Editors’ Choice: James Claffey

Each week we will feature one of our favorite pieces from the Ayris 2013 edition. We are pleased to begin with this piece from James Claffey.


Prehistory

Raindrops marble the tin roof as we sneak into the darkened clubhouse. The line of hooks and eyes on the back of your shirt are too complicated for me to decode. I’m afraid your mother will find out about us and the things we do in the darkness. She scares me, your mother, with her religious fervor, and the cross she leaves the house with on weekend mornings. How she strides in circles under the statue of Parnell, paper rosettes pinned to her coat, the prayers tumbling from her lips, passers-by staring with dubious wonder.

You never speak of her crusade against the promiscuous, only ignoring the barbs of those who know, but are too embarrassed to tease you. You tell her you are going to the church’s youth group—a lie. Instead, we meet by the petrol station and follow the shadows to the tennis club’s back door. Light from outside paints your face a gently-washed pink, a faint halo around you. The curve of your back reminds me of a rowan tree bending in the wind.

The time you have all four wisdom teeth extracted at once. We sit on the couch, the two dogs sunk in pillows, your cheeks swollen, the H.B. Neapolitan’s ice cream’s striped sections melt from the fire’s heat. Now, everything is different, the shape of our lives a prolonged trajectory of disappointments. I heard you lost a baby at term, the careful months of preparation wasted. Once before, you might have been pregnant. It wouldn’t have been mine. Still, I drove you to the clinic, waited, held your hand, and when the false alarm sounded we parted without fuss.

When I go home tonight, I shall wear my hat—the one with the ear-flaps—and listen to some music that reminds me of you: Cream maybe, or Frampton Comes Alive. Despite the closeness of the street I will sing the words aloud, halfway between the kitchen and the back bedroom. The dog-walking neighbor with the three terriers might stare, the bells on their collars ringing with impatience. If there’s a decent moon she’ll make out my handsome face, the notching of my crooked nose, the way my feet slide on hardwood floor. More likely, I’ll go unnoticed, the same way I’ve done for most my life.

We meet in the margins of my book, between Tuesday night and Wednesday afternoon. I wonder if you shall use the pear-scented soap, the one I bought for you at L’Occitane en Provence, the one you lathered your pale skin with as we listened to the rain on the slated roof? Shall you fold back the covers and slide into the bed? Those luxuriant sheets, Egyptian cotton, made before the revolution in Tahrir Square, in the days of slave labor. Ghostly apparitions of our former selves appeared in the steamed mirror.

In Skerries I sit at the same table every day for two weeks and imagine you back in my life. The owner twirls the tips of his mustache between thumb and forefinger as his daughter smokes cigarettes and pours my café-au-lait. The setting sun shadows the territory between skin and lace. I spare you a thought between sips, and let my mind wander back to the snow-crusted fuchsia bushes where we parted before the door opened and your mother poked her head out to call your name.

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