Photophobia by Niall Joseph

'It’s Monday. It’s your day.’

His voice seeped up brittle from under the rubble of covers; maybe she should have waited longer.

Damn earring wouldn’t go in the hole. She sat down and squinted into the dresser mirror, not wanting to risk opening the curtains yet.
'I know that, I just thought. .. ' she began. 'Uwaa?’

He scraped the gathered gook off the top of the word, yanked the duvet down, and tried again.? Did you just think?’

He had been engaged in a kind of pre-mourning for the bookshop for a while now, but the black risings, what seemed like anger at sleep for its lulling deceit, this was new. She imagined the dense thicket of newly exposed blond hair to be full of the fading corpses of his dreams; floppy dream-limbs protruding from it at unnatural angles.

'Well, only last night you were saying that it’s been so quiet in the shop you could probably leave Sean in charge all day.’

The room still smelled of the tipsy, urgent sex - scrambling immediately for the vital parts, as though they too could be snatched back at any moment - which had preceded that disclosure. They’d ravaged three bottles ofred and pretty much napalmed the dining room with the Flannerys - she’d had her morning toast and coffee floating in the kitchen, leaving the charred remains for Mrs Cahill.

'I was just saying that, Alice. It’s your day.’'It’s just that I have this meeting ... '

She didn’t know why she started; she wasn’t going to tell him anyway
There’s always a meeting, Alice. That’s your job, meetings. Not so many meetings in mine, but that doesn’t mean I can just desert it. It needs care now. More than ever, maybe.’

'I know, I know. I’m sorry, you’re right, I didn’t mean to ... '

'Well that’s how it sounds, Alice. That’s how it always sounds. Like now ou’re doing so well we don’t need the bookshop anymore.’

'I don’t think that. I know how much it means to you ... '

'See? Just like that. Like it’s a pet or something. Fuck.’ He used his hand to protect his eyes from the terrible half-light of the lurking Dublin morning.

'Caelan, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean anything by it. I’ll pick him up. You’re right, it’s my day and you have to work.’

She called Meredith from the driveway (she didn’t like using the hands-free in the BMW, it felt too pretentious, considering.) to move the Night Skies meeting to Wednesday. She still couldn’t tell Caelan, but they were probably going to offer her control of the project, which she had rescued from under the passionless wheels of 'financial viability’ -her attachment to it was still raw, like new flesh. Not yet.

She’d actually thought he might want to pick Tomas up, she remembered as she backed out, leaning right back between the seats as usual in order to see through the graceful line of old sycamores. Last night, entangled on the still steaming bed, he’d been saying how bored he’d been recently in the afternoons
-probably just more pre-emptive distancing, then.

She was on Fitzwilliam Street when he rang -the final, one-lane part of her journey. Armitage was probably in her office already; if she could get out and walk she’d make it on time. In the car, no chance.

'I’m sorry, Alice. I was just cranky. Hadn’t had my coffee. I don’t mind getting him; you don’t have to reschedule your meeting.’
'That’s great,’ she started, not wanting to tell him it was already done. Just then the tense snake of snarling, Monday morning cars loosened a little, uncharacteristically, and the car park entrance came into view up ahead. What, you can’t even rely on the traffic now? She had to get moving or they’d start on the horns.

But she didn’t want to cut him off; she knew he’d probably agonised over whether to apologise or not.

'You were a lion last night,’ she said, changing up to third for the first time in fifteen minutes. It was the only loving thing that came to her, but immediately it sounded affected, patronising. In fact she hadn’t come; recently she’d noticed his prick was suffering, like everything else, from the thinner air of the time, into which some things were losing their substance and others disappearing entirely. It seemed universal, from penises to companies to countries - anything without a solid spine was apt to just keel over. The problem was figuring out what was shieldable -and worth saving. This had come up repeatedly with the Flannerys. And afterwards, although the wine had forged a sincere urgency in their desires, it had also overseen a slippery fade to self- conscious, frenzied pounding; she was just thinking of a recovery remark and braking for the car park, when the driver behind beeped at her like a baboon. She’d forgotten to signal. Why were people so sensitive?

Searching out affronts, it seemed sometimes. You’d swear she’d sent him veering towards a cliff. She turned the car into the barrier at the entrance. As the guy passed behind her, something landed on the roof of her car, bounced onto the bonnet and down the ramp into the underground car park. It looked like half a doughnut, and was accompanied by a spluttered roar.

'Where the hell did you get your licence!? Korea!?’

Charming. Xenophobia-coated leftovers. She held her card out the window to the sensor, changing the phone to her other hand.

'What the hell was that?’ Caelan asked, concerned.

'Nothing. Hey listen, if you need to you can go into the shop for a couple of hours on Saturday morning anyway,’ she said just to say something.

He didn’t answer right away, and the barrier rose. Damn. No reception down there. 'I’ll call you back!’ she shouted just as she went over the lip.

When she got to her spot Dempsey’s Renault was already there. Of course. Probably been in since six studying up. As she passed it she laid her hand on his bonnet just to check. Wow - still warm. She hoped he was prepared. This could be the meeting where Armitage finally quit his flirting with the other firms; the digital technologies argument she’d dreamt up on Friday could swing it. She headed for the lifts, donning her work gait as she went, and enjoying the inflating swing of her bag.

Not till lunchtime did she remember. She took her team out to the Peruvian place around the comer to celebrate. He didn’t answer till the third time she tried, on her way back to the office. Around her, she knew, a whole city of tightly wound ties were clumping back towards their own teetering office blocks, an upended age of wrinkled eyes was checking the sky for more rain; she reeled in her smile a little, remembering that she was almost duty-bound to fear for her job like everyone else. But it was so mundane, the way it had infiltrated every cranny of conversation; she felt bad, but she would like to take the word crisis, tie a rock to it, and fling it in the Liffey river.

'Hey. Sorry, I was on the landline. Final details about a first edition Goldsmith,’ he opened.

'Oh, right. I just wanted to apologise for not calling you back in the morning,’ she said, thinking that they were going to suffocate under all these apologies.
She pictured him upstairs in the shop in Dawson Street, four walls of bookshelves around him, his 'room of a thousand doorways’. Sat with those horrid, 'lucky’ runners up on the glass desk, shriek of blond hair no doubt chaotic already - it was like an unruly pet. She often wondered how she would react if she met him now; ifhe ambled up to her unknown in Java’s or The Lima Bean, with nothing but the starkness of the proffered bony hand and the two bare, clashing syllables - 'Kay-lan’ - of his name; the pointy, aspirated harshness of the first, the caressing linger of the final. At the time, fresh out ofUCD law, the skeletal nature of the approach had charmed her; a scaffolding, ready and willing for things - coffee, shuddered smiles, a life, perhaps - to be draped over it. But now ... she sidestepped it by reasoning that he would be put off by the sheer knee-line of her grey skirt and would never come up to her anyway.
'When? Ah, yeah, I remember, it sounded like you were pulling into the car park.’

'I was. And then I bumped into Mr. Farrell down there, who was full of queries about the appeal, and we got in the lift, and then Meredith pounced on me as soon as I got out... it was just hectic.’

Why did she need to lie? When had forgetting, just by itself, become unforgivable? 'Don’t worry, I forgot myself.’

Never, apparently. She felt bad again. 'How’s things in the shop?’ she asked him.

'Great. There’s a line outside all the way up to the cafe. It’s attracting buskers. The people need their rare books, honey, especially in these tough times. Their solace.’

His voice was light, back to normal. She laughed, but not too hard. Just the right pitch, she thought. She wanted to tell him about Armitage, but hesitated too long.

'You gonna be late back tonight?’ he asked.
'I’ll try and make it by eight. But don’t worry about dinner; I’ll whip us up something when I get in. Or maybe we could go out? Ask Mrs Cahill to stay late ... we haven’t been out in a while.’

'Yeah, you’re right. It’s just...’ he paused.

'What? We deserve it.’ She almost said 'my treat’, but caught it in time.

'We certainly do,’ he replied, though a little delayed, and the cheer seemed forced.
'Don’t worry Al, we’ll see how it goes. I’ll send you a text later.’

'Okay, great,’ she closed, arriving at the building. She fought against the thought that he might have not answered her the first time deliberately, in order to seem busy, and maybe even planned the light-hearted self- deprecation in order to play down the morning - he hated appearing oversensitive. She shoved it down the well- lots ofhalf-formed thoughts sprawling down there recently, legs broken and bloodied. By the time she pushed her way through the revolving door she was already thinking of the contract she had to draw up for Armitage; she knew he would poke through its cavities with a scalpel.

Then again, if she took the Night Skies project he would be someone else’s problem ... Still, she had her reservations - she feared her emotional investment was too strong for thorough objectivity, that it would glue her to her chair for later and later nights. At this stage in her life, with Tomas ... actually she was glad she’d put back the meeting till Wednesday.

He had dinner waiting when she got home at half eight. A roast lamb at that. She was doubly surprised; he’d been keeping the shop open late a lot recently, just in case.
'Well?’ he asked from the oven, as she was arranging Tomas in his chair. His Simpsons t-shirt was filthy, his wild blond hair - a yelp to his father’s shriek- unkempt as ... Was that actually a leaf in it? Mrs Cahill always let him run around in the yard too much, she thought, but didn’t say anything - Caelan thought he should live outdoors, as he had as a child. But Alice knew it was a different world now. Heavier. The cloud of adulthood encroaching ever further back over the plains of childhood. Squashing the sunny parts right into the comer. Have to get a head start.

'Is it celebration or commiseration?’ Caelan continued. 'What do you mean?’

'The roast. Did we get it, or do we not care?’ he asked again.

He was perfect, this man. Sometimes. If it had gone wrong, this would have cancelled everything out.

'What are you talking about?’ she asked just in case. Also she didn’t want to overdo it, after the morning.

'It’s Monday, Alice. Did you think I’d forget?’ He smiled.

She loved when he feigned an interest in what they both knew bored his guts raw. Loved him. Her insides glopped; everything else faded away. She wasn’t going to tell him that Armitage might not still be her client by the end of the week. Instead she drew it out.
'Forget what?’ But a dimple creaked out; he came over and kissed her tingly, wisped his precise hands - their fingers sleekened by the turning of a million pages - past her cheeks.

'I’m not just a pretty face, baby.’

Tomas put a stop to the overflung charade.

'Are you that man’s lawyer, Mammy, or not?’ he spoke up through the cloud of fluffy half-grins.

Both of them were a little embarrassed at being caught in their self-satisfied spiral. They spun away from each other; Caelan chose the oven, but she had no such easy out. She went to her son, bent over him at the table, and kissed his forehead.

'I am, mo chroi. How did you know about that?’

'From Daddy.’

The roast was delicious, and they got to sleep late again. Two nights in a row.

'I’ll get him today, if you want,’ she said.

'For yesterday.’

Today called for a lot of clips. Stem, not sexy. The hair down was not for meetings with partners, and especially not Mr. Farrell. Her swirly black curls were becoming a less and less common weapon, in fact. Because she didn’t need them anymore, or had lost faith in their charms? Younger, buses had tilted towards her in the street. But now? She avoided the contemplation.

'No, it’s fine. That was a favour. It’s my day.’ He was on the bed with the paper. They’d woken together; she’d tried to drown his demons with a swift and sharp espresso, and so far the world made relative sense.
'Of course, but...'
l, I was out of order yesterday. Of course I can take more time now; Sean’s fine on his own in the shop, as you said. He’s getting really good at Sudoku.’

Tomas came in and lunged for the bed. His hair was all skewed left like storm-pummelled wheat; neither of them could control their rampant locks, at any hour of the day. Caelan’s newspaper sacrificed

itself most ungracefully through the air at his son’s clambered arrival.
¿Â¿ñI don’t want you to think I’m being selfish,’ she said, watching through the mirror as they stood up together by the bed.

'I was the one being selfish.’ Tomas was upside down already.'The bookshop’s crippled for the time being, nothing to be done; but you’re flying. It was hard at first, but I’m fine.’

It was breathless, wrestled dizzy, but he had more; he held his son tight into him to get a break.
Toma.s’s limbs flailed alone like spokes as he continued.

'On Sunday night Mike Flannery said something when we were out smoking. “At least your wife has the balls to stomp all over it, with the rest of us struggling to keep our heads above water.' Something like that. Couple of months back a remark like that might have ... I’m just really proud of you. I can’t believe I was ever ...'

He dropped Tomas, who galumphed back up onto the bed deliberately. Caelan took a preparatory breath and shook his head. He laughed, as Tomas struggled to his feet for another lurch.

'It’s so ... I don’t know ... from another century. I love you and I support you and I am extremely proud that you’re my wife.’

He looked right at her in the mirror when he said that bit; then he caught Tomas, flipped him onto the bed again, and dived down beside him.

'You’re the one who’ll be missing out,’ he wheezed from beneath a barrage of pillow.

It was clearly important for him to say, judging by the way he had hidden behind Tomas the whole time. But where was the black rising? This one eighty made her just as nervous. Had something else happened, apart from his chat with Mike and yesterday morning? Maybe that first edition Goldsmith deal of yesterday was a big one; she felt ashamed for having doubted it, even for a second. She had fixed the last clip in her hair, and now reached for the suit jacket that she hated, a little jealous of Caelan all dressed for work in his jeans and short-sleeved shirt.

'You know it’s just temporary, this dip,’ she said. 'All this will pass, and then the shop will be back to normal.’ She wasn’t sure he could even hear her from beneath the tumbled veil of bonding. She wondered in how many other bedrooms a similar paper lifebuoy was being proffered, but without the solid bank on which she stood. Try as she might to attribute her avoidance of the wreaking wave to some vague quality in her, foresight or talent, none of it mattered anything when not loped hand in hand with the shifty spectre of providence. She was okay because the firm was okay.
She continued anyway. 'If it means you have more free time, then great. Enjoy it. Of course it’s good for us tha
t the firm is doing so well through all this. Maybe we’ll still be able to get a bigger place in a couple of years.’
He was listening. He sat up, and even Tomas sensed it - he kept still with the pillow in his lap, his yelp enormous now.

'Alice. It’s okay to be gracious about it...’ Caelan began, and stopped for a deep breath. Who was being gracious, she wondered, him or her? She should have anticipated the perceived fragility and just kept her mouth shut.

' ... but let’s not dress it up as something you’re doing for us, yeah?’ 'What does that mean? Of course it’s good for us. We’re married.’ Another deep breath.

'Yes, we are. And yes, it is very good for us. But it’s not for us, Alice. It’s for you.’

She knew it was too good to be true. But lord it was taxing, having to tiptoe around him every morning. He stood up, came to her. Tomas sat still, mouth agape; maybe trying to swallow down the tension. The room had shrunk to paper thin.

'I’m sorry,’ Caelan said. Screw sorry, she thought. Why do we always hide behind sorry? It’s not a damn free pass.
'I didn’t mean it, Alice. I just wish there were more than a few minutes at the end of your day for ... ' He swallowed it down. Took a step back from her now, turned around. 'Jesus. Listen to me, I sound like a ... '

This too trailed off, like a dirty worm sliced in half with a razor. 'Like. A. What?’ she seethed.

He was angry at himself, for not having been able to keep it all capped in its little jar. She’d seen it before. He was going to get barbed now, in an attempt to defend himself from himself. She wanted to defuse it, but was annoyed that she had to. He was the one being an idiot.

'Don’t be stupid, Caelan. Just calm down, will you? The shop '11 be fine.’

Tomas, though he couldn’t have understood what they were talking about, was obviously breathing in the fumes nonetheless, his eyeballs tracing frantic back-and-forths. Despite every one of her muscles wrapping itself around the nearest available bone and twisting tightly, wringing, she managed, just about, to storm out.

She had lunch by herself; a sandwich in the park. Right down to Max, the doorman of the building, had congratulated her in the morning about Armitage. She had lots to tell Mr Farrell in their weekly meeting. It was a beautiful day, the salmon-and-cream-cheese was delicious. Everything was wrong.

Obviously it just indicated how affected he was by the shop - eleven years fastidious nurturing and complete independence even before they met. So why then had she been so bristly-full of taut quips all morning, actually drawing tears from that one mousy temp?

She had never told him how her mother died. Something else she preferred not to analyse. Caelan thought she’d died in a car accident. Her mother had raised four children, alone. Her father was never there. Always away at some conference or other, or working late. Her mother had devoted herself completely to her family. But she’d upgraded form saint to martyr, eventually; she had barely been able to cope when the last, Jimmy, finally went off to college, and then when their father died, the inevitable heart attack, she had become a solitary rowboat in the middle of an ocean. Alice had been the one who found her; Sunday afternoon, they were going to have lunch. She had actually tried to clean up some of the blood as she waited for the ambulance; worried that Jimmy might arrive, not wanting him to see.

But so what if her drive was reactionary? Everyone is a construct of their parents to some degree; reactions, neuroses, whatever. She was also part of a whole generation of women. Brave women. They didn’t all have suicidal mothers. Sure, in retrospect, her burying herself in a career, barely coming up for air in fifteen years, whatever it was for - maybe it had been just as unbalanced as her mother’s path. But this generation was necessary, for the world. For their children. Necessary to prove that they could be as single-minded as men, if they wanted to, and thrive. Necessary just to claim the right to, if only so that the new generations could renounce that right, and not have the relinquishing forced on them. That was what the fight had been about, and she was proud of her part in it. Staying home to raise your kids is a choice now; plenty of men are even doing it. The wall toppled.

Maybe it was just the times she lived, then, the doubt. Perhaps the drive wouldn’t have been so compelling if she had lived a hundred years down the line. Or even ten. Maybe she could have worked out a better balance. Maybe she would have been able to tell her husband about the tumour she carried in her heart that never grew, never shrank. Maybe.
She stood and walked back towards the office, focusing on the solid clop of her heels on the path.

On her path.
'Well, Alice, congratulations,’ Mr Farrell said as she stepped out of the lift that opened directly into his darkened office on the top floor. Mr Farrell was photophobic; he had a damaged oculomotor nerve or something. He was bent over some paper or other; feather in claw, inkpot at his elbow. Her eyes would soon adjust.

'So what’s the game plan?’ He didn’t look up, treating her instead to an extended view of the liver- spotted bald patch, the centrepiece of his sleet-grey hair. The rows and rows of old texts - these kinds of books were not doorways, she knew, thinking of the shop, but more like impenetrable walls - seemed to teeter out of the gloom towards her. The aerial dungeon, they called it. Still, she stubbornly refused to tum her gaze away from his shimmery scalp, and actually took a moment to celebrate the contrast in their attitudes; she was still grounded enough to believe in eye contact with any and all co-conversers, regardless of relative status. But then she kicked herself for actually feeling that a belief in fundamental human courtesy merited a backslap. He had her in knots already. It was a real talent.

'Well, Sir, the complaint is an old one. People have been saying for years that the libel laws in Ireland are archaic, that newspapers need protection from these enormous awards of damages for the sake of free speech, and ... '
He twirled his gnarled fingers in the air to hurry her along, still close enough to his sheet of spells as to inhale the ink off it. He hated being told things he already knew, but she needed a platform. He knew the background; Armitage and the newspaper group wanted to take action against the government for the court award of one million euro against them, for what was widely perceived as a relatively minor case of libel against a politician.

'Sir, we will be again claiming that the lack of legislation limiting these awards breaches the freedom of expression guaranteed by Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights ... '

He raised his crumbling face now, lips pursed displeasedly downwards like a falcon beak. The watery blue of his iris, those pinpoint pupils; the famed ghoulish pallor of his eyes nearly knocked her back a step, as always. This idea was not exactly ground-breaking either, and she rushed on.
'We’ll also be delving into the previous refusal of the High Court to allow jury guidance in these kinds of cases, and,’ she actually crossed her fingers behind her back, 'making heavy use of Justice Williams’ remark at the time of the award that the figure had “a nice ring to it. We hope this might help highlight the random and unrestricted ...'

'Yes, yes. I see.’

The last card, the ace, she hurried a touch; maybe she had over-practiced it.

'And the potential effects on future investment in digital search technologies in the country, in the face of the lack of protections considered basic in other European states.’

That could do it, she knew; he wasn’t too up on his digital stuff. She waited, knowing it could go either

'Well, it sounds like you have enough to be getting on with. I’ll see you next week.’

He bent his head back down to his desk, and that was her dismissal. The two minute meeting, the most important of her day, was a roaring success. No comment from Farrell was an A+. But she didn’t leave.

'Tomorrow, actually, Sir.’

The Night Skies meeting; she knew he wouldn’t broach it now, and she wanted to remind him while there was a chance he thought her competent, even though she still didn’t know if she wanted it. He raised his head again and extended an elastic stare into her soul.

'Yes. Tomorrow.’

And back to his paper. She turned and hit the button for the lift. She felt good; another step closer to where she wanted to be. Now if she could just figure out where that was.

The next morning she hit the alarm just before it went off. She’d been awake a while. She didn’t wake either Caelan or Tomas before leaving the house.

When she finally left the lengthy meeting at half past nine that night, she just felt flat. Not down. Not up. In the lift she waited for her mind to pull her one way or the other. Right up until they offered it she hadn’t known what she was going to say. She was tired now, hungry, and possibly dehydrated - her head was a little achy. She’d been tense and parched throughout the meeting, but it never occurred to her to ask for a glass of water. Now she thought that perhaps on some level she had felt it appropriate that her body was suffering. She got out of the lift even flatter than she got in. She felt like she’d just had her skeleton transplanted into a new body, and was so focused on trying to adjust to it that she couldn’t concentrate on anything else. When she arrived at reception she didn’t acknowledge Max’s greeting from behind the desk. The fresh air of the street would tell her all. She pushed into the revolving door, and her whole being coiled up. She went round in the door three times. Max must have thought she was sick. She didn’t care. She had her reasons; she just hoped they were good. This time then, into the cold evening air and the resurrection of security.

She awoke to the smell of coffee and the sound of tinkle clinks from downstairs. Caelan wasn’t next to her. She swung a panicked paw towards the clock. 7.20; the alarm hadn’t gone off. She’d overslept.

Overslept. She crept down the stairs, half expecting it to be a burglar. He hadn’t woken before her in ... well, ever, maybe.

Momin’ sweets. Sorry, did I wake you? I switched off the alarm, wanted to give you an extra few minutes. Go back up if you want.’

She hoped they hadn’t gotten into the safe.

Breakfast was quiet; him absorbed in the paper, Tomas curiously tranquil. She just sat, picking through the realisations of the night, the wrecking ball to the opaque walls of her decisions. She couldn’t tell Caelan; couldn’t tell anyone probably. They would think she was crazy for turning it down in such a climate. But she knew she was too involved, that it would overwhelm her. She was going to keep the Armitage case, and get another assistant. She was mature enough to acknowledge, too, that Tuesday’s contemplation of her mother- and the role that trauma played in her frequently overdriven myopia - had played a part. Balance. It’s never too late to learn it. They didn’t need the money; she didn’t need to prove anything more to herself career-wise, and God knew she didn’t need to prove anything more to anyone else. This breakfast table was the most important thing in her life.

Definitely up.

Less than twelve hours later it was down down down.

She’d left the office at six (six!), and passed by the organic supermarket on the way home. Caelan wasn’t even back yet. She let Mrs Cahill go, and started work on dinner. A salmon and shellfish pasta. Small lake of chardonnay in the sauce. Tomas worked on a Simpsons jigsaw on the kitchen floor as she cooked, and they had a lovely, uninhibited chat, just the two of them. Like they had in the car on her days, only longer.

And more life-cracking.

'I wonder where your Daddy is. Still at the bookshop, I suppose. The people need their books,’ she echoed her husband unconsciously. 'What would they do without your father?’

'Maybe he’s with his new friend,’ Tomas the butterfly flapped his wings over the jigsaw. 'Friend? What friend?’

She heard the words from outside the window, somewhere above the yard looking in, and the timbre of the snippet from there, the cliche of it, terrified her to her bones.

She laid the dinner out anyway, just refraining from lighting a candle in the middle of the table. When he arrived home she told him she was going to stay at a hotel, screaming down his protestations with such insane vehemence that he let her go, and didn’t even call her later. Not that she would have answered.

She didn’t go to work; she called Meredith and claimed flu. Another first. He started ringing at about nine. She stayed in the room all morning, and even ordered a bottle of wine with her lunch. This night’s sleep had not taken even a murky layer from the towering walls of utter bewilderment that surrounded her mind. It had been too shallow and interrupted.

She told herself again that she had turned down the Night Skies because of her newfound goal of balance, swatting back the tiptoed approach of the idea that her decision might have been influenced in even some tiny way by his precious ego; like the poor bastards who killed themselves after 9/11 , unable to cope with the arbitrariness of their survival. At one point she’d even started to wonder what she might have done to drive him to her - it was so from another century, all of it. All his veneering bullshit; the late nights, the overdone happy happy of the past week. She should have known just from the early waking. Weak-willed asshole.

Never mind, she decided. She could go back in on Monday and tell Mr Farrell she had made a mistake. They had tried hard enough to change her mind in the meeting. She could get it back.

As for her marriage, she was not so sure. She didn’t know if she could be sure about anything again; when fundamentals like down and up, path and sky show themselves so fickle, no more below you and above you as you always thought but shifty and shimmering through a light that only might illuminate, a dark that may or may not hide things, what is sure for sure?

She started thinking about answering at about two, and did so at five. She agreed to meet him in the Thai Orchid later on, though she suspected he might have been trying to disarm her with memories of the honeymoon on Koh Lanta.

'Was he lying? Our little boy who barely understands the concept?’ She poured herself a prodigious glass of wine, knowing it was a bad idea after the bottle that had gorged on her sorrows in the hotel, but beyond caring.

No, Alice, he wasn’t lying, he ... '

'So what the hell am I doing here? And why the hell did you bring him? Do you really think I’ll restrain my ... disgust... just because our son’s here?’

'No. Mrs Cahill had to go, her husband is sick. Alice ... '

Fuck you,’ she said, good and loud, just to show him that she would do it in front of Tomas and a full restaurant.
Fuck you too, Alice.’ It worked; the shock shut her up.

'You came here because you want to listen. Right? And even though I’m angry that I have to defend myself, I accept that we are both involved in this. Alice, the part of you that doesn’t believe is the real part; the rest is the epidemic doubt.’

'Don’t patronise me, Caelan. It can drive people to extreme acts. You should know.’

'Alice, I know I’ve been unreasonable lately, and Tomas was not lying, I do have a ... a friend. She’s a ... she is my friend Alice, and nothing more. I have never been unfaithful to you, and I never will. I love you. I never mentioned her because she seemed to look up to me and I liked having ... '

He kept on from under that outrageous sandyellow shriek. Didn’t he even check the mirror before leaving the house? She took another sip of wine, but a smaller one this time. Tomas’s mimicking yelp was trying to leap off his head as usual, they were like a matching broom set. She leaned over to pat it down, but he ducked out of her reach.


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