By Alan Glynn
It had been windy all day and Dr. Martin Welles had a headache. He worked in the Amcan Building on Dame St. and whenever it was windy like this a sharp whistling sound seemed to get trapped in the vicinity of his office on the eighth floor. It would rattle around for a while in the reception area and then cut suddenly through his office and, it seemed, his skull.
The Amcan building had been thrown up in the early seventies. Notoriously, it had a few structural flaws and its concrete exterior was now grey and streaked. The elevator cars were noisy, as well, and always moved just that bit too fast for comfort. In dreams, Dr. Welles often found himself trapped inside one of them, strips of the interior metallic casing breaking off to expose wires and pulleys, the whole thing hurtling downwards at a terrifying speed.
Fifty-three years old, Dr Welles was the director of a small manufacturing company. He’d always done well, but the arrival of digital technology had caused a revolution in the manufacturing process. This was something that Dr Welles had more or less ignored, with the result that his competitors were now moving in on the company’s established client base.
If he’d been younger, he told himself – and tried to tell his bank manager – he probably would have risen to the challenge of the new technology.
But these days . . . he had other things on his mind.
Dr. Welles arrived home just after six thirty. His wife, Imelda, was in the kitchen chopping green chilli peppers and sipping neat gin. His seventeen-year-old daughter, Celine, was also in the kitchen. She was leaning against the sink and looking sullen. Some kind of a scene was in progress.
Dr. Welles stood in the doorway.
“We don’t know where you’ll be, what you’ll be doing, who you’ll be with,” Imelda Welles was saying to the rhythm of her chopping, “it’s just out of the question, you’re only seventeen.“
Sharp intake of breath from Celine at this.
“And it’s not you I don’t trust,“ Imelda was saying, as she gently placed the knife on the chopping board and turned to face her daughter, “it’s human nature.”
“Human nature, oh give me a break Mum, would you?”
“You’re so pathetic you wouldn’t know human nature if it came up and bit you in the ass. It’s an art history trip for God’s sake, cathedrals, villas, Roman amphitheatres. If I was looking for a chance to hop in the sack with some frightful boy, I’d hardly have to travel to Italy to do it, now would I?”
“What do you mean by that?”
“What do you mean by that comment, young lady?”
“Nothing.” She folded her arms defiantly. Then, “What do you think I meant?”
Imelda picked up the knife again. “That you’ve slept with boys?
“Well, I wouldn’t exactly say slept with.”
Turning to address her husband – as though he’d been there all the time, participating – Imelda said, “Martin, she’s saying she’s slept with boys.”
Dr. Welles looked at the kitchen knife in his wife’s hand. He looked over at his daughter.
He cleared his throat.
Then he turned and left.
Dr. Welles opened the bathroom door.
His nineteen-year-old son, Desmond, was sitting on the edge of the bath, rolling up the right sleeve of his shirt. Dr. Welles looked over at the window-sill and saw a teaspoon, a vial and various small objects he couldn’t identify.
Desmond looked up slowly.
Their eyes met.
Desmond said, “Be out in a minute, Dad.”
Dr. Welles closed the door and walked across the landing to his bedroom.
Downstairs in the living room, after dinner, Dr. Welles sat reading the newspaper.
His headache hadn’t abated and he was trying to massage his left temple with one hand while holding the newspaper up with the other, but the pages kept flopping foward.
Celine had gone out, Desmond was up in his room and Imelda was sitting opposite him, watching a documentary on Channel 4.
Dr. Welles did his best to focus on the article, which was about the Middle East, but as usual he found it almost impossible to concentrate. He didn’t read newspapers anymore he thought, so much as just look at them – the headlines, the photographs, the endless blocks of print.
Sensing movement on the other side of the paper, he remained still, and waited.
Suddenly, there was a loud sound, but he realised straightaway what it was – Imelda dropping the remote control onto the glass coffee table that lay between the two armchairs.
He rustled the newspaper in response and said, “G’night.”
After about a minute, when he heard footsteps upstairs, he lowered the newspaper and sat staring out across the room.
Dr. Welles felt as if his head, and more specifically his eyeballs, were about to explode.
Outside the wind was still howling.
Dr. Welles channel surfed for a while – there was ice-skating on, a cop show, a panel discussion, troops running along a shelled-out city street, a movie with subtitles – but he couldn’t settle on anything and eventually fell into a light doze. When he awoke some time later, the newspaper had fallen from his lap onto the carpet and the remote control had disappeared.
He stared vacantly at the TV screen. A news bulletin was just beginning. The headlines covered the usual stories – a further set-back in the Middle East peace process, latest unemployment figures, counter-accusations in the sub-committee appointments row – and then, “finally, in a development that is baffling scholars and archeologists all over the world, there has been a significant discovery of Roman ruins near the village of Roundstone in Connemara, County Galway.”
Dr. Welles sat upright in the armchair.
That couldn’t be right.
As the bulletin plodded its way through the first few stories, Dr. Welles stared in disbelief at the screen. It had to be a mistake. The Romans hadn’t settled in Ireland. It was too cold – they’d called it Hibernia, hadn’t they? Winterland. And they’d been afraid of going too far west, as well.
In case they fell off the edge of the world.
Wasn’t that it? Wasn’t that the official line – they were afraid they’d fall off the edge of the world? Maybe they had come over on reconnaissance trips, sure, but that would have been to the east coast.
Connemara? That made no sense at all.
Dr. Welles sat motionless, waiting. Finally, after a commercial break, the bulletin resumed and they turned to the Roman ruins story.
On a site where a new house was being built, about a mile and a half outside Roundstone village in Connemara, workers had found several pieces of unusual looking pottery. Archeologists subsequently identified the pieces as Roman and on further investigation a wealth of other items was uncovered. This led to a full-scale archeological dig and the dawning realisation that some enormous structure lay hidden beneath the rugged Connemara landscape – nothing less, it would soon transpire, than a first century amphitheatre, and one on the scale of the Arena of Verona, if not, indeed, even larger.
They cut to footage of the site and at first all that could be seen were large diggers and mounds of earth and rock, but during the commentary the camera panned around to reveal the edge of a wide crater, and then, deep inside the crater, as though it were hewn from the earth, an enormous curved section of what was presumably the outer ring of the stone amphitheatre. What they had dug out so far, an awesome sight, was about 115 feet high, with two tiers each comprising eight arches supported by nine pilasters.
An interview with an archeologist was then conducted on the edge of the crater. The dug-out section of amphitheatre could be seen in the background, as could, in the distance, creating a spectacular contrast, a section of the Twelve Pins mountain chain. The archeologist, a bearded man in his fifties, embarked on a description of the structure’s probable lay-out and then of its composition, types of stone that had been used and so forth. Since much of this was technical, with terms in Latin, the interviewer interrupted the archeologist and asked him to explain what it all meant in layman’s terms.
“Well, frankly, it means a radical re-examination of our most dearly held assumptions. I mean, everything is up for grabs now. The Romans in Connemara?”
Another archeologist, who spoke at a press conference hastily convened in a Clifden hotel, speculated that there was a great deal more to be uncovered. He said it was highly unlikely that the Romans would have constructed an amphitheatre of such dimensions in ‘splendid isolation’ and he hinted at the possibility of finding, perhaps – who knew? – an entire city.
Dr. Welles was stunned.
But as the bulletin concluded, he was unable to understand why RTE wasn’t staying with the story, and also why it had been their last story, tagged on at the end of the bulletin like some human-interest tidbit. When an episode of CSI came on next, he almost shouted at the screen in exasperation.
After about half an hour, Dr. Welles rummaged around for the remote control, flicked off the TV and stood up to go to bed. He was physically tired, but his mind was racing.
He also realised that his headache had lifted.
On his way into work in the car the following morning, Dr. Welles was surprised to find that Morning Ireland made no mention of the archeological discovery in Connemara. Their main story was about the sub-committee appointments row. An opposition spokesman had called for an independent inquiry and the presenter was now questioning his motives. But surely, Dr. Welles thought, compared to the magnitude of what was happening in the west this petty wrangling over job appointments was nothing more than a joke.
In the elevator, he was further surprised to see that the Irish Times made no mention of the story either, at least not on its front page. It would have been reasonable, he thought, to expect a full-colour photograph of the exposed section of the amphitheatre and a banner headline announcing the discovery, but again there was nothing.
He grabbed all of the other newspapers from the low glass table in the reception area and took them into his office. When his secretary appeared with a cup of coffee a few minutes later, he looked up from one of the papers. “Sarah,” he said, “did you see that thing on the news last night about the Roman amphitheatre they’ve discovered in Connemara?”
“Sorry, Dr. Welles, the what?”
They were interrupted at that point by a telephone ringing in the outer office. Sarah put his coffee on the desk, turned and went to answer it. As she was leaving, she said, “I didn’t see any TV last night, Dr. Welles, I was out with my boyfriend.”
A while later, the company’s financial director, Tony McCarthy, came into the office with news of yet another contract cancellation.
Sighing audibly, he took a seat in front of Dr. Welles’s desk and proceeded to describe the phone call he’d just had from a Norwegian client who regretted the decision to cancel but felt forced into it because of crippling price differentials. “And that’s hard to argue with, Martin.”
He paused before adding that things couldn’t go on as they were. Their production plant was becoming a liability, he said, and the company was haemorrhaging accounts. Something drastic had to be done.
When McCarthy was finished, Dr. Welles looked him directly in the eye and said, “Did you see that thing on the news last night about the Roman amphitheatre?”
“On the news last night, the story about the Roman amphitheatre they’ve dug up outside Roundstone. Did you see it?”
McCarthy was puzzled. He didn’t understand, he said.
Dr. Welles explained.
McCarthy leaned forward, exasperated. “Martin, have you not been listening to me? We’re going down the tubes.”
“There’s nothing about it in the papers,” Dr. Welles said quietly, almost to himself, “no one seems to have seen it.”
“I saw it. I know I saw it.”
“Martin, we’re talking about a meltdown here. Liquidators, bankruptcy . . .”
“It was on RTE 1.”
“. . . in a matter of months.”
“On the news. Are you sure you didn’t see it?”
McCarthy banged his fist on the desk. Dr. Welles looked up.
“Martin, people’s jobs are at stake here.” He raised his voice. “My job is at stake! Your job is at stake. Think of Imelda and the kids.”
Sarah appeared at the door. “Dr. Welles, is everything alright?”
“Doctor Welles,” McCarthy said with sudden contempt. “Doctor. That’s a laugh.”
He stood up.
Dr. Welles looked at the papers on his desk.
His title had found its way onto his business cards many years before by way of a practical joke, but because of the expense involved at the time he hadn’t done anything about it, so the title had stuck and become a part of his identity. It was phoney and he knew it, but this was the first time he’d ever been called on it.
“It’s a doctor you need,” McCarthy shouted and then stormed out.
Sarah stood for a moment in silence and then asked, “What did Mr. McCarthy mean by that? Do you need a doctor?”
Dr. Welles mumbled something and waved her out of his office.
On his way home, Dr. Welles decided that Tony McCarthy had to go. The company needed to downsize, and where better to start than middle management? He’d give Sarah her notice as well. Staff reductions would do the trick.
Dr. Welles felt slightly better as he pulled into the driveway of his house in Stillorgan, but there was still a doubt in the back of his mind about the news item on TV the night before. Had he imagined it?
Dr. Welles ate his dinner at the kitchen table, in silence. Imelda stood around for a while, smoking, but then went into the living room to watch Coronation Street. Celine was outside in the hall – sobbing, apparently, into the phone.
Dr. Welles hadn’t seen his son since the previous evening.
Dr. Welles closed his newspaper, folded it quickly and reached out for the remote control. He switched it to RTE 1.
The news had already started.
They were running a report that showed a wind-blown street in a modern city, New York perhaps, or Chicago. There were abandoned cars. People were bent over double and sidewalk trees were blown back so much they seemed ready to snap at any moment. The film had a hand-held quality to it, like an amateur video.
Suddenly, there was a deep rumbling sound and a tremor which made everything in the picture shake. Then on the left, between two older, much smaller buildings, an enormous skyscraper – at least eighty storeys of steel and glass – began to totter and slowly keel forward. The person operating the camera was quite far back and managed to keep the entire monlithic structure in frame as its upper half buckled and came undone. The two sections of the building then separated, sliding apart from each other, and started falling forward at different angles. There were more rumbling sounds as they crashed down together. In a matter of seconds the whole thing was over.
Billowing clouds of dust rose up to fill the picture, and after a brief pause a voice in the background was heard to utter “Holy Shit!”
This was followed by a circling aerial shot from a helicopter showing a gigantic gash of rubble and dust and half-demolished buildings rudely cut into the city grid. “This is a scene of utter devastation,” a reporter began. “Hundreds lie dead, hundreds lie injured, and hundreds more lie trapped in the wreckage.”
Dr. Welles watched the report in horrified silence. But then, abruptly, the report was cut off and the newscaster was back on screen. “Proposed new tax legislation has come up against stiff opposition in the Dail, but the Minister for Finance has warned that radical reform is the only . . .”
Dr. Welles stared at the TV for a while, re-running in his mind the pictures he’d just seen. Then he flicked off the TV and stood up. He threw the remote control back onto the armchair and went out into the hall. He picked up the phone and punched out a number.
“Gerry? Martin here.”
Gerry was Imelda’s brother.
“How are you?”
“Grand. Listen, Gerry, were you watching the news just there?”
“What did you think of that?”
There was a pause.
“Of what, Martin?”
There was another pause, longer this time.
“That thing, the building.”
“What thing? What building?”
Dr. Welles hung up.
The next morning in his office, Dr. Welles combed the papers, but again found no reference to what he had seen on TV the previous evening.
He phoned the television station itself and was put directly through to the newsroom. He described the report and demanded more information on it, but he was told that no such report had been broadcast.
Dr. Welles got off the phone as quickly as he could.
For the rest of the day, he remained in his office and refused to take any calls.
Dr. Welles didn’t read the paper that evening, but watched TV with Imelda, manoeuvring it so that they were tuned to RTE 1 for the start of the news. Imelda seemed unusually fidgety, but he thought it better not to say anything. Then, just as the newscaster was announcing the headlines, she started all at a rush into something about their son, Desmond.
Dr. Welles tried to listen but he was also straining to catch the headlines. There was something about the Middle East, faction-fighting, and then . . . what? Desmond had been arrested? After that he thought he heard something about the Russian economy, but he wasn’t sure. Possession of heroin? In a bar? Half a percentage point? What was that? The Bundesbank? Interest rates?
Imelda got up and threw the remote control down onto the glass table. It smashed open and chipped the edge of the table. The batteries fell out and rolled onto the carpet. He looked up at her. She seemed to have tears in her eyes. What was wrong? She glared back at him and then left the room.
Dr. Welles spent the next few minutes retrieving the batteries – one of which had got itself into a very awkward position under the armchair. Then he spent a while putting the remote control panel together again. When he finally turned his attention back to the news, they were finishing the story about the interest rate hike.
“And stories still to come: the EU summit in Madrid, we’ll have a special report. A chemical plant opens in Cork creating a hundred and fifty new jobs. And in the United States, disgraced former president, John F. Kennedy, dies at the age of 81. For these stories and more, join us after the break.”
Dr. Welles didn’t flinch. He sat through the ads, through the EU summit report and the Cork story. He was aware of his heart beating slightly faster than normal. And then suddenly, there on the screen, he was looking at a photograph of an old man, but one who bore the familiar chiselled features of JFK.
“Former two-term US President John Fitzgerald Kennedy has died due to complications resulting from pneumonia. The eighty-one year-old Bostonian had come a long way to restoring a somewhat tarnished reputation after his arrest in 1975 for attempting to smuggle three kilos of cocaine into Italy.“ Dr. Welles stared in disbelief at the grainy colour footage of a heavy-set and bearded fifty-eight year-old JFK being escorted by carabinieri from Rome’s Fiumicino airport. “But the shadow of scandal never really left him and in 1980 there were allegations that he had unduly influenced trade negotiations involving the State Department and pharmaceutical giant, Eiben-Chemcorp, on whose board he was then serving. In his later years Kennedy championed many causes, such as the environment and cancer research, and he also became a vigorous campaigner for traditional family values. To review his career now, here’s our political correspondent.”
Over the commentary they ran a montage sequence of old black-and-white footage showing familiar images from Kennedy’s first years in office – his inaugural address, Marilyn singing at his televised birthday party, with Bobby in the Oval Office, on the beach with Jackie at Hyannisport, in Berlin – but then there were images that weren’t so familiar, the second inaugural address in January ‘65, receiving the Beatles on the lawn of the White House, at Cape Canaveral for the launch of Apollo 8, horsing around in the South of France, attending Richard Nixon’s funeral in ‘73, with Ted in Saigon in ‘77, partying at Studio 54, honeymooning with Farrah Fawcett in Havana, on the Falls Road in ‘81 . . . endorsing Warren Beatty’s nomination at the 1984 Democratic Convention . . .”
Over the next few evenings the pattern was the same. Dr. Welles would get home from the office, have dinner in silence and then go and sit in front of the TV. He would watch anything in the lead up to the main evening news, quiz shows, soap operas, documentaries, sport – he didn’t care. The dark thrill of expectation overshadowed everything and created an undercurrent of tension in the room that Imelda, for one – clearly without understanding it – found unbearable.
On the third evening she stayed away. She remained in the kitchen with a fashion magazine and a glass of gin. In fact, she stayed away from then on, avoiding the TV, and her husband, altogether.
Soon after this, Dr. Welles became aware of occasional scenes in the kitchen, or out in the hall, or on the landing. Voices would be raised, doors would be slammed, and he would catch isolated phrases such as your father or twenty-five years. There would also be protracted telephone calls, accompanied by more shouting, frenzied whispering and tears.
Despite these distractions, Dr. Welles still managed to witness some fairly extraordinary events on the news. There was an earthquake in central Paris, for instance, that measured 8.6 on the Richter scale, and Pope John Paul II was assassinated live in St. Peter’s Square.
Dr. Welles eventually stopped going into the office and he cancelled any appointments he had in his diary. Later that same week Imelda moved out of the house – or, at any rate, must have done, because Dr. Welles didn’t see her around anywhere, or hear her, and he noticed when he was going to bed that night that all of her clothes had been removed from the wardrobe in their room.
Neither of his two children appeared to be living in the house anymore either.
Dr. Welles rarely left the living-room now, and managed to live on delivered pizzas, Chinese food, crisps, chocolate, coffee and soft drinks. He usually slept there, as well, pushing the two armchairs together to make a moderately comfortable bed for himself.
Days bled into nights and the only thing that counted anymore was the nine o’clock news. All Dr Welles ever thought about was what he saw on it and his mind became increasingly clogged with images that were both disturbing and shockingly realistic. At first it was only ever one item that seemed out of the ordinary, but before long this increased to two items, then three, then four, until it finally reached a point where the whole bulletin became a relentless parade of the phantasmagoric and the apocalyptic. One evening, the newsreader – a sober, middle-aged man in a grey suit – calmly introduced the following stories: “Good evening. The Headlines. A massive nuclear explosion has devastated large sections of North America. Millions die. Britain has launched airstrikes against Germany following a months-long stand-off between the two nations, and in Japan a gigantic UFO has crashed into a baseball stadium on the outskirts of Osaka, killing over two hundred spectators. Three aliens survive.”
More and more, Dr. Welles had the sickly feeling of having gorged himself. He was like a parasite, he thought, feeding off what each new day brought – disasters, calamities, bizarre twists on the familiar. He was exhausted by it all now too, drained, stupefied.
After a while, however, he allowed the idea to grow that he was in some way responsible for these events, for shaping and directing them. It occurred to him that he might have tapped into some ultimate form of remote control, and was using it to wreak havoc on humanity. This made him feel almost god-like and gave him a sense of the rawness of power, of what it was like to destroy cities, to pluck leading figures from the world’s stage, to bend at his whim the basic laws of physics.
But this didn’t last very long, and a corresponding sense of impotence and self-loathing set in as Dr. Welles came to suspect that these awful things were not actually happening. In the back of his mind, the dark notion smouldered that he was utterly alone in all of this, that he’d been conjuring up these futile and meaningless visions for his own gratification and that now – gratified, gorged – there was nothing left, nothing but his old, familiar, ineffectual self.
So one evening soon after reaching this conclusion, Dr. Welles found himself flicking off his TV set during the bulletin, in fact before the headlines had even been fully announced.
He flicked off the TV set and flung the remote control across the room, where it smashed into an antique cabinet full of tall-stemmed wine glasses.
That night Dr. Welles slept in his own bed.
The next morning he got up early and for the first time in days took a shower and shaved. He put on his last ironed shirt, his best suit and a pair of shiny black leather brogues. He went down to the kitchen and had a cup of coffee and some toast.
Just as he was about to leave the house, he picked up the kitchen knife and held it in his hand for a moment. He opened his jacket and using the knife tore a slit in the interior silk lining. He placed the knife inside.
Dr. Welles then drove into the city centre. The sun was shining and the traffic wasn’t too heavy.
He parked his car on Merrion Square and walked up towards Baggot Street. There were lots of people around and occasionally, in brushing past someone on the street, he would feel the pressure of the knife in the lining of his jacket. He wandered aimlessly for a while, stopping every now and again to look in a department store window. At one point, he was standing at the bottom of Grafton Street when he noticed a commotion to his right. It was on Nassau Street, further up a bit and on the left. It looked as if two police motorcycles had just arrived at the entrance to the Arts Block of Trinity College. He started walking in that direction and as he got closer he saw that uniformed policemen were diverting traffic and also erecting barriers to cordon off the long tunnel-like entrance that led into the university campus.
Dr. Welles wondered what the occasion was. He joined a little crowd that had formed at one of the barriers, and peered into the entranceway to the college.
The voice came from behind. Dr. Welles turned immediately and saw a large man approaching. It was Tommy Dillon, a detective-sergeant he’d known for some years. The two had first met socially through friends of Imelda’s and had always got on very well. Dillon, who was an imposing red-faced man, had great respect for Dr. Welles and always made a point of using his title.
“Dr. Welles, how are you?”
They shook hands and chatted for a few minutes. Dr. Welles found out that a state function was about to commence inside. The President, accompanied by the French Ambassador, would be arriving shortly to open an exhibition in the Douglas Hyde Gallery of new works by some internationally renowned sculptor from Paris.
Dillon was a member of the security unit. Dr. Welles noticed that he had a tiny listening device in his left ear and that as they chatted he kept looking around and monitoring the crowds.
“What do you make of this appointments thing,” he said.
The sub-committee row was apparently still going on, but Dr. Welles hadn’t been following it.
“Shocking, Tommy,” he said, gently tapping the side of his jacket, “disgraceful.”
Dillon then raised his arm discreetly, whispered into it, and turned to Dr. Welles. “Subjects will be arriving soon.”
“The President, the French Ambassador.”
“Tell me, Dr. Welles, have you ever seen the President up close?”
“I haven’t, Tommy, no.”
“Well, there’s no time like the present.”
Dillon indicated with a nod to one of the guards standing inside the barrier, who then pulled the metal frame back a little to allow Dillon and Dr. Welles to enter. There were steps down to the passageway that led into the campus. The passageway itself was low and dark, with exposed concrete walls. The Douglas Hyde Gallery was at the end on the left. The main opening to the campus was on the right. There were several security men standing around, and lining the walls were various staff members from the gallery and the college who had been allowed to stay for the reception. Dillon and Dr. Welles stood with their backs to the wall on the left.
After a moment, Dillon said, “They’re just arriving now”.
Dr. Welles looked back at the entranceway. He could sense a flurry of activity and a moment later two motorcyles and then a limousine pulled into view. Security men approached the doors of the limousine and opened them.
What happened next happened very fast.
The President and the French Ambassador approached the entranceway, descended the steps and entered the tunnel. Dr. Welles sensed something to his left and turned. Dillon was whispering into his sleeve and moving forward in unison with the ‘subjects’.
Dr. Welles felt horribly queasy all of a sudden. Then, in what seemed like slow motion, the President and the French Ambassador came level with him. He let out a roar and reached inside his jacket, tore at the lining and pulled out the knife. There was total confusion among the security men and college staff as Dr. Welles roared again, lunged forward in the semi-darkness and drove the knife into the President’s side, twisting it and shoving it up as far as he could. As he released the knife and withdrew there was shouting from every side and then three rapid gunshots. The President fell sideways onto the French Ambassdor, both of them staggering backwards for a moment and then falling onto the ground.
Security men piled around the scene now and in seconds it was like a rugby scrum. Dr. Welles stepped back – apparently unnoticed in the chaos – and leaned against the wall. As he watched the scene before him, he felt his own side, pulled his hand away and saw that it was wet with blood. For a second he wasn’t sure if it was the President’s or his own but then he felt sharp twinges of pain and realised that he had taken one of the bullets that had been fired. He closed his jacket.
Frenzied security men started herding unauthorised personnel out of the passageway. Dr. Welles found himself among this stunned group of gallery attendants and employees of the college, and in seconds he was out on the street again, blending in with the crowd who were themselves in a state of collective shock. There was a palpable air of hysteria beginning to ripple through the crowd with people, complete strangers, turning to each other and exchanging desperate looks of incomprehension.
Clutching his side Dr. Welles stumbled to the edge of the crowd, and then, hugging the college wall, he continued along Nassau Street and finally made his way over towards Merrion Square.
Soon – in the distance, from all directions – he could hear the urgent wailing of ambulance and police-car sirens.
Dr. Welles felt quite weak as he drove over Leeson Street Bridge and around onto Morehampton Road. The bleeding had got considerably worse since getting into the car and the lower part of his shirt and his left trouser leg were now soaked in blood. He was also having spasms of such intense pain that he was afraid he might lose consciousness at any second and crash the car.
The traffic was fairly light and once he got out onto the Stillorgan Dual Carriageway things seemed to improve somewhat. He felt he was floating airily through space and became almost giddy. He sustained himself with thoughts of the news bulletin he would be seeing later on, and although there hadn’t been any film crews there, at least not that he’d been aware of, he kept re-visualizing the scene in flickering, Zapruder-like images – black-and-white, irrefutable, devastating.
He pulled into the driveway of his house, slightly skew-ways, the front-left wheel mounting a rock-bordered flower-bed and crushing a row of dahlias. He turned off the engine and almost immediately felt an overpowering wave of nausea and weakness.
It was nearly dark.
Dr. Welles opened his eyes. He was still sitting in the car with his right hand on the wheel. There was blood everywhere. He could barely move a muscle.
What time was it? He must have been here for hours.
He looked at his watch.
Making a superhuman effort, Dr. Welles dragged himself out of the car and staggered towards the front door. He managed to find his key and get the door open. He went in and made straight for the living-room. He stood in the doorway, swaying, his eyes growing accustomed to the dark. The curtains were closed and the air was extremely heavy. He flicked on the lightswitch. Strewn everywhere were pizza boxes and half-empty Chinese takeaway cartons, Coke bottles, chocolate wrappers and coffee cups congealed onto various surfaces.
As Dr. Welles made his way over to retrieve the remote control from the floor near the glasses cabinet, he heard the tiny rustling and squeaking sounds of what he took to be mice. His last physical effort was to push a pizza box from the armrest of one of the armchairs and sit down, finally, in front of the TV.
His head was spinning now. He looked over at the ornamental clock on the mantelpiece. There were ten minutes to go before the news started and during this time he drifted in and out of consciousness. But as nine o’clock approached, he forced himself to stay awake. He wanted to be fully conscious when the bulletin began.
He pressed a button on the remote and the screen came to life. During the introductory jingle, Dr. Welles looked down and noticed that blood from his wound had been seeping into the carpet. There was a dark stain that was now trailing its way under the glass coffee table and out across the room.
Dr. Welles dragged his eyes back up to the screen.
“Good evening. The headlines.”
His heart was thumping.
“European finance ministers meeting in Brussels have drawn up proposals for a new exchange rate mechanism. Unemployment figures for the third quarter are down on last year’s figures, but when seasonally adjusted show a slight increase. And in sport, Irish golfer, Owen Donnelly, looks set to take this year’s British Open . . .”