I sat beside her on the wall she leaned against. Smooth stones but uneven, off-kilter from the way up or down or both. Perhaps they were even one day long ago when someone cared to make it so. I sat there and watched the afternoon fog on the lough comin in at Killyleigh like a mortician.
She looked out across the lough trying to find that spot on the water where she’d seen it before, a flash of herring arcing over a whitecap. The fish had moved on or the fog obscured the place where it could be or she couldn’t tell the difference but wanted it back nonetheless. It pleased her to see the herring jump in the tin-gray water. She looked to need pleasin—best I could tell.
I ate salted chips from a paper cone and smiled at her but each time I did she looked away before I fully smiled and I could prove to her that she’d seen me do it and chose to ignore me. I tried smiling with my eyes then remembered I hadn’t that talent as some men do.
She still had the plausible defense. I didn’t see it sorry. Maybe next time I’ll smile back but she’ll be lyin if she says anything at all.
I offered her a chip and she didn’t answer unless looking at my hand and lookin back out at the fog is an answer. I shrugged and threw the last few to the cormorants to let her know I really didn’t want them all, not because I cared if the fuckin birds went hungry.
While the cormorants ate she walked down to the water looking down this time not out. I wanted to follow her because she had something to say but I couldn’t know if it was just to say it or for me to hear and no one else. I didn’t follow her but walked along the wall for a while till where I could still see her but she’d have to look too hard to see if I was watchin her and she didn’t seem of a mind to do that, give me any attention.
After a time of her still lookin down at the water or her feet or nothin maybe just the space in front of her I came down to the water as well and smoked and then I thought it might be a way to know her if I offered her one so I walked toward her. I hoped she stepped back a bit so I could walk in front and turn to her in a natural manner. She did—making me think that thing on her mind was for me.
I offered her a cigarette but she shook her head and hunched her sweater up around her neck but I could still make out it was the neck of an old woman before she closed me off to it.
Do you not smoke?
Do you not want one?
Fancy a whiskey instead, good against the cold, maybe with hot tea? I pointed up at the pubs.
I don’t fancy whiskey now either.
I looked down myself. All I saw was my boots and then fuck it all I looked her in the eye best she’d let me and I told her. Go ahead then.
Go ahead, where? I’m not goin’ anywhere.
No, I meant. I read people. I’ve a way of tellin things are on their minds.
There’s nothin on my mind.
You’ll lie about other things too.
Why don’t you go have your whiskey then? Smoke with your mates.
I’ll do that, if you tell me.
You wouldn’t understand.
Don’t let my youthful appearance fool you. I’ve been round this life a fair bit.
Not as far round as I and that’s the lot of it.
The lot of what?
Of what I’m tellin you today.
All right, then. But I come here sometimes when I see the fog comin in. I’ll be back. I like it for some reason.
You’re so good at readin people, why don’t you read yourself, then you’ll know what that reason is.
I suppose you’re right. It’s a fair point. I’ll leave you then. Have a cig. I won’t stay while you smoke it.
Then I’ll have one.
Keep the matches, there’s more at the pub.
I walked back up the beach to the spot where she’d leaned on the wall and looked back to her. She smoked and watched the water again but no herring jumped.
I turned to the pub and she called out to me, hey I won’t be comin back this way anymore, so if you want to know what’s got me in a foul humor.
I hollered back I’d almost lost interest but I asked anyway, what is it? What’s got you lookin out at the same spot on the water?
It’s my birthday.
Seems to me a good time for that whiskey after all.
I’m sixty-seven today.
You know what happens, what I think about at sixty-seven?
It’s a thing you realize one day, ’tis hard to accept, hard, you know?
Nobody wants to kiss me anymore.
I looked at her without sayin a thing because there was nothin worth sayin and she looked out at the water so I couldn’t see her eyes wellin up. I lit a cig and laid the half pack on the wall. When I got to the pub I looked back down the hill where she had told me that thing and she was gone.
I’m goin inside to forget but I know I’ll remember her again one day.