Tuesday 25 October 2011

Foolish Things

Jackie Morrissey
Double Espresso with a shot of brandy

Once I realised that he was going to propose, the only thing left to do was to vomit.
Oh, don’t get me wrong, his proposal didn’t make me puke – not directly anyway – but I’d been holding it back for a while, hoping it would settle.  I suppose I just gave myself permission to let go, right then. It worked. All thought of romantic proposals in the moonlight by the Seine – bridges of Paris and all that – vanished.  Mind you, I’ve never really understood the romance attached to Parisian bridges. The only thing I’ve ever met under one was a foul-smelling clochard, clutching a bottle and muttering French obscenities, or something.  And as for the food… I blame the escargot.  I always said I’d try anything, but that trickle of garlicky green stuff oozing from the snail shell was a step too far. Gross. OK, I’m a philistine.  I like my meat fully dead, too, no blood, so there’s no hope for me here.
              Anyway, adding my wine-tinged contribution to the gutter didn’t do any harm, but it effectively removed the romance. Mission accomplished.  Cleaning myself up with a tissue, I asked, wanly, in a performance based on La Dame aux Camelias (see? I’m not a complete savage), to be taken back to the hotel.  Patrick, ever polite, escorted me with conscientious concern.  God, he made me feel terrible.  I probably wasn’t good enough for him, it’s true. If only he had been a bit less of a bloody boy scout, it would all have been much easier.  But he was a nice guy, really, just a bit naive and earnest, and those aren’t necessarily faults, although they are annoying.

 I should explain a bit more.  Patrick, (never Pat or Paddy), and I had been going out for a while.  Nearly four months, a record for me.  We met when I was pissed off my head at a party, so he can’t say he wasn’t warned. It was his nice, gentlemanly quality that got to me that night – I’m a sucker for being looked after when I’m drunk; anybody who doesn’t swear at me develops a golden halo-glow.   Patrick laughed at my jokes, propped me up on my stupid party heels, and got me safely home that night. He stayed, of course.  I’d screw any nice kind man when I’m that far gone, but I can’t remember much about it – too drunk. He was still there next morning though, sweetly making me a cup of tea for my hangover.  ‘Christ,’ I thought, ‘this one is OK’.  
Now, ‘OK’ might not seem too enthusiastic, but my record isn’t good. My last fellow drank more than I did, and could be an aggressive little bollix when he’d had a few.  Not at me, of course – well, not physically.  We had a few loud fights all right, when he called me all sorts of slags and whores and bitches, but I can give that sort of thing back with spades, it doesn’t bother me.  I got rid of him in the end because he began to seem like some sort of old, smelly, stray dog that I couldn’t remember why I was feeding. He never wanted to go home. The sex wasn’t up to much either. He was too drunk mostly, and even sober, he didn’t have much idea.
Pretty much of the ‘brace yourself Brigid’ variety.  Eventually, after a loud drunken row, I dumped his accumulated stuff into a plastic bag and left it outside his door, along with a note telling him to go fuck himself ( yeah…good luck with that). Then I deleted him from my life, my phone and Facebook.

I attract losers. 
My friends say I have a bad attitude to men, but all I can say is that the ones I end up with have a bloody terrible attitude to me. That’s why Patrick seemed such a novelty.  He was clean, presentable, considerate and working. I spent the first few days trying to figure out what was wrong, but he seemed the real deal. A bit dull, I suppose, but that was a novelty in itself – a man who turned up on time, not drunk, and waited for me.  He could even cook.  The sex was OK too, if a bit predictable.  He’d read the right manual, and twiddled all the bits in turn, systematically.  It worked, mostly, although he was not a man to leave a proven system for anything new.  Hints were wasted on him, as were outright demands.  Slapping his hand on a non-prescribed spot, shrieking ‘oh yes! Yes! Yes!’ never seemed to get more than a puzzled  look, before he went back to the blueprint.  I suppose after all, I expected too much – he was an accountant in the making.  
But I am being a bitch.
At least he knew that foreplay meant more than  three cans of lager and a shoulder of  vodka. 
I felt I ought to stick with this one, like a sort of rehab. (Did I tell you about the one who wanted to lick my toes? I didn’t mind, but that was pretty much it.  The rest of me was superfluous to requirements, which didn’t do much for my ego).  Anyway, I won’t bore you with a list of my exes, except to say that they were all, in their individual ways, complete wastes of space.

Patrick.  Ah, Patrick.  Not a loser, in most terms. He liked figures, and wanted nothing more than to complete all of his exams and become a fully fledged accountant. (My mind boggles, but then, I’m innumerate, and dropped out of college after first year.  University College Dublin. English and Philosophy. I work in a bar at the moment, but with those subjects, that was pretty much where I was headed anyway.  I have plans, though).   He lived at home, which seemed a bit loserish at twenty-four, but his ma doted on him, the house was plush, and I suppose I could see the attraction. At least he got to keep his money for better things than rent – me for instance. He was generous enough – always willing to pay for a nice meal out or a fare. The trip to Paris was just the sort of thing he’d do – ‘Look, I’ve bought these cheap Ryanair tickets, it’s all booked, you have to come.’ 
            Like I’d turn down a free holiday. 
That was my mistake, though.  
So there I was, that Saturday night, in my Parisian hotel bed with my back to Patrick and my eyes tight shut. Lying uncomfortably on the bed I’d made for myself – the moralists would love it.  I’d misjudged everything.  I should have said no.  He was beginning to bore me anyway, so what made me think a weekend would work out?  On the other hand, I had no reason to suspect that he was planning a proposal.  He never gave me any hint.  He knew my lifestyle. What made him think I would be interested? Bloody male ego.  
I had actually decided about a week before the holiday that I would dump him.  We were having decent-but-dull sex in the afternoon in my place when it dawned on me – his textbook sex just mirrored his approach to me in general.    I was a woman. Women like meals out, and flowers, and cups of tea in bed…  He was good with theoretical women, but he’d never really shown much interest in me, if you know what I mean –  like, who I was, my story, all the crap people usually want to know in the early days of a relationship. Maybe it was the only child thing. He liked having a girlfriend, I was it.  What more was necessary to know?  I knew all about his only-child heavenly home, his dad (deceased), his squeaky-clean, perfect mum, his good career prospects.  Me? He flinched from the more interesting bits, patted my hand sympathetically for the sad bits before changing the subject, and gave no general indication of actually remembering anything I told him, afterwards. 
  All too familiar, I thought.  This guy was as much a lost dog as the last one, just a cleaner, better-bred version.  I felt sure somebody would take him in. 
Not me though. 
  I’m more the ‘mongrel with character’ type, really, even if they do sometimes turn out to be a bit aggressive, or have odd habits.
  I know what you’re thinking.  I shouldn’t have gone to Paris.  Yes, yes, but it was one last trip.  He’s already bought the tickets.  I did like the guy, really, I wished him nothing but well. I was planning to let him down gently, over a period of about a month.  That seemed the kindest way.   One last fun weekend didn’t seem too much of a problem.
What a weekend.
 It was hard work, I’ll tell you.
 I realised my mistake on the Friday evening.  The conversation was just drifting a certain way, you know?  I hoped I was wrong, but when he bought the rose with added cheap perfume from the gypsy in the restaurant, I knew I was in trouble. From then on, it was a battle of wits. Or my wits against his witlessness, more precisely. 
            Christ, the stress of that. 
Do I look like I’m ready to become a suburban housewife?  I’m twenty-three.  Jesus!  Ok, he’s only twenty-four, but age is relative, and he was born middle-aged, so twenty four years on makes him a pretty dull old fart by any standards.   
 I was beginning to really hate him by Saturday.

The mental effort of trying to keep all conversation away from romance was giving me a migraine. I found that a bit of gratuitous swearing worked – he hated swearing.  A dirty joke or two also froze him up. Once, in desperation, I deliberately flipped off a supercilious and watchful French shopkeeper, just to change the subject. 
Patrick didn’t see that of course, but he experienced the full blast of an irate, Parisian Anglophobe letting rip. Quite an experience.  His curses followed us down the street, as he stood in the shop doorway, gesticulating Frenchly.
 With somebody else, it might have been funny.  Not with Patrick.  He was so shaken by the experience that we went back to the hotel to recover. 
Saturday night was the night of the almost proposal and the puking.  That got me through to the last day.  Flight home, six pm.   We walked through the park at Les Halles, listened to a busker singing some old fashioned jazz tunes, and took photos peering through the giant hand sculpture outside the Church of St Eustache.  I began to relax and enjoy it.  The singer was like Ella Fitzgerald, and I’d always liked the song:

A cigarette that bears a lipstick’s traces
 An airline ticket to romantic places
 And still my heart has wings
 These foolish things remind me

He got me when I wasn’t expecting it. 
 ‘Marry me,’ he said. 
I just stood, trying to think of an answer that wouldn’t be too cruel, but also wouldn’t give him hope.   My inner ‘bitter bitch’ was in full flight, bewailing the fact that he’d ruined the trip, we had an afternoon to fill in yet…   The ‘nice’ voice, the one I try to present to the public, was quickly rehearsing the options: ‘I need time to think…’, ‘ You caught me unawares… ;‘ It’s too soon…’
Patrick filled the silence: 
'I know you don’t see yourself as a married woman, but I know you’ll settle down when we are married.  You already drink less than you used to and your lifestyle is much better.  I know it would work…’
 Too much.  ‘Bitter bitch’ exploded from her cave, her hag-mutter becoming an outraged shriek.
  ‘When’ we are married? I’ll ‘settle down’? Don’t I get to say yes or no about that?     Well, listen up, I think I’m fine the way I am, and a lot of people like me like that.  What gave you the idea…?’
I stopped, afraid of what else I might say.
‘You’re my girlfriend,’ he said, wounded.  ‘I love you. You have to marry me.’  
Looking at his earnest face, I wanted to slap him, but also felt horribly guilty.   ‘Good girl’ reasserted herself.
 ‘Look, it’s just a bit unexpected, I need time to think.’
 ‘But you will marry me?’
 ‘I didn’t say that, I said I want time to think about it.’
He looked annoyed.
 ‘I don’t see what there is to think about.’
 ‘Well I do.’ I said.  ‘I’m not sure I want to get married to anybody. I don’t know what made you think I did…’
 His silence made me feel terrible, like a mother who slaps a toddler without apparent reason.  After a minute, I touched his arm.
 ‘I really do like you, you know that, but really, we’ve only gone out together for a few weeks, we’re both young …’
 The silence continued.
 ‘I feel terrible for upsetting you.  I’m sorry, I’m really, really sorry…’
His hands were deep in his pockets.
 ‘I told everybody,’ he said.  ‘I told everybody at work that I was going to propose.’
 By now I felt so guilty I would have done anything to make him feel better, short of marrying him.  At the same time, I felt pretty pissed off at being guilt-tripped like that.  Why should he be so sure of himself that he could tell everybody, without ever thinking that I might refuse?  I ignored my evil inner voice, however, and reached out my hands towards him.
‘Please. Let’s just walk around the park and not talk about it now. We have all day before the flight.’
 I was hoping some hard-headed, practical bit of his brain would see that this was the way to go.  I was wrong.
 ‘Fuck you.’ he said.  ‘You’re just a drunken slut.  I can do better.  Just piss off and make your own way home.’
 And with that, he marched off, leaving my consoling hands flapping in the breeze.
  I should have known better than to trust that fake ‘nice girl’ daemon. The ‘bitter bitch’ was always more me, really.
 Well, I sat for a while in the pallid spring sunshine, then went and got my stuff from the hotel.  He’d gone ahead of me.  The bill was paid, but he had taken my plane ticket.  
 The perfect gentleman.
It might have been an accident.
That airline makes its fortune on emergency tickets.  I think mine cost more than the whole weekend, accommodation and all. I looked out for him on the plane, but he must have transferred to an earlier flight.
I met him again, about a year later, at a party.  He was with a cat-faced law student, who looked me up and down and made smirking eye contact with him, as if sharing a joke.  I guessed he had told her about me.  We were polite. I wondered how long it would be before they moved to the suburbs to breed little legal calculators.
Later that night, when he’d had a few drinks, he followed me into the kitchen, and said  he remembered how good we used to be together.   His face had what a drunk considers a meaningful look, but the rest of the world knows is a leer.  He suggested that we should meet up again, for old time’s sake.   I deduced that bitch-face wasn’t sleeping with him, so scratch that suburban idyll.  Not such a perfect gentleman after all.   I thought for sure now that he hadn’t forgotten that airline ticket in Paris. 
I wasn’t remotely tempted to pick up where we left off.  I remembered that Saturday night in Paris, and all I could think of was some old saying about a dog…  ‘As the dog returns to its vomit, so the fool…’ Whatever.  I can’t remember the whole thing. 
Old Dog’s Vomit.  Bitch-face can have him.
Not me.  I’m not foolish.  I learn from experience.
I kept cracking up when I thought of it.  I tried to explain the joke to a guy I fancied, but I was pretty drunk, and he was stoned, so I don’t think he got it.  He came home with me anyway though, but that’s a completely different story.

Jackie Morrissey lives in Dublin and works in adult education. She has had work published on Irish Radio, and in a variety of journals. In 2004, she won the Molly Keane Memorial Short Story Award.

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