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16 October 2014
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Andrew Murphy

Andrew Murphy grew up in a place called Oregon. He went to university in Santa Cruz and then lived in San Francisco for over ten years, both in a place called California. He has now lived in a place called the Holy Lands for two years. He works as a secretary without a typing qualification for a voluntary agency in Belfast.

Godsend by Andrew Murphy

I was already angry when I moved to the Holy Lands.

My girlfriend had left me, but more importantly, she’d left me for a guy in
his forties with a big house in Helen’s Bay. Not much a guy can do about
that except get angry. At the time, I thought the anger would be easier
than pain, like I had a choice or something.

All I’m saying is that me moving to the Holy Lands is not what made me
bitter. The foundation had already been laid.

Rosalyn and I had shared a flat off the Lisburn Road. I stayed on after she left because I didn’t know what else to do. But when they cut back on my hours at work, I had to find a cheaper place, sooner rather than later.

In hindsight, it was a Godsend. Sitting in that flat, drinking tin after
tin of Miller, staring at the wall and thinking of Rozi - it was never going
to end well.

I saw Sara’s advert in the window of the Spar on University Avenue. I’d
been out on an aimless walk along the Lagan towpath and decided to cut back through the Holy Lands on my way home. I knew of an off-license that usually had lager on offer for the students.

The ad was straight-forward enough: ‘Young professional needed to share house with same. No students.’ The price was right and I phoned her on my mobile straight away.

She asked me to call around to the house, which was right around the corner. She opened the door and it was all white hair and loose clothes. She put the kettle on. We sat down. I told her all about Rozi.

Don’t get me wrong: I’d already decided not to duck any questions about why I was looking for a place. Just never expected to go into such detail. I did so much of the talking that I didn’t realise Sara was American until she told me. She’d been ‘screwed over’ once too, she said, coming to Belfast about ten years ago with a guy she met in Seattle. He left her two years later for an eighteen year-old secretary from his work.

“I saw her once,” Sara said. “It was at a work do. Maybe they were going at it even then. Don’t know. She was all tits and orange legs. I kept thinking the idea of screwing her must’ve been better than the real thing. This was my only consolation.”

“Ever see him around?” I asked. This was my great fear with Rozi.

“Never,” Sara said. “Always used to complain about how small Belfast was, but thank God it’s been big enough for the two of us.”

I moved in a week and a half later.

Sara called herself a ‘Community Relations Officer’ for some voluntary
organisation doing work in Donegal Village. Not sure what that meant. She never talked much about work anyway. I never asked.

It was late summer and everything went well from the start. Sara and I
became fast friends. She made dinner a couple times a week. I brought something back from the chippie now and then. We watched a lot of telly in the evenings after work and there was always some lager in the fridge. I never saw Sara drink anything but vodka and cranberry.

My favourite part about her was her hair, that thick unkempt mane flowing down below her shoulders. Her face was younger than the white hair would suggest. Less wrinkles than you’d think. Just one of those things. Genetic maybe.

She was always wearing some sort of loose skirt too. She was a hippy chick. A hippy chick from Seattle, so she was.

The trouble began when the students returned for autumn term. This happened the same time I got a letter from the Civil Service. I’d gone through the whole process of applying six months ago—all Rozi’s idea, if you can believe it—and the letter told me I had a post with the Planning Service. They needed audio typists and they needed them fast.

It was an offer I couldn’t refuse. A ‘job for life’, Rozi had said at the
time. My current gig at the solicitor’s office in town was never going to
amount to much. I was twenty-six, a couple of years too old not to look a gift horse in the mouth.

The big change was getting up at seven o’clock every morning. I’d only been working afternoons at the solicitor’s office and was enjoying the lie-in every morning.

And then the students returned. And they returned in force. Maybe you’ve read about it in the papers.

Ever since I’ve wondered whether autumn term was the worst: a whole new batch of eighteen year-olds living on their own for the first time? I never stuck around long enough to find out.

They all came home from the pub at the same time. They weren’t good
singers. They played football and hurling in the street after 3am. They
broke bottles a plenty. The girls screamed and squealed. The blokes
shouted insults and said ‘fuck’ a lot. High heels sounded like the Queen’s
entire entourage passing by in horse-drawn carriages. Did I mention they couldn’t sing?

And it was all Sunday through Thursday. Exactly the same nights I needed to sleep. Then you would see the little buggers walking down towards Botanic on a Thursday afternoon or evening, gym bags weighed down with dirty laundry. All of them on their way to catch a train or bus home to Mummy, to get a good feed or two and maybe end up with a few extra bob in their pocket. They’d be back at it in the Holy Lands Sunday night, right as rain. Our future, piss-drunk in the streets. Wee fuckers.

The first week I put up with it. Maybe I was tired from my change in
schedule. Maybe I slept through more of it than I remember. Don’t know.
The second week it became unbearable. Sara was usually in bed when I went off to work, but one morning she was there in the kitchen just after seven, looking smarter than usual in a black skirt with a white blouse. Still a big drape of a thing. She had a conference to go to, she said. I complained about the noise. She didn’t say anything. She did peer intently over her mug of tea as she listened to my rage.

That night they were at it again. I was seething in my bed. All my muscles were tense as I lay on my back and looked up through the skylight of my
small room. Then there was a knock at the door. It was Sara, dressed in a white night gown. She glowed in the moonlight coming through the skylight. She was holding something with both her hands.

“Put some clothes on,” she said.

I got out of bed with just my boxers on. Sara stood there and watched, not moving at all. When I was dressed she handed me what turned out to be a carton of eggs. Then she stood on my bed and opened the skylight window. I saw the outline of Sara’s body through the nightgown as she expertly climbed out of the window. She looked thinner than I’d imagined.

When I poked my head out the skylight I found a wooden contraption on the slate roof. It was a lattice-work slung over the crest of the roof so the sloped roof could be easily navigated. I handed the eggs up to Sara, then climbed out myself and laid down next to her. Our heads very close together and we were just able to see over the crest of the roof.

“A partner in crime,” Sara said. “Finally.”

There were a couple of girls coming down our street, all horseshoes on
cobblestones.

Sara opened the carton of eggs towards me. When I looked up at her, she was smiling.

“Give ‘em a good lob,” she said, “so they don’t know where they’re coming from. And space out the attack. Lob a couple, and even if you don’t hit the jackpot, wait a few minutes so they’re not looking out for it. If we’re found out, the fun stops.”

The girls started singing Britney Spears. Hit Me Baby One More Time.

I've never had so much fun being angry.


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