FICTION: There’s No One New Around You by Chris Connolly

This is the second time.

I light a cigarette after and she says, ‘that is so gross,’ and she’s completely right – it is so gross. I take two drags, already thinking too much about everything, and drop it in the wineglass on my bedside table, listening for that sizzle-sound it makes in the red dregs.

The first time was much the same as the second in terms of having drinks and getting drunk before awkwardly having that drunken kind of sex that’s barely even sex at all due to the drunkenness of the two of you.

The difference between this time and that time, the first time, is that I had to go to work, the next morning, and so that’s how things were left: just vague memories of drunken fumbling and not any lasting impression of any real pleasure or enjoyment for either of us. Which can’t be a good way to leave things after a first date.

It’s better to wake up together in these situations, when nobody has to be anywhere, when you’re both still a little bit drunk –just enough to be under-inhibited but not enough to be lumbered with the full and flaccid dis-coordination of total inebriation.

Not that I’m some kind of expert here, some kind of Tinder Lothario or serial dater.

The truth is I’ve been off the scene for a while now (for various reasons) and my friends – and others – have been telling me it’s time to get back on the horse, move forward, put certain things behind me, etcetera.

So this is the second morning-after, and there’s now that familiar ash-in-wine reek in the room which – she’s so right – is just gross. But instead of turning away from me to avoid the smoke she curls inwards.

Her right ear lays against my chest and my left hand rests near her hip, hers on my shoulder, and it feels strange to have hands there and my mind is suddenly altering tearing travelling frantically towards that place it sometimes goes.

We don’t dislike each other, obviously, given that this is the second time we’ve done this. But there’s not exactly a common ground kind of thing going on, any real overlapping of sensibilities; no hints at whether this, whatever it is, might be anything or nothing or something other than that.

Though I do like her in the sense that I don’t have anything against her so far and right now I feel basically comfortable. Which is what I’m assuming her to be basically feeling too, as we lie here entwined and silent.

She talked a lot, on both dates.

Conversation isn’t exactly my forte[1] so having someone else willing to do the bulk of the talking is better than the opposite, but on both dates I kept finding my mind drifting away from her monologues and then suddenly snapping back into them and wondering what I’d missed; and then wondering if that even mattered, before realising it probably didn’t.

As in, while she was talking about her dog,[2]while she’s talking about how the dog’s got some sort of genetic illness thing going on (No shit, I think, given the generations of genetic manipulation its undergone) I’m distracted. I’m thinking about Hitler… Which even I know is a strange thing to be thinking about on a date, but more particularly I’m thinking about the way there’s people out there whose minds your own could never come close to even partly understanding. And then I’m thinking this is probably true of most people, when you really examine it – not just Hitler and his ilk.

It’s probably even true of us, I’m thinking then, of me and her, of this very person I’m sitting beside, our legs occasionally grazing, and then I’m also considering broaching this topic – that isn’t it weird how impenetrably internal we all really are? And isn’t the sheer potential of distance between one person’s psychic reality and another’s just completely massive and amazing and terrifying all at once?

But you can’t really talk about Hitler on a first date, can you? Or psychic dissonance. It’s just not the done thing.

Maybe because[3] it might promote some form of subconscious link or attachment in your date’s mind between you and, for example, genocide. Or simple insanity.

And you don’t want to be the one to pop into her head the next time she happens to come across Schindler’s List, or The Killing Fields. Or Donnie Darko.

You want that to happen when she watches Love Actually, or Titanic or something.

Even though there’s no real reason you shouldn’t be talking about this stuff, just because you happen to be on a date[4]–but it’s one of those etiquette things: that you don’t get too serious or in-depth, despite the opposite of course being a better way for both of you to spend that time in the first place; meaning, wouldn’t it be better for everyone if we ditched the whole getting-to-know-each-other-incrementally template and instead simply shared our serious beliefs and ideals and moral centres (essentially just revealed our actual personalities,instead of trying to present ourselves as the people we think the other person would like us to be) so we could figure out all this shit out the first time around and not have to go on a gazillion dates before we realise we’re not, as it turns out, all that into each other?

Unless it’s really more about sex, which is fair enough; which is only natural, after all;[5]and which is probably, in truth, why I was there in the first place, on that first date. And maybe she was, too. But the point I’m making is that we still don’t know, either of us, even now – even as we lie here still sweating together, still a little out of breath, those two exhalations of smoke still expanding upwards into the oxygen of the room – what we’re actually in this for.

But I’m digressing. (My thoughts are feeling a little blaring malign rambling this morning, a little tangled – WHICH IS NOTHING NEW.)

[I’m doing, in fact, the very same thing I was doing internally on that first date while she was telling me about her debilitated dog and I was half-listening to that but then started thinking about whether or not Hitler only lost the ability to think rationally at the end of it all (i.e. late-bunker-stage-Adolf) or whether he’d lost it way before then, like back when he decided to invade Russia, or pre-emptively declare war on the Americans.[6] Which was an even further detour from my initial line of contemplation, I know, but my initial line of contemplation – the one that led me there – was, to be fair, pertinent to the general point I was thinking of trying to make at the time, on that first date, while she was talking about Roxy the poor suffering foetus-dog: that we’re all like icebergs, in terms of how much of us is visible or accessible to another human being. A thought I find troubling and repetitive. But you don’t want to be that guy who talks about psychological icebergs and WAR on a first date, do you?]

What I’m getting at is we didn’t or don’t seem to have that much in common. Shared ground, etcetera. And last night over drinks it was much the same – though I was able to focus a little more on what was being said, rather than thinking so much about what wasn’t.

Not that I wasn’t preoccupied.

Because the memory of the First Time being such a poor show due to our shared drunkenness[7]– and the fact that it hadn’t been something we could re-attempt properly the following morning – resulted in a persistent anxiety about the possibility of this one poor show not being only the result of drunkenness, but perhaps a result of some other things, too.

Like the
medication

And further cyclical apprehension ensued about the possibility of two poor performances in a row. Because I suspected (without being presumptuous about it) that sex would probably be transpiring, given that this was our second date and it had already transpired after the first.

The one after which I had to leave her there asleep in my bed.

I’d agreed to do some work for a friend of a friend, folding and filling envelopes with promotional material for a garden centre – exactly the kind of random job I’ve been doing the last while, since the Various Reasons occurred and continuing in my ‘real’ job became untenable. A fact that, lying here now in the newly-smoky room, listening to her breaths become a little slower, deeper, as if she’s falling asleep, her head listing slightly with each pulsation of my chest, I do NOT want to start thinking about… about my life’s direction, about its current and likely levels of success and/or happiness; about its past, or its simple continuance.

So…

While I was working that morning, the morning after the first date, wanting nothing more than to lie down or be euthanized,[8] it struck me that she could conceivably be the type of person who’d without hesitation – without for a minute thinking it might be a wrong or unethical or rude thing to do – have a look through my things before she left.

Out of pure nosiness, probably, but also partly to assess my personality in a more objective way than a person can just by sleeping with somebody; to judge me a little based on the combination of the style and volume and neatness of the contents of my wardrobe; or to do so by having a look in my bathroom cabinet – to determine my level of dedication to personal hygiene and grooming and/or ascertain whether I’m currently in possession of any prescriptions for ailments that might be contagious or communicable or simply of interest.

Which, to be fair, she would find – only not there.

She would find them, it struck me as I sealed yet another envelope, in the first place anyone so-inclined and so-situated would look: my bedside drawer.

And I was for a few moments paralysed by this realisation. I felt my face turn hot red and an immediate trickle of sweat released itself from my forehead and dripped splat onto the corner of an envelope in full-on slow-mo, and I froze for a second,my mind unable to process this new influx of raw data and send signals to my body at the same time – my server crashed, is what I’m saying, completely. My circuits were temporarily fried. But only temporarily, because I thought then, you know, it’s not exactly a secret or anything, is it?

Who gives a flying fuck, I actually whispered to myself.

It is what it is, is what I was thinking – is what I always try to think when I think about it. Only, if she were to see the pills all it would take is a quick google of the names, and then

Then…
Then then then then Then
THEN THEN THEN THEN THEN THEN THEN
then then then then then THEN then then then then then
then then then then then then then then then
then then then then then
Well…

YOU JUST DON’T KNOW WHAT SOMEONE MIGHT THINK

Which is the basic point: the not ever knowing what another human being thinks or will or might be thinking.

So all of these things – the depression, the bipolarity, [9] the medication, etc. –you don’t exactly want to leave them out on show. Which completely conflicts with my all-out-in-the-open-from-the-beginning theories about getting to know a person, I know – but you don’t want that movie to be One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, either.

But– and this is the point I reminded myself of as I shook away that initial sense of dread and resumed stuffing envelopes for Floral & Hardy’s Garden Emporium, wondering whether or not she was at that very minute judging me rummaging through my things –it’s something I’m okay with really, the whole thing.[10]

So I don’t know where the sudden and completely overwhelming FEAR came from. That she’d find out. Especially considering how little very-strong attraction there seemed to be between us on that first date. (The ensuing sex not withstanding, of course.)

But all of this – again I’ve gotten off track – is really just to say that, lying here now in our relatively satisfied (I hope[11]) post-coital repose is kind of jarring. Because like I said I don’t even know if we like each other… Though at the same time I’m enjoying the physical contact, I have to admit – and enjoying it probably as much post-coitally as when it was coitusin-processus, because it’s been a while now, a long while, since I’ve been this close to another human being in this particular way. Since someone has actually fallen asleep in my arms.

Which she has, by the way, just now.

And this is what I’m thinking in the smoky silence, with our limbs intermingled and our sweat still mingling: that while we can literally become one unified physical entity when we choose to, we may as well– internally –be existing in different fucking universes completely…

And then I’m thinking––––Jesus, what’s with all the thinking? It’s just sex.

 

It is what it is.

Isn’t it?

 

[12]

She said, by the way, now that I remember it, that she didn’t do any of the snooping I thought she might have. I didn’t bring it up. She managed to very deftly drop this reassurance into conversation last night, sometime around peak-drunkenness: that she hadn’t.

Which I’m thinking now means she probably did.

And which I’m also thinking is an interesting thing to think about, given she’s still here wrapped around me, limpet-like, my hand now resting half on her ass, our bodies almost accreted in the dim dawn light.

In the dawn dim light.

In the light dim dawn.

And my thinking is going a little too quick now, becoming more and more eroded odder denuded unordered––––––

what

they                                                                might

call                                   a                                       little

MANIC…

Seeking diversion from this, out of habit, with my one free hand I grab my phone and flick to Facebook and see that a girl I once had a thing with has posted, three minutes ago, an album of photos.

I scroll absently through until I reach one photo in particular, taken presumably by her current boyfriend, taken by a river by a mountain with an orbic, intrinsic, superincumbent sun setting behind it. You know the kind of photo I mean.
But her smile her face i her smile that smile is her eyes it’s a smile that

How are all these digital people so happy?

Even the sun, dying, looks fucking delighted.

Reminding me that in last night’s intoxication I forgot all about my pills, so I very gently, as she sleeps softly there now on my chest, breathing deeply, securely, barely the words ‘that’s so gross’ spoken about the smoke before she’s slid back into slumber, I reach into my drawer with the same spare hand and then terrified blackly for an instant for no apparent reason I find them and I swallow them; and that smell of ash-and-wine is still exactly there, the smoke still rising, that sizzle-sound just a few seconds old, almost more present than past.

Because the brain speaks in nanoseconds, so it does

All this thinking, all these thoughts.

It leaves the mind cratered

defaced

refracted

While there’s another human being here, her arms around me, head on chest absorbing subliminal beats; sleeping warmly, sleeping easy, dozing content…

 

            Dozing kind of perfectly, if you were going to be sentimental about it…

 

If you were going to be…

 

If you were…

 

IF YOU WERE GOING TO BE.[13]

 

[1] Interaction in general isn’t exactly my forte; I am no stranger to awkward silences.

[2] One of those teeny-tiny breeds that sometimes (I didn’t mention this) give me the shivers when I see them due to their root un-naturalness, and also because they tend to make me think of foetuses.

[3] Given the relative superficiality and blandness of most of these First Date situations – itself just an unfortunate by-product of everybody wanting to make a good First Impression.

[4] Provided there’s pursuant context, of course; provided you’re not just into Hitler or Pol Pot in some weird way.

[5] The desire for it (sex) being probably our most uniformly shared and congruent trait, but also somehow the one we have the most trouble being up-front about.

[6] And don’t get me wrong: I’m not some sort of Hitler nut; nor am I implying his actual world-view was ever rational – as in, what he actually thought about the world and how it worked, or how it should work (which was all of course completely fucked up and genuinely insane) – just that you don’t win wars by accident, without the use of some sort of solid rationale and logic, and he was winning it for a while there, and fairly comprehensively too… So when did he lose the ability for rational thinking completely, is what I mean, is what I was thinking.

[7] A drunkenness we nevertheless surpassed last night.

[8] She knows how to drink, so she does.

[9] Which always makes me think, when they say it, of a sad polar bear who can’t sit still.

[10] Or else, you know, being blunt, I probably wouldn’t be here anymore, would I?

[11] Last night was – I hope – an improvement on the first, and this morning an improvement on that.

[12] There’s a message that comes up on your screen, on Tinder, when you’ve swiped through all the people near you and there’s no one left to swipe: There’s no one new around you, it says. And it’s probably one of the most depressing messages they could put there, at that particular point in a person’s search for another person to date or love or fuck or whatever it is they’re looking for. THERE’S NO ONE NEW AROUND YOU… There’s no one for you, is what it sounds like.

[13]You I Everything might be okay for just a second.

glasses

Chris Connolly

chris bio

Chris Connolly‘s fiction and poetry has appeared in the Irish Times, the Irish Independent, Southword, the Galway Review and the Hennessy Book of Irish Fiction, among others, and has been broadcast on RTÉ Radio. His work has won numerous awards, including Best Emerging Fiction at the 2016 Hennessy Literary Awards, the RTÉ Francis McManus competition, the Easy Street Magazine ‘Great American Sentence Contest’ and, most recently, the Over the Edge: New Writer of the Year award. He was also highly commended in the Manchester Fiction Prize. His website is chrisconnollywriter.com.
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