Gu-Gu-Geoghegan — Chapter 31 of 32

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.”

“Too right!”

 

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.

“You’re beautiful.”

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?

“No.”

“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.”

“Ooh, forceful.”

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.

“Yu-yes.”

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.

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Gu-Gu-Geoghegan — Chapter 30 of 32

“Wu-wu-would you . . . Shit,” said Luke. He tried again. “Can I buy you a drink?”

He smiled.

“Can I buy you a drink? Can I buy you a drink? Can I buy you a drink?”

He laughed and looked from the photo of Máire Ní Mhainnín on his laptop to the mirror of his dressing table. He grinned at himself and said it again: “Can I buy you a drink?”

“Good man, Luke,” he said to his reflection. “Good man yourself. The best shop man in Limerick city or county.”

He laughed at his imitation of Francie. He was buzzing. He had never spoken so clearly or confidently.

“I’ve been watching you,” he said to the photo of Máire. He laughed once more. Nothing could have been closer to the truth.

“A lot! You’re a beautiful woman. What’s your name? Máire? Luke. I’m Luke. What do you do? Oh. Sociology. Wow. Me? I manage a shop. Oh yes, I think I met you before. Senán. Yes, Senán. A good worker. Red wine, you’re having? OK. I’ll be back soon.”

He looked back at the mirror.

“You can do it, boy. Keep it simple. No big words. Be sure of yourself. Soci-ology. Soci-ology. Soci-ology. Soci-ology.”

He picked up the laptop, lightly kissed the photo of Máire on the lips, and typed in a search: Hipster formal wear. When the results came up he clicked on Image and browsed the photos of bearded men wearing suits with waistcoats, sometimes with top hats and carrying canes. After a few pages he modified the search, adding the name of a department store in the city centre.

“Much better,” he said.

He was trying to talk out loud to himself as much as possible. That was what a stuttering website had recommended. He was filling the air in Francie’s lockup with his talk, giving his opinions to unhearing radio hosts as he drove to and from Monaleen, and, when his house was empty, as it was that Sunday afternoon, having conversations with his reflection or an imaginary Máire.

“What a fun way to spend a Sunday af-af-afternoon,” he said in a deliberately maniacal voice. “Fun way to spend a Sunday after-noon. Looking at shirts and pants and jackets. Instead of fu-fu . . . Instead of fucking Farrah. Fucking Farrah. The little tinker’s git of a hoor. Forty-four ninety-five. Men’s shirt. I’ve seen that one for forty in River Island. Do you like my River Island shirt, Máire? It cost me forty euro. And I bought new underwear too. Hugo Boss. And do you like this pair of trousers, Máire? Jesus! A hundred and twelve euro. But you’re worth it! And a jacket to go. What do you think, Máire? Blue serge. What the fuck is serge? Look at the price of it. Nearly as dear as a Brazilian. Two hundred bucks to get your fanny shaved. I’d do it for free! Free gratis. And then I’d lick you out. And then I’d pound it. Hard. And come all over it. Look! This one is half the price. Cord.”

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Gu-Gu-Geoghegan — Chapter 29 of 32

Luke’s eyes bulged and his pale face reddened.

“What the fu-fu-fuck do you mean you’re not doing it-doing it any-anymore?” he said.

“Exactly what it means. I’m not doing it anymore with you. It’s over. Curtains. I’m calling time. No more Sunday visits. Period.”

“And-and-and why? Tu-tu-tell me why?”

“I got a job.”

He laughed, a cruel harsh cackle that made his eyes water and his shoulders shake. When he had finished, he looked at Farrah with disdain.

“Who-who-who the fuck would hu-hire yu-you?”

“It’s none of your business, but I got a job. A real job. And the money’s good. I won’t have to fuck you anymore for the few quid.”

These last words were like a slap. He reddened even more and took a step towards her.

“And whu-whu-what about all the uh-uh-other fu-fu-fellas you were fucking? You’ve-you’ve han-han-handed in your nu-nu-notice to them too?”

“Yeah. I’m on the straight and narrow, now. Luke.”

“Huh! You-you-you’re a slapper and you-you’ll always be-be a slapper.”

Farrah shook her head and stared Luke down. Far from being cowed by his words or body language, she remembered that she was just as tall as him and perhaps weighed more. She decided not to be afraid of him.

“No, Luke. I’m a sixteen-year-old girl who’s had some tough breaks and fallen in with the wrong type of people. I need to leave you and all the rest of it behind me. I need to start dealing with stuff or I’ll wind up bad. And whoever wants to trash-talk me can just fuck off for themselves.”

“They’re not-not-not your words,” said Luke with a sneer. “Who-who-who have you been talking to?”

“Someone who knows about stuff. Someone who cares. Someone who’s not a sleazebag.”

“If-if-if-if you’re calling me a slu-slu-sleazebag you’d-you’d-you’d want to watch your-your mouth — slag.”

They were down at the end of Farrah’s road, where a line of boulders blocked vehicular access to the field that opened on to the Shannon. It was a place where they had been meeting for a couple of years, a lonely, dark space where they could be together unseen, all the houses at that end of the road being abandoned, and which Luke could get to through the field without having to pass any occupied houses. The streetlights were perpetually out of order, local lads making sure that replaced bulbs never lasted overnight.

“I’m not calling you nothing,” said Farrah angrily. “I’m just telling you how it’s going to be from now on.”

“So-so-so we’re just-just fu-fu-friends now? It’s nu-nu-not you, it’s-it’s mu-mu-me?” His voice was mocking, notwithstanding the stutter. His face was bent into a half-hurt half-bemused expression that she had never seen before. “Is that the wu-way it is?”

With a steely look she told him they had never been friends. “You paid me to fuck you. Dress up as your fantasy women. Shave my fanny, for fuck’s sake.”

He grabbed the top of her arm with a claw-like hand. “If-if-if-if you tell an-an-an-anyone about that—”

“What? You’ll kill me.” She swatted his arm aside. “Fuck off for yourself, Luke. You’ve done your damage to me. It’s over.”

He made to grab her again but she stepped aside.

“Farrah. Ju-ju-just remember that with one-one-one click of a button I can pu-put certain vi-vi-videos up on-on-on-on the nu-nu-net. An-an-and they’ll bu-bu-be up there forever. Ju-ju-just remember that.”

“Gu-gu-go fu-fu-fuck yourself, Gu-Gu-Geoghegan,” she said, turning swiftly around and running up the street. “Gu-gu-go fu-fu-fuck yourself.”

 

Luke walked aimlessly around the estate, thought about going to Bowsie’s to drown his sorrows, but continued on. He had never had someone break it off with him before — never been in a relationship before — so he had no past experiences to draw on. But he was familiar with the feelings that ebbed and flowed in his heart: anger, hurt, a sense of injustice at having been treated unfairly, the stinging feeling of being mocked, shame. These had accompanied him all the way through school, had been like silent partners in the dismal enterprise of his life. Things had improved when he left school. The bad feelings had receded, only surfacing when people mocked his stutter in the shop or when the few girls he had had the bravery to ask out had rejected him.

Reject, rejection: those words had followed him around like a mongrel dog since the day he was born. What had his father done? His mother done? Rejected him. All those little boys who would not befriend the strange, scrawny, pale boy who couldn’t talk? Rejected him. Girls like Trish, dozens of them, who made his heart beat faster and his mind believe there was good in the world? Rejected him. And the name they threw at him in the classroom and the schoolyard, lurid, jeering faces screeching at him like apes? Reject. Reject. Reject. Reject.

And now he really was a reject. A girl he paid to spend time with him had dumped him. Mocked him. Told him to leave her alone. I lost my cherry with her, he thought.

As he walked out of the estate and made towards the old medieval town, dark and quiet now, he looked back on the few years of their arrangement. His Sunday afternoon sessions had often been the highlight of his week. Getting through the long days he put in for Francie was made easier knowing that he would be enjoying Farrah’s sweet body on the Sunday. It had started out with standard sex. Embarrassment had held him back at first, when he had fucked her quickly and perfunctorily, not thought of going beyond the missionary position. But little by little he lost his inhibitions and became more adventurous. Farrah was always accommodating — if the price was right. By the time he thought of using her to play the women he followed, he had lost all his shyness and shame and felt that anything was permissible on those Sunday afternoons.

Farrah had taken them away.

The bitch.

Tears stung his eyes. Incredulously, he wiped them away and quickened his stooped walk.

What will I do about Máire?

Fucking Farrah dressed as Máire had been the only thing keeping him sane through all the bother with Senán.

That fucking bitch has taken Máire away from me!

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Gu-Gu-Geoghegan — Chapter 28 of 32

Now, young fella,” said Vincent, “that’s enough about your troubles. It’s time for Uncle Vincent to get some stuff off his ample chest.”

Senán laughed. He had spent the duration of one of Vincent’s cigarettes filling him in on what had occurred since the Christmas holidays. There was a lot to relate — Farrah’s visit, Luke’s scheming, the plan to sort him out, Senán quitting Francie’s, and Scary Mary’s “off-the-scale nastiness” over the past week. Vincent had listened with a world-weary smirk, allowing the length and intensity of his smoke exhalations to communicate his thoughts.

He did comment on Scary Mary’s state. “She didn’t get laid over the Christmas. That’s her problem. Simple as that. Sexual frustration. Over-sexed and under-satisfied. I bet she was at home all on her ownio on Christmas night flaking into a bottle of gin and wandering around that cottage of hers like Norman Bates dressed as his mammy — crying her eyes out one minute, slashing at empty space the next.”

“Too much information, Vincent,” said Senán. “I don’t want to know anything related to what that monster gets up to in her spare time. I’ve had enough of her this week to last me a lifetime.”

“Your little friend, Luke, likes to know what she gets up to in her spare time,” said Vincent wickedly. “What was the phrase? ‘He pulls his wire while he’s looking in at her’.”

“And I’ve had enough of him too, if you don’t mind.”

Vincent took a drag on a newly lit cigarette. “Good, good, good,” he said. “Coz I want to talk about me for a while.”

With his free hand, he rearranged his Siouxsie and the Banshees Kiss in the Dreamhouse T-shirt, which the wind had blown upwards to reveal a sliver of bulging milk-white belly.

“I’ve my own trouble, you know. This fuckin’ conference in the summer. It’s a labour of love, sure enough, but it’s wrecking my fucking head. I haven’t a minute to myself between one thing and another: contacting speakers, getting brochures printed, the fucking website, the cunt who wrote the book about 4AD has pulled out, Tolhurst is humming and hawing. Hedges is still decidedly on the fence. No pun intended.”

“I don’t have a clue who any of these people are,” said Senán.

“Doesn’t matter. The gist is that this fucking conference is a world of pain. And do you think our august institution is doing anything to help me? To smooth the path for poor old Uncle Vincent? Fuck no! Any possible barrier they can put in my way, the fuckers just fling it down across the fucking road. From the lowliest, orange-faced Oompa Loompa admin secretary to the Dean of Arts herself, every fucker in this dump is just throwing spanners in the works. It’s like they don’t want the fucking thing here at all. And I don’t know why. I’m pulling tons of fucking moolah into the place. Five hundred-plus journalists, bloggers, researchers from around the world staying on campus for three days. Meals. Drinks. Sponsorship. There’ll be a Proceedings out of this. Ka-ching. Not to mention the press coverage the conference will stimulate. CureCon is a win-win for all concerned, but the fuckers here are biting the hand that feeds them.”

He pulled long and hard on his cigarette and expelled the smoke with venom into the wind. “But!” he continued. “The fuckers haven’t got me beat! Old Vincent has a trick up his sleeve. I am going to hire me a lackey. A gofer. A factotum. Call him or her — preferably her — what you will. Believe it or fucking not I’ve had some luck for once in my life and I’ve come into money. Remember that RAI grant I applied for? The one to do with conference administration in the social sciences?”

“No.”

“Well, it’s come in! I’ve money for six months to pay a young wan to do all the shit that’s driving me mad. All the donkey work. This is a great moment for me. The first time those stuck-up cunts have given me anything beyond the steam of their piss.”

“Congratulations.”

“Thank you. I’m just left with one problem — who to hire for the fucking post.”

Senán frowned before asking his friend if the person would need any qualifications.

“Qualifications? Bah, humbug! I just need a warm body to do a bit of the heavy lifting vis-à-vis the infernal paperwork, email writing and general cutting through of red tape. You know. Bookings. Reservations. Name tags. Printing. ‘At what time is your expected arrival, Mr Stephens?’ That kind of shit. I need someone with a bit of cop-on, that’s all. And tough skin if she’s tasty: she’ll have to put up with low-grade workplace sexism from her boss; a bit of leering, bottom-touching, inappropriate remarks. Nothing too heavy. The usual academic workplace sexual harassment that we’ve all gone through and we’re none the worse off for.”

“I know someone,” said Senán slowly. “You’re probably going to shoot me down, but at least hear me out.”

“Go on. Uncle Vincent is intrigued.”

“Well. That girl, Farrah—”

“The one who’s taking pipe from stalker Luke in exchange for worldly goods? The teenage hooker?”

“I wouldn’t say hooker. A teenager from a very deprived background who’s fallen into some bad habits and bad company.”

” Luke, I presume?”

“Yeah. She’s not in school. She’s done her Junior Cert. So legally she can’t be forced to go to school. And she’s no job. She’s nothing to do. And no-one will take on a young girl like that with no skills or experience.”

“And you want Uncle Vincent to step in. Hand over executive powers to some wild child from—”

“You said you just needed a warm body.”

“True. But I didn’t say I needed some sort of druggy fuck-up.”

“But she’s one of the people you study. Aren’t you some sort of expert on teenage self-harm and all that?”

Vincent laughed and took a drag of his cigarette.

“I feel I’m being argued into a corner here.”

“It’s just,” said Senán, passion and frustration in his voice, “I think the girl is in free fall. She needs some intervention to pull her out of it. And I think a job would do her the world of good. A bit of money. Self-esteem. Discipline. Responsibility. And ‘twould take her away from Luke and walking down the tracks at night with a bottle of vodka and a bag of pills. And after the six months she did with you, she might get a taste for work. Maybe go back to school. Do a cert in secretarial skills. You never know. I just think we have the chance to make a difference to one life. It mightn’t work out. She might fuck up, leave after two weeks — whatever. But at least we’ve tried.”

“Christ,” Vincent said.

“Christ, what?”

“I think you’ve sold me on it.”

Vincent was serious now, his chubby face showing a pensive expression.

“I just hope to God she doesn’t get us into trouble here. With the powers that be.”

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Gu-Gu-Geoghegan — Chapter 27 of 32

 Luke had never wanted anyone as badly as he wanted Máire Ní Mhainnín. Unlike the normal pattern his “cases” followed, the more he watched her, the more he needed to watch her. It usually went through three phases: the early phase, where the thrill of the hunt and the excitement at learning about his prey predominated, and where his feelings were akin to a lover’s infatuation; the middle phase, where he grew familiar with the women’s habits and movements so that their lives and his became intimately intertwined; and the end phase, where boredom and indifference settled over his previous feelings like dust blanketing the furniture in an abandoned house. In this final phase he often grew contemptuous of his quarry. He began to spot physical imperfections and character flaws. Little things they did started to annoy him, like how they squeezed a tea bag, or didn’t cover their mouths when they yawned, or the way they slumped on the couch when they watched TV. Connie was now a late-phase case. He would shortly grow tired of her. To complete his collection he would take a few more photos of her out running, then he would leave her be forever.

He would never leave Máire Ní Mhainnín. He had never encountered a woman like her before. The night he had watched her masturbate — Christmas night, all alone in her cottage — was the night he knew he had found someone extraordinary. At that stage he had seen her nude a number of times, watched her dressing, undressing, lathering her pale skin with cream, in a way that many men would have paid money to see. He had seen her get fucked in different ways by different men, had come when she had come, standing just a few feet away from her hopping headboard. But when she lay on her bed in the candlelight and went at herself with a large, pink vibrator, Luke knew he had found what he had always been searching for: a classy lady to whom the kind of sex he watched on the internet was a daily reality, and whose beautiful body was as much a plaything for herself as the bodies of the whores and sluts on his computer were for the men who sated themselves on their unreal bumps and curves.

Luke had gotten into the habit of masturbating while he watched Máire. He felt so concealed and safe in her garden, had grown to know every loose kerbstone, torn-up patch of tarmac and dip in the lawn that after a couple of weeks he waived the usual precautions. After that first night, when he had felt compelled to do it, masturbating to Máire became as routine as taking photos or videos while she watched TV or danced. He timed his orgasms to coincide with hers. With spit-wet fingers he would knead the tip of his glans while she and the men she brought home engaged in foreplay. When they got down to the serious business of penetrative sex he would open his fly, clench his penis and move his hand along it in time to Máire’s exertions. When the rhythm of the fucking grew frantic, Luke would pull hard on himself and stare unrelentingly at her face for signs of imminent orgasm. He would do his best to hold off coming until her features froze in the telltale contortions of climax.

He always came onto the narrow flower bed along the side of the house by the bedroom. The soil was bare, showed evidence of having been cleared of plants to lie fallow for winter. He always wondered if the soil that received his seed would be extra fertile; that perhaps come spring whatever she planted there — busy Lizzies or pansies or sweet Williams — would outgrow all their neighbours. He wondered would Máire notice anything when she dug into the soil with her trowel. Would she stop and sniff her hands, swearing for a moment that she could smell semen? Or would she note a stickiness, a viscosity to the earth she pushed aside for her plants.

That night when she took out the vibrator and it was only she and him, separated by breeze block and double-glazed windows, he felt closer to her than he had to any woman he had ever known. He thought, and almost began to believe, that she was putting on a show for him, that somehow she knew he was out there and this was her way of giving him something special. Just as when he watched her dance, he felt he was seeing a side of her that no one else ever would — the dark side of the moon, he liked to call it. With one hand on his video camera and the other on his penis, he saw her work the vibrator, saw the mixture of pain and pleasure on her stretched lips and tightly shut eyes. As his exertions steamed the cold air outside, her body glistened with sweat, her hair dampening and sticking to her forehead and cheeks. He desired to feel that sweat on him, to smell her juices and leave his semen on her body the way he left it on the earth. He wanted to stick the vibrator in her, bring her to delirium until she was soaked, inside and out, and then stick his penis in her and ride her hard — the way she liked.

He liked the feel of Farrah’s new shaved pussy. She did a reasonable facsimile of Máire with the vibrator he had bought her. For extra money she had let him come on her belly and rub the semen until her breasts and mons glistened with it. But he was tired of staging charades. Besides the cost, he knew Farrah was laughing at him, that she thought his “play-acting” sad and pathetic. The fucking he gave her was often angry, and he knew it would not — should not — be like that if he ever did it to Máire.

His fantasies now were all about picking Máire up in Dazzlers, walking her to the taxi rank and being brought back here to fuck the night away, he knowing exactly what she wanted. She’d never have better sex. He’d be gone in the morning when she woke up and she’d be left wondering about the mystery man who pleasured her so completely.

He knew the fantasy would never be realised unless he changed.

The men she picked up in Dazzlers were men, and he did not consider himself a man. His brother was a man, living free of interference from his grandparents and figures like Francie. Luke still straddled the world between boyhood and manhood, his life one long running of errands. His clothes were bought, washed, ironed and folded by his grandmother, who also decided when and what he ate. He was still on his grandfather’s car insurance and known in the estate as “the young fella of the Geoghegans”. If he was to be like the men Máire went with he would have to change: hair, clothes, watch, the works. He might even try growing a beard or a moustache — who knows? But whatever the case, the Luke who walked up to her table in Dazzlers would be a different Luke to the man-boy who looked in her window.

There was only one thing: the stutter. His speech would trip him up, as it always did. No matter how good he looked or how much bravado he mustered, as soon as he thought about saying something he would get blocked. He would stand in front of Máire in the din and darkness of Dazzlers with his mouth open and his tongue and throat clicking away. She would laugh at him or think him a weirdo — or a handicap, the word his classmates often used in the schoolroom.

He still had that number Senán had given him. Perhaps he would spend a few quid on a speech therapist to get the ball rolling on loosening his tongue.

Luke put paid to his ruminations and returned his attention to Máire Ní Mhainnín. She was sitting up straight on the couch, lit from above by the cane reading lamp with the brushed steel UFO shade, and from below by the LCD glow of her laptop. She hadn’t the TV on. He guessed she may have been listening to music or the radio, but he couldn’t hear anything. She seemed out of sorts — anxious, fretful and bad-tempered. Whatever she was at on the computer was making her frown and mutter to herself, and occasionally scream and turn her head away in disgust. She was on a deadline, clearly, and things were not going well.

He had never seen her like this before. She was always relaxed and bright-faced. She hadn’t even changed out of her work clothes, a mid-thigh-length black skirt and cherry-petal-pink blouse. The grade-A upskirt he recorded of her smooth, sinewy legs was the only silver lining to keeping vigil on a night when nothing bar trips to the bathroom or coffee pot broke the monotony.

It was ten past twelve. Luke wondered was it worth staying any longer. Having spent the evening wrestling with difficult work, she was hardly likely to have a go at herself with the vibrator. More likely she would collapse into bed without even the usual show of moisturising herself. He would call it a night, he decided, but not before making his nightly offering to her flower bed. He turned off his camera and began to fondle his penis into life. He looked at the crevice between Máire’s thighs, which darkened tantalisingly as it narrowed, and imagined slipping his hand up it until his fingers felt the soft folds of vulva. He worked away at himself, the mechanical threshing of his arm building speed until he felt a teasing heat in his prostate. He slowed and tightened his grip on the shaft, his hand like a clamp on the veins and urethra.

Soon, soon, soon, he panted. Soon, soon, soon.

He’d have his hand up her skirt any day now.

Soon, soon, soon.

He relaxed his hold on his penis and his cum hopped out onto the earth below.

Soon, soon, soon.

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