AN SPIDÉAL ROAD
It’s a long drive and you’re not in the mood. And you can’t help but think that her moving out of the city was yet another Fuck You. It’s not just the distance that gets to you; it’s the vast, narrow Connemara roads, all that nothing in the dark. She knows how much you hate them, how you curse aloud at each pothole. Each time you have to click your headlights to oncoming traffic. That’s what you think about as you drive. That and of course the poem.
In the distance you see taillights, the first sign of life since passing Barna. As the two red dots start to blur together, you hear your brother’s voice in your head. Don’t drive out there again. He came over to see how you were doing, to see how many empty wine bottles were sitting on the kitchen counter. But you were smart and got rid of them before he came. Just in case.
‘You can’t keep going over there,’ he said. ‘It’s enough now.’
After it happened she wouldn’t talk to you, wouldn’t even look at you as she packed her things. She was on her CDs now. Amy Winehouse, Nirvana, the David Bowie box set. The Bowie was yours but you let her take it anyway, another go at I’m sorry, don’t leave. But she was having none of it.
‘We’re done,’ she said and then spoke your name, enunciating each syllable as if they disgusted her to say. It took all you had not to grab her by her stupid skinny little wrist and ask how could she suddenly be so cold to you after all her talk of loving you forever. You wanted to scream, WHERE IS ALL YOUR GODDAMN LOVE NOW?
You’re not going over there to get her back. That’s not what it’s about.
You met at work, that was two years ago now. You can still remember the day she started, the click-clacking of her heels as your boss showed her around, and the office gossip of the new girl who moved to Galway all the way from San Francisco. The next day she introduced herself. You were in the kitchen getting a coffee.
‘I like mine strong,’ she said.
You turned around to see her biting her lip, and smiled nervously as you poured her a cup. ‘You started yesterday,’ you said, regretting it the moment the words came out of your mouth. What a waste. It was then she asked if you would help her with the copy machine. You didn’t make copies but you said you’d help her anyway. The next day you met in the kitchen again and this time she asked you to drinks after work.
‘I have a girlfriend,’ you said.
She pressed you up against the wall with the near-strength of a man and licked your mouth.
Over drinks she told you about herself, about how her parents were hippies and how they lived on a commune until she was seven. She told you about how she liked to paint, ‘Sometimes on my body,’ she said, and how she wrote a blog. You hated blogs—you always said they were stupid and self-indulgent—but since that night you checked hers eight, nine, ten times a day, hoping to see your name and excited when you finally did.
I think I found the yin to my yang, she wrote.
The whole thing seemed completely surreal, like it was happening to someone else, to the sort of man that things like that happened to. You were not that sort—you knew that—and part of you couldn’t help but wonder what she was after, if it was all some sort of Jedi mind trick. But it felt too good, like chocolate slowly melting in a pan, oozing and hot, and even when your girlfriend cried and called you cruel, you still walked out.
The road seems to get narrower the further you drive. You thought the same thing yesterday and each of the other half-dozen times you’ve driven to her house in the two weeks since she left. But you still haven’t gone inside.
You hear your brother’s voice again.
It’s enough now.
You think about turning back, but you don’t.
When you get to Spiddal, you slow down, remembering how excited she was the first time you took her there. ‘Look, there’s Hughes’ Pub! They’re supposed to have the best trad sessions.’ It was then she started to get the romantic notions of moving to Connemara, insisting every weekend that you take her some place new. ‘Just imagine,’ she said, ‘if we lived here we could go to the sessions every night.’
Just thinking of the diddlee-dee music was enough to do your head in, and besides, you liked living in the city. But when she said Pretty please can we go in and then leaned in for a kiss, you couldn’t say no. She was out of the car before you even finished parking and you had to run to catch up with her. You were always having to run to catch up with her.
She was the one who started the fight, not you. But what you can’t remember is what it was exactly that prompted it. You’ve circled your mind so many times since that night, certain that if you could just figure it out—if you could just remember—then maybe you could start to put the pieces back together and make some sense of it and explain. Then maybe she’d forgive you for what happened next.
You’re not going there to apologise. You’ve done that bit already.
You’d never had an office romance before and at first the idea of sneaking around made your stomach hurt. But after a few days your nerves settled and you couldn’t get enough of it. It felt like you were in a movie. Listening to her laugh across the hall, knowing she was reading your email listing off all the things you wanted to do to her on the copy machine. Sitting across the room at an office meeting, the sexual tension between you so strong you were sure everyone else could feel it too. And the groping in the elevator, in the toilets and on your desk after everyone had left. It was at work one day when you realised you loved her. You wanted to tell her but the words choked in your throat like a clump of wet sand, that thing in you that’s always made it so difficult to say what you feel.
‘I’ll get you to open up to me if it’s the last thing I do,’ she’d said.
You drive quickly through Inverin, telling yourself to focus on the road. But you keep hearing her voice.
‘I love the beaches here,’ she said one day last spring. ‘It’s like they belong only to us.’ She took off her socks and shoes, hiked up her skirt and ran into the sea. You watched as she hopped around, screeching at the cold. Then she turned to you with a smile and begged you to come in. But you never did.
The relationship had started to go wrong long before you accused her of having an affair. You couldn’t admit it to yourself at the time and told her she was wrong when she said it was getting stale. ‘Like old coffee,’ she said. And so you bought her flowers and took her on surprise picnics and came up with new positions to have sex. But still you worried it wasn’t enough. And so you wrote her the poem.
You’re not going there to talk.
Your heart beats faster as you get closer to Carraroe. You pass the Áras and the petrol station and the café you stopped at for tea that first time. ‘If we lived here we could have brunch at this café every Sunday,’ she said. But it was the beach there—the one with the coral sand—that she really fell in love with.
‘They don’t have beaches like this back home,’ she said, more excited than you’d ever seen her. She grabbed fistfuls of coral and twirled around and around. Before you left that day she grabbed a bag and filled it with coral. As you watched her, something in you felt annoyed. Angry even. You opened your mouth to tell her to put it back, that it’s not hers to take. But then you stopped yourself. She looked up to see you watching.
‘I’ve never seen sand like this,’ she said and held the corals out in her hand. ‘They’re like bones. Little baby arms and legs and vertebrae.’
Of all the places you took her to, Carraroe was her favourite. ‘I can feel it deep down in my soul,’ she said. ‘I’m meant to be here.’ And so when your mutual friend told you that she had found a place, you didn’t have to ask where. You checked last week’s rental listings in the Advertiser for Carraroe. It was that easy.
It was on the way home from the office one night that you finally told her you loved her. You were at a traffic light, just a few blocks from your flat. You don’t know why it was there, then. The words just came out.
She grabbed your hand and pulled you back down the street you had just walked, past the market, the chemist’s and into the narrow alcove between the two restaurants where it was dark, a busker playing ‘Molly Malone’ twenty feet away.
‘Say it again!’
You couldn’t say it fast enough. ‘I love you.’
From that moment you couldn’t get enough of her. You wanted to be with her twenty-four/seven. It was late one morning after you’d both called in sick to work that you asked her to marry you.
She shook her head as if to say you were silly. ‘Our love is too special for that, Snowflake.’ You never had a nickname before, not even as a child. She took your hand and held it to her cheek. ‘It can withstand anything. You just have to believe.’
The house is dark when you arrive, just as you knew it would be. She’s not the type to leave lights on when she’s away. You once told her what your father had taught you about how leaving the lights on scares away the burglars. But she laughed.
‘The universe will protect me.’
What could you say to that?
The key is underneath her purple planter, where she’s always kept it. You smirk to yourself, amused that even people like her have their predictabilities. After a moment of hesitation, you insert the key into the lock. You look around one last time and then you go inside.
She’s out of boxes already but you knew she would be. Boxes, she once said, make her feel small. You look around her flat, trying to imagine her there. But then you stop—telling yourself to focus—and start looking for the poem. That’s what you’d come for. You didn’t know it at first. But the other morning, alone in your bed, thinking about her again, you remembered it. And since then you couldn’t get it out of your head and even mentioned it to your brother. That was a mistake.
‘What’s the big deal?’ he said. ‘So you wrote her a goddamn poem?’
You wanted to tell him that they were your words, that they belonged to you and you couldn’t stand the thought of them floating around out there for anyone to see. But you knew he’d never understand.
Standing there in her house you remember the moment you gave her the poem. You watched as she slipped it out of the yellow envelope to the moment she slid it back in. And then you watched her put it into her square metal box that sits on top of her desk. Exactly where it is now, next to the bag of coral. You grab the poem, expecting to feel different somehow, but something in you now knows that it was just an excuse to get close to her one last time. Before you leave you grab the bag of coral too.
You’d planned on driving straight home but when you get to the corner, you turn the other way and drive down the long boreen to Coral Beach, where you get out of the car and make your way down the steps and sit down. You push your hands through the coral, listening to the sound of the waves whooshing and colliding around you, and you wonder when all the crap you’re feeling will ever go away. You tell yourself that you’re better off without her and that if she really loved you, if she really knew you, she’d have known that you didn’t really think she was cheating on you, that it was just something stupid you said because you were angry. You never thought she’d break up with you though; after all, she’d said your love could withstand anything.
Before you leave you take out the bag from your pocket and stick your hand inside, moving the coral around with your fingers. You close your eyes and try to remember her touching them, the way they looked against her skin. The way she looked at you. Then you pour the coral onto the beach, deciding that it’s enough—it is enough now—and you head back to the car, the road home narrower still.