Alice Walsh


The clock that can’t tell the time hangs over me. It swings on its bumpy links then settles somewhere in the middle. It’s odd to be owned by something. Chained to the chain of the chain. I find myself thinking about what it was like to have two eyes and all those other things that people have. And I admit to myself a truth that lies buried beneath my sawn-off soul: that I want to go back.

I wait at the edge peering into the abyss of black circles until the universe shakes and finally it happens. I stumble and spiral down and down until I find myself all wrapped up inside of you. I can hear the mumble of your voice through your walls. I can’t hear your sadness yet but I can hear your laugh, and when you laugh you shake and I shake. I think it’s going to be different this time.

I swore I was done with this place but when you whispered to me there was something in the kindness of your voice that felt like it didn’t belong there. Precious silk wrapped around a rock. You have too much love in you to keep it all to yourself and there is no use in giving it to him. I think we both know that he won’t stick around. He is lopsided and missing so many parts. One day he will go down the street to buy cigarettes, when he comes out of the shop he will just keep walking as though he has forgotten where he came from. But he will have disappeared long before then, trying to find the pieces of himself in different places. He will look inside needles and casinos and women he will pay to love him for a while. He will only lose more of himself looking for the lost angles. The holes of him will gape and ache whenever a northerly wind whirls through.

I will not be your first but I will be your last. The others were both boys but they didn’t make it. I’ll be your girl. You will keep me secret in the beginning. Only you and I will know. You will make my skin and blood and bone from your skin and blood and bone. When I am born you will kiss me twice on each eyelid and promise me that you will never promise me anything. That will be enough.

And I will know your smell and your warmth and your love. These will be the only things I will know for a very long time and maybe they are the only things I will ever need to know. I will carry them with me always. We will live in a different land from the one you grew down in. It will not be home but we will both know it to be more of a home than you have ever known. We will live in the crescent bow of the road with the arms of the trees hugging us close. And I will live in the crescent crook of your elbow. I won’t yet know that we are separate from one another. You will make food soft before you give it to me. Like a bird. You will carry me on your back when I’m tired even though you will be tired too.

The thing I will see the most in the first year will be your face. We will look at each other a lot like we are both brand new yet at the same time familiar to one another. When I learn to walk I will get to know your hands in a new way. I will come to know and love the scuffed cuff of your raincoat and the stories of the circles of your knuckles. I will know the silver knots on your fingers and which ones go where. The perfume on your wrist will smell of your love. Your life filled veins that hang down above my head will make me feel safe. I will reach up for those blue roots of you and you will wrap your hand around my small hand, and in those moments it will be like we are still not separate.

When I learn that we are not the same person we will still walk and talk together. We will learn about the world through each other’s eyes. You will teach me the names of things and I will teach you to see them without names as though they are new again. I will tell you the curious things I learn about the world so that those things can be a part of your world too. They will be different from the things you learned as a girl. Your things were made from fire and fear, but my things will be formed from hope and gold.

I will never come to know the parts of him that weren’t nothing. He will be just a name, a shadow, a picture in a frame that could be anyone. But I will use those small details to build a man in my imagination. He will live snugly within my secret self. We will chat and laugh about silly things and sad things too. He will show up for birthdays and at Christmas. This secret part of me that is him will be separate from the part of me that is you.

You will take me with you when you work. I will carry the radio for you and play DJ. I will sit for hours drawing pictures in childless schools and empty offices while you scrub and mop and scrimp and save. My favourite place will be the theatre. I will sit in the gods and imagine seeing great plays. I will watch as you dance on the stage to Van Morrison with a feather duster. The earth and all that is in it will move against your limbs becoming black liquid lines that rhyme with the air. The music will take me to someplace else where I am not me and you are not you, and you are not me and I am not you. I will see that you can be something magnificent without me. When the song stops you will say play it again Sam, and I will and we will dance together. I will never forget the freedom in you and the promise of all that you could be. I will make that a part of me.

Years later when I will find myself pregnant by a man I do not know or love, I will sit at your kitchen table stirring a strong cup of tea. I will break a biscuit over it and watch the crumbs as they drown and casually ask if you ever thought about giving me away. You will look up from the sink where you are stood, stooped peeling potatoes. And staring out the window at nothing in particular you will say that you weren’t brave enough to be alone so you made someone to love who you knew would love you back. You will wipe your nose with the back of your hand that doesn’t have mud on it and flippantly say selfish really, then go back to peeling like it was all nothing. I’ll break another biscuit and wonder if we’re separate or just the same.

Alice Walsh lives and works in Dublin. Her writings have been published in The South Circular, wordlegs, Number Eleven Magazine, Roadside Fiction, and The Bohemyth. Doire Press published one of her stories as part of the wordlegs presents: 30 Under 30 anthology.