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It’s cold in her Praed Street doorway. Orla is aware of the sound of trains. She thinks of suicide, wonders if she wants to commit it; often feels she can’t take another single day like this. But no, she’s quite definite. She wants to carry on. There’s the hope of finding love again – one fine day.
The first time she found it was in Dublin. She’d been crossing the Ha’penny Bridge when half-way over she’d stopped stock still and looked down. The Liffey was a mass of little waves as a boat had recently passed along. It was a happy day for Orla as she’d just been accepted for college. There was a man stopped there too, exactly opposite. Dan. They turned at the same minute and faced one another. And because it was a happy day for both of them they started talking in an animated way.
The choppy river mirrored their joyful feeling. It was all swirl and exuberance, just the same. Orla lived very quietly at home with her parents who were getting on and hardly ever set foot out. She never had friends round. In fact, because of the restrictions, she hardly had any friends. She’d fitted in for all of her eighteen years without particularly questioning the life they led, yet, she was thoroughly aware that moment on the bridge when she met the eyes of Dan, that her whole being was in revolt against the parents and their status quo. Orla was certain Dan was a married man. This was a torment. Even so it was love at first sight.
Orla started seeing Dan in secret. Hotel afternoons. Dan the man, was well off. Orla, not so much poor as unpractised in the pleasure of spending money, luxuriated. All through the autumn they kept it up, passing from Temple Bar to the northern bank, the water beneath the bridge turbulent now, from natural causes. As their emotions. But Orla had a contrary streak. All the while she thought he was a married man she felt a thrill but when it turned out he was free and she could have him she felt a lessening of the passion. It was as though she was being threatened by eternity. Fighting back, she opened the floodgates to imperfection: Small things jarred. The colour of his socks and the fact he kept them on in bed, the sharp edge of his wobbly tooth with the filling when it caught against her tongue; the drifting smell from his armpits. The unquestioning certainty of his smile. These little niggles gradually formed themselves into one large mountain of discontent. By Christmas she couldn’t see him anymore, though there wasn’t anyone else.
There was an impassioned denouement. Dan came round on Christmas Day and pleaded with Orla to marry him. Her parents were delighted she’d found herself such a decent, slightly older man and sided with Dan against her. All she could think of was running away.
She threw up everything and came to London, found a job in a cleaner’s which she lost because she gave the wrong suit out for a wedding — the thought of weddings still being a sensitive issue. Unable to raise the money for a deposit on a flat she fell quickly into rough-sleeping and at present is living in a doorway in Praed Street Paddington, near the Station.
She’s glad it’s all over with Dan and breathes more easily. After a while though she feels a certain hollowness, the easy-breathing becomes a bit of a bore and she starts longing for the impossible; the challenge of doing battle with eternity one more time. Another way of putting it is to say she’s on the lookout once again. After the demise of Dan she’s come to see that at a time of desire you create a world of perfection, for love is blind.
It’s only when things cool off you allow yourself to see more clearly. The fall into love and then the fall out of it. Both horrendous and delicious in their way. Orla thinks she sees the pull of self-destruction in all of this; wonders if this is a step and repeat pattern she’ll be subject to all her living days.
Jay has fiction in forthcoming and recent issues of 3 AM Magazine, Wigleaf, SmokeLong Quarterly, Spork, Literary Orphans, Night Train, Apeiron Review, The Galway Review, Citron Review, Corium, Crannóg Magazine, The Legendary, Casket of Fictional Delights, Anomalous Press, Berfrois, Blue Lake Review , Eunoia Review, Crack the Spine, the Newer York and Vine Leaves Press. She is the author of two short story collections – God of the Pigeons (Salt, 2010) and Astral Bodies (Salt, 2007) and has been nominated for the Frank O’Connor Award and Edge Hill Prize. Her story ‘As Birds Fly’ won the Salt Short Story Prize and is included in the ‘Salt Anthology of New Writing, 2013’. Jay has an Award from Arts Council England and is Writer in Residence at Women in Publishing.