Roxy Music’s My Only Love was playing on a tape. One of the other occupants had fallen asleep again on a bed in the living room of the cramped flat. The one seemingly awake was losing the worst part of a hangover and writing up a few days in his diary. The haunting four bars of the song reminded him that he had to meet his ex in Dublin city centre at seven o’clock.
He put away the diary and left the flat to walk down the street, sweating and feeling grotty and uncomfortable. A couple of friends sat at a table outside the Mongoose Inn. They asked what he was doing later and he told them but played it down. The conversation at the table nevertheless drifted into the recycled waters of relationships. They wanted to know how he’d taken it when he’d been blown out.
He said the thrill had gone for her and added there was nothing he could do about that. Then he went back to the flat for a shower. The dust and debris on the living room carpet felt thick and prickly under bare feet. He woke the sleeper who then tried to blow the coming night out of proportion but he remained calm. Little did the prince know, however, that he wouldn’t be allowed to sleep on.
As he neared the door of the pub, fifteen minutes late, she emerged into the bath of evening sunshine. Her arms went around his shoulders and she leant up to kiss him on the lips for the first time since she’d said it was over. He snapped out of a sauntering mood. The faint blue eye shadow and the lip gloss were the only make-up. With the tip of his tongue he felt the gloss left on his own lips.
“I’m a bit drunk but I didn’t want to wait inside on my own any longer, like a piece of meat.”
They went back inside. The disco music was tolerable for the moment. She insisted on buying him a drink, which he drank slowly, still feeling the effects of the night before. She asked him what she should do with herself, now she’d finished her education. He knew she could make use of her face but barely mentioned the fact. She’d been abroad and said she’d probably go again, after a while. She urged him to go somewhere too. She seemed to be gazing at him with a lost intensity.
“I need you because, in ways, you’re very sane.”
They left and headed down O’Connell Street in order to cross the river to the south side. After a few steps she stopped, took off her shoes and put them in her bag because she didn’t like the clicking of the heels. He watched as she moved, seemingly oblivious of the reactions of passers-by. Men glanced at her twice before their eyes passed downward. He watched them until he caught their startled looks. Women looked too. He heard a Dublin working-class voice’s exclamation.
“She’s got no shoo-es!”
Feeling a vague new weariness, he hung his head as they walked, thinking of Kafka’s parable concerning a man from the country who came to seek admittance to the law. Smiling shyly, she moved to raise his chin with her hand as she’d often done before. He asked her if his jacket looked filthy but she assured him it did not. They arrived at another pub, across the street from Trinity College, and he sat in the quiet upstairs lounge looking at the unattended musical equipment in the corner and the dormant couples in the other alcoves. She’d disappeared into the ladies’ toilets. Time passed and there was no sign of her emerging. He began to get impatient and wondered what the hell was keeping her but her eventual explanation proved simple.
“God I’d an awful job to wash the black off my feet.”
He laughed and she turned and went up to the counter, having earlier refused to tell him what she wanted to drink. As she returned to the table, glass of lager in one hand, bag and pack of cigarettes in the other, the quivering breast suspension made him look away. Like the man in the parable, he guessed the door was shut now. When she sat down the talk dragged a bit at first but then she asked for and held his hand in another antique gesture. He began to talk freely once more and she reacted with energetic interest but this was cut short when she said she had to leave early to go to a hen party in an affluent southern suburb.
Outside, before she crossed the street to a bus stop, she turned and opened her arms. She asked him to kiss her again. He promised to ring her. Once she was gone, he smiled fatalistically, knowing he would have her back without hesitation.
If you have ever wondered why minor characters in horror films always stupidly venture down dark corridors, or alleys, or open forbidding doors, maybe it’s because by being there at all that they simply have no choice.