The outsider

by | Jun 8, 2021 | Fiction, Issue Twenty One

2016

Sometimes, in this town, I come across a cardigan tied to a traffic light, or a children’s glove slid onto the spike of the fence. A kind person has picked up the lost item and displayed it in this way for its owner to find.

Since moving to this new country, I have developed a wandering skin rash. Every time it is treated, it leaves one part of my body and reappears in a new, surprising one. “Are you here for work or study?” asks my new doctor, who writes my prescriptions for steroid creams.

Evenings, I walk through my new city, trying to map it with my feet. I walk at the time between nightfall and the hour when curtains are shut. Tonight, I see an elderly man and his wife, sitting in identical brown armchairs, facing the window. Their intimacy is too big for talking. He reaches for the glass of water on the table between them.

At night, I lie awake and listen to the sounds of angry voices outside, trying to guess which part of my body the rash is going to move to next. I imagine what it would be like to be deaf: a peaceful state, like being underwater.

On the phone, my med student friend tells me my deaf-wish might be a form of Body Integrity Identity Disorder, in which a healthy person longs for a disability, usually to become accepted within the community of this disability. She tells me about a man, in love with a one-legged woman, who had one of his own legs amputated.

That evening, I see a woman with curly brown hair clear cutlery and plates from the drying rack. She takes each fork, spoon and knife out individually, silently, and places them in the correct compartment. Then she picks up each bowl, plate. Her face is closed like a daffodil bud. Another woman with glasses and bangs comes into the kitchen, and the first woman’s face opens like a flower.

In bed, I listen to Rammstein with my headphones turned all the way up. When I pause the music, there is a persistent ringing in my ear like a printer’s error message.

I download the PPS form, copy of my passport, letter from work and bank statement into a neat folder on my USB stick. At the print shop, the man patiently reboots the printer until it reads the documents. “Are you here for work, or study?” he asks, while we wait for the printer’s dry heave to subside.

2017

My parents send me five emails a day. “Which flight should we book?” they ask. “How will we find the bus at the airport?” “How will we get in touch with you?”

My parents arrive late on a Thursday night. They are crumpled and tired from the journey. “This is Eyre Square”, I say, trying to ignore the groups of people out on the town. “It’s so lively, a real student town”, my mother observes with a quiver in her voice.

I lie awake on the couch, staining my ears to hear if my parents, in my room next door, are whispering about the indignity of my living conditions. Outside, loud voices lacerate the silence, keeping my parents awake. I would kill for a cul-de-sac.

While my father has a nap, my mother and I wander through shops aimlessly. “I read there’s actually hardly any sheep on the Aran Islands”, my mother says in the sweater shop. “All this is Australian wool.”

On Wednesday, I linger in Dominic Street, pretending to look at the art shop window. Behind me, the road is being re-tarmacked. The man with the jackhammer wears big yellow ear defenders and pieces of concrete break off like icing under the insistent beat of his machine. I meet my parents and the edges of their questions are pleasantly blurred. “Is there nowhere to buy insoles, in this town?” my father asks, as if from far away. I smile benevolently.

When it isn’t raining, I take my parents on evening walks through my favourite streets, but they politely turn their gazes away from lit windows. “All the houses here are so small”, my father observes.

My mother loves the river Corrib. “The Carroub is such a fierce river”, she says. “Like those spring torrents in Provence, remember?”

At the end of their visit, I hustle my parents to the station an hour early, worried they might miss their bus. I hug them and leave. “Make sure these two people get on the bus”, I tell the driver on my way out.

“Loneliness is as bad for you as smoking fifteen cigarettes a day”, my med student friend says on the phone. I click the lighter on silently.

2020

There is a thin letter from the department of justice in the mailbox. I tear it open on the stairs. “Please provide further evidence of reckonable residence” it says in bold, amid other text. I download the payslips from my last four years in Ireland onto my USB stick, into a neat folder entitled: citizenship.

After that, I play Dolly Parton on full blast on the stereo, leaning my ear directly against the vibrating drum of my new loudspeakers while looking up support groups for the hard-of-hearing, although the ENT doctor I saw says I don’t belong to this category yet.

“I, Sophie Grandier, solemnly swear true fidelity and loyalty to the Irish State”, I say. Across from me, on the other side of the wide table, the blank faces of the solicitor and his secretary are resting.

Out around Merrion Square, the red brick houses are as unfamiliar as ever, but I am in a celebratory mood, feeling like another brick in their wall. A Mr Whippy ice cream van has pulled up by the side of the road. “Could I have a 99, please”, I say. “Course you can”, the ice cream man says, turning the cone expertly. He gives me a smile with it: “Are you here for work, or for study?”

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