Animals Walked In

There are some events that take up room in my mind for days after they have happened. Over & over they are replayed, with either torment or relish, and never between. Sometimes they are scrutinised, evaluated, picked apart, or sometimes – more often than not – they simply live there rent-free, projected onto the inside of my eyes and flash, flickering, like silent movies. For it seems, they are always without sound! Yes, that is peculiar; they replay in silence.

It is a habit of mine to walk in front. If I am in a group of people then I worm my way to the front of the caravan and set pace, direction; if I do not know the direction then I will pretend otherwise, although direction is one of my strong suits. It is too much for me to look at the backs of peoples’ heads, to stammer my steps intime with theirs, or – even worse – to let them slow me down. I was leading the way and drunkenly doublechecking our drunkenly direction when Milly caught up with me, her little skip behind and then by my side, our feet synchronising. She told me she would rather walk with me. We conversed as we made our way down narrow dark alleys, losing the others, and pausing, looking for silhouettes, I hoped that they had disappeared entirely and that we, she & I, might be able to enjoy the evening together, just the two of us. They came into view down the end of the alley, their shapes and floating conversations.

The evening had started with a presentation by the directors (‘our most profitable quarter’, ‘incredible hard work’, ‘morale! morale! morale!’), which then led into a gathering in the kitchen and meeting rooms: generous G&T’s, beer pong, cured meats, bottletops littered all over that I, for one, enjoyed to pick up and hold, a mix of the crown edges and metallic coolness.

But that was then, this was now. This was Milly and I approaching the bar, our sides touching, waiting for sober attention. This was the loud thump of good music. This was me hoping that none of the others would find us. This was me in a good mood. We were found and So put the first round on expenses, waving his plastic like a red rag. In the corner, we put our backpacks underneath a table and started to dance. I looked around, trying to get a measure of the venue; it was busy at the front, but the rear, where we were planted, was quieter, a few other groups, yes, chatting and moving in time to the music. There were a pair of young women nearby, one of them kept staring at me. I did not know what to make of it, rolled a cigarette and went to go outside when she thrust herself in front of me. It was startling and I did not understand what to do. I apologised for almost colliding with her, and stepped carefully around. When I came back in, Colm told me—‘That girl just asked me why you mugged her off.’ I was confused and demanded that he explained himself, before accusing him of lying. She was too attractive to have been interested in me. ‘Seriously,’ he said—‘Ask So, or Siobhan. Ask Alex.’ I apologised to her, this stranger. She said that it was okay and began to ask me questions, and I returned them. She was really quite beautiful and I surmised that perhaps she had something wrong with her that she would engage with me when there were so many others about. As we talked, I quite enjoyed to flirt. Growing up I was never one for flirting but now I realise that it is a fun game I can play with others. And she revealed to me that she had a boyfriend, that she loved her boyfriend’s mother more than she did him. Really, I just liked to make her laugh. She had a good laugh, but find me a woman who does not. There is a moment in the history of our species when the sound of laughter became so pleasurable, so much like a finger into an ochre gland that pricks out endorphins.

It was all practice, I suppose. In the back of my mind was Milly. She was behind me although I wanted her in front.

The stranger and I parted ways.

I returned to Milly. She had on a dress I had not seen before. ‘I like your dress.’ Talking to her was easy. In this world of complicated interactions, I am drawn to those who are no effort at all. There is no timidity in her, just strong eyes pushed back into mine, four dilated apertures! unbending. She did not wane. Having not seen a mouth like hers before, I am curious. A network of nerve and muscle skinned with unpainted pink lips. Deeply, I swim into the attraction. Hands at the stem of her glass, long, thin fingers, nails varnished in the colourful flesh of black olives. As we came in from outside, we went to the bar and she ordered us a pair of tequilas. As she placed her elbow on the bar, her hand elegantly positioned, fingers on a card, vinyl hair accentuating her jaw, I confessed—‘I really want to fuck you.’ As the words came out, I thought I might regret them, but did not. The confession was neither a weight off my conscience or a relief of pent-up infatuation. It came out my throat as naturally as everything else we had discussed that evening. Never had I once said that to anyone’s face before, not least a colleague I had known for only three months. Maybe she would slap me, call me a cunt and order me to fuck off. I would have, yet she did not. She looked into me for a moment and told me she has a boyfriend, and I responded that I knew. ‘I thought we were friends?’ ‘We are,’ says I. She did not take her eyes off me until the barman put down our two shots; clink; sunk. We were smiling.

Siobhan, Milly and I walked back to the station together. Siobhan walked ahead. Milly and I side by side. Emboldened, I reached my left hand to her right, and took it, the black-olive-tipped fingers open, welcoming, then tight. We walked on that way, a spark charged downwards. She released, and blushed at me. Down the road, I would do the same, our hands held, and she would repeat: holding me for so long then breaking. She laughed at me. I was surely drunk and would not have been so brave otherwise. I began to tapdance at her, moving as silently as can be that Siobhan would not turn around. It made her laugh and when she smiled it was all I wanted and it was all I could get.

At the station, we all said good-bye. Milly and I embraced.

I messaged her on our work application a few minutes later with my number, that I just wanted her to get home okay, ‘if that was okay.’ She told me it was. When I woke up twenty minutes later on the last train home, she had messaged me several times and called. My replies were jumbled. I was drunk on many things and my swiping thumb could not keep up.

I waited for a cab and watched the steam come out my throat. The throat is at once both a solid and a most fragile construction. When I put my hands to my own, it seems immense, but I know it is not.

And so it is that these events come to take up room in my mind. I awoke with thoughts of her. I wondered if she thought of me. I have been alone most of my life but am only ever lonely when I think of someone and believe they do not think of me. A day later I walk along the shore, alone, the wind tumultuous and the birds are flung this way & that. In the great distance, many miles away, the sun drills through the burdened black clouds. I think of her, and hours later still think of her. I wish to tell her, to message her out the blue and declare that I cannot stop thinking about her. I have nothing to lose. It is the truth! Ah, if only I were drunk and brave! if only I were brave! Instead, only—‘I hope you’re having a wonderful weekend.’ And I left it at that.