December 10, 2017

Fiction by Conor O'Sullivan: "The Window"

Conor O'Sullivan received a BA in History and Political Science from UCD and an MA in International Affairs from NYU. His short fiction has been published in the Lakeview Journal, the Bitchin' Kitsch and accepted to Dual Coast Magazine, an affiliate publication of Prolific Press. The Short Story, a UK independent publisher, will publish his work, 'Out to Wreck', as a chapbook in 2018. He lives in London where he works as a sports journalist.

The Window 

Tom Butler stood by the swinging door of a large refurbished pub, hearing voices escape from the lounge. It was a clear warm afternoon in south Dublin and Tom decided tonight would be a suitable time to end his life. April was dragging and he had no prospects for summer, except repeating his college exams. Two men were leaning on the window sill sipping their drinks and smoking. 
  ‘There hasn’t been a finer spell of weather in years,’ one of them said, holding a cigarette filter under his moustache. 
  ‘Do you have a spare smoke?’ Tom asked, not meeting their gaze. 
  ‘Lovely day for it,’ the man replied, holding out an open pack between his callused fingers. 
  ‘Thanks,’ Tom said, pulling out a Silk Cut and lifting it in salute. 
‘Do you need a lighter?’ 
  ‘I have one, thanks,’ he said, backing away from the two men before turning and descended a set of stairs beside the pub. 
  ‘Enjoy!’ they both shouted. 
   He walked through the car park past a vintage black convertible. The leather top was folded down, exposing auburn seats. A lawn embanking the Dodder lay beyond a gap in the wall. The grass was mown and smelt fresh, soft under his torn white runners. An oak tree stood on the slope’s crest, casting a shadow over the twigs and reeds.  
   A host of swallows followed the river downstream, tipping their wings against the breeze. They dipped and rose through the air, soaring across the fields. He stretched his legs underneath the branches and rested his head against the trunk. His throat had felt dry and raw since awaking in his cluttered apartment. Tom lit the cigarette that was creased in his palm, burning his thumb. Swirls of smoke escaped from the ash and disappeared into the leaves. He picked up a clump of grass and held the ends under his nose, brushing them in his fingertips. 
  Tom pictured the evening ahead with its soft, dwindling light. He was left idle waiting for his friend, ringing him a few times after midday.   
  ‘I have to finish some work but I’ll let you know if I’m around this evening,’ he said. 
  ‘Sure, just give me a call when you’re finished.’
   Tom wanted to tell him he was scared but the dial tone went flat before the words came. He leaned against the trunk and gazed at people sharing drinks on the pub’s patio, planning his final hours that consisted of a trip to the off-licence for beer and cigarettes. These fantasies had been tempered in previous months with peers distracting him at parties, blending into the hue of stiff drinks and hollow conversation. He spent those nights glancing across living rooms, fingers clutched around a can of beer, waiting for something to happen. Tom always ended up in a school friend’s living room smoking joints and listening to music. He smiled on cue and engaged in mindless banter until he couldn’t keep his eyes open, sleeping in a spare bedroom. They drank tea and finished the weed in the morning before he took the bus back to campus in Glasnevin with a hangover. 
   The tables were covered with glasses of lager and rosé resting on shredded placemats. Couples held hands at their sides, others allowed an outstretched arm to be placed around their shoulder. Despair crept over Tom’s skin. There was no use in fighting anymore, he was going to wait for the moon to shimmer on the water, soak his shoes and not look back. Tom remembered his Mum holding him in the pool on holidays, her grip damp and gentle.  
   ‘I’m here, Tommy. Now, swim over to the ledge if you can,’ she whispered into his ear. 
   Tom clambered to his feet and brushed the dust off his t-shirt. He walked back to the road and followed the footpath past redbrick Georgian houses. The late-afternoon haze made him drowsy, rays of sunlight clashed with the glinted metal of advancing cars. He reached Palmerston Park, a place he often wasted afternoons in a stupor. A short, old man walking his dog passed through the gate, his arms sunburnt. He tipped his hat to Tom, smiling and revealing a toothless grin. The path looped around the ranger’s office and he saw the broad lawn covered in sunshine. He was going to lie flat on his back and count the sailing clouds in the sky. 
   Over the railings, he heard the cheers of a merry group. They were strewn in a large circle, surrounded by beer cans and cigarette packets and sandwich wrappings.  Boys in stained tuxedo shirts and cravats slung around their collars conversed with girls in wrinkled gowns. Straps of lace dangled off their pale shoulders. The Trinity Ball was last night and people hadn’t stopped drinking, lost in the joyous blur of the weekend. They lit their cigarettes and shared embarrassing moments.  
  ‘I saw you with him in the front square,’ a tanned boy said. 
  ‘Stop, I’m mortified,’ the girl exclaimed. Tom walked on until the sound of their laughter diminished. He diverted towards the rose garden and a wooden bench held between iron armrests. Tom sat and pressed his bare arm onto the metal. There was only the sound of mothers pushing their babies in prams against the path. He rested there, watching sights from a sunlit bench that were still like photographs. A boy from the group approached the bench in an untucked white shirt over slacks. He was a former teammate of Tom’s from school, their eyes locked and he stopped to discuss the ball. 
 ‘I’ll sleep for a week after last night, a session for the ages,’ he said. 
 ‘I can imagine,’ Tom said. 
 ‘Are you okay, Butler?’ he asked, narrowing his eyes at him. 
 ‘Yes, of course,’ he replied, feigning a smile. 
  They conversed in aimless terms for a few minutes longer before fresh excuses were conjured. Tom wanted to confess and change the course of events. His mouth trembled, Tom bit his lower lip until the skin tore over his teeth. The cheerful boy strolled off beyond the iron gates, untangling his headphones at the gate. He eased his muscles into the wood and saw himself standing in the darkened river. 
  Tom sat alone in his dorm room every night and drank cans of Tuborg, wondering what his old friends were doing. There were parties in the common room and pints in the student bar before taking a bus into town. Some nights, he stood with his hand gripped on the doorknob swilling an entire can to work up the courage and join them.  
  ‘Just walk in and have a can,’ he said to himself. 
  He never left, retreating to his bed and smoking a cigarette out the window. He was liked in school, established within a group of popular boys who listened to cool music and attracted girls with little effort. There was a strong headwind coming off the bay that day they all skipped afternoon classes. One of the lads suggested going swimming in Killiney and Tom was scared to dive. 
  ‘You game, Butler?’ 
  ‘If everyone else is,’ he said. The girls watched from below, floating and giggling in the swell. His feet were gripped to the damp rock and their shouting echoed around the cliffs. 
  ‘Whenever you’re ready, we’re not going anywhere,’ his crush yelled, water spewing from her beautiful, cracked lips. 
   The evening closed in around him, soon the dim of streetlights was going to flicker over tired bodies heading home. Tom’s noticed the rosebushes, the pink and red buds rising in majesty. The stems bent and dipped among the leaves, like skilled dancers lost in each other’s arms. Nettle hairs protruded below the sanctity of folded petals. A light wind shook the roses as bees hovered for pollen, fluttering their wings. Tom’s lips curled and he smiled, feeling warm air pass over his freckled cheeks. The sky was a beautiful, clear blue and his eyes watered, thinking of all the skies still to come on dreary winter mornings and late-summer nights when his phone rang.   
  ‘Butler, are you still about?’ 
  ‘Yeah, I’m just in the park.’
  ‘Scoping out the talent, you pervert?’ 
  ‘Something like that,” he said.’
  ‘Stall it anyway,' he said. 'I’m free for the evening.’
  ‘See you soon.'
   He rose from the bench and chased a departing bus, hearing a tender melody fall from the garden hedges that whistled through the spring air. 
© Conor O'Sullivan

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