Hello, what’s this?

I’m outside the Molly Malone Bar when I see them, the pair of them in Charlie Chaplin costumes. They’re not pulling faces or doing funny walks – just enjoying their fags. I ask James for some tobacco, quickly assemble a cigarette and walk over to them. Six steps.

‘Tienes mechero?’ I ask, with my thumb working an imaginary device.

‘Si,’ says the taller Chaplin, opening her hand to reveal a lighter. I light up, take a drag and ask what’s with the Charlie Chaplin costume.

‘We are not dressed as Charlie Chaplin. We are Dupont y Dupond.’

‘Who?’ I ask.

‘Thompson and Thomson,’ says the smaller Chaplin.

‘Who are they?’

‘They are from Tintin.’

‘Fuck yeah! The detectives.’

They nod enthusiastically, relieved I get it.

‘Billions of blue blistering barnacles!’

They look at me.

‘Do you know him? The sailor captain fella…from Tintin?’

They nod, but I don’t think they know what I’m on about.

‘So, why are you dressed as Thompson and Thomson?’

‘It is our cousin’s Detective Themed Birthday party,’ says smaller Thompson.

‘And everyone thinks they are twins but they are not even brothers,’ says taller Thomson.

‘But we are sisters,’ says smaller Thompson.

‘But not twins,’ adds taller Thomson.

James comes over and we end up going through the conversation again; this time in Spanish. Then, we pair off. I’m talking to the taller Thomson. She is studying engineering in Santander. She lives in Sestao. Her sister’s name is Vane. Her name is Jessica. No it isn’t a typical Basque name but there was a trend for English names around the year she was born. As she talks I nod and nod. It’s not that I strongly agree with trendy English names; it’s more that I am in accord with how she comes across. There’s something about her – and it’s not the moustache.

She asks about me. She listens.

I become aware that James and Vane’s conversation has dried up. The cigarettes are finished and feet are shuffling, eager to move on to the next moment. For James and I that’s finding somewhere to eat. For Jessica and Vane – back inside to be enveloped by their friends and the general tomfoolery that costumes engender.

But I don’t want to let Jessica go just yet.

‘Let’s get a photo!’ I say.

Jessica and Vane agree.

I give my phone to some guy. The four of us stand together. The photo gets taken. We separate. James walks over to our friends. Vane starts to walk inside. I walk with Jessica towards the door.

‘Where are you going later?’ I ask.

‘I don’t know. My cousin will decide. What about you?’

‘I don’t know. Café Antxokia maybe. Do you know it?’

‘Yes, yes. I like it.’

‘I might see you later then.’



And then we are at the door. There is nothing left for her to do but walk through it and she duly does. It’s unlikely I’ll see her later, or ever again for that matter. Bilbao, with its 1million inhabitants, is a big and small place at the same time. Some people you bump into. Others, well; different circles, same fishbowl.


It’s said before I have time to think myself into inaction.

She stops in the doorway and turns around. The two of us move to the side so we are not getting in people’s way; this creates an odd sense of privacy that emboldens me.

‘Are you single?’ I ask.


‘Maybe, sometime, like next weekend, we can meet for a beer?’


A pang of joy!

‘So I’ll take your number then.’



I produce my phone. She begins to call out her number but James, who is hungry and oblivious to the delicate matter at hand, comes over and presses me about going for some food. I fear the interruption will give Jessica a chance to review the situation and change her mind.

‘I’ll be over in a minute,’ I say to James. Whether it’s through my words, my tone or the look in my eyes I don’t know but, thankfully, my message is received and he ghosts away.

I look at Jessica. She nods and continues to call out her number. Joy and relief! I carefully type it in. I enter her name but my finger slips and I spell it Jessicq. No matter, it’s there now.

‘Okay. Great. I’ll call you now so you have my number,’ I say.

She takes out her phone, looks at it and shows me the screen. There it is, my number.

‘So. I’ll text you to arrange a drink or something.’



I put my phone in my pocket. She drops hers into her bag zips it shut. I lean in and kiss her on both cheeks. She goes into the pub. I go back to the lads. I have trouble keeping the smile off my face.

Six steps; a light, a chat, a feeling, a photo, a question, a number. The start, maybe, of something.

happy trails

Something similar? A Bit of Romance

Something different? The Karaoke Delusion


Cans on the Bench

Every time I see the date on my phone I feel a jolt, like I’ve just woken up and realised I’ve overslept. September 7th – I should be back at work. Then I remember I’m midway through my two year career break.

My hometown is making the transition from summer to autumn. The amusement park has closed. The Topsy Turvey and The Sizzler are being packed up. Lorries wait to ferry them away. The kids have substituted the bright summer outfits for uniforms. The tan tourists are no longer vying for the attention of the pretty barmaids. The men they leaned across are still there though, the ever-present pint before them. They pine for the barmaid – her pretty smile and perfect ass were a wonderful distraction. But she’s gone too and now it’s just the usual ugly bastards.   

A mist hangs over the town in mourning for the passing of summer. Neil and I have been walking through it for five minutes.

‘It’s like a ghosttown,’ he says.

‘Yeah. Here, where we going anyway?’

‘Lets see where our feet take us,’ Neil says.

I have a good idea where our feet are gonna take us. Twenty minutes later we are settling down on a bench overlooking the bay with a bag of cans and a packet of fags.

‘So how’s San Francisco?’ I say cracking open a can.

‘It’s wonderful. I really like my life there. The people there aren’t afraid to be true to what they want to do and I respect that.’

Some people can’t tell you how great their life abroad is without shitting all over Ireland . Neil is one such person. I ignore what’s implied because I don’t wanna get into an argument. He offers me a box and I draw a cigarette. We share a light. We smoke and contemplate the sea and the orange lights illuminating the deserted promenade.

‘ I hear you’ve extended your career break,’ he says.

‘Uno mas por favour!’

‘What do you want out of it?’

‘Em…well if I can come home with a good level of Spanish that’d be something.’

‘So, you’re not just pissing around.’

‘Well, some people may beg to differ.’

‘You looking forward to getting back out there?’

‘I am now yeah.  It has the potential to be a great year, now I have a certain standard of Spanish, a group of friends and work experience. ’

‘It’s gonna fly.’

‘I know yeah.’

We slug from our cans.

‘You could be there for a few more years yet,’ Neil says.

‘Well, she’d have to be pretty special…Nah.I wanna settle here eventually. My family are here, my friends too. Except for you ; you’re not my friend.’


‘You still single?’ I ask.

‘Yeah. A few false starts but nothing that lasted. Ah, I’m enjoying the single life. There’s a good social scene out in San Fran; a lot of thirty-somethings that don’t wanna grow up yet, so it suits me.’

‘ So when are you going to grow up?’ I ask.

‘What? Settle down and have kids and stuff?’

‘Well – you went to college, you got a job…It’s the next stage isn’t it?’

‘Well,’ he says taking a final drag from his ciggy. ‘If I don’t do it soon people here might start thinking I’m weird. Or worse, gay.’

 ‘Do you want kids even?’ I ask.

‘I’m thinking of it a little more these days.’

‘I was over at Willy and Roisín’s the other day, to see their little fella. Jesus – even walking out the door was an operation; have we got this? Have we got that? It’s tough. There’s a dramatic loss of independence. And there’s  the cost of child-minding, the sleepless nights and all that. But, when they talk about it, you know they wouldn’t change a thing.’

‘Yeah. I saw them too. I remember Roisín telling me – ‘There is no love in the world as strong as a mother’s love for her child.’ I was like ‘Well what happened to my Mom?’ Neil sparks up another cigarette. ‘Not everyone’s supposed to be a parent, I suppose.’

I don’t know what to say to that so there’s a spell of silence. Then I start thinking about a kid I once coached.

 ‘A few years back, I was coaching a football team. There was one kid; a scrawny little fella. He never missed training and had all the gear and stuff. He had a nice stroke of the ball but he was a coward. Anyway, we put him in the full forward line. He was hanging back out of the melee, as usual, but at one point, the ball bounced over his man and nestled into his arms. He turned. It was just him and the goalkeeper. Me and the other coach were holding on to each other. He took three steps and with a sweet strike, delivered the ball to the back of the net. We were buzzing. That kid had a glow about him for the rest of the day, as had we. And we fucking lost that day and all. The thing is, how happy we felt for him. And we were just the coaches.’

‘Imagine how his Dad felt.’


We drink in silence another bit.

‘ I might never come home,’ Neil says, playing with his ring pull.


‘Maybe. I dunno. It doesn’t have to be wife, kids and mortgage next.’

‘True. I was in the park the other day with my niece. All the kids were swinging, climbing and spinning saying; ‘Look at me!’ and all the adults were bored off their tits. They’d love to be doing what we’re doing.’

‘What? Drinking cans on a bench?’

‘Yeah!’ I laugh.

‘There are many ways to live a life.’

‘Sure are,’ I say.

We bump our cans together.

‘Lucky,’ he says.


‘One short year in Spain. And then what?’ Neil asks.

‘Ah, I’ll just follow my feet.’

 ‘Is it wise, the way we are?’ he asks.

‘Whattya mean?’

‘Just making it up as we go along? Not having any set plans?’

‘Well. We have two more cans. How’s that for a plan?’



Something Similar? Hanging with the Kids

Something Different? A Bit of Romance

Second Date

I text my cousin to say the date’s going well and I’ll be late. One hour. No probs, he says.

We are not going anywhere, Maria and I. I’m returning to Spain mid-September and she’s returning to Mexico in April. Still, here we are, snogging on our second date. It’s a long, slow one. We part and smile at each other. Our dancing eyes seem to ask the question; where can we go?

‘We should get a hotel together,’ I say.

‘When? Tonight!?’

‘Uh, next weekend; Saturday.’

‘Okay.I would like to see more Ireland.’

‘Wicklow maybe?’


‘The following weekend I am returning to Spain.’

‘I know. It is sad. Can I visit you?’

‘Uh, yeah. I mean it is expensive and there are no direct flights after October, but yeah.’


We kiss on the lips, drain our drinks and stand. Tonight we are going separate ways. I’m sleeping on my cousin’s couch. She shares a bedroom with a Brazilian housemate.

We walk down Dame Lane. It’s Friday night and the place is buzzing. She links my arm. I consider crooking my elbow but don’t want to look like Lord of the Shire, so I hold her hand, loosely. Ahead I notice another couple holding hands. The man looks at ease but I feel like an inadequate actor playing a role. I’m also anxious we will bump into someone I know. I mean here we are on a second date acting like an engaged couple in Paris in Spring time.  Kissing and staying in hotels is one thing but holding hands? It feels like we’ve jumped a few levels here.

None of us take the reins and we end up squaring up to the couple. After awkward laughter Maria and I walk around them. I tell her how, in many African countries, a man and woman holding hands is frowned upon, as it is seen as an inappropriate display of affection. I use both hands to tell her this piece of trivia.

We arrive at the bike stand. She points out her bike. It’s a crock with tiny wheels. I tell her off for cycling with no lights or helmet on the topsy-turvy streets of Dublin city. She laughs off my concern and reassures me everything will be alright. Again, it feels like I’m playing a role alongside a more convincing co-star. We say our goodbyes.

In the taxi I send a message to my cousin telling him I’m on my way. Then I begin to wonder if a hotel is such a good idea. Sure, the plush, cosiness would help take things to the next level, but is it financially viable? On the two dates I had paid for everything and not once did she present me with an opportunity to brush aside an offer to pay. It’s a Mexican thing, apparently. Finance aside, I feel that, once I go to Spain that will be the end of our courting. She might have the impression that a weekend away is the beginning of something. It would be unfair to indulge this notion.

I’m not sure.The fact that she’s nice doesn’t help. I’ll let it sit in my gut for a couple of days and see how I feel.

I pay the taxi man. I ring my cousin to let him know I’m outside. There’s no answer. He hasn’t read my last message. I ring again. Nothing. I find the apartment buzzer and give it a little push. I listen for the clunk of a key from the bowels of the building but all I hear is a TV with the volume up. I give the buzzer a longer, angrier push. Then I try the phone several times. Ring, voice, beep. Ring, voice, beep. My battery is dying. Time for a new plan.

I walk out onto the street and hail a taxi. The taxi man puts a bit of juice in my phone. He takes me to Smithfield.

‘Any beds available?’ I ask the man on the door.

‘It’s 1 o’clock in the morning on a Friday night in Dublin,’ he deadpans.

On the quay we stop at another hostel. The taxi waits while I run in. Full.

‘Jaysus, course. It’s fuckin’ All Ireland weekend an’ all,’ says the taxi driver.

Next we go to Gardiner street.

‘If ya don’t get one here ya may as well through yourself in the Liffey. There’s loads of hostels. Start at the bottom, work your way up.’

I give him a tip and he turns the taxi back towards the heart of the city. The first hostel is full. My phone burps a message. It’s Maria! She’s still up. My phone then gives another squeak to remind me of the battery situation. Better do this before it’s too late.

A sleepy hello.

‘Maria! Hi! Okay, this is very unusual but my cousin did not answer the door. He is asleep. I am looking for a place to stay. I’ve tried three hostels but they are all full. I am going to try more hostels but if they are also full, is it possible for me to stay in your place? Just on the couch for a couple of hours?’

A pause.

‘I am asking now because my battery is dying. If the other hostels are full I am stuck.’

‘But it is not possible.’

I wait for an explanation; something regarding her complicated living arrangements and housemates.

‘You cannot because I am falling asleep.’

‘Okay. I’ll let you go. Thanks anyway Maria. Goodnight.’


Cold Comfort

We were in Paula’s kitchen. She had a beer in her hand. She was more interested in the ring pull than its contents. My beer was drained. I wanted to grab another but she was about to say something. Her eyes, a mixture of confusion and sadness, were searching the crumbs on her plate as if they might gather to show her a way outta this situation.

Her throat admitted a trembling sound. Her lip wobbled. Tears rolled down her face.

‘I’ve been working so hard…but for what? What am I doing with my life?’

I had never seen her like this.

It had seemed to me that she never entertained negative thoughts.

Like me, she was relatively new to Bilbao. She moved into a large apartment in Casco Viejo in January and began a new life. She started working in a clinic and secured a side gig in a university.  She created a social life through couch surfing events, dance lessons and Tinder. She made new friends who showed her around the city.

 Then, into the stream of things that seemed to be flowing in the right direction, I jumped.

I liked her instantly. She was beautiful, smart and kind. On the first date my loves and hates of Bilbao made her laugh out loud. On the second she introduced me to two of her new friends. On the third, finally, she kissed me. It was a surprise how uninhibited she was; kissing me passionately in front of the people on the metro platform. I was dazed the whole ride home.

She brought me around Bilbao; to the old town with its labyrinth of narrow streets, to polished bars famed for delicious pintxos, to hidden restaurants stripped of any pretension, to hipster cafes along the riverside and to San Francisco Street, a place that pulsed with an energy more frenetic than anywhere else in the city.

But, in the kitchen that night, she was just bringing me down. She was upset because her career wasn’t progressing as she had hoped.  I tried to take the fact that she was dropping her usual assured optimism and showing a vulnerable side as a positive step forward, but something wouldn’t let me. 

She fiddled with the ring pull on her can. I moved to the chair next to her and put my arm around her. She pulled the ring pull off, dropped it on her plate and sighed. She fingered the busted mouth of the can. I was worried she might cut her finger so I took her hand in mine. She pulled it away and returned to the jagged edges. I felt sorry for her but my sympathy was overridden by a selfish fear – it wasn’t just work that was upsetting her – her feelings towards me had changed.

She wiped the tears from her face, took a deep breath and said;

‘In three weeks things are gonna change- for better or for worse.’

That night I couldn’t sleep. I lay next to her, burdened with an unspoken awareness that she would rather I wasn’t there. She couldn’t sleep either. I could feel her eyes searching the darkness.

 I replayed a conversation we had weeks ago.  We were talking about the dating scene. I was pessimistic.

 ‘I dunno – with all these dating apps, it’s like everybody’s looking over their shoulder – looking out for someone new, instead of giving their current relationship a proper shot. So we end up having lots of relationships and each one leaves us a little more scarred, a little more confused.’

She was more positive.

‘I think it’s a good thing because you meet lots of different people and you know better what you want.’

She threw the covers back and got outta bed. She stopped in the doorway for a moment and her naked body was silhouetted in the light. She looked so beautiful I ached with sadness and yearning. She went to the bathroom. When she got back into bed she sighed. I was losing her. I needed to do something.

‘Are you okay?’


‘Are you sure?’

‘Yes. Well, can you move over a bit please?’

‘Of course.’

I moved.


‘Yes thanks.’

I needed her to tell me that it wasn’t me, that she was just upset about work.

‘You know the way you said in three weeks time things would change?


‘I hope that in three weeks time – you and I are still together .’

She smiled, kissed me on the lips and said nothing.

If you liked this you might also like; A Bit of Romance

A Post-Holiday Whatsapp Crisis

Four people in a car, returning home after the Easter holidays. Trouble is, everyone else is too. There are traffic jams all over Spain. The same songs we heard on the way down, soundtrack the return journey. We don’t talk much. We sigh. 

I look through my photos.  We had a busy weekend of eating, drinking, sightseeing, hiking, eating and drinking. It was our first holiday together. We bonded well, but now we crave solitude.

I go into my whatsapp. A girl I’m dating was last online five minutes ago. She wasn’t texting me. On the journey to Salamanca I dispatched a little text reassuring her that my life was fantastic. She replied appropriately. Since then though, nothing. I don’t know what to say now. I feel far from fantastic.

It’s not just the end of a holiday, it’s the return of the hamster to its worry treadmill. At the start of the holiday there was no room for the bastard amongst the positive vibes created by getting outta town, breaking the routine and anticipating a weekend brimming with potential. The hamster was left behind on the motorway somewhere between Valladolid and Salamanca. The treadmill was blissfully still for a few days. But, the crafty little bastard was waiting for me on the return journey.

‘Wha’s wrong?’ D asks me.


‘You keep sighing.’

‘Oh. It’s just I’m trying to send a text .’

‘To who? Paula?’

I look at her

‘You told me last night.’


‘So. What’s the problem?’

‘It’s just – I’m not sure. Maybe I should leave it. I’m always texting her first.’

‘Text her. It’s nice. Let her know you are thinking of her.’

‘But surely she would understand that without me having to text it.’

‘Well I don’t know. How many times have you met?’

‘A few.’

‘It’s a nice thing to do,’ D says shrugging.

‘Maybe I should play it cool, you know.’

‘Ah – don’t play games. Besides, she probably knows you’ve been on whatsapp and maybe she’s wondering why you haven’t texted.’

‘But she’s been on whatsapp! Why hasn’t she texted me?’

 ‘You may as well just do it now, you’ve been thinking about it so much.’

‘Right. I will.’

I start typing.

Hi Paula!!

I delete one exclamation mark.  I don’t wanna appear too excited. Then I change my mind and put it back to two exclamation marks because what’s wrong with being excited? Then, I check to see how many exclamation marks she uses in her messages. One. Right, one it is. I start typing.

Hi Paula! How are you??

Then I delete one question mark.

‘For fuck sake.’

‘What?’ D asks.

 ‘Fucking…I’m 33, you know?I should be beyond this shit.’

I contemplate tossing my phone out the window. Then again, phones are what brought us together. And she’s nice.

 ‘I know. I’ll just send her a friend request on Facebook. That’s a good idea, isn’t it?’

‘Sure,’ D says.

‘She won’t think it’s weird, will she? That I wanna be friends, just so I can check up on her?’

D sighs.

‘If she thinks you’re nice, she’ll think it’s nice. If she thinks you’re weird, she’ll think it’s creepy.’

‘Creepy? Really…Well we’ve met a few times now, so she must think I’m nice, mustn’t she? I mean it’s weird that we are not friends when you think about it.’


‘If I can be friends with some lad I met on a stag and chatted to in a bar for five minutes, I can be friends with someone I’ve had sex with, right?’


But then I start thinking about my Facebook photos and I change my mind. Back to whatsapp.

Hi Paula! How are you? Would you like to meet up this week?

I press send and put my phone into my pocket. Done. One minute elapses before I check it again. Two blue ticks confirm she has seen my text. I put my phone away and try not to think about it.

A glorious beep. D looks at me. I can’t stop a grin. But it’s only a message from my Mom. I reply. I put the phone away. Why hasn’t she- It beeps again. It’s her!

Hola! Yes sounds goods. Maybe Tuesday night?’

I smile. Whatsapp suddenly seems more bearable. Same for the traffic.


A Boozy afternoon in a Portuguese Village

A Trip to Quirky Salamanca

A Bit of Romance


A Bit of Romance


In my room. On Tinder. A match! Jackie. Her photos look as though they were taken by a professional backstage at some glamorous event. A beautiful face framed by a huge afro. I send a message. Nothing big, just a hello. Jackie replies. More messages. Yes she speaks English. This is encouraging. Less so are her monosyllabic replies. The conversation needs a shot in the arm. I look through her photos again. I decide to say what I see – a quiet, creative type who perhaps has done a bit of modelling.


Her reply is instant.

Very close.

I can almost see her sit up and pay attention.

First Date

Vitoria. Old Town. Vitoria is colder than Bilbao. One jumper colder. Jackie is showing me around. Cobbled streets, cathedrals, a cosy little park, winter sunshine. It’s 3 o’clock on a Sunday and most of the city’s inhabitants have retreated to their homes to sleep off the afternoon wines and calamari. The streets are ours.

She buys roasted chestnuts at a stall. She tells me how she and her little brother used to put them in their pockets to keep their hands nice and warm. I picture the two of them trailing behind their mother, chatting happily and nibbling away. I’m charmed.
We have a beer. It’s a terrible thing to say but trotting out the usual stuff about work, friends and family is becoming a little jaded to me so I’m happy to listen to her talk about her business.

On the tram we stand close, face to face. Loosened by the beer and encouraged by her warm smile I get over the shyness and take her hand.

At the station the passengers board the bus. How often have pleasant days been cut short by the rattling of an impatient engine?

I have a lot of questions but there’s no time to ask. I like her. I know that.

She tells me all I need to know with a kiss.


Vitoria. Jackie’s rehearsal. We step out of the cold and into the apartment of Jackie’s teacher. We are greeted by warm smiles and the smell of baking bread. We remove our jackets and move into the studio area.

Jackie takes the stage. I take a seat. The piano accompaniment is barely there. Chin up, back straight and hands clasped lightly in front of her, she sings. Her mouth stretches wide and high, yet through all the manoeuvres she smiles. She looks so at peace. When a song finishes she looks at me and gives her full radiant beam. There are soft spoken exchanges between teacher and student. She leaves through her sheet music, stands erect and sings again. Her voice is like a finely tuned instrument fulfilling its full capacity.

After the rehearsal we walk happily hand in hand back to her apartment.

You know that period? That sweet getting to know you period where you come to learn the other person’s habits, idiosyncrasies, intimacies and routines; you walk around wide eyed in a strange new world; craving and being craved.

You know that period?

This is beginning to feel like the beginning of that period.

Vitoria New Town

Vitoria, Jackie’s apartment. We’ve just eaten a nice meal that Jackie prepared. I’m washing up. The atmosphere is stifled. There are long gaps between exchanges. What to say? I wanna lighten the mood but feel too tense to wisecrack. She’s hovering around me, watching me wash up. An inevitable sigh.


‘What are you doing? Not like that. Here.’

‘It’s fine. I got it.’

‘I want to do it. Just step aside.’

I sigh in exasperation and let her at the sink.

You know that period when everything you do gets on your partner’s nerves? That’s where we are.

Jackie dashes off to rehearsal. I take a walk through her part of the city and ponder it all going wrong. We’ve known each other a few weeks but bicker intermittently. Is it a cultural thing? Did Irish girls just turn a blind eye to my shortcomings or drop subtle hints that I failed to pick up?

The streets are empty and the buildings unlovely. It’s beginning to feel more than just one jumper colder.

Last Christmas

The writing’s on the wall. Looking at the situation in cold logical light I can see we’re going nowhere fast. But, I like her, and a stubborn desire overrides logic.

I do the romantic equivalent of driving down a one way street.

So, late one school night before Christmas, because the bus timetable says yes (though in between the lines Jackie said no) I find myself on the bus to Vitoria with a plant on my lap. When I arrive at her apartment, she graciously accepts the plant. Looking at her beautiful face I understand why I made the trip. But the dizzy romance is short-lived. Tiredness, the desperation in my effort, sloppy table-manners and the thought of sharing a bed with a restless soul culminate to help her realize she hasn’t got time for this carry on. She spells it out for me.

The end.


Like this? You might also like Cold Comfort Something different? A Day at the Beach


So this is a piece of flash fiction; a story told in 500 words, or less.

She’s on the couch, analysing. Thankfully, her daughter Rebecca’s in bed. It has been a nice night. He was polite and nervous as always. Her sisters will be all questions. They crave Dave details. He’s like an alien to them. And ‘dating’s’ another planet. She wasn’t sure she could call it that. ‘We’re just friends. And Rebecca doesn’t know,’ she’ll remind them. He was gorgeous though, she’d told them that. ‘You’re dead right to be meeting fellas again’ Joan said. Then apologised for ‘dead.’

She picks up the phone.

Her digit finger’s over the keypad, waiting for her brain, as if she’s trying to think of a code and the wrong answer could end in Nuclear Disaster. Her finger hops deliberately over the buttons.

Nite X

She presses Send. Puts the phone on the coffee table. The ‘sending’ arrow’s pointing to the bottle of wine. Cancel option on the bottom right. Still time to change her mind. Then it’s gone. She stands up. Feels bold. And unsteady. It’s out there. How does it work? Two syllables flung into the air, to be caught by an invisible net cast by his phone? A fine catch! Across the city his phone’s lighting up. Buzzing, as Rebecca says. He’s usually quick to respond.

What now? Switch the phone off and go to bed! She laughs at herself. The idea came to her as if it was the height of dangerous living. She couldn’t sleep until she knew.

She looks again at the phone on the coffee table. Wonders if it makes relationships any easier. Eugene and her never texted. She imagines a text from Eugene.

Have to stay back at work.

Her late husband!

She goes into the kitchen. She feels grateful for the dishes slanting in the sink. She starts washing them. Nothing wrong with it. That one little letter expressing what she wanted to do earlier but couldn’t. Telling him she’s ready. It has been long enough. She leaves the dishes on the draining board, opens the fridge.

The phone has shaped itself into an uneasy presence. Maybe he isn’t ready. ‘Did I? Sorry. Force of habit. I put in a little kiss when I’m texting my daughter.’ 

‘Very good,’ she says to Rebecca’s lunch and other fridge contents. She closes the door. She fills a glass with water and goes back into the sitting room and looks at the phone as if looking life itself in the eye. The thing is still dormant.

In the bathroom she prepares for bed. Wine stains on her teeth and lips. She shakes her head. Half-drunk on a school night. Acting like a school girl.

Her toothbrush landing in the glass reports a hollow din. She hears the phone burp. She clutches a towel en-route to the sitting room. Her feet hurrying.

The glow of the screen. The envelope sitting above his name like an unopened present. Open text. Reads. Joy fizzes through her body.

Then, the guilt sets in.


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