He was not old, just 33, and still retained, somehow, the countenance of a younger man. During that other life, the one before, he had always dressed in the unspoken camouflage of middle-class suburbia, hanging his frame with pressed polo shirts and mute slacks, sleeveless polar fleece dog-walking jackets, leather slides, deck shoes, endless metres of blue and white chambre. Here, in this town, he could safely hide in layers of fabric, be nothing but a pair of eyes poked from between a scarf and a beanie. He could almost be local. Except when he ventured to the local store for his morning paper and cigarettes, and was forced to let out his coarse native tongue, scratching at the air like lost, angry animal. How he longed for the keys to that golden gate of the Gaelic tongue. The oldest language, his wife (ex-wife) had told him once. He would hang back in the shop, turning biscuit packets around aimlessly to catch just a shard of a traditional greeting. He waited often minutes for a local to approach the counter, and to make conversation with the shopkeeper. Oh, those burbling, velvet sounds, the softened hints of Germanic throats.
When he’d return to his room, he’d swallow a Valium and retreat to the endless heat of a generous, epic afternoon bath. In his mind, underwater, that old language lapped. He saw a procession of gentle, glass-faced Irish girls, with that cliché he was so pleased to have since confirmed: the softest of auburn hair. They traced his brow and stretched their milkmaid legs to the edge of the bath, one pink-painted toenail nestling neatly in the downturn of the hot water faucet. But soon, and always, a set of familiar worries returned, dulled by the drugs but still painfully acute. He would let his head slip beneath the water, looking up at the bare bulb above, squiggled into some sort of meaning by the vague currents set off by his own breathing.