Of Love and Death – Written By Stephen Fahey. Part 22

book 1

Clondalkin is a small town. It first grew around a monastery centuries ago and still has a tall round tower at its centre. The people there are working class and while there was a problem with heroin and cocaine when it first boomed in the nineties it had matured by the time that M and I arrived. We lived on a street named Castle Park, number thirty one. A semidetached four bed with a moderate sized back garden. Birds of all sorts came to feed on the scraps that M left out for them and the neighbours were all older, their children having grown and moved on to have children of their own. It wasn’t a small place where everyone knew everyone else’s business but neighbours chatted and knew each other’s names.

I grew up on a nearby street in a housing estate called Riversdale. It used to have the worst of the drug trade flushing through it when I was a boy. Back then the Garda new every house and every resident and with the only way in or out of Riversdale being a little bridge it was rife with undesirables. That is where I began to search for my other self. At the time I was about the same age I was when I first met Ola in my old life. Back then I used to take a bus from right outside of Riversdale to Dublin city centre each morning, so I started to wait at that same bus stop again in the hope of running into myself. But after weeks of waiting I realised that I wasn’t going to be there. It was disheartening, but we had each other, and our health and our freedom and all the money we could want, so I didn’t give up. I just changed tact.

Ola had worked in the city centre too, that’s how we met. Her firm worked for mine on a particular project and the staff of both companies met for the launch night when the contract was completed. I knew when and where it had been back when I was there the first time, at least, so I waited the two months until that night was due and then showed up at Handel’s in Christchurch with M. It was a bar on a hill right next to Christchurch Cathedral on the shores of the river Liffey . The music was classy and slow and the crowd was more sophisticated than most bars in the area. Being situated very close to Temple Bar where tourists and students have always swarmed, it was miraculous that Handel’s managed to maintain a level of decorum, but it had.

I remember so vividly walking through those doors with M that night. Of course it wasn’t the first time that I had, and to be honest to two nights seemed to meld into one dream at times. The heat inside the bar was familiar and the music sounded the same and the crowd moved and hummed again as it had before, but my nerves were heightened. M saw how tense I was and squeezed my hand as we walked in and when I looked at her she pulled me to her and planted a big broad kiss on my cheek then giggled into my ear – she always knew how to calm me.

“Let’s get a drink and wait in the corner, James. It’s dark there, we won’t be noticed.”

“You take a seat and I’ll get the drinks.”

We sat there and watched as the people I had previously worked with came in in ones and twos. They were all there bar one, the most important one from their group. I remembered arriving with them before so not seeing myself there was worrying. I recognised by old boss, Damien and my colleagues Janet and Aidan and Alison. Strangely though, a manager, Conrad, was there despite having not been there the first time because he had already left the company by the time that that party had happened the first time. It was the same night but it wasn’t exactly the same. Even the bar had small differences. One of the doors was in a different place and the décor was styled in a more old fashioned manner. I didn’t mention the differences to M because I was too intent on watching the crowd.

And then I saw her. She walked in with Bo, her boss. The rest of her colleagues didn’t show until later that night the first time either so it was with a jarring familiarity that I looked on. Ola looked just as I remembered. Delicate but sure of herself, I couldn’t help but admire her. She was always calming to look at, like a painting or sculpture. M knew who she was as soon I saw her and she took my hand, I think as much for herself as for me.

“That’s her. In the black and red.”

“She’s very pretty, James.”

“I can’t see the other me.”

“Me neither.”

“I should be here. I was here before she arrived. This isn’t the same.”

“What do you mean?”

“That guy in the corduroy jacket never came here that tonight. He’d left the company by then. And Ola never wore red. She hated red with a passion.”

“What does that mean?”

“I don’t know. But we don’t have any other options. I need to know, Baby.”

“I know. And we will find him if he exists.”

Then I stood up without meaning to. My legs brought me up by themselves and my eyes locked on a man across the room. He had his back to me but I knew him. His hair was different but I knew it. He wore unfamiliar clothes but I knew them too. M saw where I was looking and pulled me back down by the arm.

“Don’t get seen. We don’t know what’ll happen.”

“He’s me.”

“I know, Baby.”

“But’s he’s me.”

“Baby, stay down – he’ll see you.”

Just as she pulled me back down he turned around. He looked different. He was me, just thinner in the face and slightly darker. He wore glasses while I never have. And he had a tattoo on his neck which I also never had. It was unnerving but we watched from the edges of our chairs as twice Ola and the other me passed each other in the crowd without noticing one another. I had never worked directly with Ola on the project that was launched that night so it didn’t surprise me that they didn’t recognise one another. But there was a sadness to it nonetheless.

The night rolled on and as it did Ola and the old me began to chat. They seemed comfortable and confident together. In a way it made me nostalgically jealous to see the woman I once loved talking to another man, even if it was me.

“I need to talk to them.”

“Baby, no! You can’t… ”

“… I’ll just stand near them and listen to… ”

“… NO! I’ll leave if you do.”

“Jesus, Baby! There’s no need for ultimatums. I can’t just look at… ”

“… James! You know better than this. Let’s just go.”

“But… ”

“… James.”

“But… ”

Gasping panic crashed over me and my heart raced. My hands shook. And the room suddenly seemed so hot that I couldn’t breathe, but then M’s lips touched my cheek again and all the lights in the room rose up in a brilliant chorus while a cooling shadow fell on me.

“… James? I… ”

“… let’s go, Baby.”

I took M by the hand and walked straight out the door of the bar. I didn’t look around as we left. I didn’t want to see the other me, or Ola. I wanted M. And nothing else.

“… James??… ”

I walked across the street and down around the first corner.

“… Jame… ”

I stopped then and turned M to me and kissed her like it was the last thing I would ever do. I held her in my arms, took her weight with one hand between her shoulder blades and balanced her with my other hand in the small of her back. The heat from her skin penetrated my clothes even on that warm spring evening and it charged my desire all the more. Her inner knee found my hip and her hands melted into my scalp as I took her. I gave everything in me to her in that moment without any hope or need greater than my want to have her. All around us was a void as I inhaled her one last time before I broke contact and held her gaze.

I didn’t speak and I could see that she wanted to, but she didn’t either. Questions boiled behind her eyes and her tongue licked the essence of that kiss from her lips as her mind swam with all the pleasure of a moment that could never be repeated. When our breathing returned to us I stood her up, turned and walked, still holding her hand, as she followed light on her feet.

That night was a night of love. It was the night when I cast aside any questions of who I was. I was M’s, not Winnie’s or Ola’s, or even mine, but M’s. Whatever life I had had or time I was or would be in, from then on I was M’s and M’s alone. And that night she knew it down to the last drop of blood in her veins. It was so sweet to cross into a place where there is more respect and love than can be felt in normal lives that are lived only once. It was the sun and the soil and daily bread, it was breath and rest and screaming joy, all rolled into one. But it will never be like that again. Not after one night in May.

To be continued…

© Stephen Fahey

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