Aoife Casby – What Happens In The Hours In Between?


12:17 p.m. July 6th Liverpool

Got these pyjamas new yesterday. They’re unlived in. It’s years since I’ve had pyjamas. You  know, they’re the sort of thing you have as a child, when sleeping is important – a waste of money really; any old t-shirt is more comfortable and in the heat of this place you don’t need them and their leggy army closeness. Better cool sheets.  Didn’t think about a dressing gown, though I don’t suppose it matters if you don’t want to go outside and smoke. I want to put on my outdoor clothes, get back to the airport, go home and wash them all; knickers, those ribbed tights, skirt, the black top with the delicate white flowers. Filling the washer sounds just fine. Yes, and maybe go to that big hardware shop on Crescent Hill, look at the paint. There’d be nothing wrong with painting a room.
I can feel my spine unfold itself piece by piece when I stand. There. Just like that. Exactly so. Don’t want to sit. And the whiff of the smoke from beneath the throats of the other girls when they pass near me and say their almost noiseless hellos is unpleasant. I asked the nurse was it a boy or a girl and it was such a real question. She said it was okay in a kind of a mean voice. It’s okay. I don’t know what it is she meant to say.
The wall is cool. White, and there’s that intelligence off the paint, like it’s breathing. That must be what they call satin. Not that I’d know satin. It’s a strange thing, the feel of a wall, that it would be as unruffled as the colour it is. As soft. Not what you expect really, the quietness of paint on a wall, but underneath it’s the same as everything else: ugly.  With the bricks and their veins and every bit of that empty space in between where they spiders and dark loving insects live, where the foam insulation squeezes its suffocation into the place. Buildings keep nature out. If you think about it, right below the paint on the wall, in the inside of those blocks, it is man struggling.
The building is air.
I’d prefer to sleep in an open field. Feel dew on my face. Gaze into the eyes of the night.
Once I painted a room in a tower of flats. A nursery for someone else’s baby.  A nursery. But really it was just a tiny bedroom no more than a cupboard, so small you couldn’t imagine someone sleeping in it, not even a new-born. We painted it all yellows and white because the then owners of that flat didn’t know if it would be a boy or a girl. In the end they had a girl. Called her Jasmine.
I would name my first girl Susannah, if it didn’t sound too old. She’d have to look like herself to be Susannah. The problem is that you’ll always have to get the man to agree. Tony’d never agree to Susannah.
Christ, right now I feel that I could stay next to this wall forever. I think I like the suffering of its skin on the back of my hand. It feels strangely tender; if I just slap it with my palm it’s too much like begging, like asking for something. Much better to have a kind of light touch so that you don’t seem needy. Listen, there’s that sound of boiling water again. Inside the walls. Heat. And the doors. Listen. My mouth can’t make the sound. It’s those bristles; they surprise you with their muffled lisp, and the other doors with that intimate squelch of rubber, a kind of sucking. Makes you think of vaginas.
The smile feels funny on my face. I try to picture what other people hear.
You can close your eyes and eavesdrop on the whole building seething, lapping and hissing, a personal sort of hush. It’s hot outside in nature, beyond the windows; and there are summer flies buzzing and disseminating. I reckon that this paint is the sort that would blister under heat. It is that delicate. I burned myself badly the day Tony came back from France. It still hurts, but this wall is soothing on it, on the place where the red mark is.
They don’t know, those girls; they don’t know about the burn or Tony or anything. I can understand their smiles though. They seem chatty enough but I don’t want to talk. There’s nothing to say – all of us with our accents in our night clothes in the middle of the day. All whispers and cigarettes.
I don’t like smoke any longer, don’t yearn for it. It’s odd – when a yearning stops, you almost search for it, constantly looking over your shoulder, maybe to see the shadow of it, to see where the craving lurks because it isn’t quite  dead. There’s a rumour in your blood and in your bones that will tell you that. It’s waiting. My hands are disappointed when I move away from the wall. I don’t feel anything else, no cramps, no hurting. Nothing.

2:49 p.m. July 6th Liverpool

Tony is well away from me now, well away. Tony. He isn’t good about painting. There are cracks in the paintwork in every room at home and all around the edges of the doors the brushwork is messy and ragged. All of that work, rushed, as if when you put up cheap paint, free paint, you need to do it quickly, that the end result will somehow be better because it was applied at speed to hide its cheapness (or something like that). Laziness more like and then there was not enough of each colour to finish a whole room. All of the walls lacking. The pictures he hung only added to the inadequacy. It was silly of me to suggest doing a design, especially when he couldn’t see what I meant. I could learn how to do it I said. I could practice in the bathroom first, because maybe you know, it doesn’t matter as much. You know, painting with rags so it has a speckled look but he laughed at that idea and I suppose I knew he would. Don’t know how happy I’d have been doing it anyway. That sort of thing, learning to do something like that, is always like doing it for someone else’s benefit. That’s the thing.
I won’t miss the bathroom in this place. It is so childlike, everything extra big; big locks that you have to twist and that make an admittedly satisfactory click; big door handles, big spaces under the doors, big sanitary bins. That made me laugh. All the bigness everywhere. I don’t think the nurse got the humour. Comical the things you notice. Like we are in some fairy-tale. All the better to eat you with.

The passive, inattentive sky outside the window behind her seems further away now; the air is bright, world lighter, peeling back a layer for something to get a good look at me. I have the idea that I am being watched and then I realise that it is her. She is watching me. All this time I thought her silence was ignorance but it was watchfulness. I look at my watch and its cracked face, the uselessness of it.
‘It’s almost three.’ she says.
I realise she is saying words that she thinks will just bring me into comfort, within range. I want to ask her what she understands about me but I don’t know how to say it.
‘Is it?’ I say, ‘I should go so.’
I watch the nurse with her spidery hands and her undemanding writing make silly words on her form.
And I go out the door and think about flying home.
I’m hungry.

4:11 p.m. July 6th Liverpool

Well out of the airy building, down the airy street and Mrs. Doctor told me I’ll be ok and not to have sex for a week. She said this without remembering my face. I know that, and think how odd it is to talk about such a close thing and not to see an expression. I don’t know what to think about her. So my vagina is off limits for ten days. None of these strangers on the footpath know that.
It seems like years ago since unfamiliar people would meet your eye. I want them to notice that I’m not pregnant but how could they? They don’t know me. Some things are bred to be secrets. But, at the same time, wouldn’t it be nice. Yeah, nice to sit down, pour tea and have biscuits, or even be in a wine bar, a pleasant place where it isn’t always about wishing you were somewhere else; somewhere the looks on people’s faces aren’t bored or desperate. Wouldn’t it be nice to be in a place like that and to say ‘Yes, I’m no longer pregnant, real natural-like and then they’d ask about it, we’d all talk, and there’d be no looking at the floor or none of those sharp-eyed glances that tell you you’ve said too much. I’d be able to notice things like the delicate patterns on the cups or the stylish way the material in the curtains fell or the way my friend Sandra’s skin looked because she had used some new moisturiser from the glossy pages and we’d all know who we were and why we were there.
But people aren’t made to talk that way. I can’t stop putting my hand where the baby used to be, across the void womb. Can’t have sex for a couple of days, as if…would you want to? That sort of thing can make me cry if I think about it too long. It’s up there with the comfortable seats, curtains blowing in the wind and tea with flavours I wouldn’t be able to pronounce.

10:52 p.m. July 6th The Pub, Dublin

Tony’s leaning off his barstool like he might fall. She had something to eat in town no less, he says and looks across me at Sandra with those raised eyebrows. I felt like treating myself, I tell her and she tells me I’m dead right, that if I don’t, who will. Too right I say, but my heart’s not in it. Tony takes my hand and the wet touch of his fingers in mine feel like pleading; he tells me I’m beautiful. I know, I say. He whispers something that Sandra can’t hear, about waiting ’til he gets me home and I tell him that there’s no chance of that, and there won’t be, because lately he falls asleep he’s so wrecked from the buildings. Exhaustion just drives it out of him.
Sandra goes out for a smoke. Tonight there’s more fun out there. Tony drinks. The last time we had sex was the night I burned myself. A stupid accident. He comes in the door all bursting with energy, all delighted with being home in our improperly painted house and frightens the life out of me with a big shout and I fall against the cooker and land my hand in the gas flame. You couldn’t burn yourself again that way if you tried, he says later in bed.
There’s a mark on the paint in the kitchen where the saucepan fell, a mark that wouldn’t have stayed on a better paint. I like looking at that mark. Its bits reminds me of lots of things, the past, the future. There’s the chipped bit from where the saucepan hit and took a layer of paint off, exposed the pink plaster; there’s the greasy stain from the creamy pasta sauce like an irregular growth at the foot of the wall. The whole savage mess is flecked with mop splashes from the floor. It’s is in the vein of a birthmark, like it has weight, enough weight to pull the wall down on itself.
After we did it on burning day, he took my bandaged hand underneath the blankets and in the dark said, It’ll all be ok. We’ll manage, like it meant something. I knew two things then – that I’d become pregnant and that when I had a daughter, I’d name her Susannah.

11:01 a.m. June 2nd Home

It’s a grey, smothery suburb day. Last night I dreamed I’d a baby daughter and I left her wrapped in a blanket on an armchair, went out shopping or to a fun-fair or something equally frivolous. Didn’t even change her nappy, felt like I’d a hangover when I woke. That matching blue line on the stick wasn’t a surprise.
He’s nearly finished painting the bathroom. Now we have four almost-finished rooms. I don’t know what I expected. Just seeing his back bent over that second-hand bucket makes me want to retch. It goes away doesn’t it? It goes away, all the love, desire. All that wishing and dreaming, seeing someone else’s idea of a home.
The way he was coiled there reminded me of a memory he used to tell, of when he was nineteen and he and his then-girlfriend took a bicycle lock and key and went into town, picked out a bicycle that was secured to a railing using no particular criteria and locked it to the iron railing again; a complete stranger’s bicycle.  A man’s bike, and they put their chain underneath the man’s bar and throttled it, again, to the rail. Then they went off and threw the key in the canal; didn’t even wait to see what happened when the owner of the bike came back.
I always thought that was strange. Why do that unless you were going to wait? It seems like they were missing all of the fun. Tony said the bike was there for weeks afterwards, slowly disintegrating. There’s something pathetic about that. Was there no-one to cut a lock – that’s part of the sadness, the helplessness of the whole episode. Awful. The bicycle left there and the key for the lock in the water and no-one knew why the whole thing happened. I thought then and I think now that I know more about it than Tony does. It’s like he tells that story about a different person, like it’s second-hand. Just not him. I think there was some kind of  pre-scientific, rudimentary metaphysics of his father in his thing with the locking the bicycle – a pavlovian dog reaction to something he didn’t understand.
But you hang on.
I tried to wash the stain from the pasta sauce in the kitchen away, ended up bleaching parts of the wall. There wasn’t enough paint to begin again and not enough colour to recover.

01:47 a.m. July 7th Home

It does occur to me that I am looking for a home. I’m not sure what that means really. Home. One of those words that sounds awkward and warm at the same time. It should conjure up a place to return to, a base, a space filled with welcome and ease. Home. Home. Comb. Foam. Roam. Gnome. Tome. Rome. Loam. Dome. Ohm. Poem. Gloam. Interesting. Where do I live? I no longer know.

Those pyjamas are new, he says just before he falls into bed. He leans out and pulls them from their slump on the floor, says nothing about the way they feel. Yes, they are I say and next time I treat myself to a pair I’m going to get real expensive ones, proper silk or satin, not half cotton. They smell, I tell him. Next time? he says. Do you plan on opening a pyjama shop? and I can hear the embarrassed smile he makes before he falls asleep. At least he stopped talking about having kids. That’ll make leaving easier. I’ll go to the airport with no destination in mind. But first, first, I’ll go to that hardware place on Crescent Hill, and I’ll pick some paint and I’ll finish a room.

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Aoife Casby
Aoife Casby’s short fiction and poetry has been published in “The Dublin Review”, “The Stinging Fly”, “Banshee”, ‘Noir by Noir-West’ (Arlen House), “Ropes”, “The Cúirt Annual”, “Whispers and Shouts”, “West47”, “Criterion”, “The Cork Literary Review”, “Divas anthology” (Arlen House), “The Sunday Tribune”, “Cyphers” and others. She was the winner of “The Doolin Short Story Prize 2017” (judged by Tramp Press) and has been long listed for the “Seán Ó Faoláin Short Story Award” and the “Fish Short Story Prize”. She has been awarded literature bursaries from the Irish Arts Council and Galway County Council. She is completing a PhD at Goldsmith’s University, London.