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Lost & Found



Aonghus Fallon


Copyright 2016 Aonghus Fallon


Shakespir edition




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Afterwards, Cormac wondered. Had there been any other little differences? Tiny clues that everything wasn’t as it was supposed to be? Like that shoe-shop on the corner of Parliament Street, for example?

Strangely enough, he didn’t feel any inclination to go back and check.

He’d finished work and been heading down Dame Street, on his way to catch the Luas home. It had been dusk, each shop front suddenly a blaze of light, just like the buses which rumbled monotonously past. The pavement had been crowded with people – Thursdays tended to be busy.

What had he been thinking about? The new ad campaign for Connolly and Co., initially. Then him and Maureen. Things hadn’t been great between them. If it hadn’t been for the girls….

And then what? What had he been thinking about afterwards? Because Cormac had a sneaking suspicion this was important. Because how else had he suddenly found himself standing in front of that metal door, in an alleyway just off the quays, a door that shouldn’t have been familiar at all, but which was suddenly as familiar as the lines and whorls of his own hand? Every scratch and dent and piece of illiterate graffiti?

Painting. Had to be. Because this was the door to his studio. Already he could feel that familiar warm glow of an anticipation as he reached into his pocket to take out his keys.

Only to realise as he was about to do so that this was nonsense. He hadn’t painted in years. And he’d never rented a studio in his life.

And suddenly it wasn’t true. None of it.

But he couldn’t stop staring at that door, knowing for a moment that it had been true. Even as he stepped back, then reluctantly turned away, he reached up to massage the back of his scalp. A familiar stubble met his finger tips. Yet, for a second, just for a second, he’d expected to touch a ponytail.


Standing in the tram as it swayed and shook and rattled on through suburbs hidden by the evening gloom, he mulled over what had happened.

Maybe everybody had a similar experience, sooner or later. A moment when your brain, usually so reliable, running smoothly and evenly on its tracks for year after year, took an unexpected detour, or had to stop while some cow was moved off the line.



Maureen’s body was hard and unyielding when he hugged her, and her eyes didn’t meet his. They stared over his shoulder, dark and cold as a winter’s night. Some row they’d had that morning, a row he’d already largely forgotten. Rose and Bridget were great, though: scrambling up onto his lap and hugging him. Asking him how his day had been.

Rose was quiet and serious. She rarely smiled. That had bothered him at first, but she was actually a really sweet kid. A day-dreamer.

Bridget was another matter entirely. A feisty little redhead with a mind of her own. Bridget could twist him round her little finger.

His daughters. They made everything worthwhile just by being themselves.

Then he glimpsed Maureen, sitting at the end of the table, arms crossed, watching the three of them together.

Maureen had only ever been pretty at best. Ten years had eroded much of that prettiness, but sometimes – like now, her face in repose, a Spanish, almost Egyptian cast to her features – he could see what had first attracted him to her.

Of course it was more than that. Maureen could be a contrary bitch but just looking at her was enough to remind him all over again just how much she mattered to him.

Exactly how much was made clear a second later, when he saw her face thaw. The sudden warm glow which filled him, the intensity of it, nearly took his breath away.

Things were going to be OK.


Later though, lying in bed after making love to his wife, feeling safe and secure in his own house, his family asleep, Cormac rested his head on his hands and stared up at the bedroom ceiling, hidden in the darkness, and asked himself one simple question: would you go back?

And suddenly his whole body had been covered in a fine dew of perspiration at the very idea.

He exhaled slowly, reluctant to acknowledge what this actually meant: that he was scared. Scared of what might have happened. Of standing in front of that door again, of reaching into his pocket and finding the keys to a studio that didn’t exist.

To a life that didn’t exist.


Ranelagh. A week later. He’d just finished classes for the day – he was a teacher in a small girl’s school. Now he was en route to a pub in the city centre to meet some old college friends. It was a chilly but fine evening –

A teacher?

His phone rang. It sounded wrong. And when he took it out, it looked wrong. Or did it? He didn’t recognise any of the names on it, not even the name of the woman trying to contact him.

Some sixth sense stopped him answering. Even as he put the phone away with trembling hands, he saw there was practically no traffic. A strange, eerie hush hung over the city. People bustled past him, all wearing long overcoats and hats – or caps – of the same dark colour, their expressions unreadable and unfamiliar.

Why did he suddenly feel like a stranger in his own city?


He found his way back somehow, but one image still lingered in his mind; an image of the people he’d been supposed to meet. He could still see each one clearly in his mind’s eye. A bloke ten years younger then him, with a round, ruddy, cheerful face, brown eyes and a dark crew-cut: his best friend. A fat woman with blonde hair. A tall, cynical chap with a beard. Just like he could remember what his best friend always said in greeting – How’s it going, Me Bold Segosha?

Only their names eluded him.

If he’d actually turned up in that pub, he’d have known their names and their histories. He was certain of this. But that would have meant crossing a line, and maybe – the fear was as irrational as it was convincing – maybe never coming back. He wouldn’t even remember making that choice. The kids would have been completely forgotten.

Forgotten because they had never existed.


An alleyway off O’Connell Street, littered with rubbish. Steam poured out of vents. Dark, dirty walls covered in fire escapes loomed on either side of him. The air was filled with the cries of gulls and the distant murmur of traffic. His clothes were tattered and filthy. He pulled his ragged fleece closer to him, stared down at his manky shoes, and wondered, as he shuffled forward, how much longer he could survive.

He could see O’Connell Street waiting for him at the end of the alleyway, bathed in a burst of winter sunlight. Again, something struck him as not quite right: enough to make him stop in his tracks.

Yeah. The street suddenly seemed like a faded, dilapidated copy of itself, complete with battered old cars that looked as if they’d been remaindered from some 70’s detective show. Even the signage –


It happened three more times. By then he was slowly developing a theory: that the present had a past as full of possibilities as its future. A hundred different back stories, changing constantly to suit the needs of the moment – maybe with certain iterations occurring again and again, like the theme in some symphony, iterations influenced by what people wanted, or what they worried or wondered about. The city centre was a focal point. So many people, so many possibilities.

Each iteration left a faint, ghostly echo in its wake. What everybody dismissed as unfounded fears or day dreams, he suspected.

Only what made him different?

He didn’t know. He only knew that Rose, Bridget and Maureen existed in just one iteration. Remembering them had helped him find his way home on all five occasions.


He and Maureen had been students when they met, both still in their first year at art college. He couldn’t remember how it had started – a bit of banter as they queued in the canteen, he thought. Soon they were inseparable. One thing had led to another and Maureen had been pregnant before the end of the academic year.

He’d actually been dead chuffed.

Looking back on it, he realised they’d both just been kids: totally unprepared for married life and the complicated business of rearing a family. Still, they’d done their best. They’d had their fair share of ups and downs. There had been days when neither of them spoke a word to one another. Then something would happen, some unexpected moment of tenderness on his part or hers, and it would be as if they’d never argued at all.

The one thing he secretly regretted was not painting. He’d switched over to Communications after Maureen had got pregnant, which was how he’d ended up working for an advertising agency. He was a parent. He had responsibilities and he was determined to fulfil those responsibilities. Only he’d lost some vital piece of himself in the process.


The next iteration was different. If his life was a symphony within a symphony, then it was a symphony – with a few dissonant notes – dedicated to married life. Or so he’d decided. The next iteration made him wonder if he was right.

It was the iteration that had begun with him standing outside that door.


The ponytail was a mistake. He only kept it out of a vague sense of defiance. And maybe he drank more than he ought to – a bad habit, sipping from a can while he painted. Also, he was single and childless. A matter of necessity: painting didn’t really pay the bills, no matter how solid your reputation.

He loved to paint.

He learnt early on that his brushwork, something imprinted on his brain through practice and effort, was a skill that faded as soon as he rejoined Maureen and the kids. The syndrome cut both ways. For example, he couldn’t drive in this iteration, even though he could remember driving the kids to school. Go figure.

Weirder still, his choice of subject matter – why he’d chosen it – faded on his return home as well. A painting would become an indecipherable blur of browns and beiges when he tried to recall it later, out playing with Bridget and Rose in the back garden.

Because he wasn’t just single and childless in this iteration. He was friendless, too. There were no relationships to exert their own unique, magnetic pull. He could go home whenever he chose.

He could stay as long as he liked.


His specialty was still-lifes: odds and ends that he found lying in the network of cobbled streets around his studio or tossed into some skip. Sometimes he wondered if he was just being lazy: finding the right models could be problematic, paying them more problematic still.

There was more to it than that, though. He was fascinated by the paraphernalia, the detritus of the everyday. He wanted to transmute the mundane into the beautiful. His style was rough, expressionistic, and his paintings were large, especially in contrast to their subject matter.

Of course he wasn’t the first. He remembered one painter, an Irish-American he’d known, who simply picked some small, everyday object – an ashtray, a packet of cigarettes, a beer-can (!) – then painted it in isolation. Another who’d specialised in drawings of burnt-out matches.


One night he woke up sweating. He was slumped in the battered old armchair that he’d found in a skip three years earlier, with a pounding headache and half a dozen empty cans lying in the ground at his feet. Above, pigeons squabbled and flapped noisily on the studio’s one skylight.

For a while waking up had been accompanied by a momentary flicker of disorientation and panic, a sensation as cryptic as it was terrifying. Where was he? Until he caught the reassuring whiff of turps.

He’d had a dream. A nightmare. He’d been out cycling in the country. A winding road deep in the Wicklow Hills. He’d gone down a narrow, grassy cul-de-sac – not that he’d known it was a cul-de-sac until it was too late. There’d been a cottage at the end of it, a couple of sycamore trees, a patch of lawn. Behind and beyond that little garden was mountainside; its slope partially denuded of fir trees, neat rows of pink stumps replacing that familiar dark green. Two children had been playing on that lawn and a woman had been standing in the doorway. There was a battered old Peugeot parked in the driveway.

He’d known right away what that cottage and those children, the woman, meant; just by how the children rose to their feet (they’d been crouching over something; a butterfly or a frog, more than likely) and by how the woman’s head half-turned.

They’d been expecting him.

He’d been filled with terror – had turned his bicycle around as quickly as he could, then pedalled back up that hill with every ounce of energy he could muster, been careful not to look back once, reminding himself again and again of his studio back in Dublin.

Of what mattered to him.

A dream? Or something that had really happened? He wasn’t sure. These days, his memories were a confusing mixture of the genuine, the half-remembered and the wholly imaginary. He had ventured out into the country a handful of times, looking for new stuff to paint.

The funny thing was, he was sure he remembered that house. The details were blurry and uncertain, but hadn’t a friend lent it to him? Then there’d been some sort of argument – he couldn’t remember with who, or why – and he’d spent the day cycling around a network of tiny lanes, not returning until it was nearly dark.

Or had that been a dream too?


That particular morning’s haul had looked unpromising at first: a woman’s shoe with the heel broken off, a bunch of very old, rusty keys he’d found half-caught in a drain, a pacifier. Until he’d spotted the picture frame on the granite windowsill of an abandoned house. It was a tiny, ornate, gilt job, clearly intended for a photograph on some bedside table. Even battered and dirty, it still retained some of its former glory, which explained why some drunken passer-by had picked it up and left it on that windowsill in the first place.

Not worth taking home, but not worth consigning to oblivion, either.


Back in the studio he arranged the objects in a tight cluster – the keys to the forefront with the shoe to one side and the pacifier on the other, that tiny, empty frame in the background.

He already decided on a title, even before he’d finished mixing up the paints, humming softly under his breath the whole while.


He worked quietly and with complete concentration, even eschewing the beer he kept in the noisy little fridge over in the corner, until he was done.


Afterwards he headed over to Kehoes – that dingy brown interior, so like a bar you might find anywhere in the country rather than the heart of the city.

He remembered the dream just as he was sitting up at the counter, only now it seemed less like a dream and more like a memory of long ago.

He hoped it was just a dream. He really did. Otherwise…

Once those little episodes had been a lot more frequent. Over the years he’d learnt to anticipate and resist them. Because all it took was a second’s lapse in concentration, the wrong thought in the wrong place, and he was off-piste. And getting back got harder each time.

But suppose he was remembering something that had actually happened? Another one of his attacks? Then why had the woman and those two little girls been waiting for him at the end of that cul-de-sac in the first place? What had he been thinking, in order to conjure them into existence?

He took a long sip from his pint.

Did it matter?

A few hours later, staggering back in some downpour to the studio, the city lurching about him, iridescent and lovely in the rain, the dream was entirely forgotten.


Next morning. He sat in his armchair, nursing a hangover and studying the finished piece.

Weird. He’d chosen the objects at random, but they had a collective poignancy. As if they shared a common history. It was the empty gilt frame though, standing behind the other three objects, that drew his eye again and again.

Why? He wasn’t stupid. He knew any painting played on associations that already existed in the viewer’s mind. That was part of their power. Just like he knew this painting had very specific associations for him. And he couldn’t get that bloody dream out of his head.

Because there’s nothing in it, he finally decided. Nothing in it, when there should be.

He stood up, looking around at the other canvases crowding the room. A moment when you took stock. It should have felt good. He had more than enough work for another show now. So why did he feel like it was all about to slip from his grasp?

That bloody dream…..

His head throbbed. For a second Cormac the Artist swayed very slightly where he stood, then ran one hand over his hair.

It wouldn’t let him go. And he still hadn’t answered the question he’d asked himself the night before: if the dream was a dim memory of something that had actually happened – one of his little relapses – what had he been thinking about when he cycled down that cul-de-sac? And why were images shuttling through his mind now, rapidly and insistently, the woman and those two little girls in every single one?

Normally each possibility was little more than a flicker, only potent in the right set of circumstances. So what was happening to him now didn’t make any sense. He’d legged it, as was only right and proper. He couldn’t have ended up with her. The woman.

Unless –


He remembered: fading evening sunlight lancing through a cats-cradle of dark branches, the grass growing in the centre of that lane. How the potholes had punctuated the tarmacadam, making his descent a bumpy one.

He’d been imagining that house before he even saw it, but that first glimpse of his two daughters, playing out on that lawn – how the dying sun had caught Bridget’s red hair, making it look like it was on fire, Rose’s lanky frame little more than a silhouette as she stood up – had caught him completely off-guard.

Sure, he’d run away. Later, though –

Later, that glimpse had haunted him.

It was haunting him now. So what was he going to do? What was he supposed to do[_?_]


He stood staring at the locked studio doors for a long time before turning away and making his way slowly up towards Dame Street.

Art or Family: it was the sort of decision you made in the abstract. In fact, he’d done precisely that, many long years ago. But his peculiar ability to move at will from one iteration to the next had proved his undoing. Toggling between the various choices open to him had affected those selfsame choices. Changed outcomes. If he hadn’t seen his daughters in actuality, he might never have fallen in love with them. And, much as he enjoyed painting, he couldn’t abandon them now.

There was one consolation. At least – when he did get home – he wouldn’t have a hangover.

Not in the one iteration that really mattered.


Lost & Found

Short story. He was scared - scared of standing in front of that door again, of reaching into his pocket and finding the keys to a studio that didn’t exist. To a life that didn’t exist.

  • Author: Aonghus Fallon
  • Published: 2016-04-14 13:20:07
  • Words: 3432
Lost & Found Lost & Found