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About Time

1/

LIMERICK TO NEW YORK: 4973KM

My life fits into twelve boxes.

I can’t begin to tell you how depressing it is, looking at them stand meagrely in the centre of Leonard’s ransacked living room. Surely there should be more to show for 35 years of existence? A brushed suede cappumochaccino sofa set, for example; or a surround sound stereo system with tweeters and a subwoofer.

Those belong to Leonard.

We’re quite clear about it. If we ever break up, Leonard would get the properties and investment portfolios, the Natuzzi furniture, the hand-woven Egyptian cotton bed sheets, and the set of Arne Jacobsen chairs (I’ve always slid off them anyway). Everything, in fact, except my clothes and shoes, the espresso machine, and a lifetime supply of books according to a rate of consumption of one per week. We might squabble over the crystal wine glasses from Prague, but I would probably capitulate – as long as I was dumping him.

But what am I on about? Leonard and I are not about to split up – far from it. At least I hope not, since in two days time, I’m moving halfway around the world to live with the man. Well, a third of the way around the world. Limerick to New York is a fair distance, still.

It’s just that . . . when Leonard suggested moving to New York last year, it seemed like a jolly screwball adventure; but now – the day before the shippers arrive – I am twitchy with doubt. You know how a cross-dressing Tupperware party seems like a fabulous idea three weeks in advance, but then it comes around and you can’t find a PVC thong and the glue-on stubble gets stuck in your teeth and it all seems like too much effort?

So, it’s a bit like that.

It’s probably just stress. Isn’t moving house supposed to be one of the three things most likely to give you 3-D Technicolor nightmares? – along with bereavement and I’m not sure what the other one is. In my case, being attacked by a stuffed animal. Not that I’ve ever been attacked by a stuffed animal. I’ve imagined it but, and it’s pretty stressful.

It doesn’t help that I had to give away my cat, Fishy, and haven’t seen my lover for over two months. Leonard left for New York in March to find accommodation and start his new job.

Looking on the bright side, at least I don’t have to go to the trouble of bursting into tears, since I’ve been crying on a pretty much permanent basis for the last month. I’m not sure why, because I’m thrilled. What am I talking about? I’m euphoric. Don’t be misled by the projectile tears, because I am really; I really am. After all, I’m moving to an exciting new country to be with the man I love.

And at least I don’t have to give up my job. All a freelance writer needs is an Internet connection, a laptop equipped with cast-iron spellchecker, and a steady supply of caffeine. The salary tends to be a bit erratic, but it’s a portable career.

And – and! – I have done this before, you know. There was the time I went to Dublin to study how to be a student. Then, at the age of 26, I landed in Dubai so green about the gills, people thought I was afflicted with mould. The world was my oyster.

Part of my apprehension is that I know how much effort it takes to digest the aforementioned oyster. There is a world (not to mention nine years) of difference between hiking to another country with a backpack containing the sum total of your worldly possessions, a bucketful of wide-eyed wonder, and a bottle of SPF 370 – and this.

I try to heave a heartfelt sigh but, like an aborted yawn, it falls short of a full-glottal tongue-curling lung-filler. Lately, I’ve been having problems breathing. Bit concerning, considering it’s a fundamental skill. If I haven’t suffocated by now but, I suppose I’ll survive a bit longer.

I cram another gingersnap into my mouth and turn Bruce Springsteen up a couple of notches. After today, it doesn’t matter whether I get on with the neighbours. Anyway, for three years they have kept me awake with inconsiderate shagging at 04:00 in the morning. I don’t know why they can’t consummate during Emmerdale Farm like everybody else.

Eyeing my pathetic stash holding off an army of advancing dust bunnies on the floor, I consider extrapolating my belongings across another packing crate. That would result in thirteen boxes however, which is unlucky. I’m not about to flick a finger at fate two days before moving country (especially when tempting fate is five times riskier for Leos). I’m wondering how much bubble wrap is required to round it up to fourteen boxes, when the doorbell rings.

Utter crapness! Who the hell is this? I’m not expecting anyone and don’t have time for visitors; there are hours of cleaning left. If it’s the neighbours complaining about Dancing in the Dark, I don’t have the energy for spirited, innuendo-laden insults. If it’s the Jehovah’s Witnesses I will have to strip to get rid of them, and I am so not in the mood.

Wait – maybe this is a sign. Not that I believe in that sort of stuff any more (so far destiny has been entirely uncooperative), but I like to keep my options open, you know?

All right, let me see: if it is a Martian with a packed lunch and a mind-ray gun, I will not move to America.

The portents have all been good so far.

Plotting a course through the scraps of cardboard and packing tape stuck to the floor, I successfully ignore a pending panic attack; I’ve had plenty of practice over the last few weeks. Instead, I run a hand through my hair, resisting the urge to grip it and pull. As it turns out, I don’t have to, since I rip out a clump of hair with the rubber gloves I forget I am wearing.

I unlock the door and swing it open. It is my mother.

I’d have preferred the Jehovah’s Witnesses – or a Martian with a mind ray gun, for that matter.

“Wanky wanky shit bollox,” I say.

Internally.

Although since I thought it at full volume, there’s a fair chance she heard part of it – or at least got the gist.

“Hi, Mother,” I say externally.

Look, I’ve got to warn you: my mother makes me revert to a teenager. She winds me up faster and more comprehensively than anyone else on the planet. I always meet her fortified with the best intentions, but they never last; I can actually feel the layers of maturity slough off in her presence. My record to date is twenty two seconds without wanting to put my thumbs in my ears and wiggle my fingers and blow a great raspberry.

It’s not that she’s a bad person. Oh no; everyone loves her.

Of course, I do too. I would push her out of the way of a speeding bus (assuming I didn’t push her under it in the first place). Admittedly, the impetus would be the guilt.

It’s an awkward, bitter kind of love that takes casualties on both sides. Something broke years ago, and neither of us has ever figured out how to fix it – or even patch it up to operational.

Being a family-size bumper pack of Issues, at least our relationship provides plenty of material for my job. Particularly my latest commission: a daily agony aunt column for The Irish Mail. I am effectively immunised against anaemia with the irony of that one.

“Hello, darling.” Mother kisses the space next to my left cheek. She registered a patent on air kissing years ago. “May I come in?”

“Of course.” As I step aside, I notice she clutches what looks like a psychedelic shoebox. The glitter rainbow on the lid looks vaguely familiar, like something I once dreamed. Mum walks into the living room, stepping daintily over a charging dust bunny.

I follow her, snapping the fingers of my rubber gloves.

My mother places the shoebox on a packing crate that contains ‘kitchen wares #2’. She turns towards me and tucks a strand of hair behind my ear. Overlooking her pressing my doorbell, that’s eight seconds before she irritates the crap out of me.

Not bad.

“MOTHER!” I snarl, slapping her hand away.

“God, sorry!” She worries the strand of pearls at her throat in an effort to stop molesting me.

I sigh theatrically and turn away. “There’s nowhere to sit,” I say. My lower back broadcasts a dull throb of pain just thinking about it.

“Is your back sore?” she says as I wince and dig my fingers into it.

“Yeah,” I mumble.

“I’m not surprised. You are lucky to be alive.” I roll my eyes so vigorously I nearly sprain an eyeball. Seven years ago I had a near fatal accident and I don’t know why Mother likes to remind me how fortunate I am for my ongoing thrival and survival. Does she think it will make me more careful? She always sounds as if I intentionally plunged 20 metres through the air to vandalise a prefab shed with my velocity. “Goodness, what a mess!” she says, eyeing the pile of shredded newspaper in the corner with distaste.

“Sorry I didn’t tidy the place for you, Mother! But you know, what with cleaning the flat, and the shippers arriving tomorrow, and the tenants the day after that-”

“I didn’t mean-”

“-and flying in two days time, it kind of slipped my mind. Probably not surprising, given that I haven’t seen my boyfriend in months and am leaving the only home I’ve ever known-”

“Oh Lara, please! You lived away from Ireland for most of your adult life-”

“And my mother is leeching my drama, which is all I have left in the world-”

My mother giggles. So do I, even though I’m very reluctant and am sure deep down I don’t want to.

My mother rarely looks at ease, but she is completely misplaced in the chaos of Leonard’s apartment. As ever, her presentation is flawless: hair ruthlessly coiffed, cowering eyebrows plucked into submission, lip liner dictating where her lips should be.

She always makes me feel scruffy, but more so today. It is virtually impossible to project fabulousness in a vintage Spiderman t-shirt with no evidence of elasticity, and tracksuit bottoms featuring Leonard-sized handprints in Taupe Frappe from when we got swept away by the erotic charge of painting. I don’t want to think about what my hair looks like – it is inadvertently conditioned with Jif cream cleaner.

After a pause, I say: “Would you like a gingersnap? There’s- oh, there’s only two left. I ate the rest to celebrate how well my diet is going.”

“Never mind, darling,” says my mother. “You’re under a lot of pressure.”

“Um, would you like some coffee? There’s some instant. Except I’ve packed the cups. And the kettle.”

“I should have picked up some at Bugley’s on the way. I wasn’t thinking-”

“Oh wait, I know.”

Squatting offensively on the kitchen bench is a spectacularly ugly flowerpot – a legacy of one of Leonard’s ex-girlfriends. I don’t know why the bitch couldn’t have forgotten some Chanel perfume or a lime zester. Anyway, I intend to throw it out and claim one of the packing men robbed it – no, Leonard might press charges – I’ll say it got lost in transit. For now, the pot can be useful for the first time in its miserable existence.

I fill it with water and set it on a gas ring. I hope the heat doesn’t crack it; or even detonate a deadly explosion of airborne ceramic projectiles. Death by flowerpot. Depressingly pedestrian, as grand exits go.

“What’s with the box?” I ask, nodding at it as I rinse out a yoghurt carton and discarded peanut butter jar. I tip coffee into the makeshift cups.

“I found it in the bottom drawer of your old dressing table. I thought you might like to go through it.”

“Oh, sure. Thanks.”

Mother removes her hat and places it carefully beside the shoebox. She likes hats because they flatter her. Most things do. She is still a beautiful woman. It is how she defines herself, which is a shame, because there is so much more to my mother: the duplicity, the cunning, the encyclopaedic knowledge of my buttons and her unerring ability to press each one.

I am the limited edition beta model of my mother. I feature more curves in a smaller package, but the package itself is directly inherited from Dorothy Callaghan: the indigo-blue eyes which random poetic or more often drunk strangers sometimes describe as ‘mesmerising’; the straight, glossy black hair which I always hated because it wasn’t curly; the bone structure which I hated because it was my mother’s.

I don’t thank her for the flat feet either. At the age of 58, my mother still stuffs hers into six-inch pointy-toed stilettos, but I’ve never been able to operate heels higher than two inches.

At least I inherited my father’s charm. Thinking of which – “How’s Dad?” I ask, fiddling with the gas knob. I regret saying it before the words are even out of my mouth, but can’t seem to help myself.

“I don’t know, darling,” says my mother in a voice chilled several degrees. “Haven’t you heard from him?”

OUCH! We’ll call that 0-15; or a switchblade slipped between ribs 3 and 4 – choose your metaphor. The fact that I asked for it doesn’t make it much better.

“Not for a couple of weeks,” I mumble.

Apologies aren’t big in our family; the word ‘sorry’ is only applied to minor offences: dropping a fork, melting the head off your sister’s Malibu Barbie, getting pregnant out of wedlock, stuff like that.

Which is why my mother says, brightly: “Rosemary says she’s meeting you for dinner tomorrow.” She is referring to my older sister, The Favourite One. Me, I am The Other One.

“Yeah.”

“That’s nice. All excited about moving?”

“If I were any more thrilled, I would be moved to express my joy via the medium of dance. What the fuck do you think, Mum?”

“Language, Lara.”

“I can offer Pidgin German, or a wide range of Arabic swear words.”

“Why do you always have to be so sarcastic? It’s not big and it’s not clever.”

“Ah now, come on. It’s a bit clever: admit it. I wish you wouldn’t pick on my size, but. There’s not much I can do about my dodgy genes.”

“I wish you wouldn’t speak to me like that, Lara.”

“You mean in sequences of nouns, verbs and other assorted words?” My mother’s lips have almost disappeared. If she’s not careful she’ll smudge her lipstick; it could be catastrophic if someone saw her.

“Oh,” I say. “I forgot. There’s no milk or sugar.”

“I have some sugar sachets in my bag.”

“You don’t have a litre of semi skimmed in there, do you?”

Another temporary ceasefire.

I loathe conflict and generally go out of my way to avoid it, but this course of inaction has never been open with my mother. Our conversations exhaust me, leave me feeling stretched thin; wrung out.

After today, I’m not sure when I will see my mother again. I expect this thought to be comforting, but for some reason the effect is the opposite. I experience a dangerous emotion malfunction. Blink, blink.

As I place the peanut butter jar full of coffee in front of her, my mother massages her knuckles. I have always thought of her as timeless, eternal, largely vampiric; but now I am struck by her age. Her fingers tremble slightly when she picks up the jar – although that could be the strain of trying not to throttle me. The fragile veins in her hands stand out, her shoulders are slightly stooped, and her hair is a brittle grey at the roots.

“Mum.” Impulsively, I reach across the kitchen bar and take her hand. All the things I want to say surge forward and jostle against the barrier that is my mouth. I end up saying, “Utter crapness. I’m leaking again.”

Actually, I’m not crying again so much as simply revving up the bawling to full-throttle wobbler.

My mother gives my fingers a painful squeeze. She’s not one for physical contact beyond the mandatory social requirements. She pats my hand awkwardly, or pushes it away. Hard to tell.

“Lara,” she says, in a voice that signals the end of the ceasefire. “Are you sure you are doing the right thing?”

“What?” I remove a rubber glove to wipe my eyes with the heel of my hand.

“You know.” She gestures vaguely.

“Coffee in a peanut butter jar? Yes, well, sorry about the lack of ceremony.”

“Don’t prevaricate. You know what I mean.”

I do, but – “No,” I say. “Why don’t you tell me?”

“This.” She waves her arm around the room. “Moving.”

“Mum, it’s a bit late to be asking that now,” I say through gritted teeth and a conflagration of irritation. “Where did I put the tissues?”

“It’s not too late. It’s never-”

“Mother, you’re talking like I don’t want to go – but I do! Of course I do. This is not some reckless, whimsical notion that popped into my head after eleven shots of Tequila, you know. It is a considered, measured decision – where the fuck are the tissues?”

“There’s no need for that sort of language, love.” I have always found it bizarre how, the more angry my mother, the more concentrated the endearments. In this instance, the word ‘love’, spat out like a poison dart.

She reaches into her handbag and hands me a miniature pack of Kleenex, mint condition.

“All I mean is – and please don’t get angry-”

“Too late,” I mutter, blowing my nose.

“It’s just that- darling, are you sure you’re not running away?”

“I hardly think so. In fact, you could say I’m doing the exact opposite, since I’m running towards Leonard.”

“Are you sure Leonard’s right for you, but?”

The most sensible response would be to bang my head off the table. Instead I say, “Mother, I thought you liked Leonard?”

“I do! Well, he’s- he’s very pleasant-”

“He is! And he’s- he’s nice and handsome and clever and er, dynamic and- and caring and he has a great stereo system – and lots of other stuff. He’s perfect-”

“But not for you.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Darling, it doesn’t matter how perfect he is if he’s not perfect for you.”

“Baby cheeses, Mother! You’re hardly qualified to judge-”

“Is that right? Do you not think a failed marriage is sufficient qualification?”

Her use of the expression ‘failed marriage’ throws me. Although it is fact, Mother rarely refers to it; and if she does, it is more alluded to in terms such as ‘a previous relationship’ and ‘your father’. Certainly not so baldly.

“Has he asked you to marry him?” asks my mother.

“Who – Leonard? Is that what this is all about? How do you know he hasn’t?”

She looks at me.

“Mother, I don’t want to marry Leonard. For a start, I’d be Lara O’Hara-”

“Do you love him?” she asks.

I hesitate, fingering the tiny silver ladybird charm on my bracelet. My mother gives me The Look, which implies she knows exactly what’s going on in my head, which is patently ridiculous since most of the time I have no idea what’s going on in my head.

“Yes!” I’m even angrier because she made me question it. “Ok, look. I don’t- it’s not like I- it’s different. With Leonard. There’s no- no churning palms and sweaty stomach and feeling like I’ll die if I don’t spend every moment of every second of every day with him.”

I don’t know why I tell her this. Mother pulls them out of me, these confidences, even though I regret it later – especially when she uses them as ammunition.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve felt that for anyone,” I rush on. That’s not entirely true, but I store the thought carefully in the back of my mind under a dusty heap of neurons. “That sort of intensity, it’s exhausting – and destructive. What I have with Leonard is- is- it’s comfortable.”

“My darling. You are settling for second best. You deserve so much more-”

“Just on the off chance you are trying to help: you’re not.”

I do not understand my mother. She seems to consider it a personal affront that I am not firing out grandchildren at the rate of two per year. For years, she has been trying to marry me off to anyone even vaguely heterosexual – and when I finally meet Mr Perfect? She doesn’t like him. That’s pretty much how our relationship works – or doesn’t work, to be more accurate.

I have not enjoyed overwhelming success with the fouler sex. Not that here has been any shortage of fouler sex. However, my dating front has tended towards overcast and stormy with a low barometric pressure zone.

My first serious relationship was with Mr Right. I was ecstatically, giddily, wildly in love. The world shimmered in a haze of sparkly pink stardust.

He might have been Mr Right, but unfortunately it turned out I was Miss Not Quite. After three years together, he methodically dissected my heart. I never quite managed to reconstruct it (although I successfully reinforced the external perimeter). His casual cruelty was not intentional. It was more wanton carelessness, which was almost worse.

It’s all been downhill from there, a dictionary of disaster:-

Erik Kvist
n. Norwegian whaler, whose one true love being himself did not stop him sleeping with my hairdresser

Gary Henderson     
n. prone to physical violence when drunk, which did not stop my colleague sleeping with him

Niall Stanford 
n. hairy midget whose time-consuming addiction to porn did not stop him sleeping with my flatmate

Bunch of cocks       
n collective term describing the remainder of my lying, cheating, emotionally mutant ex-boyfriends

After I returned from Dubai, there was a deviation in my applications processing department, and Mr Very Nearly Almost Perfect made the cut.

Mark and I moved in together, acquired a cat. We had sex three times a week and twice on Saturday.

I should have known it was doomed: the first time I met his parents, everyone sat around the living room pretending the family pet – a heinous terrier stoat mix – was not humping my leg.

Mark was sweet, quirky, funny, and obviously adored me – not my type at all. Even so, when he asked me to marry him, I accepted. Belatedly, I tried to ignore a sneaking suspicion that I was settling for less. When that failed, I sought to wrestle it into submission. I frantically furnished, I framed photos, I bought kitchen appliances (although the desperate nesting didn’t extend to actually using them). In short, I pretended everything was simply spiffy.

When the sneaking suspicion metastasized into full-blown qualm – with regrettable timing, three days before the wedding – I called it off. I knew if I married Mark, I would have to live with the knowledge that I settled for second best. He deserved better than that. So did I.

My mother was delighted with herself; spent the next year coming up with creative ways to say ‘I told you so’. Mark’s mother still sends me hate mail.

“Lara.” Mother leans towards me with an expression of wide-eyed innocence – a look I can reproduce perfectly, so I’m not fooled. “I just want you to be happy.”

“Is that so?”

“Oh, for heavens sake!” says my mother, throwing up her hands. “You are my daughter. Why would I want you to be unhappy?”

“Beats me, but it appears you’ve devoted your life to the cause.”

“Oh, please. It may come as a surprise to you that I have better things to do with my time.”

“Sure. Whatever.” I shrug.

“Since your mind appears to be made up-”

“Not that the sealed boxes are a big, fat, cardboardy clue-”

“I just hope everything works out as you hope, love,” she says in a tone that fully conveys how unlikely she considers that outcome to be.

This is what my mother is all about: she casts serious doubt all over my relationship, then wishes me well. I’m too exhausted to point that out, but. We stand on either side of ‘kitchen wares #2’, waiting for the tension to dissipate.

“Well. What can I do?” says Mum.

“What?”

“The cleaning.”

“Really? It’s such a crappy job-”

“Well, it will be half a crappy job if we both do it.”

“Okay.” I smile at her. “Here. Take my gloves.”

“Thank you. Where do I start?”

While we scrub, we sing along to Bruce Springsteen. Really, my mother and I get on great when we don’t talk. In fact, we would have the ideal relationship if our life were a musical.

My parents are like chalk and cheese, oil and water, fish burgers and traffic cones. Which is probably why they’re not together any more.

I have a much better relationship with my father. He’s not around much, but we can chat like normal people, about – well, all sorts of stuff: work, his latest girlfriend, the economy, the weather – everything and anything, really. The point is: he accepts me as I am. He’s not always trying to improve me.

Late in the evening, Mum makes a mercy dash to the 7/11 to fetch a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc. We drink it from the yoghurt carton and peanut butter jar over the box in the kitchen.

“You know the words to ‘Thunder Road’,” I say with newfound respect.

“Lara, I can recite the lyrics of any pre-1990 Springsteen song,” says my mother. “You played him at high volume, non-stop, twenty four hours a day for seven long years.”

I laugh. “Sorry about that.”

“It could have been worse. Thank heavens it wasn’t The Cure or Rick Astley. Anyway, Bruce is sexy.”

“Mum!”

“What? He has a lovely bottom.”

Mu-um!”

This is a novel experience: being with my mother and not feeling compelled to maim her. It is the best time I’ve had with her for years – possibly decades. I am grateful to have snatched this memory with her before I leave.

As my mother shrugs on her coat, she asks: “Are you sure you don’t want to stay with Bill and I until you go?”

I hope my feelings for my stepfather do not reflect on my face. “Yes, ah, thanks Mum, but that’s okay. Lenny booked me into a hotel near the airport and it’s already booked and er-” I shrug and leave it at the white lie.

“Okay.” She hesitates on the doorstep. “I- if you-” She worries the strap of her handbag and swallows. Her chin quivers. “Take care, love.”

I want to tell her I love her, that I’ll miss her, but my throat seizes. In the end, I just say “You too. See you.”

When we embrace, the brim of her hat stabs me in the eye, and I accidentally head-butt her.

2/

MEMORY LANE: DO NOT ATTEMPT THIS ON FOOT

It is only after Mother leaves that I remember the shoebox still balanced atop ‘kitchen wares #2’.

I pour myself another yoghurt carton of wine and set it down next to the box. I run my fingers lightly over the lid. Dust and glitter sticks to the pads of my fingers. A scuffed label says: ‘Lara’s stuff. Do not open. Trespassers will be persecuted. KEEP OUT!’.

Pictures are glued to the surface. They are from a time when I thought 35 was ancient and I would never go out with someone called Leonard. (Apart from rare exceptions, that is still a sound rule by which to live your life.)

My god, was I ever that young?

Memories prick my subconscious. These roses here were carefully cut from a valentine card my father gave me. I must have been thirteen? Fourteen? This quote is WB Yeats, from the English Intercert syllabus – I can’t remember the poem, but I thought it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever read; it used to make me cry. Oh, what do you know? It still does.

There is a Live Aid logo pasted to the box, along with several pictures of George Michael. (The lipgloss slipped my attention at the age of fifteen).

I carefully unpick the knot securing a turquoise ribbon and remove the lid.

I excavate a small bundle of letters from one corner. They are still in their envelopes, all addressed to me in a script that has so many squiggles it is difficult to read the letters. Anne Wilson? Of course, Anne. She was my pen pal.

Beneath the letters is – oh my god! My Jelly Fish Swatch! I lift it out and shake it gently. I wonder would it work if I replace the battery?

Putting it aside, I riffle through some papers and find a ticket stub from a U2 concert in 1987 at Croke Park. It should have been one of the defining moments of my young life: getting drunk for the first time and losing my virginity to ‘Pride In The Name Of Love’. Instead, I spent three hours stalking Noel O’Sullivan around the muddy field. Although I still cite the event as one of my all-time great concert experiences, truth is I had never heard of U2 and thought they were largely crap. Noel O’Sullivan snogged Clodagh Wartey behind a bush.

There are three Bruce Springsteen singles and a compilation tape. An admission ticket to ‘Champers Nite Club’. A Rubik Cube, the edges of the stickers scabby where I unpeeled them. Lipsticks – the colours of which defy nature – worn down to stubs and covered in bits of cornflake and fluff.

I touch the yellowing lid of an ancient pot of Pond’s cold cream, trying to recall when I had last done so with hard, young fingers.

The diary is exactly where I knew it would be. On the battered purple cover, Smurfette poses coyly with a flower. The diary is secured with a heart-shaped lock. If memory serves me . . . I unscrew the Pond’s Cold Cream and find the key sellotaped to the underside of the lid.

I unlock the diary and thumb gently through the pages. Names leap out at me, people I have not thought of in years, others I had forgotten existed. Scents rise from the paper like ghosts: Anais Anais and cheap deodorant – Impulse, as I recall. Fabergé’s adverts made a big impression on me. In real life, nobody was ever so inspired by my smell they hurdled a park bench to give me flowers, no matter how much Always Alluring I sprayed on.

I turn to the cover page.

1988.

I was fourteen years old, and had more on my mind than in it. As I recall, being a teenager was tremendously traumatic: struggling with the weighty responsibilities of what to do after leaving school, determining who I had a crush on and having to clean my room once a week.

I was just starting to grasp how little I knew about anything – although there was one thing I knew for certain. One thing I was absolutely sure about.

His name was Conn.

You might call him ‘The One That Got Away’. Personally, I refer to him variously as ‘The One I Never Really Had’, ‘The Love Of My Life’, and ‘That Prick’.

Even if I hadn’t remembered the date, the diary fell open to the page.

Friday 1 April 1988

Spots: 5

Arguments with Mum: 24½

Dear Diary

How come other girls have boyfriends, but I haven’t even been kissed except for that time Slack Jawed Spa licked my cheek and that was only for a dare which doesn’t even COUNT? Is there something wrong with me? I am nearly 16 (14 ¾) and already collecting dust on the SHELF. At this rate, I will end up some 90 year old supervirgin. I wish Prince Charming would get a move on. I would even settle for a handsome frog.

Love,

Lara

Saturday 2 April 1988

Dear Diary

OH MY GOD OH MY GOD OH MY GOD!!!!! It is OFFICIAL: I am IN LOVE!!!!! I have finally been KISSED!!!!! And before my sixteenth birthday – deadly!!!!!

(ROSEMARY IF YOU ARE READING THIS FUCK OFF.)

Before yesterday, I knew NOTHING about love. I know I’ve said that before – but this time it’s REAL!!! Last week when Richard Elliott didn’t sit beside me in double geography I thought I would DIE, but I’m still here so I suppose that tells you something (I didn’t).

This is SO EXCITING – I don’t even know where to start!!! Okay, it was at Champers last night. I wasn’t sure whether I’d go because Maeve and I still weren’t talking after our fight, except when she asked if she could borrow a pencil in English on Thursday. Then she talked to me – obviously to ask if she could borrow a pencil – but I didn’t answer her even though I loaned her one.

So yesterday Sinéad rang and I was kind of cold because she had sort of sided with Maeve even though Maeve was mega wrong. Sinéad asked if I was going to the disco and at first I said no. Well, I said maybe, but then I said yes because I really wanted to but not on my own.

After trying on everything in Rosemary’s wardrobe as well as mine, I finally wore my stonewashed jeans and my new legwarmers with Rosemary’s off the shoulder top (I LEFT IT BACK FATFACE). My hair looked all right after half an hour of backcombing. I can’t wait to get a permanent wave – it would save a lot of time and hairspray and would look TOTALLY DEADLY. Dad said I could, but Mum said I had to wait until I was eighteen, probably because she wanted to get at Dad. They had a big argument, which started out being about my hair and ended up being about Theresa Mannion, who plays tennis at their club. (I’m not sure how Theresa Mannion came into it. I don’t think she has a permanent wave.)

Sinéad’s dad arrived and as I came downstairs I heard Mum tell him I had to be home by 10 o’clock and I was so EMBARRASSED I nearly BARFED. I very reasonably pointed out that Rosemary is allowed to stay out until midnight so why can’t I? – but Mum recycled the same lame argument about Rosemary being four years older than me and when I’m that age I can stay out late too blah blah blah YAWN. She wouldn’t have bothered if Mr Conway hadn’t been there and she’s got to make like she cares. Typical.

Sometimes Mum is such a gargamel. She asked if I was wearing ‘that top’. See? GARGAMEL. And I said, No, I’m wearing something else, then she said Less of the sarcasm, so I said if she liked I could be rude instead. Dad came out of his study and he laughed because it was quite funny, really.

Then Mum asked whether I had done my homework, and Dad said to let me go and have some fun, but Mum repeated herself which she does, like, ALL THE TIME. I calmly and maturely pointed out that Mr Conway was waiting, but Mum said, Well?, so I said, Tomorrow. Mum was blocking the door so I squirmed under her arm.

Be back by 11! she shouted at, you know, the WHOLE NEIGHBOURHOOD. If I’m lucky there might have been a couple of deaf geriatrics in Dublin who didn’t hear her.

I was nice to Sinéad because her dad had collected me and she said Maeve was mega crummy sitting beside Growler Fitzgerald at Assembly when she totally knows how much I like him.

When we went into the disco, Growler was standing near the bogs and he looked way cool in a lovely shiny jacket with the sleeves rolled up. I walked past him twice and the second time I flirted with him by saying ‘Hi’ and kind of smiling.

Sinéad ditched me to hang out with Maeve but the music was wicked so I went on the dance floor with a group from my class. I had to keep pulling up my top because it didn’t fall off just the one shoulder. After a while the DJ started the slow set so all the girls stampeded for the bogs.

Hanging around would have meant I was desperate which I mega wasn’t but when I got off the dance floor, by a total flukey coincidence, Growler just happened to be standing NEARLY RIGHT NEXT TO ME!!!!! I stuck around because I seriously hoped he’d ask me to dance. I didn’t want to ask him because Sarah asked Jughead O’Carroll to dance at the Old Crescent Disco and everyone called her a slag for days afterwards.

I once asked Rosemary how you let a guy know you like him without having to tell him and she said, ‘Be yourself’, which has to be the stupidest piece of advice EVER. I mean, how can I be somebody else? – and who? But I had no better ideas, so I tried mega hard to REALLY be myself.

Then Growler pushed off the wall and I nearly had a COW, but right at that very moment the worst thing EVER happened: my crummy headband fell into my eyes. I scrabbled around for HOURS like a major DORK and finally I got it back in place and I looked up with a ravishing radiant smile expecting Growler to be in front of me, but it was just Stuart Roche licking out the inside of a beer glass.

It was hard to make out anything because the DJ was doing some mad flashing thing with the lights and smoke stung my eyes. I finally saw Growler with Maeve at the side of the dance floor and he leaned down and said something in her ear. Growler took Maeve’s hand and they went onto the dance floor. I wanted to look away but I couldn’t, like when Miss Duggan pulls her knickers out of her arse at the top of class which is SERIOUSLY gross but you can’t help but watch.

Maeve had her arms around Growler’s neck and they swayed around and he felt her shoulder a bit. He bent over and I couldn’t tell if he was maybe just resting his head because he was tired but then I realised he was getting off with her.

My heart shattered into a trillion thousand pieces and my chest was all tight. I felt mega sad, like Meryl Streep in ‘Out of Africa’ when she gets upset about having to talk in a crummy accent for a whole film. I couldn’t bear to stay there another SECOND, so I ran towards the exit, kind of in slow motion. The shortest way was across the dance floor and I accidentally pulled Maeve’s hair really hard as I passed.

(Hang on a sec.)

(Sorry, Rosemary just came into my room. She said she wanted to tell me dinner’s ready, but I know she wants to snoop around. I asked if she recorded MacGyver and she said she forgot but I know it was just to spite me.)

Outside in the car park, there was a low wall a few yards away from the door. I sat on it and looked tragic and gorgeous. The bitter acid of my pain gnawed my ravaged, broken soul like a starving rat with mega sharp teeth and scratchy claws that totally doesn’t care how much damage it’s doing.

I bitterly mourned my young, wasted life. I couldn’t understand why Growler asked Maeve to dance instead of me. Even though I’m a bit spotty and have braces, I’m definitely better looking than her. Maeve has teeth like a chipmunk and the same stupid hair she’s had since, like, forever. She is so uncool, too. She wore baggy jeans to Champers last week, DUH.

Maybe Maeve is more herself than me – although I don’t see how that helps since she’s obviously a two-faced cow, pretending to be my friend when all the time she was secretly plotting to steal my boyfriend. I suppose technically Growler wasn’t my boyfriend, but he would have been if Maeve hadn’t got her claws in him.

I heard George Michael’s ‘Careless Whisper’ start up, which is a song about this guy who doesn’t want to pretend he’s dancing with a fool even though deep down he knows he is, which was mega appropriate when you think about it. You can tell George Michael really knows about this sort of stuff and he’s mega dishy.

The bitter acid of my pain stopped gnawing and swept over the barren, shrivelled wasteland of my soul instead, like a major wave possibly a tsunami (I just looked that up in Dad’s thesaurus).

(Hang on another sec.)

(Mum’s screeching up the stairs at me about my dinner getting cold, as if I could actually, like, CARE about eating when I am fatally afflicted with love.)

So anyway, I met this guy from school and we talked for a while and then we kissed and now I’m mad about him.

Love,

Lara

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Comments on: "About Time" (3)

  1. Well this more than makes up for the pain of your absence!

  2. Cian said:

    Roll on the end of April is all I can say. Very well written (like you could do otherwise anyway). I really hope that this will be the best-seller that it deserves to be.

    It brings back such teenage memories. I know I did not have a big sister, but what a bitch! – she didn’t even tape MacGyver. I hope she gets her comeuppance. Of course it does not have to be in the book, but I think she did. I see her as an obese 40yo with 5 kids by 7 different fathers. Either that she is a gorgeous thin successful woman. Eitherway I think I shall hate her anyway – that is just the irish way.

  3. deadlyjelly said:

    Antipo – er, thanks, I think!

    Cian – I had terrific fun writing the diary entry and am delighted the sister’s minor character inspired such depths of passion 😀

    x

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