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. In this chapter, she’s anxious following some disturbing encounters with a ruthless would-be gossip journalist, Coco.
The street was mercilessly Coco-less. My breath caught on the LUAS when I spotted a sickly looking orange face crowned by a mess of blond tangles, but it wasn’t her, just another wannabe southside clone. Cold, missed-breakfast hungry and struggling to keep my eyes open, I saw with absolute clarity how much I needed to escape. I realised that Coco had only been the tipping point. This anxiety and melancholy had been building for a long time. I looked around a crowded tram and I didn’t see a single smile, a single person who looked sure of their present and future, a single person who looked like they wanted to belong to this city. At one of the stops, drugs were being dealt to a boy who couldn’t have been more than twelve. No one batted an eyelid. I saw faces pinched by cold and anxiety, smart clothes showing wear at the seams, and scuffed work shoes being stretched to last a season beyond their natural life. And amongst all these recession-battered faces, I didn’t see a single person my own age. Where were they? I knew most of my friends – all but Amy, actually – had left, but had everyone gone? I had thought my feelings of detachment from this place, the lack of people I could connect to, were down to me. But maybe, I thought, they weren’t.
The man in front of me was reading his paper so slowly that I could read it over his shoulder. It was dominated by the leader of the opposition party, Fine Gael. There would be a general election in a few months time, and there was a feeling that the political landscape would change. But to me the soundbytes of the up and coming party rang as hollow as the promises made by their predecessors. The Irish would vote to stick two fingers up at whoever was currently in power by voting for whoever was not in power, and nothing would change apart from having a different set of names for the same type of person dictate our lives. I’d still have a job I hated, be told to consider myself the luckiest person alive to have it, with its salary that just about allowed me to shiver and live off plain pasta. I was on a sinking ship with nowhere to jump to – and to make things even better, after disappearing just long enough to make me think life might be back to normal, Coco turned up again.
I stepped out at lunchtime to find her lying in wait for me. “Oh great, we can go for that lunch now,” Coco commanded, laying her hand proprietorally on my arm. I hoped her oompa-loompa tan wouldn’t rub off on my white shirt. “What lunch – what? Ow!” Coco was digging her blood-red talons into my arm so hard I thought her nails might soon have my blood on them too and was, with surprising strength, pushing me down the street. We ended up in McDonalds on Grafton Street, Coco still painfully attached to my arm like a leech. She glared at the eurosaver menu. “Two hamburgers and two twisty fries,” she barked at the cashier. “And don’t forget the receipt, I need it for my expenses.” Receipt? Expenses? For a McDonald’s eurosaver dinner costing €4? I added embarrassment to my reasons I hoped no one would see me with her. Coco all but shoved me into a seat, and then set the sacred iPhone, today covered in a particularly classy pink cover embossed with the playboy bunny done in glitter, between us on the table, amidst the leftovers of the last customers’ cheeseburger, semi-masticated chicken nuggets, and half empty salt packets. I wondered if it really was bad luck to spill salt, and if so, wondered how I could have spilt so much of it without noticing. “Right,” Coco ordered, “talk.”
“Em…today?” she drawled, loudly, slowly, and sarcastically, and I wondered if she’d taken lessons somewhere in being mean and patronising, or was just naturally very gifted. I remembered the kind stranger’s words to me on the LUAS platform the first time I’d encountered Coco. “The school bullies never change, but you can outgrow being the victim.” It occurred to me then how much we must look like school bully and victim and we sat there, both of us miserable in our own way, her glaring at me and me retreating more and more into my shell. A flash of lightening bright anger cut through my sense of helplessness. “Who the fuck do you think you are?” I didn’t mean to say it but the words slipped out, and that one sentence was all it took for the whole dynamic to flip. Coco seemed to shrink. “I need this story!” she wailed. But in another minute, kohl-blackened (almost kohl-obscured) eyes narrowed, desperation pushed back under, her inherent meanness floating to the top like scum. “And I’ll get it.”
I made myself concentrate on the sliver of anger from earlier, using it like a shield against the feelings of helplessness that were swelling up, threatening to break. “I have your name. I’m going to run with the story. You can either come onboard and get paid, or…” It didn’t sound like a threat left hanging. It sounded like she’d played her last card, and played it badly. Now she was out of words. I was surprised at how much strength I could draw, just from being pissed off. My appetite, which had been missing in action, came back with a vengeance. I gathered up my twisty fries and hamburger and walked away. Then, out of spite, I went back, snatched up the receipt, and threw it in the bin on the way out.