Luke bent down to look under the stall doors and craned his neck around the half wall which hid the urinals. When he was sure he had the place all to himself he stood in front of the mirror and took a long look at himself. He was still unsure about the beard. Almost three weeks’ growth of brindled hair ran from his locks to the mouth to below his chin. He had trimmed it according to the instructions of a YouTube male grooming “guru”. Sometimes it looked good to him — made him look older — and other times he felt ridiculous. He ran a thumb and forefinger through its hairs and wondered was it too short and thin. He had heard Debs refer to it as “bumfluff”, but it didn’t matter what she or anyone else in Francie’s thought about his new look. All that mattered was whether it impressed Máire or not. If it put a few years on him and made him seem more manly it will have done its job.
“Too-too late to do anything about it now,” he said to the mirror.
He was talking out loud to himself in the shop now when no one was in earshot. It had improved his stutter, he was certain.
“How’s your speech tonight, Luke?” he said to the bearded man in the mirror.
“Gu-good,” he replied. “Good. Good. Good. Great. Fan-tas-tic.”
He straightened his jacket and fixed the collar of his River Island shirt. He hadn’t gone for a waistcoat after all. He thought the garishness of the paisley shirt spoke for itself. Between it, the beard and the mustard-coloured drainpipe trousers, he felt he had pulled off the hipster look successfully.
“The old Luke is dead,” he said, with an actor’s diction.
He checked his shoes — one-hundred-euro Kurt Geiger brogues from Brown Thomas. The right one showed a small scuff mark, so he moistened some toilet paper and gave the shoe a careful rub.
“That’s better,” he said. He looked himself up and down.
“Are you ready?” he asked the man in the mirror.
“Never more ready.”
“Go for it Luke, boy. You’ll be buried up to your balls in Máire Ní Mhainnín by the end of the night.”
On returning to Dazzlers’ main bar, Luke looked to see if Máire was still by herself in her usual place. With relief, he saw that she was still sitting alone. She wore a plain black party dress he had seen her wear once before. No embellishments or ornamentation were needed beyond the beauty of the wearer. Her hair and lips pulsed in the lights from the dance floor, and her skin glowed an alluring kaleidoscope, a silent song ringing out to all the men in the club. Luke drew a deep breath and moved in answer to a call he had felt for weeks.
The walk seemed to take an age. The soles of his new shoes slipped on Dazzlers’ buffed wooden floor, and he became self-conscious of his stride, thinking that he may be looking foolish as his shuffling feet sought traction.
“Come on, Luke, take it easy,” he whispered to himself. Butterflies danced in his stomach, swooping and pullulating the closer he got to her table. By the time he reached Máire, his heart was pounding and he was certain his face had reddened and that a sweat had broken out on his brow.
I’m roasting in this fucking jacket and with the beard and all.
He stood beside Máire’s table, watching her from closer than ever before. It took her a short while to register his presence and change the focus of her gaze from the dance floor. Her big, bright eyes looked him up and down, and when finished with their interrogation of his appearance, locked onto his own in a bold enquiry of his desires.
He tried to get out his practised line of asking her if she wanted a drink, but all that came from his mouth was a gurgle. Her eyebrows arched and her gaze seemed to intensify. Luke felt it burning his face. He took a panicked breath and blurted out the first thing that came into his head.
“You look beautiful.”
The words were bullet-fast. He almost winced.
“Thank you,” she said, only her mouth moving.
“I’ve been watching you.”
The line didn’t seem as funny as it had in his bedroom.
“OK,” she said.
Luke could have kicked himself. He needed to get his act together or he’d blow it.
“You said that already.”
“Can-I-can-I get you a du-drink?”
Keep it simple, Luke. Keep it simple.
“Can you get me a drink?” She smiled. It washed over Luke like fairy dust. The tense muscles of his face managed a half smile. “Well, you’ve to sell yourself a bit more. I’m very picky about who I let buy me a drink.”
Luke realised that she had opened the door a crack, and it was up to him to push it back fully. There was a chink of light, a possibility. The next few moments would be his elevator pitch. He was being auditioned.
“I’m Luke,” he said. “I like bu-bu-beautiful women. I like fucking. I want-to-want-to go home with you.”
He guessed that she would like the direct approach. No beating around the bush.
Máire blinked slowly, but kept her eyes trained on Luke when they reopened. The smile spread further along her smooth cheeks.
“You’re pretty forward, aren’t you? I usually get at least some filler before men get onto the subject of fucking and taking me home. You’ve no spiel for me? You’re not lonely or in search of a soulmate or someone to share your heart with or any of that baloney?”
“No,” answered Luke, his own smile broadening.
“No hobbies you want to tell me about? Or give me the low-down on your job?
“That’s novel, anyway.”
She took a sip of her wine and re-crossed her legs. After putting her glass down she caught Luke staring at her thighs.
“So. What would you do to me if I left with you tonight?” she said, with a curl of her lips.
She was challenging him. It was like a game. Luke had never been spoken to like this before, but ideas of what he would do to her were never far from his mind. He thought of what she had got up to with the hipster, that first night he had followed her home.
“I’d-I’d strip you off. I’d-I’d tie you to the be-bed and then lu-lu-lick you all over, slu-slu-slowly. Thu-then I’d fu-finger-finger you hard until you screamed. And then fuck you hard.”
He had watched these events multiple times on his computer, enough to know that what the hipster had done to Máire had driven her wild. She had not faked the pleasure. If she had not been tied up, she would have writhed off the bed.
“Been there, done that,” said Máire. “Have you anything new for me?”
“Nu-nu-new?” Luke, trying to think on his feet, put the videos out of his mind and thought of his own fantasies. “I’d bend you over backwards and fu-fu-fuck you up the arse while I sh-sh-shoved a vi-vi-vi-vibrator up your gowl. Then I’d make you suck my balls.”
She looked him up and down, letting her eyes rest on his crotch before they returned to his face.
“Are you hard?” she asked him.
She laughed. “Well at least one of us is getting something out of this.”
“You mean-you mean—” he began, but Máire didn’t allow him finish.
“I don’t mean to be cruel, but you’re just not doing it for me. How old are you?”
“Twu-twu-twu-twenty-six,” he lied.
“You look like a boy. I like mature men. Strong men. And you’re neither. I like a good tussle with a well-built man. Sorry.”
“But-but-but . . .”
Luke shut his mouth. Máire had already turned her attention back to the dance floor.
“Nu-nice talking to you,” he said and backed away. She didn’t even look up as she said goodbye.
He left Dazzlers immediately. Outside the club, as he stood in the rain, the street spun around him. He felt nauseous, sick with disappointment and rejection. That was it. His chance with Máire gone.
“Fuck,” he said to himself. “Fuck.”
His youth and weedy body had blown it for him. For the umpteenth time in his life he wished he were someone else, anyone but Luke Geoghegan.
“Well-built man,” he said, walking with no destination in mind. “Fuck well-built men.”
He thought about the optimism that had driven him over the last few weeks. A feeling that if he could smarten himself up, put on a show of confidence and control his stutter, he would have a good crack at getting the woman of his dreams, giving his life a spark it had always lacked. There had been a happiness, a joy, a bounce to his step that he had never experienced before. He had begun to see himself in a different light, to see a space for himself outside of the shadows and his darkened Sunday afternoon bedroom. His life had opened up beyond stuttering, skulking and working for Francie. He could be like Senán if he wanted it badly enough: sure of himself, happy in his own skin, gliding easily and unselfconsciously through life.
But Senán was well-built, handsome, not cursed with the body Luke had had to manage with. Mr Universe, he had overheard Trish calling him once. He also knew they called him Gollum behind his back. And that they mocked his stutter. Funny thing: his stutter had been all right when he had spoken to Máire. After the initial stalling he had been OK. More than OK — the best he had ever been talking to a stranger. She hadn’t mentioned his stutter or even seemed to notice it. Nor did she seem to remember him from before. He had half expected her to ask if they had met, but no. She had not remembered him.
He suddenly became conscious of where he was and pulled up. He had walked up Mallow Street almost as far as the train station. He turned for Perry Square, near where he had parked his car, nose facing Monaleen and a cottage called An Chéim Bhriste.
I’ll give her something to remember me by.