Sunday, October 24, 2004

A night to forget

Jason’s note.
I’m not about to say much about the writing in this, only that it’s rough.
There is little of Maria’s speech and story of her work life and ambitions, that will come. Please remember the beer was strong and the recall is not so good. For that reason, it’s not fair to go shovelling a load of made-up stuff back into her mouth, I should just stick to the impression she gave. This woman wasn’t weird, but there was something quite alien about her manner and intelligence. Actually, the New Zealand man fantasy, frankly, is weird.

New Zealand Man

I felt waved on by Maria, invited forward, judged. And this was just the preliminary emails to meeting up. I would be reminded that I must try harder. I came back from England, my first wedding, and gave a small report. Back came a stamping foot of a message. Call yourself a writer? Where’s the interest? Where are the details?

I spent an hour writing a detailed account of the wedding, calling forth as much of my memory of the day as possible. The dancing monkey performed all his best tricks and hit ‘send’.

Back game a glowing response the next day. A few more messages and Maria was ready to meet me. Even this wasn’t simple. There was a massive wobble of “No, I don’t think we should” followed a few days later by “Oh, maybe we should.” I had to go back with a counter, “It doesn’t matter if it feels too much, no-one says we have to meet.” As usual, this resulted in a firm date being fixed.

Maria warned me that she had an unfortunate habit of not being able to make eye contact until she had relaxed sufficiently. I thought this would at least provide a measure of her relaxation as any meeting progressed. I didn’t bother saying that, I just sent a nodding head reply.

We met on a Tuesday. It happened to be the day when Wayne Rooney made his explosive debut for Manchester United. I sat in the pub watching the first half of the game on a big screen, waiting for Maria to arrive after her evening class. She completed a few evening classes each year. Tonight she was doing stuff with computers, having confessed that she was currently hopeless with them.

Wayne Rooney was playing like something out of a comic book.

My mobile rang, the display - ‘Maria calling.’
“Are you here?”
“Yes.”
“Where?”
“I’m sitting on a stool beside a table. Hmmm, near the large screen.”
“Is that in the bar or the lounge?”
“I don’t know. I’m in the larger part, I don’t know what it’s called.”
“Okay.”
“I will wander round and try and find you.”
“Okay.”
“Are you sure we’re in the same pub?”
“Rathmines Inn?”
“Yes.”
“Yes.”
“Oh. Well, I still can’t see you.”

I wandered around. I still couldn’t find her. I did determine that I was in the lounge, though, it was written backwards on a door. I called her again.

“Where are you?”
“I’m sat in a corner, opposite the toilets.”
“Hmmm. What a clever spot. Hiding…”
“I think you’re stood in front of me.”

I turned round and there was a woman holding her phone and smiling.

“Oh, you must be Maria. Let me get my drink.”

When I sat down we said hello.

She pointed over to a ridiculously seedy-looking dark character I’d clocked earlier as a potential weenie-wagger.

“I thought that was you, he looks like he’s waiting for someone…”
“Yes. Satan, by the looks of him… probably going to ask for his soul back. And his looks.”
“I thought, boy, your photo sure was flattering, he’s covered in pockmarks.”
“Yes, he is. Maybe thousands of tiny asteroids have impacted on the surface of his face.”
“I think it was teenage acne.”
I looked at him once more.
“We’ll have to agree to differ.”
I was warming to the comedy potential of Mr Shifty.
“Actually, I’ve a quick confession. He’s my advance party… I send him in, and if the date is in any way attracted to him, I know that she is low-grade and desperate in terms of her taste in the opposite sex. Then, I move in…”
She laughed.
“On the other hand, with his seedy air and shifty eyes, he kind of makes me look good. At various points in the evening, I may call him over to enhance my own measure of personal attractiveness.”
“I look forward to it.”

We had some drinks and kept the talk flowing.

Maria explained some things about her job. Her job was clinical, and soon I realised, so was Maria. There was something compact about her, like she’d had an extra helping of detail added to her. I looked at her shoes, red, with a lot of detailed stitching.

“I work in a laboratory at the hospital. I’m the… I’m the deputy manager, well, I seem to be the manager most of the time. We process samples sent down, return results. I don’t enjoy doing it, really. It’s work.”
“And how long’s that been going on?”
“I’ve been there seven years.”

I thought about seven years spent doing something I didn’t like. These days I struggled to cope with seven minutes of something I didn’t like. I thought I better not mention how I just sat with my laptop in cafes earning more than enough to live on.
“So, what’s this stuff that you do for British companies? Computers, yes?”
I waved my arms.
“It’s like you, something I can do so I can live. I’m more focused on starting a life for myself here in Dublin. It’s just useful, I don’t have to consult anyone, all I need is my brain and my laptop…”

We had more drinks. I got them.

A few minutes later, a change came over Maria’s face.
“I have to say this now, Jason. There’s no connection. I’m not feeling a connection to you.”
I sat there waiting.
“Where’s the person who wrote me those messages?”
“They’re sat here. It was me.”
“No. It doesn’t feel like it. That must be another part of yourself… I had a picture of how it would feel to meet you, and it’s not happening. You’re the first person I’ve met through this website, maybe my expectations are the problem…”
I sat there thinking.
“I can only say that’s too bad if something is lacking. For myself, it seems obvious enough that the person who wrote you those messages is sat right here. He may be struggling to get out, but it is me. But, naturally, or maybe unnaturally, we’re here in the flesh, and all my nerves and anxieties are here, too. As such…”
I waved my arm, resigned. “… you can draw your own conclusions.”
“There’s no spark.”
It was like being crossed out.

I knew there was no point now. I had the same feeling people must get when they trek across the ice on solo unsupported polar expeditions, where they reach the end of their strength. Where it doesn’t matter where you are, or where you’re going, because the game’s over anyway. I saw myself as this little black speck on an ice floe, camera rising away, maybe something tender by a gravel-tongued singer-songwriter would fade in, someone with a thick grey beard paying tribute to my “the heart that carried a pack that far/to the end of his world” in a howling voice. It could be a short film, perhaps, The man who loved.

I kept drinking anyway. Maria drank very fast and now I drank very fast, too. It was my new apocalyptic drinking style. I would keep drinking pints of beer until the night could be ended peacably. We slipped into a dysfunctional but somehow fitting rhythm, whereby one of us seemed to be always on the way to or from the toilets, while the other saw to replenishing our glasses. We did this for 90 minutes.

Maria carried on looking off to the side.

“You know. If I could be anywhere now, I’d be in New Zealand…”
I let this sink in.
“I’d be in New Zealand and I’d have a New Zealand man for a husband.”
I let this sink in, too.
“But it won’t happen. I have to stay close to my family. We’re very close.”

The pub was emptying and the lights were fading down. We walked out on to the street. Maria walked off without saying anything.

I had drunk six pints in two hours. Nothing was right with me. I watched her flag down a taxi with the super-efficient air she’d employed remorselessly during our brief meeting. It felt right that that would be the last I saw of her, business-like, compact, performing a single gesture.

The taxi moved away.

I stood there thinking. I thought about the men in New Zealand who were wandering around oblivious to Maria’s fantasies. I saw eligible New Zealand males stood in a row wearing swimming briefs, Maria being wheeled past them in a gold-plated buggy. Her eyes darted wildly. Would she lift her hand and designate someone as her fantasy made flesh? Would she? Or would she be a good Catholic all her life, and go home to Laois each weekend and drink poteen with her hundreds of friends. Was that really a part of her inner life? Wasn’t it easier to believe in aliens or second sight, something a little more cosmic than some thick-set New Zealand ranchman cracking a tinny on his wood porch with a glint in his eye, and how you’d never be together. At least my impossible dreams featured plenty of young women in tight skirts bending over repeatedly.

There was no-one around.

I stumbled over to the 24 hour internet café. It was open. Inside it was warm, I couldn’t think straight. I wrote a load of confused emails, dispatching them with unco-ordinated flourishes of my hand. I had incoherent IM exchanges with a few of my friends. I moaned, I wailed, figuratively, via the compelling medium of words. I sent some anguished text messages. I wasn’t far off simply knocking on people’s doors to invite them to share in my utter defeat.

I left and stumbled home. It was the return journey, but it felt like I was wasn’t just retracing my steps, but I was being rewound, walking backwards towards my empty room, and every hopeful and positive feeling from the start of the night was now its vengeful counterpart.

I tried think about Wayne Rooney’s goals, his grinning mug as he slid along the slick green pitch, accepting the adulation of 70,000 bug-eyed football fans. I looked up, there was the imposing dome of Rathmines church, darkened now.

It was best just to go on.

3 Comments:

Blogger bhikka said...

Hugs from me!

7:27 PM  
Blogger bhikka said...

Hugs from me! Better off without the clinically dead.

7:28 PM  
Blogger kingfelix said...

who is better off without the clinically dead? you or me?

actually, this is undigested. i realised last night what was wrong with it - it's crap!

today's is better, today's features aliens!

4:19 AM  

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