Nothing mentioned, nothing gained

Coco (from “Mind the Gap”)

Mind the Gap is a novel I’m currently writing. Marianne is in her early twenties and unhappy with “the gap” between the life she wants and the life she would like to have. When she realised the man she was dating was a former rockstar, she thought her life might get a little more exciting. It hasn’t.

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Bleary-eyed, I stumbled out of my bedsit into a morning full of stereotypical Irish January misery, with the bonus addition of grey slush. The snow that had seemed so enchanting on Christmas day had lost its freshness and become a dirty, grey slop that could disguise itself as solid pavement only to give way and flood your shoe when you were half way to work  and too late to turn back, guaranteeing a day of shivering and frostbite.

She was standing guard outside my flat, holding an expensive cup of takeaway coffee in one hand and holding out an iPhone in the other like some kind of talisman. She was dressed in a way that was at once trashy and obviously expensive, with a designer label tracksuit tucked into designer label ugg boots. Perhaps she might have carried that look off if she had been fourteen, but she looked like she was at least thirty. Her hair looked like birds had built a nest in it. I remember that look had been very popular with certain students at UCD, the kind of student who had rich daddies and lived five minutes away and spent their entire lives appointing themselves as class rep and organising class parties only three people would attend, and failing arts degrees because it didn’t matter anyway when they’d never need to get a job. None of my friends at college had hair like that, because people with that hair and that accent and those pretensions would never have been caught dead with a broke culchie like me.

“Marie,” she called out, at about three times the volume she needed to. My name wasn’t Marie but I was the only person on the street. Confused, I looked over at her, and kept walking. She ran over (actually it was more of a sheep-like shuffle, on account of the Uggs) and blocked my path so aggressively I wondered if she was about to attack me. “Coco,” she proclaimed, her snooty south Dublin tones at least five times too loud for the circumstances. “Sorry?” “Coco,” she hollered again, her grating inherent bossiness coming through even in one word. “Eh….no thanks,” I said, figuring she must be some kind of hot chocolate door to door saleswoman, if there was such a thing, and hoping she’d go away now. “No hun, I’m Coco.” Now I was seriously bewildered. And why was she calling me hun? Not only had I never seen her before, but there was a meanness to her you couldn’t help but pick up on as soon as you encountered her. Her eyes looked like knives that she would stab her own mother with if it got her half a shuffle closer to the next iPhone. Slowly and painfully, as though she were talking to an imbecile, and with every syllable drawn out so I could fully appreciate the affectedness of her south Dublin accent. “That’s my name.”

I wondered how to respond. “Pleased to meet you?” I wasn’t. But “I just met you, I already don’t like you. And it’s cold and I’m late for work, so GO AWAY” did seem a bit discourteous. “Oh,” was the best I could come up with. “Right.” “So,” Coco asked, except it sounded more like a command, “what’s he like in bed?”

I knew then what people meant when they talked about being pulled up short. I came to a complete standstill in the middle of a main road, at first unable to process what she’d said. But even as I stared at her and demanded “What?” a feeling of unease had started to redden my face, and travelled down to speed up my heart and bring a slightly nauseous feeling to my breakfastless stomach. “What do you think?” snapped Coco. “I mean what is Mr washed out ex-rockstar like in bed? Hang on a sec.” She impatiently jabbed and swiped at her phone, and then held it out towards me, like a microphone. I stared at it, then turned and walked towards the LUAS, hoping either she or I would magically disappear.

I’d imagined this, of course. In prefab B on cold winter mornings, I’d keep myself amused through double history by imagining myself, resplendent in a designer outfit, graciously and coyly deflecting questions about our love life as Mark stood at my side on a red carpet, gazing adoringly at me. Shutters would click, crowds would scream, and all would admire my unshakeable poise. But instead of an adoring public  and a red carpet, I got Coco, a monstrous mess of orange tan, peroxide and undeserved superiority complex, harassing me as I tried to pick my way through grey ice to an utterly grey job.

The tram was full of tired, damp commuters and would have felt unbearably claustrophobic even if Coco hadn’t jumped on. We were pushed up so close that my nostrils wanted to retch from the cocktail of stale nicotine and dried sweat not quite masked by cheap bubblegum body spray, and the industrial smell of too much make-up that was faintly reminiscent of my first year chemistry lab. Coco still had her iPhone set to record, painfully wedged into my sternum. “So do you guys always have threesomes, or is it just you and him sometimes?” Coco bellowed. “What?” “You’re bisexual,” she informed me (and the entire carriage) “and that’s what you guys do.” I couldn’t meet the eye of any of my fellow passangers, but I felt every single one on me. Oh god, I thought, who might be on this tram? “We all know bisexuals are just straight girls looking for attention or messed-up dykes in the closet,” she muttered, “but anyway it’s a good angle.”

A good angle? The tram lurched going around a corner, taking my stomach with it. I almost felt physically sick. Where had this stranger come from? How did she know where I lived, about Mark, about my sexuality? I never meant to lie about it, but I just hadn’t found a way to broach the subject with certain people. What would my Mam think? The truth was, I had no idea, but I knew it would be a painful betrayal if she found out not from me, but via a mean, would-be gossip journalist who looked like she was on for first prize in an oompa-loompa dress-up competition.

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What if Findlater sacked me? He couldn’t legally sack me for my sexuality, but as long as I could never prove that as the reason, he could still sack me. If he didn’t, would I have to spend my days in an office full of the tension of inappropriate, unasked questions, or worse, would I have to grin and bear sexist, horrible “jokes” from my male colleagues forever? How many of my straight female friends would worry I was secretely attracted to them and wouldn’t feel comfortable around me anymore? To Coco, all of this was “a good angle.”

Coco was like a fox with a rabbit between her teetch. “Answer the question,” she snapped, giving the iPhone a spiteful push into my neck. “No,” I said, “go away!” Not really knowing what I was doing, I desperately tried to push the iPhone away. It hit the floor and came apart. Coco looked at me with at least some of the horror I felt for her. “That’s the latest model,” she informed me, her voice bubbling with anger, “you’re evil.”

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