March 1 to March 31
"Soul Mate" a Short Story by Viv McDade
Viv McDade was born in Ireland, grew up in Zimbabwe and lived in South Africa and The Netherlands before returning to Ireland. Thanks to the support of Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, she completed an M.Phil in Creative Writing at Trinity College in 2008. Her stories have been read on radio and published in literary journals and anthologies, including the 2011 Faber Book of New Irish Short Stories, edited by Joseph O'Connor. In 2012 she received the Hennessey XO Emerging Fiction award. She has taught fiction and short story courses at the Irish Writers Centre, and is a guest teacher at The Big Smoke Writing Factory. She lives in Dublin and is working on a collection of short stories.
My post on her wonderful short story, "A Gift For My Mother"
Had it not been for my new bedroom curtains, a lovely design of cornflowers
on cream cotton, none of this might have happened. Having gathered the ruflette and
spaced the hooks evenly, I stood on my dressing table stool to reach the rail and, quite
by chance, glanced across to the green. I watched a child sweep her butterfly net to
the ground and crouch beside it to examine what she’d caught. As I turned back to
the curtain rail, a movement in a window of the apartment on the edge of the green
caught my eye.
The movement had occurred in the bathroom. Although the build up of steam
behind frosted glass made it impossible to distinguish the figure clearly, I recognised
the movements of a body drying itself; first the head with short rapid movements,
then the slower movement of a blue towel moving across the blurred shape. I got
down from the stool and remained as still and attentive as a cat focussed on the scuttle
of a mouse.
The bathroom door opened and a naked man stepped into the bedroom, a
towel in his hand. He was of medium height and slightly stout, belly and backside soft
without being flabby. Right from the start I’ve liked the fact that his body isn’t
perfect. He half turned towards the window and tossed the towel onto the bed. The
hair on his chest and stomach was brown. A thin darker line ran from the navel down
to the pubic hair, the penis pale against its darkness.
He went to the cupboard and opened both doors at once. With his back
towards me and his arms stretched out he looked vulnerable. It made me think of a Soul Mate
crucifix and I had the immediate sense that he was a man who had suffered. A drawer
was opened and he took out a pair of white underpants. He pulled them on, bending
his knees a little, his thumbs moving around the inside of the waistband to get them
comfortable. The shirt he chose was long sleeved and looked as if it was made from
thick, white cotton; he buttoned it in front of what must have been a mirror on the
bedroom wall. He put on beige cotton trousers and tucked the shirt into them. I’ve
seen those trousers in shop windows, teamed with tee shirts and casual sweaters.
They’re called chinos and the men who wear them are the kind who take care of their
appearance. I liked the fact that he had gone for a white shirt rather than a tee shirt;
it’s the right choice for a man of his age. He’s about forty, much the same age as me.
He reached into the cupboard for a sweater and switched off the light as he left the
I sat for a couple of hours shaken by what had happened. The experience had a
kind of purity I could not put my finger on. It was as if I had seen someone properly
for the first time and a deep connection had formed between us. How could it be
otherwise when I had been so close to the way he prepared himself to go into the
world that night? Who else knew how he had showered, the way he put on his clothes,
what underpants he was wearing? He had revealed to me a very private part of
himself and it took away some of the feeling I’ve always had that people aren’t able to
connect with me.
It’s no easy task to make a friend, much less find a soul mate. In my
experience even the nicest people turn out to be strange. It’s the main reason I change
jobs a lot. The jobs always start well; I’m a hard worker, able to understand new tasks
quickly and easily and, at the beginning, people are friendly and helpful. They go out
of their way to explain company policies and give me tips for dealing with various
mangers. They share bits of office gossip and invite me to join them for lunch. I’ve
never been able to work out why things go wrong, but I always know the precise point
at which it starts happening. In fact it’s perfectly true to say that I can sense it will
happen before they know themselves; it’s a kind of sixth sense I have.
What happens is that people start going out of their way to avoid me. There
was one occasion when a woman who sat near me moved to a desk on the other side
of the office. She’d been behaving in an odd way for some time, avoiding eye contact
with me and sometimes looking flustered and red in the face when she had to speak to
me about work matters. It was hurtful because she was one of the people I’d
especially chosen to befriend. I had imagined that we could be friends in the way
many women seem to be: going shopping together, meeting for coffee, sharing
confidences. On my second day in the job I’d invited her to join me for lunch. She
was under the impression we were going to the staff coffee shop and became quite
awkward and reserved when she realised I’d arranged a taxi and booked a table at a
restaurant. She kept saying, ‘I feel uncomfortable about this; I thought you meant the
staff canteen.’ I think it’s very attractive when people are shy about someone making
a fuss of them. After that I started bringing in little gifts for her; at first a chocolate
bar, or the nougat I overheard her saying she liked, and then CDs and books.
After a couple of weeks, I picked up the familiar pattern of people avoiding
me and whispering to each other. They would simply disappear for lunch without a
word, or stop speaking when I was around. Whenever this happens I know that it will
be only a few days before I get an email or a telephone call from the manager asking
for a word with me.
I’m not saying I like these occasions but there is some comfort in knowing
exactly how the managers will behave. They generally stand up to offer me a chair
and their greetings are awkward. After a short pause they puff themselves up a little
and get straight to the point as if to remove any opportunity for dissent.
‘As you know…’ is the popular way to start. They go on to remind me that
either party is entitled to terminate the contract during the probation period. They feel
it would be in the best interests of both parties if I left. It’s always described as
thoughtful, but never necessary, for me to continue to the end of the day. I am
invariably paid for it in any event. They wish me well for the future. There has never
been any criticism of my work so it is hard to see how it could be in a company’s best
interests for me to leave. It is, however, in my best interests: I have no desire to work
in places where people whisper behind your back and avoid you.
At the time when I first connected with the man in the apartment I’d already
given up on permanent jobs and enrolled with an agency that places people on shortterm assignments. Although this meant I did not always have a job, it was a price I
was more than willing to pay in exchange for seldom being anywhere long enough to
become the victim of people’s personal fears and inadequacies. It also, as fate would
have it, gave me the opportunity to arrange my morning routine around my new
At six every morning he opened his bedroom curtains. The light in the room
was low and soft and he sat cross-legged on the bed. An orange shawl was wrapped
loosely around his shoulders and his open hands, one on top of the other, rested in his
lap. His head was slightly bowed, as if he were focussing on some point a short
distance in front of him. From time to time he stretched his neck lightly, or moved his
shoulders but most of the time he was very still.
I sat in the armchair I’d moved into my bedroom, and his stillness entered, and
comforted me. Sometimes, at the edge of my vision, I was aware of a car reversing
out of a driveway or the boy who delivers newspapers, but I had no desire to turn any
attention towards them. Nothing intruded on the space we shared each morning.
After twenty minutes he would raise his head and arch his back, curling his
arms so that his fists were against each side of his neck. He stretched each arm in turn
then smoothed his hands over his face. He would unwrap the shawl from his
shoulders and get up slowly, take off his sleeping shorts and go into the bathroom.
His body and activities were blurred while he was in the bathroom; it was his
private time and I would go into the kitchen and make myself a cup of coffee. By the
time I returned he had dried himself and was ready to get dressed. I would warm my
hands around the coffee mug and watch him select clothes from the cupboard and put
them on. It was like a poem, a beautiful refrain, this daily repetition of the simple
activity that had brought us together.
After two weeks of our mornings together, I wanted to know more about the
rest of his day. I waited until he reached the point of knotting his tie then hurried out
of my apartment and walked to the corner of the next street. In a few seconds the
heavy doors of his apartment block swung open and he stepped onto the pavement.
He was not as tall as I’d thought, perhaps because he leaned forward a little as he
He stopped beside an old Citroen with rust on its bonnet, unlocked the door
and got in. His head tilted slightly and he looked into the rear view mirror. The car
started on the second attempt and he pulled away from the pavement. He actually
glanced at me as he drove past, and then turned in the direction of the motorway into
The experience deepened our connection. He might have looked anywhere,
but he chose to look at me, the only person on the street. There was also the fact of his
car; although we are both professional people, neither of us has ever felt it necessary
to impress others with fancy cars. I knew that the right thing to do was to see him off
to work every morning.
Two days later he gave me a very small nod and drove past before I could
respond. The following morning I made sure I was better prepared. I wore my pretty
pink blouse and a pair of midnight blue slacks. As soon as he’d changed into second
gear, I gave him a bright smile and a discreet little wave with my fingers. He
frowned, nodded quickly and looked away. I liked that about him; shyness and
restraint are so much more attractive than the big show of friendliness most people put
on in new relationships.
I’d just got back to my apartment and was making another cup of coffee when
a woman from the agency rang. It had begun to annoy me that they never give the
slightest consideration to whether or not I might be busy. Would I be available to
work for a week at an accounting firm in the city? A member of staff had been rushed
to hospital and someone was needed urgently to help with the month end accounts.
Whatever the failings of individual staff members, the agency has definitely
grasped my preference for very short assignments. I have become the person they turn
to when companies need to be rescued. I find that I carry myself differently, am a
little aloof, mysterious even. This is partly because of the urgency of my roles but it is
also to make sure people sense that my private life is not something I intend to discuss
with them. My approach is to take the task in hand immediately and use the pressure
of work to protect myself from engaging with other staff. I have probably become less
tolerant of others, which is not a bad thing; having a life of one’s own frees one from
the need to make friends at work.Soul Mate Viv McDade
The assignment hours were very disruptive to our routine. I didn’t like the idea
of having to leave before he was dressed and ready to go to work; it would unsettle
the flow of our mornings. I had a chat with the manager and explained that personal
commitments made it difficult for me to be in by nine. I suggested starting at ten and
working through until six.
I saw immediately that she was the sort of person who gave no consideration
to small personal requests from staff. She reminded me that the work required the cooperation of other departments, said she felt it would slow things down if there was an
hour at each end of the day when not all staff were available to each other. She
explained that she already had someone who was pregnant coming in late, but this
was a short-term exception she had made for a permanent worker.
I was not prepared to take this lying down. I spoke up immediately and in a
clear and formal manner so that she would be left in no doubt that I understood her
veiled implications. ‘I have two serious concerns with what you have told me. Firstly,
you do not trust me to be alone in the office. Secondly, you are discriminating against
me because I am not pregnant.’
She looked at me in silence for a moment, her eyes slightly narrowed, almost
as if some sort of troubling realisation had just occurred to her. She spoke slowly,
with the feigned deliberation they use when you’ve seen through them and they’re
forced to resort to their authority, choosing their words as if the smallest mistake such
an important person might make could have enormous consequences. ‘That is not
what I was saying. I was not saying either of those things.’
I returned to the office and made a short announcement to the staff. I
explained that distrust and discrimination were rife and, in spite of the fact that I
would only be there for a week, it was not my intention to let things pass. I pointed
out that a labour lawyer would immediately identify the situation as one of blatant
discrimination. A few of them, the weak and fearful type, looked bewildered; the
others kept their heads down, pretending not to hear. At lunch time the manager called
me in again. She’d phoned the agency and told them my services were no longer
I gathered my belongings and left. A few blocks from the office I saw two of
the staff emerging from a coffee shop, chatting and laughing. One of them spotted me
and her face immediately became serious. Without looking at her companion she said
something. The companion looked at me, replied to her colleague and both turned
abruptly into the next shop. I hesitated, unsure whether or not to pursue them into the
shop and demand an explanation.
At precisely that moment I saw him walking down the pavement towards me.
He glanced at his watch, stepped around three women dawdling in front of him, and
hurried along the edge of the pavement. He did not see me until we were in front of
‘Thank God you’ve come.’
He stopped immediately, his eyes wide and his face tense.
I was crying and reaching out to him and his hands were in front of his chest,
palms towards me as if cautioning me against a public display of emotion. He stepped
backwards, lost his balance on the edge of the pavement and staggered onto the road.
The car hit him with a soft thud and he fell like a rag doll onto the tarmac.
I ran to him and knelt over him, cradling my arms around his head and
shoulders. People surrounded us and the driver, white faced and trembling, ran from
his car. ‘Is he okay? He fell off the pavement in front of me. There was nothing I
could do.’Soul Mate Viv McDade
A woman crouched beside me and put her hand on my shoulder. ‘For God’s
sake don’t move him. He may have hurt his spine. Hold his hand, but don’t move
‘He’s still breathing,’ said a man. ‘Keep calm; an ambulance is on its way.’
The ambulance arrived. Two men got out, placed a stretcher on the ground and
eased it under him. I stayed close, talking to him gently, telling him I was there. After
they’d loaded the stretcher one of the men looked at me kindly. ‘You can come with
us,’ he said and helped me into the back next to the stretcher. The doors swung closed
and the siren wailed as we raced to the hospital.
The stretcher was wheeled into Accident and Emergency with me by his side.
A nurse took my arm. ‘Are you all right?’
‘There’s tea in the waiting room. The doctor will be here in a minute.’ She
moved her head in the direction of the admissions desk. ‘If you feel able please go
over and give them his details.’
I was in the waiting room for over an hour before the doctor arrived, a taut
little man with a clipboard in his hand and a stethoscope round his neck. He pulled up
a chair and looked at me.
‘How badly is he hurt? Will he be all right?’
‘What is your relationship to the patient?’
‘I have to know if he’s all right.’
His eyes searched my face. ‘Perhaps you’ll give me the admission details,’ he
said, resting the clipboard on his lap and taking a pen from his breast pocket.
I pressed my hands into my lap to steady their shaking. ‘Does any of that
matter? Please just tell me if he’ll be all right?’Soul Mate Viv McDade
‘The patient says he does not know you. He may have suffered more
concussion than his injuries would suggest. You can help by answering my
I was frightened, then angered, by the way in which he simply looked at me
and waited, refusing all my pleas for information, his face expressionless. After a
while he suggested I should leave and there was something about the way he said it
that made me feel there might be some kind of trouble if I didn’t.
It was appalling to leave without any information, with the doctor’s cold eyes
escorting me to the exit. The only comfort was the knowledge that he was alive. If he
did not return to his apartment the next day I would visit him at the hospital. No one
could stop me from doing that.
I only visited once and it was not a success. An older man and woman sat in
chairs beside his bed. I was conscious of the importance of creating a good
impression as I walked towards them. He was propped up against pillows, the
fluorescent light above the bed darkening the shadows under his eyes. The moment
he saw me, he reached for the cord resting on his bed and pushed the button at the
end. A nurse came to the bedside while I was greeting his visitors and he spoke to her
in a low, urgent voice. I assumed he was asking her to bring a chair for me so it was a
surprise when she took hold of my arm and asked me to step into the office at the
entrance to the ward.
‘The patient does not wish to see you. I insist that you leave immediately and
do not return.’
It was hurtful but I left without making any kind of fuss. The combination of
his concussion and my anxiety may have made me a little insensitive in terms of the
timing of my visit. It was the first time he had been angry with me. I wanted him to
know I understood and forgave him, and the best way to do that seemed to be to keep
away from the hospital and wait for his return, to keep the home fires burning, so to
During the following two weeks I watched his window as usual but he did not
return. If he was recuperating elsewhere there was no telling how long he might be
away. My anxiety increased until sleep was impossible and I was too nervous and
distracted to take on any work.
I went to a new doctor, who was brisk but supportive in the few minutes we
had together. She was clearly shocked that I had been there when the accident
occurred; urged me to take it easy until he was out of hospital and we could get back
to our normal routine. She prescribed sleeping pills and a light tranquilliser, which I
take three times a day. ‘All you need is a little support to steady yourself until the
crisis is over.’ She stood up and touched my arm. ‘In the meantime, try to remember
that what you are experiencing is perfectly normal. Anyone in your situation would
feel exactly the same.’
End of Guest Post
This story is protected under international copyright laws and is the exclusive property of the author. It is posted here with her permission. It cannot be printed or posted online without her consent.
My great thanks to Viv Mcdade for honoring me by allowing me to publish this wonderful short story.