An Anti -Valentine’s Story

It’s Sunday morning and I’m feeling unusually positive. I exude an assuredness, like a boxer before a title fight who knows that things are going to work in his favor.

I send my girlfriend a text suggesting that she calls over at around 6:30 this evening. Yup, my girlfriend. Not a girl I’m seeing or that girl I’m dating: proper girlfriend. The plan is simple -dinner, wine and a movie.

In 2016 Sunday’s were often bleak, lonesome affairs; just me and a dreary monologue in my head. But count down from 10, turn the page, add a lady and Voila! Everything is better in the New Year!

First though: things need to get done. I tidy my room. Stray coins go back in the jar, opened books are shut and slotted back onto the bookcase, small mounds of clothes are placed in the laundry basket, the floor is swept, the shelves are wiped . When I’m done the room appears to be waiting.

Then I begin working on my next blog post. I read what I’ve written so far and it does nothing for me.  Maybe I’m just groggy after last night’s beers. I try to force something but I can’t stop looking at my phone as if it has the answers. Eventually, I turn my phone off and toss it on the bed behind me. I press on for about forty-five minutes or so and then I stop.

I get up and turn my phone back on and wait for a reply to come chiming through. It doesn’t arrive.

No matter. Keep moving.

I go for a walk. I cross the bridge to Getxo and turn right. After about thirty minutes I feel last night’s cigarettes taxing my lungs and last night’s beers swilling in my stomach.  I pass some car showrooms and come to an urban no-man’s land of huge dormant industrial complexes and slate grey sky. I try to avoid looking at my phone but it’s like a loose tooth I can’t help tonguing. There’s still no reply. I let out a sigh and turn back. The clouds begin to unburden themselves.

I feel the grimness trying to slip inside me. I pick up the pace in an attempt to keep ahead of the negative thoughts.

I’m tired by the time I get back to the apartment. I sit down and count the positives: I’ve tidied my room, I’ve done a bit of writing,I’ve taken a healthy walk and there is no reason to believe my girlfriend isn’t coming over. It’s still going to be a good day.

I get back up. I put my phone on the table and set about preparing a lasagna. I heat the pans and chop onions, mushrooms and garlic. I stop every now and then to check my phone. It’s nearly five o’clock and still no word. I carry on. The mince is nicely browned.

Ding, Ding. I wipe my hands, take a breath and pick up my phone. Three messages.

I’m feeling worse than yesterday.

I’m not going to come to your apartment today

I hope you had A PERFECT WEEKEND

It’s like a punch in the stomach. I remain calm and respond quickly.

No problem. Is everything alright? Anyway You’re doing the right thing by staying in and getting some rest.

It’s a nice, measured text. I’m a nice guy; That’s what all the girls tell me when they’re dumping me.

I get back to cooking, but all attention to detail is gone: I just want a plate of something. I go through the motions while my mind paces. What did she mean by A PERFECT WEEKEND? Am I just being paranoid or does her message carry an undercurrent of bitterness? Have I done something wrong? Why hasn’t she responded yet? These questions chip away at me over the coming hours.

I eat a lopsided lasagna. I wash my clothes.

Eventually, as I get ready for bed, I get a message. But it’s only Dee.

Researchers reckon that tomorrow is the most depressing day of the year.

Ha! I turn off the light and lay down on the bed, feeling defeated.

nocktoebenaughto

Something Similar? A Bit of Romance

Something Different? What is she like?

Airport/Groceries on the Dancefloor

Airport

London Gatwick. I find the boards and scan with tired eyes. My flight doesn’t jump out at me and I feel momentarily vexed. Has it all been one big mistake? Wrong date? Wrong time? (In airports I always feel like I’m on the brink of a huge blunder). Then I see it. Bilbao. VY7293 19:55. Boarding gate will be announced at 19:05. Grand.

I head towards Departures, negotiating the wheelie bags and fond farewells. I queue. The guys at security have an impatient air and seem perpetually mystified at the hesitancy coupled with stupidity that comes over the passengers. Every day the same. I take out my laptop and place it in a tray. I pull out another tray and drop my bag into it. I remove my jacket and stuff it alongside my bag. I stick my wallet and belt in the sides. I dig my hands into my pockets and feel for loose coins. None. Grand.

I pass through the metal detector without a beep. I meet my bag on the other side and refill my pockets, slip on my belt, place the laptop back in the bag and heave it onto my back. Passport, wallet, ticket, phone, keys, boarding pass. Grand.

Shiny shops in a busy thoroughfare. I find the food hall. The stench of coffee greets and entices me. I pay for an overpriced coffee and sandwich. The coffee feels good. The contents of the sandwich conspire to create zero flavour whatsoever.

I go down to the seating area. People are reading or pushing buttons on their phones while intermittently checking the boards. It seems a numbness has come over us all. We are in-between, waiting for our lives to start again.

Portugalete, Bilbao

I drop my bag in my room, splash water on my face, reapply some deodorant and go outside. I tackle the hill with purpose. It’s been a long numbing day of travel (3 hour bus journey, airport, flight, airport, flight and car ride) so my energy surprises me. I guess my legs are relieved to be finally set free out of doors.

It’s a big night here in Bilbao. The bars are heaving. Jessica and her friends are in the ‘Why not?’ I’m excited to see Jessica as we’ve been apart over Christmas. I’m also a little nervous as I’m about to meet her friends for the first time.

The bouncer nods at me. The bar behind him seems like a busy cave of activity. He pulls the door open and I step inside, and inadvertently, into a group of eight or so people standing in a crescent formation. They all seem to be looking at me. They must be Jessica’s friends. Meekly I scan the group but I can’t see her anywhere. Then I see her sister Andrea. I smile, kiss her cheeks and wish her a happy new year. This confirms to the group that I am him, Jessica’s new fella. I feel the eyes switch from curiosity to appraisal.

Finally Jessica appears at my side. We kiss, hug and say a few words. A drink is handed to me.People from the group step forward to introduce themselves.  Marie Luis, Alvaro, Luis, Martha, Mirren. We speak in Spanglish. We have to lean into one another to be heard above the Reggathon blasting out of the speakers. Everybody’s nice. Everyone makes an effort. Nervousness has me tilting back my glass with speed.  Aritz, Akine and Ane. After a whirlwind of introductions I’m relieved to be back standing next to Jessica. Another drink is handed to me.

‘I’ll get the next,’ I promise.

I spot a plastic bag on the floor. It’s filled with a box of breakfast cereal, a litre of milk, eggs, apples, bananas and mandarins. How curious it looks! It seems as though  it has been transplanted from somebody’s kitchen of a dreary Tuesday morning to this limitless Friday night of disco balls and lights.

‘It’s for you,’ Jessica says following my gaze.

My face clouds with puzzlement.

‘Tomorrow is a holiday and all the shops are closed,’ she explains. ‘Seen as you were arriving late I thought I’d get you a few things.’

I smile at the bag of shopping and then at Jessica. My fondness for her deepens.

 

Nocktoebenaughto

Something Similar? What is she like?

Something Different? Bilbao Metro 4am

 

Goodbye

I’m sitting at the computer in my brother’s house when Nini wanders in.

‘Hey!!!There you are,’ she says, as if I’ve been hiding from her.

‘Hellooooo.’

‘I got you a present!’ She says beaming. She thrusts forth a bottle of lemon cordial.

‘Oh. Thank you. I love it!’ I say admiring the bottle.

‘I’m glad you like it.What are you doing?’

‘I’m printing out tickets for my flight. Tomorrow I’m flying back to Spain.’

‘Oh,’ she says with downcast eyes. ‘I was hoping the present would make you stay, but I guess it didn’t work.’

‘ I’ll be back in the summer!’

 ‘What’s this?’ she asks, picking up my passport.

‘I need that for travelling.’

‘Is that you?’

‘Yeah. Some head on me isn’t there?’

‘You don’t look very good in photos,’ she says giggling. ‘But I think you have a nice face,’ she reassures.

‘Awh thanks.’

My brother appears and tells Nini its time for bed. She protests. He tells her that her uncle will read her a story if she goes to the toilet and washes her teeth. There’s silence as she contemplates this. Then she gives in and goes to the toilet.

‘You don’t mind do you?’

‘No man. It’s a pleasure,’ I say as the printer releases my ticket. I take it from the tray, examine it and then fold it away in my jacket pocket.

Nini climbs into bed.

‘You have a very big bed!’ I say sitting down next to her while she scooches over.

‘It used to be my sister’s bed but now it’s mine.’

‘Your bed is bigger than my bed!’

She says nothing but her eyes widen to absorb the fact. I open the book my brother has given me. It’s a book about Irish history.

‘Oh look at her! She’s a woman pirate!’ I say. ‘Would you like to be a pirate?’

‘I don’t really know. I don’t really know what a pirate does really.’

‘Well they go around on boats and sometimes they steal from other boats.’

‘Are pirates bad?’

‘Well..some are.’

‘Is she a bad pirate?’ Nini says pointing at the book.

‘Well..that’s Grainnemhaol. She was an Irish pirate.’

‘And she was a girl.’

‘Yes. Will I read about her?’

‘’Kay.’

I lay back. Nini rests her head on my shoulder so she can see the book.

Grainne mhaol is Irish for bald Grainne. When she was a little girl she asked her father, who was a merchant, if she could join him on the boat. Her father said no, that her long hair would only be getting in the way. So what did Grainne do? She only grabbed a scissors and cut all her hair off. And that’s how she became known as Grainnemhaol.

‘So she was bald?’

‘Yeah like me.’

‘But you’re not all bald: you have some hair here and and around here.’

‘Well, yeah.’

‘But how come she’s not bald in the picture?’

‘Well her hair is very short. I guess it grew back a little. Will I read on?’

‘’Kay.’

I read on but Nini’s mind is elsewhere.

‘When are you going to Spain?’ she interrupts.

‘Tomorrow morning.’

‘Early? Will I see you tomorrow?’

‘No. You’ll be asleep -all snoring and farting.’

‘I don’t snore!’

‘But you fart.’

‘No I don’t. Not like my Daddy does.’

‘Yeah. Well thank goodness for that.’

‘I wish you weren’t going.’

‘I’ll be back in the summer.’

‘But that’s so long.’

‘No it isn’t. You’ll be so busy in school and having a great time that it’ll be really quick.’

Nini lets out a sigh. I don’t know what to say.

‘Will I read more about Grainne this mad , bald woman pirate?’

‘‘Kay.’

I read about Grainne’s swash buckling adventures. Nini’s comments begin to taper off and pretty soon I realise I’m reading to myself. I set the book down and gently remove her head from my chest. Her face has a soft sleepy look.

‘Bye bye gorgeous.’

I turn the light off on my way out.

nocktoebenaughto

Something Similar? Hanging with the Kids (Now 33% Better)

Something Different? Bilbao Metro 4am

What is she like?

I wait outside the café, watching people emerge from the metro. I’m looking for Jessica. The problem is: I’m not sure what Jessica looks like. When I met her she was wearing a thick moustache and bowler hat. She seemed sound. Mind you, she looks very serious in the photograph taken that night. Not in a ‘Haha I’m dressed as a detective and I’m gonna look pensive’ kind of way, just genuinely ill at ease. Maybe it’s because I have my arm around her and we had only just met.

I check the time. Nearly 830. I scan more faces.

At exactly 830 I see her. She is quite striking. Her hair, which is split down the middle, drapes over each side of her face. She’s tall, slim and straight in jeans, jacket and shirt. She sees me and raises a hand in acknowledgment. She looks like she doesn’t wanna be here.

We move towards one another. She looks at me guardedly. We greet in a flurry of awkwardness. It’s a mild night so we agree to take the table outside the café. She sits down and puts her tobacco pouch on the table. I go in to get the beers. Okay, alright.

 I set the glasses down and take a seat. Suddenly, all the things I was going to say scamper away faster than the memories of dreams upon waking.

‘So, Jessica, you study Engineering?’ I manage.

‘Architecture,’ she says loosening a paper from its packet.

‘In Santander?’

‘San Sebastian,’ she says dumping a small heap of tobacco on the paper.

‘But you live in Sestao, right?’

‘Santurtzi,’ she smiles, arranging the tobacco with her fingers.

I shake my head in embarrassment.

‘Don’t worry,’ she says, slotting the filter into position. ‘Nearly right.’

She rolls the paper, licks it and lights it.

‘Your name is Jessica though, right?’

‘Yes,’ she smiles, a plume of smoke chasing her affirmation.

We cover the basics. She’s 33 like me. And she’s the youngest in her family too. Her siblings are architects and engineers. They bent to their father’s will in terms of career path, except for her sister Andrea, who is a penniless artist.

She drains her glass. The sound of the glass hitting the table asks, What now?

‘Maybe we could move on, find a nice bar somewhere,’ I say.

‘Well, yes, or maybe just the next bar,’ she shrugs.

We take a table outside the next bar. She insists on paying. We get to talking about music. I mention U2.

‘U2? Wah! When I was younger I was obsessed with U2. Obsessed! I had all their albums, on record. October, Boy, War…’ she says counting them on her fingers.

There’s a brief silence. She’s eager to fill it.

‘I liked them. Yes.’ And then a confirming nod. And then a ‘Hm.’

 I gesture towards her tobacco pouch. It’s a brand I’ve never seen before.  She nods assent. Diligently, I roll one up. After one drag I have to sit back in my chair. I look again at the packet – Manitou. This isn’t a brand for social smokers posturing outside bars. I imagine the average Manitou smoker is a hard-nosed 40 something man who drinks, gambles and calls everyone ‘chief’; not the  svelte, Basque lady with clear pale skin and big brown eyes that sits before me.  

 ‘You’re very attractive,’ I say.

‘Thanks. That’s very kind of you.’

‘Another?’ I say, dashing out the cigarette.

‘Yes please.’

Every time she agrees to another beer I feel a slight increase to some internal heap of hope that glows with giddy promise…

 The next day  I’m sitting outside a café watching people going about their Saturday. It’s bright and cool and I’m hungover, but happily so. I return to my book. Sheep, it says, have a pecking order. If you had a flock of fifty sheep, each one of them would know their rank from one to fifty. How interesting I think, setting the book down again. I can tell Jessica next time we meet. Hopefully there will be a next time. Should be. She said that there would be. And Last night went well:  nice kiss and all. Still, you never can tell.

She’s no sheep -that’s for sure. There is something that sets her apart. Her appearance for a start, but also the way she tells a story: She’s wildly animated – big eyes, hand gestures and voices. It’s spellbinding.

Big into her music too. Suddenly, I remember that she had sent me a song last night while we were in the bar. I take out my phone and find the song. The Triplett Twins. Real seventies look about it. Beneath the band name are six black dudes, paired up and standing back to back. They are wearing white jackets and flared white trousers. They have afros and moustaches. It’s a cheesy cover. Where did she find this? I plug in my headphones and press play.

A keyboard slides between drum rolls. Then the boys start singing, all smooth;

‘Pretty please with sugar on top

Baby give me that love you got

Keep it coming girl good and hot

I don’t want you to ever stop’

I sit up in my chair. It’s hopeful and joyous and captures my mood.

Nocktoebenaughto

Something Different? The Karaoke Delusion

Something Similar? Hello, what’s this?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.’

‘Okay.’

‘Okay.’

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.

‘Jessica!’

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.

‘Yes.’

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

‘Okay.’

A pang of joy!

‘So I’ll take your number then.’

‘Okay.’

Another!

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.’

‘Okay.’

‘Okay.’

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

Insomnia

Last night I was tilting back glasses of yellow, smoking cigarettes and talking like a man who had a handle on things. The bar was crowded with smiling faces, the dance-floor a blur of bright dresses and dark suits.

Now though, I’m alone in my bedroom. My body hums in rejection to the whole idea of sleep. Thoughts race through my mind. I keep expecting these thoughts to arrive at a conclusion, whereupon I turn over, drift off into a satisfying slumber, wake up refreshed and go forth into the rest of my life with a brand new attitude. But, it ain’t happening.

I’m scared too. Of what? I don’t know. Something I forgot or did or said, or something I should be doing, apart from sleeping.

I throw off the cover and let the air at my legs. It’s 3am and I have work tomorrow. Fuck, today. I envision the pre-work routine; getting the bus, a quick coffee, the stale air of the classroom, devising plans, photocopying, checking my tired, weary red eyes in the mirror. I picture the students coming through the classroom door; The kids loud and boisterous, the teens slow and unenthused, the adults chirpy. How am I gonna do it?

Outside, a distant dog yaps. A car passes.

My mind jumps from past to present to future.

I think of last night’s sing-song. The choruses were belted out, loud and assured. The verses were fragile things, often solo efforts with muddled lyrics. We leaned in and willed on the one charged with taking us to the good parts. My cousin was confident with ‘Streams of Whiskey’ though. He galloped through the verses.

‘I have cursed, bled and sworn/Jumped bail and ended up in jail/Life has tried to stretch me/But the rope always was slack…’

I can’t think of the rest. The lines hang there, dissatisfied, like their journey has come to an abrupt and unwanted ending. I guess that’s what makes Shane McGowan such an amazing song-writer. When he puts words together, they belong to each other. I contemplate turning on my phone to check the lyrics but then I think of Paula and how I should never have given her such power. I don’t know what’s bringing my thoughts to her but I can’t control the bastards. The last few weeks were shit. I knew it was gonna happen but I clung on anyway. Let her do it, I thought. Still though, if I had more self-respect I would have split. How could I let someone waste my precious time like that, worrying over whatsapps?

I think of girls I have dumped. I’m haunted by the look in their eyes. What gave me the right to cause such hurt?

You can’t win.

I get out of bed. I get the pack of cigarettes from my shelf, open the window, sit on the bed and spark up a fag. The escalators are still. There isn’t a soul around. I see the ‘Hanging Bridge’ looming over the buildings. I like that bridge. So do the locals. There is a photo of it in every café in town. Portugalete and its famous hanging bridge.

‘How did you end up in Portugalete?’ Paula had asked, mystified.

‘Well, before I moved here, I was worried about two things more than anything else; not having any job and not having any friends. Dee promised me both, in Portugalete.’

And Dee had delivered. She was unhesitant and unrelenting in her help. Recently, she was told to move out of her apartment. There were two rooms available in my apartment.

‘Do you mind if I move in?’

She saw the look on my face, my shrug.

‘I understand if you don’t like the idea,’ she added.

‘It’s just we work together and socialise together and to live together too…’

‘Okay. I get it.’

What the fuck was I protecting? My solitude? I should have been a better friend.

The difference a day makes. Yesterday I felt like things were tidy, that behind the scenes things were somehow working in my favour. Today, the opposite. The tide was in, now its out.

I stub out the fag and close the windows. I lay down and look up at the ceiling. I try to concentrate on my breathing. I hear birds tweeting. Please.

What can’t be more than thirty minutes later a too loud alarm goes off. My bones, tongue and eyes are heavy. They have been touched by sleep and yearn for more. I force myself to sit up. Sleep has arrived and is ready to carry me away. I have to push it off and get outta bed.

nocktoebenaughto

Something Similar? A Post-Holiday Whatsapp Crisis

Something Different? A Trip to Quirky Salamanca

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.’

‘Haw-hawww.’

‘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.’

‘Exactly.’

We drink in silence another bit.

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

‘Really?’

‘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.

‘Yeah.’

‘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?’

‘Perfect.’

nocktoebenaughto

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Something Different? A Bit of Romance