She talks to me about the sun; how it made her feel like a bird when she was younger and about how that bird wanted to fly away from small town rumours and the leering eyes of men much too old for her and the explosive boys her own age who were much too quick with their fists at closing time. She talks about how her older brothers got themselves in more trouble than their provincial Main Street could hold and how late one night, over tea and egg sandwiches, their father gave them tickets for the first sailing that following Monday. She talks about how their leather jackets smelled clean and wet as they hugged her like a bear would on the front porch before the sun came up and how the light from a cloudless sky made them glow and how she always promised herself she would follow them to England but how she never did.
I talk to her about flying; about packing a weekend bag with the lights off so I wouldn’t wake anyone and calling a taxi to the airport having being up for two days. I talk about the twisting embarrassment of small talk over an early morning pint with a fellow traveller and how his words hung like weights over my head. ‘You only get one go on the merry-go-round kid’ he said and that seemed like as good an omen as I was likely to get in an airport bar. I talk about the complete absence of fear as Dublin grew smaller through the window of the plane and how quickly six months passes when you are avoiding answering the phone to worried voices.
I talk about laughing and drinking and fucking on the streets of London and how sometimes the wrong crowd is anything but that, how the cracks and missing parts you carry around occasionally fit perfectly with the cracks and missing parts of other people and you finally feel that you exist. I talk about how embarrassing it is then, to arrive back in Dublin six months later with no luggage and a low level smack habit and how painful it is to sweat beneath bed sheets you hoped you would never see again and later, when you try to scrape back some semblance of your original life, to remind yourself to smile as you lie to neighbours about the liberation of realising that job in the bank wasn’t for you after all and sure thank God you found out before you signed a big contract with that crowd anyway.
She talks to me about leaving home; about being the youngest in her family and the last to leave and the guilt that stitches itself onto that. She talks about questions that she asked herself to which she had no business answering anyway and how they would still have each other for company and how she would be back every two weeks and how those two weeks become three with frightening ease. She talks about small town drinking (which seems to be the same as city drinking in a different location but I don’t talk to her about that); about smoking a joint with the boy she wanted and his friend that clearly wanted her more.
She talks about kissing his friend to make her boy jealous and wondering if he is doing the same thing as he scuttles behind the rocks at the beach with her from down the road. She talks about how the foam of the early morning tide tickles her ankles and how the warmth of his friends jacket wrapped around her almost makes up for Him and Her behind the rocks and how you start to think that maybe getting your second choice isn’t the worst thing in the world. She talks about the second best sex which can sometimes be tender and is always fair but she knows that she will never claw at his shoulders or breathe his kisses in deep or throw herself at his words in the way she might have done had she gotten her first choice. She also knows that second best means that she will never be overcome with a love that makes her want to cry as she lies so close to him that she can feel his heart beat through his chest.
She talks about watching him put on his second best coat and leaning in to give her a second best kiss and all she can think is how quickly she can get on the bus to Dublin. She won’t give him an excuse, there will be no valedictory address, and she won’t feel guilty about it either because there is nothing between them but the fear of being left behind in a town that has been hollowed out by too many one way flights to Melbourne.
I talk to her about dancing; about how I never dance because I have hated people looking at me ever since Mrs Malone mistakenly thought I was the one that thrown rocks at her mangy old dog and dragged me all the way back to my mother. I talk about the lines of eyes that followed me to my door and the marks left on the back of my legs and how they healed much quicker than the laughter which seemed to follow more persistently. I talk about running away from home because I thought that I could still hear laughter in the middle of the night and felt that my only way out was to live alone under the stars with my books and my earphones.
I talk about how the batteries of my Walkman went dead so quickly that I had to come home before the search party had started looking for me. I talk to her about the way she dances; about the way I watched her hips from across the bar and how I told my friend that somehow, finally, it all made sense. I talk about how I shouted into his ear that every misstep and every decision and every mistake had led to this moment where the movement of her body was so bright and so fluid that it was burning my eyes. I talk about the cab journey to her apartment and how I had been so quiet because I worry about saying the wrong thing but that when we kissed, it was with a passion that I hadn’t realised I possessed. I don’t talk about how that scared me.
She doesn’t talk to me about the boyfriend that she had on the night of our first kiss and how she still had that boyfriend on the night of our last. She doesn’t talk about the time she pretended I was someone else when I phoned her and how I had to get out of her car on grey withered side streets and stand patiently beside weeds and urine until it was safe enough for me to come out. She doesn’t talk about the silences that began to carve a path between us like a glacier and how I sometimes knew that she was on the cusp of words that she refused to release because making them real meant that I would have had to reply. She doesn’t talk about how things got so twisted and crumpled that she couldn’t look at herself in the mirror because the lies she was telling had turned her into everything that she hated in a person.
I don’t talk to her about the child I visit in London every month; about the joy that spills into my life with every sliver of shared existence. I don’t talk about the hole that grows inside me when I leave because I know that life has a way of repeating itself and I also know how difficult it is for a child to answer their own questions about getting two sets of birthday presents. I don’t tell her this because I think that the weight of stories we carry into something should stay on our own backs. I don’t tell her this because I remember how helpless I felt being hugged by a woman who was not my mother and how my smile felt tacked on like a Halloween mask.
I don’t talk to her about how I felt when we kissed for the last time; about the mix of sex and pain I felt as her tears made their way to our lips. I don’t talk about how I wanted to run away again, to forget I had a past and to ignore any ideas about a future. I don’t talk about the thought that screwed itself into my stomach and now refuses to leave, how the only thing that counted was the possibility of hope and how that might have been enough to dissipate the unavoidable loss we both knew was approaching.
I don’t talk to her about the bag that is filled with batteries that I keep beside my bed.
David O’Neill is a writer, poet and musician from Dublin. He has been published widely in journals including The Incubator Journal, The Lonely Crowd, The Useless Degree Magazine and Elbow Room. He tweets @cartoonmoonirl