Contributing Writer Seán Dunne shares a story about the courage it takes to let love in.
I couldn’t quite bring myself to say it. I thought I already had.
“I love you.”
The look from her eyes was enough to light the fires of an idle train. I wanted to run away.
The air caught itself in my throat once more. Its walls were dry and unused.
“I love you.”
“Look, I don’t know what you’re trying to say to me Rua, but you’d probably want to figure it out at some point.”
I laughed, she always made me laugh. I tried something else.
“Can we go for a walk?”
“Sure, I’d love to.”
“What about like this evening?”
“I think I’m seeing Conor, we’re heading out once he finishes up work. What about tomorrow morning?”
Conor was the present boyfriend. I felt the light go out from under me. My skin was like chalk.
“Okay great. Well it’s about time I run along anyways Rua, I’ll miss the bus.”
And run along she did.
In my own way I was running along myself. That is, running along the canal for a silent place to nurse my nerves. It was an unusual condition. My hands shook uncontrollably, mind racing frantically, my stomach churned and curdled. I was like a dairy plant without patience, spilling my produce well before age. I think I threw up about three or four times. Nothing out of the ordinary.
All things considered I still crafted a victory out of the day. The movements of the fairing seagulls before me stirred like winds of change. I had actually attempted to tell her I loved her. Sure, it may have been a blistering failure, but an attempt nonetheless. That was something to take home.
A cold breeze swept through me.
“Come on now Rua, you can do better than that.”
I couldn’t help but nearly jump into the river. See, I had this unusual habit of speaking aloud to myself. It was just a thing I had. My mother called me the tower of babble. If only she knew.
The voice spoke again.
And up there he was, youthful as ever.
“Did you miss me?” Something in him had changed over the years, yet he never seems to grow.
“Safe to say I did Bar, not that I’d be one to admit it.” He had landed now to the rock beside me. He was a seagull.
“You just did Silly. Always a source of doubt. Now come on, what have you got in there?” I could feel my inside pocket shuffling under his beak. Bar was fond of oat crackers, I always carried a few wrapped in my inner pocket. I suppose it wasn’t something I noticed until much later, but it didn’t matter how long I kept them, they never went stale.
“Alright buddy, here you are, get it into you.” And so he did, to the envy of the creatures around him, who looked on in dismay.
As my friend laid into the oats I couldn’t help but feel this time things would be different, that a big change was afoot. It were as if maybe, for once in m-
“WOOOOH, take that you white feathered fiends.” Barry’s craw dripped cracker dust as he screeched to his analogous brethren. “AHA you don’t know anything about food, you scrounging scoundrels you…”
There was a momentary pause in his squawking.
“You haven’t seen anything yet you airborne rats you. YOU’LL SEE… I’LL BE AS BIG AND BRAWNY AS ANY OF YOU SOON… THEN WHAT WILL YO-“
My friend had returned again to his senses, and also to my side.
“Sorry sorry, Rua. Got a little out of beak there. You don’t know what it’s like. Those big wings up there, they treat me like I can’t fly. No offense.” He seemed to flutter himself as he said this.
“None taken. What brings you back?”
If black eyes rolled in their sockets, they did.
“Oh come on. THE GIRL you big silly. What was that back there? You totally choked up. It was like you had a cracker in your throat. Speaking of…’ His taut voice fletched as an arrow. “Have any more?”
“Sorry Bar.” I flushed my pockets. “All out.”
“That’s fine buddy, you know how I am. Anyways yes, THE GIRL. You need to tell her how you feel, I know you can do it.” In his excitement Barry would glide a little in the air, this was one such moment.
“What’s it matter if I do exactly? She has a boyfriend.”
“Oh hush feather fingers. You’re twice the man he is, and he’s a third the man you are. I guess that means you’re three t- No it doesn’t matter. Point is, if she can’t see you for what you are, she isn’t right for you as is.”
I sort of let the words hang in the air for a minute. I had heard this sort of thing many times before, but in the mouths of others the words were always confused and strange. Somehow from Bar they made a little more sense. What use was it exactly pining endlessly after someone who didn’t want you in the same way you wanted them. I thought these words aloud, and I thought I understood them even a little more.
I woke up the following morning with a new found confidence. My hands shook just a little less, my stomach was settled, and my heart was ready to say what it knew it had to. And with two great gulps I swallowed my orange juice and was out the door.
“Be back by one pet!”
I followed the street onwards down by the park. Winter had firmly taken its hold of the place. Ice had coated the grass in its glassy substance. The air had that sharp texture to it, so particular to this season. And my hands had turned red scarlet; fingernails like white islands in its sea.
It wasn’t long before I saw her, idle beneath the park gates.
“Rua!” She gave me a hug.
“Hey Sally. Good to see you again.” Already I was treading on verbally unsound territory. “Let’s pop down by the fountain.”
She gave me a questioning look. Perhaps ordinarily she would quiz such a suggestion, but there was something in the way I spoke that led her to follow. It wasn’t long before we reached where we were going, and I thought I heard a slight fluttering of wings from above.
I had decided that this was the spot. Something about moving water, frozen in mid air, spoke to me. It seemed to say something I had never the courage to say myself.
And here, slow in this land of stillness, I heaved the words from my chest:
“I love you.”
And I did.