Hennessy New Irish Writing: Dreams of Flying by Celine Naughton

There’s bad karma about as guy can’t decide if he misses his girl in this month’s winning Hennessy New Irish Writing short story by Celine Naughton


Dreams of flying unsettled Oliver. Astral projection, she called it. Rubbish, he said. And this morning, when he’d felt that familiar, stomach-churning sensation of hovering over his bed and driving through the ceiling toward the morning sky, he resisted it with all the force he could muster until he woke with a jolt, as if crash-landing in his own bed.

He reached for his iPad on the bedside shelf. Turning on his side, he swiped the screen and rested the tablet on a bunched-up piece of duvet.

There were two emails in his inbox, one advertising a free doctorate, which should have gone directly to spam, the other from her. It had arrived thirty seconds ago, silently – he always turned the sound off at bedtime – at the very moment he’d woken, like some kind of telepathic wake-up call. Not that he believed in telepathy – that was her territory; that and all the other tele-baloney she’d tried to argue had merit in logic: teletransportation, telekinesis . . . He wouldn’t have entertained such gibberish from anyone else, but Ella possessed a lovable charm in her steadfast refusal to let rational thought or the laws of physics interfere with her belief in mumbo-jumbo.

“You have a closed mind,” she used to tell him. “If only you’d open up just a little, you’d see new realms, new possibilities, new ways of being . . . ”

And in the end, she took off to explore some of those other realms and possibilities – in the physical world, mind, just as far as Baytown in Texas, not the outer reaches of the galaxy.

“Come with me,” she’d said one morning, jumping out of bed to stand next to the long windows of her apartment with the sheerest of muslin covering the panes. Ella didn’t believe in curtains; they only blocked the light.

He remembered the beauty of her milky-white flesh, dishevelled auburn hair tumbling over her shoulders, and most of all, the infinite yearning in those bewitching brown eyes. They revealed no guile, only joy, innocence and an all-consuming lust for life, things he admired in a woman.

“We could have adventures together, like Bonnie and Clyde, or Robin Hood and Maid Marian . . .”

He’d leaned on his elbow and raised an eyebrow.

“Ella, apart from the fact the former were gangsters and the latter lived almost entirely in Sherwood Forest, I’m not about to go chasing off around the world on one of your whims. It’s not me, you know that.”

She’d sighed and looked out the window, the dawn light framing her naked body so brilliantly, he thought her divine. And in that moment, when she turned back towards him and the sunlight beamed even brighter behind her to the point where he had to shade his eyes with his hand, and the shadows from the muslin cast shapes like wings stretching from her back right up to the ceiling, Oliver mused she had no need for conventional transport; she could just as easily fly herself to Baytown, Texas, or Nottingham, or even anywhere on the celestial plane. In the end, though, she flew American Airlines. That was two months and three days ago now.

He hadn’t tried to stop her. Ella was a free spirit and who was he to stand in her way?

He checked the clock: 07.03. It would be just after one in the morning where she was, a bit late to be up writing emails on a week night.

“Hi, are you awake?” read the subject line.

He clicked on the message.

“Two months in Baytown is two too many,” she wrote. “Besides, I got fired.”

Oliver shook his head in the manner of a parent dealing with a beloved but recalcitrant child. Getting fired was a hazardous occupation. How would that look on her CV? Poor, dear Ella, he thought; why do you have to make things so complicated for yourself?

He read on.

“I told you about the job I got in this office supplies company – full of bad karma, and the average employee age is about 47 past lives. So, having used the computer at work to apply for a job at Fox TV, I accidentally sent it to my boss, whose surname is Foxx. Not even TV Foxx – it’s Stephen Foxx – but I guess I just wasn’t paying attention. I realised my mistake a nanosecond before hitting the send button, but it was too late. Off it went. And next thing I’m out. Just like that. They have no unions here, you know.

“The people I worked with were friendly enough, but mostly they went to ball games and sang in church choirs. Not quite my scene. Then last Thursday this totally awesome dude rocked up at reception with a motorbike helmet in his hands and after he delivered his parcel, he started chatting about my accent and stuff and guess what? He asked me out! And since he was the hottest thing in town and I had nothing better to do, I went.”

Oliver resisted the urge to shut the tablet with an unforeseen stab of indignation. It wasn’t just the American vernacular which had crept into her description that offended most – although this in itself was unacceptable and if she’d ever uttered the words “totally”, “awesome” or “dude” to him in person, he would have remonstrated with her most severely. But no, it wasn’t just the casual Americanisms that caused his bottom lip to curl and his nose to wrinkle in displeasure; it was the picture now firmly in his mind of Ella in the arms of a handsome jock with a Texan drawl and gigantic Harley Davidson that was most troubling. He was taken aback by the wave of jealousy that welled up deep inside, if that’s what the ache in the pit of his stomach was, or maybe he just needed to pee. He left the iPad upside down on the duvet and padded over to the bathroom. What did he expect? That this precious butterfly would spurn the attentions of all the attractive, successful men who would surely come her way? They had even discussed it before she left.

“You’ll likely meet an oil baron or a rich Republican and settle down,” he’d said and they both laughed, because they knew there would be no less likely pairing for Ella. But here she was, blithely letting him know she was dating and not just that – she wanted to treat him to the gory details, the heartless minx. Didn’t she consider for a moment he might not enjoy the thought of her with another man? This biker chap – the dude . . . would he now be the one to feel her sweet, rose-petal lips as he traced the tender curves of her body yielding with pleasure . . . Oliver momentarily considered deleting the email entirely. He could claim he never received it, blame the spam filter . . . but no, on second thoughts, he’d find out what she had to say. If it was too graphic, he’d tell her so. Make her understand that even though he didn’t expect her to live like a nun, she didn’t have to be explicit; she should show a little consideration. Maybe he’d call her later, explain why she didn’t have to share the details of her love life. He went back to bed, lay on his side and picked up where he’d left off.

“Would you believe, he took me to a prayer meeting!” she wrote.

Oliver almost laughed out loud.

“His name was Josh and he was so hot, I went along with it, but after two hours of praising the lord and listening to people chanting in tongues, I asked him to take me home.

‘But you’ll miss the laying on of hands,’ he said.

‘I know, but I don’t feel well. Maybe next time,’ I lied.

“So he drove me home and do you know, he wouldn’t even kiss me goodnight! It wasn’t appropriate for a first date, he said. And guess what else – he’s a virgin. Saving himself for marriage, he told me. I just don’t get it. Jesus freaks shouldn’t be allowed to seduce innocent people like me with their six-packs and Harley Davidsons. It’s like mis-selling of goods.”

Ah, so he was right about the Harley, Oliver mused, smiling now. So Ella had not had her way with the handsome Texan. Served her right. Had things gone differently, she might have tormented him with all the intricacies of their tryst, blow by sordid blow.

“Anyway, I’ve reached the conclusion that Baytown is clearly not where my spirit guide meant for me to be, so getting fired is a good thing really,” she continued. “It’s like fate has given me the push I needed to move on.

“So having been shown the door this afternoon, I went and bought myself an old camper truck. I didn’t come to America to feel unfulfilled and all the other boring stuff that makes up ninety per cent of people’s lives; I’m glad now I got fired, because it’s time for my other ten per cent to begin. I leave for California the day after tomorrow, stopping wherever I feel like and hopefully seeing some interesting sights on the way. I wish I was in bed with you.

Love, Ella.”

Oliver replaced the iPad on the shelf and lay on his back, staring at the ceiling. His fleeting jealousy had been unfounded, but he knew where it had come from. For two people so different in every way, their lovemaking had been extraordinary. How a 23-year-old could be so imbued with other-worldly, tantric sensuality was mystifying to him. She made him feel not just satisfied, but omnipotent, a feeling as surreal as it was sublime – and, like those godforsaken flying dreams, also unsettling.

He remembered the explosive, all-encompassing exquisiteness of being with her. The experience had taken him to a whole new level of carnal gratification, one that transcended mere sex and placed him temporarily with the all the gods of the universe. And yet, since she’d been gone, Oliver had found his return to reality oddly comforting. The morning sun shone less brightly now, but he was no longer blinded by it. He saw things more clearly, and he liked it.

A familiar hand touched his chest and he covered it with his own. She stirred and rolled into his arms.

“What time is it?”

“Almost seven thirty.”

He reached under the pillow and handed her a package.

“What is it?”

“Open it.”

She sat up and undid the wrapping.

“Pearls! Oliver, they’re beautiful! Here, help me, would you?”

“Happy anniversary,” he said, fastening the clasp and dropping a kiss at the nape of her neck.

She smiled. Dear, sweet Oliver! After all these years, he was still such a romantic at heart.

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