Friday, February 16, 2007

Chapter 6

By the time I reached the waterside the analgesic effect of the drink had begun to recede. The fog horn of tanker across the Mersey at Tranmere oil jetty echoed and bounced across the glassy surface of the still river making a sound lonelier than I thought was possible. I remembered a Hank Williams' song one of my uncles in Belfast had made his party piece when I was a kid. That night I was too blue to fly but not quite so lonesome I could die. I still had the cat for company. Humming the tune softly to myself I approached the entrance to my block.

I was fumbling for the keys as black cab pulled up at the kerb. There was a dark haired woman in the rear seat and she leaned forward to pay the cabbie. I carried on fumbling with the key in the lock. The cab door slammed just as I had managed to open the lobby door and its passenger joined me at the threshold. It was Sarah but that didn't register with me for a moment. As I focussed on her presence I felt less drunk than tired. She spoke first.
'Hello, U'.

The cab did a three point turn and sped off in the direction it had come. I heard the sound of the diesel motor fade in the distance. The tanker across the river blew its foghorn again twice. The sound now seemed somehow impatient. I remained silent, one foot on the porch, one inside the threshold.
'Timmy gave me your address. I didn't think you should be alone tonight.'
'For a wee man he has a big mouth, that lad. I hope it doesn't get someone into trouble.' The words came out in a slurred half mumble.

'I can go if you want. Just let me call a taxi.' I looked at her for a moment, like a poker player trying to read her face for a tell. I drunk-stumbled over a reply.

'No, no. It's okay, I'm just surprised that's all. Come in and have a cuppa. The place is a bit of a kip though.'

She smiled and appeared to relax. I led her though into the hallway and turned on the light. Under the fluorescent she looked older than she had in the dim lights of the Aquaba. I could see the odd grey hair amongst the black. She was closer to my own age than I had first thought. I beckoned her towards my door, unlocked it and pushed it open. I was immediately conscious of the smell of soiled cat litter. Collins had been busy while I was out. If I could smell it, I knew it was ten times more noticeable to her.

'Sorry about the reek. The cat's been locked in all day.

'You have a cat? Where is he? What's he called? I love cats.' The questions came with the rapid fire enthusiasm of a child.

'Collins, cause he's such a big feller.' The joke, such as it was, didn't appear to register with her.

As if in answer to a cue Collins appeared like a silver grey shadow in the bedroom doorway. He arched his back and glared at me in the way only a cat can. She bent to stroke him but he darted around her and into the bathroom. I heard the thud of paws on plastic as he landed in the bath. It was followed immediately by a loud and indignant miaow.

'Excuse me, but he wants a drink. Go through and sit down.'

I directed her through to the living room and walked back into the bathroom where Collins sat like an Egyptian idol gazing intently at the cold tap. I bent over and turned it on to drip. He leaned forward and licked greedily. As he drank I did a quick tidy-up of the bathroom. It was so small it should have been difficult for it to get too untidy. Too many things out of place and you just couldn't get into it. I threw some bits and pieces into a cabinet, had a quick wipe around the sink removing old shaving stubble, and checked the pan for skid marks. There were none. I pissed, quickly splashed my face with cold water and returned to Sarah in the living room.

She'd cleared a space for herself on my old sofa and was looking about herself with open curiosity. I stood in the doorway watching her pick a visual path through my possessions. She finally turned to look at me.

'This is a nice place. I love your view.' She nodded her head towards the large french window that overlooked the riverside. From the opposite bank the lights of the Wirral peninsula shone and reflected on the surface of the water.

'Sure it's a bit of a mess' I looked around at the boxes and packing cases that littered the room. The remains of last night's takeaway pizza still lay on the carpet in front of the TV.

'You ought to see my place. I know what it's like when you've just moved in.'
'I've been here nearly a year.'

'In that case it's a pigsty and you should be ashamed of yourself.' She smiled and shook her head gently from side to side.

'Men. Typical.' she went on 'And you Irish men are the worst, you know. You're so used to having your mammies clear up after you, when it doesn't get done you'd never think to do it yourself.' I interrupted before the lecture went on.

'Would you like a cup of tea?' I half-turned indicating the kitchen.

'I would, yes.'

As I filled the kettle and set it on to boil, I called back to her through the open door..

'You seem to know a lot about Irish men'

'And whoi shouldn't oi?' Her voice took on a stage-Irish lilt. 'Aren't oi a choild of the Oirish diaspora, meself so? Weren't me dadda and mammy exiles from the green soil of auld Erin?' I rinsed out two cleanish mugs and warmed the teapot from the hot tap, emptied it and dropped in three teaspoons of tea from a tin caddy.

'My mother's from Mayo, my dad's from Donegal. It was a mixed marriage. I was brought up in the midlands. My given name is Sorcha Ní Dhonmhaill, believe it or not.'

Her voice came from much closer than before and I turned to see her framed in the kitchen doorway. She held the old pizza box in one hand.

'God, U, the kitchen's worse than the living room. Do you never wash up?'

'Once a week, whether it's needed or not. And anyway so, do you not know what my mate Bukowski says about people with tidy kitchens? It indicates a mind with nothing better to occupy it' A change of subject was needed.

'An bhuil tú Gaeilge agut?'

'Níl mé. Well a cúpla fócal as they say. My dad was a native speaker but he was a bit ashamed of the fact and never wanted us to learn it. Anyway, I don't know who your mate is, but remind me never to eat at his place if it's anything like this.'

'Just call by on a Saturday and you'd not recognise the place. Don't leave it too late though. Saturday's also my cooking at home day.'
'Is that an invitation?'
'It could be, so. Just sling that old box in the nearest clear space.' She moved some dishes to one side and put the box in the cleared space.

The kettle reached a boil and I poured the water onto the leaves in the pot. Filled a jug with milk from the fridge which I sniffed before pouring, put pot, jug and mugs onto a black Japanese lacquer tray that Linda had left behind, pulled a teaspoon from the cutlery drawer, turned to her and said

'Do you take sugar, sugar?'
'No thanks, I'm sweet enough.'

We both winced at the old joke. Before I could turn to pick up the tray she had taken the short step from doorway to kitchen unit, put her arms around my neck and kissed me full on the lips. I responded by leaning into her and wrapping my arms around her waist. Her tongue entered my mouth and as it met my own I could feel an erection forming. Sensing my condition she pushed her pelvis against me and I felt myself become firmer still. It was almost an alien sensation.

I moved my lips onto the whiteness of her neck and kissed it gently down towards her shoulder. She leaned her head to one side and her right hand moved with a slight pressure down the length of my spine. Her left hand pressed down on the back of my head making my lips press harder into her shoulder. The pressure increased as she pulled me closer to her. I gave her a nip at the point where neck joined shoulder and she mewled lightly like a kitten. She began a gentle cyclical grinding of her pelvic bone against my groin and I felt the uncomfortable constraint of my jockeys. I untangled myself from her grip, took both of her hands in mine and raised them to my lips.

'That was nice.' I looked into her eyes and smiled 'Now. Is it tea or sex you're wanting?'

'Sex first, then tea. And biscuits if you have any.'

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