Almost as it was before

18.10.20

I didn’t go for the morning run I said I would. Instead. I turned over and waited for the cat, curled away from the crook of my knee-calf, to sense that I was awake and begin purring. He did and I rewarded his love with the stroke scratch tickle we can never truly know they enjoy. I silenced the alarm and turned up the volume of the voices still calling to me from Dreamland. I think there were pubs and live music and friends and shifting other, Tayto-tasting mouths and many, many pints there. A lot of laughter not my own.

I decided it was grey outside, bleak, unworthy of the pound pound pound of lardoned ankles on black wet tarmac.

Feeding our pets took twenty minutes. When I had let them out, let them in, given them seconds, let them out again, I had coffee and cake for breakfast in the still wet quiet. Crooked now in the couch that belonged to the cat.

*

Dressed in jeans I thought I’d thrown out for being too baggy: they’ve resurrected themselves as an unforgiving miser and for this I do not forgive them but wear any way. Licked a crumb from the corner of my mouth. Thought how annoyed my brother would be when he saw more of the cake gone and me gone too – not even there for his war against gluttony.

Put on lipstick even though I was late. Enjoyed the rub smudge of it on my lips as I stood bent and puckered towards the mirror. Filled a water bottle. Doggy-paddled my way through my sock drawer for the patterned pair to match/not match clash/complement my shirt.

I picked flowers from the garden even though it made me later; tied them in a purple ribbon then found and refound the keys to the car.

*

I met Best Friend outside her house. Our longest time apart – three months – in almost all the knowing of our friendship. My first time to be truly “out” since coming home to Ireland, around bodies not my family’s, accents I can swallow and respond to, conversations I can catch, faces that look slightly familiar though strangers.

We walked around Blackrock under a canopy of crispy orange, gold, red, lemon green: when did this happen? When did the swirling vermilion arrive to kiss away our memories of skin sweat hayfever green baked pavements? Leaves crunching underfoot in the clichéd trudge always novel; everywhere buggies and bobbled hats, couples out, friends out, families out, all of us out, desperate to be out before they once again corral us in.

We got our coffee out and even in the queue I was not bored or antsy or impatient I was enthralled in the conversation and the people and their faces and expressions and whether they’re talking not talking. I needed to pee.

I always need to pee.

The coffee was rich and warm in the slurp as we walked back along tree-guarded avenue, sea or bay or port to our left, parks or estates or Páirc Uí Chaoimh to our right. We told each other THE NEWS. The big and the small. Job no job and this is how I feel and how do you feel and really I just wasn’t happy and oh my god it was the best time of my life and do you remember and that must be so hard it’s so good to see you.

I peed – eventually – in a garage toilet. The relief was immense, the exit from the grey damp cell euphoric, the way only emptying a tearful bladder can be.

Three hours and not enough but carefully laid plans for what we can do and this is what we will do depending on… and sure look we’ll see if….

Then into the city in the drizzle – beloved Cork. Beautiful, no-shit, please-no-notions-here Cork. And all of the memories in the lane of the Aircoach, bumpering along beside Citylink. The Fridays and Sundays of lifetimes ago – the changing faces of the people who had waited at each end; the faces who had stayed the same.

And the last time I was in this car park we got in trouble because we spent so long kissing across the handbrake even though we hadn’t been separated more than a week that our exit time ran out and when we eventually managed to leave the attendant had to come and take our now invalid ticket and made us pay for one more hour. You weren’t happy because you were still a student then and poor. But I, I was delirious. One hour of car park fees for ten minutes of teenage but no longer teenage shifting. Or maybe that was Paul’s St Car Park.

We kissed everywhere, in those days.

*

I walked across the bridge towards Patrick’s Quay; stuck in headphones to listen to the nine minute voice message of friend. Felt guilty, a little, for tuning out the city SOUNDS. In it, amongst other things, she said she was proud of me. It’s been a while since I’ve felt worthy of pride. I walked a bit taller. Maybe I haven’t just made the biggest mistake of my career and life and other stuff.

*

In Lush, I bought facemasks and a shampoo bar and as it had been several lifetimes since I’d bought anything that was not an essential food shop, I was giddy on the luxury. The opulence. The heady perfume smell and the smooth curve of the black pots as the sales assistant slipped them across the counter to me. The skin I will never have but imagined, in the beeping validation of my Apple pay, I might be able to buy in the way that half of my obsession with book-buying is the attempt to purchase a parallel version of my self: intellectual Holly; poetic Holly; one-of-the-gals and connoisseur-of-pop-culture Holly; anarchic Holly. Soft-skinned, collagen-filled, complexion-cleared Holly.

I was over-enthusiastic and effusive in our interaction. Which, as someone conversing with a member of Lush floor staff, is truly saying something. Earnestness, ebullience, and overfamiliarity are their lifeblood. I knew it was happening at the time but I was powerless to stop it. I told him to have a fabulous day and, as I floated out of the shop, I really meant it.

*

Everywhere people and perhaps it should have scared me, these crowds like waves onrushing, too often unmasked, but I was frolicking in the gush of them. Like Christmas Eve, like a life before everything was a second guess, like extras in a New York street scene. The stale air, the itchy nose, the feeling of complete discombobulation was worth it just to be here, part of it all. So many faces. So many goodlooking faces. And everywhere café tables and bright awnings and twinkling lights spilling onto the street like the steam rising from coffee cups hot chocolate mugs bowls of soup or stir fry. Laughter. Haven’t you missed laughter?

I wanted to hug everyone but decided it was probably best not to.

*

The cashier girl at Waterstone’s told me I still had a tenner on the gift card I had been carrying around in my purse for the past eighteen years and just this second took a whim to chance in the big quiet shop at the end of Patrick’s St. Ten whole euros: eight tenths of a good book – maybe even a new release if it was small enough.

I have missed browsing.

I live for the pick up put down flick through thumb quickly analysis of a perfectly serious perfectly vacuous browse. I love the smile as you move out of a stranger’s way as they reach across you, I love losing all sense of time in the musty inky smell and spine upon spine of possibility. I love finding myself in titles I read long ago or always meant to read and forgot to or titles the people I love love. I love the complete noncommittal nonchalance of it: that one essential ingredient in my life –

Perhaps I will or perhaps I won’t; to buy or not to buy; Maybe I’m not sure I haven’t decided yet and nobody can make me decide if I don’t want to.

– No booking in advance, no limiting of people to dance around, no polite or enraged or weakly humorous signs telling you you can’t touch anything do NOT pick up anything, you are banned from feeling. I miss feeling. Bulbous peppers in the supermarket, silk in a vintage shop, the grainy rub of paper. Miss textures. Miss wanting things. Seeing something – a book, a skirt, a lipstick, another skirt and desiring it. The childlike adrenaline of want.

I bought two books I had always wanted to buy. Even in the deliberation, the meticulous choosing that was only concluded by the insistence once again of my bladder, I was ecstatic at the reintroduction of choice into my life, the rare meander into the garden of many forking paths. Fiction non-fiction.

I bought two big canvases – really big – large ambitious imposing – a tube of white acrylic paint – you can never have enough – a paintbrush so soft it felt like a make up brush. So that if…. or there was going to be…. or they do decide to… we would be prepared, entertained, busy. Furious creatives painting a new world around us. Not thinking outside the box but rather on its walls. A place to hang our thinking on to; painting, drawing, etching it on.

*

What to eat and where to drink and what else to buy in this wonderland of boundless choice and business and abnormal normality. I forsake food; passed and glanced then repassed and gaped then entered the alley to Mutton lane –

Remember the night we came here, sat in the corner in my Granny’s blazer that you wanted for your own, and we met those people from First Dates and then you gave me your watch, briefly, and asked if we could maybe be more than…

– “Just myself, please.” Three of my favourite words but too-often interpreted as sad lame pathetic. Along the alley barrelled tables and high stools with stubby candles glinting in the dirty October light. Twinkly lights swinging orangutan-armed above us as one and twos and ones all sat, pints cradled in winter jackets, along the lane.

Guinness, please. A struggle up onto the stool with my stubby short underwhelming legs. The canvases drawing attention and then the friendly banter of the men sitting beside me; brief conversations on the communal need to paint, the ambition we all shared to really get back into it, been meaning to pick up a brush, good for the soul, they’re big enough anyway! Piercings and checkered pants. I have missed this.

An hour sat sipping the most glorious pint, thumbing pages of my book and chuckling when it was funny pausing when thought-provoking head swiveling when new people came and old ones argues that their time wasn’t really up and how come those lads got to stay? Sighing and shaking my head with knowing compassion for the sole barman sanitising his way through it all.

“Sorry, are you using this stool?” American and tall and looking straight into my eyes and it’s still there, it still exists, the playful banter of two strangers over a barstool that could have been taken from any table but of course you strategically choose – you always strategically choose – and how nice to just be a woman in the middle of an afternoon with a book and a pint and someone attractive – if American – asking about my canvases.

*

“Good luck with your painting!” they all called as I walked away. He gave me the secret smile – you know the one – and again I was too hasty, too shy to return it and I felt his eyes on me as I turned the corner and again, for the five billionth time, I wondered why I was always so quick to rush move run and if only I’d just walked slower, spoken slower. Then into the mist and the headlights towards home, the canvases bulky and flapping in the rain.

Home to one more pint before it all changes again, to dinner in front of a fire with family, and tears pricking my eyes at this day – this simple impossibly simple day – that seemed so perfect. So almost as it was before.

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