We're delighted to present an extract from one of the most exciting Irish literary debuts of 2017, Rory Gleeson's debut novel Rockadoon Shore (Hodder & Stoughton).
Cath is worried about her friends. DanDan is struggling with the death of his ex, Lucy is drinking way too much and Steph has become closed off. A weekend away is just what they need so they travel out to Rockadoon Lodge, to the wilds in the west of Ireland. But the weekend doesn't go to plan...
Steph never really liked taking charge, but Cath was away somewhere and there was still some stuff to do. They needed to put some kind of organisation on it. While Steph had the two of them there she may as well enlist them. Just as JJ began to spark his lighter, she spoke in a casual, breezy voice.
—Here, before you get going with that, just help us with the shopping, yeah? And open a few windows to air the place out. And get the fire going as well.
JJ grimaced and gave a childlike moan.
He put the unlit joint back behind his ear and started opening up the windows. Merc got up from the couch and saluted her.
—Yes, sir. Oh captain my captain, roger matey.
He clicked his heels and went to the fireplace. He made a big deal of positioning the firelighters in the grate, wrapping up newspapers for kindling and putting them on top, then stacking the briquettes over those. Once he had the whole thing lit, JJ walked round to him and clapped him on the shoulder.
—Man make fire. Good man. Good man, strong man make fire.
Merc lifted his T-shirt sleeve with a sooty hand and flexed his bicep.
JJ grunted and flexed his own bicep.
—Me strong man too.
Merc rose to his feet and faced JJ. They grunted and circled each other, showing their muscles and snorting. Steph laughed.
—Stop it, the two of you.
Merc smacked JJ’s face.
JJ smacked him back.
—No. Woman mine.
Steph watched them. They shouted MINE WOMAN MINE MINE before staggering into each other’s arms, wrestling in front of the fireplace. JJ managed to hook one of Merc’s legs and sprawl over him. Their shoes slipped on the tiles and Merc sent the fireguard crashing onto the floor with a wayward kick. JJ was skinny as anything, but he was wiry. He also had between three and five brothers, depending on who he wasn’t talking to, so he
was used to wrestling. Merc was stronger, much bigger and all toned and everything, but he’d grown up with sisters. JJ looked like he was beginning to get the upper hand. They were all elbows and pretend messing until JJ managed to twist around Merc and get him in a headlock from behind. Steph should step in.
—Leave him be, JJ.
JJ repeated ‘McGregor, McGregor,’ into Merc’s ear as he kept him in the headlock. He appeared to still be messing but Merc began to strain at his arm so he got a better hold of him. Merc looked like he really wasn’t in the mood to lose. He elbowed at JJ’s ribs. JJ took the blows and laughed. He held his grip as he whispered into Merc’s ear.
—Woman mine, I say. Woman mine.
JJ looked to be waiting for a witty riposte, or a cry of ‘No surrender!’ maybe. Merc said nothing. His legs shot out, looking for leverage on something. He swung for a big dig into JJ’s ribs with his elbow and caught him. JJ exhaled in pain and held Merc’s body down with his legs. He broke character.
—Here, man. No need for that. Cool it.
Merc’s hand went to JJ’s arms. He caught JJ’s flesh between his fingernails and started to squeeze. JJ wiggled his arms away.
—Chill, man. Chill.
What the hell were they doing?
—Ah here, man. No pinching.
Merc pinched harder. Steph clicked her fingers and raised her voice.
—Lads, hold off.
They were both involved now, and didn’t pay her any attention. Still keeping up the pretend play but it had turned into something more than that. Merc wasn’t going to stop, Steph could see, until he’d gotten some of his advantage back. JJ seemed like he wanted
an end to it.
—Here, stop, man. Come on, here, ah.
Merc was bright red in the face. He grunted and dug his nails in on JJ’s arm and dragged them down, scoring a crooked, jagged trail of broken white skin that oozed drops of red. JJ slowly let go of his headlock. Merc twisted out of his arms, scrambled to his feet and turned to face JJ again. JJ looked at him, rubbing his arm.
—The fuck, man? You don’t pinch. You don’t scratch.
—You don’t get someone in a fucking headlock when you’re just messing around.
—I was fucking messing till you started going mad. I’m fucking bleeding for Christ’s sake.
—Your fault, you took it way too far.
—Took it too far? ME? You were the one who—
Right, she had her opportunity. Steph got her bottle of water with the spray cap out and squirted water at the two of them. She caught both of them in the face with the jet of it. They jumped and looked over, almost having forgotten she was there.
—What are you doing?
—Stop acting the bollox and help me out here.
—JJ’s being a prick.
—Merc, are you friends with JJ? Are you? Are we friends here? Or are we not?
Steph waited for him to answer. Merc was breathing heavy, trying to make it look like he was in control of himself. JJ was wearing an offended look; pinching was obviously against the rules in a house of brothers. She spoke at them again, calmly.
—Cool down and give us a hand with the shopping. Or else they get the hose again.
JJ seemed to like the reference. His shoulders slumped, the hackles going down, his T-shirt flecked with water drops. He shrugged first.
—Fine. No one get woman.
Steph needed to make sure. She tried her best mammy voice.
—The two of you both make up.
JJ approached Merc, his body open to him. Merc looked at him warily.
—We get each other?
—Yes. JJ love Merc.
—Merc love JJ.
They hugged insincerely then separated. Steph gave them a clap. At least they went through the motions. They smacked each other’s backs then came over to the table to help. JJ looked at her.
—Right. What we do?
—Start on putting away those bags.
JJ lightened up, ready to move on. He grabbed the bags.
—Good. Man lift shopping.
Merc was brooding, though.
—I’ll have a look at the fire again.
He went over and poked at the briquettes, which were beginning to smoke. He blew on them to make them spark, then he added more newspaper, picked up the fireguard and put it back into place. He stepped back and surveyed the fire, keeping quiet. Steph watched him feel his left bicep with his right hand. He flexed the muscle and tested how strong it was, how much he could poke it, almost as if he didn’t even notice he was doing it. He was starting to do neck stretches when Cath’s voice came calling down from upstairs.
—The fuck is going on down there?
Steph shouted up.
—Nothing, Cath, all sorted.
Rockadoon Shore (published by Hodder & Stoughton) is available now.