by Brian Kirk
The first time we had sex was after his mother’s funeral. Paul said grief made him horny. I blushed, but when I looked at him, I saw that he’d said it without any irony. His father was getting drunk in the living room with his cousins while his sisters fretted about in the kitchen. We stole out to the back garden and he let me into a fancy shed they called the garden room. We lay down on a makeshift sofa bed and it was over in seconds. He didn’t say anything while we tidied ourselves up before going back inside. I tried to catch his eye so I could smile at him, to let him know that everything was alright, but he wouldn’t look at me. He cried that evening when we said goodbye after he walked me home, even though I was the one who was sore.
I felt sorry for him. His mother had been dying for months. I knew his heart must be breaking, but he never let it show. I wanted to visit her with him at the hospice near the end, but he wouldn’t hear of it. He couldn’t understand why I’d want to go to a place like that. I felt peculiar then, like I’d disclosed something appalling about myself. It’s not that I wanted to see his poor mother wasting away; I just wanted to be some sort of comfort to him—and to her maybe—to let her see that he would have someone looking out for him after she was gone. It was common knowledge that his father and mother led separate lives under the same roof for years. I never asked him about that. He was extremely loyal to his family and to his father in particular.
Paul’s dad was never rude to me, but he never spoke directly to me either. Would you not make the girl a cup of tea, he’d say, while I stood beside his son like a spare wheel in their kitchen.
There were rumours that he had another woman, but rumours are just that, and I never added to them. When we were leaving the house he always spoke to Paul as if I wasn’t there, warning him to be home early and not to be drinking. He looked like a kid at those times, nodding to his father dutifully. The atmosphere in the house was stifling; I always imagined it was the residue of his parents’ arguments hanging in the air, creating a bad smell. Once he was outside, Paul changed, he took on the confident persona that I knew so well. I thought it typical how his father was forever monitoring his only son’s movements, not seeming to care what his daughters did. He managed the local senior football team and Paul was breaking into the squad. It was our final year at school; I longed for the summer when we would be free to do as we liked and looked forward to the prospect of college and all it might bring in the autumn.
My friends were jealous when we got together. I winced when Sarah pronounced him a total ride, but I also couldn’t help noticing how he enjoyed the fact that a gang of us girls would spend Saturday afternoons down at pitch side watching him play. He knew we came to see him, and I knew he could have asked any one of us out and we would have said yes. But he asked me. I wasn’t his first of course. I’d overheard other girls talking about him, how you couldn’t say no to those eyes, and that smile you would die for. Others were a little more crude. They talked about his physical strength, his body, the iron stomach, the muscular legs and what might be between them.
I just ignored them. When we started going out, I found that they didn’t really know him at all. He was so different from what everyone said. He was funny and gentle, and silly sometimes. People lied all the time; I’d known that for years. Bored out of their minds during double maths, girls made up stories to break up the tedium of the day. That was just school, and we were all guilty to some degree.
Paul’s father owned a building company—had built most of the new houses and holiday homes on the outskirts of town—but he didn’t get his hands dirty. He preferred to wear suits and seemed to be always on the phone, speaking loudly in a tone that moved between anger and sarcasm. He’d played county back in his day, was one of the best forwards who ever kicked a ball if you were to believe the old fellas at the bar in Nealon’s.
Paul was a talented footballer too and his father was determined to get the best out of him. There were rumours he was going to get picked for the county minor team that summer. His whole life was taken up with training and studying for exams. Two nights in the gym and three out on the field with the team every week, with a club match every weekend. It was hard to find time to meet up, but we managed. He preferred to meet at my house, away from the protective questioning of his father. Once or twice we’d be walking up the town hand in hand late at night and his dad’s Merc would pull in beside us. The automatic window would lower with a meaningful hum and a voice would emerge from the dark interior, firm but neutral: Come on! You have school in the morning and a big match at the weekend! Paul would get in the car without saying anything; a quick look in my direction, maybe a shrug of the shoulders.
My dad didn’t like his dad. I’m not sure why. I wondered did they have a history, but I never asked. It was a small town after all, and they were of a similar age. My sister didn’t like Paul either. Up his own arse, she said. I thought she was jealous. She was only a year older than me, but we were never close; we never swapped clothes or stories about boys. I don’t trust him, she said. I ignored her as I always did.
All through that spring we saw each other every day, even if it was only for a few minutes. We studied hard for our exams and Paul trained intensely and kept his father happy. One day in April I called to his house, but he was out. A woman in her thirties answered the door. She smiled at me and called me pet. She seemed to know all about me.
‘The boys are out at county football trials,’ she said.
The way she said ‘the boys’ gave me to understand that she was intimately involved with the family. She was attractive. She looked more like a prospective girlfriend for Paul than for his father. She asked me in, but I felt uncomfortable because Paul wasn’t there. Plus, I couldn’t help thinking of his mother. I knew it wasn’t my place to feel hurt on her behalf, but I did. I made an excuse and left as quickly as I could.
I walked around the town that night for hours trying to clear my head, wondering why I was so upset by the appearance of a woman who we all knew existed somewhere in the background all along. I tried to rationalise the sense of loss I felt. It didn’t make any sense at all. I walked out beyond the edge of town to where the chalets and holiday homes are scattered on the hill overlooking the sea. I was on the point of turning for home when a souped-up hatchback came careening around the corner with the windows down and the bass thumping. The path was narrow, so I stood in beside the ditch to let it pass, but to my surprise the driver braked suddenly and the car juddered to a stop. I peered into the open window but could see little. I could hear laughing voices and the clink of bottles.
A voice said, ‘Paul’s looking for you. He’s above in the chalet—come on.’
I knew the voice. It was one of Paul’s teammates. The door opened and he climbed into the back seat and I sat in the front. The car took off to a cheer from the lads in the back. The driver was older than the others, in his thirties at least. The whole car stank of smoke and alcohol and I knew he was over the limit. He smiled at me.
‘Himself’ll be delighted to see you,’ he said. He put his hand on my knee for a moment before taking it away to change gear.
We were at the chalet minutes later. I stood out on the grass in front of the chalet while the others spilled out of the back seat. All the lights were on and the curtains were wide open. I could see the crude outline of bodies moving about inside. The car engine died, the music fell silent, and I could hear the waves on the rocks fifty feet below. I followed the lads into the chalet, blinking under the harsh lights. The place was a mess of beer cans, overfull ashtrays and half empty take away cartons.
The older one passed me a can of cider. I held it in my hand but didn’t open it. I’d been in these kinds of situations before, but never sober. I wished I was drunk; I would have had the nerve to bluster my way out of it. I wanted to ask where Paul was, but I couldn’t find the words.
The older one opened a door and beckoned to me to go in.
‘Hey, big man, there’s someone to see you,’ he called, before shoving me roughly into the room and closing the door behind me.
It was pitch dark and quiet. I stood perfectly still and waited. A phone light came on revealing Paul’s face. He was lying on the bed; he looked groggy as if he’d taken something. I sat down on the bed beside him.
‘Hey,’ he said.
His eyes were yellow and bloodshot.
‘Hey,’ I said. ‘I went to your place.’
‘There was a woman. She said you were at football trials,’ I said.
He snorted but said nothing. He took my arm and pulled me down on to the bed beside him. The sheets smelt of sweat and tobacco. He kissed me on the mouth and his breath tasted sour.
‘No, Paul,’ I said.
But he just kept kissing me. I tried to get up, but he pulled me back down.
‘Don’t be like that,’ he said.
‘Like someone who doesn’t care about me.’
I let him kiss me some more, but I was getting tired and I knew that if I didn’t stop it soon, I wouldn’t have the energy to do anything about it. I began to kiss him hard, used my tongue a little, and he sensed the change in me and so relaxed his grip. I sprang up quickly and was standing by the door in seconds.
‘Don’t go,’ he said. ‘I need you tonight.’
I thought he was going to cry. I couldn’t bear that.
I shook my head and left. The guys outside were embroiled in a shouted argument and hardly noticed me as I walked out. The night air was a balm after the stink inside the chalet. When I got back into town a car pulled up beside me. The automatic window lowered and a voice said, ‘Hey, have you seen him? Where is he, you little bitch?’
I just kept on walking. He drove beside me for a while, the engine growling before he sped off up the town.
Brian Kirk is a poet and writer from Dublin. His first poetry collection After The Fall was published by Salmon Poetry in 2017. His poem “Birthday” won the Listowel Writers’ Week Irish Poem of the Year at the An Post Irish Book Awards 2018. His short fiction chapbook It’s Not Me, It’s You won the Southword Fiction Chapbook competition and was published in 2019.
He blogs at www.briankirkwriter.com/.