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The night before Sarah left was only unusual in that we didn’t spend it at home.
We nearly always stayed in on a Saturday, taking up our established positions on the couch for a relaxed evening of pizza, bad-singing competition- TV and good subtitled Scandinavian dramas.
I didn’t much like Going Out Out, as the kids called it, the kids being what I called everyone under twenty-five since I’d turned thirty six months ago.
Officially my stance was that Ireland’s binge-drinking culture should not be a cultural claim to fame we were proud to promote, but an embarrassing problem we were desperate to solve.
That’s what I said, anyway.
The real reason I didn’t like it was because Cork felt like an ever-shrinking city where a run-in with an old school-friend or former college classmate was never more than a corner away. There was a limit on how many ‘What are you up to these days?’ a guy could take when he wasn’t up to very much.
‘I’m writing,’ I would say. ‘I’m a writer.’
Me: hating myself for how sheepishly I said it.
Them: confused frown.
‘Screenplays,’ I’d add. ‘Movies?’
‘Oh, right.’ The enquirer would nod. ‘Nice. But I meant, like, for work. What do you do?’
‘God, so bloody what?’ Sarah used to say in the cab on the way home, ducking underneath my arm so she could lean her head against my chest, the degree of her exasperation in direct proportion to how many drinks she’d had. ‘I don’t know why you let them get to you. You still have your dreams.’
‘Ah, yes,’ I’d say. ‘My dreams. What’s the current exchange rate on those, do you think? My phone bill is due.’
‘Well, you also have a gorgeous girlfriend. Who believes in you. Who knows you’re going to make this happen. Who has no doubt.’
‘None at all?’
‘None whatsoever. Can we get take-away? I’m starving.’ ‘But you’ve no evidence. And I think the take-away is closed.’
‘That’s what belief means, Ad. I mean, really.’ A poke in the ribs. ‘Aren’t you supposed to be a writer or something?’
I started making excuses, coming up with reasons to stay in on Saturday nights. Whatever my story, Sarah would nod, understanding, and our conversation would move on to deciding between a box-set re-watch or tackling our Netflix queue. We still went out every now and then, but eventually our go-to pub had a new name and our go-to club had closed down. I no longer recognised the songs that won especially loud cheers from the crowd when the DJ played them, and had no clue as to why we were all suddenly drinking out of jam jars with handles on.
But that was before. Now, things were changing.
‘I bet it’s like turning eighteen,’ Sarah said as we manoeuvred around each other in the bathroom, getting ready. I was already dressed; she was wrapped in a bath towel. ‘From the moment you can produce ID, nobody bothers to ask for it.’
‘So tonight no one’s going to go, “But what do you actually do?” because for once I actually want them to?’
Oh, me? I’m a writer. Screenplays. Yeah, not doing too bad, actually. Just made a sale. Major Hollywood studio, six figures. For a script I wrote in a month.
‘Exactly.’ Sarah was putting on an earring, fiddling with the back of it. ‘They all know already anyway. You were on the cover of the Examiner, remember?’
I moved behind her, met her eyes in the mirror over the sink.
‘And,’ I said, ‘the back page of the Douglas Community Fortnightly.’
‘And that advertiser thing you get free in shopping centres.’
‘That was the one with the very good picture.’
‘That wasn’t of you.’
‘It was still a very good picture.’
‘So who’ll be at this thing?’ I asked. ‘Anyone I know?’
We were going to a going-away party. If the pubs and clubs of Ireland had worried that austerity would damage their trade they needn’t have; there were enough pre-emigration shindigs these days to keep the industry afloat all by themselves. That night it was the turn of Sarah’s colleague, Mike, who was heading to New Zealand for a year.
‘Susan will be there. James – you met him before, didn’t you? And Caroline. She’s the girl we ran into the night of Rose’s birthday. You know Mike, right? Don’t think you’ve met the rest of them . . .’
While Sarah was saying this, I wrapped my arms around her waist and rested my chin on her shoulder, savouring the fruity smell of some lotion or potion as I did.
There was no long fall of blonde hair to move out of the way. Just that afternoon Sarah had walked into a hairdresser’s and asked for it all to be chopped off. That morning, the ends of it had been tickling the small of her back. Now it was clear off her neck. The cut had exposed more of her natural warm-brown colour, and I think it was this that made her eyes appear bigger and bluer than they had before. She also seemed more grown-up to me, somehow, and there was something incredibly distracting about all that exposed skin . . .
I pressed my lips against the spot where her neck met her left shoulder.
Sarah said she’d decided to get the haircut on a whim, that she’d just decided to do it after seeing a picture in the salon’s window as she walked by. But a week from now, I’d learn that she’d made an appointment with the salon a week earlier.
‘Just don’t abandon me, okay?’ I murmured.
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