towards the pub every day. I didn’t need to give up the drink, just add something else to my life. Of course, that would require employment of some sort, in order to fund the experience.

When I got a decent distance away, I looked back at the apartment. The girl opened the door to the two guards. She looked in my direction. The sweat thickened on my skin, but she looked away again. And I was off for a walk by the river.

I thought about the lad I’d slapped in the bar. The tourist group. The window I’d jumped in. I’d never get into such scrapes under normal circumstances. But it’s not every day I walk into a pole. And the thought hit me: we should all walk into poles a bit more often.


Trevor Conway had it all. Life in sunny California was fully of dizzying highs, depraved lows and creamy middles. After he met a rather buxom lady, ruin followed. Realising all his money had been drained from his account, he took to poetry. For the money. His poems have been read on Austrian hills and in Mexican bathrooms. Evidence of Freewheeling, his first collection of poems, was published by Salmon Poetry in 2015. Website: trevorconway.weebly.com

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