Charles Daly

Writer

Tag: short story

“Rubbers” are “Erasers”

I made up my mind to leave Ireland sometime in my second month of living with a hole in the roof of my attic bedroom in a shared house.

 

I’m not from Ireland, so leaving was not some immigrant story. The hole in the roof was not a mater of squalor or deprivation. I feel the need to mention this because, in my experience, people only hear the things that confirm what they already picture when think of a place. I started saying “overseas” when asked where I live, because idiots are always saying “top of the morning to ya.” And, it turns out, Ireland is Jerusalem for sloppy drunk girls who like accents and the dad-bod.

 

My time in Ireland wasn’t drunk and green. The girl I was with there wasn’t typical of Ireland or anywhere.

 

Kit was someone who could see the fun and beauty in a soggy roof hole. She would wear her coat, with the hood up, on trips to the bathroom and always make this big thing of taking it off again, twirling the waist belt like a striptease.

 

One time she bought me a plant and put it under the leak saying, “That’s the only way it’ll get watered, knowing you.”

Which is not to say the hole in the ceiling was a metaphor or a signifier for a shambolic relationship. It couldn’t have been because, unlike most of our issues, I was the one to see it first.

 

dublin-airport-writer

 

A dark stain in the plaster had been growing pretty much since I arrived. The night it started dripping onto my desk, I moved the desk, put out my waste bin to catch the drip, and went back to bed. A few nights later, a deluge broke through where the plaster had been damming rainwater between the ceiling and roof beams and brought down  a soggy tongue of yellow insulation. From then on, there was draft in my room and the rain came in directly.

 

To repair it would have been expensive and not really my responsibility, considering my status as attic-dweller separated me by at least a couple degrees from the leaseholder and the landlord.

 

My housemates greeted the hole with apathy and amusement.

 

Kit and I found it bonding to come sopping and start each fuck with the chaste desire to get warm.

 

But, of course, this got old. Nobody likes wearing a winter coat that won’t dry or sleeping in a room that smells wet. I could have moved, but something told me I wasn’t going to get a rarer memory of Ireland than this. So when I got tired of the hole, time had come to head West.

 

Back in New England, in the spring, I would text Kit pictures of things they don’t have in Ireland, like whitetail deer and wild turkeys in the backyard, and complain to her about the bugs that I would trade for the rain and the damp any day. She would reply with grey skies and sneaky pictures of the billowing short-sleeve button-down “granddad shirts” Irish men over 40 wear on sunny days.

 

She texts me “Goodnight” around dinnertime, and I say “Good Morning” when she’s having lunch.

 

Montréal, 2017 

Flamingo Season up in Vermont

FRIDAY

 

The sun is always going down when I get up to Vermont on Fridays after work in the fall. When I picture my room and the view out my window, like I do all the time during the week, I see the landscape and all my things in the patina of those hours and that time of year.

 

Stiff and groggy from the drive, I pace the porch and drink coffee from a tin mug that, like my flannel shirts and Red Wing boots, makes me feel outdoorsy. I have an identical mug at my desk, which serves as a totem of where I’d rather be.

 

The house faces a long valley. The hills, on the other side of the state highway, turn dark blue when the sun goes behind them. Whether or not I make it in time for the hour before sunset when the foliage burns brightest depends entirely on traffic.

 

A ground fog settles predictably at dusk this time of year from the temperature difference between the air and the valley floor. There are signs on the highway warning of the fog and other local hazards like moose crossings and rockslides. I have no idea how a motorist is supposed to handle a rockslide, but at least they warn you.

 

It’s my apartment in the city, and not the country house, that feels like a money-pit, even though it’s where I live most the time. When I’m at my desk or out with friends, I think about being here, but when I’m here I never wish I were in the city, at work, or on a date.

 

Out in the yard, a young fox, one more autumn colored thing, is stalking low around the bushes. Yet to learn his own power and place in the food chain, he balks at the critical moment. He then does a strutting a lap around the yard to regain his composure before making another attempt, as if his kill is going to wait around. His coat is pristine, almost like he’s been raised indoors. I take a picture with my phone and text it to a friend in the city who replies that she wants to name him.

 

SATURDAY

 

I postpone my hike over the ridge to wait for the well digger to fix the electric pump, which I ran over with the lawn mower last weekend. The mowerblade cracked the pump’s plastic cover and exposed the deep shaft of the well. The digger blows it out with compressed air to clear whatever may have fallen down there. He says sometimes dead mice and frogs come up when he does that. I picture a geyser of toads, and I want to believe that’s what happens so I don’t watch. That and I don’t want to know what’s in my water.

vermont-postcard-flamingo-season-daly

The well digger has a compound bow on a rack in the cab of his truck, and I ask him a dozen questions about bow hunting while he puts his tools away. He tells me he’ll be going out on Monday. Monday. I suddenly hate the guy.

 

SUNDAY

 

My neighbor takes me shooting after breakfast at her place. She’s a full-time transplant from the city working on a novel, with a walk-in gunroom under the stairs, which is also where she keeps her drafts.

 

For targets, we have four garden flamingos, dozens of beer cans, six flowerpots, two pumpkins, and a steel plate that makes a satisfying ding when you hit it.

 

It’s raining and with ear protection on, I can’t hear it falling. Somehow this makes me feel a little drier, like I’m watching the rain but not in it. We reload under the shelter of the opened hatchback of her station wagon.

 

The trunk looks like a terror plot. There are .22 and 5.56 NATO rounds in every crevice of the upholstery and under the floor mats like lost pennies and quarters.

 

I feel a tingle of worry that somehow my friends will be up here on a foliage tour and happen to drive down the fire road and see me. I craft the excuses in my head: my neighbor is a feminist blogger who just happens to be well armed, and this town, where you can buy ammo at the grocery store, doesn’t vote the way you might think.

 

The flamingos turn to pink confetti when you hit them with buckshot.

 

On Sundays I have to come up with reasons to be okay with driving back, and every week those reasons get more nuanced. I used to tell myself that ammunition is expensive, or that I’d get tired of eating venison all the time, or I’d get less done working from home. But lately, I’ve been writing off the very reason I’m drawn to this place. By way of self-preservation, I convince myself that the specialness of going up to Vermont is the way I long for it Monday through Friday. Calling the city home, I hold on to my daydream walks in the woods and keep fly-casting in my mind.

 

Cape Cod, 2017

The Spanish aren’t Known for their Stationary

She was always seeking new experiences. Homesickness was her latest new experience.

Recently, she realized she had never missed home in all her travels and life-embracing, not once.

Had she been too in the moment?

Was there nothing back home to miss?

Had she not been gone long enough?

Whatever the reason, homesickness would be something new. So she made up her mind to think about the people back home and to do the things homesick people do.

First, she would send home some packages.

The gifts she picked, like the homesickness itself, were deliberate and calculated.

Six German fountain pens in six different colors and a stainless steel pencil sharpener. The fountain pens were all for women, and the pencil sharpener was for a guy.

She would include a note explaining the things the people at home might not know: that fountain pens are an everyday item here, and these hadn’t cost her what you might think.

The pencil sharpener was the kind you hold in one hand — while you twist a pencil in it with the other — over a wastebasket. It was improbably heavy for its size, like how she imagined the weight of a bullet. The quality and craftsmanship was obvious from the weight and the brushed finish and the precise lettering that said MADE IN GERMANY in a modern typeface.

She would also have to explain why she was sending German pens and a German pencil sharpener from Spain. The Spanish are not known for their stationary, but the people back home don’t know that.

She tended to let her gut make the important decisions, and right now her gut was telling her to sleep on the gifts. She asked the shopkeeper to hold it all for her.

She continued on the evening walk that had been interrupted by the window display of plastic fountain pens from Germany.

Travel had fine-tuned her gut. She had a sense for which experiences were worthwhile and which ones weren’t. There was always the fear of the wrong country, the wrong meal, the wrong guy, or a dull day trip full of tourists. Sometimes the wrong one looked like the right one. They’re called “tourist traps” for a reason and to avoid them you need taste.

Would they even know how to hold a fountain pen back home?

Would the gifts communicate what she wanted them to, or would they only make people scratch their heads and wish she had sent whatever it is that people expect in the mail from Spain?

It was all too much. She resolved to have a different new experience. And she put the people back home out of her mind.

Valencia, 2017

Enter CONTEMPT

He has so much dandruff on the shoulders of his sweater.

She has this tendency to play up one drink like being a lightweight is the cutest thing in the world.

The waitress’ smile.

The barman’s jokes.

The way he says stupid things like “server” and “flight attendant” as if he’s scoring points with her gender.

The way she seems to think politics has nothing to do with her personally. She’s apathetic and she doesn’t care.

The quarter-zip sweater itself and how far up he zips it. Pompous.

Her drawer full of thongs and G-strings. White trash.

Photo by Saeah Lee

At one point they agree it isn’t working. They find a couples therapist they can agree on. She tells them to watch out for contempt. Contempt is the one emotion a relationship cannot survive. Have all the fights you want. Break dishes, punch walls, but don’t get contemptuous.

So they try this.

She doesn’t know how to throw a punch and so they spend one Thursday night in the emergency room over a fracture in her hand.

She jokes that a black eye would almost be easier to explain at work.

He tells her that’s not funny.


Valencia, 2017

Midnight Cereal

She keeps the cabinet stocked with the cereal he likes, by way of tempting him to spend more time at her place. It works. By their second summer together he has more or less moved in.

Her roommate has a habit of labeling everybody’s food with a sharpie and this makes him want to eat her cereal and drink her soy milk out of defiance.

 
Photo By Saeah Lee

One summer afternoon, a cat comes in through an open window. The cat is badly cut up from fighting with the other strays in the neighborhood. They name him Shark Week because that’s what the boy, the girl, and the girl’s roommate had been watching when the cat came in. Later, they all find fleabites around their ankles and somehow this is the boy’s fault.

The girl is studying business administration. Her roommate is pre-med. The boy is undeclared and rudderless though he reads two books a week in his spare time. The girl hopes he will get serious about something. The boy hopes to find something worth getting serious about.

The boy gets drunk. The girl gets drunk. They argue and the boy throws a midnight bowl of cereal at the wall.

The boy helps assemble a chair and bookcase from Ikea and all is forgiven.

The issue of paying the bills comes up, considering there are now three of them living there. The boy and the girl have no student loans or financial aid. The girl’s roommate does. For the girl, paying her way is about feeling like an adult. For the girl’s roommate it’s a matter of necessity. The boy can see her point about the bills but there’s a pedestrianism to the conversation he doesn’t want to be bothered with, so he leaves for a rare night at his own place.

To contribute, he pays for better coffee than they would buy otherwise. And he puts down the deposit on a keg for their St. Patrick’s Day party.

When the boy is packing his things for good, the girl gives him his cereal to keep. A desperate part of her hopes the cereal will remind him of all they had and all she did for him. Looking back one day, she will see that the whole headache started with his favorite cereal.

Valencia, 2017

Originally posted on Medium

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