By Ella Barron Carton
Photo “Exploring Solo” By Tuyet
There were many house parties in which we ran into each other before I had the wherewithal to ask his name. He said that we’d already met, and I said I knew, I we’d already met, and I said I knew and was just bad with names. The truth is I’m not bad with names, he had never introduced himself. We had a mutual friend, one of my best, and she called him Beyoncé.
Mud on shoes and old carpets fraying and catching the hairs hair of a million guests. The armchair in the hall was out of place and took up space. Springs stuck out of the back, so I sat sideways, like a princess carried in its arms. My eyes wanted to close, but I heard conversation all around. Fluttering lids and swirling my cheeks around to wake up. Someone said to be careful, and I opened my eyes to him. His hand was holding my glass as my loosening grip no longer kept it upright. I swung around.
We began meeting up sometimes after that; we started talking in less stuffy spaces, walking, and drinking coffee. Chatting often about our mutual friend, she was good common ground. He paints and has an architecture degree he never wants to use. Curly hair and eyes a darker brown than mine. When I noticed this, I noticed too that I wished he wasn’t gay.
The sea by my house is the most interesting part of the surrounding coastline, so I brought him over to paint while I swam. When I got too cold, or the hail began to hit, we would run to the house laughing and assess the damage. Paintings were always pocked, my hair was always ratty, and he would wait and chat with me while I pulled the brush through it. After this, he would head back into town, and I was rarely invited.
At night I would refresh his social media; he was always online. I refused ever to message him first, except to invite him to the beach.
I canceled my birthday party when he couldn’t come. I said I was sick, and hoped to rearrange it for when he was free, but he never was. He dropped a painting off at my house when I was at work one day. It was of a woman in the sea, me, I presumed, fighting with the March waves. Craters from hail textured the surface and ran the acrylics into themselves. I tried to call him to thank him, but it went straight to voicemail. Instead, I attempted a thank you text but every way I phrased it seemed unnatural and embarrassing.
I swam every day in April and invited him each time. The sea wasn’t his current muse, he told me, he’d. He’d fallen in love with the hills. We wanted to go hill walking one day, but in crawling out of town, we realised the bridge was still closed. Nothing I suggested for us to do together instead was appealing enough for him, and he went home on his own.
The arts festival in the city was steeped in water, and all of the sculptures were blurred by rain until you got up close. He was wearing an expensive red blazer for the opening of the show, but it came off when it clashed with the wine. Dashed oils or acrylics overlapped one another, and the landscapes hugged the figures, and no matter what way I looked at it, squinted, or moved away, I couldn’t tell if any of them were me.
I was two glasses deep when a man with a bold quiff and angular beard came in and kissed him on both cheeks. My face burned redder than any piece in the room, and I left without saying goodbye.
Beyoncé’s namesake announced a world tour weeks later, and that prompted me to text him. Sent, read. No matter where I put my phone in the house, I still walked back and returned to it to check for a reply. Slept I slept that night with the volume up high, vibrate on, and my phone beside me on the pillow.
I didn’t go for a swim the next following morning. I got the bus into the city. The gallery was closed when I got there, so I sat on the low windowsill and waited. The sill had been freshly painted, and sitting for so long that I dried into it, and I had to peel myself off when it was time to go in.
There were no red dots beside any of the paintings yet, and the show would be over in two days. I bought the one of a blonde girl standing beside the lifeguard hut on the boring beach. It could have been me if the hair was different.
The café across the road sold cronuts. I didn’t know I hated them until I bought one. I ate only a bite, drank three cups of coffee, and stared out the window. Unhappy with all the caffeine, I could feel my stomach threatening me, but I didn’t want to miss him by being in the toilet.
At home that night, I didn’t know whether or not to tell him I had bought a painting. He had probably been told someone had bought one. He had probably asked who. They had probably told him, and he probably didn’t care.
The next night, he invited me to a surprise party for our mutual friend. I had forgotten it was her birthday, hadn’t spoken to her recently, and spent the following day looking through all sorts of shops before deciding to get her a voucher for a nail studio. Once I had it bought, I realised I wasn’t sure I’d ever seen her with her nails done, and wondered if I had just assumed all blonde girls were into that sort of thing. I watched Legally Blonde as I got ready for the party that evening.
Celebrations took place in his flat, and it was my first time there. He had a roommate who locked himself in his room and put on The Doors at volumes high enough for the bass to play in my ribs. His floors were covered in newspapers like he was being house-trained. One corner was specifically thick with protection and dribbled paint. The backs of splattered canvases faced us from where they rested against walls. The couch in the middle of the main room was faded, losing stuffing from gashes. I leaned against it in my darkest velvet dress, conscious of how it matched his eyes better than mine.
When our mutual friend arrived, I was already several vodka tonics in and yelled surprise out of time with everyone else. She started crying, ugly tears of shock transferring mascara down to her chin. Laughing through it, she dabbed the edges of her eyes with her sleeve, neglecting the most prominent of streaks and still staining her fluffy cream coat. She called Beyoncé a cunt and threw herself at him. They hugged, and everyone laughed.
After she stood up and wiped her face again, he leaned in and kissed her right on the mouth. Someone shouted to get a room, another shouted this was his room, someone laughed, and I coughed my gasp out through the tonic water. Elderflower burned my nose.
The smell of vodka floated around my face for the rest of the night. Our mutual friend had her nails done, acrylic tips in glossy orange, and I felt the voucher in my pocket burn off the back of my hand. His gift was a painting of her sitting on his couch, with roses growing out of her arms. Crying, she kissed him again, and I wondered how long I had gone, not noticing this.
Later, when I was out of drink, I cornered her before leaving. At this stage, she was in a merry state, and her lipstick was almost entirely missing. I told her it was a nice colour, and she said it was burnt sienna. Her eyes searched him to see that he approved of her knowledge. He was talking to a man in double denim with long silver hair, not paying attention to us. It took me a long time to search for a tone I could keep up, and I had to hold on to her arm to ask her how long they’d been together. Pretty much forever, on and off, unofficially, she explained. I said I thought he was gay, and she laughed. Most people do, she said, the cider on her breath assaulting my nose.
I left the party and called a taxi. The app said it would be six minutes. I was afraid that anyone would look out the windows and see me still standing there, so I canceled it and crossed the road.
Ella Barron Carton
Ella is a recent graduate of Arts with Creative Writing at NUIG. She is currently undertaking a master’s in urban planning in UCC while working towards her first collection of short stories.