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.

Monday, November 04, 2013

When All The Brokenhearted People

Sick with tiredness, I sat in the departure lounge, across and one seat over from Bridget. She was wearing a lilac-coloured velour tracksuit, a pristine pair of pink and white runners and a mauve raincoat. Mauve is my favourite colour, though I'd never think to say that if someone were to ask me. Bridget and I have the same colour hair, though hers was thinning slightly. Casting Crème Gloss 645 Amber. It goes well with pink tones. 

I knew her name was Bridget because she had it on a laminated card hanging from a lanyard around her neck. BRIDGET Marian Pilgrimages. She was with her daughter, a mirror image in blonde and baby blue. She didn't have a card, or if she did she wasn't wearing it. None of the other pilgrims were. But you could tell. There was an air of silent hysteria about the place that had more to it than the unreasonably early hour.

The women looked like Bridget. Neat and resilient. Like women who had lost their men and with it found their purpose. They were in the company of other women; moderate friends or dutiful middle-aged daughters. Mothers, all of them. Not one of them a nun. The men, to a man, looked like men who've never had anyone but their mothers. Their faces florid, their trousers too short, scrofulous creatures with miraculous medals pinned to their raincoats and rosary beads twined around their red chapped knuckles. And they all seemed to be alone. Men like that frighten me. I don't know what to do with them.

Bridget caught me staring at her. My face burned red and I looked away, willing Andrew to return with the coffee so that I would have something to hold and someone to talk to. My gaze snagged on a discarded toenail sitting on the cushion of the chair beside Bridget and my gorge rose in response. Andrew arrived with the coffee but before I could point the toenail out to him someone came and sat on it. I wondered then what I was sitting on. I thought of the priests we'd stood behind in the queue for the baggage drop, rocking on their heels in their socks and sandals, and I imagined their yellowed toenails curling into the callused flesh of their toes. I flaked the almonds from my croissant with a fingertip and chewed.

Sick with tiredness and what I half thought might be the promise of something growing in my womb but am now assured is a virus wreaking havoc in my inner ear, I boarded the plane. We were, all of us, very quiet. A thick fog kept us grounded for some two hours and I almost expected to hear someone lead a prayer for our safe departure. But there was nothing to be heard but resignation, and the anxiety of a hundred and fifty seven people listening out for four hundred metres of visibility.

Friday, August 09, 2013

Ah, Here She Comes, Blocking The Sun

The Mirror emailed me last week to ask me about my armpits. I wanted to tell my mam and dad about it at the weekend because we were on holidays and there was no television and too much for us to talk about but I didn't know how to bring it up. I suppose I could have just told them that the Mirror emailed me, but I thought it might be hard to explain. How did the Mirror know that I have underarm hair? One of those friends I made on the Internet told them. But why? Why did she tell them? Or why did they email? They wanted to talk to women who don't shave their underarms. It's about a charity, Armpits4August, which is like that one where men grow moustaches except that it's for women like me, with PCOS. Oh. Is that why you stopped shaving? It's a sponsored thing? No, I only heard about the charity afterwards. Why did you, then? Well, that's what they wanted to know.

How mad is it that a tabloid wanted to interview me about my armpits?

I said no. I thought about it and consulted my three wise monkeys, and they all said no. I sent the journalist a quick reply to thank her and say that while I'm happy to discuss it in a personal capacity, I don't want to discuss it in the Mirror. Though I didn't mention it in my reply to her, I particularly didn't want to send her a photograph of myself showing my armpit hair to accompany the feature (she'd asked). I don't have a photo of myself showing my armpit hair. Andrew has a few. He put one on Instagram and it got a comment, just the one, from my sister's boyfriend. It said "no comment". 

I like the photo, actually. I am sitting across from him at our kitchen table, wearing the vest I've slept in and reaching up to sweep my hair from my neck. I've been growing that too and getting a lot of compliments on it.

"Nice pits!" said my sister. "Don't think I could do it". 

"How are your pits?" asked Ian. 

Nobody else mentioned them. 

The journalist emailed back to ask why I wasn't keen to be featured. That made me uncomfortable. I wasn't expecting it. I told her that I didn't consider the Mirror to be a female-friendly paper and that I was concerned about how I would be represented. She didn't email me again after that, and I felt bad. Selfish, even. And disappointed.

Maybe I should have given her the interview. She wanted to know when I stopped shaving. April, I think. It might have been May. I stopped caring about everything for a few days and when I reconciled with myself again, shaving my underarms when nobody cared whether I had hair there or not just seemed stupid. So I stopped. The hair grew longer and softer and Andrew said that he didn't mind it and to be honest I liked it, so I left it. I read Emer O'Toole in Vagenda and watched the This Morning clip on YouTube and felt confident. Ish. Confidentier. I thought about emailing Emer to ask how she feels about facial hair, because all women have hair under their arms but the hair on my face marks me out as abnormal. Hormonal. And I'm not ready to be the bearded lady with no kids and two cats. It's fine for her, I thought, she's beautiful! And not fat, I added, though in a quiet little voice because after all, fat is also a feminist issue. 

One issue at a time.

June came, and I had to stop wearing cardigans. July came and I had to stop wearing sleeves. "I just wish I could do it without it being a thing" I muttered to Andrew one night as I stretched my arms out to shrug off a cardigan in a stifling hot theatre stall. But nobody was looking at me.

We went out for cocktails a week later. I was in one of those moods; these people are boring and I am a fucking butterfly, etc. (I didn't know them and I didn't feel like going out). I dressed accordingly; heels, lipstick and a cap-sleeved polka-dot dress that makes me want to have sex with myself and shows my underarms off to perfection. Nobody batted an eyelid.

I wore a sleeveless dress to work a week after that and was so delighted with myself that I tweeted about it. "Racy!" I said. I thought I was brave and hilarious and sure, sometimes I am, but I wasn't anything to add an exclamation mark to that day.

I went to a panel discussion about feminism and made sure to stretch my arms during the interval so that everyone there would see my underarm hair and know that I am the most feminist of all. I'm like a toddler testing out swearwords.

"Bollox!" says my almost-two-year-old niece. "Did I tell you that the Mirror emailed me to ask about my armpits?" I say to the secretary in work.

I have slowly gotten used to baring my underarms without feeling like my pubes are on show. I don't need to be a body in protest. I feel like I've gotten away with something, like that time my brother and I got our eyebrows pierced and expected our parents to disown us. Getting your eyebrow pierced feels like being punched in the face. Growing your hair out is painless.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

You, It's You And Me

"Aren't you glad you decided to change your life?"

I am, though I resent the presumptuous tone of the app asking the question. It's not even talking about bicycling. I have a different app for that. This one displays a motivational mantra each time I turn it on. It writes of dreams, fire and bravery, determination and success. It tells me that I am much stronger today than I was only one month ago. It lists my Awesome Wins and it is never sarcastic. I am not yet confident enough to trust it when it trills "Well done! See you again in a couple of days!" at the end of every session. I am worried that I will disappoint it, or that one of us will get bored and wander off.

I can run for eight minutes now without stopping. I could probably run for longer but I haven't tried, because after eight minutes the app pings and a soft American voice tells me to slow down and walk and so I do, grateful and tired. I listen to Shelly Kagan talking about death while I run, and I think about everything else. If something were chasing me, I think I could run for longer. I know that I could run faster. I don't want to. Just to run at all will do.

I will one day run a marathon. I decided this during a yoga nidra class a few weeks ago, where the instructor asked us to visualise a goal while we lay on the floor, swaddled in blankets, trying not to fall asleep (I fell asleep). My goal is to love and be loved and I am, already. So I visualised a goal I might be given a medal for.

Yoga nidra? Visualising goals? Running? What the fuck, I think. You'd have to laugh. 

I know that I will one day run a marathon because for approximately two minutes during my eight minute run on Monday night I forgot that I was running at all. And because I overheard my husband (who loves me) telling my mother (who loves me) that I am "very determined". I was just out of the shower, stomping around my parents' holiday home dressed in a towel and searching for a tweezers to pluck an ingrown hair from one of my nipples, when I heard them talking about me in the kitchen. "Why were you telling my mam that I'm stubborn?" I asked Andrew later.

The nipple hair is a symptom. Since coming off all medication for PCOS, the downy hair on my breasts has darkened and wiry, stubborn hairs have sprouted around my areolae. The hair on my upper lip has darkened and thickened too, and it grows now in the cleft beneath my lower lip, on my chin and underneath, all the way down to where it meets my neck. The hospital prescribed a cream to help, but it doesn't. It cost €130, though I didn't know that when I asked the chemist to fill the prescription. I was too embarrassed then to ask her to put it back, I just handed over my credit card. I still use it, when I remember to, but mostly I use a depilatory cream and burn my shame into the sensitive skin of my face.

A thick waist, hirsutism, amenorrhea, anovulation; three words with red lines underneath that I need to check the spelling of, three symptoms of an endocrine disorder and nothing to be ashamed of, I tell myself. 

"Step up on the scales" says the consultant. 

And so it's hard.

But oh, so much good has come of it and running, yes, that's something.

Hurrying Through The Forks Without Regrets

I have two bicycles and they both have names and a room of their own in our small, happy home and sometimes when I ride them until I'm filled to bursting I think to myself "if I were to die tomorrow, I will have done this".

I'd rather not die tomorrow. I ride carefully and I cried the three times I fell. Andrew worries about me being knocked down or run over but the truth of it is that each of those times I just fell over where I stood, unable to balance with my foot caught in a stirrup. I am an enthusiastic bicyclist, not an accomplished one. I have the scars to prove it.

I started out a year ago on Ellie, a broad-hipped Raleigh with a cat-chewed basket. I ride around in dresses with my hair down and my colour up. People (that is to say, men) shout things at me. A little girl once shouted at me to tell me that she liked my jumper. It was Andrew's, it has a picture of a tiger on it. The men who shout at me rarely comment on my attire. 

In February I got Rosa, a skinny little blue-veined thing, a road bike. Apparently they're not called racers anymore. I signed up for a race in the Wicklow mountains and started training on the S-bends in the Phoenix Park. I kept getting slow punctures. I thought I must be too fat to ride a road bike. 

That's embarrassing, isn't it? I'm not too fat for anything.

I wear Lycra. I sometimes think that dressing myself in it is by far the hardest thing about being a bicyclist. I have a basketful of Lidl jerseys and leggings, their padding pink and red like an engorged baboon's arse when they're inside-out on the washing line.

I told everybody and their mothers that I was going to do the Wicklow 100. People thought I was looking for sponsorship but I wasn't, I was looking for reassurance. I got it and I didn't; everybody thought I was a great girl altogether but they all looked fucking surprised. Men who'd done it before squawked warnings and asked about my shoes. I did it in runners and I did it in less than six hours and that's five and a half hours longer than I ever imagined I would sit in a saddle for. I did it alone and I felt alone doing it but that was okay. I did it anyway. They gave me a medal and a certificate. Andrew met me with his parents at the finish line and I was elated and then spent the car journey home snarling at him about his driving and trying not to vomit up the chocolate milk that someone on the John Murray Show had recommended Mini-Marathon runners should drink to aid their recovery. At home, I read that Iain Banks had died and I cried in the shower. We had dinner with friends that evening and they stood with their children in the hallway when I arrived and clapped and cheered and my heart soared and I felt eight years old.

My nana sent a card. 


I bought the shoes, the special shoes. I was so scared of them. But they were fine. All of it, it's always fine, even when I fall off and smash my chin on a fence and get picked up off the road by the binmen. I signed up for another race, this time in the Sheeffry mountains, and again had Andrew hold my hand at the starting line before I set out alone and scared, of other people, of falling, of failing. It was a smaller event and I was the only one riding alone. I asked three of the men if I could stick with them and they gave me a treat-size Mars bar and their generous company for fifty of the fifty two kilometres we raced. They walked up the climb, you see. I stayed on my bike.

I don't always.