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Will’s phone vibrates under his shoulder. Pulling it out, he glances at the notification: Oriane has posted a video on his profile. Next to him, a young woman turns on her side. He hopes that she’ll wake while he’s in the shower and slip away quietly.
He glances at his watch and frowns; it’s not like Oriane to contact him first. It’s something he’s complained about but these complaints have limited effect. Though she is always prompt with her replies she once said that it is rude not to text back quickly, so it’s not out of any particular favouritism towards him.
‘Morning.’ The girl smiles at him; she has a modelish face but thin lips. He began noticing lips after Oriane told him that he had full ‘kissy lips’ and that she loved kissy lips. Her lips felt good against his the few times he kissed them. Was that why Oriane liked kissy lips, because she had them herself?
‘Some night, eh?’ Will replies. The girl leans over and kisses him. She has bad breath – even pretty girls get bad breath after sleeping drunk. They fool around; he feels her thin lips and he wonders how long it’ll be until she decides to go. He doesn’t want to hurt her feelings but Oriane is coming to Dublin and he wants to shower and clean the house so it’s like last night didn’t happen. Yet he’s polite; he slips his head down under the covers so she won’t think him rude.
They don’t go all the way. His mind is distracted. She showers and he pours her a glass of blueberrysmoothie. He thinks about making coffee but that would only delay her longer. They swap numbers before she leaves.
The house is silent and he feels he can, with a few simple steps, be himself again. He turns on his laptop, thinking about Oriane. She told him she’ll stay with Sebastian at John’s house, though she could change her mind as the evening progresses. She has before. Or he might stay on John’s couch beside her. Not that they’d have sex, because John is particular about his apartment and its furnishings. There’d be no ‘high-five’ in the morning at the sight of a used condom stuck to the sitting room floor.
The video on his wall loads. A girl appears out of a Parisian metro station. She’s coy, apologetic.
‘I’m so sorry, have you been waiting long? Je suis désolée…’
Scenes of Parisian girls, semi-clad, smoking, thin but eating red meat, are cut between images of Parisian boulevards at night. They look like Oriane – no make-up, skinny jeans, wavy hair and red lips – though these girls seem slightly dirty, their foreheads shiny. Oriane never looks dirty. Wherever she stays, she always brings her hairdryer.
It’s an odd video. He does not think the Parisian nightclub is any edgier than his usual Dublin haunts, just because the males have quiffs and wear skinny jeans while the girls are pale-skinned, smoking and complaining about loud Americans. The girls who are dancing look good, though with a sexiness that seems slightly off to him; Will imagines that hidden beneath their pseudo-distressed clothes there’s folds of unshaven hair.
He wonders why Oriane has posted the video. It only makes her seem more alien to him, a creature he’ll never understand, not to mention possess. Of course, she’d have a quote to describe this detachment, which would transform her annoying distance into something ultimately attractive. She might even cite Proust. Her best friend (‘the husband’, as she says) Sebastian read In Search of Lost Time and filled her head with rubbish. Will wonders what was wrong with two people simply falling in love and getting on with it, doing normal things like having kids and getting the nicest house within their reach.
The problem is that Sebastian thinks too well of Oriane; Will suspects it’s the reason why she was dissatisfied with him. After all, gay men either vilify or worship the women around them, and Will has witnessed Sebastian telling Oriane how special she is. This will be fatal in the long run. She could end up with nothing when Will and all of the other admirers have moved on.
But they haven’t moved on yet and this is a more worrying thought. Perhaps Oriane will have her admirers all the way to the end. And he’ll be one of them because it is near impossible to get over a girl who won’t love him in return.
Oriane has shared the video with Will, Sebastian and John. While she packs, she wonders why the majority of people in her life are men. Sebastian says it is because she is a gay man in a woman’s body. It is the perfect combination, he says, to think like a man and be a good-looking woman. It makes her overwhelmingly attractive to both sexes, but to men especially.
She smiles. Sebastian does go on sometimes. She glances at her watch and thinks about lunch. She’s surprised that none of the three has replied to her post, though it is likely that Will might be in bed and Sebastian is getting a train. Will John like the video? It isn’t the sort of nightclub that he’d like. After all, he didn’t like Friday nights in WAR.
Opening a vintage leather medicine bag, she places her toiletries inside, her Touche Éclat and her hairdryer. She opens her wardrobe, wondering what she might wear. Nearly all her clothes are charcoal, cream and navy, as she dislikes bright colours. There’s space in the wardrobe because she buys very little; however when she does buy, it tends to be expensive. Inspired by Daphne Guinness, she has never regretted this sort of selective spending because she’s slowly built up a collection of clothing that people admire.
She lifts out her eyeliner, a shimmering grey from Chanel that has lasted forever. Leaning close to the mirror, she pulls down her lower lid, darkening the inside of her lashes. She doesn’t like the shadows that are creeping into the corners of her eyes, though she’s unsure if it’s due to age or hay fever.
She decides it’s hay fever. Sebastian told her to get a nasal spray. She hasn’t yet, nor has she taken the packet of vitamins he bought for her. She knows she’s terrible at looking after herself. When she and Sebastian lived together, he was a wife of sorts, scolding her to go to bed and making her dinners. He’s warned her about her unhealthy habits, saying ‘if you die, I’ll kill you’. Then again, he looks well on his healthy lifestyle. They both look younger than their ages. But she didn’t enjoy her twenty-fifth birthday; she hates her birthdays, especially those that end in odd numbers, without quite knowing why. And she knows her twenty-seventh is fast approaching.
A notification appears on her phone. It’s a response from Will.
Of course he doesn’t get it. It is because he doesn’t understand the video that she can never fall in love with him. Any love Will claims to have for her will always feel artificial, being based on ignorance. Will only understands her nice side, the part that resembles normality. This other side that remains in Paris, rebellious and youthful, she does not feel ready to give up even if it leads to disaster.
Sebastian understands the whole of her, the two sides. But he is a writer; he sees the world as words, as ideas. Every event in their lives is linked to a line, a text, a piece of dialogue or a song lyric. He would be blind if it weren’t for the texts around him, as people and events are only explicable through their links to fiction.
Oriane smiles, remembering the time they were lost in East Berlin. She’d reached for her guidebook only for him to exclaim, ‘Throw away your Baedeker, Lucy!’ and their predicament was transformed into something to be relished when seen from the perspective of A Room with a View.
Oriane lifts a pair of AllSaints heels from the bottom of the wardrobe and places them into the leather bag. She’s worn them on previous nights in Dublin and no one seems to mind. And Vivian Westwood said to ‘choose well and buy less’, which validates her own theories on clothing. She looks forward to seeing John and his beautiful apartment. John is different to her in many respects; essentially they are friends because Sebastian is linked to the both of them. Yet John is funny and a good conversationalist. He is the perfect host, with good manners, a generous nature and a perpetually well-stocked fridge.
Oriane glances at her watch, realising she’ll have to catch the next bus if she’s to arrive in Dublin at the same time as Sebastian’s train reaches Heuston Station. She and Sebastian have told the others that they’ll arrive in Dublin later than they actually plan to. They want some time alone together to talk about things that are not secret, yet not appreciated by the others. Sebastian has described their friendship as perfect, reminding him of Montaigne’s essays; he’s assured Oriane that the only things he’s never told her are things he has forgotten because they’re unimportant.
This type of sentiment is typical of him. He lives hard and feels too much. His troubled yet optimistic nature is one of the reasons she loves him. Around him, life is heightened, caught between total discipline and possible chaos. He was probably right when he proclaimed that he’ll either live to thirty-six or one hundred. There’ll be no half measures.
Oriane’s phone beeps and, as if on cue, it’s a message from Sebastian. He’s on the train, making his way northward to Dublin.
Sebastian is happy because he’s managed to find four seats and a table together that are empty. The train has taken off so he knows that unless a number of people get on at Limerick Junction he’ll be left undisturbed for the trip. Yet it wouldn’t really matter if they did; for some reason people avoid sitting beside him on buses and trains. He theorises it’s because he looks moody. Once, on a night out, he was told by a drunken stranger that he looked angry when he was simply lost in his own thoughts.
Sebastian blames his lack of sociability around strangers on his writer’s temperament. For him, being in a club is like being a deep-sea diver who can swim with the aid of oxygen, but for whom the environment will always be alien. He knows he can traverse a pub or club with alcohol, but it is never an entirely comfortable experience.
Lifting Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth from his weekend case, he admires the leather bag. It was bought on a holiday to Amsterdam with an ex-boyfriend. He’s happy, knowing that each part of his appearance is perfect, feeling like Lily Bart on the train. He knows that he has little natural taste when it comes to clothing but he’s observed the style of his former boyfriends. He’s summed up Male Style as, ‘if you can hold a brandy glass without looking ridiculous, your outfit is most likely in good taste’. This has meant his clothing in recent times has favoured tweed jackets, traditional fabrics and well-made leather shoes. Cut comes before colour; inspired by Oriane, he’s systematically removing all bright clothes from his wardrobe.
Sebastian sneezes. His allergies have flared up in recent days. As he dabs his nose, a sentence comes into his head: ‘one of the true pleasures of being ill is exaggerating the symptoms’. It isn’t an idea for any particular story he wishes to write but he types it into his phone for future reference. It sounds like something that Oscar Wilde would’ve said, which he probably did say. Sebastian sighs: it is annoying that other writers have lived before him; it feels like every new idea he has is simply a version of something already written. He only has to search a phrase online to discover his genius is too late.
Glancing down, Sebastian straightens his T-shirt. It’s a small size but he knows he has a good body. He feels he doesn’t have to apologise for his confidence because seven years of consistent working out is a valid reason for pride. He and John agree on this; in fact, John wears his T-shirts tighter still. John has a brash confidence in himself, a definite certainty with his style that is very different to Sebastian’s own ideas, but Sebastian admires his friend’s certainty of character compared with his own shifting aesthetic.
Opening his laptop, he connects it to the internet; the light coming in the carriage windows makes it hard to see the screen. Plugging in his earphones, he starts the clip from Oriane. A girl is wearing red lipstick; he understands Oriane’s sudden obsession with MAC Ruby Woo. He’s reminded of their time in Berlin when they arrived in the city at nine a.m. on the morning of his twenty-fifth birthday. Their eyes were smeared with her Chanel eyeliner from the night before. He can’t remember exactly what they were wearing except that it was expensive and distressed looking. At the airport, people stared at them like they were exotic creatures, perhaps famous. The wonderful feeling that they were extraordinary (though fleeting) had the quality of a drug. Even though he’d worked part-time as a model through university, none of those contrived moments of exposure could compare with this accidental moment of possibility.
The video is to promote Social Club in Paris; Sebastian has been there with Oriane. They kissed the same guy that night. Callum was nineteen years old with full kissy lips. There was something invigorating about him, about Social Club, as if youth had its own particular aura and if one got close enough to it, a person could be a teen again, if only temporarily.
Sebastian turns up the volume on his laptop. He knows others in the carriage can hear the tinny beat from his headphones but the louder the music is, the more alive he feels. ‘My Name is Skrillex’ – the beat of the song raises his heartbeat. He loves music for this immediacy. For in that one moment he does not want to be anywhere else but on a train to Dublin, watching the video and sensing the possibility of the approaching night.
The video ends. He reads the comment that Will has posted and smiles, thinking Will would’ve been better off not to write anything. Sebastian doesn’t understand Oriane’s connection to Will beyond his kissy lips (and the beautiful dick that she’s told him about) but he theorises that because Oriane is ‘wired like a man’ she wants a trophy partner, like a modern-day Catherine the Great. However, he does not think Will is a good enough trophy. Will might be tall but he is badly proportioned with a long back and short legs.
Underneath Will’s message Sebastian writes ‘EPIC – THIS NEEDS KANYE CAPS’. Oriane will understand what he means, as will John. Part of the fun of friendship is speaking in a language of common cultural references, generally involving celebrities. One of his most enduring phrases is ‘I was channelling Anna’, after a heavy night that ended with him behaving badly. It was easier to joke that he had been possessed by the spirit of Anna Nicole Smith than explain away the embarrassment.
Sebastian glances at his watch, wondering when John will be finished work. He calls John’s number. It rings out and he leaves a message.
‘Hey John, just wondering will we come directly to the apartment or will we meet you in Busy Feet? Let me know.’
He wonders if John will hear the train. John might realise that he’ll be in Dublin earlier than expected, though it is too late to worry. Sebastian re-watches the video.
‘If you want to understand the real Paris watch “Inland Empire” by David Lynch in French.’
Sebastian is certain that John would hate all of David Lynch’s films. Then again, John has often surprised him. Sebastian never expected John to become one of his closest friends as they are radically different in their tastes. His first interest in John was entirely sexual as John has perfectly symmetrical features and is six foot two. They had sex while on coke and this encounter led to friendship. Many of his gay friendships began in this way because once the sexual tension was removed, a real connection could happen. There are the Grecian precedents, after all; the mythical legends from which these truths have emerged.
They’d never have worked in a relationship; they would’ve clashed because John is ordered and definite in his views while he is easily swayed by external influences. Sebastian wants to test limits, find alternative ways to live and discover new types of morality. Perhaps it is too much reading, but so many of the rules that he’s been reared with seem without foundation, especially those around sex. In this respect, he and John differ most of all; for example, he knows John would hate the idea of threesomes if they were together but as friends he can laugh at Sebastian’s recent accounts of his sexual adventures.
Sebastian smiles as he thinks of John’s watered plants, his fridge of cream cheese, wine and bacon, and the freshly cleaned carpets. John is Mrs Dalloway. He deserves his content life with his current boyfriend because his choices and behaviour in recent times have not attracted the attention of life’s possible calamities.
John arrives home. He’s back from Fallon and Byrne where he bought four chicken fillets wrapped in Parma ham along with gratin potatoes and chopped vegetables. He’ll get some wine from Tesco when the others arrive. He hopes Sebastian won’t arrive with a bottle of vodka or Morgan Spiced and start drinking early. Sebastian’s drinking is a delicate balance between good and awful (never in between). Though in recent times it seems the nights of ‘channelling Anna’ have grown less frequent. Sebastian is happier, it seems. The book deal has calmed him.
John is looking forward to seeing Oriane. He likes Will and thinks he’s good for Oriane, if a bit flaky. Will is good because she is better off not being with someone too like her. If a person ends up with someone too like themselves, they have no alternative viewpoint available when things go awry.
He flicks on the stainless steel kettle. He shouts to his flatmate, asking if she wants some tea, though he’s not sure if she’s home yet. He glances at his phone to see if his boyfriend has messaged and thinks that Michael is good for him for that reason. Though they had their moments in the previous two years, they’ve both mellowed, each softening the rough edges of the other. They are different enough to challenge each other.
John opens the Brown Thomas bag and lifts out a T-shirt. It’s blue with a large D&G logo woven into the left pocket. It’s extra-small; his mother thinks he’s too vain but all of his friends are vain. Old people are always complaining that his generation is shallow, but didn’t they create a country that they thought would be ideal for their children, a place where there were no big problems like war or disease, where the small problems had room to become big ones, like the straightness of one’s teeth or the newness of one’s jeans? So he’s not going to apologise for buying a one hundred and twenty euro T-shirt that is well made and enhances his body.
It’s sunny on the balcony, though the shadows of the table are stretching, hitting the dividing wall. John remembers he must water the plants. Sebastian laughed at his gentle tweaking of their pots when he first bought them, wanting them perfectly positioned. He said that John would ‘buy the flowers himself’, quoting some book he’d read.
John sniffs his shirt. There’s a faint smell of Tom Ford For Men but he’s been working all day and thinks about having a shower. His phone vibrates. Sebastian has messaged, asking him how his day is going. John can hear the train and wonders if Sebastian and Oriane are in the city already and if they planned it that way. He decides not to ask. Perhaps they want some time together.
Sitting at the breakfast bar, he opens his laptop. There are a number of messages; one is a video fromOriane. He presses play.
It goes on a bit. The music is annoying and disjointed. The vintage clothes, despite the girl’s red lips, do not look vintage, rather dirty and old. It reminds him of WAR, full of nineteen-year-olds trying desperately to be cool and failing because being cool requires effortlessness. Why not buy something decent, something from a catwalk, rather than some grubby fur that an old lady probably died in?
Yet the video reminds him of his semester in France five years earlier. He likes the night-time images and he notices the manager of Social Club is good-looking. The video makes him want to go to Paris again, though this is from a feeling of nostalgia rather than a desire to go to Social Club. He remembers the guys he fucked when he lived there and is happy he did fuck them but feels no need to return to that unsteady life again. He loves his boyfriend and sees a different future that makes the video seem pointless.
‘I’m in fucking Paris,’ a topless drunk girl declares in a toilet cubicle. The video is nearly over.
‘I guess you and I don’t have the same vices…’ In a hotel bedroom a red-lipped girl sits on a bed, topless, and John wonders why French girls can be topless and yet not look slutty, even with red lips. The image becomes blurred, her lips drawing closer. She says ‘Silencio’ and the video ends.
He frowns, wondering why a club would be called Silence. It was trying too hard. Yet it attracted Orianeand Sebastian as they still lived like semi-adults, in a constant state of suggestion. They’d say that it was interesting and that being interesting is all that matters.
In a way it is nice not to understand his friends fully. They are supposed to be different, how else would they have anything to discuss? Yet it is difficult to sustain these friends when everyone worth knowing is ambitious and has scattered themselves around the globe in their efforts to succeed. The sad truth of modern life is that they live in a world where neighbours are not friends and friends are not neighbours.
Silencio. Much of modern life is silence for him, for all of them. Even with a boyfriend and a host of people in his life, there are no accidental meetings in the village shop or going to the local bar and chatting to a relative or acquaintance. Friendships have to be valued to survive the simple issue of logistics. Granted, the internet makes it easier post comments on walls and send messages, to challenge the silence. But on the other hand it’s easier for him to see the photos of friends’ nights out in far-off places, making him all the more aware of things he’s missing.
John glances at his watch. He attaches his phone to the portable speakers, feeling the apartment is too quiet. He decides to listen to something that’ll lift his mood. He thinks of Sebastian and Oriane and frowns, wondering again if they’re already secretly in Dublin.
His phone rings.
‘Hi John.’ It’s Sebastian.
‘Hey.’ He can hear traffic and rattling china.
‘Listen, Oriane and I got in earlier than we thought. We’re having a coffee in Busy Feet. Are you able to call in now? Oriane’s giving Will a ring, too.’
‘Sure.’ Though he’s smiling, John tries to keep his voice nonchalant.
‘Great – how long do you think you’ll be? The sun is gorgeous here.’
John says he’ll be fifteen minutes and hangs up. He throws on his jacket and tosses the Brown Thomas bag onto the floor of his bedroom, thinking he can shower later. Closing the front door of his apartment, he hops down the steps onto Pearse Street and walks briskly alongside Trinity College.
Though it isn’t quite rush hour, the traffic is heavy. People are finishing early, making their way out of the city for the weekend. John checks his phone; the forecast for the weekend is sunny spells and showers. But that could mean anything in Ireland. He looks up at the sky and there are no clouds. He smiles; it could mean a weekend of pure sunshine.
This story is protected under international copyright laws and cannot be published in any format
without the approval of Jamie O'Connell
End of Guest Post