Issue 157, Winter 2000
I had sex with this guy one Saturday night before Christmas and gave him my number and, something about him, I should have known he would be the type to call. For once, I was almost grateful that Fintan answered the phone. I could hear him through the sliding door.
“Yes, she’s here. She’s in the kitchen, eating dead things.” Then,
“No, I’m not a vegetarian.” Then,
“I mean dead as in dead. I mean people like you.”
I said, “Just give me the phone, Fintan.”
After the call was finished, I threw out the rest of my dinner, came into the living room and sat down. Fintan was watching a documentary about airports, which turned out to be quite funny. When it was over, I got up to go to bed and he looked up at me and said, “Do not go gentle,” and I said, “Good night, Fintan. Good night, darling. Good night.”
I nearly went out with Fintan, before he was diagnosed.
Now we live together and people say to me, Isn’t that a bit dangerous? But he is the gentlest man I know. The ashtrays were the biggest problem. I finally said it to him one day over the washing up, about the filth of them. He disappeared for a week. Then one evening he was back, sitting on the sofa with a brass box in his hand. It had the most vicious spring lid. I said, “Where did you get that from, India?”
and he looked at me. You can hear him clacking and snapping all over the house now. It’s like someone smoking into a mousetrap, but it still makes me smile.
Otherwise I have no complaints. I would get him to wash his clothes more, but I think he is happier with the smell, and so am I. It reminds me of the time when I nearly loved him, back in college when it rained all the time, and no one had any heating, and the first thing you did with a man was stick your schnozz into his jumper and inhale.
These days, he is thinner and his hands tremble. He leaves his coat on around the house, and spends a lot of time looking at the air in the middle of the room-not at the ceiling or the walls, but at the air itself.
You can’t trust that sort of thing. I would be the last to trust it. Personally, I don’t think he is schizophrenic, but I still check his medication when he is not around. And yet-it was true what he said: when the phone rang that night, I was sitting in the kitchen, with the condensation running down the black windowpane, forking through the carbonara like it was all the men I had missed or messed up. All the men I had missed or messed up. If it was a song you could sing it. If it was a song you could Play it, Sam.
I went out and took the receiver. “Hello?” I said, and glared at Fintan until he left the hall. “Sorry about that.”
“Is that you?” said the guy at the other end. “Is that you?”
He introduced himself-which is odd if you have slept with someone already-and then he asked me out for “a date.” I didn’t know what to say. There was none of that when I started out. You just bumped into people. You just stayed for one more drink and then by accident until closing time, and then by a miracle, by a fumble, by something slippery and inadvertent, for the night. (But it was a serious business, this accident. I’m telling you. It was Love-as serious as an accident with a car.) This was partly what I had been thinking in the kitchen, as the pasta slithered through the egg and the cream. How do I do this now? How do I crash the goddamn car? “So, what about Friday night?” he said.
So I checked an imaginary diary in the darkness of the hall, and listened for a while to the dial tone after he had put down the phone.
I wasn’t sure that I liked him. That was all.
The dinner was hilarious. I should stop whining about my life, but I sat in a restaurant with red velvet curtains and white linen tablecloths and expensive, smirking waiters, and wondered, as I played with the fish knife, what all this was for. We went back to his place and I could feel the migraine coming through the sex. It should have been nice-I have no objection to sex-but with the migraine starting I felt as though he was a long way away from me, and every thrust set my brain flaring until I was very small and curled up, somehow, at the bottom of my own personal well.
Of course he was very solicitous and insisted on driving me home. Men say they want casual sex, but when you say thanks-very- much-good-night they get quite insulted, I find. So he touched the side of my face and asked could he see me again, and when I said yes he undid the central locking system with a hiss and a clunk, and let me go.
In the kitchen I drank four cups of kick-you-in-the-ass black coffee, and went to bed. And waited. Some time the next day, Fintan came in and closed the curtains where there was a little burn of light coming through. I was so happy the light was gone, I started to cry. There is something unbelievable about a migraine. You lie there and can’t believe it.
You lie there, rigid with unbelief, like an atheist in hell.
Fintan settled himself on a chair beside the bed and started to read to me. I didn’t mind. I could hear everything and understand everything, but the words slid by. He was holding my childhood copy of Alice in Wonderland and I wondered were the colors that intense when I was young: Alice’s hair shouting yellow, the flamingo a scalded pink in her arms.
He got to the bit about the three sisters who lived in the treacle well-Elsie, Lacie and Tillie. And what did they live on? Treacle.
“’They couldn’t have done that, you know,’ Alice said, ’they’d have been ill.’ ’So they were,’ said the Dormouse.
‘very ill.’ ”
I smiled, swamped by self-pity. And suddenly I got it—clear as clear—the smell of treacle, like a joke. The room was full of it. Sweet and burnt. It was a dilation of the air: it was a pebble dropped into the pool of my brain, so that, by the time the last ripple had faded, the pain was gone, or thinking of going. The pain was possible, once again.
“Oh,” I said.
“What?” said Fintan.
He looked at me in the half-dark. Downstairs, the phone began to ring. I went to get out of bed but Fintan stopped me, just by the way he sat-very still and slightly buckled, like a shot cowboy, or a tin can with a dent in one side.