"The drb sustains a level of commentary on Irish and international matters that no other journal in Ireland and few elsewhere can reach. It deserves all the support that can be given it." X
Space to Think, a new book celebrating ten years of the Dublin Review of Books More Information 

City of Dis

David Butler
New Island Books


The circles of hell are the circles we make for ourselves. The acquaintances. The routes daily walked. The routines. The rings left by coffee cups. I'll describe my room. It's quite large, large enough for my requirements in any case. But it's misshapen, a poorly thought-out rectangle. From the doorway one can imagine this imprecision is a simple trick of perspective. Not so. I've had no shortage of opportunity to pace it out. The foot of the room is almost a full "ace wider than the head.

To the left-hand side there's a single bed with a wrought-iron frame. Above it is a diminutive window, though I tend to keep the blind pulled, even during the day. The point is, the window looks directly at another window across the back lane. At some juncture the window opposite was whitewashed on the inside. This glaucoma induces an altogether unpleasant feeling; no more than three or four yards separate my room from its eternally blank scrutiny. Besides, my window won't open. I don't mean that it refuses to open, that its hinges have become stiff, over time. What I mean is, there's no hinge. The pane was never intended to be opened.

The bed beneath it is quite the antique. Its joints groan and rattle at the slightest change in distribution. But it's moderately serviceable. My landlady changes the sheets every month, and even provides extra blankets in winter. In this season, sporadic heat emanates from the bulk of an ancient radiator whose intestinal pipes tick throughout the night. But the bedside table is so small and low as to appear a child's toy. There's scarcely room for both notebook and bottle on its surface. Can it be trusted to take the typewriter I've long intended to buy so that all this can be finished? When my notes are in order. Sometimes, when the mocking humour is on me, I see a parody of my pretensions in this midget's bedside table.

The only decoration on the walls is a black-framed mirror that hangs above the wash-hand basin. I've no use for pictures. If I were to decorate the walls, I'd undoubtedly cut some images from the newspaper. Perhaps some advertisements, or topical cartoons. But the landlady wouldn't approve of such levity. It's true there's a single nail protruding from the wall above the bed. At night, a shadow that stretches beneath it makes its presence more apparent. Sometimes I imagine that a previous tenant was a priest; that this nail used to support a crucifix. But I'm probably mistaken. It's more likely that somebody's photograph, a loved one, as they say, once looked out from the empty space above the bed.

From the ceiling there hangs a single, naked light bulb. Like an inquisitor's eye, this light bulb sees everything in the room. You might say it's the room's presiding deity. Once, I tried to cover it with coloured paper to give the place a more festive atmosphere. But the shadows it threw about the walls were clumsy, and what's more, I was no longer able to depend upon its light to shave by.