Michael Keenaghan ~ HAPPINESS FROM A GUN

January 6, 2007

She flashed past me in the morning rush, lost in the crowds of the tube station. But that sight, seeing Hermione again – it changed everything. Made me realize I could no longer pretend, no longer live without her. 

I continued my journey to work in a daze. But following the throng out of Bank station towards the office I knew I couldn’t face it. Not today. Maybe not any day. I phoned in sick and went for a coffee somewhere. Three, four coffees. Sitting staring out the window, thinking about Hermione. Seeing her sail through the crowds, independent, triumphant, walking out of my life all over again.

Our split had been so unjust, so unnecessary. We could have talked, could have worked things out, but she wouldn’t let me near, refused to even speak to me. I’d spent the last six months in a state of numbness, disbelief; slowly enduring a breakdown that I’d tried my best to deny. But watching the world go By, people rushing about like demented ants, I had a flash of clarity, a sudden brainwave.

It was so simple. I would simply be with her. Simply put myself there. A presence, following, watching. It was the only way. Keeping my distance, discreet, but always there, watching from the wings. After all, Hermione would tolerate nothing else. She was hardly the most level-headed of people, was she? Too sensitive, highly strung. That night we finished for example. I hardly touched her – a push, a slap maybe, it was nothing. I’d had a drink, okay – but God. 

Hermione getting the police involved was ridiculous. I never caused those bruises. It was as if she’d caused them herself, headbutted a wall or something just to get at me. And telling them that I’d raped her – came in throwing my fists about then actually raped her. Was she out of her mind? Hated me that much I suppose. But atleast she dropped the charges.

She moved into her friend’s place in Clapham.The other side of London . And of course there I was, drunk, banging on the door, and her friend answered. Go away, rapist. Tried to slam it in my face. I lunged for her, but held myself back just in time, had to keep control, had caused enough of a mess as it was. God, that’s it, you’re mad, I’m calling the police right now. Don’t bother, I said. I’m going.

Six long months. Mr Nine to Five. No queries, no complaints, nothing. Being hollowed out, eaten alive and nobody even noticing. That’s how much people really knew me.

But now that was all over. I was bringing Hermione back into my life. Making my life complete – atlast. It was the best idea I’d ever had. Why hadn’t I thought of it before? Fear, I suppose. The shackles of convention. The law. Well fuck it. It was time I started thinking about myself for a change, the things that mattered to me. And I’d begin right now. Go to Clapham, research – find out if Hermione still lived there for a start.

I walked all the way. Needed the air, the freedom. For too long I’d been following the herd, denying my needs. No more. I was walking on air. Finally alive. Crossing London Bridge  the sun broke through, drenching the Thames in silver and gold, the world emanating warmth, a glow, an affinity. I hummed a tune, smiled at passers-by. Happiness was there if you wanted it, available for all, but for too long I’d been trapped in a prison of my own doing, hadn’t taken action, done a single thing to help myself. Euphoric, I gazed over the mighty river glistening with all the light and joy of the world and thought of Jesus walking on water, saw my arms aloft in the air, all wrongs ready to be put right, Hermione running towards me, back into my life. Reaching the south side and heading through Borough it was again overcast and grey, low dirty clouds threatening to spoil things, but I could only smile, nothing mattered, nothing could stop me now.

I reached Clapham. Weaved into the backstreets. Big area, lots of identical streets, identical houses – to an outsider like me atleast – but like a radar I found my way. Stood outside the house shivering with excitement. Hermione lived in the basement, her room was at the front; I knew this because I’d seen her peeping out the night her friend had called me a rapist. Behind the windows, new white gates were installed prison-style. Stay out, they said. Stay out of my world. But Hermione, I smiled, I just want to be near you. Have to be near you. No choice. Think of me as a guardian angel. You won’t even know I’m there.

I walked down the steps. The blinds were partly open and I pressed my face to the glass, peered directly in. It was unbelievable – Hermione’s whole existence laid out for me to see. The same duvet on her bed and her familiar black M&S negligee slung over a chair. One of her drawers open, underwear spilling to the floor.

I heard a noise and looked up. At ground level a middle-aged woman was standing by her door staring down at me, must have been wondering what the hell I was doing. Oh, hello there, I said cheerfully, nice day, mounting the steps and walking off. Later, this woman was to tell the police that despite my smart appearance I was drunk, maybe on drugs. I still can’t work that one out. Maybe she’d been standing there for ages and I’d been talking to myself, thinking aloud. I don’t know. Even more bizarre was her allegation that I’d been “lewdly touching myself”. Absurd. The woman must have been mad.

I had hours to kill – Hermione wouldn’t be back till around six – so I decided to explore, get a feel of the place. After all, these streets would be like a second home to me.

But before I go on… I may as well tell you now. My brainwave, my plan, was never to be. Something got in the way –  nature, God, fate, you tell me – whatever it was, it cut my intentions dead.

It happened like this. I was passing a row of shops by a housing estate. A group of youths were loitering by a bench, eyeing me menacingly. One of them spat at my shoes. I ignored them and walked on. Further up, an angry-looking black guy with gold teeth and cane-rode hair stood shouting and swearing into his mobile. I didn’t like this part of town atall. Gentrification one minute, ghetto the next. I pictured Hermione running the gauntlet each night, rapists, muggers, seeping out from the cracks like slime, gutter life that didn’t deserve to breathe her same air. But not any more, though. Never.

I wasn’t afraid of these people. I could handle myself. I’d made it to blue belt in Tae Kwan Do, and in my youth did judo, kickboxing for years. God, up until the split I’d be in the gym two, three times a week, playing regular squash before work. But I’d changed, lost interest in things, evenings spent staring at the walls, drinking myself to sleep. It was shameful. No more. Things were going to change.

But to be honest, these days you needed more than fitness or martial arts. Knives were everywhere. Stabbings a national trend, all you ever fucking heard about. Changes things. I’d have to glow with the flow, carry something myself, something big, a meat knife maybe. Butcher’s knife. Scare the bastards away just from looking at it. Definitely, that’s what I’d do. In fact, I’d find a shop right now, equip myself from day one. Be prepared. I could peddle hate just like the next man. Try me.

So there you go. That was me. All ready to go through with it. Equipped as well. Big Mr Commando with his martial arts skills and combat knife. Nice idea. But as I say. Didn’t happen.

What did happen, happened fast. Rushed by like a dream. But now I see it crystal clear, every moment. The Golf VW pulling up in line with the black guy on the mobile, another guy leaning out, and he’s holding something (a Mac-10 submachine pistol). Then gunfire. Glass shatters as the man tries to escape, moving along the pavement towards me, face locked in a sneer of determination, but the bullets are following him, insistent, demanding their kill, and I watch their impact as they connect, tearing in, spraying everywhere, until I too am caught in the flurry of fire, body shaking in a death-dance as the lead pounds into my skin. The man tumbles into me and together we fall, bullets ricocheting off the pavement around us. Car skids away.

We lay facing each other, speechless, numb. Silence lasting a short eternity. Blood bubbled from his mouth, eyes wideopen, imploring, not wanting to die. I watched them glaze over. Heard the death hiss. The sound of the street reassert itself, sirens, radios, stay back, a voice trying to speak to me, asking my name, stay awake, everything will be okay. But I was slipping over, a new world pulling me in, promising colours and love and life, leave me at peace, let me go, fall into Hermione’s embrace, sleep there forever.

I woke from my coma a week later. I’d made the front-cover of The Evening Standard. CITY WORKER CAUGHT IN FATAL SHOOTOUT. Square Mile Accountant Fights For Life in Intensive Care. And the next day: CITY CROSSFIRE VICTIM WILL BE PARALYSED FOR LIFE. And so forth. A media frenzy, my face cropping up for weeks in reports of thugs on the rampage and gun violence out of control. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH – THE SHOOTING MUST STOP. I was all the rage. Always the same photo: my smiling face, suit and tie, model citizen gunned down at the peak of his life, peak of his career. If they hadn’t edited it Hermione would have been there too, right next to me – taken on our Barbadian holiday I think – smiling for the camera, the perfect couple.

But the police thought I wasn’t so innocent at all. They wanted to know what I was really doing in the area. Thought I could have been involved in a drugs deal gone wrong or something. Or worse. Pinning all kinds of things on me. But I stuck to my story of having thrown a sickie to look for a new property to rent south of the river; nothing to do with drugdealers or my-ex girlfriend or anything of the kind – what was I, some kind of criminal?  But they didn’t believe me, not for a minute. Not with Hermione’s little rape fantasies on their books. Not to mention her neighbour’s little masturbation stories (and what fucking business was it of hers anyway?) And oh, of course the wrap of cocaine in my wallet. But, well, nothing I could do about that. 

But what did I care? The press loved me. My story even made the nationals: my face up there in The Sun, part of an anti-crime campaign, Lawless Britain, the whole-country’s-going-to-pot kind of thing. They’d never ruin a good moral story – wouldn’t be interested. I was a hero. Hero of London’s escalating violence, the gun terror sweeping the capital, sweeping the nation. I was spotless. Good job I hadn’t bought the meat knife though. 

The other guy got no attention atall. He was just the criminal in the backdrop. A faceless extra. Scum, basically. His name was Michael Nelson, twenty four, lived on the William Bonney Estate, Clapham. Known crack dealer. Other than that I know nothing. But in a way I feel a strange bond with the man, this stranger whose fate drastically altered my own. I often think about him. Wonder what his life must have been like. If there was any real humanity there. Or if he maybe deserved all he got. I don’t know. It’s confusing. Right and wrong. Love and hate. Sometimes I see silly things. See us laughing and talking, the City finance worker and the street gangsta, touching fists, comparing wounds, sharing a beer, maybe a puff of something stronger, joking about our little escapade together and the wildly different spectrums of our universe. But that’s bullshit because he’s dead and I’m in a wheelchair.

You read the headline. I’m paralysed. One of the bullets hit the nerve of my cervical spine, fucked my nervous system. I’ll never walk again. I have other problems, other complications too, but I won’t go on, I won’t bore you. Fucked is a good enough description. My brain is alright though – that’s one thing, I suppose. But still, sometimes I wish those fucking amateurs had just used a shotgun. Done the job right. Bang.

But no, that’s just self-pity – everyone has their off-days. Ignore it. I do. I’m not bitter. In a way, the perpetrators (whoever they are) have done me a favour, solved alot of my problems. All that real world stuff, for example. That rat race crap. Striving for everything, gaining nothing. I don’t miss it atall. You can keep it. Leave me to my own world.

As for my plan, my brainwave –  it was destined to fail regardless. Never would have worked, not in the real world. I would have been given a restraining order within five minutes. And what then, be belligerent and do jail time? I don’t think so. No – my place in the outside world was destined for failure. I accept that now. 

In my own way I’m closer to Hermione than I ever would be in that world. Things are different now. I see things in the kind of perspective you could never understand. Fantasy is now my reality. A reality more vivid, more meaningful than plain old life ever was. Those bullets opened my mind, they really did. Showed me the way. I live in a new realm. I close my eyes and she’s there – eternally.

I’ve come to terms with my physical afflictions, and I must say, the drugs have been a massive help – no more screaming and shouting for me, no more hate (giving the nurses hell – you should have seen me), that’s history, I’m a new person now. Drugs, yes – great things. In fact, I’m pushing the doctors for more. All the time – more more more. Becoming quite an obstinate little junkie in fact.

But what the hell. I’m in love.



I live in  London and have other stuff on Scarecrow, the beat and Laura Hird’s site.


2 Responses to “Michael Keenaghan ~ HAPPINESS FROM A GUN”

  1. Michael K said

    This is the voice of the man in the city, the voice of the man who’s been told that he’s cold but whose spirit is still bold. This is the voice of the Revlonucion, the post-feminist wilderness where everyman is schizoid and dangerous. This is the voice crying out for retribution, truth, honesty, decency and a kebab.

  2. michael keenaghan said

    Thanks, namesake, couldn’t have said it better myself…

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