:: Article

Infinite for Now

By Sinéad Gleeson.

Day 1

You can spell blood with your hands he says, curling his index fingers and thumbs into ‘b’ and ‘d’. Wrists bent back, ring finger forming a boxy ‘o’. This presents an excuse to stare at his arms, the strong cables of his veins. The grass beneath them is cool, and the fire hisses. The leaves give out a damp tang, turning the smoke green. Breath quickens and she knows this feeling, the one everyone chases. This firstness. The dilated pupil, the curved mouth hint, the victory. Orion is above them, his belt hazy behind clouds, and she stares at Betelgeuse, glinting in the blackness. His shoulder moves, and she readies herself for the lean in. A tentative brush, then parted lips and the full warmth of his mouth. Yes! she thinks, with a definite exclamation mark. Someone cheers from the bodies huddled on the other side of the fire. Up there, Bellatrix, Epsilon and Delta peer down at this new thing. The bones of it barely knitted together.

Day 3

She isn’t beautiful, she knows this. People say she is funny, but that’s not the same. Her brothers have a band and when she watches them play, their long hair grazing tremolo arms, she thinks she could be a singer. And she’ll write songs about how beauty isn’t important, how it’s No. Big. Deal. But he’s beautiful. Too beautiful, that’s the problem. There is no level of girl he couldn’t get, no woman he couldn’t make stare at him. He has never been turned down, or told no. But from the redness of that kiss, and all those stars, he came back again. To her.

Day 5

Text messages pile up into a satisfying amount, enough to call a history. A heap of emojis, the occasional misspelling, two dots, not three in every ellipsis. She likes to imagine that she is the missing dot.

Day 8

A darkened cinema with velvet curtains. Something subtitled, French. Lip-locked and panting, a crescent of blood bruises on her neck.

“Lovebites? Are they still a thing?” asks her father.

“Be careful,” says her mother, who talks for 10 minutes without a breath about how a girl can ruin her life. How the horizon can vanish, and take all the blue with it.

Day 10

Guitar strumming. The heavy mahogany pressing against her thigh, and she remembers his hardness by the fire. Mind wanders, followed by hands. I will not write a song about him. I will NOT write a song about him. Fingers in jeans, and then ache, and bliss.

She writes a song about him.

Day 12

Her parents depart for a cruise. For years there was never any money for holidays, but now they’re off down the Danube. She imagines her father throwing back Pilsner, her mother ordering one glass of Riesling over the whole week.  Friday, and her brothers depart in the diesel rumble of the band van, sweating and swilling cans on the drive to Galway. The sun tilts, and in the quiet, she shaves her legs, prepares her face, siphons a replaceable amount of gin from a blue bottle.

At night, it never gets hot here, even in summer months. There are no chirping crickets, no hiss of sprinklers, nothing that could be mistaken for balmy. It’s spring, but feels like summer. They lie in her single bed, bodies asking questions of each other. He stretches up to open a window, a pale pillar in the dim light. His veins bulge, electricity filling up the room.

“Let’s pretend we’re somewhere else.”

“Eh, like where..?”

“New York.”

“What’s wrong with London?”

“Too near. Same shite weather.”

“Ok… so… New York?”

“Look, just close your eyes. Now. Close them and listen.”

They tune themselves to the noise of the city, which responds and rises up. Horns beeping, girls shrieking. The recalibration was instant and surprising.

“Music, or no music?”

He gestures towards the spines of CDs stacked to cover the black mould on the wall.  She eyes the curve of his cigarette ash, bending towards the floor, just as he flicks it into a glass, a Marionette movement.

“Music. Yay or nay?”

She can’t decide if a soundtrack is appropriate or not. If after dozens of Woody Allen and Scorsese and films about gangsters and broads, and cars bigger than boats and streets like crossword puzzles if it’s even possible to put that city into music. And New York and its vastness make her feel afraid, even though she is here, in an old terraced house in Dublin. The light, or the slightly menacing shape of his shoulders, or what’s happening between them… something makes the sense of abandon disappear. Cop on, she thinks, don’t spoil this.

“No music,” she says.

And then a beat, before something comes to her and she wants that feeling back, the one she had upon opening the door and finding him standing there.

“Wait. Rhapsody in Blue.”

He smiles, impressed, but chooses to counter-attack.

“C’mon! The fucking Ramones, surely!”

But neither moves. He lies back, pressing his body to hers, still sweat-slicked, his elbow jutting like a jetty into the sea of her skin.

“I’m a bad sleeper.”

She had noticed the under-eye grey, the only distracting thing about his face. Later, she wakes, dead-armed from curling into him, and sees him scrolling and scrolling, the blue light interrupting the dark.

Day 13

The weekend moves too quickly. Tomorrow, her brothers will be back, although they’d cover for her. Tonight, they go for a drink, him downing Guinness, her on the pale ale, and end up crashing someone’s party, jumping around to nostalgic tunes for people over 40. The walk home takes an hour. They stop to lean against walls and devour each other.

Day 14

He has to leave early, and departs after three failed attempts to get out the door. Bells peal from the church at the end of the street, and this morning she doesn’t mind them lobbing a bomb into her weekend hangover. Her father complains that the new apartments beside them block the light, but she likes their closeness. People moving behind the glass, kids playing on the stairwell. You’re never alone in a city.  For weeks, she watched a couple preparing a nursery on the second floor. Painting walls in neutral yellow, building a cot, the woman hanging coloured bunting around the room. Her belly swelling with newness. She sought them out most nights, as they curled up on the couch, laughing at TV. Their happiness a finish line, something she craved. And then it was quiet. No lights for days. The man eventually returned and took the cot apart. A Latvian family lives there now. They leave the windows open all year round.

Day 18

A card arrives in the post. An actual card in an envelope. Like something from the 1980s.  It says ‘hook, line and sinker’. She doesn’t know if this is a good or bad thing.

Day 23

In the forest below the hill, he chases her through the trees. They laugh, like people in films who are in love. “I’m not a deer, you know!” she slows to let him catch her. The green cools their heat, until his hands are on her, his breath on her neck, and she focuses on the Spruce trees, his shudders.

Day 29

New York is on her mind. She imagines them in the lower East side, or sipping beer on a stoop in Brooklyn. That bridge over the Hudson that movie gangsters have meetings under. Then the hops from Guinness, its burnt cream, drifts out over the Liffey and Dublin, nudging away the skyscrapers, reminding her of all that this city is and has been. This place that she loves and hates.

Day 34

They climb the hill again, sinking into the gloam of the forest floor. Their dedication is athletic. Triathlon level even. Afterwards on their backs, they squint against the too-bright city; the yellow lights douse whatever stars might be up there. She passes her phone to him, app open.

“What?”, his smile lop-sided.

“Here. Point it upwards.”

“We said to put phones away. What?”

“Watch.”

She holds the phone aloft and Hercules and Pegasus charge across the sky.  He takes it, tilts and rolls until stars and planets appear. Andromeda, Mercury at the tail of Pisces’ fish, the Moon below Aries. Constellations swoop by, joined up by lines on the screen. Digital dots doubling for the ones the city night sky has hidden. He drops the phone and there are kisses. Hundreds of them, hot as the hydrogen burning in every dusted star. An ambulance streaks by, each oscillating wail rises and dips, as if the sound itself is a country road. He traces crescents on her back. Not celestial bodies, but infinite for now. 

Day 35

They talk of getting the bus to Sligo for a weekend. Swimming and a seaweed bath; he wanted her to try surfing. Then a climb to the top of Knocknarea, to visit Queen Maeve’s tomb. Survey the limestone slant of Benbulbin and the wide Atlantic. Next stop across the ocean: New York. There are always more stars in the countryside.

Day 36

She types and deletes the message eight times.

Wanna go to Brooklyn again, or take a spin around the stars?

Text Sent.

Delivered.

Day 37

It’s 17 hours since the last text. The Whatsapp messages say delivered and read. Pacing the house, she re-treads the stairs, wondering if she was too much, or not enough. Girls are always too something. Phone in hand, palms sweating the screen, willing something to appear. She turns off all notifications except messaging apps, cursing each stupid ‘like’ that causes it to buzz.

Day 38

The nights are full of sweat, islanded in her own saltwater. Dreams of people with no eyes, the forest, of specimen jars – full of what, she doesn’t know – in colourless suspension.

Day 39

Her mother starts with the questions. A machine-gun approach, of not listening, of raising the tone a little – a plane taking off – with each enquiry.

“I don’t know, ma.

Leave it.

Please?”

Day 40

Calculations.

Days since last text.

Times they’ve been together.

Hours without him, without that.

Calendars.

Communication.

Constellations.

Betelgeuse blinking at her up on that hill. The moon taking its white hulk off behind the clouds, offering them the darkness.

Day 41

Easter approaches. All Jesus and death and resurrection. And pink lakes of cherry blossoms pooled under trees, and hailstones even though May is almost on top of them. And sans serif words blinking in a plastic window.

Day 43

Search.

Click.

Confirm.

Click.

Clear Cache.

Day 44

Crying brings on constant headaches, stinging eyes. She is sick of tears, mortified by her own wailing.

“It happens to everyone, you know.”

In the doorway, her mother’s pose is firmly one of passing by, not contemplated entry. This is fine. She doesn’t want her to come in. And then a sudden longing for her mother’s arms around her is a surprise.

“Look love. You think your father and I weren’t young once? Oh, I turned many heads, I can tell you.”

She watches her mother’s reverie trick of folding her arms, head tilted to the past.

“It wasn’t —”

She presses her eyes into the pillow, which is salted and snot-streaked.

“He just—”

“I know love, I know. You’ll get over it. You have to kiss a lot of fr—”

“DON’T,” she mutters from the depths of the bed.

Day 46

Today, she burns sage, burns the card, burns skin, where the first bite was. Where purple went yellow, now red and fizzing. She picks at it in the bath.

Day 47

I’m Maeve. Queen fucking Maeve, she says to herself. Not buried upright under stones in Sligo, but still ready for battle. I’ve got my swords, I’ll take you all on.

Queen, queen, queen, she whispers.

Day 48

She should never have told him, but it was in that post-physical, post-sweat, post-grapple moment. Those dizzy, content seconds where there is the same energy as after a fight. The compulsion to over-share, to reveal, to confess. The overwhelming urge to give another person a secret morsel of yourself that says, “We’re fine, I trust you, and this is how much.” Maybe she should have settled for asking: “What are you thinking?” But on that night, of Hercules and Andromeda, it slipped into the air like an eel, curling around their joined bodies.

I’m late.

This makes her think of meetings, or missed buses or her body failing to get over a finish line like a runner with jellied legs.

Day 50

Her stomach acclimatises to the height, as the plane sweeps out over the bay. Past the candy stripes of Poolbeg Towers, and below, a ferry makes a white furrow of the sea. Far from the slab of her single bed, far from handbag naggins, and from the arrow of his spine. It hurts to think of his body, the flesh and bones of him. The wing tilts, disappearing the sea. We are beginning our descent into London Gatwick.

Day 52

In two days, she’s back home. Waking to her brother strumming a guitar at the end of her bed, softly singing a song she loves. One they used to sing as kids. Her throat has little air, not enough for words or a chorus. His fingers move along the frets and he offers a smile, which she tries to answer. The radio drifts up from the kitchen, post drops through the letterbox. Someone is going all out with a kango hammer outside. Today, she thinks. Today. 

Day 65

The days are getting longer, heating up. Summer arrives full of swagger and possibility: barbecues and cans in the park, festivals and walking home from parties at dawn. There will be places to avoid, but it will be ok.

Day 90

Turns on phone.

Text ping.

Alright? Smiley face.

90 days since Betelgeuse on the hill. Not months, or a year but it feels like it. She walks the hill most weekends, in daylight, among the pines and the moss. The blackbirds in the forest are silent by summer.  A logging truck wheezes past, teasing the roadside ferns and she watches the trunks receding down the track. Concentric rings telling a story.

I have a story.

This year will be just one more circle. There will be another when her mother is no longer here, and one for her father, her brothers.

She will forget the circles of O’s he made with his hands.

But now, yes, she can spell blood with her whole body now.

*

Day 4,591

His New York apartment looks expensive. His children are gorgeous, rust-haired. This doesn’t look like a curated version of happiness. Clicking through his photos, annoyed by her voyeurism. He is happy. There are soft-filtered images of him holding hands with a tall, blond woman: on a beach, at Machu Picchu, at dinner parties, their apartment looking out over the gleam of New York, the Chrysler just blocks away. Her view is of the sea, and the small island in the bay that she can finally swim to, after years of practice. Cormorants and kittiwakes nest on the cliff above, and at night, she switches off the radio and calls the dog. Walking into the dark, breathing in salt and the sharp Atlantic spray, waiting to see where Orion is.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sinéad Gleeson writes essays, fiction and poetry. Her essays have appeared in Granta, Winter Papers, Gorse, Banshee and Elsewhere Journal and her  short stories have been published in the anthologies Looking at the Stars (2016), The Broken Spiral (2017), Repeal the 8th (2018, ed. Una Mullally) and Being Various: New Irish Short Stories (2019, Faber, ed. Lucy Caldwell). She is the editor of three short story anthologies, including the award-winning The Long Gaze Back: An Anthology of Irish Women Writers, which was this year’s Dublin One City One Book choice, and The Glass Shore: Short Stories by Women from the North of Ireland. An essay, ‘Where Does it Hurt’? was longlisted for 2017 Lifted Brow Experimental Non-Fiction prize. Her debut essay collection, Constellations, will be published by Picador in Spring 2019. She is currently working on a novel.

ABOUT THE BOOK

This short story features in the anthology Repeal the 8th (Unbound, 2018). Edited by Una Mullally, Repeal the 8th is a collection of stories, essays, poetry and photography reflecting the movement for reproductive rights in Ireland. You can buy it directly from Unbound and also from book stores across the UK, Ireland and some European countries.

On Friday May 25th, 2018, Ireland will hold a referendum to repeal the 8th amendment of the Constitution of Ireland. Currently it gives equal right to life of a pregnant woman and her unborn foetus. Abortion in Ireland is illegal, even in cases of rape, incest, fatal foetal abnormality, many health problems, including if a woman is being treated for cancer. Obtaining an abortion can lead to 14 years in jail.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Friday, May 25th, 2018.