Something so close to love – Artemis Callaghan
Contains strong language and sex, also some drug taking.
Please feel free to email me at Ceri.Lloyd@bodleian.ox.ac.uk
I always know when he’s done something. Something stupid or destructive or both. I’m surprised he’s never got himself arrested; it is only a matter of time.
Of course, I knew he’d done something stupid or destructive or both the second I walked in through the front door. He was at the kitchen table smoking a spliff with that expression on his face. It’s not as if he’s trying to appear innocent when he’s not. It’s not like that guilty look you get on the face of a dog. It’s more complicated than that. It’s as if he’s got to take the blame for something that he’s not completely responsible for doing, except there’s no one else to share that blame. Whoever it was that committed the crime has vanished and left him holding the can.
I put the tins of paint down on the kitchen floor. That’s when I noticed the second mug.
“Someone been here?”
He continued staring down at the bleached wood of my mother’s old deal table. He was scratching at a fleck of dried on emulsion, left over from where we painted the ceiling.
“That Jenna one came round. She didn’t stop long. Didn’t even finish her tea”
My stomach twisted and I dropped into the chair next to him. Jenna had been here and I’d been in bloody Homebase.
“Did she leave a message?”
He shrugged, still scratching at the paint blob with his thumb nail.
“Did she say what she wanted?”
He went off like a bottle rocket, pushing back the chair and storming out of the kitchen. As he yanked open the front door he shouted over his shoulder.
“It’s not my fucking fault”
The door slammed so hard, the glass rattled in the panes.
Five rings. Click:
Hello, this is Jenna Matthews, I’m afraid I can’t take your call right now but please leave a message after the tone.
Beep, beep, beep, beeep:
Jenna? It’s me, Ella. O god, I think Bruno’s done something stupid, or worse, he won’t say. Just that you were here. But I can tell by looking at him that he’s done something or said something. Sometimes he does that sort of thing when he’s been smoking – he thinks and does crazy things. Jenna – I hope you’re –
More than once people have asked why I put up with it, why I let him get away with it. I’ve asked myself often enough. There is a very simple answer: I love him. Whatever he does, however much of a prick he can be, I love him. And the good outweighs the bad by ratios so vast that it isn’t worth trying to calculate them.
Bruno has always been there for me, through thick and thin ever since we were kids. That sounds sentimental, I know. But I’ll give you an example:
First year at senior school. We’ve been the big kids at St. Theresa’s, had 6 or 7 years to work out who to be friends with, who to avoid, who are the nice kids and who are the complete psychos. Everything has changed. This is Ignatius Loyola and we are the runts of the litter. Especially me. At 11, I was small for my age; I probably looked more like 9 or 10. Long hair, prone to wavy, that my mother insisted on tying into plaits that in the morning would be so tight they’d make my scalp ache and my eyes water. By playtime, the natural wave would force the plaits open. I hated them. No amount of pleading could persuade my mother to let me have my hair cut short.
“You act enough like a boy as it is. Cut your hair off, how will anybody be able to tell whether you’re a boy or a girl?”
I, for one, didn’t see what was so bad about that particular idea. I’d have loved to have been taken for a boy, even a runty little boy. It was better than being a runty girl with unruly plaits.
My hair had been hard enough to cope with at St. Theresa’s, at Ignatius Loyola, it was a nightmare. I spent a lot of time trying not to be noticed, keeping my head down, but that’s not always possible.
Of course, there were girls at senior school that I knew from church. Mythical creatures, a mystery as profound as any religious rite; they were translated beyond mere girl form into that of woman. Their bodies were filling out: breasts budding within their regulation navy blue jumpers, barely concealed by the school badge of their navy blue blazers. Mine fell as flat as a boy’s, the crest and motto unbothered by puberty. Their hips rounded out their regulation grey pleated skirts, showing off their legs. Their hair was long and smooth and glossy, and they tossed it like palomino ponies. These girls knew what they were about, no mistaking.
There were three that ruled the roost: Lisa Daley, Nikki Sutherland and Maria Costello. And they held court in the girls’ toilets in A block. Every break and dinner time, they’d be in there smoking, talking about boys and making any girl not considered worthy’s life a living hell. I’d had the sense pretty early on to avoid those toilets. To be honest, that wasn’t much of a hardship. They were in desperate need of refurbishment: doors hanging on their hinges, graffiti promising sexual acts with boys long left scratched into the paint work of the cubicles. Add to that the cigarette smoke and atmosphere of barely suppressed violence, anyone would want to give it a wide berth.
It wasn’t in the A block toilets I came a cropper. It was somewhere even worse: the girls’ changing rooms. I can’t even remember why I was there; it couldn’t have been for Games because the room was full of 5th years, one of whom was familiar. Maria Costello. I knew her from St. Al’s, and as if by some malign magic, my eyes were drawn to her at the very moment the towel slid from her body, granting me the briefest glimpse of roseate nipple, of a tuft of golden hair. A brief but illuminating moment. One quickly to be shattered, as I was committing that most heinous of school crimes: looking at another girl in the changing rooms. My eyes had skimmed up to Maria Costello’s face and saw that it was contorted with fury.
“What the fuck do you think you’re looking at?”
O god. That had well and truly torn it. The girl next to her, who I’d later learn was Lisa Daley, turned and glared at me.
“You some sort of lez?”
I didn’t know. It was a concept I was unaware of at 11, although after that morning it was one I thought about a great deal. As it was, I didn’t hang around to answer her but bolted, the sound of jeering only diminishing as I scuttled off past the sports hall.
Did I imagine I’d get away with it? If I did, it was very naïve of me. Vengeance, when it came, was swift and brutal. Lunchtime I was minding my own business in a quiet part of the playground when out of nowhere I was grabbed and bundled into the girls’ toilets. Pinned up against the sinks, I knew there was no way I could get past these three girls who towered over me. All I could do was beg that the BVM would intercede on my behalf and that when they hit me, God would make sure it wasn’t too hard. Maria Costello was jabbing me in the chest and shouting at me, the words a little unclear, but I did catch “fuck” and “dirty” and “lez” quite a lot. A verbal beating I could cope with, I told myself. What was it my mother always said? Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me. Keep quiet, Ella, and it might be over well before the bell goes for afternoon classes. I had French; I really didn’t want to be late for that.
“Urgh, look at her hair. It’s disgusting”
This was the third girl, Nikki Sutherland. Nikki Sutherland was the prettiest of the three, a fact she was well aware of. She knew full well that all the boys fancied her but she wouldn’t bother with anything that wasn’t sixth form or above. In fact, she had her sights set on Mr. Formby, the music teacher; by the end of that year both of them would’ve left the school in a cloud of scandal, her with a tell-tale bump in her grey pleated skirt, him only just managing to not break the law. But that was to come. If Mr. Formby’s foetus was nestling in Nikki Sutherland’s womb it wasn’t obvious. Unlike the sneer that was curdling her face.
“Yeah, God, it’s like no one ever invented conditioner or nothing”
That was Lisa Daley. I was beginning to think that if that was the worst they could come up with then I would be fine. But I’d not counted on Maria Costello.
“The lez needs her hair straightening”
And with that, she grabbed hold of both plaits and pulled them. I yelped with the sudden pain and was praying Don’t let her hit me, don’t let her hit me. The other two were laughing now and that just encouraged Maria Costello. She was scouting around for something to do, fist still gripping my hair. Nikki Sutherland piped up.
“Need heat for straightening, Mar”
Lisa Daley was pointing at a hot water pipe that ran along the top of the sinks. That was it. The three of them hauled me up so that was standing in one of the sinks, and then Maria Costello forced one plait down behind the pipe before tying it tightly to the other. Nikki Sutherland and Lisa Daley were sniggering and clapping, Maria Costello gave a little bow and jumped back down onto the floor.
“That should straighten you out, lez”
Laughing their heads off, they left me to it.
I wouldn’t cry. No, I would definitely not cry because they are bound to come back in any second now and if I am in tears, I will never hear the last of it. Eventually, they’ll come back and let me down.
Now time is a very fluid concept: there are times it races by and other times it drags its feet. Let me tell you, standing in that sink, tied to a hot water pipe by my hair, it stood still. Three minutes felt like a forever. This is hell, I thought, and it was nothing like the priests had promised me. Hell was not the Devil and all his imps and demons with their pitchforks and scalding hell-fire. Hell was the A block girls’ toilet when you are meant to be in French with a detention crazy teacher, the Devil and his imps were three 5th year girls who’d take it into their heads to torment you even though you’d done nothing. It wasn’t like I’d meant to look at Maria Costello’s breasts, her pussy, it had been an accident; a sick twist of fate. A moment of madness punished for eternity. Even though I tried to fight them, tears started to dribble out of my eyes.
I winced when the door burst open, which only served to pull my hair tighter. I howled and started to cry in earnest, and so was momentarily unaware of who it was that had come in until they jumped up beside me.
“Bloody hell, Ella, what have they done?”
I have never been as pleased to see anyone as I was to see Bruno at the moment. I was laughing and crying at the same time, snot and tears pouring down my face. Bruno was trying to un-knot my hair, but it was impossible. The more he tried to pull, the more intense the agony of it and I was yelping and yowling like a tortured puppy.
“God, Ell, I’m going to have to cut it. I can’t see how else I’m going to do it”
“I don’t care. Just get me down. If I’m late for French - ”
“The bell’s already gone, you’re already late”
That set the tears off again. Bruno tried one more time to undo the knot but gave up. From somewhere in his regulation pockets he pulled out a distinctly against regulation penknife. He saw me staring at it with horror.
“Don’t worry, I keep it very sharp”
I stood as if frozen as Bruno slipped the knife between the pipe and my hair, sawing at the plait, the loose hair cascading down onto the cracked white porcelain and the toes of my shoes. Eventually, the plait came away in his hand, and gently, he threaded it back through the pipe until I had one long plait that dangled down past my knee.
When we were both back on the floor, he looked at me and frowned.
“We can’t keep it like that, I’d better do the other one too”
“Mum’s gonna go ballistic”
Mum wasn’t the only one. Straight out of the door, straight into Miss Jamieson, my form tutor. She scowled at me, and then at Bruno.
“Why aren’t you two in class?”
The scowl deepened.
“What were you doing in the girls’ toilets, boy?”
Bruno was still holding the double length plait in his hand. She went crazy.
“What in the name of God have you done, you unspeakable little brute?”
Just as Miss Jamieson was reaching for the front of Bruno’s jumper, the palm of her hand ready to flash out at him, I threw myself in between woman and boy, even though I was a good six inches shorter than both of them.
“No, no Miss Jamieson, it wasn’t Bruno. He came and rescued me, honest. It was someone else, some girls”
Miss Jamieson looked unconvinced. I took her into the toilets, Bruno hovering by the door, not wanting to come in but too afraid to run away. I showed Miss Jamieson where my hair was in the sink, pointed out the hot water pipe to her, told her that Bruno had had to cut my plaits off to set me free. He was my cousin after all, I told her, why would he want to bully me at school when he could do it at home?
“Who did do it then?”
That was when I became evasive. I’ve never been very good at lying and at that age I was hopeless. The fear of eternal damnation was still enough to keep me in line, and I was a regular at Confession. However, self preservation is a powerful instinct.
“I don’t know who they were, Miss Jamieson”
“Can’t you at least give me a description?”
“I’m sorry, Miss, all the older girls look the same to me. I didn’t really get to see their faces”
As predicted, my mother did go ballistic. She marched up to the school with me in tow, but I couldn’t or wouldn’t give names so there was nothing the school or my mother could do about it.
Bruno, on the other hand was not so constricted. He knew full well who had done it. He saw the three of them laughing about it up on the playing field one lunch time and flipped out. If puberty was still a distant dream for me at 11, at just turned 12, it had come early for Bruno. He was already as big as a 15 year old and strong with it. Before Maria Costello knew where she was she was flat on her back with Bruno sitting on her chest punching her in the face. The other two were screaming and trying to yank Bruno off her, but he swatted them away like flies. It took Mr. Formby to finally pull him off and forcibly restrain him.
He was excluded for a week; it would’ve been three days but he refused to apologise to Maria Costello. He didn’t care, he told me, it had been worth it. Maria Costello never lived down the fact she’d been beaten up by a first year, even if it was a first year built like a brick shithouse. All three stayed away from me. In fact, any potential bullies steered well clear when they realised I was Bruno Raminski’s cousin. Bruno became something of a hero; it wasn’t every day the deserving got a smacking.
To be honest with you, I came out of the whole incident quite well myself: I proved to everyone I wasn’t a grass, and best of all, I got rid of those dreadful plaits. Mum may have despaired when she first saw the hack job Bruno had done, but once we were in the hairdressers, she relented and said that actually, shorter hair suited me better. It softened my face.
You see, thick and thin.
There was something else I got from that day, something that I kept secret and close and didn’t let on to anyone else. I had a picture of a pink nipple hardening as cold air hit wet skin; I had a picture of water droplets clinging to a mound of wiry, golden hair. I lay in bed, running my fingers through my newly cut hair and held that moment in freeze frame.
“Jesus, I am never gonna get laid if I carry on hanging out with you”
Bruno and I had pushed our way through to a busy bar, I was leaning over to try and attract the attention of the girl pulling a pint. She indicated that she’d seen me and then gave me the once over and smiled to let me know she’d seen me. Bruno tutted. Still leaning over the bar, I turned to face him.
“No one made you come”
“There’s got to be something wrong if my female cousin is getting more pussy than I am. Jesus, you’re even getting the straight ones”
“How many times do I have to tell you she’s not straight? I’m not sure what she is, but whatever it is, it’s not straight”
“And I keep telling you, she’s just playing at it. She’s got a taste for cock, she’ll be back for it”
The woman standing next to Bruno glared at him.
“He doesn’t mean it” I told her.
“Yes I do. She’s just playing at liking pussy, really she’s mad for cock”
The woman sneered at him.
“No wonder you can’t laid”
I burst out laughing. Bruno looked genuinely aggrieved.
“O come on, cheer up, monkey face”
“What can I get yous two, then?”
The girl bartender was young, a student probably, with bleached blonde hair and a Northern Irish accent. She had braced herself against the counter and was seriously checking me out. Bruno was scowling, I was beginning to wish that I’d come without him; he was proving to be a potential damp squib on what could be quite an interesting night. I gave the girl a smile.
“A pint of lager for me and a bottle of milk for the baby here”
“What she means is two pints of Stella, please, love. And I can give you her telephone number if you like, but she’s a really crap shag. The evening is still young, you’re a pretty girl, you can do better”
The girl laughed, and went off to pull us two pints of Stella.
“Thanks a lot”
“Well, how many fucking women do you need?”
Annie was sitting at a table on her own, up at the back, reading something. Glad as I was to see her that particular night, anything that helped dilute Bruno in this mood I was glad of, I wasn’t sure how I felt about Annie being back in my life. I’d spent so long avoiding her, I was out of the habit of seeking her out. I stood awkwardly by the table.
“Is it alright if we join you?”
Annie looked startled to see me for a moment, I’d surprised her out of her book I guessed. But it soon passed and she smiled.
“Of course you can. Hello Bruno”
“You alright, Bru?”
“He’s in a filthy mood. Don’t suppose you know anyone prepared to suck him off, put him out of his misery?”
“Well, there’s my friend Andrea, she’s not too fussy”
“Yeah, yeah. Very funny. I don’t know where everyone gets this idea that lezzers haven’t got a sense of humour cos you two are fucking hysterical”
My good mood was rapidly evaporating. It wasn’t just Bruno; maybe it was me being paranoid, but Annie seemed distant. She wasn’t unfriendly but she seemed some how distracted, like her mind was somewhere else, on something else. Maybe it was to do with her exhibition; it was a really big deal for her, her first solo show. About bloody time they woke up and realised what a talent she was, I’d told her. She did smile but it wasn’t her usual big smile but something smaller, something sadder.
“I’ll get some more drinks. Same again, Annie?”
The blonde girl made sure she served me.
“Hope you don’t mind me saying, but your friends don’t look like they’re having much of a good time”
I glanced over at them. Bruno was scraping at the table with his thumb nail and Annie was staring into her glass, neither seemed inclined to talk to each other. I sighed.
“No, they don’t, do they? I know he’s got a right cob on and should have stayed at home, but I don’t know what’s up with her”
She handed me two pints, and turned to pour Annie’s vodka from the optics. When she reached up, her vest top lifted a little, exposing a Celtic knot tattoo that snaked up from the small of her back.
“I’ve not seen you in here before”
She turned round with the shot, picked up a bottle of orange, shaking it.
“You’d remember, right?”
“I started a couple of weeks ago. Yous’ve not been in, have you?”
“I thought not, I’d have remembered you”
She popped the top off the bottle and poured the mixer into the glass.
“I’m that distinctive am I?”
She raised an eyebrow, taking the £10 note out of my hand.
I took the drinks over to the others. Bruno grunted and went back to running his thumb nail up and down a groove in the table. Annie took her drink and said thank you but then regarded me for what felt like an age. Annie has a way of looking at you, and it doesn’t matter how many barriers you put up, she gets through all of them. She has diamond eyes, sharp and clear, they can cut through anything.
“What’s the matter?”
She shook her head and didn’t say anything.
Bruno suddenly stood up
“I’m off. Before you say it, I know I’m a morose bastard. Jesus, if I was a chick I could blame PMT. So put it down to that, I’ve got PMT and I’m fucking off home. Annie, always great to see you. Monkey face, I’ll call you in the morning. Tell that cute barmaid sorry I was a cunt”
That left me with Annie and we sat in a rather uncomfortable silence. With nothing else to do, I found I was watching the blonde girl as she worked the bar. She sang of controlled energy, every movement precise, nothing wasted. This girl could go on all night; a thought that made me feel flustered. At one point, she caught me looking and winked at me.
“I thought you were in love”
That brought me back down to earth.
“I never said that”
“Really? Last time we spoke on the subject I remember you being quite cut up about Jenna”
Anger flared up in me.
“I don’t see Jenna bothering about me, do you? It’s not as if she’s even bothered to phone me or anything. Fuck, it’s not even as if she’s not out there now shagging someone else”
Annie’s gaze dropped to the table.
“I was only saying - ”
“You were only saying? Annie, you gave up the right to have an opinion on my life the day you decided that you could do better than me”
Red flooded her face.
“You’re absolutely right; I shouldn’t have said anything”
The anger in me faded as quickly as it had come, leaving me empty and sick feeling.
“I didn’t mean it”
“No, you did. And it’s true. I was stupid and I am sorrier than you can know but that doesn’t make any difference when it comes down to it. I just – I just don’t want you to get hurt, Ella, that’s all. I just - ”
I jabbed my finger into the groove Bruno had been working, I could see where he’d picked off the dark varnish, could see the pale wood underneath.
“If Jenna cared, wouldn’t she call me at least? It’s as if she’s fallen off the planet. Or worse: she decided I wasn’t worth it”
“Now she would be stupid if she’d done that”
I took a sip of my drink.
“I’m pretty sure that blonde girl wants me, you know, and that feels good. I could take her home tonight and fuck her and tomorrow I wouldn’t care if she was going back to her girlfriend. Or her boyfriend. All I want is a little uncomplicated sex”
“Is there such a thing?”
“It seems uncomplicated for Jenna. It’s everyone else who ends up with messy feelings. She just carries on like a hurricane, regardless of the devastation she leaves behind. That blonde girl, she’s young, she’s pretty and she’s interested. Is there anything wrong with wanting some of that?”
Annie gave a sad laugh and a half smile.
“I can’t take the moral high ground with you, Ell; that would be beyond hypocritical. Just take care, honey”
With that, she leant over and kissed me on the cheek.
“Your friends all abandoned you then?”
The blonde girl took the empty glasses from me.
“It would seem that way”
“You’re not shooting off yourself are you?”
“Depends if there’s anything worth staying for”
“O really is that so? How about if I tell you I’m just having my break? Would that make you stay?”
“If you buy me a drink”
“I was thinking more you could buy me one”
“O go on then, you’ve twisted my arm”
She had a Jack Daniels, straight up, lots of ice. We sat at the bar and I watched as she let the ice swim in the rich caramel liquid. The Stella was cold, clean, sharp on my tongue and down my throat.
“Looks like you’re enjoying that”
“Do you ever get times when lager tastes like the best thing in the world?”
“Never. Sure, it’s filthy stuff. Tastes of chemicals and gas”
“Well, some times I’ll take the first sip of a pint and, god, it’s fantastic, and then I know I’m going to get the taste for it and every pint will be as good, whether I have two or five”
“And then you end up getting stocious and some poor wee sod has to take you home?”
“Something like that”
“I think I’ll stick to the Jack if it’s all the same”
“I have nothing against spirits”
“I’m glad to hear it”
She rested her forearms on the bar, another tattoo, this time a band, twisted round her wrist, like a bracelet. The unwanted image of a telephone number moving along a thigh stabbed at me. Another mouthful of lager suppressed it.
“Bruno said to say he was sorry he was a cunt”
“Bruno? Is that his name? That’s cute, and it kind of suits him. I’d not say he was a cunt, I thought he was pretty funny”
She paused, trying to act as if she didn’t care what answer I gave to her next question.
“And the woman? Is she your girlfriend?”
Even though she tried not to be, it was obvious she was pleased that was the answer.
“I did wonder. It looked pretty intense over there just before she left. A bit like a domestic, if you don’t mind me saying”
“She’s my ex. From quite a long time ago. We’ve only just started speaking again”
“And the first time you do yous have a row? Sure, that’s a waste of time”
“She was giving me advice I didn’t want”
The blonde girl raised her eyebrow.
“Is that so?”
“I ignored it”
“I’m glad to hear it”
She drained her glass.
“Listen, I finish here at midnight. Would you want to come on somewhere with me?”
“I’d like that”
“And I want you to know I don’t usually do this”
“Neither do I”
“Open your mouth”
I looked at her suspiciously. The blonde girl had pushed me down an alley that ran alongside the bar; we were standing amongst empty plastic crates and roll topped wheelie bins crammed with cardboard boxes. There was a pervasive stink of piss. The blonde girl stood with her hands on her hips.
“Go on, open your mouth. Put your tongue out”
She put a small pill, white with an embossed dove, on the tip of it.
“Go on swallow. Good girl”
She grabbed my face and kissed me, her lips clinging to mine, before pulling away and taking one herself. Holding my hand she led me back onto the street, and linked her arm through mine.
“Do you know, I’m tempted to take you home right now and enjoy that pill in bed but I fancy a bit of dancing, don’t you?”
Me, I was up for anything she suggested. I knew it would take some time for the pill to take effect; dancing seemed like as good an idea as any.
“Do you always go to work with e in your pocket?”
“Not usually, no, but tonight I had a feeling. I don’t know why, but had this feeling that something was going to happen. And it looks like I was right. Have you done it before?”
I shook my head. She pulled in closer on my arm.
“Don’t worry, I’ll look after you”
I was in no hurry to go anywhere. It was good to be out in fresh air after the heat and cigarette smoke of the bar; a slight breeze ruffled the hairs on my arms but I wasn’t cold. The blonde girl was a warm, firm presence next to me. We weren’t saying much and that was fine, I knew that she understood what I was thinking, what I was feeling. I looked at her: her skin, the colour of honey, fair downy hair brushing her arms. Her hair was bottle blonde, but her eyebrows were dark, her eyelashes long and curving. The curl of her ear, pink, pierced at the top with a tiny steel ring. The curve of her lips, full, dark. I wanted to feel them on mine again. Warm, responsive, the way they still clung slightly after our mouths parted. It was her trademark.
She pulled me into a shop doorway and pressed her mouth up against mine, letting her tongue slide in. Fingers on my lips, tapping them, she laughed softly.
The shop she’d picked at random was a light shop, the front window packed with Tiffany glass lampshades, chandeliers, works of sculpture all lit up, throwing colour, light and shade across the shop and out onto the pavement. Reds, yellows, greens, golden liquid light. The centre piece was a globe made from prismatic droplets suspended from the ceiling; as the light caught it, each drop refracted through its own personal spectrum. Shifting on my feet, I watched a thousand rainbows: I was mesmerised. The blonde girl stood behind me, slipping her arms around my waist, resting her chin on my shoulder. The press of her into my back was a connection of skin, flesh, and bone, blood and cartilage, viscera and nerve endings. Where she started and I finished became blurred.
“You’re feeling it, aren’t you?”
Her breath warm in my ear.
“Yes, I’m feeling it. It’s not like anything – anything I’ve felt before, no, not quite. One thing, there’s one thing it’s like. It’s like when a woman has her hand inside you, you know, her whole hand and it’s gone beyond the primitive monkey fuck of in and out and racing for the come. You know. It takes you somewhere – somewhere else. High up in your head buzz and spacey, lying still and timeless with her hand. O god. And you don’t want it to end; you don’t want the come because that will spoil everything. But this is more, much more than that. Her hand inside you is all about you but this is all about me and you: the connection. And not just me and you, all the people around us. See that man and that girl? She’s crazy about him, he is the best thing in her life and she loves him. He loves her back. They are so happy. I’m so happy. I’ve never felt happier, better in my life. My brain, my mind, my body, they’re all working together, connected, together. I have never felt like this before. And you. Your eyes are enormous, so deep and I don’t know if it’s the pills or me, me or the pills, but I could look at you forever. Hold on and never let go. I’ve never felt this close to anyone and I’ve had sex that would blow your mind, I’ve had sex that’s stripped me bare and open to the world and I’ve never felt this close to them”
There it was: the cling of her lips, her arms wrapped around me. She broke away and looked at me with her deep, enormous eyes, the pupils so vast I couldn’t tell you what colour her irises were.
“Of course you are. Who else would you be?”
Grass prickled under my back and my eyes adjusted to the dark, to the layers and layers of stars. Away from the glare of the streetlights you could instantly make out more than the bright and obvious stars: Mars and the Pole Star, the Plough. I’ve never known the night sky, well, nothing much beyond those I’ve already mentioned. I knew Orion in an autumn sky, my father telling me as a little girl about how Taurus was put there to keep Orion, the rapacious hunter of more than just deer away from the Seven Sisters. I knew how to trace the tilt of his belt on his hips, the drop of his shoulder. That night, Orion was off searching for some other sport and I was left trying to make sense of what looked for all the universe like an emptied out jewellery box.
Róisín was holding my hand, grounding me. She rolled over on to her side and rested her head on my chest. I could see it rising and falling with my breathing. Dancing was an idea that had faded very quickly, along with the desire for the false heart beat of techno. The night was too soft, too pretty to spend it indoors with pulsating lights and other people where it was it too hard to speak even if you didn’t speak at all. I didn’t want to be separated from Róisín and the night. Instead, we’d climbed over the gates of a small tree lined garden in the middle of a square and were now lying in the middle of it staring at the sky.
“Róisín, look, is that a shooting star?”
She rolled over onto her back again, squinting up and then laughing.
“It’s not exactly shooting, is it? I’d say it was a satellite”
“I wonder if it can see us”
“Sure, if it looks really closely”
“Thank you for this”
She lifted herself up on her elbow, resting her chin on the palm of her hand, stroking my face with the other.
“It’s my pleasure”
I could go on kissing this woman forever, I thought. I could sink into this kiss and never want to swim my way out, and I would die a happy woman.
A hand was stroking my back, the nails scratching gently, then a little firmer. Breasts and thighs were pushed into my back and arse, teeth were biting at my shoulder. I opened my eyes. Sun shone into them, dazzling me momentarily. The hand slipped round and cupped my breast. Slowly, slowly I was coming round. I rolled over onto my back. Róisín grinned at me.
“I was beginning to think you were never gonna wake up”
“Well, it’s more like afternoon but you know, time is such a flexible concept”
I rubbed my dry eyes with my fists. My jaw kept clenching. Róisín stroked my jaw.
“Side effect, I’m afraid. Are you okay?”
“Róisín, can I ask you something?”
“Have you got a girlfriend?”
“No, I don’t”
“Have you got a boyfriend?”
She burst out laughing and climbed on top of me, pinning my hips down with her thighs.
“Indeed I do not. Do I look the kind of girl that has a boyfriend?”
She moved until she was rocking her cunt against mine, making thought and speech difficult.
“You can’t – you can’t always tell”
“Aye right enough, you can’t. But you can rest assured. I don’t have a girlfriend and I most definitely do not have a boyfriend”
With that she bent and kissed me, starting gently, then increasing the pressure, all the time rocking. I sat up, Róisín still between my legs, reaching up to take her breast in my hand. Another tiny steel ring pierced the nipple of her left breast; I took it in my mouth. Róisín gasped as the nipple hardened. I pulled the ring with my teeth. Róisín pushed herself against me, pushing me back down onto the bed, her tongue plunging in my mouth.
A phone was ringing, I was dimly aware of it. It rang more than once, I was dimly aware of that. But there was nothing I could do about it. Four fingers of Róisín’s right hand were inside me, slipping easily in and out, easily twisting around, and her thumb was playing gentle and teasing around my arsehole. I was dimly aware of a phone ringing for a moment, just a brief moment before Róisín’s fingers thrust in deep and her thumb finally sank inside me. After that, I noticed nothing.
You have three new messages:
Please tell me that you can’t come to the phone because some chick is eating you out and not cos you’re down Wickes buying grout. Mum wants you to go to theirs for Sunday dinner, I told her I thought you’d be otherwise engaged having your bits felt, but that cut no ice with her. Give us a ring when you’ve finished having it off.
Hi, it’s me. I just wanted to say – I wasn’t judging you last night – you know – it’s just – a bit complicated. I definitely don’t want to fall out with you – o god, I’m not making any sense –
I just want you to know that – if you hear things about me – o this is stupid. I’ll see you around.
End of messages.
Continued in part 5
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