David watches the lights of Dún Laoghaire fade and feels a tug of guilt. He should have telephoned. He’ll telephone when he gets there-just to tell her he is all right.
No. That’s crap. He wouldn’t telephone. Not from London. A call could be traced. They’d track it down to where he called from. Anyway would someone who wanted to break away from everything – job, wife, and family – go by ferry? Too slow, too primitive. But it might be less traceable.
When he gets to London he’ll have to change his name. Would that be possible?
I look up from my laptop. It is getting dark in the room. I stare through the window along the driveway that leads from the hotel to the winding road below. It is dusk, and the street lights have come on. Outside nothing moves but for someone on a bicycle. I watch the rider and bicycle navigate the driveway and stop below me. The silhouette defines a tall woman, wearing casual clothes, her hair in a tight bun. She locks the bike to a railing. I recognise her as she passes below and enters the hotel with a purposeful stride. I watched her swimming in the sea yesterday as I sat in my car wondering if the weather would hold for a walk.
An insistent bleeping reminds me of the table I reserved in the hotel restaurant for eight. I turn the alarm clock off, name the file ‘Desire’, close it, turn off my lap-top, and stand up stiffly. I cross the room, switch on the light, open the wardrobe and take out a blue shirt and a pair of chinos. I take off the clothes I’ve been wearing all day and put on the fresh ones I’ve chosen. When I finish, I run a comb through my hair while staring at my reflection in the dresser mirror. I pick up my wallet and room keys and leave-making sure to lock the door after me.
As I walk to the restaurant I wonder what David will do next.
He might write in his notebook about how he is feeling.
No. That’s ridiculous.
He will write a letter to his wife explaining things – a letter he will never send. He’s travelling light. He doesn’t want to bring any unnecessary baggage with him. He can get work anywhere-a computer programmer with a good CV. But this isn’t where he’s at anymore. He’s finished with that. It’s just a means to pursue his dream. He’ll take part-time hours if he can.
I walk into the hotel restaurant. It’s packed. A waiter apologises and says my table will be ready in twenty minutes. He says that a lot of people came in at five from a coach but that they’ll finish soon. It looks to me like he overbooked the place. This irritates me but there is no other place to go to. The waiter directs me to the bar to wait. I enter a smallish room done up to look Georgian or Edwardian or something. I sit at the bar and order a scotch and water.
It’s late when David arrives at Euston station. He gets a taxi to a cheap hotel that he has booked. In his room he writes up a plan for the next day…
‘A scotch and water, please.’ My drink-a woman’s voice.
I glance toward it. It’s the woman on the bike. She looks less formidable up close. Her dark hair is loose over her shoulders. Her skin is tanned – an open necked shirt reveals enough to have me prolong my glance. She glances back and I nod.
‘Have you been sent here to wait as well?’ I ask.
‘Yes,’ she says and laughs, ‘I’ve been told a table will be ready in an hours time. I forgot to book.’ An Irish voice – I had expected Spanish or Italian. My drink is pushed toward me and I pay.
‘Are you here on holiday?’ I ask.
‘No. Well, sort of – a working holiday,’ she brushes a strand of hair from her face. ‘I’m teaching a workshop in creative writing.’
‘Here in the hotel.’
‘No. For a local writers’ group.’
‘Are you a writer?’
‘Yes,’ she says, ‘I still need to do a bit of teaching though. They’re not paying me much but they’re letting me have a room here for free. One of the men in the group owns the hotel.’
Her drink arrives.
‘Let me pay,’ I say.
‘No, thanks,’ she says, and smiles. She takes a wallet from her pocket, removes some change and puts it on the counter.
‘Do you enjoy teaching?’ I ask.
‘Yes, the participants are great. They’re really enthusiastic. I’m reminded why I started writing.’
‘That’s great. My name is Donal.’ I extend my hand.
‘Excuse me, Mr Byrne.’ It’s the waiter. My hand drops.
‘Your table is ready, sir.’
‘Thanks,’ I say and turn back to the woman. ‘Would you like to share my table?’
She hesitates a moment.
‘Are you sure?’ she says.
‘Yes – you’re welcome to join me.’
We get over the introductions during the first course – her name is Molly.
I order a bottle of wine. As we eat and drink, she speaks of some places she has visited in the area. A local woman told her of some forgotten walkways that aren’t on the maps. One, Molly tells me, is called the ‘Mass walk’ and leads from the village along the coast to the ruins of a church and a holy well. She is renting a bike from a shop in a town a few miles away. She prefers cycling to motoring, she says, as it lets her get to know the landscape better. I tell her I’m thinking of playing some golf tomorrow.
‘They have a superb course,’ I say. ‘You’re welcome to join me.’
‘No. Golf isn’t my thing. Tell me Donal, why are you staying here?’
‘I’m helping the local Chamber of Commerce set up a database of Hotels, Bed and Breakfasts and other sevices for tourists in the area. I’m making a web site for them as well. I enjoy the work alright, but it doesn’t really satisfy me. It brings in the money alright – it’s great for that. But money isn’t everything and … ‘
Molly looks down at her plate and purses her lips slightly.
‘I’m sorry, I’m boring you.’
‘No not at all,’ she says, looking up at me. ‘Keep going.’
‘I know you’ve spent the weekend teaching wannabe writers. Well – I’m trying to write a novel.’
‘Very good.’ she says. ‘Have you written any shorter stuff? Stories or poems.’
‘No,’ I say. ‘I decided I’d be better off going for the novel – there’s no market for short stuff.’
‘Yes, that’s true, but it’s good practice. You can do both…’
She gives me advice on how to find my feet as a writer. I don’t hear that much of it because I’m focusing on her face. Her eyes are grey blue, shining, dancing, bright, intelleigent. Her face is elfin, her lips full, there are freckles about her nose. I feel drawn to look down to that open shirt button but don’t.
‘Just write a bit everyday. You have to work at it. I don’t know whether you’ve heard of Francis Bacon?’
‘Francis Bacon – the painter.’
‘He said that inspiration comes from daily work. It’s a good bit of advice. Just a bit of work everyday.’
The waiter returns with the second course – hers first, then mine. There is silence as we begin to eat. I feel her watching me. Unused to such attention, I blush slightly but smile when she catches my eye.
‘There are classes you could go to.’ she says, ‘And writers groups you could join.’
I look back at my plate and continue eating. The trout is good but the vegetables are a bit soggy. Molly orders another bottle of wine. I feel her foot touch mine and pause. My knife falls onto my plate.
‘And don’t be too critical of your first efforts – you have to start somewhere.’
‘You’re a good teacher,’ I say.
‘Thanks,’ she says. ‘And I think you would be a good student.’
We both laugh. I’m not sure why. Molly reaches for the new bottle which has just arrived.
She enjoys talking, and I’m happy to listen. During the dessert she tells me about her writing workshops and her writer’s life: getting up at six, putting in five hours writing a day; being on and off the dole for twenty years; working at this and that to get by; not having children or a mortgage or insurance or a pension to worry about. She tells me of summers spent in Greece, Cuba, and Turkey where she wrote and lived cheaply. She mentions friends, and possibly lovers in each place. Some time later she tells me that she never married.
‘Don’t you ever wish you had?’ I ask.
‘I had the opportunity once but it wasn’t the right time. I wasn’t ready. I was too involved in writing. Anyway he wasn’t the right man,’ she glances at me and smiles.
‘I thought writers didn’t use cliches,’ I say and we laugh.
‘Here’s to us,’ she says, ‘and our future careers.’
‘I’ll drink to that,’ I say, as our glasses clink. We each take a sip from our glasses.
‘You know, I envy you,’ I tell her. ‘You have a really great life.’
She smiles, pauses, and fixes her gaze on mine. Something thrills inside me, and, feeling light-headed, I take a chance.
‘Listen,’ I say, ‘how about us taking this bottle and going somewhere a bit more…’
‘Excuse me, Mr Byrne.’
I turn. It’s the waiter.
‘There’s a telephone call for you sir.’
I glance back at Molly, and feel myself blush deeply. ‘Excuse me.’
I silently curse the waiter as I follow him out to the cold reception area. He places the telephone on the counter. I stare at it a moment. Then I pick up the receiver. I hear a sigh and feel my heart close.
‘Donal, it’s Mary.’ I say nothing.
‘Donal. The children are sick. I had to have the doctor over. It’s a virus.’
‘Are they alright?’
‘Are you listening?’ she says. ‘They’re sick. Vomiting. Will you come back tomorrow? I’m working on Monday – I have to put some notes together and I’ll need some help around the house… hello?’
‘Yes. I’m here.’
‘Can you come back tomorrow?’
‘What time will you be back at?’
‘I’ll set off at eleven. I’ll be back by three.’
‘I’ll see you then.’
‘Yes. See you.’
I hang up and stare at the receiver.
When I arrive back at the table I notice that the restaurant is almost empty. Molly doesn’t ask about the call, so I don’t mention it.
‘I enjoyed that meal,’ she says. ‘How was your trout?’
‘All right – good.’
‘So you’ll be heading back to Dublin on Sunday?’
I order another bottle of wine. When it arrives Molly says she won’t have any.
I drink a glass, pour another but she doesn’t join me. She says she needs a clear head for tomorrow. I bring the glass unsteadily to my mouth. It slips and wine splashes down my clothes and onto the floor. Molly gets up from the table.
‘I’ll get a cloth,’ she says.
She returns with the waiter who is armed with a couple of damp cloths. He gives one to me.
‘Sorry about that,’ I say lamely and realise my syllables are slipping. I take a cloth and wipe my shirt and trousers, but there is still a stain when I finish.
‘Don’t worry about it,’ Molly says. ‘Listen, I enjoyed having dinner with you but I really have to get some sleep for tomorrow.’
‘So good night.’
‘Yeah, good night.’
She turns and walks out the door. The waiter gives me a fresh glass and I fill it. When I finish the bottle I ask for the bill. The waiter leaves it on my table. I notice Molly hasn’t paid for anything. I call the waiter over and tell him that Molly doesn’t have to pay as she’s doing a writing workshop in the Hotel and that she knows the boss and that I’m a good friend of hers. He nods and leaves. A minute or two later Molly enters the room, walks over to the waiter, pays for her meal, and leaves without so much as acknowledging me. Then the waiter presents me with a second bill for half the amount of the first one. I pay, then walk shakily to the door. I go to the bar but it’s closed so I go for a walk along the empty ill-lit road that will take me home tomorrow morning. Suddenly I wish I was somewhere else. I don’t know where. Just somewhere else.
David watches the lights of Dún Laoghaire fade and feels a tug of guilt. He should have telephoned. But it’s too late now. Too late for talk or anything. He will change his name too-he could keep his real name as a pen name. But he will make a clean break. Leave everything and never return. He will just disappear.
I stop writing and look up at the window. All I can see is my own reflection.
I notice drops of rain appear on the glass and a soft pattering breaks the silence. I look back at my laptop and close the file called ‘Desire’. I drag it across the screen to the wastebasket icon which swells in response. I click the cursor on ‘Empty waste basket’ and it reverts back to its original size.