Contents

Anna's Odyssey

CHAPTER ELEVEN

 

        I am never again buying a lottery ticket. What the guys who run this thing donít realise is that each time I buy I expect to win. Not the smaller prizes but the big one, the one that guarantees a mortgage-free life. I can no longer cope with the disappointment and the appalling sense of failure when not one, not bloody one ball corresponds to my ticket. Itís not worth it. Statistically I have a better chance of being hit by a meteorite. Now that would be more in keeping with my kind of luck.

         Sometimes deep down I think we know our destiny but if its scary and not too pleasant we try to block it out and dance as fast as we can to avoid the despair that such reflection brings. Somewhere in the recesses of our neglected unconsciousness we know the ending but are unsure as to how we actually get there. Romeo and Juliette our classic star struck lovers, bound by eternity by true love knew at an inner level they were doomed to a tragic fate. Theirs was a tragedy that created heart wrenching poignant moments that defined their love and ultimately shaped their destiny.

         But I aspire not to tragedy. Not I. For I aspire to the love affair between Simone De Beauvoir and Jean Paul Satre for theirs was a love more tangible, real and honest. They were soul mates, bound together at a deep cosmic level who were not only profoundly aware of their deep connection but also of their own sense of personal destiny. They choose to live apart for they knew that living together would reduce them, especially Simone to shadows of their former selves. Enforced proximity and domestic trivialities would have eroded their passion and destroyed that which linked their minds and ignited their hearts.

         My sense of personal destiny is so fragile and ill defined that I even wonder if I am capable of submitting to the kind of love that I want. The only thing I do know is that people like me donít win the lottery which goes to prove itís not based on random chance but on the magic wand of destinyís touch. Nah the Gods always let people who say "It wonít change my life. Iíll still plod on in my nine to five job because Iím so fucking devoid of imagination I cannot perceive any reality other than continuing to work in a sausage factory churning out sausages all day long. " Feel like strangling these people with their sausages.

         What a waste. Iíd buy a castle, a title and a selection of men to attend to my every need. I would be so into total change that I wouldnít be averse to having a little bit of lipo suction here and there and suck out those greedy fat cells for good and of course a set of Julia Robert lips, and maybe hair extensions. I would also donate a lot of money to donkey sanctuaries everywhere. So you see I would make a bloody difference but the Gods obviously cannot abide initiative and spirit not when it comes to money.

         The husband of a distant cousin of mine who is parsimonious and frugal to the point of pathological retention won the lottery a few years ago. Ian used to work as a hospital porter and shot and skinned deers as a hobby earning him the nick name of Skin The Deer. Anyway after his fortuitous win Skin the Deer graduated overnight to Skin the Bear as he then had enough money to go bear hunting in Canada. There is no fucking justice. Thereís me willing to rescue and house neglected animals, not shoot them. Destinyís sometimes warped direction makes me seriously think the Gods are tripping on LSD.

         Tonight Iíve agreed to go out with Nigel, and if heís the one I wonít need the looto not when Iíd be marrying it. Heís calling for me at 8 oí clock so right now I am in the bath exfoliating the bits of me he can see. There is this special salt that Grace brought me from her previous holiday in Bali so tonight I am quite literally shedding my skin like the proverbial snake as I plan to seduce but not fuck the obviously wealthy and imminently suitable Nigel. Tonight is special for this is my first real date since I arrived in Dublin.

         Aaagh, my face looks lobster red, Iíll kill Grace. I must have removed the entire top layer of skin, exposing thread veins, patchy spots around my chin and do I really have facial hair? Disguise, I need a disguise. I put on six coats of oil of Olay and four layers of foundation. Now I look like a glow in the dark worm but at least Iíve removed the tortured raw look.

        I decide to dress casually in the sort of I didnít go to any effort to impress mode so I wear my figure hugging red jeans and black camisole top. Just enough to invite temptation but not enough to make him think Iím a lecherous tart gagging for it. I have eaten nothing all day so I can guiltlessly consume all of my daily calories tonight. Nigel is taking me to a new Italian restaurant in Swords. Heís taking me as opposed to me being alone. Feeling very warm and gooey towards Nigel which must be a good sign. Also he rang me back to confirm which means heís thinking about me and is caring. I donít want to get too overcome with emotion this early in the night so I listen to some Reggae and chill.

         Nigel arrives on time and tells me I look nice even though he hardly glances at me. I think he was pleased I liked his black Daimler which true to his Nigelesque personality was immaculate inside. No dust, no ends of food bits, zero. Fuck it Nigel loves his car. He may not have a mother but in his eyes heís got the next best thing. How can I compete with alloy wheels, walnut dash and the purring sound of his girl. Despondency and despair dance hand in hand doing a manic reel in my psyche. I canít even look forward to a drink for Nigel thinks I donít drink and this is major fishing season - reeling in time.

         The owner, a small swarthy man in his fifties, escorted us to our somewhat private alcove seat with a view of a tiny neon lit garden. All I can say is that it felt a bit eerie being in a little oasis with only the sound of Nigelís voice registering in my ears. It was altogether too private, somehow too intimate. In spite of the heat I shiver inside and try to quench a rising sense of foreboding.

         At least the food here is good and the waiter attentive and cute. Very cute. I like the dark sexy Italian looks with come to bed eyes that I swear they use for all their female clients.

        "Does Madam need more time to choose perhaps?" he says in a divine creamy-knickers-provoking broken English accent"

         Nigel decides what he wants straight away, soup, with steak and chips to follow. Jesus heíll probably want ice-cream for desert.

         "Donít you like Italian food?" I ask somewhat incredulously.

         "None of that spaghetti stuff for me, I Ďm a real steak man." He opens his mouth as he laughs making me want to shove a bread stick down his throat. Calm Anna, he has every right to be predictable and boring, concentrate on his good points. I canít think of any so I concentrate on the menu while conscious that the waiter is staring at my cleavage. At least he appreciates what Iíve got to offer not like Nigel who fiddles with his personal organiser as if expecting it spew out some conversational tips and funny anecdotes.

         I decide to start with an olive salad with some ciabiatta. I feel faint as I havenít eaten all day and expect that by now my body is probably eating itself. Self cannabilism surely is a cruel way to diet but it works. Actually I recently read somewhere that if you consciously restrict calories you live longer so thatís all I doing, extending my life span, just like those little mice in the laboratory. A shrinking stomach is a very dangerous enemy, dangerous and greedy.

         When the bread arrives I want to tear into it like some feverish animal whose eyes dart furiously around the place as if expecting some unknown predator to claim my food as his own. Irrationality and derangement due to lack of calories, see how dieting impairs cognitive thinking. While Nigel ceremoniously breaks his roll into four little pieces I try ever so hard not to swallow mine whole. With superhuman effort I try to nibble slowly and elegantly. I dunk the bread into olive oil that I secretly want to swallow in one go. I chew slowly, not desperately until at last my blood sugar is raised and I can be benevolent once more to Nigel who has taken the liberty of ordering a beer for himself and a juice for me. Juice? Great Anna Moran has graduated from water to juice-Ėkick myself not having the foresight to bring a naggon of vodka in my bag but will do next time.

         Nigel is a nice guy donít get me wrong but without my beer goggles I canít hack him at all. But Iím willing to give him a chance which goes to show how sweet and not shallow I am after all.

         "Do you know that Nassau scientists have found 10 more planets in our solar system?"

         "Very interesting" I say all the while thinking what impact that could have on mine or anyone elseís life. Who cares if there are billions of extra planets out there. Nobody visits, sends us messages, emails, nothing. I have better things to be bothered about like do you fancy me Nigel. Are you only interested in my body?

         "Anna, Iíve never told a living soul this but please hear me out," Nigel almost whispers

         Great I dig this sudden injection of intimacy as long as its not too far outside the realms of normality.

         "When I was eighteen in college I spotted a space ship over the garage in my parents house," he says looking deeply into my eyes.

         "It could have been lots of things couldnít it, a trick of the light a low flying aircraft," I say for the want of saying something other than oh no you did not.

         "Anna I know what I saw and now I know that there is life out there only most of us cannot see it. I have a theory that space travellers travel in another dimension and some times like that night our paths cross and we collide. "

         "Iíd love to see an alien, and then Iíd believe thereís life elsewhere. Until then Iím afraid Iím rather sceptical" I say and realise I have mortally offended Nigel so I side track and tell him Iíd be interested in learning more about black holes in space and time travel. Iíd like that to be able to travel in time and know things in advance. I could win every lottery, know all the horse racing results, see my children, my future. Nigel says he has taught himself to astral travel and he can teach me so we can travel together through the astral plane. I need to be open to the richness of life and to the possibilities of doing things together as a couple so am willing to go where Nigel has been and experience what he does and feels. Feel infused by nice cosy togetherness feeling.

         Strange thing intimacy, you know doing things together. Eating, sleeping, making love, discovering black holes in space. Our actions are all that more important because we are doing things together like ceremoniously eating him steak and mushrooms and me struggling with a spaghetti dish. We do this to get close to another person, so we can step outside our own boundaries to mingle and intertwine.

         I look at Nigel chomping away on what seems to be semi raw steak. I try to picture him fuelled by the red meat in the threes of passion but for the life of me, I cannot. Is this a bad sign? Jesus Christ I wish I had a drink to take the edge of my intuitions. Well maybe sod passionate sex, maybe weíll have companionable sex and settle for a cosy mammy and daddy relationship. Watching TV together, going for walks and searching for aliens. Fuck it beam me up Scottie, right now.

         True to form Nigel ordered a selection of ice creams while I indulged in a full fat large portion of tiramisu. No wonder the Italian women blow up like Michelin men. The sexy waiter hovering nearby asks me discreetly for my phone number while Nigel trots off to the little boys room. He tells me he has been watching me all night and that I am one sexy lady. Oh why not play the field instead of pinning all my hopes on one man. His name is Luigi Panteilli and he is so all hormone I can almost smell the testosterone. I can feel my nipples harden under his insistent gaze so I give him my business card with my work number. I can see heís impressed with the fact that I have a corporate position, able to earn my own money, only need men for sex and to take out the bins type woman.

         Nigel pays the bill with his gold card but I leave a tip even though he insists that service charge is included. This tip however could be an investment in future services with the horny Luigi under whose gaze even my nipples stood to attention. I need to look upon Nigel as a man, a man with his own house without a ball and chain mortgage and a car a job for life and probably a variety of pension plans.

         Nigel suggested we go back to see his house which must mean he is interested in the one thing. He wants me. Maybe heís the type who is reticent on the outside but a sexual fiend on the inside. Drink or no drink Iím going to see what heís made of tonight. Nigel doesnít like to talk while we drive in silence up to his house, bought with an inheritance from his late grandfather an astute man who had wisely invested in the stock market years ago. My grandfather, on the other hand drank himself to death and left his only child, my mother a grave plot so you can see how dysfunctionalism permeates down the line.

         Nigelís home is a nice modern detached house in Howth encircled by palm tree on one side and shrubs on the other side bought by his aunt Maura in the garden centre during their sale. It was late and Nigelís nasal twang giving me a running commentary on everything was beginning to grate on me. If there was to be a next time I would definitely wear ear plugs or better still gag the bastard.

         His house was not the typical bachelor hovel that one might expect for it was so incredibly ordered and pristine I was beginning to suspect he had a house keeper hiding somewhere. I mean there wasnít a speck of dust or a crumb anywhere. All his mail was in a neat pile beside a letter opener and a selection of pens. This was the sort of house that is uninhabited by borrowers so that if you put something down it will be there when you return.

        I am constantly amazed at these kind of homes, rather grave like in fact where nothing is disturbed and order rules. Do these people get up at dawn to clean and vacuum and dust because when ever I visit they are sitting down, sipping coffee out of a cup with matching saucer and nibbling crumb free cakes while tittering controllably. Is Nigel one of these people? A closet hoover man who can hardly wait til youíve gone and he can vac and clean and scrub. Maybe Nigel has OCD, compulsive obsessive disorder, oh my God what are the classic signs? Pathological cleanliness, chronic mathematical order and letter openers? Hey Iím trying to get a feel of the man, thatís all.

         His hallway boasted an open fireplace with an electric log effect fire that was immediately lit to show me how effective it was and also how clean and economical gas could be. I fancied sitting out here on the Laura Ashley sofa, indulge in a romantic drink or two before we got to know each other a little better. Nigel however had other plans which included sitting in his spacious kitchen, drinking cocoa, while yellow creuset saucepans hovered precariously overhead.

        I associate cocoa with geriatric nursing homes or with aged ramblers who for a treat have a cup of cocoa before they retire. Cocoa is not a good sign, itís too old for me too formal and goddamn boring. I searched the surfaces to see if I could lace it with some cooking sherry or as a last resort even wine vinegar would suffice as a tarting agent.

         After three cups of cocoa, Nigel began to drone on about his love of American country western music. My face was paralysed into a permanent smile that quivered and shook with falseness.There was nothing else to do but to take the bull by the horns and kiss Nigel to quench his voice and incessant data and also to see if there was even a remote spark between us. Nothing.

        I closed my eyes and tried to think of Luigi but his image eluded me to be replaced by an aroused version of Nigel whose tongue had started to journey so far down my throat that I wanted to gag. His hands started to knead my breasts as if they were lumps of dough to be remoulded and crushed. Ouch he was beginning to hurt forcing me to withdraw rather abruptly leaving Nigel with his tongue still extended two inches from his mouth. He was suddenly all apologetic saying heíd didnít know what had come over him and did I want another cocoa. I never want to drink cocoa again until Iím old enough to be knitting cardigans for ungrateful grandchildren or better still toothless and senile in an old folkís home.

         Zero chemistry, in fact arctic chemistry between Nigel and I. But I heed my motherís words of the wise or perhaps of the permanently deluded and decide to give him a second chance. Nigel is so pleased Iím accepting a second date he must think that his performance pleased me and that I am as sadly lacking and sexless as he is.

         Flowers regularly arrive to the house, beautiful Irises and sweet smelling roses and red carnations. I am being wooed and for once Iím enjoying all the attention. No more wham bang thank you mam. This is tongue dive, quick kneed and thatís it. Nigel respects that this is my boundary and like any little boy who does as he is told is happy to be disciplined and told what to do. We eat out in the best restaurants, although it is a bit of a waste where Nigel is concerned as heís so set in his tastes. I listen to what he says and nod and smile and say things like amazing and isnít that interesting and he seems delighted with that. He does not and cannot live in my dreams or share my imagination so deep down I know the relationship is doomed.

         At night when Cecil is banished to the couch in the lounge and I can hear the rocking of the bed springs I get a pain where my heart should be and tears prickle under my eyelids threatening to deluge. If Iím honest I want that. I want rocking springs, mingling fluids, exchanged saliva and passion. I realise that I cannot and will not settle for the cosy mammy daddy sex. I want the sort that makes me feel Iím living so dangerously close to the edge that Iíll fall and fall and fall. Fuck this chaste relationship. It is so so not me. Time to dump Nigel without him topping himself.

         Nigel took the news in the sober stoic state that I thought he would. Without sex as a common denominator there could be nothing between us. I couldnít even with my perverted imagination ever imagine sex with Nigel so I said my goodbyes and thanked my lucky stars I had escaped. Never in a zillion years could I learn to grow to love this man for love without chemistry is like a plant grown without soil, rootless artificial and wilts prematurely.

         So I was back to being free and single, a state that Grace felt needed to be nipped in the bud. Suggesting a little soiree with a few of their mutual friends made me smell a rat, a great big furry rat. There is invariably a snag when it comes to Grace. Like for instance I donít have facial hair but Grace thinks she does and as long as she thinks she does she ropes in as many as are willing to assist her in her drama du jour. Today she has facial hair and I am summonsed, note not invited to her home.

         I have to hand it to Grace the way we drop everything to pander to her requests. When I enter Graceís world I seem to dissolve and am roped into a world that is far removed from mine. I find myself under her harsh bathroom light peering at Graceís alleged moustache through a magnifying glass.

         "Can you see them?" she asks.

         "What exactly am I looking for Grace?" as I strain to see the wispy blond hairs over her top lip.

         "The hairs over my lip. Can you see them at all? She pleads so I decide to collude with her imaginary hairs.

         "Yeah I can see some but theyíre blond so not really that noticeable, although."

         "What is it. Can you see some dark ones?" she screeches.

         "Only in the light do they look like theyíre dark but theyíre not too bad" I say knowing full well that in Graceís world this constitutes an emergency of the highest order. She fingers her facial hairs which we all have to some degree but which now threaten Grace to the extent that she expects them to sprout uncontrollably into a beard as we speak.

         "What am I going to do?" she wails.

         "You could shave " I say trying to look as concerned as I can.

         "Shave. Are you insane Anna. If you shave you get bristles and thatís worse. No thereís only one thing to do. You need to go into the beauty salon and enquire about electrolysis," she commandeers.

         So I find myself in the nearby beauty salon discussing the pros and cons of electrolysis with an assistant whose aged skin from too many sunbed sessions is no advertisement for what the beauty industry can do. Grace has informed me that I must say itís my face Iím talking about as she doesnít want anyone to know that she Grace the perfect has facial hair.

         "I donít think you have facial hair," says observant assistant as she struggles to see any growth.

         "Oh I have," I say. "Itís fair so you canít see any."

         "Well sometimes its best to leave well alone in cases like this," she says in an increasingly insistent tone.

         At this stage I am almost fervently believing in the existence of sprouting hairs so I hiss and say I want a course of electrolysis and how much does it cost.

        The assistant sighs and puts me down for an appointment for the following day. Poor woman probably has to deal with nutters everyday. Grace for some reason has a way of getting all and sundry involved in her personal and domestic dramas. As Iíve said once I step inside her door I dissolve and become who she needs on that day. Her suggestions become all encompassing and seem a brilliant idea at the time. My powers of reason and discernment are obliterated to be replaced by unquestioning acquiescence to the follies of my sister. I should learn from my mistakes but I must obviously go through some kind of amnesia that deletes my ability to think beyond her thoughts and ideas.

        Like the time Grace thought I should change my hair colour. I was quite happy with the way it was but of course Grace had other ideas.

        "Anna you should go an all over blond. Youíd be fabulous like am Cameron Diaz and you could then get those contact lenses to give you the bright blue eyes" Grace gushes.

        For a nano-second I am transported along with her image of me and loath though I am to say it I swallow it whole. Grace when she has perfected herself to a fine point needs to transfer her urges to whatever next of kin she focuses upon. That day it was me. She created in her mindís eye my future image in the mirror so much so that I could actually see the Goddess on the other side. All over blond with bright blue eyes, I mean who wouldnít want that?

        Grace a self-confirmed shopaholic gets some osmotic pleasure when she convinces others they absolutely and totally need to buy. As my budget did not stretch to a hairdresser trip we went to Dunnes Stores and bought a Hydrience pale blond colour dye. I also ended up buying some new make up to suit my new colouring, even though I donít really like red lipstick and bright blue eyeshadow. But as Iíve said I tend to get caught up in Graceís enthusiasm and absolute certainty that she knows whatís best for me.

        Now that I think about it she gets this glazed look that gives me the impression she knows exactly what she is doing. Her focus and determination cause some one like me with vague boundaries to collude with the insane schemes du moment. I get so carried away with her plans and ideas that I may as well cease to exist. I think therefore I am, I donít think hence Iím not.

        We went back to her house and I swear to God I followed the instructions properly. The girl on the box was smiling, happy confident and very definitely beautiful and blond. The picture on the box must be what you might like to look like but not what you actually become. For I had become Wurzel Gummage with bright straw coloured hair and a few orange streaks for effect. The all over blond look had turned out to be an unmitigating disaster. I gazed at myself in the mirror trying to recall my lost previous self. I could feel despondency setting in but not Grace for she never sees disaster in the same way that I do. She who was born in the driving seat immediately came up with plan b to counteract plan a. Without blinking an eyelid she decided that all was not lost if we got another colour to tone down the Wurzell look. Why not I thought, I couldnít possibly look any worse than I already did.

        Even my niece Sara who has the judgement of her two and a half years kept laughing and pointing to my head and called me Anna Banana so sheís obviously learning colour association in nursery. Get a sudden urge to be done with it and do a Sinead O Connor and become Anna the egg. Against my better judgement I put my faith in Grace to put me out of my misery and rescue me from looking like a plate of congealed custard.

        Grace drove back to the shop and managed to nab some poor unsuspecting assistant who told her, probably to get rid of her to try an ash brown as that would tone down the yellow look. Grace returned confident that this was the only thing to do.

        "This is a different brand Anna so it should react differently on your hair this time." Again the girl on the box was smiling and happy so once more I put my trust in the colour experts. I had to wait 20 minutes for the dye to set and another 10 minutes to blow dry. Aaaaah. I now looked like Wurzell with a dead furry animal on top. Complete and utter mistake but you have to hand it to Grace for never giving up. She rang a friend of hers who suggested I tried an Ashe blond colour to cover up dead animal look. Third time equally unlucky as now I graduated to Wurzell with orange roots and hair that was so chemically damaged I half considered a wig or better still immac.

        So you would think I would have learned a lesson but once a fool always a fool. When Grace suggested she would pay for me to try out the electrolysis first I thought why not. Besides I like the pampering that goes on in a beauty parlour and whatever wispy hairs I had would be deleted for free.

        Grace came with me to observe the experience second hand so she was relaxed and chatty to the assistant who seemed a little young and possibly inexperienced for this procedure. Before I could object she literally pushed me into a horizontal position reducing me to an acquiescent mute. This is an Anna Moran warning about electrolysis Ėdo not get it done unless you have a santa beard or pubic hair transferage to the face. To be successful electrolysis has to get to the root which involves deep painful pluckage. When young girl had finished with my upper lip she proceeded to travel up my nostril and pulled and retrieved poor unsuspecting hairs from the safety of their nasal cavity. I was raw and sore and mad at Grace who then decided that she didnít want it done after all.

        "If there is any regrowth you will need to return in about two weeks time. What time will I fit you in for?" the optimistic plucker dares to ask.

        I collude with her very wise and totally normal suggestion that I would want an action replay of electrolysis torture. I have a zero pain threshold so next time I really want to say I will use immac or lady shave and who the fuck cares if I sprout pubic regrowth. So what with the Wurzell fiasco and facial hair that has resulted from my treatment I do not want to go along anymore with what Grace thinks.

        "Marcus has such delightful friends Anna. Iím sure there must be one whoíll suit you so."

        "Grace what have you done this time?" I ask rather tentatively.

        "Iíve arranged a little soiree with some friends in honour of your arrival to the city. You need to let people see youíre about and mingling. In that way they get used to seeing you and then they may want to get to know you." She says in the conspiratorial tone of one who seems to know what she is talking about. Grace has this gift from the Gods that make you feel that she is right and once more I find myself being swept along with her grandiose plans for the evening. My sense of me is evaporating and the new me is getting excited about meeting potential suitable men. Now what will I wear?

        Grace who thrives on organisation and control planned the entire evening with military strategy and female forethought. I was to wear her latest figure hugging white linen dress which she convinced me was fabulous and suited me and was absolutely perfect for the evening ahead. I personally thought I looked like the lady of the lake, helplessly feminine and dependent. But Grace wouldnít listen to my objections and seeing as she had personally gone to a lot of trouble to arrange my soiree I went along with the white dress and small dainty silver sandals. I felt ready to sit atop a christmas tree or perform as an angel at a school panto. Grace said that men liked the feminine look, it made them feel more male and protective towards us and invoked a need to look after and cherish us. I looked helpless alright, The dress was so tight I could barely breathe, let to mind move. All I required to complete the effect was to have my feet bound like the Chinese women of ago.

        "Some wine Anna? Donít put the bowl there. Put it in the middle of the table and donít put all that gin in. Here give it to me. If you want to get something done right you have to do it yourself," said Grace as she took over the making of her special punch recipe.

        Mrs Dunne, her daily cleaner was roped in with her sister in law to help to prepare the food and get the room ready. Grace had decided on a black and white theme which to me emulated Japanese minimalism being too clinical for my liking but this is supposedly the in look at dinner parties in Dublin these days. The table cloth was white linen, the ware was black as were the serviettes and the cutlery had black handles. White lilies ordered from her florist festooned the hallway and dinning room.

        Grace likes to possess an entourage of people in her life who pander to her whims and wishes. She doesnít just have a hairdresser, she has her hairdresser. Fred is her florist who on her majestyís bequest came around personally with a choice of white flowers. I wanted the giant daisies but Grace insisted on the lilies, even though they cost £80 for the amount she wanted. Lilies remind me of death and the fragility of life, not a flower for a happy evening. I decided that this in itself was a portend of impending doom and their smell made me feel strangely nauseous and gloomy. What on earth was I letting myself in for?

 

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