Photography: Brian Bennett is an actor and theatre-maker from Dublin, Ireland. He is currently working on his first novel and a feature script to be filmed next year. He is also working on a photography exhibition entitled ‘Blue’. Follow Brian on Twitter @brianbennett84
Short Story: Plastic Bags
– By Alison U Miller
I’m red-wine drinking, mirror checking, window stalking, waiting for Oli to arrive and its driving me insane. I arrived home from work in the city less than an hour ago but I’ve taken a shower, shaved my legs – just in case anything happens- ironed my white see-through (but not too see-through) shirt, caught the six o’clock headlines, hoovered the living room carpet and because I simply did not have time to do them, I’ve thrown all the dirty dishes into the basin and hidden it in a cupboard. Well, I don’t want him to think I’m a slob.
And now I’m waiting. I’m listening to Oasis. Loud. Oli likes them too which is great news. I pad up to the window, adjust my stockings a little higher, smooth my skirt back into position. Great, you look great. Slowly peep between slatted verticals hoping to spy his Golf GTI pull onto my driveway. It’s a lovely car, sporty. His other car is back home in Iceland. I can’t remember what it is, must have been too tuned in on his husky accent to catch that part. He doesn’t drive too fast. I like that.
Where is he? I said anytime; he said seven. It’s already half past and I swear I can hear the tick tock of an oversized grandfather clock I don’t own in my head, chiming out the minutes, the seconds until he is here and I’m pulling open my front door, a flushed, generous smile on my face. My tummy growls. I should have snacked I knew it. My head feels slightly woozy and I know I’m going to be drunk if I have another glass. We are going to this chic Icelandic restaurant in town. It’s beside the graveyard. I’ve been but Oli hasn’t. It was my idea; he didn’t even know it existed. You get to cook your own meal if you want to, they bring you these square slabs like miniature tombstones, but unlike cold dead stone, these have been deep-oven heated. You choose fish, fowl, game from the menu – I’m going to have duck, I think then cook it at your own table, by candle-light. An up-market in-door barbeque. I love it. The chef is married to Bjork’s sister, I’m not kidding.
When his frown turned to a smile, I could tell Oli was happy I’d suggested that. A taste of home. He frowns quite often and I’m never sure quite what he’s thinking. I think I talk too fast for him to keep up. Or sometimes he doesn’t believe what I’m telling him.
What if he’s not coming? What if he comes and he doesn’t bring a condom? What if he comes and he does bring a condom? I’ve never been nervous like this before. But that’s Oli, for you. He’s different. Sincere. Respectful.
We only met two weeks ago. Is that all? It seems so much longer. He calls every night and we laugh and chat effortlessly. I remember it took me all my time to say his name correctly: Olafur Jonsson. The Jonsson part was alright, clearly, but Ola-fur? Ol-a-fur. When he says it for me in his deep accent, it sounds normal and I turn pink and flick my hair off my neck. So now I just call him Oli and he doesn’t seem to mind.
What he seems to mind about a lot is how we met in a gay club. I really can’t understand what the fuss is all about. It’s hardly the 1970s. He wanted to know what I was doing in there.
“Never mind me,” I scoffed, “what were you doing in there?” It transpired that we had both gone with a gay friend, the club was open later and we could have more drinks and a little dancing too. I am not suspicious of him in the least; after the way he kissed me so thoroughly in a quiet booth, I do not think he is gay. I’m not so sure exactly what he thinks about me.
Two days later, he took me out to lunch and we munched foccacia and soberly discussed jobs and music and I asked him all about Iceland. A cheek-peck kiss goodbye. There were night-time dates; we wanted to see more of one another. After a week, an amazing prawn croissant and several well-creamed frapucinnos, Oli made his move. I had wondered where the arduous man of our first encounter had been hiding, replaced by such a gracious gentleman. Second thoughts about me? Not quite what he ordered?
But then it happened. Okay, it almost happened. He took me to his immaculate flat.
“My neighbour runs an interesting business. It’s the burial for dogs,” he told me. “She makes a lot of money. It’s based on an old Viking tradition.’
When Oli removed most of our clothes, I noticed his hairy chest. He would have made a fine Viking, not only was he blonde and hairy chested but his strange silences and intensive stares seemed to define what I imagined a real Viking to be like. I half expected him to grunt, hauling me down until I fitted into him: having his wicked way with me. Burning villages. Preparing for battle. Taking women forcefully.
I’m getting turned on again. I wish he’d hurry up.
We’d kissed and rolled around the floor of his everything-its-place living room. Then we’d stumbled down the hallway and kissed and rolled around his pristine-clean double bed. Flushed, and perspiration drenched, I felt tropical fever hot. Panting for breath. Gasping in anticipation.
And then a sudden flattening heart-rate, a cease-fire of action, a change of mood when he said “Do you mind if I ask you a personal question?” into the clammy darkness.
‘Go ahead,’ I squeezed out, my voice small and tight.
“Have you had many one-night stands?”
“Do you carry a condom?” An unexpected giggle escaped me.
“No,” I said, fighting to disguise my amusement. It wasn’t that I found his question so absurd; it was the weight of his tone, his school teacher sterility.
“Do you?” I ventured.
“Usually,” there was an uncommon emphasis on the ‘s’, his accent sounding more foreign somehow. “I didn’t think I’d need one tonight.”
I liked his answer. A surge of respect swept through me. I nestled closer; chest hair tickled my side. He must like me, more than just another girl, another conquest.
“Do you use condoms?” An interrogation; a flicker of irritation ignited. I felt his clean shaven face pressed into my arm, spied the shape of his clothes in the dusky half light, not scattered randomly but folded, sensibly on a chair. I disliked the implication of my being unclean, somehow.
“It depends,” I said, carefully, “different if you’re in a relationship, isn’t it?’ I waited for his reply.
“Yes, you’re right.’ I imagined sighing out loud, relieved and feeling pleased as if I’d passed some kind of test. Oli squeezed me against him. “Let’s go to sleep now.”
The next time we were alone, the same thing happened. But I couldn’t stop laughing when he asked, “Have you got any plastic bags tonight?” in that sincere, foreign voice of his. He laughed with me when I told him, “No?”
As I drifted off into frustrated sleep, I wondered if he felt intimidated by me or if he had some kind of problem, surely not at his youthful age……why go so far and stop…did he simply want to be sure of me? Were all Icelandic men cautious and willful? Could I be learning a lesson here?
I’m red-wine drinking, waiting for Oli to arrive and it’s driving me insane.
Scots-born Alison U Miller writes poetry and prose. She studied English Literature at the University of Aberdeen. In 1996 she won the Alan Spence Creative Writing award and prizes in Lanarkshire Writer of the Year. Her poetry and articles have been published in The Scotia Bar Poetry Anthology, The Evening Times, Gloss Magazine and Orlando Sentinel. She completed her first novel Jaded Genes whilst living in Florida and is searching for a publisher. It’s a gritty, character driven story about identity and family turmoil. Curtis Brown called her writing ‘mature and well written’. Alison considers it not a bad starting place. Follow Alison on Twitter @MillerMatters
Short Story: The Autumn of Youth Summer Camp
– By Paddy Doherty
Seville; Spring 2012.
The sun sheepishly slips away to another part of the world. We’re drinking on Helen’s terrace. She’s just moved into a new apartment with a German girl, an English guy and a Danish guy. The Dane is geeky looking, and seems disconcerted by our presence as he lurks from cupboard to cupboard in the kitchen. He strikes me as the type of guy who hates living with other people, someone deeply frustrated with his house-mates’ lack of respect for the house. He probably just wants to cook and clean and go to sleep, and maybe get up early at the weekends to take pictures of churches and castles and whatever other shite has been left lying around from years ago.
The German girl and English guy, who none of us have met before, are quite sociable. They pitch in with their opinions every now and then, especially when the subject turns to travelling. The English guy is getting on my nerves a little because he keeps going on about Hong Kong and New Zealand and a million other places that he’s been and attempted various different extreme sports.
Travel broadens the mind, and lengthens the anecdote.
‘I did a sky dive in Mexico, I never thought I’d have the balls, but I did it! I nearly shit myself though!’
Oh yeah? Well I went canoeing in Galway once, and I did shit myself! Beat that, dickhead!
The German girl is sitting in a nice blue dress, cradling her legs from the breeze. We’re all sprawled across the terrace on blankets laid out by Helen. She always prepares for company in this way; providing crisps and crackers and other unnecessary nibbles. She’s made some tortilla omelette for us as well, and is telling our friend Anthony that it’s not that difficult to make. Anthony’s either genuinely interested in this or doing a very good job of feigning it.
Helen’s also wearing a dress, but hers is red, and she’s wearing navy tights to go with it. I sense she’s a little put off by the presence of her new German housemate, because even though there’s not much between them, the German is definitely prettier. Helen’s still very cordial though.
Ken and Linda have come along for the first time in a while as well, but it’s not long before they slip back into couple mode, kissing and fondling like we’re not even in the room. It always annoys me when couples act like this. It’s not just because I’ve never had a boyfriend, or a proper one at least, it’s because it looks pathetic and childish the way they just hang out of each other like monkeys from a tree. Whenever anyone speaks to Ken, Linda immediately starts stroking his hand defensively or cuddling up to him like she’s marking her territory, and I’m thinking it’s only a matter of time before she squats over him and takes a piss.
Anthony has a funny story to tell about one of his students saying the alphabet but I can’t be bothered to listen to it. I’m hungry and wondering when we’re going to leave, or whether Helen is going to rustle up something else for us to eat. I go out into the kitchen to get another litre of beer from the fridge. Helen follows me and starts saying how nice it is that we’re all together again and that we’ve been really bad for meeting up recently. I nod and agree, but as we’re talking, I’m making snide internal remarks about her – calling her a cunt and the like. She’s talking about how this is the type of night she’s been needing for the past few weeks; just a few close friends and a few beers and a few bottles of wine and a chance to find out what’s been happening with everyone. This annoys me because she’s always going on about this in one way or another, everything revolves around the group. She seems to want this idyllic social life like something from a coffee ad or some American sitcom. I reckon she’s one of those girls who grew up wanting to be in the cast of Friends; to waste away in the Central Perk Cafe retelling the same old stories again and again until there’s no life or truth left in them whatsoever.
We go back outside and I put on my hoodie and take my warmer shoes out of my bag to put them on. Anthony has a story about a guy from home that did something once and we’re all listening to that. I get bored and start watching Ken and Linda fidgeting with each other and I’m wondering whether they’re just counting down the clock until it’s reached a respectable time to leave. Helen has waited for Anthony to finish his story so that she can talk about one of the first drunken nights we had together. We listen and count the embellishments, but no one says anything or refutes her claims except for Anthony – who claims not to remember any of it. She is prepared for this, however, and quickly rebukes his challenge by reminding him of ‘the state he was in that night!’
The German girl has stopped listening, and I’m staring at her now, wondering what she really thinks of us. But I remember at the same time that most people probably aren’t as judgemental or as cynical as me, and I’m reminded that this is something my mother once said about me when she’d thought I wasn’t listening.
Drab conversations float from person to person but they always make their way back to Helen or Anthony. Helen’s trying to make plans for us all for the following weekend; month; summer; year; and has a few ideas for things to do after that as well. I nod along half-heartedly at her proposals and make vague commitments that I have no intention of honouring. I look over at her English housemate again and wonder if I’ll be drunk enough to fuck him later, or whether he’ll be drunk enough to try it on with me. I can’t decide if I’ll bother my arse with him and think about how it might just be easier to pick up a horny Spaniard in whatever club we end up in.
Helen tries to get everyone to agree to a festival in June before our contracts finish. Anthony says he’s definitely going to go, but Linda reckons that her and Ken have other plans and aren’t that into festivals anyway, because of all the mud and rain and music. They drift out of the conversation again and Ken starts kissing her neck. Helen’s housemate says he doesn’t think he’ll be able to go and reminds us that he’ll be home by then and that he’s not actually a TEFL teacher. His company have just sent him here for six months because his job is really exciting and allows him travel around the world whilst making shit loads of money. And he’s fucking amazing at it but still down to earth enough to hang around with a couple of native-speaking English-teaching imbeciles.
Eventually it’s twelve o’clock and there’s talk of the neighbours complaining and that it might be time to leave. Then Anthony mentions that Harry is in town and that he might meet up with him. The others all say something to the tune of: Harry! I haven’t seen him in ages, what’s he up to? But the truth is we haven’t seen Harry for a long time because Harry has found a better group of people to hang out with and hasn’t wanted to see us. He had only hung out with us out of necessity, when we were all at that hostel together where we first met.
Anthony might be the only one holding onto the notion that they’re still friends, because Helen certainly knows, and is unenthusiastic about meeting up with him for precisely that reason. Nothing depresses her more than the thought that our little fuckwit posse might not necessarily be the cool gang.
That’s what expat life is like in a nutshell, a fucking summer camp.
Ken and Linda couldn’t care less. They only hang out with us so that they can tell their workmates that they met up with friends at the weekend and didn’t just walk around the city holding hands like a pair of love-struck idiots. The two newbies have nothing to say about Harry, and I suspect they might be forming a similar impression of us and soon joining him at the fringe of our little group. I cringe when I think of the word group and how it sounds so much like Helen and the way she obsesses over our social life.
Helen mentions that a few Spanish guys she met one night are going to Malandar, and that we should go there because the music is always good: ‘you can have a dance and a cheap drink; plus some of Pablo’s mates are fucking fit!’
When we get there it’s the same old story; la misma mierda. Helen goes off with one of them and Anthony has gone to meet friends at a gay bar, which he never invites anyone to, because, for some reason, he’s not quite come to terms with his sexuality, and probably hasn’t even come out of the closet back home. Ken and Linda abandon ship and I’m stuck with the German girl and Helen’s house mate, and they’re stuck with me.
The music is really loud and rocky and people keep bumping into me, but none of the guys that do are interested in talking. I down my third whiskey and coke before realising I’ve got no more money, so I start dancing with Helen’s housemate in the hope he’ll buy the next one. He tells me his name again and I try to memorise it: Alan, Alan, Alan; but I just end up calling him Dave instead. He is polite and dances with me a little, but I soon realise that he’s actually into the German girl. He keeps looking past me at her while we’re dancing. I move in closer to him and flash a hand over his cock, but just as I’m about to try to kiss him, I admit to myself that he’s not really interested, so I fuck off outside for a cigarette even though I don’t smoke.
The first guy I ask says he doesn’t have any, but then a fat friend of his offers and so I start talking to him. He puts his arm on the small of my back as he crouches to listen. This is all the encouragement I need. The second time he does it, I pull him over to the wall and start groping and kissing him with enough tongue to ensure that he knows he’s getting laid tonight if he just comes back with me, which he does.
When I get him home he doesn’t want to waste much time with foreplay. He pushes my head down to his cock for a blow job. I deliberately apply too much tooth so that he will want to have sex instead, which he does.
He’s too heavy when he’s on top so I manoeuvre out from underneath and mount him, grinding and grinding until I feel him inside me. I ask him if he’s cum already, but he says nothing. I get off and he starts touching himself to harden up, but then I discover that he just wants to masturbate over me, so I let him cum on my chest and try to remember exactly when guys stopped wanting to have sex and started wanting to just ejaculate on things instead. Then he falls asleep and I take out my vibrator and give myself an orgasm with that, all the while thinking about how it’s funny that the orgasms are quicker and vastly more reliable with it, but there is still something about having that weight on top of you. When I’m finished I check the time on my phone and see a message from Helen which says:
Where are you?
Paddy Doherty, 25, is a native of Longford currently living in Seville. His stories have appeared in the Irish Independent, Boyne Berries, The South Circular and Writing4all Anthology. Check out Paddy’s Blog.