Sample: That Elusive Something

Extract from Chapter One

The prison was long, low and grey, like a toppled filing cabinet. Quirke surrendered to the routine of emptying his pockets and briefcase with bored detachment. He raised his arms to the horizontal and parted his legs like a soldier at ease to allow the guard to pat him down.

“Right you are, Mr Quirke,” said the guard. “With the lifers today?”

“Yes,” said Quirke, refilling his pockets and stuffing papers back into his briefcase. “I promised Franklin he could recount his childhood to end today’s session.” He sighed.

“Rather you than me, Mr Quirke. A slippery one that Franklin and no mistake.”

“Yes. And it’s just Quirke. No mister.”

“Right you are, Mr Quirke. This way then.”

The guard turned and walked down the grey corridor. Quirke sighed again and followed.

* * *

“I remember the womb,” said Franklin. “I lay curled into a ball, like a frightened hedgehog. Occasionally I’d thrust out my elbows or legs to change position. The close confinement was a comfort. So was the darkness. And it was so dark in there. Shut your eyes tight in an unlit room at night and you’ll know what I mean.”

Quirke leaned forward in his chair, feigning interest. “Yes?” he said.

My eyes were open,” continued Franklin. “My ears too. The gurgle of her intestinal gases lulled me. The muffled, alien sounds that came from farther away alarmed me. I’d lie still until the noises went away or I’d kick and turn to exhaustion. But I was never exhausted for long. Her body succoured me. It fed and protected me. Then it betrayed me.”

“Fascinating,” lied Quirke. “Do continue.”

Franklin needed no second invitation. “I lay in my cocoon, my warm cocoon. Oh, the warmth… did I mention that? I would never want for anything if I could stay enveloped in that warmth. But things changed. Her embrace became insistently tighter, so tight that perversely I started to move. I was gradually squeezed downwards. She was trying to expel me.”

Attempting to insert a note of sincerity into his voice, Quirke urged, “Please go on.”

“As each downward squeeze receded, I fought to move upwards. I struggled with all my might, but it was useless. The tightness of my cell increased. What had once soothed me became my enemy. It gripped too securely for me to move in the direction that I wanted to go. I was a reluctant cork being extracted from a bottle. No matter how fiercely I fought to remain where I was, I was slowly but surely drawn from the only home I had known. I heard a loud pop and the fluid beneath my head flooded away. At the same time, the pressure from above intensified. I could feel my skull changing shape as it was forced through a gap which seemed too small to take it.”

“Do you really remember all that?” asked the man sitting to Franklin’s left. “I mean, being born and everything?”

Quirke frowned at the new speaker. Of course he doesn’t, you silly sod! he thought. He returned his attention to Franklin who was nodding his head earnestly.

“Yes, yes, I can remember it all as if it were only happening yesterday.”

Quirke didn’t miss the brief glance in his direction to make sure that he was getting this. You lying bastard! You lying sly bastard! He looked down at his watch. “We’ve only a couple of minutes left. There’s no point anyone else starting now. Franklin, you might as well finish.”

Franklin grinned. “Thank you, Mr Kirk.”

Quirke sighed. “It’s Quirke, Franklin, Quirke.”

“Oh, sorry, Mr Quirke, sir. Now, where was I?”

Quirke grunted. “At a guess, about halfway down your mother’s pelvis.”


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