Too Many Metaphors
He wanted his wife to be another woman. When he watched the way she climbed over the rocks towards him he thought how it would be nice if she were someone else. The thought didn’t disappear from his mind as he reached out a hand to steady her. It sat still in his head, growing neither bigger nor smaller.
The bathroom was windowless but he could still hear the seagulls. It sounded like laughter and he hoped that’s what it was; that they were enjoying themselves. He found that he was already craving another cigarette; he’d stubbed out the last one too soon. But he’d shower first, he’d wait.
His handwriting came out steady; in fact it bordered on bold. He paused to admire it, wondering where it had come from. It wasn’t a thing that anybody else would notice, it was still unmistakably his, but at the same time it gave the impression of something new. He continued writing, wondering for how long it would last.
She set down the vase of flowers but it missed the sideboard and toppled to the floor. He heard her curse and watched her bend down. It didn’t make sense that she’d missed the surface. There was plenty of space; why had she gone for the very edge? And it was a good vase; if he remembered correctly it had been a present from someone. They’d had it for a long time; he knew that much.
Going for a walk filled his head, which was fine by him. He spoke to other dog owners. He explained to them that yes, it was a greyhound. They commented on its small stature and the fact that it wasn’t skinny enough or timid enough. He insisted it was a greyhound. Walking on he watched how a pack of seagulls attacked a dumpster by the fish market. The dog tugged at the lead and he let it pull but they didn’t move any closer.
He thought he’d lost his notebook until he found it, under the sugar bowl where he knew he hadn’t left it. He may have placed it there on the counter – that much was a possibility – but he had nothing to do with the sugar bowl. Flicking the pages he came to the last thing he wrote. Did you know that hot water freezes faster? Shaking his head he turned to the next page, already nervous about what the handwriting would tell him.
Her doctor told her not to worry and she stopped sleeping altogether. His own dreams became filled with her movements. The tossing and turning and then the tilt of the mattress as she sat on the edge; he felt like he had been set out to sea. Then she would get up and his head would be full of the sound of her trying not to make any noise; the pad of footsteps and the slow creak of doors. He wasn’t worried but it seemed he wasn’t going to sleep well either. With the passage of time they stopped asking each other how they had slept because it only drove them to lies. She went back to the doctor for the results.
The hospital was further inland so it was only frequented by crows. And they didn’t laugh or cry, only squawked now and again. From the window he could see them fleck the blue sky. They must be well-fed, he thought, to just spend their days flying. Fattened on country worms he supposed, they didn’t need to fight over left overs. Unless the hospital had dumpsters but he didn’t like to think of that. No, everything would be incinerated. He imagined a column of clean, white smoke and found something like solace in it.
At home he worried over his words. A few would be scratched onto the paper and he would sit back and analyse their slant, disappointed. He smoked until he couldn’t feel his mouth properly and he walked the dog but nothing filled his head. A little girl in a yellow dress appeared out of nowhere, came running at full speed. His dog, taken by surprise, growled at her and he tried to explain but nobody understood. ‘Greyhounds don’t do that’, a passerby remarked to their companion, ‘It mustn’t be a greyhound.’
When they said it wasn’t serious she started crying and didn’t stop. He watched her face as he held her hand and wondered who she was. This woman is my wife, he told himself. And she’s going to live and she’s glad about it. A simple thing, embroidered with all the complexity of his own feelings towards her. Over the following days and weeks he tried to keep the two separate – her physical state and his thoughts. He was relieved for her but not for himself. That was just the way it was.
Leaving the rocks for the sand they spotted another brand of seagull. All set out on the shore, far away from their cousins in the city. The dog sprinted towards them and they swooped up together, only to settle down again a little further along. This scene repeated itself a few times until the dog gave up and returned to their side, panting and unsatisfied. His wife patted the animal on the head but she didn’t say anything. The sea had a way of silencing her; they rarely spoke when they were by it and he no longer spent any time wondering what she was thinking.
He wanted to start a new notebook even though the old one wasn’t full. It was a silly notion but he couldn’t shake it and he went to the stationer’s and spent a good half hour trying to pick one out. He was tempted by two extremes. A simple copybook, the kind children used in school, was one option. But he was also attracted by the richer leather-bound pages set in a display cabinet. In the end he walked out of the store empty handed. He would finish his old notebook first; it was only right.
Once she made a full recovery, she left him. A suitcase appeared in the hallway and she patted his shoulder and gave him a pale smile. She was onto her second life, she said, and it didn’t make any sense to drag on with the first. She hoped he understood. She kept using words that began with ‘a’; amicable, adults, adversity, acceptance, adventure. He felt the urge to copy them into his notebook, to scrawl them in big childish letters on the very last page, and then go back and work up to them with reams of sensible prose. It might do, he thought; it might work.
A baby seagull fell from the apartment roof and got trapped in the patio below. He heard its cries and then the cries of its mother. When would they learn? It happened all over the city, year after year. Yet they kept making their nests there. They kept coming back. A real soap opera they had going on and perhaps it was that they needed an audience. He’d once seen a pair having seagull sex on top of the church. Yes, they had it all. Drama, romance, comedy, tragedy. And if you ever forgot their presence they’d remind you with a shit-covered car. Every year the same old story.
One day the dog ate his notebook. It was bored or distressed or something, home alone without her. He found it all chewed up, a mess of tooth marks and saliva. He had never felt so mocked in his life. Opening it up he found bits and pieces that were legible but it seemed he didn’t care. Looking beyond the handwriting all he could see were slippery rocks, broken vases, stunted greyhounds, pure white smoke and a whole generation of seagulls. He threw up all over it and handed it back to the dog.
Rachel Mulholland, 28, is from Dundalk, Ireland. She has a BA in English and Classics from NUI Galway and now teaches English in Galicia, Spain where she has been based for the past seven years. She has work published or forthcoming in The Pickled Body, Wordlegs, ESC zine and Poetry24.