A Breakdown in Communication

The next morning the questions are still following me around like persistent bees. My girlfriend finally responded to my text, acknowledged that things aren’t okay, but failed to signify why they aren’t okay. I guess I should know. I wanna cut the bullshit so I suggest we meet over coffee. Fine, she says.

So after Spanish class I walk across town to Santurtzi. The rain and the tall buildings lend the place the feel of a dark, damp cave. It’s the type of weather that makes you grimace.

I’m standing outside the café when I see her coming towards me with an umbrella in hand. Now, J looks serious at the best of times, but as she nears I see her eyes are burning with an extra intensity; I mean, she looks like she wants to fucking kill someone. I’m pretty sure that I might be that someone but I have no idea why.

We kiss on the lips.

‘What’s wrong J?’

‘Nothing.’

Well, you should tell your face that.

It’s a terrific quip that I keep to myself. Instead I say, in Spanish, that it’s clearly more than nothing. She makes a dismissive sound, letting me know that I have failed to execute the phrase correctly.

I feel like my stomach is being held hostage by her face. The atmosphere is heavy and I wanna change it.

‘I’ve been worried,’ I say.

She shrugs.

We step inside the café. It’s just another café: pintxos wrapped with cellophane on the counter, elderly clientele, uncomfortable chairs and the owner looks like he hasn’t had a day off in years. He’s in no rush. As he prepares the coffees I think: Am I gonna get dumped here? No, she wouldn’t have kissed me on the lips if she was going to do that. I mean no-one has ever been betrayed by a kiss, have they? We sit down at a table.

‘So. How was Saturday night?’ she asks.

She said Saturday night as if there were quotation marks around it, as if it were some silly made up time in a made up game I play with my friends. She’s looking at me really closely.

‘Fine. Nothing special,’ I shrug. ‘We had some beers in Casco Viejo: Noel, Dave and I. We went around to a few bars and finished up early: got the metro around 130. Sin mas.’

The casual manner which I deploy does nothing to disarm her. She unleashes her second question.

‘When did you make the plan to go to Bilbao? I’m just curious.’

Curious? Furious more like. Another great quip that I keep to myself. Still, I know now what’s up.

‘That morning. Remember when I texted you and you said that you weren’t feeling any better?’

She nods. She’s listening intently and I feel like I’m one wrong word away from a massive argument.

‘So I assumed I wasn’t going to see you and made plans with the boys,’ I continue gingerly. ‘Then you said we could meet for a coffee and I thought Great, but I assumed it would be just that – a coffee.’

‘Things went differently than I had expected,’ she says.

‘You thought that we were going to spend the night together?’ I say, touched.

‘Yes. And over coffee we have this big conversation about spending the future together. Then, I go to the toilet and when I come back it seems suddenly we aren’t even going to spend the evening together.  And I was like ‘Que?’’

‘Okay, alright. I’m sorry.  But, you understand as well, that I thought it was just going to be a coffee?’

She nods.

Something occurs to me.

‘But how come, when we said goodbye on Saturday evening, everything was alright?’ I ask.

‘Sometimes you only think of these things afterwards,’ she says.

‘So, yesterday, I was trying to figure out what was wrong. I figured it was something to do with the conversation we had had, that you had changed your mind about the future and all.’

‘No, no.’

‘And when you didn’t text me back last night I was so worried. I was so worried,’ I say.

‘Yes. I’m sorry.’

Her hand reaches across the table and caresses mine. The tension dissipates and a warmth comes over her features. My stomach begins to settle.

‘I feel better now. Now that we talked about it.’

We finish our coffees. Such is the change in mood I expect that, once we step outside, the atmosphere will have shifted accordingly; the sun will shine, birds will chirp and a barber shop quartet will be on the road singing songs of love. If anything though, the weather is worse. We huddle under her umbrella and set off together.

nocktoebenaughto

Something Similar?An Anti -Valentine’s Story

Something Different? Happy Birthday: Life is Long!

Happy Birthday: Life is Long!

I wake to the sound of an alarm. I press snooze in the hope that Monday fucks off for itself. It doesn’t. Monday doesn’t care if you partied hard at the weekend. Nor does it sympathise with you about the fact you feel a little cheated; all week the weekend seemed like a book full of clean blank pages waiting to be filled with wonderful things. Now that book is bounced off your dehydrated head and lands open on a page baring the cold facts; you got drunk and did a few chores; it’s over now and a pressing list of demands awaits. I get outta bed. It’s my birthday. 34 and feeling every bit of it.

It’s a bright cool morning.

I have to catch the train to Bilbao 4 times a week, which means four times a week I am running through the cobbled streets of Portugalete, bag bouncing on my back. Each time I tell myself that I need to leave my house 5 minutes earlier but I’ve been telling myself that four times a week for three weeks now. Still, I haven’t missed a train yet.

On the train everyone silently agrees not to get on each other’s nerves by shutting up and staring at their phones. I check Facebook. There’s a lot of people saying happy birthday. Facebook has prompted them to do so. I do the same when prompted. Everyone must be getting tired of everyone’s birthday.

In Spanish class I start to think that Saturday’s partying has left me brain-damaged. It takes me ages to construct a sentence. I am a little disgusted with myself. Will I ever learn this fucking language? I need to slow down on the weekend boozing. Mind you, I’ve been saying that every Monday for about five years now.

Afterwards my classmates and I go for coffee and cigarettes. None of us are particularly enthused about having to teach kids later on.

‘I don’t know how I’m gonna be all singing and dancing today,’ deadpans Aaron in a droll Newcastle voice, the imprint of a hangover on his face.

‘I hate when you have to tell-off a kid just before you do a song and you’re really angry, but you have to force a fake smile and say ‘Come on everyone! Let’s sing ‘We’re going on a Safari!’ James says.

‘My kids don’t even like songs! And they’re six! I’m there dancing and singing and their eyes are boring through me. I’m 33…34 and I have a hangover. What the fuck is your excuse young fella?’

I drain my coffee and run for the train.

Later, in class, I’m asking my teenagers what they did at the weekend.

‘I hang out with my friends and studied,’ is the standard answer.

They stubbornly refuse to let the conversation go anywhere. Maybe they’re just bored that they are doing the same shit over and over. Life is short, they say. Nay, life is long; Long enough for us all to get into ruts. Long enough for us to get bored. Ashley Madison has it the wrong way round. Life is short. Have an affair. If life really was short would people get bored of their partners and seek out affairs on the internet?

Life is long. Have an affair.

Life is long. Get drunk.

Life is long. Give up alcohol for six months.

Life is long. Live in another country.

Life is long. Take up a new hobby.

Life is long. You may as well have kids.

Life is long. Do something you wouldn’t normally do.

‘Did anyone do anything different?’

‘I went to Bilbao,’ says one pretty girl.

‘Oh really! What did you do there?’

‘Take photos.’

‘Took photos.’

‘Yes.’

‘Of what?’

She looks at me like she doesn’t understand.

‘Of buildings like the Guggenheim? Of homeless people who possess a tragic wrecked beauty?’ I suggest.

‘No…of each other.  For instagram.’

Now I’m the one who doesn’t understand.

In my next class I have my six year olds doing exercises.

‘Running, running, running, running, jumping, jumping, jumping, jumping, eating, eating, eating, eating, swimming, swimming, swimming, swimming.’

Their enthusiasm and big wide smiles are a pleasant contrast to the guarded, sullen teenagers.

The adults file in. I smile and greet them all. They take their seats – everyone always sits in the same seat. As they settle I notice Martha isn’t here. Odd because she never misses a class. Then there is a knock on the door. Nerea jumps, opens the door and switches off the light. A low flickering candle enters the room. A low chorus of ‘Happy Birthday’ begins. My name’s on the cake and all. It’s a pleasant surprise.

Happy Trails

Something Similar: A Black Star on the last Day of School

Something Different: Squat Diddly