The lights were bright, they hurt my eyes.
She had gotten new energy-saving bulbs, but they seemed to exude more energy than the last ones did. A fly was flying in haphazard circles around them, occasionally hitting it which must have hurt the little thing, yet it kept forever hovering around it.
āAlex, did you hear me?ā
I looked back down. She had her hands on the handle of the open door, a look of consternation across her features. Her handbag was blue this time, it was red last week, I thought.
āI said, did you hear what I said, about leaving the keys under the mat on Thursday?ā
I nodded and she did the same, then turned and left, closing the door with an audible click of the lock.
I looked around me, seeing if all the cardboard boxes were still there. Yep, they were, all labelled with my name and stacked neatly near the door. Nick would be coming by later to help me move the rest, thank god. The last two boxes of books Iād accumulated, sorry we had accumulated, nearly tore my back out.
He talked about me maybe coming over with him, would be a great change for me, he said.
āThereās nothing here for either of us man, the family are on at me to join them at the pub, and you should come too.ā Heād said the day after, when the solid earth on which Iād planted all my dreams turned to sand in a single moment.
āI donāt love you anymore.ā
Sheād said that the Friday before, me still on the ground looking up, a knee on the ground and the ring still in my hand, an offering of everything that I am.
Iād learned that words like friendship, love and loyalty are just that, words. They hold no meaning beyond what weāve constructed, and what one man creates, another can destroy.
So I decided to take the only best friend Iād had left up on his offer to leave.
Iād had two best friends once. Once. A Friday ago. He was probably the reason for the new coffee-maker in the kitchen, since Jessica hated even the smell of it when I ever made myself a cup.
I smashed it to pieces, imagining all his and her bullshit, all their lies and betrayal. It was still lying on the ground when sheād come by to pick up the key.
Told her I didnāt have it on me, an obvious lie. She didnāt say anything about it, just made sure I left it under the mat when I left.
After that the next few months flew by, Iād ensconced myself in my new life. Turns out Sweden wasnāt quite the land of beautiful Valkyries and pristine snowy-landscapes like Iād imagined.
Nickās family had only been afford to open their pub in the least fashionable area of town, near a place called Rose Garden or something. Getting the bus to there, with the stony-faced fellow passengers didnāt exactly fill me with a new-found love for the place I now found myself.
The pub was slightly larger than their previous premises in Marino, though not by that much. It was cleaner, and it was empty by the time I got in. Weād been open for an hour but it wasnāt like back home where thereād already be a few regulars waiting for opening time.
Pubs around here didnāt open until four in the afternoon and people generally only came in around six. After Work time, they call it.
Nick was polishing some grubby glasses when I stepped behind the counter. I left my jacket in the cubbyhole set into the hallway behind the bar and started chatting about the usual shite: the buses, the emptiness of the pub and of Ireland.
Heād had news of The Traitors; my cute nickname for my ex-girlfriend and ex-best friend. Turns out they were engaged and she was up the duff with their first kid.
I didnāt react, I just started stocking up the bar, imagining the cold glass beer-bottles were their necks.
Holding a grudge for life is a typically Irish thing to do, Iād been told. If so, no one was more Irish than I was at that point in my life. Well, at that point Iād not much to sing about.
Iād gone from a plush apartment with the love of my life, to a two-bedroom apartment no better furnished than a squatterās hut. It was shared by myself, Nick and his brother Patrick.
Patrick was a feckless rogue at the soberest of times, but when he let loose the dragon, as he himself so termed it, he was liable to end up with fresh cuts, bruises and vomit covering his person plus a banging hangover the next day.
Heād gotten me into a fair few scraps over the months I was just about existing, though ironically I have to thank the bastard for that. It was on such an occasion that I met another love of my life, no joke.
He was sore that Russia had gotten into some football tournament or other, I wouldnāt know, I gave up watching football when I was 8. Somehow watching a load of grown men kick a round piece of leather around the place for 90 minutes never took off with me like it had with Patrick.
It was a Friday night, our busiest night in fact, when a couple of Russian heavies took offence at Patrickās less than endearing factoids on their country.
āThey only got through to the finals because they spend their days taking out their aggression on the field. Thereās no women there worth getting the leg over, so they have all this pent-up energy waiting to explode! ā he confided not so quietly to the group of punters closest to him that night.
āThey bate their women ācause theyāre so ugly, ye know what I mean bud? I mean, you have to wait in line for days to find one good-lookinā bird worth a ride!ā
Unfortunately for him, the punters heād chosen to inveigle into his Russia-hating club came from Siberia, and they were none too pleased.
They grabbed and dragged him outside to give him a proper hiding, and I glumly followed them, a hand on my mobile to call the police.
They had him pinned against the wall and since there were only two of them I decided to do the stupidest thing in my whole life, and defend my drunken wally of a mate.
āNow, my fat friend, hereās how we let go of aggression in our country.ā said the one to Patrickās left as he drew back his arm and curled his fist.
His fist faltered on its intended trajectory towards dislocating Patrickās jawbone due to an unforeseen mobile phone crashing down on the head of its sender.
The phone collapsed into a million pieces and I had to duck when the other fella swung around to face me.
He was my height, around 5ft 9in, yet built like a brick shit-house. His shaven head reflected the moonlight, I remembered thinking, before his fist finally decided to say hello the side of my head.
I ducked again, mostly involuntary as my legs gave under.
Patrick had jumped on top of the one Iād clocked with my phone and was pummelling him with his fists shouting: āRussia!ā
Oblivious to my plight, he ignored the last Russian as the man pulled a huge serrated knife from a holder at his calf.
The last thing I remember about that night was a high-pitched screaming in a language I didnāt know. The Russian came at me with knife raised, I felt a thump to the back of my head and blacked out.
First thing I heard was the beeping. The sound clanged inside my head like a fucking church bell.
My head felt three sizes too big and I opened up my eyes slowly, afraid to see what was going on now.
I knew I was in a hospital, that was for sure. Itās immediately obvious from the beds and the white walls, also the paper gown I realised I was wearing too.
Evidently Iād been here for a couple days at least, judging by the stubble I could feel as I rubbed my jaw tiredly and yawned.
It wasnāt the first time Iād been knocked out in a bar fight. Cheers Patrick. So I wasnāt too worried about the bandage on my head or that I was in a feckin hospital, except for where my clothes were.
The door opened and a very pretty nurse strolls in, all brunette ringlets and dark eyes. She looked Indian to me, though her name-badge said āMalinā, and she hurried over to me as soon as she noticed me sitting up.
āOh, Mister McGowan, youāre awake! You need stay here while I get doctor.ā Her English was near-perfect, yet with a strange lilt to it, like sheād learned English off an Italian with a stammer.
She hurried from the room and I was left on my own again. Jesus, I felt like shit.
The minutes crawled by until the nurse reappeared with a sombre-looking haircut of a man. You know the type, their hair and nails all manicured to perfection, not a stain or a smile to be seen anywhere.
He tut-tutted over me, checking me out, doing the whole āconcerned yet busyā doctor thing. Listened to my heart with a stethoscope, looked over my charts, looked me up and down and deemed me fit to leave.
I was very grateful, especially when they handed me my clothes and I realised they were freshly cleaned and ironed. They hadnāt seen the business end of an iron in months so it felt weird as I was changing in the bathroom adjacent my bed.
Good, but weird.
The pretty Italian/Indian/Swedish/whatever nurse smiled and wished me a fare-thee-well as I left.
I stood outside, trying to catch my bearings. The hospital was roughly 30 mins of a drive from where I lived so a bus was in order. Just as I was on my way to proceed to the nearest bus-stop I could find, I heard someone call my name.
There were two people walking towards me, one instantly recognisable. The fat fuck that is Patrick was all smiles and black-eyes to me. He looked like he still hadnāt changed his clothes, which made the awkward hug when he reached me that much more distasteful.
It wasnāt till he let go of me that I full noticed his strolling companion.
She floored me.
She was all of 5 ft 6ā, with the kind of red hair that ĆriĆŗ would would die, again, for.
Her eyes were green and full of what looked like concern as she asked me how I was feeling.
I asked, politely I thought, who she was. She said her name was Lana and she was the sister of one of the guys that was trying hard to kick my head literally in.
I said I felt okay, to which she replied with a host of apologies.
She was disgraced by her brotherās actions, saying, to my instant manly shame, that he could have killed me had it not been for the fact sheād knocked me out first.
Sheād convinced him and his friend to leave off, as enough damage had been done. Her brother, to his credit, agreed and they both went back to the pub to finish their drinks. Classy blokes.
As she told me this story, I got increasingly less guilty about ogling her secretly. An ample bosom and a tiny waist completed the lovely picture I had of her.
Her and Patrick drove me home, again with her spilling profuse apologies all the live-long way.
I had tuned her out after the first 10 minutes of the car journey so I almost didnāt hear when she suggested we meet up for coffee with her brother to smooth things out. Almost.
I debated, thoroughly, about going forward with this crazy plan. The fella had been about to kill me before his sister knocked me out with what I found out was a bottle of beer. And they wanted to have coffee.
Though her eyes and more importantly her chest convinced me that maybe I should give it a go. Who knew, maybe I could have some guilt-powered one-nighter ahead of me and I could finally put The Traitors behind me for good and all.
So I agreed, to her eternal happiness, and when I got home I did the three Sās: Shit, Shower and Shave.
Then I put on some aftershave and I was off to have coffee with the people who nearly killed me