Sunday 24 September 2017

Skirting Murph

New Irish Writing - Prose

Trevor R was a friend who wanted benefits; such benefits were largely unspoken yet as clear as the tension in our drug fuelled social life. I had a series of boyfriends, who Trevor R always disliked. Mannie Freeman, Lorcan the painter, and John Murphy who consistently failed his law exams, yet somehow managed to become a barrister. None of them cut the mustard. I was a difficult girl/woman, with a deficit of confidence at loggerheads with my physical beauty. Mannie Freeman escaped to the uncomplicated pool of high heeled, high earning women, and John Murphy BL joined Fianna Fáil. Lorcan the painter achieved minor fame, then dramatically lost his mind. Trevor R micro managed each break-up recovery, tried his luck a few times, and then fed up with the failure to bed, found the benefits he craved with someone new.

Her name was Sally Murphy and she set her sights on Trevor R with ruthless, calm conviction. At a party, a fellow traveller laughed heartily at the spectacle of one of those Murphy sisters trying it on with Trevor R.

"Is she clueless or what, when Trevor is clearly smitten with your good self." I smiled way too smugly, then watched Sally and her few assets work their magic. She had big green eyes and a curvaceous body, shown to best advantage in the A line skirts she wore with panache. I'll give her that. I didn't fancy Trevor R, but Sally's swoop made me think again, briefly.

Sally had plenty of practical advantages. She had a job in advertising and a small cottage in a nice area of the city. She had five sisters. They worked as a team. Trevor R found all this soothing, and much to my astonishment became honorary brother in the sisters' clutch. Soon Sally was his woman, unquestioned. Trevor R's calls and texts diminished. Sally, who Trevor R referred to as Murph, now arranged our less frequent get-togethers.

"How are you doing," he'd say, "Murph wants you up at the cottage for dinner Friday."

Sally ran her dinner parties with the logic of copious stimulants. Everyone got wasted, and her popularity soared. I gradually became aware that these events ran weekly, and I was not always on the guest list. My invites came monthly, at best. Sally had the mind of a chess player. Trevor R moved into the cottage.

The sisters never took to me; they had an uncanny way of saying my name like an accusation.

Within a year Sally announced her pregnancy and gave up her weekly drug fests. Trevor R was over some kind of a moon, or maybe half over, stuck mid-way. His calls to party came with greater regularity. We met alone, drank and smoked weed, watched movies in our own wasteland, while good old Murph got plenty of sleep and tended her plot. She knew she had nothing to fear. She grew her baby with the determination of a queen in waiting, top cat in her sisterly cocoon.

The baby girl arrived in a stunning emergency caesarean. Sally evoked the true spirit of Murph and breast fed from the word go. I was seething with envy on the obstetrics ward. Her bed surrounded with well-wishers, the sisters playing court, and Trevor R a big mushy wreck of happiness. I left the hospital; a distinctly off feeling accompanied my every step. I had failed to hide my sour distaste. The sisters, in the bubble of smug victory, had noted the discordance. I had a good weep and decided to move to London.

London suited for a while. But it was a tough city in a tough time. When I returned to Dublin I settled my account with my old self and sent her packing. I had a few lucky breaks and got a job managing a busy production office. But, on social excursions I kept hearing about Trevor R and Murph, how well they were doing and their daughter's stunning IQ.

"The child is practically a genius, and gorgeous to boot," someone said at a lame launch party for an online magazine. The sisters were making their mark on the Dublin scene, in theatre, screenwriting and such pursuits. The two youngest were running a city centre restaurant. Instead of the steely emotional airbrush that was required, I accepted an invitation from Sally to dinner.

"I only heard yesterday you were back, why on earth didn't you call?" Sally said.

Why on earth indeed. Murph looked better than ever, still wearing her A line skirts. The daughter, Lucia, was indeed beautiful. It was hard to work out where this stunner had come from, initially. But on closer inspection it was clearly a fortuitous accident of genetics. Sally's big eyes recreated in Trevor's aqua blue, Trevor's dark hair in Sally's gloss, a dimple stolen from a middle sister, Trevor R's long lanky physique re-modelled with grace in the young girl's body. Of course, Trevor had filled out, the dark mop thinner, in the early stages of what turned out to be a rapid retreat. Two of the sisters greeted me with pained good grace. Time had done little to curb their suspicion.

If the best revenge is looking good I had it in spades that night. Trevor R hugged me tightly before I left.

"Let's meet up soon, real soon," he said.

The evening had spilt out surprises, little moments that revealed the camouflage for what it was. What were they hiding? Lucia was wilful, and disconnected. Murph tried hard to play her daughter; her daughter played hardball in return. Everyone else played along. This gave the sense of something that had become normalised, though my presence seemed to shine a light where it was not welcome. Lucia was strange, that much was clear. Trevor R had lost his job in broadcasting. He was out on his own, freelancing, struggling. That news, imparted as if it was not a blow, was a shocker.

Murph asked him to fetch salt from the cupboard, and she didn't say please. Trevor R ignored her request. I noted that she got it herself with a song and a dance. Lucia didn't go to bed, when children should. The adults didn't call time. Little matters, grist to my critical eye.

I had a new man whose old fashioned charm was both refreshing and startlingly welcome. His name was Dean Mannion. I felt heady with this secret knowledge of being on the cusp of emotional nutrition.

The call came a week later, as I knew it would.

"Let's get wasted," Trevor said, in an old haunt where we had arranged to meet. His face was full of something novel. He talked everything up, bringing a ridiculous clarity to the core of disappointment. That night Trevor R and I talked in tongues, meddling with confusion. Can I describe it? So unknown, so tantalisingly close to being known. I said that everything was going his way and Trevor R concurred. I congratulated him. Lucia was an amazing kid, he said. Her mother had worked wonders, he emphasised. The emphasis on 'her mother'. Had Murph lost her sparkle, become someone's mother, ditched her allure?

How can I explain what happened. How I lost my head, and slept with Trevor R. If I told you it was about knowing the truth, about Lucia, how could you understand?

I remember the initial kiss, so long coming. Like both of us knew it was a mistake but wanted the mistake out in the open. And then, when we hunted it vigorously in sexual thrusts, the mistake swung out lamely, after orgasm. Trevor R had taken far too long to come. He tried to be tender, and I tried not to cry. I thought about Dean Mannion, and how fucked up this shag in the dark was. Trevor R said that we shouldn't have, and I agreed. I never felt so unnecessarily naked.

I had planted the seed of obsession, and it had nothing to do with love, desire, envy, friendship, jealousy. It was just about a hole in my own life, one I was incapable of filling with anything uncontaminated. Or so I tell myself, or so I fill the narrative with explanation when words make it so much worse. I know how it ends, you see.

I went off Dean Mannion. I began to notice things, irritants. How he tidied up before we made love, how he bored the pants off me with his pedantic view of life. I began to crave an invitation from Murph, or a call from Trevor R. Finally, Sally rang.

Trevor sprang a surprise, she said. He proposed. "Can you imagine that," she said. Who would have thought he'd have it in him, I replied. Who would have thought?

"An engagement party," I said, "gosh yes, I wouldn't miss that for all the tea in China."

Irish Independent

Editors Choice

Also in Entertainment