IRL

by Brendan Strong

A summer afternoon, a Friday, a throng to get through on Grafton Street. Shoppers and drinkers utilising the long evening to get ahead of a weekend of spend. Lemuel_Buckett (AKA Frank Murphy, IRL) is heading for HMV where he’ll meet JoyceJameson. He was surprised to learn that JoyceJameson is AKA Joyce Jameson, IRL. He can’t wait to meet her, IRL.
He suggested they meet IRL after they’d LOL’d enough to feel like they really knew each other. They were going to go for coffee and maybe some lunch (one step at a time). Maybe even a drink later. Maybe even…
No. Wait and see how we go. You have to wait for a page to load before you can click a link. That’s just how it is.
He tries to avoid the people bustling toward him. Some are going in, others are just dodging other people. He sways to avoid them all; gets an unnecessary umbrella slapped across his face (why do you even need an umbrella in this weather?); has his knees slapped by shopping bags; shoulders shouldered by pedestrians… he waits. Soon, he should see her, IRL.
He’s seen her avatars and read her signatures and mottoes. They wrote about trying to cross Dublin without passing the front door of a pub; of the radio show when “Kilcock” was the reply to the question “Which town in county Kildare is also a body part found in a man’s pants?” (Correct Answer: Athy).
She came from the UK, from Bristol (or Brighton? He couldn’t remember, and now only remembers he’d intended to look through their threads to remind himself). Studying Anglo Irish Literature in UCD or Trinity or maybe DBS or somewhere like that. She had a brother and two sisters, one of which was over here too, working in banking (but which one?). For some reason he remembers only the shadows. He hasn’t taken in anything she told him and now he must face her, IRL.
“Hello” says a soft, English accent, somewhere to his right. “Are you Frank?” He turns his head to see another average sized, brown haired, early thirties male say “I’ll be as frank as you want, love. You’re lookin’ great!” She laughs timidly, unsure; the guy laughs on and walks off.
Convinced the coast is clear, Frank goes over. “Joyce”
“Yes” she says, confused: who is Frank?
“How about that coffee…” thinking reference to a private conversation would convince her of him.
“Oh, Frank” she said. “Yes. Yes, let’s go for that coffee.” Quickly adding “I will, yes” with a smile.

*****

The coffee shop is all metal frames, glass panes and fabric cushions. The waiter (in invariable black) puts down the coffees, rattling off complicated names with the boredom of a botanist being asked about sunflowers on Gardener’s Question Time. Perhaps one day there will be Barrista Question Time. Answers from experts about roasting fair trade beans and how to get the stains out of the filter. Vinegar will always be the answer. Use vinegar, but rinse well to make sure you don’t corrupt the beautiful flavour of those unique beans. She is talking. He can’t listen, sidetracked as he is by this bitter reverie. But he must listen, otherwise the whole thing will be a mess. So he listens. But he hears a pop song from overhead, and from behind: “So, anyway, like I said, I said to him you better not be talking about Marie Boool and he’s like, well, he says, like…” she is not coming through at all. She is talking, he can see it, but he’s not receiving. Whatever did that guy say to Marie Bool. He’ll never know now. Too much noise: here.
“Would you like lunch?” he asks. She looks at him. “Here, or somewhere else… ahm, whatever you like…” he says hopefully. She is still looking at him. She is not talking, so perhaps he should. But he has now. He’s asked her to lunch. Yummy. A pannini or ciabatta would go down nicely. Or even one of those nifty salads where they chuck a whole bunch of hams and lettuces and strange looking vegetables on a platter and you douse them in olive oil and vinegar and spear a couple of pieces with a fork to deliver to the satisfaction of a salivating mouth. Feels like they go on forever those salads. Like being in some kind of eternal salad heaven, where you meet the salami you first tasted when you were ten and thought “Now that’s good.” Tragedy of losing such a moment forever. Joy of reliving it for something between thirteen and fifteen Euro.
***
And Joyce Jameson was first captured when her name was called out as “James’ son, Joyce” in a classroom. “Like the writer?” the teacher had asked. Not that she knew of, coming from Bournemouth. As far as she is concerned, nobody comes from Bournemouth; if you were born there, you stayed there. Other people go there. Often for holidays; it was beautiful and once home to Auberon Waugh. Every summer it would fill with visitors and their accents.
One summer, she met Ger (who pronounced his name Jayer), who read James Joyce and thought all the world was made of words. That convinced her of the beauty of Irish thought and that there was something more than digging and drinking and dying in the streets to them. Besides, her degree had tired her of the English and Americans and their hysterical irony that meant nothing.
She landed in Dublin with an acceptance letter from Trinity college to attend the MA in Anglo Irish literature. She would read everything worthwhile in the course of a year, maybe two. She would travel to see the beaches of the west, the bog of the midlands. She was ready for smog, but happily surprised by Dublin’s clean air. She would have dreams. Everyone here had dreams.
After a time, Dublin became tiresome. High costs, high men, high ho.
She got a job in a coffee shop, grilling paninis and heating milk and pouring espressos and collecting change and handing out receipts. “Do you take laser?” she was once asked. Olga, one of the other girls explained it was a cash card and they did. But her reaction still cost her the job, and she found another in another coffee shop, where the manager looked at her funny when she asked “Is laser accepted here?”
She’d had no luck with men, so far. Either splashing money on fine wine, only to get pissed or taking her to the cinema with an obvious attempt at being chivalrous to achieve less chivalrous ends, they all seemed duplicitous, devious and dying for a shag.
So, she concentrated on her study. Literature, to her, was the real ‘first draft’ of history. The encapsulation of a moment, expressed in terms framed by the time. Truer than journalism – edited to suit the ephemeral needs of the day – literature for her would be the beauty that would save the world. It’s safe to say she probably needed to lighten up. No one can remain so intense and retain a functional level of insanity in the modern world.
Throwing herself into studies, she quickly learned the key to so much of this literature was in the language. She spent more and more time on blogs and forums, learning how Irish people talk. How this strange breed think. How they read. This was where she met Lemuel_Buckett. Satirical, straight, serious. He seemed like no other. Without airs, without hypocrisy. They spoke of literature and how crystalised ideas could hold a whole world in your mind. She believed in literary humanity; he believed in symbols. She thought this a sign. They were Ying and Yang. Balance.
But now the scales are tipped. With him silent, she tries to fill conversational shadows with some light. She talks about the time she dropped a salad all over a posh woman with BO; how she first heard the term “Laser”, and how pouring the coffee all over the guy got her fired; how she sometimes missed Bournemouth. He stays quiet. Maybe none of this means anything to him. Maybe he’s really into his books, so the experience means nothing to him; he’s searching for the symbols. How could she know? She looks at him for a moment, saying nothing. Just looks and tries to see.
In a lunatic voice, accompanied by pointless gestures, he asks if she wants lunch. She doesn’t really know. The last thing she wants now is a paninni or ciabatta or some other quasi-Italian way that Irish people show how cultured they are.
When you can buy it in a petrol station, along with Coke, condoms and a girlie magazine, it’s no longer a cultural demonstration this was the opinion of one of her failed dates in Dublin, but she supposed he was right. She suggests a salad somewhere… guessing it’s a good compromise between demonstrating fluency with this adopted culture and a tasty lunch.
***
And so they leave the coffee place that does lunch to find a lunch place that does coffee.
“Hey, did you see the Godfather on TV last night?” she says.
“No, I don’t watch TV” he says. There is a guy asking for money somewhere. You’d have to look down to see him, he knows. “Look, you can see the spire there – just over those buildings”
“Oh yes,” she says “what is it for?”
“For? Nothing that I know of. Perhaps a spear to fire at the Brits in case they try something funny.” She looks at the beggar, who redoubles his efforts. Hope eternal springs from eye contact. I know you can see me now. I know you can see a human here. I know you can see the possibility of you here. Now. They walk past. She wonders why he doesn’t try to hold her hand and is thankful he doesn’t.
They walked for some time in silence; all small talk exercised in the forum. Where they were from, what they did, their jobs. The books they read, what they thought of them. The music they listened to, the magical moment when they found some obscure or cultish artist they both liked. Disappointment when trying to impart some kind of trivia only to find the other already knew it, or had heard some updated version. Quick searches to help them say something sensible in reply to comments about things they’d no (previous) interest in. Now it seemed they’d nothing to say, IRL.
“Hello!” says Frank, surprised. She turns to him to find another guy walking toward them.
“Howdy pardner” says the other guy, with neither a trace nor attempt at an American accent. The words deliberate; the delivery wasted.
“Raymond!” says Frank “This is Joyce. Joyce, Raymond. Raymond is an Americanist.” They say hello, and Frank says “We were just on our way for lunch…” he looks at Joyce, who looks at him. Neither of them knows where they’re going.
After a moment, Joyce relents and says “… Oh, Frank. I’m so sorry, I have to meet someone… in about thirty minutes… so maybe…”
“Yes,” says Frank “another time. Yes.” She smiles. “OK then. Well, it was nice to meet you…”
“You too” says Raymond
“You too” says Frank. There’s a moment, then she turns and leaves. So close, but not really.
***
That evening, after Frank has had a few pints and Joyce has called home and thought again about what it is she is doing in Dublin, they message each other to say it was nice they met up. Unknown to each other, they both look up Sisyphus and think he knew hope. Just at the moment, just at every moment when the boulder looked like it would get to the top, there was hope. An early wave of achievement, which made pushing the boulder up that hill again (and again) just a little less absurd and a little more essential.
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