Friday, December 19, 2014

Taste The Peaches

Let me know the news if you have a sec, says Frank in his email. He and Bożena are living in Columbia now. He says the abundant narcotics and fruit there suits them. Before that they lived in China for a while. This time last year they slept in our bed and Andrew and I spent the night on a slowly deflating airbed in our front room. After that I spent a few weeks looking up loft beds online, reluctant to commit to the front room as a bedroom instead of a bike shed. I didn't buy one in the end. Since moving into our house two years ago, the house they'll have to carry me out of in a box, Frank and Bożena have been our only overnight guests. My three-and-a-half-year-old niece asked her daddy a while back if she could have a sleepover in our house. But I don't know where I'd sleep, she said.

What news have I that would mean anything to Frank? We're both well, I say. Because we are.

I tell him that I got a promotion at work and that it was hard won. I appreciate that now, though it was difficult at the time. 

I am better for it. I tell him that Andrew ran a marathon and that that was hard too, and wonderful and disappointing and that he's better for it. I sent on a photo of him crossing the line, arms raised in victory, knock-kneed in his too-big shorts, the pockets of which were filled, still, after 26 miles and 385 yards, with chocolate bars and energy gels. He'd been too grateful to the friends who'd waited along the route to support him to refuse them, even though he was unable to eat. He says he wished it had been me waiting on him at every stop. I ran with him on Milltown Road, awkward in jeans and a raincoat, holding his hand. Your bike! he said. Fuck the bike, I said, frightened by how pale he looked, and how sad. The bike was fine. I told him I loved him, let him go, watched him run. When he saw me again on Mount Street my heart lifted with his and then burst when he blew me a kiss and shouted to the thousands lined up at the barriers that he loved me. Aw, said the people to my left and my right.

I'm going to run it next year, I tell Frank.

We used to practice yoga with a woman who lived around the corner and thought that gravity was an arbitrary law. She's living in Australia now. I remember a cold November class where we lay on the floor, swaddled in blankets, silently repeating a mantra of our choosing. Something that meant something to us. I will run a marathon. I will run a marathon. I will run a marathon. I hope mantras are not like birthday cake candle wishes.

I can't run at all at the moment, I tell Frank, I had surgery in mid November. I tell him this in case he'd gotten as far as the line about me running the half marathon in September and hot-footed it to Strava to track my subsequent progress only to see that I've been sitting on the couch watching 30 Rock and eating shortbread for a full month now.

Laparoscopy, hysteroscopy, ovarian diathermy. Did you sign the consent form? asked the surgeon when she called to see me before I was brought to theatre. I did, I said, in between taking selfies in my surgical cap and gown and wondering what would happen if I died during the procedure. Noli timere. Did you read the consent form? she asked. I did, I said. Laparoscopy, hysteroscopy, ovarian diathermy. It says "laparoscopy, hysterectomy, ovarian diathermy", she said. She corrected it and I signed it again. Don't worry, she said, it's not your fault. 

The nurse who brought me to theatre took my hand on the walk down the corridor. I thought it was odd, but she was nice so I didn't say anything. I had to wait outside for a bit while the surgeons performed an emergency Caesarian section. I didn't cry until I heard the baby crying. My mother's in the same hospital room now. My dad says we should have a plaque on the door. I'm not sure what it would read.

I don't want to sign off on a sad note. It's been a shitty year of treatments that didn't work and made me mad an occasionally suicidal, I say, but now we're just going to get on with things and maybe register the cats with a local playschool. He'll appreciate my levity. I tell him about our holidays this year, because I know he likes to travel. I like it less as I grow older and that worries me. We had a disastrous holiday in a treehouse in Cornwall, I tell him, though I do not go into specifics. We went to Tenerife, I tell him, and I resist the temptation to explain that it wasn't like that. I send a link instead to my instagram, with an apologetic aside to say that I haven't written much this year but that I've instead taken lots of photos. 

I don't have a camera. I browse secondhand SLRs online but, like the loft bed, I am reluctant to commit. I need space for my bicycles, and room to write.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Every Time The Time Was Right All The Words Just Came Out Wrong

I'm four years married today. Andrew pulled me close in bed this morning and told me how much he loves me and how very proud he is to be married to me because he feels like it's the best thing he's ever done. I told him that any fool can sign a contract, that it's the little things he does every day he should be proud of. 

What an extraordinary thing, to start each ordinary day this way. We lay there for a minute or two longer (it is our fourth wedding anniversary, after all) and the little cat climbed in through the bedroom window and got sick on the carpet.

We eat breakfast together every day; porridge with cinnamon and honey, orange juice for him though I'll drink from his glass when he leaves the table to fix his hair, toast and coffee if there's time, yesterday's coffee reheated in the microwave if there isn't. We listen to the radio and talk back to it and to each other. I like to listen to 'It Says In The Papers', though if the weather is grey I'll put music on instead and we'll make fun of Marty Whelan. When we got married first I ate breakfast in work and he ate cinnamon rolls from the Bretzel on the bus and I didn't think life could get any better but look, it does. 

He brought ripe Saturn peaches home for me last Friday, and beautiful rose soap petals for the bath. He brought beautiful hydrangeas home for me yesterday. I had such a headache when I got in from work that I didn't see them. Instead I saw the paper bag with an unwritten card inside and I told him that if he's going to surprise me with things he shouldn't leave them out on the kitchen table. I forgot, he said, contrite despite my bad temper. I just wanted you to see the flowers. I took some painkillers and went to lay down on the bed. He got a damp facecloth for me and lay beside me, holding my hand. Tell me about your day, I said.

The traditional gift for a fourth wedding anniversary, he tells me, is fruit and flowers, specifically hydrangeas. We sat at the kitchen table after dinner and watched the big cat chewing on the jug of flowers for a good twenty minutes. 

Andrew tells me that the librarians at the Chicago Public Library came up with a new list of suggested "modern" gifts to mark wedding anniversaries ("Appliances (electrical) ... Desk sets/pen and pencil sets") but that he doesn't see how fruit and flowers aren't modern. It means as much to me that he looks these things up on Wikipedia as it does to receive a present at all. 

This year, unlike last year or the year before or even the year before that, I got a present for him. But it hasn't cleared Customs yet and I forgot all about a card so I'm going home empty-handed again. I meant to write him a letter. I used to do that now and then, when first we lived together. He still has them all crammed into an envelope that he keeps by the bed. He'd break your heart, wouldn't he?

He is a salve for mine, always but most especially when I am not myself. I am taking medroxyprogesterone at the moment and it makes me cry. I am fat, sad, disgusting. You're only one of those, he tells me, and he pulls me close again in the kitchen and kisses the freckles on my forehead. I farted, I said. So I'm disgusting. And we both laugh. We have a good life and he is my constant reminder. 

I need reminding. I had a panic attack cycling up Mobhi Road on my way to work this morning. A hearse pulled out from Home Farm Road, "GRANDAD" spelled out in white carnations along the windows, each letter a foot high. "I'll never be a grandad" I thought to myself sadly (medroxyprogesterone). Then I began to hyperventilate at the thoughts of one day being put in a coffin and driven away from Andrew in a hearse. I need to make friends with someone who owns a station wagon, I decided. Or to buy a station wagon and teach a friend how to park it. I don't want a hearse. And I don't want Andrew to have to drive. I wondered if he'd bury me or burn me and scatter me 'round the park like I asked, and my eyes flooded with tears as my breath ran out and I pulled on my brakes as the lights turned red at the top of the hill. Four years have passed in the blink of an eye. The lights changed and I sucked it up, pushed on my pedals, stretched an arm across the traffic and turned.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

I Went To The Doctor And Guess What He Told Me

I had an MRI today. I got excited about it when the doctor called last week; I appreciate science fiction aesthetics and non-invasive medical procedures.

I've had a lot of non-non-invasive medical procedures done in the last six months.

I had six transvaginal ultrasounds in February and March. I had one on my birthday and I waited for the nurse to say something after she'd confirmed my date of birth, but she didn't, so I just took my pants off. Happy birthday to me! I will remember turning 33. I had a hysteroscopy last month, and a hysterosalpingogram the month before that. Hysterosalpingogram is a much harder word to spell but a much easier procedure to endure. I passed out during the hysteroscopy. I was shocked for a day or two afterwards. "I have nothing to compare it to" I kept saying. I compare most things to the climb up Cruagh Road, which I can sometimes but not always manage on my bike. I compare invasive medical procedures to the cervical biopsy I had a couple of years back. I like to think I'm tough, that I can manage most anything once I know what I'm in for. It was very challenging to find that that doesn't always hold true.

Today was a walk in the park, by comparison. I was referred to St. Vincent's Private for the MRI, even though I have no health insurance. I half expected some kind of alarm to sound when I said as much to the receptionist. She made no comment, just handed me a safety questionnaire and waved me to a seat. Vincent's is like a hotel lobby and everyone else there was old. I'm used to Holles Street, where the bathrooms are grotty and the patients are anxious and the staff are exceptionally kind. I often leave there feeling lucky.

The radiologist who brought me through to the treatment room in Vincent's knew how to pronounce my name. That happens so rarely that I usually comment, but I didn't today. I just took off my clothes and put on the gown she'd left for me, then sat on the gurney, legs dangling, and waited for her to come back. I thought about taking a photo of myself in the gown, but I was afraid she'd catch me. I took off my wedding rings and clipped them together with the slide from my hair, then tucked them into my shoe. "Have you anything in your hair?" she asked me when she came back, and she gave it a look. It's humid today and I am Barbados Monica. "It's in my shoe" I said, and she looked at me like I was mad. "Come on" she said.

The room in which the scanner is kept is like something from a film set on a spaceship. Everything's white. I wanted more time to take it in. But she hurried me onto the scanner bed and placed a pair of padded green cans over my ears as the bed slid into the machine. "Can you hear me?" she asked through the comms. "I can thank you" I said. "CAN YOU HEAR ME?" she barked. "YES" I said. Like an automated fucking phone system.

I thought there would be music, I thought that's what the headphones were for. Maybe you have to have health insurance. I made my own, like Tyres at the traffic lights. The machine thrummed and thumped and I lay there trying really hard not to move and thought about how I used to listen to music not unlike this terrifying noise, back when I took drugs and went clubbing and fucked other people's boyfriends. These days I go to see kora music played in the concert hall with my husband and our parents and drink soda water at the interval. I book the tickets. I'm happier for it.

The scan took ages. My nose started to itch. The dull ache in my lower back began to creep down towards my tailbone. There's not much to look at inside an MRI machine. They should print some poetry on it or something, like the backs of the seats on old Aer Lingus planes. I am always happier when I have something to read, much happier than when I have something to write. Anything to distract me from the inevitability of death, yours and mine. That's mostly what I'm left with when I've nothing to read. The inside of the machine had scratches on it. Striated black marks, seven of them, ragged and uneven. Everything else in Vincent's looks box-fresh, unused. Something must have happened. The dull dread in my gut began to creep up towards my gorge and I felt again the rubbery bladder of the alarm in my right hand. 

"FOLLOW THE BREATHING INSTRUCTIONS" she barked again, and I panicked, thinking I'd missed something. Then a recorded voice told me to take a deep breath, and then to hold it, and then to relax. Take a deep breath, hold it, relax.

She took the headphones from my ears as the scanner bed rolled out and told me to sit up as soon as I was ready and then to dress again behind the curtain and leave. The floor seemed further away than it had when I'd climbed up onto the bed. I walked stiff-legged back to my cubicle, the back of my gown flapping open where I hadn't managed to negotiate the ties. As I pulled the curtain, I noticed an elderly man in a gown sitting in the far corner, quietly waiting his turn. He was still wearing his black brogues. He nodded to me and then, hearing his name called, shuffled in to have his atoms rearranged.  

I pulled my clothes back on, burying my nose first in the underarms of my dress, still slightly damp from the bike ride over. I rooted my rings out from my shoe and repinned the roll at the side of my hair, seeing only the bags under my eyes in the mirror. I could hear the machine clanking and banging in the next room as I switched off all the lights in my efforts to find the door release. 

I was tired, upset, hungry. I'd brought a sandwich and a bottle of water in my bag but I was too embarrassed to sit outside and eat, so I set out for the office. As I rode back along the Strand Road, a man stopped and took a photo of me. I must have looked beautiful to him on my big black bike, my dress and hair streaming behind me and my worried head held high.

Friday, June 06, 2014

January To June

There are all these things you think you’ll do, but you won’t.

I’m learning to let things slide. The cats sleep in our room now. One sleeps curled up beside me, or on my chest, or between Andrew and me or wherever he fucking well pleases, the other sleeps curled up on the chenille blanket by the radiator. I get up in the middle of the night to let them out. Or in. Or out. I need to get up anyway to go to the bathroom. I’m getting older and don't expect to sleep through the night. 

I thought I would write, but I don't. Two years into Andrew’s studies and the 180-piece IKEA corner desk I assembled to house the old computer I begged from work remains unused. Andrew doesn’t use the desk. He doesn’t like the plastic swivel chair, he prefers to study at the kitchen table or on the couch, or propped up on our bed. I like the chair well enough, I feel I have to because I chose it. It’s shiny and nailpolish red. I’ve only ever sat in it to tidy away the pieces of coloured tissue and fancy paper I keep in one of the desk’s alcoves, scavenged from prettily-packaged presents to be reused to wrap some of my own. That’s something I’ve gotten better at; thoughtful, hand-made gifts.

When we moved in first I spent ages browsing antique desks and leather swivel chairs on classified ads websites, but we don’t really have the room. The IKEA desk is fine. The office is where we keep the hoover and my fancy tissue paper and the sewing machine that I’ve never really gotten to grips with. We dry the washing in there on a clothes horse. The computer is not plugged in.

For a while I worried about where we’d put the IKEA desk if we had a baby. We’d need that room, and we couldn’t move it to the front room because that’s where I keep my bicycles. Then I worried about needing the front room too for my mam or my sister to come and stay because what if I couldn’t cope and then where would the bicycles go now that we’ve knocked down the rotting shed and thrown it in the skip with everything else the Byrnes left behind. Then I worried that the bicycles wouldn’t matter anymore because I wouldn’t be able to ride them anyway after having a baby. I worry a lot.

Learning to let things slide is difficult. I don't just mean our hopes to have a family, I mean everything, all the small things too. Accepting with grace that the world will not end if the house hasn't been hoovered in a week. Learning to live with the weeds in the garden and hugs from friends on days when I would rather they ignored me. 

I do lots of things I never thought I could. I update Strava instead of blogging. I don’t write here because I don’t want to write about this and this is all I have to write about at the moment. Spend time with me and I’ll tell you all my stories and they'll be funny and warm because I want you to love me. But here, by myself, this is it and I am sorry and bored. I might write my guts out some other time but right now, I do not want to spend any time at that desk, in that corner where we’d probably put a cot if there was a baby to sleep in it.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

I'm Every Woman, It's All In Me

Yesterday's lunch was a disappointment. I'd brought in some brown bread (homemade) and some mushroom soup (homemade) but the bread was a little bit stale and the soup was spoiled. Already grey, it had green spots and farted when I lifted the lid of the tupperware. I slid it into a resealable sandwich bag and plopped it into the bin.

Did you think I'd eat it? 

I ate the bread alright. I didn't have much option, or any change for the vending machine, and anyway, I am very pious at lunch. I eat very well when other people are watching.

Did you make it yourself? my colleagues ask. Oh yes, I say, and I'll mealy-mouth about how it's cheaper than buying bread or about how I can't eat shop-bought soup because I'm allergic to MSG. Oh, god, shut up. I think I'm better than them. How sad for me, that my bread is stale and my soup spoiled.

I made fresh bread last night. I had to use the top oven to bake the bread. I'm not sure I'd ever used it before. I'd cleaned the main oven on Sunday evening but it still stank of ammonia, so I couldn't use it. Andrew scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed at it and we left it on at full heat for an hour, to burn off the chemicals. I reread the back of the can of foam spray I'd used, in case I'd missed something. It says not to use it for eight hours, I said to Andrew, and that was a full 24 hours ago now. But there was no arguing with the catpiss stench the oven belched when you opened its door. I'd never cleaned an oven before. I'm not so great.

But I did make fresh soup. Pumpkin soup. And I grew the pumpkin. I'll be sure to mention that. 

My brother tells me that my two-and-a-half-year-old niece is into roleplay at the moment. You be the babies, she says to her parents, and I'll be you, daddy. She stands outside the bedroom door and tells them to Cry, babies! then storms in and barks Why are you crying, babies? It's time to go asleep! It cracks them up.

My mother taught me to cook. To spite her, I aped the TV chefs, laying all my ingredients out in bowls and on saucers. My mother's insistence on using leftovers disgusted me. The first time she made her own cranberry sauce she made a full batch, we ate it on Christmas day and then unknowingly in every curry, casserole and stew she made for a full year. When she told me, it is no exaggeration to say that I felt betrayed. And now look. I made pumpkin soup but it didn't taste like much so I rummaged in the fridge to see what else I could add to it. There was half a roll of soft goat's cheese slowly drying in its wrapper, so I added that. There was a tupperware of leftover day-old mashed turnip and a bowl of week-old colcannon. So I added those. 

No sense in wasting them, I said to myself.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Everything I Ever Wanted (Oh That I Need) (Oh That I Have)

I worry a lot about where things should go. The physical space they should inhabit. I am a tidy person, most of the time, though not always a clean one. But I like to know where everything is. 

I hurt my ankle on Wednesday; I went running at lunchtime and it didn't feel right but by the time I was in real pain I was far enough from the office to talk myself into running the rest of the way back. Andrew had to come and pick me up after work, in the car. He tried to fit my bicycle into the boot, but it got stuck. It won't fit, I insisted from the passenger seat, leave it, please, I'll pick it up tomorrow. I almost have it, he said, and I winced at the sound of the wicker basket scraping along the brace for the back seats. 

It's a new basket. The cat had chewed at the willow on my last one and I'd tried to repair it by weaving twine around the rim, but the man in the bike shop said it made him sad to look at it, and so I replaced it. I've kept the old one for picking apples. It's rotting outside the patio door. 

I was very good at Tetris as a kid, I said to Andrew once he'd hefted the bike back out of the boot and locked it up again. And I'm good at parallel parking. You can't drive into a space though, he said, and he's right. There was no need for my I-told-you-so. 

We stopped at the library on the way home so that I could return some books. One of them was so overdue that I'd received a notice in the post, printed on perforated paper. It looked like a payslip. I called the library immediately, indignant, insisting that I had returned it in early December. I remember, I said, because I had renewed all of the books in that batch but couldn't renew the DVD, Pavee Lackeen, and when I returned the lot and asked to pay the fine I was told that it had never been checked out on my account. So, I said, there must have been another mistake made. Jennifer was patient, she put me on hold and went to check the shelves again. My battery died. You definitely returned it? Andrew asked. Definitely, I said. I keep the library books separate, on the table by the front door, so that this doesn't happen. I borrowed his phone to call Jennifer back, but before I dialled I checked the stack of books on the desk in the office. There it was. Hello, Jennifer? I said, I'm so sorry...

We hadn't even watched Pavee Lackeen. Well, we watched a bit of it but then we got bored. 

When we got to the library, I couldn't get out of the car. The books are in a red cloth bag under my coat behind the driver's seat, I said to Andrew. I'm always telling him where things are. Exactly, specifically where things are. Sometimes I wait to see if he finds them himself, even though I know I could save him the trouble. Sometimes I think I am a bad person, and that there is something very wrong with me. That I am not capable of being good. He brought the books back to the librarian and paid my small fine, and I sat in the car with my swollen ankle and cried. 

I told my mam that I'd sprained my ankle. She said she'd bring me to the hospital. I said no, and she said she'd call in the morning. I didn't sleep well.

The next day, after Andrew had gone to work and while I waited for my mother to call, I planned how I might tidy the house even though I was more-or-less unable to walk. There wasn't much to be done, a few small things out of place. Dishes to be put in the dishwasher, boots to be straightened in the hall. I could almost hear Andrew pleading with me to cop on, to let it go, that that stuff doesn't matter. It does and it doesn't. 

I remember a man I slept with, once, who thought he was cleverer than I. He watched me make my bed the next morning and asked why I felt the need to. 

He moved to Berlin, like Julian Gough.

In the end I took the dishes from the sitting room to the kitchen with me and left it at that. Mam didn't even come in, we just went straight down to the clinic in Smithfield. Which was just as well, as by the time she arrived I had moved on to planning the renovations we'd need to make the house wheelchair-accessible. Sometimes when I can't sleep, early in the morning, I lie in bed fretting about how we'll manage when we're older. Our bed is pushed up against the wall, Andrew has to climb across me to get in and out. It's very romantic. You don't plan for old age, when you're buying your first bed together. We spent an hour sitting on every one in the shop and then bought the biggest one they had.

Sometimes I think about where I'd put a crib (I'd put it where the bedside locker is). I'd move the bedside locker to where the washbasket is, I'd keep the washbasket in the kitchen by the back door. There's space for a buggy in the front room, with the bikes. There's space for a bed in the office, if I dismantle the desk. It took 160 steps to build, but I probably wouldn't mind. Andrew wouldn't either. He doesn't use the desk, preferring to study in the kitchen while I cook, or curled up on the couch while I read. He's sitting here now, impatiently reading Ulysses and waiting to read what I write. 

I left the Rapid Injury Clinic two hours later with a note for my employers and a tubigrip support bandage. The doctor was a runner, she understood why I'd kept going even when it hurt, and talked to me about what I could do over the next few weeks (swim, ride my bike) instead of telling me what I shouldn't (run). I bought mam lunch and she brought me home. Andrew came in from work with dinner, dessert, tulips, a packet of Nurofen Plus and a palpable sense of relief. We ate dinner, the cat ate the tulips and I slept a dreamless, painless sleep in our great big bed. 

Friday, January 10, 2014

Stories That Aren't Mine To Tell

So that was Christmas. I took the decorations down on Monday while Andrew made dinner. I got the lopper and cut the tree up where it stood in the sitting room, stuffed it into a black sack and tied it up to put out for the binmen. Nollaig na mBan. The first day back after the holidays. 

Ann won't be coming back to work. Her visa came through the week before Christmas and she left on New Year's Eve. She's gone to Ohio. We looked it up on Google Streetview in work one day, had ourselves a walk around. There wasn't much to see. She says it's cold there, that the bread's no good and that there's no marmalade. I miss her. Maura sent her a recipe for soda bread and I sent her a rambling email full of carefully-worded concern. I am worried that she will be lonely. 

This week it's just me, Maura and Aindreas. We finish off the box of Milk Tray and the Rocky bars that were left in Ann's stash. 

Maura's mam talked for ten days straight over Christmas. She went hoarse. She's still in hospital. 

Aindreas burnt down his family's kitchen making toast. Everyone was okay, so we laughed about it. But all the same. He says that the worst of it is that they don't have a new toaster yet, and that styrofoam snowflakes keep falling from the ruined ceiling above the hob and into the wok when he's cooking. The gluten-free bread he toasts for his second breakfast fills the office with a sweet smell, like tea brack. 

Lorna's sister died. Lorna came back to work on Wednesday and she told me a little about her, about being with her when she died. I made "I know" noises but I don't, not really. For all the hours I spent with my grandfather when he was dying, I was in the car on my way home when he died. So I don't know. I can't even imagine. I gave her a hug because that was all I had to offer.

Ciara had a baby. A little girl. She is bowled over with love for her. She says she is like a little animal; small noises, warm and snuggly. I plan to visit, but I have planned it for two days after my piss-or-get-off-the-pot appointment with the fertility clinic. So we'll see. 

How about you?

My Christmas was quiet, I told them. 

Andrew had his appointment with the clinic in December. He spunked all over the floor. I'm sorry, but he did. He had to fill out a form for the receptionist and indicate what percentage, if any, of the sample was spilled. She was right outside when he opened the door to leave the special room, waiting to see how he'd got on. 30%, he said, and please don't ask where because you're standing in it. She wasn't, of course. He'd cleaned it up. Which makes you think; it must be someone's job to check and clean the room after each client, mustn't it? He said the room smelled neither of bleach nor semen. I wonder what they use.

In the pub on Christmas Eve eve I was thrilled to hear him telling his friends about his visit to the clinic, about the magazines and the spillage and the feeling of elation walking to work after your first wank in four days. I don't want him to feel embarrassed about it, about any of this. I am proud of him. But I can't seem to help myself. Imagine all I had to do to get pregnant was go to the clinic and have a wank! I say, making him small again because at the end of the day, I think that this is all about me. I am afraid I am making it harder.

Four days into this interminable five-day week, I finally got some drama of my own. I was out for a run on my lunchbreak (I know!) when I got a text message from my GP with news of the liver profile she'd run before Christmas. Blood test results abnormal. Dr. B. Naturally, I panicked. Then I tried to panic everyone else. I left a message for the doctor to call me back, and spent the afternoon studying liver disease on Wikipedia and caveats on health insurance websites.

Maybe it was autocorrect, I said. Maybe she made a mistake. 

She didn't call me back. When I got home that evening, Andrew made me a bowl of chilli and a mug of hot chocolate and I went to bed with hair still damp from the shower and dreamt of an early death.

I got up early this morning, put my best dress on and brought the car for its NCT. It failed. I went to work and left another 5 messages for the GP. She didn't call me back, not until I had denounced her to anyone who'd listen, not until 6.30 this evening. 

I'm so sorry, she said, we must have made a mistake. Your liver function is perfect. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Here Is A Song From The Wrong Side Of Town

I came home today to a handwritten note from a local estate agent, looking to buy our house. Good morning! she'd written. I am guessing she's a woman, her cheerful cursive reminds me of the girls I tried to copy in school. I never quite managed it. She filled the a5 page with her note, neatly penned in blue biro. I was so charmed by her effort that I considered her offer, for a brief minute. To come and value our home, visit and put a price on someone else's imagined happiness. I've already paid the price for mine. 

I imagine her having neat hair, a small car, maybe a Fiesta or a Yaris, a suit from Dunnes Stores, raggy, bitten fingernails. I wonder who else's doors she's slipped notes under. She can't have written to the whole road. When one of our cats went missing I made flyers and put them through everyone's letterboxes. And that took ages. She can't have sat down and written a note to each of the neighbours. She'd get a cramp.

But it wasn't photocopied. I checked. I ran my finger over the small indentations left by her pen. 

The note said that she was sorry to have missed us. The ESB and the gas man say that on their notes all the time too, but they just post them through the door and never ring the bell, I know because I've been here when they've pretended to call. Our cottages don't have hallways, so having something shoved through your letterbox when you're at home on the couch feels unpleasantly intimate. We get few cold callers but when they knock, everybody has to be very quiet.

I don't know what I'd have said to her had she called, had I been home. I might have asked her in, shown her around. We have a big garden, I'd have said, aren't we very lucky? 

We're here almost a year now, in our new house. You've probably been here too, I can't think of anyone who hasn't. It's been that kind of year. I am immensely proud of it, so much so that I am afraid to say it. Instead I say that the rooms are small, the windows badly fitted. They are. But we have a beautiful home. I have not had bad dreams since we came to live here.

I'd have told her we've only just moved in. I'd have told her about the problems with the plumbing and the bollocks in number 38, about how Dolly's house is vacant and how I suspect Mrs. Brady might be dead (really dead this time) but that she should ask Susan. Not that it's any of her business. I'd have told her how much we paid for it because that is, after all, her business precisely but she'd know that anyway, it's a matter of public record. It might be why she put the note through the door in the first place. 

I'd have told her we're not interested, thanks. It's what I remember my mam saying any time someone called to the door selling something when we were kids. Back then it was travellers, mostly, which seems quaint now. There was one woman, Peggy, that she was friendly with and always had something for, but everyone else got short shrift. We're not interested, thanks. Dad would fish a pound out of his pocket and come away from the door with a holy medal. He didn't answer the door too often. Someone selling metered electricity called to the door the other night while I was out at college. I told him I didn't know what we pay, Andrew said, that you deal with that, so he said he'd call back at eight. Tell him we're not interested, thanks, I said. He didn't call back.

I like to imagine I'd have offered the agent a cup of tea but I wouldn't have, not in a million years. But I like to imagine. It would be nice to have a professional assess what we've done with the place. I cried my eyes out on our first night here, cold and snotty on a blow-up bed, the cat staring anxiously at me and the dull smell of other people's shite seeping up from under the floors. I worried my skin grey. But we got there, Andrew and I, with help from family and friends. There are still pots of unopened paint and plenty of pictures waiting to be hung, but when Caroline comes to visit she claps her hands and says I LOVE YOUR HOUSE with such heart that mine bounces in my chest.

Friday, November 08, 2013

I'm So Tired Of Feeling Sick And Tired

Important! proclaims the subject line of Iwona's email, but it's not. Not to me, anyway. I was in work, at work, working on very serious things. Planning people's futures. She's planning a tattoo and wanted help with translation. She found me on the internet, she told me. Doesn't everyone? I ignored her email. I haven't time for that kind of thing.

Work is tiring. I am tired anyway, all the time. Vertigo has me skimming the walls when I walk, splaying my hands across the tilt of the table, leaning on my left elbow as I tap at my keyboard, listing to one side and in a state of permanent self-correction. The medication I've been given to treat it has given me tremors, a cotton-wool mouth and a desperate apathy.

I don't care about Iwona's tattoo. 

I didn't care either about the man who called the office yesterday morning and spent an hour and a quarter on the phone to me, who felt his trust had been betrayed (though not by me) and whose voice caught when he called again four hours later, ten minutes before time to go home time, because there was something he'd forgotten to ask. I gave him clear, honest answers, little hope or reassurance, lots of time and patience. I get a lot of these calls. I talk about them in meetings with bureaucrats. I never ask them if they have kids themselves. I know that that's not necessary.

It is wrong to say that I didn't care. I did. Even on bad days, I always do. I care about all of them. It wears me out. My present chemical apathy should feel like respite, I think, but instead it feels like nothing at all. I am a sin eater. 

I am good at my job, or at least at this part of it. I have a reputation. "The parents all ask for you" I am told, and some of them do, with a genuine fondness. These people I don't know, whose lives I have affected in a small but significant way by talking to them about the small significances in mine, they ask about me and they hope that they might gift their children with some version of what my parents gave to me. A flair for language that has given me a great facility for communication and empathy. It is an extraordinary position of privilege to be in, this job of mine. 

I come home from work exhausted. The weight of someone else's expectations gather like grease in the crease of my chin and in the dark, damp skin either side of my nostrils. When I first started cycling, the huff-and-puff effort of my pedalling home was enough to leave the day's work behind. Now I feel like I should keep going down the North Circular until I hit the park and then ride up and down the S-bends until I have made space again for Andrew.

He made space for me last night on the couch. He was watching football. It's so fucking stressful, watching him watch Arsenal, that normally I leave the room. Here's how he'd be if we had a fight, I think, but we've had fights and he was nothing like that. There was no swearing, no punching the couch cushions, no pent-up aggression; he was the kind and equable man he always is. I am lucky. 

I sat beside him on the couch with the laptop perched on a cushion, meaning to write. But I'd nothing to say. Nothing worth saying, anyway. Nothing I could publish on the internet. I shopped instead. A skirt guard for my bicycle and some temporary tattoos. I emailed the images to my sister and she laughed at me. I've always wanted a tattoo, I told her, but they're just so... permanent. They are that, she said.

I fished Iwona's email out of the trash this morning. It was polite, and she knew she was emailing the wrong person, looking in the wrong place, but she didn't know who else to ask. She'd had a stab at the translation herself and had translated 'forever mine' as 'forever a place for extracting mineral resources from the ground'. I emailed her back, and seven emails later we'd fleshed out the context and I'd given her the words she needed to ink her skin. GOD BLESS YOU she said. I am blessed indeed. 

Thursday, November 07, 2013

I Took Your Laugh By The Collar

One of the cats caught a mouse. I couldn't be sure which of them it was, I'd opened the door and they'd come tumbling in in a scurry of fur and excitement. It was only when I went to pull the door across to close it (only to open it again five minutes later and then close it and then open it and then close it for that is our routine now in the evenings) that I noticed the mouse in a foetal curl on the bristle mat, its tail an eroteme. 

Oh look! I said to Andrew. A present! We're supposed to congratulate them, you know!

And I, for my part, was genuinely delighted.

Andrew got the dustpan. 

Wait! I said. I want to take a photo! I took two, on my phone. Later, after the mouse had been dustpanned into a plastic bag, knotted and dumped in the garden bin, I sat down on the couch, cropped the better of the photos and tried to find an Instagram filter that would hide the yellow of its teeth.