Renton was probably right, ‘choosing life’ sounded pretty plausible as she sunk another Gin on that Spring Sunday.
She’d reached 31. A good job, dental insurance and a pension. A yearning inside for more. The internships that she’d slaved over, the rhetoric spoken, and the indefensible people that she’d had to deal with, to both cajole and charm.
All well and good. ‘The horse is more important than the cart’. The words of her father rang in her head.
A treble figure salary would keep her happy. Florence and weekends in the Cote D’Azur. A nice house with a dog and two children, an apple tree and a farmhouse kitchen. A fire crackling in the winter months and snow, and cinnamon and duck fat roasted potatoes.
The door opened and the monotony of the bus travelling by alerted her, a detachment from the last half hour. The red flash making her senses tingle. And then dulled again by her thoughts that are allayed fully in her reality.
She began to pray for rain, something to make her feel alive as she sat knocking back her third drink in a little over 20mins. The sun made her feel hot and frazzled. She had always loved rain. Her earliest memories transplanted her to Donegal with her grandfather. There was moisture everywhere, in the air and underfoot. They would walk the hills amongst the turf and sheep, as water drizzled on his worn waxed overcoat.
‘This is God’s country and never you forget it cub’.
His words clawed at her then. They had dulled over the years but continued to eat at her sinews and at her soul, as if someone had forced their sharp fingernails gravely into her back, the force and shock from it causing her to momentarily lose her breath. The fateful goodbye — his solemn penetrating glance made her stomach churn. She walked away paralysed and torpid, finding the situation incomprehensible. His glare, looking straight through her.
His flat cap was always tilted and his face was never far from a smile. He was gentle in a way that she hadn’t noticed in anyone since the upheaval. That day it was different. They said that his strength lay in his ability to sort the wheat from the chaff, something innate that made it effortless. When he spoke she wondered of his intention although over the years a clarity had developed, she knew.
She had zoned out — not listening to the drum and whirr behind her of people having lunch. The bitterness of the wedge of lime did not even register in her consciousness. It moved across her tongue adding little.
She felt herself slipping into a trauma, a place of limited return.
Before she dropped further off the spot from which she couldn’t quite stay she thought of her days and nights. She clutched the rosary beads that her sister had discarded on her deathbed, as if once the end was in sight and once cancer ravaged unabated, God and his henchmen were futile. She wrapped them tightly around the base of her wrist than paused for a second and exhaled, before mouthing the words that travelled around her head ‘I would cry for thou yet I am vacant’.
Her little helper, the girl that trawled after her once the school day had finished and who had once foolishly followed to London for a summer to be near her and in her company; to drink in company of the ‘wondrous talent of Inishcroe’.
Like two peas from different pods, she always inflicted a gap on the younger more dependent sibling. She nearly wept when she remembered the letter she had scrawled on the tube home on a balmy April evening, a deliberate act of separation.
The world is not here to help. Make your own way if you dare, otherwise you will never be.
Written five years after she had signed up to this new life and four before the phone call that made the rot terminal. She wondered as she gazed at her emptying glass whether one’s destiny is agreed and we are merely pawns in some fucked up pre ordained game. She pondered choice, hers. If this was really available to her it would be like a dagger to her gut, ripping deep inside until she would wrench. See thought of the silence and her lack of might. She shuddered, as she recalled the feeling when answering a call on the fourth attempt. Her poor mother, the true victim of it all left broken and tearful and without either.
The aftermath was more sorrowful than venomous. Listening to her aged uncle at the pulpit, ‘To say the death of a parent is a tragedy is not knowing the death of a child’ she couldn’t help but desert, and rush from the church never to know its divine smells again. She remembered the tears and the icy grip that controlled her. Within 15 minutes she had ordered the taxi to take her to the bus station and with it the journey toward the airport and her incompatible yet necessary life.
The phone in her pocket buzzed and she felt paralysed by both the thought of it and the inaction in her behaviour. She collected her thoughts and swallowed the last drops of the drink that sat neatly in front of her. The fizz tickled her throat; hoarse and dry it was a welcome relief. She savoured the moment, something she hadn’t done in a long while. Not really since walking in those hills.
Her mind wandered to the primacies of her existence. A lack of direction and meaning, shallowness shining through. The men that she had known, the pretence of dinner before slipping off her pants in bedrooms in various different parts of London. The prosaic interactions that led to nothing more than unflattering cocaine charged sex. Lengthy, yet lacking in intimacy or any purpose above fulfilment, of an action simply for the sake of it.
She wondered what she had become, the high achiever who hadn’t done anything. Caught in a non virtuous cycle of selfishness; never fully engaging with anything in particular. Her head spun as she rhymed off the inadequacies of her being.
Half a bottle of Pinot Noir, Tinder, Green & Blacks, Topshop, Terminal 5, 5/2 diet, Early meeting, late finishes, Next, Credit card debt, Marks and Spencer’s meal for one, Cos, Mail Online, the fucking Northern Line, X-Factor, One night stands, smog, Credit Card bills, overpriced Quinoa.
She stood up and walked to the bar. Her red shoes matching that of her lipstick.
‘Ah but it looks so energetic dahhh-ling’. This single statement from a friend she didn’t care for summed up the past decade more than anything.
Imagining that it would attract a certain calibre of mate or lover she had chosen it, wearing it liberally at first until the occasions dwindled. Someone that she could talk to about architecture whilst BA shuttled them somewhere exotic and warm and lush. Holding hands on parallel sun loungers whilst reading copies of the latest fad novels, before dinner with another charming, tanned and cashed up couple — friends who’s private villa they were visiting.
A man in a smart jacket and boat shoes glanced over, his reflection glistening back at her in the mirror fixed behind the bar. She peered between the gin bottles residing there and let out a guarded breath, deep and hollow, the kind that made her quiver. The initial sexual shock that dilates the eyes and sharpens the attention. Yet it was personal, she owned the moment and with it the vulnerability.
‘A bottle of Chenin Blanc’. She leaned forward and directed the waiter, ‘My card, I’m just nipping to the ladies’. She liked how she took control, yet was at the mercy of it all. It could all be destroyed in an instant, the exhilaration in how delicate and fallible she was, and it was.
As she crossed his path his want radiated. The eyes cutting through her as if her body belonged to them. She was hunted and wanted and yet she was utterly in control. Until he overpowered her with his strength and brutality and made her his. And she loved it.
When she returned he wasn’t in his seat.
She walked back to her table nervy, feeling alone and disorientated. The waiter brought her the ordered drink and then disappeared as if understanding of the setting, the game of cat and mouse that was happening in front of him. Before she could move the glass to her lips the man entered. He moved in close and whispered into her ear.
‘I know what you want Laura’.
He paused as if to tease before adding seconds later.
‘I know that I’m going to give it to you’.
The flutter in her stomach was more pronounced than before. She felt his breath on her neck. And as they progressed and chatted and felt decidedly more intoxicated, she smiled realising fully that the constraints of life began to fall away.
At this moment she wanted this more than anything else. A certainty gripped her. Before she noticed, it was past midnight and they were laughing drunkenly in a kitchen, the journey there a blur. And soon as they smoked cigarettes on a balcony he tugged at her dress, his eyes dissecting her.
Then it arrived, less pronounced than she expected, the black out. This time not punctuated by moments of passion, or flashbacks of excitement. Sheer darkness.
She sunk into the hole.
As she woke up, all of the usual feelings of guilt felt displaced. Her mouth was dry and her head thumped but she felt complete. She removed the top button from her pyjamas and then turned to her husband, tussling his hair as she glanced at the sun bouncing off her ring.