Chiara had spent the hot day sending him racist memes and naked pictures of herself smoking weed with captions like “use me” and “punish me Daddy”, so when he finished work he walked through the evening heat to her apartment on Sussex Road.
They had sex in the degrading style favoured by many of the fascist women he’s slept with. He spanked her and called her “my Italian slut” and she growled “hit me” with strands of hair stuck to her face from the heat and afterwards they slept until the fingers of late-evening chill reached in the open window and woke them up to the twilight sounds of eating and drinking in the outdoor seating of the restaurants on the street below her apartment. He put back on his work clothes. She pulled a Sea Shepherd T-shirt down over the Nordic tattoos on her ribs. They went out into the last light to smoke weed.
They sat side by side on the fire escape, six floors up. She lit a joint and they passed it between them. They inhaled the weed and the smell of the spring evening and the promise of summer you get in April that’s always better than the summer that comes. Two Chinese lanterns drifted like UFOs across the sunset.
“These things kill birds,” she said. She stretched her T-shirt over her knees.
The smoke from the joint rose into the pre-night sky. He thought he could hear the sea from miles away where the scattered lights of the skyline stopped. A breeze ruffled through the trees in the car park below. The waving leaves fanned up the sounds of the city again—a car starting, a gate closing, a dog spooked by something in the almost-dark, the offbeat steps of someone walking with keys their pocket, a barge lapping down the canal, words drifting back and forth between a drawn out group of dawdling friends, the lonely drumming of another office block being built overnight.
He was a journalist. He was investigating the investment funds who were taking over the Dublin property market—Blackstone, Cerberus, IRES Reit, Kennedy Wilson. He thought of them as an invasive, subspecies of money. He looked down from the fire escape at that crime scene of a city and imagined dark movements of money running along in the streets like eels along the bottom of a lake. He smoked and watched the dark sway as the funds moved more blocks of apartments onto their balance sheets. He watched as rent left silently from drowsy family kitchens and passed through walls and borders and oceans and into the bank accounts of corporate landlords. He imagined houses being repossessed by shadowy security firms. He thought of homes being turned into guest rooms and of tourists appearing in them overnight like ghosts.
He could see money more clearly in the daytime when it took its human form, as accountants, property managers, bankers, surveyors, solicitors, former politicians. Or as men in balaclavas—sabotaging protests, infiltrating movements, breaking down desperately barricaded doors, putting families into the street with their lives in black bags on the ground beside them, and disappearing again into the white vans he thinks might be following him.
They finished the joint as the spring night fell over Dublin like the shade from a tree. A man stood alone in the car park below, staring up at them. They went back inside.
She changed into her pyjamas: a hoodie which had “don’t need sex because capitalism fucks me every day” written on it. She was on big money though. She worked for a cyber security company. She said she would rather be a housewife and be “paid by a man to lounge around in lingerie”. She rejected as “girl-boss feminism” and “peak neoliberalism” any attempt people made to praise her for being a Woman in STEM. She refused all invitations to speak at conferences with names like ‘The Women Disrupting Tech’, ‘Girls Who Code’, ‘Hacking the Patriarchy’ and ‘Queering the Algorithm’. Her Tinder bio read: “dominate me in the bedroom, not in the workplace.”
For a man like him, a Marxist-Leninist and occasional Maoist Third Worldist, there was something so appealing about a woman who so angrily rejected liberal feminism. She was a tech fascist who believed in the utopian vision of the early internet. She was a tech fascist who believed that Europe was diverse enough a hundred years ago. She had moved to Ireland because the tech industry here pays so much. She had moved to Ireland because it was the whitest place left in Western Europe. She had access to sensitive information and she was passing it on to him because she believed all information should be free.
She took a USB from her weed box and handed it to him as he got ready to leave. She pulled the curtains across the open window and wrote on a post-it note:
“This is big”
“What is it?” he wrote back.
“Check on this when you get home,” she wrote.
The post-it notes fell around her feet. She put a new laptop into his bag. “It hasn’t been contaminated by the internet, don’t connect it,” she wrote.
“Thanks,” he wrote.
“Imagine you’re being watched,” she wrote.
“Am I?” he said aloud.
She underlined ‘imagine’ three times.
He left her place. The night was so beautifully laundered by the spring air that he started walking back to Cabra under the smell of the new-born leaves. There are always a few nights like that in April, when the first heat intoxicates the city and the streets sway with that first drink feeling of a good thing beginning.
He turned onto a quiet, cooling street. A white van was driving behind him. He walked. He listened. Everything sounded pre-recorded on a soundstage like in a film noir from the fifties: a bike ticking by; a curtain beating against an open window; his footsteps; his breathing; his heartbeat. He was sure it was the same white van that had been following him for weeks. He watched it as it passed. He checked for alleyways or driveways he could disappear into. He turned around and walked back towards the busy safety of Mespil Road. The van went by again. His heart panicked as it passed. On Mespil Road he put his hand out for a taxi. He sat into the backseat and closed the door.
It’s interesting, psychologically speaking, the driver said eventually, the way you tried to open your door so soon after you got in.
Don’t you think?
I had a chap in the car last week. Drove him all the way and he never tried that door once.
Do you know why?
He didn’t want to admit to himself that he couldn’t get out. He could’ve tried the door. He could have been on his way. But he let me take him without even trying to escape. Just sat back there chatting. Playing it cool, you know.
Interesting isn’t it? Psychology.
I’m interested in that kind of thing.
Now you’ve got the opposite problem. You took one look at me in me sunglasses and thought to yourself fuck this I’m away. Sunglasses at night, you says to yourself, what’s with this fella?
You know the door is locked.
I know you know the door is locked.
You know I know you know the door is locked.
I know you know I know the door is locked.
Interesting isn’t it?
Hear that? Last train going over the river. Anyone on that train, coming into town Thursday midnight, they’ve a story to tell. More interesting than the stuff you’re writing now.
We’ve a few journalists with us. They do well. Decent money, a few stories when you need it.
Someone your age, in all seriousness, needs to start thinking about the future.
Your rent is what…€700 a month?
Rent is money down the drain.
Down the drain.
Stoneybatter. Some lovely pubs around here.
Look at that lad. Not from Mayo is he.
I was over in Jamaica for a while but. Working for himself. Great country. Lovely beaches. Good weather. Great place to do business. That’s why he’s there of course. Lot easier to deal with people such as yourself out there. No messing around. You want something done—bang—you just pay the right man and it’s done.
Get in the way of progress and—bang.
You know who runs this country? You know who you should be investigating?
The unions. The people who contribute nothing. The bloated public sector.
This thing you’re looking into. For example, classic example. The government sold the properties at such a low price because the fund had businessmen working for them, and they were negotiating, think about it, with who? With civil servants and politicians. That’s the whole story. Write it if you want. Public sector versus private sector. Private sector wins every time. There were no bribes or anything.
Just pure business acumen.
Free market. Winners and losers. Simple as that.
Roads are quiet out here.
You’re probably hoping your roommates are home. Housemates I suppose, should be called.
You’re 36 yeah?
If you don’t mind me saying, you should be putting down roots. Should be saving.
You must spend, what, 50 quid a week on weed. Cut that out and you’d have what…52 weeks in a year…5×5 is 25 that’s…you’d have about €2,600 extra in your pocket. You’d be surprised how quickly it adds up.
There’s no one home tonight by the way.
The accountant is in Frankfurt.
Midwife’s at her fella’s.
Now this is you isn’t it?
You make my job interesting I’ll give you that. Lot of overtime.
Before you go.
I was watching ‘Narcos’ last night. On Netflix. It’s a series, not a film. Very interesting. It’s about Pablo Escobar. Colombian drug lord. He gives people a choice right. “Silver or lead” he says. In spanish. Worth a watch. On Netflix.
Now, 13.90 is the damage.
Thank you sir.
And 5 is 18.90 and one is 19.90 and 10 cent is 20 and that’s yours back.
The driver reset the meter, turned on the roof light and drove away past the night-coloured houses.
His house was silent. He opened the door. He stared into the hallway. He sniffed the air. A truck dipped into a pothole on the main road. The noise of it shocked him into slamming the front door behind him. The noise of that scared him too. He turned on the light in the hallway. He turned on the light in the narrow kitchen. He turned on the light in the dusty living room. With downstairs lit up it was like the dark outside was staring in the window at him. He took a knife from the draining board. He held it in front of him like a gun and walked upstairs. He stopped after every step on the carpeted stairs to let the creaking wood underneath his foot go silent.
He went into his room knife first. The window was open. The room had been brushed clean by the bristles of spring breeze which had been blowing in since he left that morning. He turned on his desk lamp. He rolled a joint in its light. He smoked out the window. In the time he was in the taxi dew had fallen like snow and like snow it had shocked the small gardens and the empty suburban streets around his house into silence. His neighbour’s gardens were abandoned and embalmed, full of toys, bikes, paddling pools, footballs, sun loungers and kitchen chairs; like the curtain had just gone down at the end of a play.
She texted him.
“I think we should stop doing this.”
He put the USB into the laptop she had given him.
“Ok,” he replied.
He typed in the password. She had copied all of the investment fund’s emails and their slack chats and their bank accounts and their internal payments system.
“Can I come over?” she texted him.
“Ok,” he replied.
He read some of the emails. They talked about bribing politicians and government officials so they could get all those apartment blocks and offices and housing estates cheap. All that property and debt the government bought after the banks collapsed. He made notes. He wrote on post it notes and attached them to the wall. His joint went out and ashed on his notes.
He was tired but didn’t want to sleep alone. Maybe it was the shock of the taxi, or the way she completely surrendered to him during sex, or the way she quoted Lacan when they lay together afterwards, maybe it was his receding hairline which he checked every night, watching it as if it was a clock ticking towards the end, or maybe it was the sounds on the stairs he searched his brain to explain away.
She opened his bedroom door.
“How did you get in?” he asked her.
“Hi to you also,” she said. She sat on the side of the bed, taking her leather boots off.
“Your housemate let me. He always wears sunglasses at night?”
“What did he say?”
“He said you were upstairs. And then he sat on the kitchen with a glass of water.”
He went downstairs and into the kitchen with the knife out in front of him. A glass was on its side on the table, rolling back and forth. Water dripped from the table onto the floor. It pooled by his feet. He waited. The sky lightened as he waited. The house fell into dawn. Morning heat rose in waves from the damp garden. The joint wore off. He checked all the doors. He went back upstairs.
She was asleep. She had written ‘slut’ in lipstick across her chest. He smoked out the window. The good weather stirred outside. He heard a van parking and wondered if it was white. She woke up.
“Rape me,” she whispered, sleepily.
The sound of birds singing came in the open window. Like every haunted man, the singing reminded him of sleep.
The Man in the Black Pyjamas has previously been published as an anonymous writer in The Irish Times, Moth Magazine, Cassandra Voices, Number Eleven Magazine, ‘Deep Water Literary Journal, Increature Magazine, Cold Coffee Stand and Headstuff Magazine. He won second place in the Fish International Short Story Competition in 2016. He tweets at @pyjamas_black.