An extract from Elske Rahill's debut novel, Between Dog and Wolf
It’s that look: directly in my face, it travels my skin. I think of flies, the lightness of their little legs, the way they fracture your image with their many-mirrored eyes. I blink him off my lashes but he’s persistent. I know he wants to touch the cliff of my lip with his thumb. I have bee-stung lips, blow-job lips. I got them from my mother. Men like them. Lips and breasts are things men prefer swollen, like sores. He’s trying for conversation but I have a heavy cry in my throat. Where is Helen?
‘Do you want a drink?’ ‘Em ... No. No thanks. I’m looking for a friend.’ ‘Well aren’t we all? It can be a lonely world, little lady ...’ After queuing for so long I always feel a little disappointed
when I get inside. It’s the name, I think, ‘The Vatican’. It makes me expect some velvety secret: a forbidden interior, plush and cool as a vault. It’s the doors too: thick metal like there’s something to hide, something of value inside. I’m sorry I came.
I spot Helen, or someone with Helen’s halo of ringlets, move away from me across the room. Someone is leading her by the hand. She isn’t walking like Helen, she’s not even walking like Helen when Helen’s drunk. She’s walking slowly, very carefully, looking at her feet and steadying herself every now and then with the bar or someone’s hand. I have never seen Helen like that, but it must be her. No one else has hair that moves like that, bouncing at the small of her back like a taunt.
Oisín tucked a condom into his johnny-pocket, and packed an extra few into the inside zip of his jacket for luck. Then he checked his hair.
Sharon had been friendly yesterday, asking him to come to her lunchtime show in Players. They began to chat and he’d thought happily, ‘This is a conversation. This is a getting-to-know-you.’ He had a passing sense of belonging. They agreed the Film Studies course was awful this term. They both hated horror movies and were dreading sitting down to Aliens this week. They seemed to get on. He’d heard from the director, a guy in his ‘Gender and Genre’ course, that she would be naked in the play, so he considered the invite might be something of a come-on.
She was kind of pretty, in a way. Her eyes were an odd shade of grey: pale and wet like an animal’s.
A lot of student shows had naked girls in them but it didn’t really turn him on; it was never really sexy or anything. Those plays were kind of crazy: lots of blood and nooses and screaming. And lots of talking. Not really Oisín’s pint of plain. He hadn’t been to a real theatre in years though. Maybe all plays were like that now.
Oisín had heard of one play last term where a girl masturbated on stage. It was something by Heiner Müller, whose collected works were on his ‘Modernism’ course, or his ‘Post-Modernism’ course, or his ‘European Change’ course. But the book was missing from the library. He had an idea that she had the book, the masturbating girl. He knew the girl to see. She was on his ‘Nineteenth-Century Sexuality’ module. She had a long face, very long hair, sharp elbows.
He’d got Sharon’s number from the director guy (‘Actually I’ve lost Sharon’s number – do you have it?’) and arranged the date by text message, re-writing it four times before he got it right. She’d agreed to watch Aliens with him. She had even suggested doing it in her room, on her laptop. That suited him. Now he didn’t have to clean up or anything.
He worried how his hair looked. He had little control over his hair. Sometimes it just wouldn’t sit right no matter what he did. This evening it looked sparse and flat. He checked his shoulders. At least there was no dandruff. He ran some gel through it and avoided looking at it again. That was really all he could do. Then he grabbed four beers from the fridge and stuffed them into his strapless army-surplus bag along with the DVD, making a mental note to pick up wine on the way.
Sharon opened the door with wet hair and a lot of eyeliner on, crescents of black on her lids as though to counter the brown sag beneath. She smelled of shampoo – something fruity – and the half dark of the evening made her eyes look eerie in their pits.
Oisín should have given her the wine when she opened the door. But he was still holding it when they were inside her bedroom. The air was musty and private, like someone’s sleep. The cheap red wine felt like a silly gesture, presumptuous and pretentious. He didn’t know shit about wine. Sharon set the bottle down on her bedside table. The edges of her mouth turned down, ‘I don’t have a corkscrew.’ She reminded him of one of those sorrowful looking, sloppy-cheeked dogs. That old monstrous feeling of failure clenched Oisín’s throat. He saw himself as she must see him: a bedraggled culchie with bad hair standing by the bed clutching his bag by the flap. The setting was too personal; her room with its cerise duvet cover and all the cushions. Some pink flyers from a humanitarian campaign she’d been canvassing for were piled on the bedside table. The light of her en-suite bath- room was on, fan whirring, cistern trickling. She must have just been to the loo.
She didn’t want him here. Why had she invited him? He kept his eyes on the wine bottle. ‘I have one on my key ring.’ ‘Oh great. Cool. You want to open it or will I? Sit down.
So ... have you started your film essay? I haven’t even thought of a topic ...’ She spoke loudly, dispersing the intimacy. She didn’t allow the silence to breathe. She talked about the ‘Free Zeng Qiáng’ campaign, a subject Oisín avoided to disguise his ignorance and indifference. He didn’t know what Falun Gong was, but it sounded freaky. Sharon didn’t seem to notice his silence. She talked about her film essay, about her last essay, about that time in first year when her computer crashed.
‘ ... so I had to type it all again from memory in like two hours! Literally! I began at two and it had to be in at four! And I got a first! Can you believe it ... just shows you ...’
This constant talk made Oisín relax a little. Her pupils danced and pulsed, her gaze moving everywhere. Occasionally though, they rested on his eyes in a promising way. If she kept talking like this they would be hitting it off, they would be getting on. Her chatter loaded those moments when there really was nothing to say, as though creating some connection in the space between words.
He had trouble reading her. She avoided his touch every time he tried. She kept talking more and more loudly, as though to push him away from her with the sheer volume of her voice, yet when she was quiet she looked at him as though she were horny too. After all, she had asked him to come. Every time, just as he had given up, she pulled him back with a touch of his knee. Her hands were wide and bony. ‘This one play I did, the guy used to get hard every night. It was awful. I’d have to lie on my front pretending to be dead and this guy was ramming his package up my ass. Eurgh. It was horrible ...’
Oisín had seen her do this before, with other boys in the class. He knew this was a conversation she often had; a self she often wheeled out for just such encounters. He had the feeling she knew the drill. Well, so did he. Next they would talk about first loves (his was made up), then about their parents. Oisín liked all this. This was a conversation. He wanted a conversation. He wanted some intimacy: some skin on skin or the gentle brush of his mind against someone else’s.
The mixed message thing irritated him though. If she wanted a ride he’d give it to her, but he wasn’t going to beg for it. She wasn’t even hot.
They had finished the wine by the time the film ended.
They talked about college, about that feeling of non-belonging and to Oisín, who had never articulated it before, this seemed like a revelation. He could fancy her. Her sad, manly mouth, her animal eyes. Like a wolf, he thought, like a fox.
‘Your eyes are amazing. They’re so grey – like a fox’s.’ He went for it.
Once he had kissed her he knew it would happen. It was the way her lips softened open. He was glad of the sudden quiet.
He hadn’t had sex in weeks. She made no sound, no groans or mutters. Just breath, faster and slower. He went down on her and listened to the breath and the silence. She didn’t taste very nice.
When she came she gave a little whelp, then a quiet, throaty laugh.
‘Sorry. I came.’
New fiction at Lilliput
Here at Lilliput we are delighted to announce two new additions to our fiction list.Following his selection for the Booker Prize long-list, Donal Ryan presents his second novel, The Thing About December. With rave reviews of The Spinning Heart still circulating, we have no doubt that this book will match the first. Elske Rahill's debut novel, Between Dog and Wolf, follows three college students as they attempt to navigate the depths of their own existence. We're all very excited about this innovative and stirring novel.