EVERYBODY NEEDS GOOD NEIGHBORS
Saturday night I’m sitting in the Anchor Tavern with my friends Philippa Kennedy and Melanie Duffy sipping on my usual wimpy American lager. Yes I know- but it’s the only thing I can drink and keep up without heaving. They’ve talked me into a girls’ night out, as I’m still a bit shocked over my conversation that morning with Lorraine Franey. With Rob you never know, he has been engaged before, but this time I think he might actually do it. Although for some reason I don’t want to believe it’s true.
“My God, would you look at your man, isn’t he a fine thing?” Phil says. She’s a connoisseur of fine things, and gets as many admiring looks as she gives. She’s tall and dark and skinny. The bitch.
“He’s a right little ride, so he is,” Mel agrees. “Wouldn’t you just love to test drive him?” Cuts right to the chase, does Mel.
“Wouldn’t you just love to bite that gorgeous chin right off? How do you stand living so close to him, Sam? It must be like working in a chocolate shop.”
The object of all this feminine lust is my next-door neighbor, Danny Murphy, who is a stunner. Not just good looking, but absolutely drop dead gorgeous, with a kind of charisma that makes it nearly impossible not to look at him. And he’s almost young enough to be my son.
Danny’s all of twenty-four, a very nice lad, and he’s even more attractive because his character doesn’t seem to have been affected by his good looks. He’s what they call ‘Black Irish’, a legacy of the lads from the Spanish Armada that was wrecked off the coast here a few hundred years ago, and their attraction for the local Celtic lasses. Almost black curly hair, a jaw you could cut marble with, full lips, dimpled chin, and those dark Irish eyes that seem at once innocent and ancient. And he has a smile that could charm the knickers off the Venus de Milo- if she’s wearing any. He’s lanky rather than burly, but he’s tall, and somehow seems even taller than his actual six feet. In other words, Dan’s the business. He’s almost too beautiful, but something steps in at the last minute and saves him from this. Maybe he has kind of a big nose.
You would think this vision would be up on the Big Screen inciting lust in woman (and men) of all ages, or modeling underwear at the very least, but he’s a bin-man. The world is a strange and cruel place. I’m often embarrassed and almost ashamed by my occasional erotic fantasies about Danny; it feels pedophilic given our fifteen-year age difference and even slightly incestuous since I suspect he does see me in a rather maternal light. I have to put up a big front to my mates that I don’t notice how gorgeous he is. If I let on for even one second that I did they would make my life a misery and slag me at every opportunity.
I’m not completely certain that he isn’t gay, to tell the truth. There are ravishing young things literally throwing themselves in his way constantly, practically shouting, Please, use me and then toss me aside like an old candy wrapper, you are so astoundingly gorgeous that I will let you and not have a word of reproach afterwards, but I’ve lived next door to Dan for two years now and I could count on my two hands the times that I know he’s brought a woman home. Unfortunately the few I’ve seen him with rather define the term ‘slag’. He seems to have a taste for vapid bimbos, but I suppose most twenty-four-year-old boys do. Mostly I see him going around with his fellow bin men, the other lads who volunteer on the Lifeboat, or his group of old yobbo school mates who make my Saturday nights a living hell about once a month or so, drinking and shouting until five in the morning. Dan and I worked this out a long time ago; he keeps his entertaining to a minimum, and when he does have a party, I don’t complain no matter how many of them throw up in the hall and ring my bell by mistake.
He’s a bit of an enigma, all right- for all the conversations we’ve had about subjects ranging from the Vietnam War to why Mulder and Scully would never do it, I couldn’t begin to tell you who he might eventually end up with. I only hope it isn’t one of the slags.
The bus stops at Main Street, near Bridge Street and I do almost have to carry Danny off. Before I can get him out the door he stops and gives a very weary-looking Mick Reid a big sloppy kiss.
“You’re the best in the fuckin’ world, Mee-hall me old flower, d’ya know that? The best in the fuckin’ world. Thank you so much for bringin’ us home.” Danny says this with the air of someone giving his best friend’s eulogy. Mick is quite a bit less than impressed, having heard umpteen versions of this same bullshit all night.
As we walk down Bridge Street, Danny starts singing some old Oasis song at the top of his voice and I have an awful time getting him to quiet down.
“Danny, “ I plead with him, “please will you just shut up!”
“But Sam,” he stops and looks right into my eyes with that stupid seriousness of the extremely drunk. “I have to sing, I just have to. I have the music in me, and it wants to be free. Don’t you understand?”
“What you’re going to have is my foot in your backside if you don’t shut the fuck up!”
By this time, we’re walking right past the laundry where I work and I can just picture my boss having a look out the bedroom window and seeing me with this. I often think Helen and Martin probably wonder who it is they’ve employed, considering the strange friends of mine that pop in on a regular basis. Between that and the added worry that I really shouldn’t even be working there at all, I think that I either must be damn good at doing laundry, or I’m such a great source of comic relief that they can’t bring themselves to sack me.
I finally yank him a few more yards down the road, at least out of earshot of the laundry, but then he tries to swing around a lamp post a la Gene Kelly and falls right down. I get him back up on his feet and make sure nothing is broken or bleeding and drag him on toward Strand Street. We’re almost safely home when it seems to strike him that he’s drunk.
“Say, did I really drink this much?” he asks me.
“Apparently you did.”
“I can’t go to bed like this, I’m gee-eyed, the whole room’ll be spinnin’. Let’s go sit by the water for a while.”
“Danny, it’s half-two in the morning, I just want to go to sleep.” I can hear the whine in my voice, but he matches it.
“Please?” he says in that same little pleading voice that has made me give in to so many things over the past two years- please…sew this, cook this, let me watch this on telly. He knows it‘ll work. It’s already tried and tested. I wish with all my heart that I wasn’t this easy because I find it annoying not to mention inconvenient, but when he gives me that look I know it’s all over. Danny and my dog have the same effect on me in this respect. How come you never have a rolled up newspaper when you need one?
So I end up sitting on the beach freezing my arse off at 2:30 on a Sunday morning. What else is new? At least he seems to be sobering up a bit.
It’s a clear, dry, still night. I can see the lights of a big ship anchored out on the water, and hear the waves slapping the shore. There seems to be so many more stars here than there were in Vegas, that is when they’re not covered by clouds, as they are so much of the time. Tonight there’s a gazillion of them.
“Thanks for takin’ care of me tonight,” Danny says.
“No problem. Thanks for trying to make Robbie jealous, even if it was pretty silly.”
“You thought it was silly?” he muses. “I thought it was workin’, actually.”
He throws a few stones into the sea. They sound miles away when they hit the water. Despite the cold and the late hour, I don’t really mind this so much after all. These are the quiet little moments that I treasure about this place; these little pressed flowers of memories that I know will stay with me for years, after the important moments have started to fade. I know that in twenty years I won’t remember what I wore to my own graduation underneath my gown, but I will remember with perfect clarity what the lights on that ship looked like reflecting off the Irish Sea, and remember the ‘plop…fssss’ sound Danny’s stones made when they sank into it.
“Boy are you going to have a mother of a hangover tomorrow,” I say, trying to make conversation.
He ignores this, throws a few more stones, and then turns to me. “You’re my best mate, d’you know that?”
Oh no, now he’s giving me the Mick Reid treatment. I think as well as being a side effect of the beer, it’s also just an Irish man thing- they spend so much time not displaying any feelings when they’re sober that they sometimes get downright maudlin with a few pints in them.
“I know you think I’m sayin’ that because I’m drunk, but I’m not. You really are my best mate,” he insists.
“That’s nice, Dan, you’re my best mate too.”
Shite, now I just want to go home to my nice warm bed. It’s getting colder and I’m starting to feel uncomfortable in a couple of ways. I don’t want anyone to embarrass themselves here just because they had too much to drink. Especially me. I consider just jumping up and leaving him here on his own, then I decide that he’s still Danny even if he’s acting awfully weird- I couldn’t do that to him. I’d feel like shite if he ended up sleeping out here and catching pneumonia or something. He turns to look at me again- it’s as if he’s studying my face for a test. He’s more serious than is usual for Dan, even when he’s pissed. I think maybe it might be more than the beer this time after all.
“Don’t you get lonely, Samantha?”
“What?” I say, startled and puzzled by this question.
“Don’t you just want someone to…” He stops.
“Someone to what? Danny, what are you talking about?” My heart isn’t just doing the fluttery thing now; it’s actually pounding.
He looks at me for a few seconds longer, then changes the subject.
“You look cold,” he observes.
“Actually, I’m fucking freezing.”
He starts to briskly rub my back, up and down, then my arms, and for some reason I feel very uncomfortable with this. Then the rubbing slows down; it couldn’t be called brisk now by anyone’s definition. If it wasn’t Dan and it wasn’t me, you could almost call it a caress, if you were inclined to use words like ‘caress.’
Then all of a sudden he seems really close to me, I mean really close, and I can feel his hand just resting on my back. It’s very warm. He’s looking right into my eyes, and he can see straight into my mind to all those little fantasies I’ve kept so well hidden up to now, I just know it. And, oh my God, I think he’s going to kiss me- but I have to be wrong.
Then his lips are on mine, and I can feel his breath, and smell the Guinness and I think how that usually puts me right off- the taste and smell of beer on their breath, but somehow right now it’s kind of sexy. On Danny it tastes kind of - clean, somehow. My head is screaming- Stop it! He’s just drunk!- but my lips are kissing him back, it feels like forever. He’s slowly laying me back onto the beach, and I can’t even tell where his other hand is. I’m a bit more drunk than I thought I was, too. This is all those little fantasies come true, and it can’t be happening. I am fifteen years older than this boy. Please, please make him stop.
And then he does. He leaves his face about half an inch from mine for several seconds (I must look like someone has hit me with a hammer) and says, “Sorry, Sam. God am I pissed. Guess I’d better go to bed.”
Fantasy over, everybody back to your real lives now.
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