The text comes in from Sophie at 5.03pm – Getting ready for the Debs @ Anna’s, can’t believe you’re not coming! Miss yer face. xoxo
Amy already knows. She has Facebook open on her phone, scrolling through the photos and status updates. There’s Sophie deliberately looking ridiculous, hip jutting out and her lips in a pout, her hair still wrapped up in a towel on top of her head. There’s Ruth’s dress on a hanger, silvery and sleek, the one Amy told her she didn’t look fat in, to stop worrying about it. There are the boys posting updates about how drunk they’re going to get, except for Will who claims to be ALREADY HAMMERED!!! And there’s the link to Michael’s latest blog post, which she opens in a new window, and then sets the phone down on her bedside locker before it loads.
Downstairs, she pushes open the door of the sitting room. Her parents are watching some old fashioned murder mystery series, one of those things where everyone talks in posh English accents and there’s never any blood on the screen, even when they do show a dead body. Amy waits for a pause in the dialogue before speaking. “I’m putting the kettle on, do you guys want anything?”
“Can you make a pot of tea?” Mam asks.
“Yeah, cool.” She hovers in the doorway for a moment, watching the detective walk briskly while looking thoughtful.
“Here, sit down, sit down,” Dad says, dislodging a cushion to his right.
She declines, instead retreating to the kitchen to make the tea. She reaches for her phone while the kettle boils, and then remembers its weight and contents are safely upstairs.
When she brings in the tea, Mam turns to her. “What are you up to tonight?”
Does she remember the date? Amy shrugs. “Just stuff for college.” She’s all of three days into her course, but there are articles she could be reading, theories she could grapple with. Or she could slip on the black dress she thought she’d be wearing tonight and make an appearance at one of those seemingly endless society events to welcome freshers. She’d walk in the door and impress them all; the conversation would still and then embrace her. Maybe she’d have them laughing at her wit, or nodding at her insights. The possibilities stretch out and then dissolve. Amy hasn’t exchanged more than a sentence with anyone in college since she started, and she’s fairly sure few people are, in real life, striking enough to wow a roomful of strangers simply by wearing a little black dress.
This is what she does, she knows. Dreams up how things should be, carving out shapes for disappointment to seep into.
Upstairs, she picks up the phone. Her fingers tap at the screen and there it is, Michael’s blog. She stares at it and then opens up other apps, cycling through who’s tweeted what and what moments of the last five minutes have been deemed Instagram-worthy. The post is already making its presence felt, though. It’s been like this all summer, since some quasi-celebrity in RTÉ found the blog and gushed about it, repeating ‘inspirational’ so often it lost all meaning. Then one of the more earnestly Catholic columnists for the Irish Times criticised Michael for his flippancy – the post where he’d compiled all the jokes about losing a leg – and suddenly he was even more popular for the absence of saccharine. Now there’s some comedian sharing the link to the latest post, saying, Michael Carter’s latest on getting ready for the Debs after a year of chemo – food for thought but also hilaaaaarious! READ!
It wasn’t a year of chemo, just like it wasn’t a constant on-the-brink-of-death struggle, but Amy’s used to the version of events people believe. Brave Michael, lover of hurling, lover of life, flung into despair when the doctors told him he had bone cancer, thrust into even deeper torments when his leg had to be amputated, but now discovering that life was meant to be lived, that the day was designed to be seized, and that the internet was an ideal forum to share these revelations with the world.
Let me tell you, the latest post begins, it’s tricky getting into a tux with only one leg! I almost fell over trying it on! Most trousers are grand but I was worried the prosthetic might get caught and tear these and when you’re renting that’s the last thing you want to happen!
There’s a photo, and her breath catches. Michael has the bluest eyes she’s ever seen and even in photographs, even in their tiny versions on her cracked screen, they get to her. For a second it’s nine months ago and he’s telling her she’s beautiful.
She keeps scrolling. I don’t have a date for tonight – I’m just going with the lads and we’re going to have the best night ever! I know that might sound like I’m trying to talk myself out of feeling bad about not having a lady on my arm, but the truth is, these guys are the ones who’ve been there for me the whole time I’ve been sick. We’ve already started going our separate ways, so it feels right that we have this one last chance to hang out and have the craic! I hope those of you reading this have a bunch of friends that you know you can always count on – hang on to them. It’s people like that who make life worth living.
The hot tears aren’t a surprise. Neither is the shaking. She should have known better. Why is she still reading this? The world of her screen, unlike school, is something she can curate, but she still knows when Michael has updated his blog or shared a new set of photos or reblogged inspirational quotes on his Tumblr.
There are endless possibilities for how she could spend the night but they collapse into this screen. Photos pop up from the dinner, and she marvels at how grown-up everyone looks. There’s one of Sophie, Anna, Ruth and Cliona, every facial imperfection smoothed out, and for a moment Amy looks for herself there too. There are so many photos of the five of them, going back to when they were gawky first-years, before discovering hair dye and contact lenses. She used to imagine them at weddings of the future, taking turns with bridesmaids’ dresses.
Sophie’s the only one who still texts her. There’s another message at 10.11pm – Great night, wish you were here. xxxx
It’s not that she broke up with Michael. That’s why the rest of the school think she’s a bitch, but the girls might have stayed friends with her if she’d done all the things they did when there was a breakup, the dissecting and regretting and rebounding. It was the silence. It’s her own fault.
“Don’t stay up too late,” Mam calls from the other side of the door, somewhere close to midnight.
“Night, Mam,” she calls back. The photos are still popping up. There are the boys, making faces in their suits, losing jackets as the night progresses. There are the girls, their smiles broader and wilder after several drinks. There’s Cliona with her date. There’s Anna and Sophie mid-clink. There’s Ruth sitting on Michael’s lap.
It’s pathetic to be still awake and at home alone at this hour but she texts Sophie anyway. What’s going on with Ruth & Michael???
1.03am – Did u see pic? I KNOW!!! All over each other!!!
Amy’s still staring at the message when the phone rings.
“Amy, oh my God, I just sent that and thought – can you hear me?”
“Yeah.” There are noises in the background, voices, but Sophie’s voice is coming through.
“I wasn’t even thinking when I said that, are you okay?”
“About Ruth and Michael?”
“Yeah. Are you upset? I really don’t want you to be upset, I feel bad now …” Sophie’s about a drink and a half away from locking herself in the bathroom and crying, Amy estimates.
“It’s fine. He can be with whoever he wants.”
“I broke up with him,” Amy reminds her.
“I know, but, like, it’s Michael.”
Amy says nothing. There is nothing to say to this. There is nothing she can say that doesn’t make her the villain. Her fingers tighten around the phone, and when Sophie doesn’t fill the silence, she forces herself to speak. “Listen, go enjoy yourself. Have a great night.” She hangs up before Sophie can reply.
She used to imagine going to the Debs with him. Not just that, but other nights, other events. Maybe weddings, even, one day. Maybe. She used to imagine the romance, the magic. Rose petals on a hotel bed and his blue eyes fixed on hers as he slotted inside her, all so stupidly movie-like now she wants to slap her past self. She used to imagine he’d tell her she was beautiful, and that she’d know it was right. (Not being the stupid bitch who didn’t even want to fuck her boyfriend when he’d just got the worst news of his life. Who said yes, yes please, so she’d prove she wasn’t selfish, that she did love him.) (Not swallowing back tears when it hurt, the jabbing inside her, and all he was looking at was her goose-bumped breasts.)
This is what she does, the dreaming. She knows it needs to stop. This is the real world, and she’s nothing like a heroine, and fairytales weren’t ever real to begin with.
Ruth’s just posted a photo of herself and Michael, captioned LEGEND! <3
Amy has her number, still. Watch yourself, she could say. Or, don’t go home with him. But Ruth – Ruth will know the right things to do. She’ll know she’s in the presence of a hero. She’ll drop to her knees.
Claire Hennessy is a writer, editor and creative writing facilitator from Dublin. She has published several YA novels, and is currently working on a collection of short stories for adults, supported by an Arts Council bursary. She is the co-editor and co-founder of Banshee literary journal and tweets incessantly at @clairehennessy.