Diary 61: AWOL

Diary 61 pic

 

I’m despondent. Out of options. I’m channel hopping but there’s nothing on. I try internet dating and spill the ingredients that make me up and specify the shopping list I’m after. But it can’t bring any decent result: all available options are either loons or prostitutes. And anyone remotely credible is house-bound with kids and I don’t want to have some kid’s karate lessons on my mind.

 

It’s Maria who sets me straight. She’s on the line, frantically wanting me to meet her at the hospital. The time has come. I look around the room. What to pack? I’m a bundle of nerves.

 

Maria is already in stirrups. I’m sterilised up and feel like a boner in an abattoir. There’s blood. I apologise to the doctors for my tardiness and mention something about lots of traffic. They ignore me. There’s total devotion to Maria’s pussy; a doctor is down there, poking away, as I hold Maria’s hand. We take turns squeezing. She sweats buckets and keeps looking down at her fanny hoping to see some magic. But her fanny is covered by a sheet beneath which is a doctor who is a plumbing expert.

 

Remembering my own tooth trauma I urge Maria to be strong. The fanny doctor looks up and frowns at me. What?

 

‘Hey, it’s not my fault – I didn’t knock her up!’ I say.

‘Breathe’ the doctor tells me.

 

I’m embarrassed. I’m forgetting what I learned at yoga. Maria and I, we get it together, and start breathing in unison. Much else I don’t remember. I must have fallen into a trance. Or unconscious. Whatever. But suddenly I’m sitting on a chair outside the Maria-is-having-a-baby room. Maybe I fainted. I hear Maria howl. Ooow. She has gone into overdrive. Ooow. It’s pandemonium as everyone shouts at her to push. I whisper it to myself from the corridor.

 

Push. Push. Push.

 

The next day I collect an under-inflated Maria and bring her home with her newborn. It’s all I can do to make amends for leaving the delivery room. The baby is called Mario. His middle name is Louis. I don’t know how I feel about this but convince Maria I’m thrilled.

 

Things are back to normal. Then Maria returns the favour. She puts things in perspective.

 

‘Why haven’t you got up to this yet?’ she asks as she lumps Mario in my arms.

‘I’m my own biggest enemy! But it’s not all dumb. I mean, at least I can read my enemies mind and then outfox myself!’

 

She gets that I’m joking but gets back on track.

 

‘Louis really. Come on. Start it!’

‘Start making life? Start breeding? I’m concerned about methane levels and doing my bit for the environment.’

‘You always avoid getting serious.’

‘Maria, I don’t know. Really. Sometimes I think my greatest fear is to make sense. It’s the child in me wanting to protect me from adulthood.’

 

In a way it’s true, there’s a total couldn’t-give-a-shit quality about my life. I keep reality at a distance. I live both carefree and carefully at the same time and fearful of getting caught out with a pram in the hall. It’s also a bit of this: my fathering instinct aside, deep down there’s a lack of self-worth, a sense of inadequacy. After all, what kind of woman would want a child by me? As regards bonding with someone else, it’s looking increasingly unlikely I’ll ever take the plunge and be squared off. So I’ve come to accept that I’m a stray.

 

‘I don’t understand you. It’s natural!’ Maria says.

‘But I haven’t met the right person.’

‘You better get looking, lots of sexy girls out there.’

‘It’s not that easy. Rejection hurts. The chase is tiring.’

‘Yes, it must be’ she sympathises.

‘Anyway, I seem to be changing in a way I can’t explain.’

‘Try explaining.’

‘Well, I question the connection between things. Like, does sex have anything to do with love. Maybe I’m looking for a deeper meaning.’

‘That sounds a hell of a change to the life you’ve been leading. The ladies will love that.’

‘But maybe my dawning has come too late. Maybe I’ve left it too late.’

‘Left it too late for what, Louis?’

‘For settling down with a 25 year old. I’m looking for a 1980s music girl but one who wasn’t actually there!’

 

Jokes aside, I realise something else. That there’s a vacancy. That I’m a key sign of bachelorhood as I always ask for more than I’m willing to give.

 

‘I bet during sex you like to be in control’ Maria muses.

‘Actually no. In bed, I’m more of a lie back and dream of Ireland kind of guy.’

 

It’s true, during sex I like to be dominated. So my problem – if there is one – isn’t in surrendering myself physically but in giving up my mind. Of sharing it; of sharing my thinking. Of letting someone into Alcatraz, past all the fences and trip switches. Past all the petty tests and mind games and in to the inner sanctuary. To the soul. In to hell.

 

‘Maria, I look at people with kids and don’t know how they do it. The bravery in bringing others into this world.’

‘It’s not so bad a place.’

‘Around the right people, maybe not. But around the wrong kind and I’d rather a bullet than a baby!’

‘You ever consider that you might like to marry?’

‘That’s a big leap from having no girl to suddenly marrying!’

‘Still?’

‘Not really given it much thought.’

‘You should. Louis, you can’t go through life having no interest in it!’

‘So the answer is to spawn? Look, the truth is that I fear leaving a footprint, of being a reproductive animal.’

‘Don’t be silly – you’re a jewel of a man, a one-off.’

‘Based on what you know of me!’

‘Stop selling yourself short. If you don’t reach out now what will you do when you’re old?’

‘You’re looking at him now baby!’

‘Still, you’d make a wonderful husband – never boring and great with kids. You’re not a bad boy. Like any good boy, you’re only bad sometimes.’

 

I agree ‘yes’ and then ‘no’ and hide a little smile. The thought of obeying Maria, or anybody, amuses. We’re both amused. She makes it all sound so simple.

 

‘As plain as bread’ Maria confirms. ‘Breeding is. But you take it all so seriously.’

‘What?’

‘Love.’

‘Maria, you really believe there’s someone for everyone? Even the fat ugly ones?’

‘Yes, Louis, even for the fat ugly ones. And unless you have kids you’ll go through your whole life only lukewarm about life.’

Diary 62: Zoella Gate

 

This bit isn’t really about anything which makes it much like events so far. It’s more by-the-by niggly stuff that I want to get off my chest. You’ll soon see why.

 

‘Well, stranger’ Q says. ‘We’re similar in one way.’

‘What’s that?’

‘We both use words for performance.’

 

I don’t say my words are on a solo expedition up Mount Everest while Her words are delivered by a juicy mouth, smouldering eyes, a hot pair of tits and ass in a go-go dress. After all Q is one of Hollywood’s hottest stars.

 

‘Does it mean you like it?’ I ask.

‘It could work.’

‘Your bio or my screenplay?’

 

Q ponders a moment. It’s a trade-off. I’m already inside Her; under Her skin. We’ve come too far together. She can’t go through it with another ghost; starting over is draining. Besides, all I’m asking is that aside from paying my inflated fee to redact Q’s life is that She help me out a little.

 

As Q ponders, I’m wondering about all the unusable words I wrote for Jeff’s biography. Maybe I could ship the unused words I wrote for Jeff’s book into Q’s book; you know, all the generic artiste crap, the ‘nobody understands me’ guff; it’s common to all these types. Cut and paste heaven! And anyway, it’s not as though a reader will notice. Or care. Zoella daze!

 

‘You want me to help you get to the tit?’ Q says.

‘Whose tit?’ I ask smiling down the phone.

 

My mother told me it’s the best place to smile. Mum says people can feel your smile down the line. Q hears me smiling and I hear Her smiling voice reply.

 

‘You’re smiling!’ I say.

‘Louis, how did you know?’

‘It’s my 8th sense.’

‘You funny guy! My tit is off limits but I’ll see what I can do.’

 

Getting to the tit is industry-speak for getting to shake hands with the money men who raise dough for a movie. So here I am, nattering to Q like we’re old friends and there was me, for so long hitting my head against a brick wall and trying to get my script read, and then this: doors suddenly open up and I might get the chance to pitch my movie idea. In the rarefied corridors of power it’s no small thing to be able to push a piece of paper into the hands of the right person. I’m already dreaming of the end of my anonymity and of winning an Oscar for the best screenplay.

Diary 63: Femme Fatale

Diary 63

 

I’m off the phone and no sooner back in la-la-land, yes, LA, Los Angeles. I’ve forgotten how accelerated everything is: life, smiles, friendships and spending money. The world can’t spin fast enough and not being booked up means you’re dead in the water, a loser. Being unavailable is essential if you want to portray yourself as a success story.

 

From the airport, a cab spins me down the Pacific Coast Highway. I’m recalling the first time I was here, the time when Q sped along the same palm-lined coast-road, beyond Santa Monica and out to Malibu and all the while trailed by a fan who She lost by running a red light. Looking back now, and I don’t know why I think this, but I sense it’s the end of the good times between Q and I. There’s anticipation in the air. The portends aren’t good. I’m fed up of ghost-writing and Q is finishing a movie that overran (don’t they all!) and is in the ‘critical stages’. I try not to feel like a leech as I schlep around LA for a few days before Q can make time to see me.

 

I visit a friend from back home called Barry, Barry the Goat. He’s one of a half-dozen neighbourhood kids I grew up with back in Ireland. He’s the only blonde-haired blue-eyed one in his family. All the rest of his siblings are red-heads; go figure! The joke is that he can hardly be from his dad and so he’s either the son of the postman or a Billy Goat. It’s less cruel rooting for the latter and so his nickname became Barry the Goat.

 

Anyhow, the Goat is a successful Hollywood movie composer type-thing. He’s a musical god and it’s through his street cred that I checked out with Q. And true to type the Goat is an arty type with long blonde tresses. Gone are the days when as a struggling artist he lived out the back of a converted truck in Topanga. Once a hard drinker, the Goat has long since swapped the bottle for a pair of Birkenstock sandals. But he’s still up in the hills, up in Topanga and overlooking LA and the ocean below.

 

He’s up the walls, stressed out, Barry the Goat is; he’s working on a movie score in his private recording studio in the back garden. Despite our lack of contact over the years, our exchange is typical. The Goat starts ranting about his latest fad – being all anti-MSG and pontificating – and forcing me to interject to explain what I’m doing in LA.

 

‘…She’s a nothing inside, she’s empty. Q is impossible to write up but, here’s the thing, I have this wicked screenplay and She could help me get it made. So I’m writing Her biography with my other hand, my non-writing hand, to keep us in motion and to put me and my script in the frame.’

‘You’re a riot’ the Goat says.

 

He’s nodding his head to and fro while fiddling with the sound desk. I wonder if Barry the Goat is more in tune with the background music than me.

 

I don’t tackle the Goat about his oddities, the latest one being a tirade against paper. He seems wholly oblivious to the fact that I make money out of writing shit on it; churning out words and lives. You see, ever since the Goat’s pre-marital trip into the Amazon with his sparkling-toothed Californian fiancé he’s into waging war on chopping down trees. Deforestation of this and that; it riles him. But as the Goat only grants me a half hour, I opt not to fight and don’t enquire if reading the newspaper on the bog is a thing of the past or indeed if his toilet training is out the window and if he’s no longer in the habit of wiping his ass with toilet roll. Over a cup of chai-tea we get down to business.

 

‘You have milk?’

‘Milk! No. Louis, I don’t have milk.’

‘Same same, eh?’

 

The Goat is either his same old curmudgeonly self or has acquired beef with cow juice.

 

‘Time moves still’ the Goat muses.

‘Does that mean time does or does not move because it could mean either .. or both!’

 

The Goat give me a look that lets me know he remembers that I have a problem with the word ‘still’.

 

Still.

 

‘Time moves still’ he repeats.

 

I don’t rise to it and move on.

 

‘Goat, you think it’s true that you chose who you love?’

‘You mean the way me mum used say?’

‘Ya.’

‘Well, she’s with me dad 40 years and he snores something rotten, so, um, ya, like, right, ya, defo, I guess.’

‘Love is a choice then …for better or worse!’

‘It’s the trip’ the Goat muses.

‘What is?’

‘What it does to you. Love. But you!’ and then he laughs. ‘You’re doing a lot of hanging around waiting to get your heart broken.’

‘Where did you read that, Goat?’

 

We’re at it again, being boys. Being bitchy. Neighbourly smugness or brotherly love. Whatever. The Goat gives me a holier-than-thou look and smiles. Then, thinking that I’m dim-witted, the Goat begins tapping a finger to his nose.

 

But it’s true. It’s true that he’s long out of the starting blocks, already kid-full, a daddyman twice over, and about to get married to a new hotty while he pays child-support elsewhere. Meanwhile, I’m too fearful of being made a fool of, of being a girls tool and this explains why, to girls who knows me, that at best I’m only a secondary consideration. You see, I don’t put myself between people. I find bonding, real bonding, real hard work. If anything becomes too real I get freaked out. Plus, and call me considerate, but nobody will feel sore when I pass on. I’ve it planned that way. There you have it, my noble deed, not allowing anyone a piece of me or living without intimacy and holding nothing sacred. To prevent tears at my funeral.

 

After reflecting I become antsy with me and seek to blame anyone except me and go on the attack.

 

‘Goat, you’re a bloody hippy. It’s your fucking third wedding!’ I say.

 

I stumble out of the studio but not before I hear the Goat’s parroting quip:

 

‘And you’re still a riot. Still, still, still.’

 

Barry the Goat is saying that I’m a joke.

 

I’m in the Goat’s back garden and collapse beneath a tree. I need air. I contemplate: we grow up, then grow apart, friends separate, life interferes, complications arise, marriage, kids, divorce, then we get old and regroup decades later to have a final laugh. Then we die. There you have it: my analysis is over. I can now focus on my breathing the way my yoga teacher taught me.

 

I almost levitate. Almost.

 

I’m transported back to Portugal. Mentally, in my mind. I focus on the gentle rustle of leaves and consider the sunlight and realise that LA and Lisbon share the same latitude. And although I’m only gone a few days, I’m already nostalgic for the Portuguese waves and promise to let a big white breaker pound me on my return. But climate concerns can only occupy one for so long.

 

Reality beckons.

 

I’m unable to dodge the real message sloshing around in my mind and am back reflecting. Yes, it’s true that I’m slow giving myself away. Perhaps my fatal flaw is that I senselessly plough on as I traipse around the world, always on the out-skirts of myself and waiting for things to happen, for other people, for companionship, for advice, for a ready-made life to land on my doorstep. Plop. Now dad’s menacing words are back in my ear: I’m event-driven, yes you are Louis. I go where the wind takes me, I’m a headless chicken and feck-arsing about. And all this, this what? My futile odyssey – all of this – runs through my head as I sit in the glorious winter sunshine beneath a tree, type unknown, the tree and me both.

 

***

 

‘Hi there, stranger.’

 

Q greets me with a husky voice and tapping a hand to her throat to expel Her frogs. That’s Q the Hollywood star to you.

 

So anyway.

 

It’s like I know Q better than I do such are the warm hugs and kisses. We’re no sooner back to our old selves and She installed as resident confessor. And me? Well I’m the therapist! Comical. Q is a mess: what’s new? She’s worried that the hacking of Sony’s emails may throw up dark truths about Her. Then there’s concern over nude photos of a Hollywood starlet – Jennifer Lawrence? – appearing on the net. Yawn! It’s the same thing year after year. The last big nude uproar I recall was the FBI investigation into Scarlet Johansson photos on the internet. Although its front page news it’s not exactly riveting. Q takes exception to my lack of concern.

 

‘You know Louis, it could happen to anyone.’

 

I don’t say: first you have to get your kit off and then be caught in the act. Instead I plamas.

 

‘Q, it’s terrible. What if…’

‘What if what?’ She demands.

 

I’m not emboldened enough to spell it out and Q doesn’t rise to it, to my ‘what if..’ But She knows that I’m angling on a confession and keen to know what really happened with the stalker guy . I sense there’s a dark secret lurking out there in cyber-land. A secret full of naked pictures of Q and perchance a sex video?

 

‘Louis, you know that I’m not a typical star. And my bum is better than Scarlett Johansson’s.’

 

It’s a statement, I think. I consider my reply and decide to step to Her beat and throw Her a sprat in the hope of catching a salmon.

 

‘Q, of course you’re unique. Nobody thinks you’re a clone of anybody.’

‘I’m just saying that I don’t necessarily do like they do.’

‘Relax, I know you’re different.’

 

Only I don’t.

 

‘Just like you think you’re a one-off, Mr Original’ Q snaps.

 

The insult catches me off-guard. I wonder if She meant to let drop something so cruel. I’m in a hump but gracious enough to consider if it’s up my own ass I’m being, being all precious and shit, or within my rights to be offended. I decide that Q said it in a cheap throw-off sort of way and didn’t intend hurting me. She didn’t call me Mr Original in any meaningful way. I let it slide. Still. I’m almost prompted to tell Her that at least I know I must change and become more user-friendly. At least I’m trying. Kind of trying. For example, get this, on the trans-Atlantic flight I read a self-help book which gave insights into self-improvement techniques. Ever since, and foremost on my mind, is the following:

 

  • eat more greens
  • use anti-wrinkle moisturiser
  • drink less tea and coffee (it stains my teeth)
  • go to bed earlier (every hour’s sleep before midnight is worth double after)
  • take up something spiritual (to kill my cynicism)
  • buy a new toaster
  • read Beckett
  • change the bathroom light-bulb
  • breathe from my stomach and not my chest
  • worry more about making friends with the right kind of people
  • worry less about getting laid
  • ignore the sheep who defend Zoella
  • take a refresher course on Latin declensions
  • stop believing the news.

 

***

So.

 

I’m mulling over the underlying differences between Q and I, and then I realise that at least I can change. I throw Q a scowl. She smiles sheepishly as though She can read my mind.

 

The room shrinks or else Q grows larger as all peripheral vision fades. Q floods my vision. It’s true She has a gravitational pull; the apex around which everything spins. Her radiant beauty levels people. High cheekbones, almond shaped eyes, bountiful lips and buckets of gleaming white teeth. And that’s all before she stands up and displays a figure to die for. I’m thinking Adam was unfairly victimised as there was no way he could resist Eve.

 

Call me Adam.

Call Q Eve.

 

Q has inflated further or else She’s sitting closer to me. She is. Q is in my face. Millimetres away. There’s a look between us: Shall we? Am I reading the look correctly? It’s an auspicious moment. I have a pre-emptive feeling that something might happen. There’s a bit of this and that; touchy-feely caresses and a hand on my thigh. Followed by a whisper in my ear. Things lead to other things. I won’t bore you with the details but, as you can see, it’s a confluence of events, like stars colliding. So there we are, here, and all of a sudden, lip on lip and we’re schmoozing.

 

Unreal.

I’m snogging a Hollywood sexpot.

Or

She’s snogging me!

 

It’s not my first time blurring professional boundaries. And, on that front, I’ve made peace with myself, deciding that two-way misconduct is fine for consenting adults. Anyway, back to now. Making love is like building a house: it needs a foundation. So, we’re snogging and I think Q is in the mood for more. I almost pat myself on the back: God Louis, you’ve come far.

 

I mustn’t be too hung up on sex [1] although I’m aroused thinking about it. The thought of performance has me wild. For a millisecond I’m sucking Her lip and trying to hold on as I realise we’re losing tenderness, engagement, entanglement, suction. She’s putting the breaks on. We shudder to a stop. I think of lunging back in for more but it wouldn’t be consensual. It’s an anti-climax. She has a hand on my chest and is holding me back [2]. She doesn’t care about my pent-up energy.

 

She could at least have danced for me or removed Her clothes. Or else, She might have disrobed me! If She glimpsed me naked She’d revise Her opinion. You see, I’ve been doing ab-crunches and deep in the recesses of my mind I’ve been holding out for an opportunity to show Her that I’m strong. I’ve been thinking that it might help gloss over the fracas outside the pub the last time I was in LA.

 

But Q doesn’t care to know about my hard-on. She’s become all self-possession; holding, hugging, Herself. There’s distance between us. Q asks me to shove over. We’re back to sitting apart on the sofa. A group hug is out of the question.

 

As if.

We’ve gone all formal.

Think what to do, what to say. I cant. My mouth has gone dry. Q rights herself, then, without preamble and regarding me differently and as though She’s delivering lines from a movie, levels with me.

 

‘Louis, I don’t know what came over me. That should NOT have happened. Let’s forget it.’

‘Like, lets make like it didn’t happen?’ I ask.

‘It’s easier.’

‘But what about all the ‘only enough food to put in your mouth’ spiel?’

‘Grow up! That was just for my memoir. Louis, don’t be so dopey.’

 

Dopey = unhappy.

 

It’s clear.

 

For Q what just happened is shameful and the height of under-achievement. The thought of me depresses Her. Now She’s feeling Her neck as though there’s a growth there and like I’m a wart. From dwarf to wart! I’m indignant.

 

‘Q, what am I, a fucking muppet?’

‘Don’t you dare swear at me.’

‘I’m not – I’m swearing at me.’

‘Louis, have we a problem?’

‘Professionally?’

‘What else?’

‘No, no problem’ I clarify.

‘Good. Then lets keep it professional. And be professional.’

‘Ok, right. So what happened didn’t just happen? Right?’

‘Right.’

‘Oh!’

‘Ok?’

‘Oh, ok.’

‘Louis, it’s the entertainment business we’re in.’

‘Speak for yourself.’ I say.

 

Q’s face is still stuck in a fake smile.

 

Maybe its unintended but She instantly renders me as sexually virile as a eunuch. It’s humiliating. We’ve become sinister. Be done with me I think, and shoot me with the gun intended for the stalker. OTT? Maybe. Or maybe the caffeine in the US makes me think differently. As for Q, the bitch, She tries to explain things while affecting an upper-class accent. WTF!

 

‘Louis, things – they sometimes overcome you.’

‘Me?’ I ask.

‘One. Things overcome us. People do.’

‘And?’

‘And we must just accept it as a thing.’

‘Accept people as a thing and not as something?’

 

My brow becomes more furrowed.

 

‘Precisely Louis. So this thing was no-thing.’

‘Nothing?’ I repeat.

Cunning! How fine for Her to be sitting on such a lofty notion.

 

‘Q, you know, me and the truth, the way we are, the truth and I. I won’t deny it if somebody asks.’

‘Deal.’

 

There’s swift eye contact. She knows nobody would ever ask. It’s too outrageous. She’s holding out Her hand and we’re shaking. Deal done.

 

‘And nobody knows who you are, right? Or clawbacks, right?’

‘Relax Q.’

 

Q gives me a searching look. She’s wondering if I can bottle it up, keep it in, get over it and move on. I pucker my lip, think of insubordination and then have a change of heart. A deal is a deal. Q notices my change in demeanour as I swallow my puzzlement at Q being the voice of wisdom. Ok, fine, I think. I have a life to finance. I give a reassuring look: I don’t do drama and certainly not in the face of Your smug rectitude. Q sinks back in the sofa, relieved and self-satisfied.

 

The drama is over.

 

‘Q, can you please tell me what it is You want?’

 

I’m newly self-composed as I ask this although secretly I’m smarting. I’m tied up in one hell of a ghostwriting contract and She knows it. Q smiles and tosses my hair to jack up my spirits.

 

‘Louis, I want you to write my memoir, silly Billy!’

 

And guess what? That fuck-head, Barry the Goat, is back on my mind and now I’m pissed off with two people.

 

‘Q, the problem is….’

 

I can’t say it. I can’t say it.

 

You see, the problem is that I don’t think there’s any point. I can’t do Q any justice now that She no longer matters to me. Mine isn’t that kind of job. Call me Mr Commitment but I either buy in or not at all. I can’t impersonate peace of mind. In fact, I don’t know that I care to confront Q ever again after this… this what? This stunt; this performance.

 

‘Louis, what’s the problem?’

‘Oh, just timing.’

‘Right! I hear you – slot-filling and double-bookings. Why don’t you agree a schedule with Zak? It’s important we’re both happy.’

 

Zak is Qs manager. I didn’t mention him before as I never imagined he’d make a cameo appearance so late in the story. But now it seems our relationship is in free-fall. Q is rowing backwards. We’re in jeopardy.

 

As for me, how do I say that a thing needs to be wrapped up with a bow-tie before I see a package ready for collecting? I’m done with vague promises and dreamy notions. For me – and no different to the way a painter sees his subject – to describe somebody means that they must first have clear notions about who they are and what they want saying before I write them up. Or else there has to be a hope of falling in love.

 

Impossible.

 

For Q, clarity is a maze. And She’s done being fucked by love.

 

I swallow my bile and accept where we are. Nowhere-land. Pretending not to be hurt, I release a tight smile as it dawns on me that it was foolish of me to feel protected with an iron-cast role in Q’s life. Things pass and people do to.

 

All said, it’s the diva in Q acting up. For Her I’m just another infatuation. I manage a laugh. I’m humouring myself as I consider that if we didn’t just get it on and snog in the slightly pathetic way we just did and like Q is suggesting then all of this, this rotten blog, might as well read as bad fiction a la Zoella. But the thing is that I’m not so sure I’m ready to dish our little history that way now that I’m on the way out.

 

Yes, I might be done with ghost-writing.

Maybe.

 

My irritation festers. It’s not the first time that I’ve been chewed up, used, and spat out. And remember, I’m getting too old for this shit. Our goodbye is a stilted affair and hindered by bad acting; Hers. I see her limited range first-hand. Sick of being typecast? She’s only good for playing the damsel in distress.

 

A kiss on the cheek, a pat on the shoulder, and once safely tucked in the back of a taxi, Q calls out ‘don’t be a stranger’. Coasting down the PCH towards LAX and I wonder if there was a mocking tone in Her voice. I push the thought aside and force myself to converse with the taxi-driver.  It’s a fine day, laa dee daa, in La-La-Land.

 

‘Buddy, you ok?’ the taxi driver asks.

‘My crime is clear: I dreamt and failed.’

‘You got difficulties, don’t we all’ he says.

‘Life, huh! I can’t figure out if I take it too seriously or not at all.’

 

Fuck this and fuck that and I feel like saying fuck him into the bargain but instead I give him a tip.

 

At the airport, I give in to what I forbade myself on the drive over and stoke the memory and re-play the episode. Wouldn’t you? Still, it rattles. Why didn’t I repel Her advances? Because I’m weak? Because I’ve no self-respect? I curse my lack of will-power and the sexiness of women.

 

I look for distraction. There’s nothing doing. Often I find that the only way to expel something is to jot it down and that’s what I set to doing, knowing full-well that nobody will ever read this note as it’s just a lose-end, without any real connection to any larger process.

 

I break off note-taking and shuffle down the length of the terminal, past an aisle of airplanes, and recognizing that there’s something vital missing in Q that I can’t quite put my finger on. I pass one hanger and then the next, on and on, going on to the very end, trying to pin-point the flaw. Bingo and there it is: all told, it’s Q’s lack of vividness that bothers me. She’s vacant inside and it explains Her fuck-me expression. I feel victorious and like I’ve discovered gold. But that being so, and just as I’m stealing some small comfort in this find, it twigs on me that I’m the dumb bitch’s charity case. Me and my thoughts, we’re some outfit! I crack a smile and say aloud to nobody in particular:

 

‘You know what, so what’.

 

I draw the gaze of strangers to whom I then stick out my tongue. Humour replaces my concern at being licked and just as I’m starting to perk up and imagining that the flight home might be an eventful distraction,

holding out,

hoping,

that something might come of me,

that trans-Atlanticly life might magically come together and make sense

or that I start to make a difference,

when over the tannoy comes the echo of Barry the Goat blaring out my private tragedy:

 

‘Louis, you’re a riot.’

 

The rotter.

The rot.

My lot.



[1] See back to list of things I must change. 

[2] I know what you’re thinking: that Susan did exactly the same day one back in the office. Weird, huh!

 

Diary 64: How the apple falls

Diary 64 pic

 

I’m making inroads. I’m all alone in a room and slicing up a cheesecake. I’m probably cutting the third of fourth slice when I hear a cry through the wall. From next-door.

 

I don’t know why – and I haven’t done this before – but the sound from next-door draws my ear to the wall. I’m listening hard. I wonder if it’s true that it’s easier to listen with a glass pressed against the wall. No time to fetch one – I’ll miss the action – so I cup a hand around my ear.

 

I hear it all.

 

The boy, Tommy, is moaning that Santa Claus only left him two oranges. He can’t understand how Santa can be so mean. I can picture Tommy’s mum, the eternally drunk Misses Murphy, stirring a gin and tonic and saying that’s just how it is, the luck of the draw.

 

But Tommy won’t get with the programme. He’s getting more wound up. He refuses to accept his miserable fate and is out for revenge. It’s driving Misses Murphy crazy.

 

‘Tommy stop whining. Just stop it.’

‘But Santa gave everyone else toys.’

‘And aren’t you lucky that you got something to eat?’

‘But….but… I want to play. And Santa Claus…’

‘Tommy – there is no Santa.’

‘Why?’

‘Because Santa isn’t around.’

‘Why?’

‘Just because.’

‘Did he have an accident? Is he dead?’

‘Ya, he’s dead.’

 

Tommy is confused. He pauses to think before he resumes crying. It makes his mum more angry.

 

‘Tommy, Santa is dead. I’m telling you, Santa Claus is dead.’

 

For Tommy it means that there will be no more kindness left in the world. Santa was his last hope. Misses Murphy won’t let up and is on a sick pleasure ride.

 

‘It’s not like Santa is dead, you see, Santa was never real. It’s a stupid joke that adults play on children. Santa is make-believe.’

 

Tommy is stumped. I hear the silence. Tommy is thinking. It takes a few moments to sink in; to ruin a boy’s life. I can almost see the gears in his head clicking into place. The realisation: his mum is not only mean but doubly so. Her lack of tact infuriates. First there’s sniffles then it builds to an uncontrollable sobbing. It’s torture listening to Tommy wail.

 

Poor Tommy.

I’m seized by anger.

I move back from the wall and look at the cheesecake.

An enormous cheesecake is on the table.

It distracts from poor Tommy.

The cheesecake does.

I recommence cutting it into slices.

I want to work out how many slices there are.

Or maybe I’m just hungry.

Or maybe I’m being pulled down.

Pulled under.

To events from beyond the line.

To the sub-conscious.

To the dream world.

 

I wake with a start. Yes, I was asleep. Yes, I was having a nightmare. I sit up in bed and scan the room. There is no Tommy or Misses Murphy. There is no cheesecake. But still, I’m worked up and feeling terrible. What if? What if? What if it was real. Somewhere. I check again to make sure. I look at the wall. There’s not a peep from next-door. I scour the bedroom floor. No cheesecake is lurking.

 

It was all a bad dream.

 

Just like Dr Bernard advised I try self-analysis. Ok, he only said to remember my dreams; to write them down for dream-analysis. Instead I’m thinking I’d rather pay myself for therapy. Why didn’t I offer Tommy some cheesecake, the Tommy in my dreams, my imaginary cheesecake? I must figure it out. What it means.

 

What it means is that I’ll save a thousand quid.

 

It’s almost dawn. Christmas morning. It’s probably around 7am. That means that I snoozed from 3am until now. 4 hours sleep. It’s not enough. The house is asleep and I’m wide awake. There’s no going back to sleep. My mind won’t rest. Maybe it’s the stuffy air; the central heating. I’m used to sleeping in a cold bedroom. Anyway, the truth is that I haven’t been sleeping well. Sleep is a habit and I’ve broken mine.

 

I’m thirsty. I go to the bathroom and drink from the tap. Then I go for a pee. I’m trying not to think about my nightmare in the half-chance that I go back to sleep but as I’m finishing up and shaking the last few drops out of my equipment, the thought hits. I’m of a type: late-30-something, single and at mercy to hot women in skirts.

 

Of course I want to have my cheesecake and eat it.

 

But I might get gout.

 

I join the dots and make a parallel connection: it’s time to grow up. I turn around to face the sink and look in the mirror. Ok, I look ok. Sometimes this surprises me. How I get away with it. I look down. My pubes are growing back. I arrange them in a quiff like a granny’s hairdo. They look good on me, my pubes do. Fuck Susan.

 

***

 

It’s nightfall all day long. What I mean is: short days are back. Winter. It’s Christmas Day and I know that I shouldn’t be asking for anything. Santa Claus land. That’s for kids and girlfriends; having material wants is.

 

I forgot to mention that I’m staying at my brother’s house. Donal has a wife and two kids. For now I’m the only one awake in the house but there’ll be mayhem in a while. Santa this and that. Then, on cue, it comes, the scream of kids mixed with the low guttural hum of morning radio. I feel giddy though I don’t know why. Nostalgic pangs maybe.

 

Santa arrives. Only it’s Dr. La Roc. Dad is dressed up to thrill my nephews. He does a good ho-ho-ho. I don’t know how I feel about this; I mean I never remember dad dressing up as Santa or ho-ho-ing for me. Work usually had him absent. Or serious. Anyway, I’m trying to work it out; what’s going on. Then I get it. Not long retired and dad is re-learning how to live; how to get by and survive. He’s a baby once again. Either that or he’s lobotomised.

 

Although times are hard and Ireland is still in recession there’s no fucking way that my nephews are only getting two oranges. I close that door by slipping each of them a fiver and motion them to hush. Cian (4¼), the younger of the two, copies me by pressing his finger to his lips.

 

‘Cian doesn’t know money’ Donal Jnr (6¾), the older brother, whispers conspiratorially.

‘Better teach him fast’ I advise with stern eyes.

 

Donal Jnr looks at me like I’ve some kind of reputation. He doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Although I feel like it, I can’t really tell him to cop the fuck on; that it’s a mean world out there; that greed is only around the corner. I can almost see his innocence washing out to sea in the next tide. And although Donal Jnr is only six and a three quarters maybe I should make a man out of him and teach him how to smoke. Or, more usefully, to steal.

 

***

 

Dad, who is still dressed as Santa Claus, gets me out of the house and into a boat and onto the river. It’s some River Backwater. We’re back to office politics. He bosses and I play subordinate. It’s odd seeing Santa Claus with a walking stick.

 

‘Why don’t you get a guide dog?’

‘Can’t lean on a mutt’ he quips.

 

I smile, happy that he still has his mind and remembers the joke from our office days.

 

‘I don’t trust the riverbank’ dad continues. ‘The edge might give.’

‘Oh’

 

It’s all I can manage. Oh! We’re feeling our way along the riverbank and feeling our way into a conversation. We’re still strangers. And he seems different. Dad has moved beyond the fold and seems to have become indifferent to me, to everything. Then there’s his new hobby: boat-buying and fishing. It’s something to do in retirement. To balance out the golf. I’m not unduly concerned. I’d feel differently if it was a Porsche he was buying and whittling away my inheritance. Anyhow, it seems the way of things: get nearer the end and go back to the beginning. Back to nature. You cop on and stop chasing money. There’s that too: have enough dough to last a lifetime and discover that that’s the pity. It kills the hunger, having everything does. They say.

 

‘Guards aren’t about on Christmas Day’ dad winks as we push off into the river.

‘So they say’ I say.

 

There’s boyish glee in him.

 

‘Might catch a salmon’ he adds.

‘Against the law: it’s out of season until the New Year’ I say.

‘The fish don’t know that!’

 

Dad’s behaviour surprises me. I feel uneasy around him – always have – but I can’t exactly turn down this fishing expedition. We’re at loose ends, he and I; both without children to play with. Perhaps there’s something on his mind. We never do anything together so it must be about something, this Christmas Day fishing expedition. I’m guessing what it might be. I hope it’s not about Susan. About lust. She’s a right bitch if she told dad about us. I’ll deny it and pass her off as a sicko. Sicko Susan. Or else it could be about money worries – his or mine? Lust and money; it’s all it can be. It’s all there is in life. God knows I think religion is for losers and dad knows I know this too.

 

The river is so calm that we barely drift. Still. Yes, it’s still. Still, it feels like something might happen at any moment. God, I’m using that silly word still! Ah. Still.

 

As we roll downstream, bank-side trees shudder as birds scamper into the air. I imagine wild beasts lurking; crocodiles even.

 

I’m on the oars, rowing. It’s easy going. I loosen up. Relax. Let it be. What will be will be. Dad and the beasts. So what. Us floating downstream. So what. It’s Christmas day. So what. What do I care where Dad takes us. It’s the same old story with me: I just want to get away. We don’t say much. It seems there isn’t much to say. Between us lies nothing; between dad and I. I wonder about throwing him a sprat and telling him that I’m into virginity. I hold off. Silence instead. There’s only the sound of the paddles slapping against the water. I’d say our chat dried up only we never really had any.

 

Dad takes a break to skim stones. WTF! Is he a child again? Odd as it is, I’m surprised at dad’s results: the first two stones he skims three times each. Wow. I stop rowing.

 

‘I can usually do up to 5 or 6 times’ dad says.

‘No way! When did you get into that?’

 

He’s fishing stones out of his pocket. I look at them astonished. I recognise the stones. Volcanic rock!

 

‘No way!’ I say.

‘Yes, the office.’

 

Dad is throwing his 20 year-long collection of precious stones into the River Backwater. He nips my confusion in the bud.

 

‘There’s no point leaving them on an office wall unappreciated. Retirement, huh! Here, have a go – the Italian volcanic flint skims very well.’

 

I have a go and feel like I’m throwing Dad’s life away. I can only manage to get the stone to bounce twice. Pathetic as I am I grow weary of skimming stones and anyway I feel unclean throwing away his prized collectors’ items. It’s as though what I’m doing is a sin. With our break over, it’s back to work. The rowing done and it’s time for fishing. We cast our lines into the river. Just when I’m starting to get into the silence and feeling all peaceful up he pipes again.

 

‘What’s the purpose of this blog thing?’ dad asks. [1]

‘It’s not a thing – it’s just a blog. It’s like a road trip, no different to travelling around the world or ‘doing the Andes’, although it’s more about the voyage than there being any actual destination.’

 

I don’t know that he’s listening. Dad casts into the river. The line slaps on the water.

 

‘Tipperary is far away’ he muses.

 

I’m on tenterhooks because when dad speaks he’s different to others as it’s never actually nothing that he’s saying. He’s one of the few who is actually into saying things. Like, real things.

 

‘I don’t follow’ I say.

‘Wrong Way Corrigan!’

 

I have to read between the lines. I’d say he’s trying to kill my conundrums and suggesting that I make concessions. So this is what it’s about, a big pow-wow on the river: the Santa Claus negotiations. Louis it’s time to bend a little.

 

I look at dad and wonder if his dead face will speak more to me. Perhaps he hinders me. Or I him. Or maybe the problem is me and my father complex. Must I overcome him? Maybe I’m just getting a little bogged down and dad has simply misunderstood my blog. Or maybe it’s me who doesn’t get what he means.

 

‘What do you mean?’ I ask.

‘Wrong Way Corrigan? It means more than what you said about your blog being about a road trip or voyage.’

 

Again dad’s death plays on my mind. When? How? Years or weeks away? Imagine if I knew the day of his demise. If I could say: ‘Dad, in 352 days you’ll be gone’. I put it from my head. I have other issues. My head is buzzing. I’m arguing with myself. If, as I suspect is the case, that everything means nothing then are we not simply beasts passing through time and plagued by thinking?

 

‘Dad, the blog, it’s not like a physical journey but more about a string of events that happen and the journey that the mind takes along the way. At least, that’s what I think the blog is about.’

 

Maybe its intuition, maybe I underestimate dad but whatever it is I can’t help thinking that he’s from the medieval ages. But isn’t everyone’s father from times past? Just as I’m wondering what dad thinks about nowadays, out pops his reply.

 

‘Louis, maybe you attract your own problems.’

‘How do you mean? What does that mean? What problems?’

 

I’m flummoxed. It’s not more parenting I’m in need of but a new life! But how can dad know this? I almost tell him that I’m not his anymore only then dad might go on a rampage and ask who do I then belong to. I’ve no wife! Maybe dad knows about my visits to Dr Bernard. Dad clarifies.

 

‘Louis, stop faffing about and get involved. You have to belong to live!’

‘Fuck John Donne!’ I say. ‘Why can’t a man be an island?’

‘You’re in your late thirties and haven’t begun your life. You must step into the world.’

‘Dad, I’m doing my best. It’s just that repositioning is hard in a recession but I think I know what I’m at.’

 

He gives me that look, the doubtful kind. And because dad helped me realise my dreams in a strange twist of fate he has also contributed to my current feeling of lack of worth. We’re in this together. Kind of. At least, he knows the goals I set myself. But I’m failing or have failed and he thinks I’m without excuse for my failings. It’s my non-conformist lifestyle; it riles him. I won’t bend and now there’s nothing to show for me. So now here he is asking what I’ll be when I finally grow up. The only problem is that all opportunities seem to have passed me by as at this stage of life I shouldn’t be half-assing about.

 

‘Attach or detach, Louis – to people or projects but stop all this noise, the stupid distractions and getting pulled here and there.’

‘What are you saying – join Greenpeace? They’re not recruiting.’

‘Just know who you are.’

 

And there I have it, right on the chin. Stop being so self-conscious. Stop having fun. Know what to become involved in, know who to become involved with in life, find that type of girl. These thoughts race through my head. Rather than asking for pointers I look at dad. He’s not reading my mind. Instead he nods to the fishing line as though it will provide the clue to arrested development. I chase the answer into the water as dad resumes talking.

 

‘Louis, the simple life. No bull. No clutter. No distractions. Look at the fish: fish don’t talk, they just do what’s natural: they swim.’

‘But the journey. Dad, I must go on it.’

‘Rubbish!’ he interrupts. ‘Ithaka! The journey is bull.’

 

I’m confused but daren’t ask for an explanation.

 

I’m back on my guard which is a little strange as only moments earlier I was considering opening up and telling dad about my weird dream about cheesecake and the imaginary boy next-door. But instead here I am in a boat with dad on Christmas day and he’s lecturing me dressed as Santa Claus and wearing  a white beard.

 

A fish interjects.

 

Either it’s a bite or there’s some shit on his line. Dad springs into action, almost toppling us from the boat.

 

‘Steady Dad. Stop moving.’

‘Oh fuck. It’s a fish. It’s a fish. Get the fucking net. Shit.’

 

I’ll be damned. The language! A clean-talking lawyer for 40 years and a fish gets the better of him. Or worse, some weeds do. You see, I’m not convinced. Or maybe I don’t want dad to succeed where I fail: first he beats me at skimming stones and now he catches a fish! I’m imagining his gloomy face when he realises that he’s hooked a bicycle tyre or something toxic. I’m spending a lot of energy trying to be unimpressed as I know an anti-climax awaits us when all of a sudden a salmon surfaces at the tip of his bent fishing rod.

 

‘Get the net, for fuck’s sake, Louis.’

 

I’m gob-smacked. Stunned. Stage fright. Belatedly I spring into action. Now I’m shouting at dad where to steer the bastard. It puts up a fight in bursts, the salmon does. Then the bursts become less and less frequent. Half an hour later and I get it into the net. It’s panting like a dog and glugging for air. Dad almost falls on me such is his urge to snuff it out as he whacks it over the head with an upturned shoe.

 

‘There – that’s living’ dad announces.

‘You’ve clubbed it to death actually! What will we do with it? It’s out of season.’

 

I’m asking this to the pole-axed fish. I’m staring at it. Santa Claus looks at me like I’m daft.

 

‘We’ll eat the bloody thing. We’ll hide it.’

 

And we do. He rings mum to tell her there is a change of plan. I help dad undo his Santa Claus suit and he removes the pillow padding around his stomach. Then we strap the salmon to dad’s waist like its a suicide bomb. Santa is stuffed with a salmon!

 

Nobody notices as we walk along the streets of shit-hole-ville where dad lives. Or rather passer-by’s notice Santa Claus shuffling awkwardly with a walking stick but don’t know that a salmon is lashed to him.

 

‘Who’s looking anyway’ dad adds. ‘And if they are looking it’s sad they’ve nothing better to be doing.’

 

I figure we’re the only family in Ireland who’s having salmon for Christmas dinner as all of this madness plays a decisive role in my psychoanalysis. I build a self-help theory or two:

 

  • The salmon of knowledge: Christmas dinner and I’m staring at a plate of salmon when it dawns on me that I waste a lot of time playing the part of a ghost-writer wanting to be seen when all it takes is a bright red Santa Claus suit. (walking stick optional)
  • The turkey conspiracy: As for the paranoia, it’s nothing too complex. Clarity is quick coming. Reducing the psycho-babble down, me, the blog, harping on to my shrink, what its all about is easy. It’s about a fear of being watched. Or of not being watched. And not knowing which fear is worse. Maybe it runs in the family as dad has a touch of it too. Dad tells the neighbours that our Christmas turkey was the best ever. He doesn’t trust the fish bones. He bags them and drives them off and buries them in a far away place. The homeless suddenly have a Christmas turkey extra. My mum is confused but shuts up.

 

And me? I’m wondering if I’m dreaming more or less.



[1] For the record, Dad knows I’m writing a blog but has never actually seen it and would be shocked to learn that I’m writing about this very event.