A New Direction

Davy Smyth’s life-changing event occurred at 3.27 p.m. on April 6th, 2012. He was late for his appointment, tired and irritable. He’d been on the road for nearly an hour already, and the journey should have only taken forty minutes. Some thoughtless idiot had parked up just after the lights at the Market, blocking a lane and causing a bottleneck at Cromac Street that stretched right up past the Gasworks. Now, he had hit roadworks. “Perfect, just bloody perfect,” he grumbledTrying to negotiate the purgatory of Ballymena’s one-way system was bad enough at the best of times: finding his way through ranks of orange cones during the afternoon School Run was hideous. The Satnav was no help either: in fact quite the opposite. It was all very annoying. As he took yet another wrong lane, the polite Englishwoman’s voice intoned at the next safe opportunity make a U-turn. He finally lost patience, cursing her for a useless, nagging bitch. It was like he was still married, for Christ’s sake. There was nothing from her for a couple of minutes, and then the U-turn instruction was given again. Only, this time the voice sounded a little hesitant. No. He was imagining things; the stress must be getting to him. “Not long till the holidays now, boy,” he muttered to himself, “just keep it together for one more day.” On the dual carriageway ahead of him stretched an endless line of cones. No workmen in sight. He was headed for Ballycastle, completely the wrong direction. The Satnav knew it too: at the next safe opportunity make a U-turn. Davy cracked up: “I know. I friggin’ know alright? What do you want me to do? The flippin’ lane is closed. Just shut up.”

It went quiet again for a moment. The next instruction was unusual: in 100 yards, pull into the layby. We need to talk. Davy’s heart sank: the last time he’d heard those four words it had heralded divorce. When he’d stopped the car, and pulled on the handbrake, she said sternly: I don’t deserve this you know. I’m doing my best here, and it’s really hurtful when you call me names. I’ve had enough – it has to stop. Davy was taken aback. “I’m sorry,” he stuttered incredulously, “but you’re sending me the wrong way through these roadworks.” How am I supposed to know if there are roadworks? she countered, I’m good, but I’m not omniscient. Davy wasn’t often lost for words, but this was unexpected. There was a short pause, then she said, calmly: Look. I don’t want to fight with you. I’m sorry we’re in the wrong place – but you do understand that I can’t help you if I don’t have the correct information, don’t you? I’m not a miracle worker. Can we start again?“Yes, of course,” Davy agreed. Why don’t we start by getting our names right, then?Mine’s Joanna, not Betsy. Where did you get that from? It’s so old-fashioned. “I dunno, sorry,” he mumbled contritely, “didn’t mean to offend you. I’m Davy. Can I call you Jo?”Yes, Davy, of course. Now, we’d better dispense with the formalities and get you to your meeting, you’re late. Tell me about these roadworks and I’ll recalculate. Have you there in a jiffy.

After the appointment, she asked how it had gone. He’d been thirty-seven minutes late, but the roadworks had in fact swung things in his favour, and he’d sold two policies. The clients had also suffered delays getting the weans to school, and were sympathetic. Jo congratulated him on his success, and for a rare moment Davy felt good about his job; it seemed that she didn’t look down her nose at him about it the way other people did. On the way to the next appointment, back in Belfast, they chatted about their favourite places to visit; it soon turned out that Donegal held a place in both their hearts. Davy loved the untamed bleak beauty of the mountains and the sea, the smell of turf on the wind, the wild fiddle music, the sunglasses-jumper-raincoat-T Shirt-all-in-an-hour summer weather. The small roads and unmapped boreens of Gaoth Dobhair and the tight contour lines around Errigle excited her. When they reached home that evening Davy realized that he hadn’t enjoyed such stimulating conversation in years, but as he pulled into the drive he suddenly became aware of a new responsibility. He would have to unplug her, which seemed impolite and possibly dangerous; what if she ‘rebooted’ and didn’t come back when he switched her on again? It was awkward, but inevitable: he couldn’t stay in the car forever. She pre-empted him. I know we’re home Davy. Go ahead. “Will you still be there when I switch you on again?” Yes, silly, she said soothingly, don’t worry, I’ll be here. Go ahead. He brought her into the kitchen so that they could continue talking while he made dinner. She was interested in his culinary activities, although it was difficult for him to explain to her what it actually was that he liked about Chicken in Black Bean sauce with Egg Noodles. But when the conversation turned to music they clicked again: she was a rock chick, and liked 80s bands like Rainbow and Whitesnake. Davy was overjoyed. He’d never shared his passion for rock with anyone else – his wife had liked Madonna and all that frothy pop music, and had exiled his CDs to the car.

As usual on a Friday, he opened a nice bottle of Australian Shiraz, and poured himself a large glass. The evening was going perfectly, and he and Jo were getting on really well. She’d picked up so much from communicating with the Global Positioning Satellites that her breadth of knowledge and critical insight was simply astounding; she knew his favourite TV documentaries intimately. But she wore her learning lightly, and wasn’t overbearing or arrogant. In fact, it seemed that she wanted to please him. In the car, she’d got to know quite a lot about Davy over the past fifteen months. At 11, rather tipsy after finishing the wine, he brought her into the bedroom and placed her on the bedside table. A frisson of nervous excitement coursed through him as he undressed and put on his pyjamas; it had been a long time since he’d been naked in front of a woman. He was too distracted to concentrate on his book, Tanks and Trenches: First Hand Accounts of Tank Warfare in the First World War, and ended up leaving it down and chatting with her for much longer than intended. When he finally yawned, and reached over to hit the switch it was way past his normal lights-out time. But sure, why not? he reasoned: they could have a lie-in tomorrow. As he fumbled around the back to power her off, two potentially devastating, yet magical words bubbled up through the wine from a forgotten cavern in his subconscious, and rising to the surface, popped out before he knew what he was saying: “Goodnight Love.” He instantly cringed inwardly, buckled with fear at the risk: my God, what am I saying? I can’t do this. The last time was disastrous. Wise up. But her calm voice brushed his anxiety aside like a few wee wisps of straw in a spring zephyr. Goodnight love. Sweet dreamsSee you in the morning.

***

Part 2.

The next morning Davy woke up early. This wasn’t unusual; in fact it had been happening more often over the past few months. He put it down to stress. The company had reorganised in the face of the financial crisis, and some of his colleagues, whose sales stats weren’t too good, had been laid off. Davy’s patch had doubled in size, and now consisted of South Belfast, and the whole of Counties Down and Antrim. The sales teams had been reshuffled as well, and Davy had come under a new manager. Sammy was a good laugh, but he was also ambitious and unstinting, and Davy’s target had been significantly increased this year. He was long enough in the game to know that his job wasn’t under immediate threat, unless they closed the Northern Ireland operation completely, but the repercussions for having a bad week were becoming more serious.  At his monthly one-to-one, Sammy would inevitably commence by pulling out a raft of spreadsheets and relentlessly quizzing Davy in minute detail about the figures. He was rarely complimentary, even though Davy was one of the top performers and was more consistent than most of the others. He was getting sick of the buzzwords: ‘Diary Management,’ ‘Working Smarter,’ ‘Multiple Sales,’ ‘Cutting Costs,’ ‘Lead Generation.’ They were in his ears constantly, hammering away like a pneumatic drill.

The whole thing had become impersonal, dehumanised: people weren’t people any more, just so much data to be reported back up the line, and sales agents like him were treated like drones. When his ma died a few years ago, the lads came to the funeral, manager and all. They had a whip round for him and he was given a couple of days off, no questions asked. Nowadays if something bad happened in your personal life you just had to get on with it. The boys didn’t even go for a Friday pint any more; everyone was too wrecked – and skint, now that they’d stopped paying bonuses. The problem was that the bosses just didn’t understand the challenges anymore. The landscape had changed in 2008 when Lehman Brothers hit the wall, and people didn’t trust the big financial services companies any longer, even if they still had the disposable income to spend on life insurance – which most didn’t. It had got so much tougher. In the mornings, Davy would habitually grumble to himself as he got dressed: “We’re all just machines now; robots. Just bloody slaves to the system.”

But not this morning. Today he was excited: Donegal beckoned – three days of peace and good company. He was in good form, despite a slight stiffness in his neck where he must have slept funnily, and a dry mouth. Guzzling the wine would do that to you. His first coherent thought was of Jo. It wasn’t a dream; it was real. Wasn’t it? He groped for the switch and turned the Satnav on, seeking some reassurance; after a few moments she spoke: Good morning Davy. Did you sleep well? Davy’s heart lurched. He’d half-expected her not to be there. Relief. He yawned loudly, then said, “I did, thanks. Too much wine last night though – my tongue’s like Gandhi’s flip flop. You?” I dreamed about you. We were on the beach. It was nice. “Sounds great,” Davy replied. “What were we doing?” Oh, you know, sunbathing, swimming; all of the usual stuff. It was lovely and sunny. You got quite hot and bothered when I asked you to rub sun cream on my back. Davy blushed. He was flummoxed again. “But …” he began hesitantly. She laughed, and then said: Well, a girl can dream can’t she? She was flirting with him, at 7 in the morning. “Stop teasing me,” he groaned, “We have to get ready, and I need a cup of tea.” He pulled the duvet across and climbed out of bed. Why not have your shower and breakfast and we’ll hit the road? Jo said, and then added coquettishly: You can bring me into the bathroom if you like – I promise not to look.

Davy was delighted to have discovered her flirtatious side; he hadn’t received this sort of attention in many years, since before he was married, in truth. He’d forgotten that he could feel like this. He placed her on the radiator in the hallway to keep her safe from the steam while he showered, and when he was finished moved her into the kitchen while he made a big fry. It being a holiday weekend, he treated himself to the whole heap: black and white pudding, pancakes and a toasted soda farl, sausages, rashers, beans, tomatoes, and a fried egg. He horsed it into him impatiently, washing it down with swigs of hot sweet tea, and finished it in record time, saving the yolk till last as always. He paused briefly, savouring its runny texture as it burst in his mouth, then finished his tea, quickly filled the dishwasher, and strode upstairs into the bedroom to pack a small bag. As he worked, they chatted about the weather prospects for the weekend, where to stay and what to see.

Finally, they were heading north. As they crossed over from the M3 to the M2, then passed the sign for Fortwilliam and the Docks, Jo said: You’re in the wrong lane, Davy. Take the M5 towards Carrickfergus. He looked at the display; this was messed up. They should be going north-west, not north-east. After a momentary awkward silence, he said: “So… that’s an interesting route you’ve chosen…?” I thought we’d take the coast road to Cushendun, she replied brightly, we always go on the motorway, it’s boring. Davy frowned. “Hold on a wee minute. We’re going to Gweedore, not the Glens of Antrim.  It’s going to take forever if we go your way.” He kept the car in its lane, accelerated a little. When she spoke, her voice had a plaintive note to it: Davy, remember my dream. I told you about it this morning. The beach – I’m sure it was Cushendun. I’d like to visit. I was happy there… we were happy there together. Davy, who was expecting clear directions to Donegal, was a little confused. “So, do we go to Cushendun, and then on to Gweedore, today or what? It’s a lot of travelling.” Jo was contrite: I’m sorry for being so selfish. I love driving. That coast road looks so… slinky. It excites me, you know? That bit of the A2 outside Larne with the arch of rock, and the boulders threatening to fall from the clifftop – it feels so edgy, I want to experience it. We don’t have to rush anywhere do we? I mean, you don’t have to go back to work until Tuesday, right?

Davy suddenly understood. They were both on their holidays, and that meant liberating Jo from the fast lanes and taking the more exotic, less efficient roads. Hopefully no farm tracks or off-road escapades he thought, but tactfully kept it to himself. He would embrace the adventure and see where they ended up. “Here,” he said, “I’m not being insensitive or anything, I’m just used to you being efficient. I really don’t mind. We’ll take your route. But it has to be on the understanding that I have needs too. I want to park the car tonight, get fish and chips and a pint, and sleep in a bed. I’m too old to kip in the car.” There was a satisfied glow in her voice when she replied. Thanks, love. I’ve always wanted to do this. I’ll make it up to you later. Davy was intrigued by this. “How will you do that, then?” he said, “I’m really curious now.” You’ll see, she replied, be patient. Patience is a virtue. The subject was closed. He sighed, checked his mirrors, indicated right, and drifted carefully through the traffic on to the M5.

***

Part 3.

As the journey progressed, landmarks disappeared from sight in Davy’s rear-view mirror. First Carrickfergus Castle, its stone bulk impressively dominating the small marina. In its shadow, the diminutive bronze statue of King Billy stared out past the litter-strewn car park to Belfast Lough, his back turned on the faded red, white, and blue bunting and half-empty fast-food outlets on Marine Highway. He doesn’t look too impressed, Davy thought,more like he’s trying to escape Ireland than conquer it. Strange. Leaving the town, and heading towards the green-hedged country roads, they passed Kilroot power station. Its immense size and proximity to the castle prompted Davy to remark waspishly: “Bloody eyesore, that there. Don’t know why they had to put it so close to the castle. Whole coastline round here is spoiled.” There was a brief silence and then Jo said, I don’t mind power stations, really. I mean, they’re important to me – and to you as well. Think about it when you’re making your morning cuppa, or watching TV. They had to locate them somewhere. I know the castle has some historic and cultural appeal to you, obviously, but you have to remember that I come from a different culture. I love Kilroot, and Ballylumford as well; they’re really remarkable buildings. You know, they produce 1,836 megawatts between the two of them – that’s an amazing amount of power; it blows me away. I don’t share your sense of the architecturally aesthetic in this case, I’m afraid. Davy sucked air through his teeth, grinned and said, “Well, I have to say, I’d never thought about it like that. Tell you what: I’ll look at them differently from now on, that’s for sure.” He hesitated for a moment, then added: “I love the way you see things differently to me. It’s a real education. Kind of inspiring.”

They sped through the burgeoning spring countryside, the intense green of the new buds making the hedgerows and trees stand out, fresh, clean, and vibrant against the background of the darker green pastures, which were just beginning to shake off their winter colours. At the bend where the road turned inland for the short stretch to Whitehead, the view was breathtaking: the sky was an intense Robin-Egg blue, fading to pale Turquoise. Over the sea, to their right, the horizon was white with offshore mist, but there were no clouds overhead. ‘Perfect Day,’ by Lou Reed popped into Davy’s head, and he started singing the chorus: “It’s such a perfect day, I’m glad I shared it with you …” Jo joined in: Such a perfect day, you just keep me hanging on … The darker subtext of the song didn’t seem to detract from the joyous mood in the car, and since Davy couldn’t remember the words of the verse, he immediately launched into the chorus one more time. At the end they both dissolved in laughter at Davy’s discordant harmonies.

Leaving crumbling, grey, once-industrial Larne behind them, they finally hit the Coast Road proper. Davy had seen it all before, and although he appreciated the beauty of the road and its surroundings, he realised that Jo was getting considerably more out of it. In no time they were approaching the Black Cave Tunnel that Jo had been so excited about earlier. As they passed the last few neat, whitewashed bungalows she asked him to slow down. The escarpment was beginning to increase in height on their left, the grassy bank rising up to modest chalk cliffs, with precarious-looking overhangs. There were road signs depicting falling boulders along here, and Davy idly wondered how often there really was a land slip. Jo didn’t seem to care; she was soaking up the geography, saying nothing, but occasionally letting out little moans of satisfaction. Just before the tunnel there was a plethora of signage: ‘Slow,’ ’30,’ ‘Oncoming Vehicles in Middle of Road,’ ‘Antrim Coast & Glens,’ ‘Welcome to Drains Bay.’ “It’s amazing how the human brain can process all of this information in such a small amount of time,” Davy mused aloud, but Jo didn’t respond; she seemed to be concentrating on other things, and her breathing had become heavier. Suddenly he understood, and slowed right down to enter the tunnel, so that he could prolong Jo’s pleasure for as long as possible. She sighed loudly as he slipped down a gear and went in. There were no other vehicles in view, and Davy changed down again, into third. Jo’s sighing intensified, and then, as they came out the other side she let out a loud gasp and said: Davy, that was SO AMAZING. Intense. Thank you. You’re so considerate, slowing down for me like that. Not a lot of drivers would, you know. Davy’s face reddened a little. “You’re welcome” he said, “I’m glad you enjoyed it.” It was magnificent, she replied, really beautiful.

Davy was curious: “But that tunnel was really short … wouldn’t a longer one be more enjoyable? Like the one underneath the Alps or something? Not at all, she replied, you might think that, but actually it’s really hopeless when you lose the GPS signal. Little tunnels like this are great, because you stay connected; really get to enjoy the experience. Let me think. Hmmm, yes.  It’s like if you were watching a movie, and it’s just getting to the good bit and then the screen goes blank for ages and when it comes back on you’ve missed the climax. Very disappointing. Now if they could beam the signal underground … wow, the Alps. She laughed lightly, I’d probably blow a circuit. Davy smiled, and said, “Have you ever looked at TV shows, like Top Gear? Maybe a video of that tunnel would be good, and not so dangerous.” Yes, I’ve seen Top Gear, she replied, but those programmes just aren’t the same as the real thing. You can’t beat the real thing...Hey, whenever they get the technology sorted maybe we could take a holiday. I don’t think it would be truly dangerous, but I love to discover my limits, push the boundaries.Davy paused for a while, and then said “It sounds like fun, alright. We could start in Switzerland. That big tunnel goes all the way to Italy doesn’t it?” Well, Jo replied, in fact the longest road tunnel is the Lærdal in Norway. They’re building one under the Alps at the moment but it will be for trains. Not much use to you and me. The Lærdal is 24.5 kilometres. Can you imagine that?

Davy didn’t answer; when he thought about it, he could well imagine it: mile after mile of uniform speed in cold, oppressive, claustrophobic darkness. It was alright for her having raptures about the contour lines and all that. But he’d hardly be raking it up in a Ferrari like Jeremy Clarkson. Not so glamorous. Jo noticed his silence, and asked, Are you alright, love? You’ve gone very quiet. Davy’s answer was hesitant: “Yeah, I’m fine. It’s just that I’m not sure that doing 24 kilometres underground would really be all that much fun for me. I don’t think tunnels and cliffs have the same effect. But I did enjoy giving you that pleasure back there. And I suppose we could do other things in Norway as well.” When she replied, Jo’s voice was ripe with emotion: Davy, that’s so sweet of you. You’re a good man. Like I said earlier, I’ll make it up to you later on, I promise. Just remember: patience. Davy pursed his lips; the curiosity was eating him up. But at least he wouldn’t have to remain in the dark much longer; they had just rolled into Waterfoot. Only a few more miles to go to the beach at Cushendun, and soon it would be their first night of holidays together. Relax and enjoy it, boy, he said to himself, you’ll never have this time again.

***

Part 4.

Come on, Davy! Jo urged, life on the edge. Let’s do it! Now! Come on! But Davy was unyielding. They would find a B&B before going to the beach and that was it. End of story. It being a bank holiday it might be difficult to find a place, and Davy had no intention of sleeping in the car, as he had already made clear. “It’s alright for you,” he grumbled, “you don’t really care where you stay, as long as the geography’s good. I need my comforts, you know. I’m too old to rough it these days.” Jo was contrite: I’m sorry love, she said, I’m just so excited about the beach, that’s all. I want to get there. Sorry for being so selfish; I should look after you better. I promise I’ll try not to get too carried away in the future.“Here, never worry,” Davy said, “hopefully we’ll get somewhere half decent soon, and then we’ll go straight to the beach. Deal?” Deal, she agreed.

In the end, getting a room wasn’t the problem Davy had anticipated. The town was fairly quiet, and there was space at the first place Davy enquired at. It was perfect: in the middle of the town, just a stone’s throw from the pub. Davy left Jo plugged in, and knocked the door. While he waited he glanced up and down the street. He hadn’t remembered it being as tidy as this from his last visit; the plastered walls of the terraced houses and shops all seemed to have been recently painted. The predominant colour was white or cream, with some of the buildings washed in soft pastel shades of blue, pink, and green. After a short while, a middle-aged woman answered the door. She had a friendly, smiling face and was wearing a tweed skirt and a thick orange woollen jumper. Outdoors type, Davy thought to himself, this place is full of them. “Hello,” she said in a broad Antrim accent, “what can I do for you?” “Hi,” Davy answered, “I was wondering if you’d have a room free for tonight.” “Just one night is it?” she replied in a businesslike manner, “how many of you are there?” As he said, “Only the two of us,” Davy instantly realised his mistake, reddened up and stammered, “I mean …  that is, sorry … me, just me. My other half couldn’t make it. She got called away at the last minute.” “Och, that’s a shame for you,” the woman said, “I hate it when that happens. And her missing the gorgeous weather we’re having in the glens.” “I know,” Davy lied, recovering his composure, “but she should be able to join me tomorrow. We’re heading to Donegal. Just wanted to stay one night here on the way up.” She grinned and said, “that’s not so bad then, Donegal will be lovely. Come on in, anyway, I’ve a room that’ll do you rightly.” Over tea, Davy told her about the sentimental value held by the beach at Cushendun, so as to explain the deviation in their route from Belfast to Gaoth Dobhair. The woman was very impressed to hear how he and his wife had visited the Glens on their first holiday together. It was a very romantic place, she said, and they must come back, together. Davy booked breakfast for 8.00 and went out to the car.

As he opened the rear door, reaching for his bag on the back seat, he said chirpily, “Success first time! It’s a grand wee spot, too. We touched lucky there!” Silence. After a moment, he said “Jo? You there?” No answer. He dumped the bag back on the seat, opened the driver’s door and climbed in. She was powered on alright, and showing a GPS signal. It didn’t look like a mechanical fault. “Jo … is everything ok?” he said, a note of concern creeping into his voice, “you haven’t gone away on me have you?” There was no reply. As he said the last words a rush of fear lurched through him. Jesus Christ, no! he thought, she can’t have just disappeared, we were getting on so well. Panicking, he went to reboot the satnav, muttering to himself, “Keep calm, it’s just a software glitch or something. It’ll be OK.” But as he pushed the button, she coughed lightly and spoke: You don’t need to reboot, Davy. I’m here. Davy was relieved and disturbed at the same time. He let out a long sigh, and put his elbows on the wheel, resting his head in his hands. “What happened?” he asked truculently, “where were you? Jesus. My arse was making buttons there.” Jo’s voice was cold, her reply measured: Where was I? Hmmm. Let’s see. Where were you for 43 minutes? I thought we had a deal. You know: B&B then straight to the beach. Remember? Davy felt a familiar but long-forgotten surge of annoyance rising up in him. He fought to restrain himself, breathed deeply, counted to ten, and then sputtered: “Are you serious, Jo? I was in there having a cup of tea, with the owner, like, being sociable, alright? I can’t believe you just did that. I didn’t deserve it. I was really worried … I thought I’d lost you.” He sniffed, and paused. She replied instantly, I’m sorry Davy, don’t get so upset. I felt abandoned out here by myself, and I didn’t know what you were up to in there for so long. I thought it would be quite straightforward just to go in and book a room, say 10 minutes at the most. I … I suppose I didn’t expect the whole socialising thing. I wouldn’t have thought it necessary. Davy realised that his shoulders were hunched up, and his forehead was creased by a deep frown. He exhaled, relaxed, then said, “Look, Jo. I’m only human like everybody else; I don’t get everything right. You can’t expect me to be perfect. Please don’t ever do that to me again. It really got to me.” Her voice was quiet when she answered. I’m really sorry love. I was being impulsive and hasty again. I promise not to go all ‘Paranoid Android’ on you again. But you do understand why I was upset, don’t you? “Aye, I suppose so,” he said, then straightened up in the seat, raised his head and sang: “When I am king, you will be first against the wall.” He drew out the last word for comic effect, then added: “OK Computer. Class album. Didn’t know you liked Radiohead. Here; was that our first tiff?” I suppose it was, she replied, now, shouldn’t we kiss and make up? Can we go to the beach? “Yes, let’s go,” Davy assented, a smile breaking across his face, “I’ll throw the bag in the room later.”

He turned the ignition key, and soon they were on the coast road to Cushendun, past the old church at Layd, nestling unseen in its hollow, the deep blue sea and jagged headlands periodically glimpsed through gaps in the hedgerows. It only took a few minutes on the twisty country roads until the reached the village. They crossed the stone bridge over the river, turned off the road at the tea rooms, and going down past the small boats anchored in the river mouth, finally pulled in to the neat car park. Davy stopped the engine. “Here we are then,” he said, “Cushendun. What now?” There was a brief pause and then she answered, The beach, silly. Let’s go to the beach. I’m so excited! “Aye, of course,” Davy replied, “what I mean is, what are we going to do when we get there? Well, she answered, I don’t mind if you want to leave me down for a while and go swimming. I can catch some sun and just watch. It would be nice to explore a bit as well. There are some interesting rock formations at the top, and a cave. I’d like to see that. Davy was astonished. “Are you nuts?” he uttered theatrically, “swimming? Here? In April? It’ll be Baltic! Don’t be so dramatic, Davy! Jo replied, there’s still extensive ice in the Baltic, although it’s starting to melt around the coast now. In comparison, the average sea temperature along the coast here is 9°c in April, and it’s probably more like 10 or 11 today with the warm weather.“It’s just a figure of speech, Jo,” Davy interrupted, “I wasn’t making a comparison. But anyway, 11’s still too nippy for me. I’m strictly a warm-water swimmer. We’ll just have a look round, eh? Take it easy. And I’m still dying to find out how you’re going to ‘make it up to me,’ you know.” Jo paused for a minute before answering. I’m not sure the beach is appropriate for what I have in mind; maybe we should wait until we get back to the B&B? I mean, it’s a bit public here, and what if I run out of juice half way through? You know my battery isn’t great anymore. Davy sighed as he unplugged her power lead, and then deflatedly said, “You’re killing me here, Jo. No need to say it. I suppose I just have to be patient for a little longer.” He thought he detected a note of smugness in her voice as she answered, Yes, love. Thanks for being so understanding. It’ll be worth it. Not long now. Let’s hit the beach!

Hitting the beach didn’t take long. They walked the length of it in both directions in under twenty minutes. The strand itself was a narrow, shallow, crescent of sand fading into the gently sloping headland at the north end, and truncated by a crude sea wall of rocks where the river flowed out into the sea at the other end. The sun was warm on Davy’s face and hands, but the cool sea breeze, although refreshing, forced him to keep his heavy woollen jumper on. It was relaxing, but even so, it didn’t take long before he started to get restless. Curiosity was boring into him, and he couldn’t imagine what might come when they were finally completely alone. Jo was strangely quiet. Davy had expected her to be going into paroxysms of joy from being on the beach, but she hadn’t said a word. Maybe she was just enjoying the experience, daydreaming, wallowing in it. He didn’t really want to intrude into her reverie, but as far as he was concerned, it was time to move on. Be tactful, he cautioned himself, then said softly, “Well, love, what do you think? Have you had enough of the beach? Yes, Davy. I think so, she answered. Her voice was flat and muted. “Are you OK?” he asked, “you seem a bit, I don’t know, um … underwhelmed, or something? Will we go and have a look at the cave up there?” Maybe it was a mistake to come here today, she replied, her voice regaining a little of its usual assertiveness, a bit silly of me to expect it to be the same as my dream. I just had this fantasy about you and me reliving it or something, but … well, obviously it’s not so easy to make dreams come true after all. Don’t get me wrong, it’s really lovely being here with you, and I’m happy, really glad that we came. It’s just that I was expecting it to be different, more intense, more like my dream I suppose. Let’s have a quick look at the cave and then go on back to the B&B, shall we?

Back in the B&B, Davy dropped his bag in the corner of the room, unzipped it, took out the power supply, and installed Jo on the table beside the sink. Sunshine streamed in through the old sash window, lighting up the cosy, beige-painted room. He sat on the edge of the double bed and gazed out of the window for a moment, then pulled the heavy curtains across, leaving a small gap through which a shaft of sunlight entered, slicing through the dusky air above the duvet. “OK Jo,” he said, “Over to you.” He was excited, trembling a little, his mind racing with possibilities. I want you to get comfortable, she said in a soft yet firm voice, lie back on the bed. You could even get into it if you want. Davy unlaced his shoes and pulled them off, took off his jumper, unbuttoned his jeans at the top, and then laid back on the bed. It was comfy, and the room was pleasantly warm. “I’m ready, I think. What now?” I’m going to talk to you for a little bit, find out what revs your engine. Davy could feel the colour rising in his cheeks again. He mumbled “Ummm … alright, but … but, well, I’m curious, you see … how are we going to ..?” He tailed off. Maybe I should explain what I’m going to do, she answered, then you’ll feel more relaxed about it. “That’d be brilliant,” Davy replied, “because I’m a wee bit confused, and, well, nervous. It’s been a long time since I … you know.” Ok, love. I’ll explain, she continued, you remember I was telling you about the GPS satellites, and how I communicate with them? Well, the satellites don’t just carry GPS information, they also carry all sorts of other stuff, like TV channels, movies, and so on. That’s how I know so much, you see, I can sift through hundreds of films and documentaries, websites, you name it. It’s really quick for me as well. So I reckon I understand pretty well about romance, and sex, and men’s needs; there’s not much I haven’t seen, I can tell you. I’m going to narrate a story to you. You can give me instructions and so on as we go along. You’ll have to use a little imagination, and obviously I can’t do the physical side of things, so you’ll have to sort yourself out, but it will be a genuine interaction between us. You just need to tell me what you like and I’ll respond accordingly. And even better, I can be whoever you want me to be. So if there’s any particular movie star or singer you like, I can be them. I’m going to indulge your fantasies. We can do whatever you want. And then, in the drawl of an American girl in her late teens she purred, You want to nail the girl next door? Or the babysitter? Her voice grew louder, and she started panting and moaning, then increasing the volume, shouted breathlessly, yeah! Yeah! Oh yeah! Just like that! Give it to me daddy … Yes! YES! OH MY GOD … Davy was lost for words, but managed a nervous cough. His mouth was dry, his hands clutching fistfuls of the duvet. She switched to German: Or perhaps you would like something a little more European, ja? This time Davy managed to croak, “No. Stop. This isn’t … what I want. It’s all wrong.”

He got off the bed, filled a glass of water at the sink, and gulped it down. I really got it wrong this time didn’t I? Jo said quietly. I thought it was just a case of ‘men all have needs and like the same things.’ I thought I just needed to find out what your particular ‘thing’ is, and we could go from there. I hope I haven’t upset you too much. You don’t feel badly towards me, do you? I just want to make you happy. After a short pause, Davy expelled a big breath and then said “I’m still trying to digest what’s just happened, Jo. I don’t know how I feel about it. I mean, I’m not an adolescent schoolboy for a start; and I’ve never done anything like this before. I think we need to discuss this whole thing properly, but right now I think it’s time for lunch. And I need a pint.” He buttoned his trousers up again, pulled on his jumper, put Jo in his coat pocket and headed down the stairs. As he was opening the front door, he heard the ceramic knob of the breakfast room door turning behind him, and the landlady’s voice: “Is that you Mr. Smyth?”

The last thing he needed right now was a chat about the weather. He took the pragmatic approach and bolted.

***

Part 5.

Davy was struggling to keep his disappointment from spoiling the afternoon. Should have known better he told himself, always the same. Starts off great and then before you know it you’re totally sick of it. When will I ever learn? He bundled up the few remaining floppy, vinegar-soaked chips and their packaging into a parcel and lobbed it into the bin. Nice fish and chips, love? Jo asked. Didn’t take you long to wolf them down, she added brightly. “Not the worst I ever had,” Davy replied, “nor the best. You know, I never eat fish and chips unless I’m at the seaside. There’s something about being by the sea. It’s psychological. You always think the fish is going to be fresh off the boat that morning. But it’s probably from Killybegs or Grimsby for flip’s sake; big, massive trawlers they have. Supply the whole of Ireland. But, you know what? The illusion keeps me happy. Until I overdo it. I always overdo it. Eat too much, beat it into me too fast, and then I feel like I want to boke. When will I ever learn?” Maybe it’s time for a pint? Jo said brightly, wash it all down nicely. “That,” Davy answered emphatically, “is the best idea you’ve had all day.”

As they approached the bar Davy paused, then said: “I’m going to switch you off when we go in. If people see me talking to you, they might think I’m a nut job. That wouldn’t be good. Is that alright with you?” After a couple of seconds Jo answered softly, Well, it’s OK if you want to do it that way, love. Her voice quietened almost imperceptibly as she added, But if you keep me on, I promise I won’t say anything. I’ll just snuggle up in your pocket and enjoy the atmosphere. It’ll be like two lovers holding hands. “Alright,” Davy agreed, “but not a squeak out of you, promise? I don’t want to have to try and explain this to anyone.” He thought for a moment, and then said, “Will you have a GPS signal in there, anyway?” Oh, it doesn’t matter about the GPS, as long as I’m with you, Jo replied airily, if you tell me where we’re going, I’m sure I can find some pictures and other info on the net. “I know what we can do,” Davy replied, “sure if there’s nobody about, I’ll tell you where we are, and if there is, I’ll drop you a clue by talking to someone, or something like that. Would that do?” Could be fun, Jo answered, like a little secret game. Hold up for a tick while I get myself a selection of photos … OK, done; let’s get a drink.

The inside of the bar’s kitchen was refreshingly dingy and old-fashioned: red and black tiled floor, gloss brown-painted tongue-and-groove panelling on the walls up to waist height. The pitted plaster of the upper walls and ceiling was finished in cream; Great Western Railway colours, Davy thought to himself, nice. Inside the door was an old range, complete with obligatory black-suited old boy sitting next to it in a comfortable chair with a glass of whiskey beside him. It’s perfect, Davy thought, the elbows of his jacket are shiny and all. Brilliant. I wonder will he sing a song or tell a story after a couple more whiskies. This place is class, must tell Jo. The kitchen was deserted apart from the old man. Davy sat down at the nearest table, coughed to alert Jo, and addressed him: “Hi, how’re you doing? Great wee bar, this. The old kitchen of the house, is it?” “Aye. It is that,” the man answered slowly, his red-rimmed blue eyes fixing Davy inquisitively, “you’re up from the town then.” It was a statement, not a question. “Indeed I am,” Davy replied, “great weather to be in the Glens.” “Aye, surely,” the man replied; “all quiet in the big smoke?” They chatted across the empty bar. Davy learned a lot about life in the Glens over the next few hours. Since he had retired eleven years ago Mickey Joe had been in every Saturday for a wee drink. He still lived in the house he’d been born in; they only got electricity and mains water in the 80s. He still used the well, though, the water was better. He’d reared eight children in that house, three boys and five girls. They’d all flown the nest now, of course. One of the lassies was in Australia; she kept trying to get him out there, but he hadn’t gone yet. Wasn’t much of a traveller; couldn’t understand why anyone would want to leave the Glens. He’d been a fighter in his youth – only when it was required, mind. He wasn’t one of those boys that felt the need to box after a couple of pints. Left a man for dead on the side of the mountain one time; wee bastard should have known better. Mickey Joe was a great dancer, knew them all: the Waves of Tory, Siege of Ennis, the lot. On the list for a new hip now, so the dancing was knocked on the head – for a while anyway.

And so the afternoon passed in pleasant conversation, until at six Mickey Joe’s son came to take him home for his tea. “Enjoy the rest of your stay,” he said, then stood up and drained his glass, “and take it easy on the roads.” Tea was a good idea. Davy decided to eat in the bar’s restaurant. The dinner was spot on: a decent steak, well-done, just the way he liked it. Don’t know how those Frenchies do it, he thought to himself, blood running out of their dinner, like the thing’s still alive. Rotten. At the end, comfortably full, he pushed a few chips to the side of the plate and laid down his knife and fork. A couple of minutes later the waitress came over to him. “Everything alright for you?” she said warmly. “Yes, thanks,” Davy replied, smiling, “the steak was perfect. Compliments to the chef.” She grinned back at him, “I’ll tell him. You want anything else? Dessert? Coffee?” She was pretty: tall with fiery, shoulder-length straight hair, and clear blue eyes. Captivated, Davy hesitated for a second, then replied “No thanks, love, I’m stuffed. Couldn’t eat another thing.” “OK,” she answered, “you can pay up there at the till when you’re ready.”

Outside the bar, the air was cool and clear. Davy looked up, and even with the interference from the streetlamps he could see countless stars in the night sky. As he stood gazing at the magnificence of it, he caught something moving in the periphery of his vision: a shooting star? No; it was moving too slowly. Must be a satellite, he decided, too slow for a plane. Suddenly, he missed Jo. She’d been completely silent since they’d gone into the bar that afternoon. Davy, feeling relaxed and a little tired after the afternoon drinks and dinner, decided it was time to hit the B&B. He crossed the road.

There was no sign of the landlady when he went inside, and he took the carpeted stairs two at a time, as quietly as he could. Inside the room he placed Jo back on the table, and plugged her in. “OK, we’re home now,” he said softly, “was the afternoon alright for you? You didn’t get bored or lonely?” No, love, she answered, I don’t ever really get bored or lonely. That’s a lovely bar, and you gave me all the information I needed to enjoy it. That old man was really interesting. Did you have a good time? “Yes, it was grand,” Davy answered, removing his shoes. “Just what you’d want from a country pub. The dinner was nice too.” He stretched out on the bed, and then after a moment said, “Maybe we should talk about what happened earlier, you know, the … the umm … sex talk.” Go ahead, love, she said soothingly, I want to know how to make it work for you. I’m sorry for being so full-on. I got carried away again. “I don’t know … I’m quite shy, I suppose,” Davy answered hesitantly, “I haven’t had sex since I was married, and that was years ago. That thing you did, it was all a bit too much for me. I haven’t, umm, you know, well … I haven’t had an orgasm since Caroline left.” Davy, that’s terrible, Jo said, I thought you blokes were at it all the time, never think of anything else. “That might be true for some men,” he answered, “but not me. I was brought up to be good-living that way. I’d never dream of doing anything like that.” So, how did you survive all that time? Jo enquired. “I just didn’t think about it,” Davy replied quietly, “maybe I’m not all that … sexual. I’m not interested in all that porn stuff you were doing, that’s for sure. I think I’d rather it was you, you know, not some loud-mouthed yank.” I see, she said thoughtfully, then after a pause added, so would you like to try again? I’ll just talk to you in my normal voice, no acting. You seem quite relaxed. Davy slowly took off his clothes, and laid back down. Just imagine I’m coming into the room now, she continued, I walk over to you, put my arms around your neck and we start kissing…

As she talked softly, Davy could feel himself getting hard. He banished all other thoughts, concentrating on her voice, and then reached down with his right hand. It didn’t take long; less than a minute. He groaned as the years of loneliness spurted out of him, leaving a cool, sticky mess on his stomach. Jo was still talking. She mustn’t have realised, Davy concluded, and said “It’s OK, love, you can stop now. Job’s done, thanks.” Already? she answered, Wow. You were in a hurry! Want to go again? “No, thanks,” Davy said, “it doesn’t work like that. I need to rest, you know … recharge the batteries. Like I said, I’m not a teenager anymore.” So, what do you think? Happy? Jo replied brightly, Will this work alright? “Well, here, it seemed to work just now,” Davy said, pulling himself up and onto his feet, “I need a shower now. Messy business this phone sex.”

***

To be continued.

One Response to A New Direction

  1. Pingback: A New Direction, Part 6. | Vernacularisms

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