Great Expectations

Flock To The Lighthouse - Photo by David Martin

To The Lighthouse – Photo by David Martín

Photography

David Martín is a Spanish photographer and dreamer living in Dublin, capable of eating a whole chicken in less than 8 minutes. Sadly, non of those hobbies or skills are paying the bills that why he is working in Sales for Getty Images. You can see more of his work on his Flickr.

As Time Goes By - Photo by David Martin

As Time Goes By – Photo by David Martín

Hipbone

– By Helen Victoria Murray

He had worn black that day. Normally a pale blue man, the black shirt burned a hole in his wardrobe. Like a cigarette burn marking out a misdemeanour, it was making him uncomfortable – as if he owed it something. It wasn’t really geared towards self-flattery. It did not match his eyes, it did not match his hair; it matched his mood.

And she’d worn green. A pale green jersey, which cynics would have said turned her sallow. And she was fair, yes. She was perfectly fair. But surely never sallow. The face, well it was symmetrical, you could say that for it, at least. But its expressions? Nondescript, half faded, as if toned to blend into the pattern on the wallpaper. Her intellect was watery. Addicted to thoughts about thinking, she was a dilute woman. He watched her from across the room, observed her trying to press her musings on the world, and was reminded of temporary tattoos. Childlike. The same transparent falsity.

But the hipbone…

The corner of his eye caught the hem of the jersey as it raised, a very slight amount. Her skin was exposed to the light. He saw the jutting angle of the bone, the smoothness of the skin. He saw her fingers extend, and graze it with badly broken fingernails. It was all it took.

In the unflattering overhead lighting, two screens flickered before him. On one, he watched his own extending hands. Something was wrong, something in the colours. The whites were too glaring, the darks too deep, the contrast too sharp on the eyes. He saw himself seize the hipbone, whirling it around and towards him, using it to mash it in amongst himself. The screen portrayed the frantic gnashing of him – animalistic and abhorrent, he watched the hipbone smash as she blacked his eyes and spat in his face. It made his skin creep inwards on itself in horror. And yes, the animal  – himself – was withering now. He saw the hands, their sinewy knots grow soft and veined with blue, the nails blackening. Gradually, the grit set in and he watched himself become dust, all blown to pieces by her justified fury.

But the hipbone…

The action on the second screen moved slower, showing a steady, practised dance in which the hipbone featured. It was choreographed to perfection, every movement refined. Effective. The colours were warm and organic, something hazy blurred the motion. There was something captivating, almost mesmeric about the dance of biology: the hipbone melted, grew tactile, became like mercury in his hands.

Oh, that hipbone…

Everyone knows you can’t watch two screens at once. You get a migraine.

He stared at the floating screens until his eyes hurt, and when they flickered out, he was returned, slack-mouthed to the moment. That instant of dark clarity, whatever it had meant – was gone.

The remaining day was fuddled. Small sounds or light touches made him start. Night brought  a welcome chance to clear his head. He lay, with the black shirt haphazard on the floor, and tried to recreate the vision of the hipbone, comprehend its meaning. All night he wrestled with the two scenes, trying to commit his mind to one or other. All night they played in tandem, flickering with the blink of his eyes.

Come morning, he was wearing blue again.

Helen Victoria Murray is a writer and poet from Glasgow, attempting to balance her literature degree with her literary aspirations. Find her on twitter @HelenVMurray.

Looking Back - Photo by David Martin

Looking Back – Photo by David Martin

Pandora453

– By Mary Róisín McGill

Des lay in the dark, wondering if he should chance it. Beside the bed, a sliver of light from his laptop slowly blinked like a lighthouse beam in the night. Across his chest lay Daisy, breathing softly, her slight arms wrapped around him as if he might be torn from her.

Des envied Daisy’s ability to completely surrender to rest in a matter of moments. He only ever managed a few agitated hours, during which the day replayed on an endless Technicolor loop, punctuated by faces hacked from magazine pages and online profiles, charging at him like a strange body-less army of vacant eyes and flat, grainy smiles.

His phone was on the kitchen table. If he were to get up, Daisy might wake – what would he say then?

He watched the fragile white light wink in the darkness, before finally reaching out to the screen, pushing it open just enough to see he had one new message from Pandora453.

With tiny movements he tucked the duvet around Daisy’s bare shoulders, manoeuvring her onto her back. Then he crept from their warm bed into the bathroom, its tiles icy beneath his bare feet, the laptop balanced on his palms like an offering.

#

Des met Daisy on the last bus very early one Sunday morning. She was only other person left apart from him. In a fit of boozy bravado he sat beside her, without ever thinking he might be imposing, that his sudden appearance might frighten her.

‘I’m Des,’ he said, taking her limp, unoffered hand in his.

Daisy pulled back, her red mouth curling downward.

‘Can’t you just leave me alone?’ she said, folding her arms over the bulk of her jacket, her thigh pressed against her ratty backpack.

After a moment he said, ‘look, I’m sorry if I’m bothering you. If you want to be left alone, I’ll leave you alone. If that’s what you want, that’s no problem… Is that what you want?’

Des meant to sound funny. Daisy studied him with wide-set, somnolent eyes before shrugging as if to say, ‘suit yourself’. In Des’s mind this was not the same thing as a ‘no’ and so he stayed.

#

Daisy had long butter-yellow hair, brittle to the touch with a blunt fringe she cut herself in front of the bathroom mirror, biting deeper into her lip with every snip. She smeared red gloss over her mouth and carried herself in a slightly round-shouldered stoop, as if the world was a weight she alone must bear.

When they started dating, Daisy liked to chat about her PhD research. Des, keen to impress her, filled her wine glass without taking his eyes off her face as if to say, ‘I’m present. I’m paying attention.’

‘You’re a really good listener,’ she said, picking up a pizza slice, tipping it toward her face. ‘Not everyone cares for the finer points of communication theory.’

‘What you do is really interesting to me,’ Des said, passing her a napkin, enjoying how serious his voice sounded. ‘The Internet is the biggest thing in the world right now.’

Daisy took a bite, thinking for a moment. ‘I’m not so sure it’s a good thing, the whole digital revolution. I mean, don’t get me wrong. It’s given me the opportunity to write my thesis but I wonder sometimes, about what it all means for us.’

Des locked eyes with Daisy, letting the moment stretch between them before leaning across the coffee table he’d rescued from the side of the street, kissing her for the first time with greasy lips that aimed for her mouth but got her nose.

Three weeks later she moved into to his place, a dive apartment above an Indian in Rialto where even the wallpaper stank of spice.

#

In the dark of the night Des thought, ‘I’m not a bad man, just a clichéd one.’

The man who he was with those women he met online, women whose real names he had no interest in ever knowing until Pandora453, was not the man who went home to Daisy, who brushed the hair off her forehead so he could kiss it, prepared dinner with her, side-by-side in their tiny kitchen or held her as she slept.

The other Des was all in his head, even as he plunged himself into another strange woman who was no longer just an avatar and yet, still was in a way. Though he felt himself grow harder inside her, it was never fully real to him and so, it was never enough.

But something about Pandora453 was different. They had a true connection, chatting for hours when Des was at work stacking whatever piece-of-shit bestseller made him rue not writing his own piece-of-shit bestseller this week.

He ducked in and out of the stockroom to message her with giddy fingers, the idea of her sending bolts of pleasure to his groin. Sometimes, Des felt a sting of actual pain when anything threatened to come between them.

The more time he spent with Pandora453, the more Daisy’s presence began to irritate him. He could hear her in the bedroom, typing furiously, not bothering to get dressed or even shower, leaving a trial of mouldy coffee cups in her wake.

‘You’re like a woman possessed,’ he said, when she gave him a sour look for daring to enter the feral den she’d turned the bedroom into.

‘It’s my PhD,’ she replied in a gobsmacked voice, as if no justification was necessary, as if by needing it explained to him Des was spectacularly, mind-bendingly thick.

When she said she’d be going out that evening to have dinner with her supervisor, he could’ve punched the ceiling with delight but instead, he reached for his phone.

‘What’s your plan?’ Daisy called, as she painted her lips in front of the bathroom mirror. ‘You can join us you know. You’d be very welcome.’

On the couch Des stretched, saying in a lethargic voice, ‘Arah no thanks babe. I’ve the match and a few cans to keep me company.’

Daisy made a face muttering, ‘well how can I compete with that.’

When she finally left, he bolted into the shower then doused himself in aftershave, pulling on the new shirt he’d hidden at the back of the wardrobe. He was standing in the hall texting Pandora453 when he heard lock tweak.

With reflexes he never knew he had, Des scrambled into the bathroom. He could hear her in the kitchen calling his name, explaining that her supervisor was sick.

‘I’m just having a shower!’ he cried, pulling the shirt off.

‘But sure the match is still on,’ Daisy said. He heard the pop and hiss of her opening one of his cans.

‘It wasn’t much a game,’ Des shouted, turning on the shower full blast, his heart beating like a jackhammer.

#

The opportunity, when it finally came, was not something Des forced. Rather the opposite:  it was presented to him not quite on his dinner plate but alongside it.

‘I have to stay over on campus this weekend,’ Daisy said, glancing at him over her shoulder while draining a white hill of pasta, her cheeks ruddy from the steam, her buttery hair twisted into a loose bun. Des knew better than to be indifferent, so he slouched like a petulant little boy.

Daisy put the plate down in front of him and took a seat saying, ‘I know things haven’t been great between us but I promise I’ll make it up to you. I just need to get this part of my final report nailed. It’s the most important part. And I’m sorry for always going on about work but I’m nearly there now. I’ll shut up soon, I promise.’

She gave him a hug, squeezing him tight within her thin arms. He felt like an idiot then, like a royal jerk.

‘Can’t keep doing this Des,’ he thought, watching Daisy push her food around her plate, her brow creased with worries he couldn’t bring himself to ask about.

While Daisy filled the dishwasher, he tucked his phone into the pocket of his jeans and went into the bathroom.

#

Des sat in the booth, his eyes picking over the crowded diner aching for his first glimpse of her. Every time the door opened, the bells reminded him of Christmas.

Daisy would be getting the letter around now, pulling it out from where he’d left it, tucked into the edge of the pillow as she slept. He could imagine her pale face scrunching up, the kohl she never washed off her eyes seeping down her cheeks, her hands trembling as his words hit her heart. In frenzy, she’d probably stuff her things into some bin bags and lug them over to campus, never to return.

The bell jangled. When he spotted Pandora453, adrenalin flooded his veins like water from burst pipes. She was tall, slender, slightly stooped like Daisy but her shoulders and back descended into a graceful ‘v’ at her waist, accentuated by an old style mac neatly belted and speckled with rain.

As she slowly walked towards him, wearing the red bobbed wig and big black sunglasses they’d joked about, Des had the sense that they knew each other somehow, that this, despite the wrongness of it, was somehow made right by the sheer will of destiny.

She eased herself into the booth with a sigh, pulling the shades from her face and setting them down on the table along with her phone. Staring at her, Des felt winded. He had seen pictures in the trashy magazines Daisy liked to read in the bath but never in real life. Never like this.

The old woman’s face – for she was, despite everything, much older than Des had anticipated – was taunt, so plastic-like it glowed like an orb beneath the diner’s fluorescent light. Her eyebrows sat high and arched on her forehead as if she were perpetually surprised. Her eyes, red-tinged and wide, blankly regarded him. Her lips, two bulbous pillows, were too swollen to close fully so her breath made a faint, dry whistling sound as it passed through them.

When she pulled her face into a macabre grin, saying with sickening playfulness, ‘not what you expected, am I sweetheart?’ Des thought of Daisy. For the first time, in a very long time, he felt like he could cry.

Mary Róisín McGill is a web editor, talking head and writer who splits her time between Galway and Dublin. She regularly reviews books for RTÉ’s Arena and is the co-founder and co-editor of Irish feminist website Fanny.ie. Follow Mary on Twitter @missmarymcgill

 

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