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Authors: Martin Roper

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BOOK: Gone
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Medbh's baby is due in two weeks. Send her something nice. I don't think Brefini wanted this right now.

Keep biting the Apple.

Ursula

PS: You shouldn't keep buying the paper. Although you're right—it's worth five dollars to read me.

PPS: It's wicked to be alone in our bed although there is a masochistic pleasure in the wait for you. I lie on my hand and imagine it's yours. You've a wonderful hand. The pleasure it gives. But you know that. I can feed on the waiting. Let's work something out. We can, I'm sure. Daisies are my favourite flowers. It's the size of them. They understand each others tininess. Nothing, not even a daisy, is as beautiful as the love we once had. Kiss.

Leaving Bath Avenue

I go back to Dublin the day before the auction. I am even more determined to leave. Already I am feeling like a foreigner. My heart sinks when I arrive at the house. It does look beautiful. I have no inkling how to broach ending.

We are in the garden and planting sunflowers because Ruth likes them so much. Ursula is clearing the bindweed that is choking the roses. There is a thud and the sound of running. A dead cat lies on the grass. She doesn't hear it. I lift the animal and throw it back over the wall before she turns. We go to a film that evening. When we get back the children are in the front garden ripping up the flowers. I keep driving and we go to the Beggars Bush and sit in silence, drinking. It is a public admission of defeat. I am full of rage at the neighbours—not the ones who cause trouble, the ones who don't—the friendly neighbours who know what's happening and do nothing to help. I despise these people who call themselves friends. Grand morning. Sure you have it looking lovely. If there's anything I can do. They do worse than nothing. Their refusal to acknowledge our torment is the loudest comment of all that there is no community in this place that prides itself on its friendliness. The Good Old Dubs. That night Ursula asks me if I would mind if she dedicates
Womb
to her grand-aunt instead of to me as she had intended. Dedicate the poems to the old woman who might not live much longer. I think of the work I had put into the poems with her; the close reading verse by tedious verse, the arguing for hours over whether to use this word or that, whether or not this poem is strong enough to be included, the careful arranging of the order of the poems, and the endless encouragement to send them out. I do not care to tell her how much the dedication means to me. If she does not know, there is no point in telling her. What difference would it make? She might dedicate it to me and then the old bitch would kick the bucket. Or she will dedicate it to Edith anyway as she does in the end. What does it matter how I feel? What matters is how she feels—the old wrinkled lesbian matters more. What my father said to me the night before I married: Remember, blood is blood. I had misunderstood him.

Edith had never married. Men were like horses, Edith had said, beautiful but too much trouble to bother with. Ursula felt a kinship with this woman and admired the life she had led. She thought I was generous to tell her to go ahead and dedicate the book to Edith. Hurt pride appearing as an act of generosity. After
Womb
comes out, I feel a final release from her through the one thing that has kept us together for so long: poetry. A poem she did not show me before publication. A poem about Ruth's illness when she was given the wrong drugs and her body went rigid. Nothing could be done except to wait until the effect wore off. It was one of the last times that Ursula saw Ruth alive and she was horrified to see her in such a state. There it was: my sister's pain shaped in a few mediocre Anglo-Irish lines. The only difference between poets and prostitutes is that poets work for less money.

Despite all the disparities, all the flaws, we still liked each other and wanted to be together. Even after we agreed to end it all I still dreamed of living with her in an old house overlooking the sea. Nothing but the sound of birds landing and scurrying on the flat roof over our heads. After the sale of the house on Bath Avenue—even before it—we could move into An Tigh Bocht in Dalkey and renovate, and then we would never have to worry about money again. We were young and we could work it out.

And this is what we did, at least for a while. We worked day and night, finishing Bath Avenue and starting Dalkey. I remember painting the hall door of the house in Dalkey the same yolk yellow I had painted the hall door in Bath Avenue while Ursula was giving a radio interview. It was raining lightly and I was proud, listening to her defend her view from some obnoxious chat-show host who played the intellectual. The painted door would be a nice surprise for her. We would start a new garden here.
We.
I was carried away with myself and denying the truth. New York had taken hold of me. I wanted to go back, to go home, because for the first time in my life,
somewhere
felt like home. What I also denied was that I wanted to go alone.

The final frightening moment in Bath Avenue. The first day that the house is on view. The market is buoyant and we know we will be swamped with viewers. An hour before the viewing, a gang gathers at the corner. We sit in the kitchen on one side of the beautifully damp-proofed, beautifully papered, beautifully painted wall, and they sit on the other side, smoking cigarettes. They don't do anything. They don't have to do anything. No one will buy. Already cars are pulling up. It is no use calling the Gardaí. The sight of a squad car will only make matters worse. We hold each other. It is the first time in months we touch. The softness of her against me. That time on our honeymoon. The estate agent comes and we leave the house. The house doesn't sell at auction.

An Tigh Bocht

We have begun a life in Dalkey and now panic grips me. Bath Avenue is still not sold and I promised I would stay until the sale comes through. I am falling in love with this new place. We have slipped into working on the house and it's work we know well. We laugh about learning from old mistakes (meaning tiling and dry rot). We don't talk about ourselves, falling into bed each night too tired for sex to be a problem anymore.

The estate agent phones to say we have an offer on Bath Avenue, five thousand under our minimum and Ursula says take it.
Just tell her now. Just say it's over. This is it.
We go out to celebrate and I say nothing.

We are driving home from
A Dry White Season,
a film about a white man's attempt to end apartheid in South Africa. He succeeds a little but dies in the attempt. I start to cry behind the wheel of the car. Ursula asks me to pull over. I am embarrassed that she is seeing me crying, and I keep driving. Through my convulsions I tell her how unbearable life is, that Ruth is dead and dead goes on and on, that people kill each other for absurd reasons. I laugh at how hollow words sound. We are stopped at a traffic light on the Blackrock Road and I tell her what I have want to tell her for a long time, that it is over and we cannot go on, that whatever has happened is irreparable. I am stunned with my own words, now that the house on Bath Avenue is sold and we are moving into Dalkey; now that all the horror of what we have been through is finished. Yes, she says and with her yes we are buoyed with relief and begin to talk like old friends, talk as if we are a mature couple looking back on a younger, more naïve pair. We are talking about different people, old selves, dead love battered and choked with the pull of life. She tells me she wants to have a child, has wanted to for some time now, but could not bring herself to say it. It had come on her out of the blue and frightened her.

The unspoken drove us apart. From the moment we met we had both passionately agreed there would be no children. I sensed it before she did. It was in her poems. Female loss. Female strength. Female rage. Emptiness. Nesting. Writing perhaps is a way of asking the questions when the answers are already breathing. It's easy to see now the reason why we didn't discuss it. It was a problem that had no room for compromise. By her thirty-second birthday she was silently frantic.

Children. You never know what it's going to be like, they say. You have no idea how your life changes. Everything revolves around them. How tired I grow of all the talk. I have listened to people all my life tell me how lucky I am to have the freedom of not having them. What an endless burden it is having them always. They have no idea, these parents, the endless burden in not having children. I am sick of the used wrapping of people's lives strewn on the floor. Sometimes it's as if the only choice is whether or not to have children.

My mind was soaking up the things I would miss: the clematis had not flowered the first year I planted it. It had almost died that first winter but it hung weakly to the trellis, and I was certain it would bloom this year. The roses, too, were slow in catching, and had to be protected from Vomit and Willy who loved their soil. Love is buried in many ways.

We fight one night over who cooks dinner and she yells that it's her damn house and I look at her with a coldness, an aloofness that is new to me. I feel no compassion for her. I walk to my father's house and move in with him.

I pack what is clearly mine and stack the white boxes in a corner of the garage in Dalkey. My greatest concern is that the books will curdle in the dampness. We argue over who owns what. It is not a selfish battle. We fight with generosity, each insisting the other has more need or claim to the kettle, the print, the vacuum cleaner, the shared desk. Our generosity is in truth anything but. I use generosity to show her it is ending because of her selfish needs and partly to assuage my own guilt over the affairs that she has not discovered (I learned once one affair is started the language of deceit is the easiest language of all to speak). I want then to show myself to be her moral superior. When it ends, it is me who leaves the house. It is, after all, her home. It is hard for her middle-class ego to bear the idea of throwing the working-class sweetheart out onto the street. This is why it is me who speaks the words that bring our end, words spoken not out of courage, but desperation.

The division of friends. It hits me like a tree falling that the friends I have were made through Ursula. Some people make an effort to stay in touch with me but finally their allegiance asserts itself in an unringing telephone. Ursula wants to settle. Settle. A word carrying the weight of unborn children.

My father is reading something out of the paper about Northern Ireland, repeating what he always repeats.
Should get a chainsaw and divide North and South and let them float off into the Atlantic.
I stop listening to him and realise how much I am losing in Dublin: the late nights in bed together reading favourite worst passages from the books Ursula was reviewing, the walks on Dalkey hill, playing with the cats, pruning roses, sitting in a pub on a Saturday night, planning. All these things weaken my resolve and I telephone Ursula the day before I am due to leave for New York again. She agrees to meet me in Caviston's.

She laughs at the change in my ordering—I am always awkward in ordering, feeling I might be asked to leave before I even get to the table. But now I call the waitress over and ask for some water before I even order. The sophisticate. To my surprise the waitress brings the water. I question the waitress about the menu and I do it not to impress Ursula (although I would have if it made any difference) but because anger is the only thing that pushes me to assertion. We order wine but I can hardly drink it because of my nerves and I blurt out that we should try again, here or even in New York. Before she opens her mouth I know what she will say. I can see it in her eyes, see her reach for the words that will not hurt, and when she does say no, when she explains that whatever it was that bonded us is gone, and she feels nothing for me, not even anger, when she says these words I hardly hear her. I am riveted by her face. Her expression is one I have never known. She has a calmness and resoluteness that makes her a stranger. It is the face of a person in complete control. The pain I see in her eyes is not for the loss of what we once had but rather for the humiliating position I have put myself in, and the hopelessly awkward position I have put her in, sitting here in front of this well-chosen meal. She is far beyond me. The worst aspect of the evening is listening to her soften the blow and at the same time thread carefully so she will say nothing to offer any encouragement. Her tone is laden with the kindness offered a stranger who has tripped and fallen in the street.

I curse myself for not waiting until the end of the meal. Now, we have to go through the farce of eating as if nothing has happened. I consider leaving, but pride keeps me in my seat. I even order dessert and joke with the waitress. Ursula tells me stories about the newspaper, stories about petty journalists and pettier editors. She has discovered that Wheatley, whose work we both detest, had indeed slept her way into the job. There would have been a time when that outraged Ursula but I can tell from her voice that it shocks her no more. Why do people begin to become the people you want them to be when it's too late? She tells me too, in the only intimate moment she shares, that she still wants a child. She was shopping last week, she says, and she saw a beautiful child in a pram and she could understand how women are moved to steal babies. We finish our tea and step out into separate nights.

She offers me a lift back into town but I decline. She offers again and I say yes, still not wanting to appear hurt. As we drive in along the coast road I look across the strand at Sandymount, at a late-night rider cantering along the sand near the edge of the ebbing tide, and beyond the Strand there is Dollymount beach where my father took Ruth and me with soggy tomato sandwiches when we were children, all of it fading now under the darkening sky, and as the city grows closer I force myself not to look in the direction of Bath Avenue as we head for the North-side. She is making conversation and I try to enter into it but am tired. Words separate us now. Words weave in and out like cordons. It takes forever to say anything that matters. Words are big and clumsy with us; they spill out failures. The things that have shaped our lives. The white trousers she wore that evening. The slope of her breasts beneath the blouse as she talked about Winnicot. I am tired of Dublin, of trying to make sense of my life here, tired of Ruth's death, and as we cross the Liffey together for the last time it sinks into me that she is right: it is over. I am tired of her. I look at her hand on the steering wheel. If she were a colour she would be beige. I smile to myself at the cold boredom I feel towards her. For the first time in our life together, I let myself feel indignant in her presence and I think of a last parting shot. I think of all the times I did not retaliate in arguments and now I want her to remember the last words I will ever utter to her. I will cut her down just as I am getting out of the car and then close the door before she has a chance to answer. She pulls up outside my father's house and she turns off the engine. I look at her. Maybe she too has a parting shot. But it is not in me to do it. I can almost hear Ruth whisper: Not worth it. No bitterness. Go the other road.

BOOK: Gone
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