StephenDouglas@Cantab.

net

Stupid with confidence/ In the playclothes of still growing Ted Hughes

Chapter One
My last chance as a crappy business journalist began and ended with my imminent assignment to the oil rich jungle state of Chiapas in southern Mexico. I was heading there to report on the prospects of revolution and its possible impact on investment in the oil industry. So seeing Alejo de Tolejdes's name on an internet list of Mexico's most prominent oil executives filled me with a number of feelings. Nostalgia, certainly. Pain, yes – even ten years on I did hold Alejo somewhat responsible for messing up what I considered to be one of my great unfinished love affairs. But, on the other hand, Alejo might actually be a good contact to have in Chiapas; he might help me to make a success of what my boss had said would be my last “bite of the banana” unless I got a scoop. Thinking about Alejo led inexorably to thoughts about Lucy, my girlfriend at the time I had first known him. In fact, sitting there with Alejo's still blasé, rich and arrogant face smirking back at me from my office computer screen I felt completely odd. Considering whether or not to email him so much of what had happened ten years previously in all its tragic enormity span back into my awareness with an intensity quite as arresting as it was unexpected.

***

It was already the end of February. Lucy and I had been in Washington practically half-a-year. Spring Break’s sudden emergence so soon after Christmas and so long before April had surprised us. The Friday afternoon it began, Lucy and I had taken a rare trip together downtown to the Mall. We walked hand in hand by the Capitol with a shower of rain; we stopped in the colonnade, and went on in sunlight, into the Remembrance Garden, and drank coffee, and talked for an hour. What I wished to remember most of that day is the sun’s dazzle – and our delight wandering off along the Reflecting Pool ’s fringe, and Lucy's sigh and gentle caress of the back of my neck as we kissed.
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But almost as soon as we had returned home to Georgetown, our classmate Emily Macdonald excitedly arrived at our house with a plan. It was jungle night at the Fifth Column. We could be part of her glamorous sounding friend Alejo’s party. We had to come out this time, she reasoned fatefully… It was my last night and even I couldn’t find an excuse to stay in on a night like that. She’d be back at nine, she said, to pick us up. And Lucy brightened up like she’d received a present. So while we awaited Emily’s return I set to packing my suitcase. In the morning I was returning home to Ireland for my cousin’s wedding. I hadn’t intended to go - I had decided I wanted to avoid seeing my once wild cousin Sorcha marry her passive aggressive beau and his bright corporate future. Besides, Lucy and I had planned to spend the week of Sorcha's wedding exploring the Blue Ridge mountains. But Sorcha had called me up a couple weeks beforehand and insisted. I think it was probably because of all of our history together. She really seemed to care whether or not I was there. In the end, really, I couldn’t refuse. For the past six months Lucy and I’d both been working very hard. Lately, she had been spending more and more time down town at her save-the-world internship. And I had just submitted the final version of an article about environmental revolution that had been accepted by an academic journal; my first. So we hadn’t been going out much at all. And when we did, usually it was just with our friends from class: Emily and her on/off boyfriend Tom Buchanan… Games of cards... Supper... Once or twice a posh club down by Dupont Circle or an edgy warehouse in South-East. Bit of coke. Up all night. Back to normal (sic), by the next afternoon. I would have been happy not to go out at all that Friday evening. And given what was going to happen because we did, I really wish with all my heart Lucy and I had just stayed in. But I wasn’t really brave enough to insist this time on our not going out – not when I already felt vaguely guilty in the first place about abandoning Loose for Sorcha’s wedding. When Em returned around nine with a few wraps of what we took to be coke Lucy and I
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were ready to go. “You’d better not stay away for too long, Jamie,” Emily teased me as she cained the first line. It was, surely, going to be a long, exciting evening. Em passed the DVD case and rolled $20 note over to Lucy, adding as she did so, “You’re not Lucy’s only admirer in DC, you know.” “Perhaps,” I replied. “But I am the only one who truly loves her for her mind,” and so saying, I passed over Lucy’s bum with the palm of my hand and while Lucy bent over for her line I let it rest there a moment or two. Soon afterwards, climbing into her Range Rover, I asked Emily when she was dropping. “I dun’ know. Guess when we get there.” “I might now.” “You’re a monster Jamie.” “I haven’t had an E in ages,” I whined. “Go on, then.” “Best wait,” I re -considered. “Don’t want to come-up in the queue.” “Stress not, Meister Jamie. We are on the guest -list.” So I dropped. Emily started the engine and launched some tunes from the, as I had christened it, quadriplegic stereo. Emily had recently introduced us to Georgetown Eurotrash’s dealer of choice. Brett lived about half a mile away. He did green, coke, E, trips, whatever. We drove there directly through the alleys running behind the houses in which most Georgetown students’ lived. Emily raced into his house and emerged with a guy wearing wraparound sunglasses and a hooded top. He looked smacked up. We gave him a ride to his car. Nothing much was said while he was in the back with me. After he slammed the door shut behind him, Emily turned and excitedly informed us we now had three whole grams. At the doors of the Fifth Column, Emily confidently announced we were on the guest-list. “Which one?” a bouncer barked back.
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“Alejo’s,” she answered firmly. “Names?” “Emily Macdonald…” “Plus two? ‘Kay. ‘Got ya.” In. While we were walking upstairs to the middle floor, I remembered something the coke accentuated: I wasn’t really used to being out in such situations with Lucy. Being there suddenly sort of made me feel, I don’t know, as different from her, as perhaps I in fact was. In the classroom we were equals – aristocrats of the mind and all that. In a posh club she seemed at home among the beautiful people, I thought. Whereas I – the paranoid part of me - felt something lacking. It’ll be cool, cool… Emily was there to keep her company. I bumped into Emily’s boyfriend, our fellow classmate Tom almost straight away. Sensing perhaps I’d appreciate it, he hung back with me. Lucy and Emily continued on up towards the top floor bar. We arranged to meet there in a bit.

***

“We'll chill there while the girls settle down,” Tom suggested, indicating a space relatively free of people. We walked through it to the rail of a mezzanine balcony that overlooked the main dancefloor. Leaning over it our eyes scanned the full heaving floor below. House music blinked, beeped vastly loud, from neat speakers suspended, amongst the light rigs. Camouflage netting hung from the ceiling. Lasers sliced up the room into slow, immediate, motive, psychedelic segments. “Alejo’s such an ass,” Tom went on. “He really seems to believe he can get everything he wants.” Tom showed me an SMS he’d received earlier that day from Alejo: ‘Come out tonight Jungle party at 5th Bring Emily Were have a table with champagne and vodka from nine Wear your jungle suit’. “I mean, I don’t have a fucking jungle suit. Who has? And anyways, leave my fucking girlfriend out of it. He only wants me here otherwise Emily wouldn’t’a come. I’m only here cos if I wasn’t he would be more over her than he already is.”
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“ Still… free champagne,” I tried, only half -joking. “That’s just it. Then he owns you. And your girlfriend.” We were both looking down at the same exquisitely beautiful girl. She was contemplating the stairs. Her left cheek was dimpled when her mouth was closed. I saw Tom smiling the same as me as we took her in. The exquisitely beautiful girl made her way through the crowds on the stairs towards us. “Looking forward to going back?” Tom interrupted my contemplation of her features. Lucy was definitely fitter, but that sullen, small mouth... God. “I’ll miss Loose. But yes. Yes I am. In a way,” I said finally. “Seems a bit ready, you going back? Emily was, like, ‘Lucy’s so pissed at Jamie for throwing over their plans for Spring Break’.” “Fuck,” I exclaimed. “She was pretty cool about it with me. She really said that? Shite.” “Kye,” exclaimed Tom. “I’m cool with Emily going to Jamaica with the Eurotrash crew. Sans Alejo, though. See, I'm even talking like them now?” I liked Tom’s self -awareness. Although he was as high-class an American as you would ever meet, he was also one of the least pretentious. “Why don’t you go, if he’s not?” I asked. The exquisitely beautiful girl was closing in on us now. “Alejo may always be after something or someone, but at least he’s alive. A week with the other Eurotrash… I’d die of ennui,” Tom made quote marks as he said ennui. I knew where he was coming from. “Eurotrash,” he continued, “they think all you need for a party is a ride in a private jet to get there. Get the girls?” Tom proposed. I was feeling the first rush from the E as it was about to erupt, tingling through my body. Not even the bad vibes from what Tom had just told me could dispel the feeling of chemical joy growing over me. “You go, man. I’ll be up in a sec,” I replied. “Sure?” Tom pressed. I nodded.
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He went off, and left me practically beside the exquisitely beautiful girl.

***

Upstairs, Lucy and Emily were settling in. Sitting on a leather sofa before a table which was littered with champagne glasses, heavy crystal ashtrays, packs of cocktail cigarettes and bottles of European mineral water. Condensation dripped from filled champagne buckets within easy reach. A sign on the table warned it was reserved. Alejo, whose table it was, flopped down with proprietorial familiarity beside Lucy. He leaned towards her, glancing down between her legs, as he poured Cristal into the glass in front of her. “Thanks,” Lucy said. No gratitude in her tone. “So Lucy,” Alejo began. “I never see you. Why is that?” “We’re not in the same class, I suppose.” “That’s true,” Alejo oozed. “You’re in a class of your own, Lucy. I love your name Lucy.” He sort of seeped out her name. Alejo offered Lucy a cocktail cigarette. She refused with a slight shake of her head. He lit his. Lucy retrieved hers from her bag. “I didn’t mean that. I meant I’m studying the environment and you. You study…” she said exhaling. “Business. Yes, I’m in business - I truly would like to see more of you Lucy. Lucy...” He reached for an ashtray but kept his eyes locked on hers. “I can’t imagine why.” Lucy looked away. She lit her own cigarette. “You’re going to Jamaica with Em, now your boyfriend’s let you down, I presume? I might…” Alejo continued. “No actually. Actually, I’m staying in DC. Jamie didn't -” The quickness of her reply revealed she was anxious to defeat Alejo’s presumptuousness. “Well, if that’s true,” Alejo interrupted. “Why don’t, why don't you… Why, come over…
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To my apartment next week? I cook very well, Emily’s told you I’m sure.” “I actually have heaps of work to catch up on.” “Well, bring your work with you Lucy. We’ll study together Lucy. No,” he suddenly corrected himself, “My girlfriend will ask you. Yes. That’d be better. Wouldn’t it, Lucy?… My girlfriend will invite you…” He concluded without any help from Lucy and slowly stood up. As soon as he was out of earshot, Lucy began… “Where do you find them, Em?” She smiled as she asked this. “Even by your usual standards, this one’s properly weird. The way he looks at me…” “Alejo’s amazing.” “Well, he can amaze himself. Just don’t leave me alone with him,” Lucy said firmly with a friendly smile. “I think he’d rather have us together. Alejo loves ménages,” Emily replied. “Well, he can ménage himself... I’d, I’d rather be dead.” Lucy arranged her hair as she spoke. “Wish you could come to Jamaica,” Emily changed tack. “I wish I could kill Jamie with his sudden Irish trip,” Lucy replied. “There’s fourteen of us, already. I tried…” “You said. I’ll be fine. I’ve got heaps of work to catch up on anyhow.” “Why don’t you… Why don’t you go to Ireland with Jamie?” Emily wondered as if she’d only thought up the idea then and there. “No one asked me to. Besides I don’t know his family… I just wish...” “…That bitch would give up and realise he’s yours?” “No, Emily,” Lucy laughed. “No, I just wish he and I were spending Spring Break in a cabin like we’d planned to.” “You didn't say that when he first suggested it... ‘Actually, Em, help! Jamie wants me to spend Spring Break in an igloo’?”
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“Your English accent’s still appalling, Emily,” said Lucy, playfully acid.

***

Standing alone at the balcony, I ended up right beside the exquisitely beautiful girl. When she was that close, I realised I’d seen her around campus. “Why aren’t you all dressed up?” she mock mocked me. I was flying. I could hardly hear her above all the noise. I must have looked as puzzled as I was because she gently added. “It’s jungle night… You weren’t told?” Then as if an afterthought, “I guess maybe your friends wanted to embarrass you.” As she spoke a guy in a tiger fur suit passed. Another passed us, then a girl, for all I could tell, who was dressed as Biffo-the-Bear. “I see,” I smiled. “I thought it was jungle music, not jungle clothes.” We shared a stoned, giggly moment. “I didn’t dress up either,” she finally said. She offered me a cocktail. I nodded. She SMS'd our order to the bar. Her long thin thumb moved impossibly quick on the key pad. While we waited, we started conversing animatedly about what you talk about in such situations. “I mean, when you’ve blocked off the weather, school, mutual friends, how good the coke is, what are you left to speak about?” “I know,” she replied, “it’s easy when you’re having a bad time; just get loaded, drop all conversation and exude, I dun’ know, an air of being part of it all.” Our drinks came. “Fuck conversation,” she said randomly after sucking some of her drink through the straw. “Let’s dance.” We made our way past a few jungly dressed heads. The aero-bar guitar bubble gum poundings of Discothèque’s intro lit the room.
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“Definitely not jungle music then.” She turned towards me when I said this. Our eyes met for a second longer than normal. She looked away first. She offered me a powdered finger, as we reached the dance floor. She seemed to expect me to, so I took it in my mouth. There were two platforms in the middle of the dance floor with poles running from them between the floor and the ceiling. At each petite girls dressed in very mini camouflage Miu Miu skirts were dancing. Vacantly around and about the poles. I found it difficult not to stare. Obviously too difficult - because the exquisitely beautiful girl asked me which of them I wanted most. “Can't say really,” I replied. “They're, basically, underage?” “Cares? Mine's on the left. Dance,” she concluded taking me by the hand and turning me around before I could properly reassess the one on the left. So we began to dance. I kept my back to the poles and looked at the exquisitely beautiful girl instead. She looked steadily back at me, now deeply into my eyes now beyond me to the pole girls'. Afterwards, I wondered if she wasn’t trying to make the one on the left jealous. In a short while it felt like we were the only people in the building. I held my hands behind my back. Neither of us moved our feet much. We just shook our upper bodies, rocking to and fro. She was wearing tight Evisu jeans and every time she slid back away from me, her neck tilted to the right and her loose fitting tank-top dangled just above her navel revealing its diamond piercing. Dry ice rose enveloping us from neat little holes in the dance floor. Visibility was eventually pretty much zero. Then a seriously weird moment. We almost kissed. It happened like this. I was rushing. She was already somewhere. Our eyes locked. We were all we could see. I was coming up beyond belief. For a moment we were one. Neither of us looked away. Our eyes became locked. All our power, all our strength we applied to stopping ourselves... One move towards and like metal shavings to a magnet we’d... Everything around us slowed. One, two, five seconds... And the dry ice disappeared as fast as it had arisen. And within one of those mad seconds our lips touched, and the exquisitely beautiful girl's tongue swept the underside of mine. But mine stayed where it was, I remember that now for sure. And we moved back at exactly the same time. Then we
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both exchanged glances. She looked away first. Alejo, standing up there on the mezzanine gazing down at us, witnessed the whole scene, though I wouldn’t know that till long afterwards. Tune finished. She said she wanted to go back upstairs. “That’s MDMA for you,” I offered, as I stepped around some kids lolling around the stairs with cocktails. We ascended. She didn’t step around – she waited for them to move first. They always did. “More like Special K,” she replied crisply. It was the first time I noticed her accent. Staccato clips of gentle old New York. “What’s your name, anyway?” I asked. “Cecilia.” We halted our ascent on the middle floor, near the stairs. No sign of Alejo. “You breaking his heart?” I tried. She was worth the effort. Exquisite effort… Another rush… “Whose?” she asked, momentarily querulous. “Oh… Not at the moment, I dun’ think.” She had got the reference. Just. “Ever?” I pressed. “Dun’ think so… Maybe one. But it was especially fragile.” “Were you called for the song?” “Sort of. Mom thought I’d redeem the name from infamy.” “Bet you’ve really tried,” I replied with unmistakable faux sarcasm. “Tried my best. I really have,” she play pled. Some kid, dressed in flannels, a glam nerd - shirt way too tight, sweater well too fluffy, glasses vastly too horn-rimmed, hair enormously coiffed, middle-parted and wimpy body wrapped up in fake animal skin - offered to dribble icy Absolut from a bottle into her mouth. She went right ahead. Mouthed “bye” and exited the scene to go find the others and narrowly avoided bumping into the girl dressed as Biffo-the-Bear. Or was there more than one? Who could tell?

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***

Upstairs, when I’d found her, Lucy said that she’d missed me. She was on her way back from the loo. “What’s been happening?” she asked. We squeezed each other’s hands. “Nothing,” I replied. I so loved her. What on earth had I just done? I held it together. There’s no way she could know. The dry ice. Anyway, the K was a legitimate excuse. We’d spoken before about “acceptable adultery”. Being faithful to one another was about more than actions. Maybe it hadn’t even happened? “I love you, Loose. I’m fucked,” I replied, (I think) without awkwardness. “This place’s mad.” “Have you noticed it isn’t jungle music they’re playing? Everyone looks like they think they’re dressed like they would be in the jungle.” I agreed. “Emily deserves a proper kick in the arse for not explaining what she meant by jungle.” “Let’s find her…” So we made our way over to where Emily was sitting. Through the Eurotrash all done up in fitted jungle wear. Through the bunches of kids mad and loaded enough to be tailor dressed even at one-off parties like this one. Fanning out over the leather sofas at the back of the room were elegant tight girls in little black numbers interspersed with middle-eastern business studies’ majors and east coast preppies – the types whose lives from afar seemed like Ralph Lauren ads (or was it the other way around?).

***

At the sofas a tanned kid about our age rose to meet me. He’d been watching Lucy striding across the floor in front of him – leering almost. I’d already clocked that. But Lucy just passed right by him, ignoring him, to meet Emily. The tanned kid was dressed in olive green Miyake fatigues,
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tee-shirt and a sleeveless matching photographer’s vest. He presented his hand to me to shake. “So you’re Jamie,” he said with conviction. “I’m Alejo.” “Pleased to meet you Alejo.” I was amiable, guarded. “I’ve so looked forward to making your acquaintance.” “Really?” “For sure, sure. Ever since Emily told me you and Lucy are ‘in love’? Whatever that means.” I could feel something in the palm of my hand as Alejo withdrew his. “Can you tell me what love means?” he asked looking me in the eye. “Ecstasy?” I tried. “Sure, sure,” Alejo replied. “That's a very clever answer, my friend.” I don't think I showed that I was confused. Alejo melted back down into the black leather sofa. “There’s plenty of room just here,” he added, pointing to a space just big enough for me. “But no, not X. 2CBI. You do know what that is?” I indicated ‘’course’. “Well this is the best you will ever taste. Take it. I've had 2 already. I'm pleased by everything.” Lucy came over and sat down. “Watch him,” she said. “I know,” I replied. Lucy asked if I would like a drink. Alejo overheard. “Have some of my champagne Jamie,” Alejo interrupted and pointed to some freshly poured into a glass by a gorgeous blackly clad waitress. “Lucy there’s no need for you to go to the bar. You are my guest.” “Thank you, Alejo. But I’m in a bar kind of mood.” As she went anyway, I wondered had she meant for me to go instead. Oh well! I disengaged the pills from the package I’d just been given. I shook one into Emily’s palm. I knew Lucy wouldn’t do one. Emily looked at me questioningly. With a flick of my head I indicated Alejo. He
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looked back at her expectantly. She smiled. And she took it. Picking up a glass of Badoit from the table, I washed mine down without even looking at it. Alejo asked how long I’d known Lucy. “How long,” he added, “have you known her as a man knows a woman?” “A lady,” I corrected him gently. “Ah, her father is a Lord?… That makes sense. I did not know that,” Alejo responded. “What?” I was puzzled again – me? Him? Drugs? “No. I don’t think so… Not long enough. There any women here who interest you?” As I asked this of Alejo, Emily was applying lipstick while Tom was making going-noises beside her. Alejo indicated straight in front of us the exquisitely beautiful girl and in so doing said with a certain degree of serenity. “Cecilia is my only legitimate interest here.” “She knows this?” I asked. I was taken aback, but I think I disguised it well. Alejo was watching me very carefully. What a weirdo. “She should,” he replied. “She is my girlfriend.” As he said this Cecilia turned around and smiled that sullen, small mouth at us both. I felt another rush from the X, K and, now, the 2CBI, whatever the fock that was. What a head wreck. “Cecilia, Lucy and Emily make a fine threesome…” Alejo went on. “You think?” “I do. I truly do,” Alejo declared with conviction. He seemed to expect something more from me. “They’re beautiful, that’s true,” I tried, submitting. “It’s more than that, Jaime. It’s more than that,” he repeated. His brow was knitted as if he was mulling very hard over this matter. “They’re not only beautiful,” Alejo continued, “they’re attractive. Truly attractive. Can you imagine what it would be like to have them all together? I think we should all come together. The five of us.” There was something at once repellent, fascinating and quite foreign about Alejo’s expression as he said this.
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“Maybe,” I concluded, cooly as I could. “I’ve invited Lucy over next week. You don’t mind. Do you?” He adjusted his feet on the table in front of him as he said this. “That you’ve invited her?” I responded. “Sure.” “There’s no law against making invitations.” I wasn’t certain at all I wanted Lucy spending time with him. I felt that even then; even when I was so high. “… But there is one against accepting them?… I see. You mind. I quite understand.” “Course I don’t mind,” I said, a little too sharply. I was needing all my powers of concentration to hold the thread. Just the sort of challenge I genuinely loved meeting while high. “Well, my opinion is we must wait till you return from Europe. Both of you can come then. I’m sure Lucy won’t mind waiting de trop. Cecilia needs me now,” Alejo said suddenly. He stood up. He was up and down like a yo-yo. Lucy was coming back managing to hold two drinks in one hand, a pack of fags in the other, while a lit cigarette dangled from her lips. Alejo went to try to help her, but, anticipating him even before he knew himself how he was going to accost her, she deftly, successfully ambiguous, avoided him without making it seem rude. She sat down in the space Alejo’s departure had just created. She put her arm around me. She was tight. “What was he saying?” Lucy asked half-nodding at Alejo’s back. I paused for a moment, before saying I’d tell her later. “If he gives you any pills, don’t take them,” she said to me. “Okay, darling?” she insisted. “Uhh. Why? He gave me one just now.” “You didn’t take it? You’re such a nightmare Jamie,” she replied, perfectly englishly. “Em says he’s got these these things with horse tranquilliser, speed, acid, and MDMA all in one. You don’t want all that, isn’t it?” Fuck. “I should’ve asked what 2CBI is.” “Jamie? You took it. You don’t know what it is?”
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“Basically, but it's cool Loose. Everything's cool. A bit weird. But cool all the same. At least I’ll know what Special K’s about now,” I said referring to a Placebo track she and I both knew well. “You’re going to be strung out for days and days... I am glad you’re going back to Ireland.”

***

Outside the club, Lucy, Emily, Cecilia, Alejo and I (Tom had left a few hours earlier) made our way through the crowds gathered round trying to work out how or if to continue the night. Emily went off to get her car. Alejo remaining behind us motioned to one of the bouncer guys. He nodded back at him. The guy sprinted off around the corner. I rubbed the back of Lucy’s neck. We had danced a bit and things had cooled down between us. She had chilled. I was high, but not astronomically so. Not any more. But I was kind of on edge, and not only from the drugs. Lucy had told me that on a trip to the loo she and Cecilia had done a line together in a cubicle. Just after Lucy had keyed hers up her nose, Cecilia had tried to kiss her. I considered for a moment telling Lucy that Cecilia had done basically exactly the same thing to me. I don’t know why I didn’t – there never would have been a better time to. I suppose I was thinking how amazing it would be for us all to come together. The bouncer guy Alejo had motioned to stepped out of a black Maserati with a diplomatic number plate. Bouncer guy waited there patiently with the keys while Cecilia and Alejo seemed to be arguing about something or other. Cecilia appeared to want Alejo to drive or at least to go with her, wherever she was going. While Alejo didn’t look as if he wanted to leave us. He kept looking back towards us, at Lucy mainly, but also at me. Whenever he would do this, Cecilia would look back over too. She smiled at me once, a private momentary flick of a smile. They were then calm with each other, but after another few seconds they both were disagreeing about something or other again. This cycle repeated a couple of times. Meanwhile bouncer guy stood beside them patiently still. It seemed to be Alejo’s car... I just couldn’t work out what was going on. Eventually, it seemed
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like they settled the issue and Cecilia hovered over to the Maserati. The bouncer guy followed her over to it and when she turned he was right there just as she seemed to expect him to be. He carefully dropped the key into the outstretched palm of Cecilia’s hand. She slipped into the driver’s seat and waited for the bouncer to shut the door. He did. Alejo, then, barely looking at the bouncer guy or the car, tossed a crumpled bill over at him and turned away towards us. Bouncer guy caught the money with two hands and headed swiftly back towards the club. “Jamie,” Cecilia said from inside the Maserati through the descending window. She flicked open the passenger side door. “I want company.” I instinctively moved towards her. “Don’t worry at all about Lucy,” Alejo added from behind. “I can take care of you. Can’t I Lucy?” I looked at Lucy. Lucy didn’t say a word. I hesitated then tried, “I’ll see you there, okay?” “Where, Jamie? You don’t actually know where she’s going.” “We’re sticking together, aren’t we?” I replied, turning my head back even as I moved towards the Maserati, passenger side. And I got in. I looked back at Lucy, still for some sort of acquiescence I suppose. “I thought we were,” Lucy muttered. Cecilia and I were about to take off. Emily wasn’t back yet with her Range Rover. Alejo was trying to say something confidential, in subdued tones to Lucy. I think he was trying to show her nothing was up. “Sorry, Alejo... Cecilia… Wait,” Lucy commanded. Cecilia waited and Lucy walked slowly over and whispered in my ear something that stunned me beyond all measure : that if I went with Cecilia right then that was it over between us. I got out. “Why on earth did you get into that car, Jamie?” Lucy asked when I was safely back on the
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sidewalk. “Did you think you were going to be kissed too?” I was so fucked I didn’t know what to reply to in all she had just said. I stayed silent. When we got back to where Alejo was standing Lucy put her arm around me. I was shell-shocked. I didn’t really know myself why I had gotten into the car with Cecilia. “What do you think they’re up to?” I finally managed. “I don’t know Jamie. Okay? Just don’t leave me alone with him.” “Okay, okay. I was only asking.” “I know, darling,” Lucy replied. She must have noticed how her outburst had shocked me. “I just needed you to get out of that car. You’ve just taken another pill, isn’t it? You probably can’t see what’s going on here, but he’s properly creepy.” “I’m sorry Loose. I am a bit slow sometimes.” “Never.” A short while later after Emily had come back with her Range Rover we took off and now we were again waiting, just finishing up a couple of lines off the aeroplane-like tables on the back of the front car seats, in a lay-by near RFK bridge. As had been arranged because she had gone to pick up some more gear, Cecilia flashed her lights as she passed right through the lay-by at speed and then back out onto the turnpike without stopping. Within a mile or two Emily had caught up with the Maserati and our two cars ran on in some fast convoy. Outside the passing lights illuminated the warmth and security which radiated from the Range Rover. Kissing Lucy I didn’t then register Alejo’s staring at us through the passenger seat sun flap’s green lit mirror. Emily just wove in and out of the four am traffic through the outskirts of Alexandria onto the Parkway following fast on Cecilia’s tail. Emily’s cell-phone began to bleep. The music automatically faded when Emily conferenced the call. It was Cecilia’s voice through the speakers. “Picked-up,” Cecilia declared. “Where we gonna’ go do some Horse… Now?” She sounded completely manic. “We oughta’ go back to Georgetown. I don’t wanna drive around totally all soir,” Emily
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replied. Alejo interrupted and suggested Atlantic City “… We'll get the suite. Gamble. Drink champagne... Be there by dawn.” “Dawn?” Lucy replied englishly. “Jamie has to be at Dulles at 6.30.” “Dulles…,” Alejo repeated. “Okay. Why don’t we do this? My plane's at National. Let’s drop Jamie. We’ll fly to Jersey? I’ll wake the pilot. We will be in the air within an hour. Just say?” “Alejo?” Emily put in. My flight to Kingston’s around seven tonight?” She seemed annoyed. He didn’t remember, or something. “Well, that's not a problem, Emily, my sweet. We can deal with that. If we're winning and we decide to stay,” Alejo drawled, half looking back at Lucy, “then you can fly back yourself in time for your flight to Jamaica. You’re flying on the Mortgenthaus', aren’t you? They’re at National too. Perfect. Cecilia and I can take care of poor lovely, lonely Lucy. At last, a plan.” He seemed to know better than to look back to Lucy now for agreement. “I don’t care where the fuck we go,” Cecilia’s voice came ghost -like through the speakers with a little feedback. “I just wanna’ get wrecked.” Stemming the debate, Emily, now calmly, insisted we consolidate cars at her house first. “Maybe there do some lines and then decide what to do.” “Okay, Emily. You win. For now,” Alejo conceded. Lucy squeezed my hand. I knew exactly what it meant: what a fucking weirdo Alejo. “Last one there’s the biggest losa’ of them’all…” were the last words of Cecilia’s which came through before a beep ended the call and the music’s volume crept back up. It was Placebo. Nice one, I thought. Coming up beyond belief on this coronary reef More than just a leitmotif more chaotic no relief
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I’ll describe the way I feel: Weeping wounds that never heal No hesitation no delay you come on just like Special K Just like I swallowed half my stash, I never ever wanna crash…

Just as we approached Key Bridge. Just before Cecilia’s black car, suddenly zigzagging, was just about to turn off onto it, an elevated wheeled pick-up truck just came from behind us at speed. Overtaking... Just between our two cars now. Foreseeing what was just about to happen, Lucy crushed my hand with one of hers, leaned forward and just about covered her eyes with the open palm of the other. She didn’t say a word – none of us did as we just silently watched the pick-up, in attempting to overtake the Maserati, suddenly veering, take it from behind with such force... Such force... Both it and Cecilia’s car span. They span. Just like child’s tops. And again, pick-up smashed into it again, but this time back of the pick-up hit the driver’s side of the Maserati real hard, bounced back and Maserati went up onto its side and pick-up smashed into it again. And both cars just came to a rigid rest right there. Right there against the concrete sidewall of the bridge’s approach; crushed upended Maserati between the wall and the pick-up. Emily totalled her breaks and as I leapt out of her car the first thing I noticed were the lights of a small boat passing by Roosevelt Island. “What? What?” By the time I reached what was left of his car, Alejo was already crawling over the ground around it, calling Cecilia’s name, now softly, now desperately again, and again. “Oh! My! God! …” Other people were running towards them. All around, cars had stopped moving. Smoke was rising from the Maserati, and the pick-up.
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“Are they alive? See if they’re alive? Get them out…” “Cecilia, Cecilia…” “Don’t fucking touch. Anyone. Wait…” “Cecilia, Cecilia…” “Can you see them in there?” “Cecilia, Cecilia…” “Can you reach her?” “How many people in there? Somebody call a fucking ambulance.” “Cecilia, Cecilia…” “You okay?” “Oh. My. God.” “Cecilia, Cecilia…” Everyone seemed to be shouting. You could hear Emily slowly speaking something sounding sadly somewhat out of place. Lucy caught up with me and said she’d dialled 911. Her shaking hand was still over her mouth. “Cecilia, Cecilia…” Alejo was on the ground still trying to find a way into the mess with his eyes. There was no way. The roof of the Maserati was touching where the window used to come up from. Lucy went to him. She knelt down. “I’m so sorry Alejo. I’m so sorry...” “She’s okay. I can feel it. Cecilia, you’re okay. I’m here for you. I’m here for you. Just hold on. Cecilia, Cecilia…” And her sullen, small mouth. God. “It’s okay. Alejo. It’s okay…” “She’ll be okay? Lucy, she’ll be okay?…” “I’m so sorry Alejo…”
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Alejo was alternately sort of groaning and saying Cecilia’s name suddenly seemingly quite foreignly. I hardly even knew at that point that Alejo was Mexican, so slick and prep school American he had seemed. But in the panic, in the primal reality we were then facing, he became Mexican again. Emily was speechless. White as paper. And I was standing back, for fear of being burned. Couple of guys, one who’d retrieved gloves from his trunk, looked like they knew what they were doing. They were trying to prise the hood of the Maserati up. “Careful. Glass from the windscreen.” They ignored me. Eventually they got to the battery and disconnected it. Minutes were passing. Some other people were around the pick-up. Its front windscreen was smashed and its driver was sprawled inside, like a dead man, awfully stiff. Its engine was still running. No one, it seemed, could reach the keys or battery to turn it off. A white man had a medical looking bag. Smell of petrol. The guy with the gloves and the others now turned their attention to the pick-up. Cops arrived with red determined faces. Then fire engines. Men leapt out, with giant pliers attached to engines on wheels. They began to cut at the Maserati’s roof, peeling it off like a tin can. They worked very quickly, methodically. Another team started on the pick -up. “Back. Back.” Glass was splintering all around. Alejo was still on the ground, barely moving. Lucy was still there just beside him, saying something soothing softly into his ear. “Back off. Everyone.” “Got it. We got it,” shouts went out as the roof of the car had been completely removed. The ambulance men brought what looked like a surf board to just beside the car. I couldn’t make out the scene inside. “Stay back. Back.”
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“She’s our friend.” “I’m sorry, sir. Back. Let the men do their work.” Around the Maserati were, maybe ten, maybe fifteen assorted uniforms. Firemen on the outside. Ambulance people on the inside, around the car reaching in from every edge. Torchlights flickered all around and everywhere, red sweaty faces. Suddenly, a couple of the ambulance guys stepped down and back from Cecilia’s car. Some others retreated too. Words exchanged. Heads moved from side to side. Firemen moved in with the surf board thing. Something said to the cop who’d asked us to stay back. Another ambulance arrived. “What’s happening? Okay?” The ambulance man’s expression said it all. “You guys know her? You don’t wanna’ watch this. Take time to get her all outta there.” “She’ll be grand?” I asked. “She wasn't even wearing a seat-belt for christ's sake.” There's no way he meant it badly, just casually. An every-evening occurrence in his life. Overhearing this, Alejo suddenly stood up. Lucy tried to hold him tight and I moved to stand between him and the now retreating ambulance man. Two cops watching us started moving towards us urgently. Lucy was pulling Alejo’s arms back. The cops shouted over. “Calm right down, Sir.” I wasn’t clear if they meant me or Alejo. But Alejo was. The man from the pick -up was being treated by other ambulance men. “Alright. He’s alright. It’s alright,” I said, stepping sidewards my arms in the air to let the cops through. But then they stopped. “That’s his girlfriend in there,” I added. “He has got to calm down. Sir,” said one of the cops to me. “You get that?” the other cop said. Now I was sweating. “He is. Grand. We’re sorry. He’s fine. It’s cool. It’s cool.”
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One of the cops stayed staring at us, just to make sure. But the moment was gone. Alejo had surrendered. Lucy went over to Alejo and crouched own. He turned into her. The other cop and the ambulance man were now walking back to the Maserati. I went over and crouched down too on the other side of him and I too put my arm around him. Together we comforted him. “It wasn’t anybody’s fault.” “It just happened.” There were people hanging about. Talking by the cars. Some spectators began to drift off. “It wasn’t anyone’s fault.” Alejo’s attention shifted again; back to Cecilia. But he didn’t look up. Just said her name over and over again. I couldn’t bear to watch. It was turning into the most horrifying operation imaginable around the car. What a fucking mess. The whole thing. Being here. Me. Lucy. Us. Drugs. Death. God. America. Empty. Horrible. Archaic America. Emily came over and took over from me supporting Alejo and she and Lucy held on to him while he seemed to stop sobbing and everyone was silent. A short while later four black cars with tinted windows arrived all at once. One of them had diplomatic plates. Two besuited men approached us while others from the cars fanned out to speak to various of the guys in uniforms. When Alejo noticed these two coming towards us he stopped slouching, stood up, broke gently free of Lucy and Emily. Went up to them. The guy with the medical looking bag was by the pick-up talking to an ambulance man. One of the suits started talking to both. I just stood fidgeting. Alejo was now standing up straight as he and the two suits conversed. From their body language they could have been talking about, I don’t know, politics or something. I didn’t know what to do. Alejo followed the two suits as they approached one of the other suits. A minute or two later I went over.
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“He’s fine, thank you.” Alejo flashed a brief smile at me as if to say he agreed he was fine. It was none of my business anymore. Other guys from the black cars were still with the cops. Another was speaking to a fireman. Several of them were speaking on phones. Still others were taking multiple photographs very quickly. And one was filming the scene. I blinked when their cameras flashed us. Eventually, two more black limolong embassy-looking SUV’s arrived. Alejo walked towards one of them and without even looking back at us slid in. The SUV slunk off before even its doors were completely shut. “Where the fuck…” Emily threw her arms up. “Holy shit. He's just gone. Can you fucking believe that?” she exclaimed. “Alejo?” “Who is Alejo?” I asked eventually as the car carrying him disappeared over the bridge towards DC. “I dun’know,” replied Emily distractedly. “His family, like, owns Mexico. That is so fucking typical. He leaves us here with all this shit. Fuck.” I could have done with a spliff, maybe even a line. We all could. Suddenly the three of us, now standing together, had become spectators along with the few strangers who were still watching. A cop asked us to move back along with all of the others. On the crash side of the road, traffic was backed up. Two of Alejo’s suits came over to us. They asked for our names, and numbers, and thanked us. For what, we didn’t know. “How is Alejo?” “He’s fine, thank you.” “Where is he going?” “Home.”
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“Mexico?” Emily asked. “New York. Mexico. His father says he's real grateful for what you've done. I am sure we'll be in touch. Thank you.” And then the suit walked off to confer with one of his colleagues, before they too left the scene. On the other side of the reservation cops already were transforming three lanes-one way into three lanes-two ways. On our side of the reservation one lane was opened up and a phalanx of police was laying down traffic cones in a long row to block off the other until, I suppose, they were able to lift the mangled wrecks out of there. “Whose car is that?” another cop shouted while pointing to Emily’s Range Rover. It stood in the way of their impossibly neat and growing line of traffic cones. Some of Alejo's remaining suits went back towards their cars. When Emily answered, the cop ordered her to move her car outta the way. She, Lucy and I walked silently over to it. “Where should I move it to?” Emily shouted back over somewhat tetchily. “Anywhere. Just get it the hell outta the way. The men need access.” And when she had moved her car with us now all in it back off the main part of the road, Emily asked me for a line. I took out my house key and from Lucy’s proffered stash carefully spooned a bit onto it. Emily snorted and then I took a tip of the key full. Just as I was taking the last of it up my nose the white guy with the medical looking bag lightly tapped on the window of the passenger side where I was sitting. He had a sort of concerned look on him. He was on his way back to his car. I looked up. “Are you guys…” His expression changed. I sneezed. “What the fuck are you guys doing? Georgetown kids are crazy, fucking crazy. Your friend's dead and you’re snorting cocaine?” And when we were sure he had gone. When we saw he’d gotten into his car. When he’d driven off. Lucy got her line. We all did – Fuck him. Fuck it. Fuck America. Fuck it all.
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CHAPTER TWO

Exactly six months before the crash, I had arrived in America. My new world. So this is America, I marvelled. Beautiful, beautiful America! I was 23. I had been sitting away the last afternoons of my youth in my uncle’s constituency office in county Kerry. Finally, long after I had given up hope for it, a graduate scholarship I had applied for during my final year at college came through. Soon afterwards I arrived to do an MSc in Environmental Studies at Georgetown, a Jesuit-run university in a smart suburb of Washington DC. At the welcome reception for new graduate scholars I was chatting to a Dutch nuclear physicist when Lucy appeared. “Wow…” I remember thinking the exact moment I first saw her swaying slenderly by the entrance. I can see her standing there still more clearer and real than in any of the years in that terrible short moment’s shadow – as if I saw her there that once, then never again. The loose fall of her gleaming auburn hair – that floppy curtain over her face and her dark eyes’ peculiar brightness, bright, even from this distance, as a crush of diamonds. And her mouth… Already, the mystery of her mouth fascinated me. What lay behind those neat expressionless lips? I had to know. She was easily the most beautiful girl I’d yet seen in America. By far, the most attractive. I had been there two days. I could see she wasn’t comfortable. She seemed tentative. She looked as if she was not quite sure whether she was going to commit to staying in the room. But despite that, her whole being managed to project a sort of secure, disciplined and rich elegance. The kind you would want to capture, somehow. When she’d left, finally deciding to bail, I felt I was in the wrong place straight away. Fuck it. Time for a smoke. She might be outside. So I left. Exited the building. And there she was, suddenly beside me, clutching an unlit cigarette between the fine long fingers of her left hand.

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“You look like my best chance for a match,” she announced way before I’d decided what to say. (Later, much later in Mexico, I would read in her diary she just then noticed my ‘something about them blue’ eyes). “I do. Sure. I do - somewhere.” I fumbled through each of the pockets of my corduroy pants. “You’re from air. Aren’t you?” she asked englishly. I was patting the top pocket of my tweed suit-coat for the lighter’s outline. “Sorry?” I suspended my quest to work out what she meant. “Air?” she repeated. “A r e y ou E y e r i s h ? ” “Air…” I echoed. “Éire. Fock. I thought you said ‘air’. Totally. I am.” Then resuming my search, eventually I manœuvered a yellow disposable from inside the lining of my jacket. Lucy waited for me to light it. “Your fag’s the wrong way around,” I pointed out. Slight embarrassment made her seem almost vulnerable. As she turned it the right way, she took the lighter from me, playing at being abrupt. I wondered in as earnest a manner as I could gather. “Czech or Khirgiz… I’d guess Khirgiz?” “No…,” she replied with a strained look. “… No. Actually, I’m from London…” “Really?” I tried to sound surprised. She offered me the pack and I carefully retrieved one while she still held on to it. “You’re joking? Weren’t you?” she added slightly more softly. “Feebly,” I conceded. I began my lighter hunt all over again. “I see,” she replied inscrutably. But when she returned the lighter with such obviously feigned innocence I felt it’d be cool to introduce myself. “I’m Lucy,” she responded and as she did so I noticed she had a peculiarly attractive way of being able to blow smoke out from one side of her mouth and at the same time speak. “I’m so glad I’ve found someone here with a sense of humour. Americans are like, so totally sincere it’s actually not true… So, ah,” she caught up with herself. “You study here?” Between pulls she was slowly twirling a silver bracelet around her wrist.
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“Just starting,” I said after a drag. “Me too. I was just at a reception… Eek! I should have stayed -” “No, no you’re cool…,” I consoled. “… You can’t smoke inside.” “… Or out,” she interrupted readily, pointing to a sign which said just that. “What brings you to the land, the land of the free?” “Dinero, I s’pose,” I said after a moment’s thought. “You?” “Me? Why, we don’t even know each other.” “What?” Now I was confused. Touché! “I meant…” She was smiling. How beautiful was she when she did that. “I meant,” I continued haltingly. “I meant ‘did you get a scholarship too?’” She nodded, still smiling. “Oh, which subject?” I was very interested. “Environment,” she replied. “Snap. That is great,” I said, certainly. “Me too.” “I haven’t seen so many blazers since school.” She threw her head derisively, vaguely in the direction of the reception. “Only guy I’ve met so far’s doing Nuclear Studies,” I offered, meeting her level. “Great. More Doctor Evil’s. Cambridge was crammed with them.” She radiated something. Even now - years later after all that has just happened - I still cannot quite touch what it was. “Speaking of Doctor Evil,” I suddenly thought to say. “I’m sure I saw Henry Kissinger in my hotel lobby this morning.” “I saw him too,” she said, picking up the baton. “We must be in the same hotel.” “Georgetown Inn?” I tried. She indicated ‘yes’. “I’m actually about to go back for lunch.” She was offering, it seemed. But perhaps not. She stepped one of her feet on the cigarette she’d just dropped to the ground. I noticed her sneakers. Something about them made her still quite adolescent. Converse All Stars. Without them the rest of her was too grown up, too elegant: the unapproachable beauty you’d see at an opening of an exhibition. But Converse coupled with the rest of her perfectly matched what in
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reality she was: an American post-grad student with the definite air of an English in Tatler girl. “What do you plan to do?” she asked, bringing my thoughts back to reality. “City tour,” I replied. “You?” “Actually, I saw it on the way in from the airport.” “Nice?” “Ish.” She paused. “Athens - without the ruins.” “Yet,” I offered. She smiled. Wow. I resolved to make her smile as much as I could. A group of name tagged enblazered students started pouring out of the building past us. I noticed some of the faces from the reception. “Pallas Athena for me then,” I added obscurely. “Still not tempted?” Lucy shook her head and touched her belly to say ‘I’m hungry’. “I’d better not bunk,” I said. I thought it probably was not a good thing to start mitching so soon after arriving. “Square.” “As if,” I replied. She cracked me up. And she smiled again. “Let’s meet later?” I suggested. “Ah, so many people to see…” London girls. To be expected. I’m here to meet Secret History Americans’ anyhow. “Right… See you in class, I guess.” And did I blush? Well, I suppose I must have – Lucy’s diary when I read it in the jungle ten years later said I had. “Joke? English humour,” she said with an American accent. “You do give up easily, don’t you? Like I have anything to do here for, like, the rest of the year.” “Hotel bar. Eight?” Bollocks. Doing it again. If I wasn’t absurd confidence masked by shyness, I was the other way around. “Thirst got to you already?” Lucy put on her version of an Irish brogue when she said this. I struggled for a response. “I’ll be seeing you there,” she concluded irishly before I’d found one. And as I walked hurriedly after the group, I looked back to find her lighting another fag.

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***

Later that evening in the hotel bar, we got pissed and had one of those enthusiastic getting-toknow-one-another-for-the-first-time kinds of conversations. You know the type: you share and find out how much in common you have with someone you’ve already decided to become friends with. It emerged, almost immediately, that we’d charted similar courses through the post-adolescent rites of passage available to bourgeois north-west Europeans: We’d both gone to boarding schools. We’d both spent sixth form summer in Europe, with friends. Lucy in Rome. Me in Cap Ferrat. That was the summer, I told her, I’d pulled my first real girlfriend. Something in her expression suggested my candour rather surprised, perhaps even appalled, her. Why I felt I had to tell her that then, I have no idea – in vino mistakass? But she’d quickly decided to reciprocate so told me that’d been the summer she had first fallen in love – he had been 25, in advertising, with his own Porsche. We’d both learned Spanish during the first half of our gap years’ between school and university – Me in Barcelona; she in Madrid. And we’d both spent the rest of our gap years’ travelling throughout southern Asia. We were there at the same time. But try as we might we never could ascertain that we’d been within five hundred miles of one another. We did discover, however, that we’d both spent long months travelling similarly alone in places not even mentioned in the Lonely Planet. I silently admired the strength of character it must have taken for Lucy as a lone girl to do so. She told me of that poor class in Kerala she’d mistakenly taught erroneous maths. “Imagine we’d met there?” Lucy burst out as she was half-way through her third cocktail. I wished we had. “It’s mad,” I gushed. I was trying to eke out the last drops of my fifth. I didn’t want her to think I was a boozer. “We both went to Trinity College.” Lucy had been an undergraduate at
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Cambridge. I had just graduated from Dublin University. We ordered a couple more. She asked me about where I’d grown up. “In the Dublin mountains,” I replied. “We lived in the yard of a big house which belonged to my family. At night - night, from my bedroom window I used to stare at the lines and lines of yellow lights strung out across the bay. Stretching all the way from Malahide to Bray.” “What lovely names,” Lucy said softly. “It was countryside then. Now it’s suburbs. The big house’s gone. And the yard. And the rugged endless green Laurel clad glen with its old water wheel now all cleared. The river is culverted with concrete and what’s left of the gardens is a public park. It really breaks my heart. Sunday walks, duck feeding and rock concerts now… It used to be our own private Eden. My cousin Sorcha and I knew every square inch. Two thousand acres. Years - we spent building our kingdoms. In wood and stone. Tree-climbing. I hate that it’s gone forever. Hundreds of years it took to get the way it was. They destroyed it in three weeks with Caterpillars and JCB's. Such a crime really. Lots of money though. I love my family! Do you still live where you grew up?” “Kind of. We moved next door, though when Mummy died. I was fourteen.” She played with her fringe. “I have always wanted to visit Ireland. I love Beckett,” she added quickly. Closing off one subject by opening up another. “I think he’s shit,” I said. She just nodded her head from side to side knowingly. “I don’t really know where to start with you, Jamie,” she admitted with an indulgent smile. “You have so much to learn.” After that we were silent for a moment or two. It wasn’t awkward – we both just lit cigarettes and thought our own thoughts. Lucy then got up to go to the loo. When she returned, I coaxed out of her something of her hectic west London adolescence: she hated all games except tennis. A cello prodigy, who became, by fifteen, precocious with coked-up champagne swilling City Eurotrash bankers and soon to be former model friends on Kensington Roof Gardens many weekday nights. And I told her about mine and my comparably provincial backdrops: inseparable from my
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tomboy cousin Sorcha for years and years every day an adventure around the grounds. Then the goings away to schools there becoming rugby playing emo Cure head eventually chrysalising into a galloping tripped out magic mushroom party adventurer with an older crowd at weekend big house parties, high in the mountains of county Wicklow. Well, I was pissed! Eventually we got onto relationships again. Lucy asked what my “relationship-status” was. “I’ve just broken-up with someone.” “Difficult?” Something in my expression must have suggested it had been. “No way,” I responded bravely. “Been on the cards ages.” “Yeah?” “Yeah. Growing apart. Arguments. All the usual crap.” “Had you known her long?” “Him.” “What?” “Joke.” “Ha. Ha.” “Years.” “I see,” nodded Lucy. “This time it is over.” I did try to sound as categorical as I thought I really felt. Lucy anticipated the fun she was going to have whenever she could provoke that sincere expression she just noticed flashing across my lips. “Oh yeah…” Lucy said sceptically. “Where she now?” “Dublin. She’s an architect.” “How grown up is that? You’ll get back with her.” “Fuck off.” “You will.” “Well, I can’t even imagine you having a boyfriend.”
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“That’s a stupid thing to say,” Lucy declared. “Not stupid.” Truth was it was stupid thing to say, but I tried. “You’re, you’re kind of ugly. I’m awfully sorry if my famed honesty hurts.” “I’ll fame you!” she threatened, looking more attractive than ever. But before she had a chance to, the bar was closing. So we left. We made our way together through the wood panelled lobby to the elevators. Lucy, I read in her diary later, had resolved never to be kissed by another boy for the first time when she was drunk. But it really might have happened then and there. Kiss centrale! But obviously that wouldn'tve been good. I don't know why though. Some things just are, I suppose. In any event, as she was leaving the lift, Lucy wondered aloud if we shouldn’t go look together at places the following day. She didn’t make it clear whether she meant we might search for somewhere to live in together or merely share the burden of going through the process of finding one.

***

Next morning we met up early and started to make appointments to see apartments and houses. Lucy had already obtained a list from the Accommodation Office by the time we met. She had underlined a bunch of two beds’. So it seemed moderately clear we were looking for a place to share together. We ruled Virginia out immediately even though it was just across the river from Georgetown. It promised much more space for the same money. But we agreed it was just too suburban. We had similar ideas about what constituted perfection: preferably a house rather than an apartment. Large living room. Tall ceilings. Large rooms. Near campus. And, ideally, a garden. So we spent the day traipsing casually happy around Georgetown getting to know it, each other and the inconsistency between descriptions of apartments and the actuality a little better. After a couple shockers, Lucy was losing hope of finding anywhere suitable – especially when one
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prospective housemate jauntily informed us that having ‘worked for the government’ in Viet Nam he only felt comfortable sleeping on a roll-up mat in the utility room. I, on the other hand, was ever optimistic and I provided what I remember as a steady, welcome litany of funny retorts to Lucy’s equally funny outbursts of despair. We fell thus into a harmonious double act. “This next one’ll be perfect,” I said brightly. “Let’s have dinner before we see it. I’m starving.” “Lucy?” “Yesey?” “Only 5 o’clock. It’s too early for dinner.” “Hmm. Let’s have coffee then… Somewhere also does food?” Lucy tried. “Lard ass.” “Slave driver.” “Slacker.” “Jamie?” “Yes.” “If I'm annoying you, you must say.” “Never.” “Jamie?” she spoke in a little girl’s voice. “I must be annoying you?” “Who’s going to do my homework if we’re not living in the same place?” I replied. “We’ll find somewhere, Loose,” I reassured her. That was the first time I’d tried that tone with her. Well, I was right. My optimism was justified - the next place we looked at was perfect. The whole house - a dream. Shabby, not unchic what with its chipped, half-exposed, purposely distressed pale blue coloured brickwork. Its black painted metal three-step stoop up to an elevated black front door made of dense, plastic wood. The whole house tilted to the left, which, given what we’d come to Georgetown to study, seemed appropriate.
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“Number 49,” read Lucy. “My lucky number actually.” “What an omen.” I was beginning to see confirmatory signs in everything. We were the first to arrive for the viewing, but pretty soon afterwards quite a few people had collected behind us. I chatted to a couple of them. Lucy was stand-offish and not very forthcoming. The house only had two bedrooms. I remember Lucy sneezed. The ubiquitous air conditioning had given her a cold. I handed her an un-ironed folded cloth handkerchief from my trousers’ pocket. “It’s clean,” I assured her. “It wasn’t that,” she replied kindly, thinking I might misinterpret why she’d hesitated. “My parents met when my father offered mummy his handkerchief. It’s never actually happened to me before.” Still more putative tenants were arriving to see the house; the pressure was on. So with all our youthful and excitingly instinctive trust of one another, we decided we had to have it. We got it. The house’s English owner warmed to us. But the other viewers were also keen to make the deal. So with only vague reluctance and actually quite a bit of relief we there and then signed a twelve-month lease. It was a two storeyed house with two bedrooms and one bathroom. Lucy agreed to settle for the crimson front room to your right as you went in - provided I’d help her to get the fire working. That meant I got the enormous room which with the bathroom took up the whole of the top floor. We’d share the ground-floor kitchen and dining room. And although there wasn’t a garden, there were doors in the kitchen and in the dining room which gave onto an elevated red coloured hardwood deck overhung by vastly tall tropical trees themselves inhabited by an array of wildly coloured chattering birds. On those first few evenings after we’d moved in I’d join Lucy in her bedroom (there being hardly any furniture elsewhere in the house) where we pored over the humongous booklet featuring
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all the courses available to us. We both chose the same specialism within Environmental Studies – the Environmental Revolutions programme. It was taught by a man known around campus, I gathered from conversations, as The Monsignor. There were a lot of intriguing rumours about him. One had him about to win a Nobel prize before the Vatican intervened to stop it. Another had him as the disenchanted founder of a group of revolutionaries in southern Mexico. Still another had him a disaffected liberation theologian who might well become a Cardinal under a different papal dispensation. When I reported all this, after one of my many curious forays around campus, to Lucy back at 49 O street she mentioned she’d actually read a couple of his books – her psychoanalyst mother had known him vaguely – and that he’d actually been the reason she’d applied to Georgetown. We also chatted about the books we most liked; our taste differed (Lucy liked George Sand, magical realism, and authors I’d never heard of). But it also coalesced – we both agreed Florentino Ariza was basically a pædo. We’d both brought copies of Hughes’s Birthday Letters with us to DC, and among our favourite novels were The Secret History and A Handful of Dust. I had brought Season Two of Arrested Development with me. We agreed it was the best TV show ever. Omen central. Basically. We talked about what we’d most wanted to do when we'd grown up – Lucy said deciding for her was a process. I wanted, I told her, to help bring about a united Ireland. She just wanted to be happy. “I’ll be happy if I’m happy. Does that make sense? It’s actually how I feel,” Lucy concluded. There was something so English, so perfect about the way she said some things. Like crystals, if you know what I mean.

***

A couple of days afterwards we had our first class with the allegedly nearly en-Nobel-ed Monsignor.
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In a windowless and fluorescently lit seminar room, ten moulded plastic school chairs had been arranged closely together around a long plain grey table. When we walked in, two others were in there already. One boy and one girl. They were talking animatedly, as if they knew each other well. Before our teacher arrived, we introduced ourselves. Emily Macdonald was from Manhattan and very pretty. Tom Buchanan, from Long Island, was properly well-built. He sported a red Irish looking friendly face. They were both final year undergraduates. They also were, we found out afterwards, off and on lovers. Emily had just pointed at how grey the room was when the Monsignor, smiling, opened the door. Lucy and I discussed afterwards how we had both noticed that by the time he had properly entered the room Emily had altered her expression. She somehow now projected appropriately proportioned degrees of sweetness, solemnity and seriousness just by sitting there. The Monsignor examined each of us closely. He was sixtyish, tall, with an ascetic brown face and beautifully brushed white hair. He wore a russet coloured shirt with a priest’s collar – otherwise he was in black. He instructed us to call him Monsignor and the serenity he’d entered the room exhibiting evaporated as he started to write up on the board with extravagant strokes and a black marker. ‘COLLABORATE AND DIE OR REBEL AND DIE’ “Now,” he said. “Tell me in a sentence what you expect of this class? -” But just as I was preparing something to say in the pause that followed that last sentence, the Monsignor began to speak again. “...Or I will tell you: perfection. Always. For make no mistake, my students,” the Monsignor continued in a tone which somehow managed both tenderness and firmness in the same breath, “to be accepted by me as my very last students is a great honour. A greater honour I very much doubt you shall ever experience. Unless, of course you pay attention always in my classes. If you do that, you will be drowned by honours.” There didn’t seem to be any irony in his voice as he said this. He seemed dead serious. It was true though each of us had had to fight off reputedly enormous
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competition to win our space in his classroom. I however had never doubted that I would be one of the chosen few or that Lucy would be too. “You have a sentence. Lucy Anstey, what a lovely name?” “I want to work in nature conservation. Your work in that area is fascinating,” she announced simply, looking at the Monsignor. There wasn’t any hint of shyness or self-consciousness about her now as she said this. The Monsignor held Lucy’s gaze. I was totally distracted by this new Lucy to come up with my sentence. “So Lucy wants to change the world,” the Monsignor summarised. “Emily?” “Everyone says you’re the best teacher at Georgetown and I, well, the same as Lucy.” “Mister Buchanan?” “I haven’t ever thought much about the environment. It’s time I did.” “Good. Okay. Mister Dwyer? Your sentence, please.” “I think most governments are corrupt,” I replied. “I suppose that’s what interests me is how to protect the environment from also being corrupted.” “Well,” the Monsignor began again. “Thank you all for your honesty. You’re probably all in the right place. Probably. “I have little tolerance for dishonesty however. If I suspect you of intellectual flippancy, I shall stop teaching you. The post-modern times we live in see value in inconsistency. I don’t. “So how,” the Monsignor reverted to pedagogical mode, “have we managed to get from a civilisation living in the jungle in scattered communities in which everyone either ate or starved together. A civilisation in which no one being stood above another – rock, insect, human, animal, river or flower. And most importantly… how do we get back there again? How? Through revolutions, that’s how. But what kinds of revolution? That is the question. “Suppose you live in a forest,” the Monsignor continued. “A cloud forest. Rain forest. A jungle. Any kind. Suppose you obtain everything you need for yours and your community’s existence within the jungle. All you need is a hectare and provided all your family works hard you
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can grow 70 different kinds of food on this little hectare – more than enough to survive all year round. “But now everyone wants a piece of your jungle and without that piece neither you, nor your family, nor the human race can survive. “What on earth would you do? “Would you collaborate with the invaders and watch your world die, but you yourself survive? “Or would you rebel against the interlopers and be killed trying to win an unwinnable fight against their machines? “Would you stop; just wait and see? “What does happen to a dream deferred?” the Monsignor began to quote in a sing-song way. “‘Does it dry up’, like the other great poet Hughes thought it might? ‘like a raisin in the sun? ‘Does it stink like rotten meat? ‘Maybe it just sags ‘like a heavy load. ‘Or does it explode?’ “This is the most difficult question a human being and for all I know a stone or animal or river or cloud will ever face. It’s a difficult question and there’s just no perfect answer. Loyalty, Exit, Voice, Revolution? I don’t know which is the best answer, do you? “So oil companies discover oil in your own private eden. Roads and settlements are built to access the oil. Another tribe claims historical rights over your little piece of paradise. Landless peasants persecuted elsewhere clear and squat little parcels around yours. Politicians promise to legalise the squatters. Other politicians say they’ll protect your right to be there. None of them do what they say they will. The World Bank is funding a hydro-electric plant but to make it practical they say they need to flood 100,000 hectares, including yours. Electricity is needed to aircondition and provide fridges in the cities. Landowners, politicians, their relatives and their friends destroy
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land to graze cattle. They grow soya and palm to meet our race’s biological and superfluous needs. Conservationists want to save the plants and animals you feed on. But to do this they say they need to take them away. They’re funded by pharmaceutical companies. Wild animals, jaguars, panthers threaten your family. Snakes threaten everyone. “Which would you prefer?” he demanded of us. I was completely confused. “Collaboration with one set of invaders and death of your way of life and the forest?” I was glad at least that was a rhetorical question. Or was it? It also occurred to me just then perfectly possible that the Monsignor was completely bananas. “Or death rebelling against all invaders? Well? Jamie? Would you make a stand?” So it wasn’t a rhetorical question then. “I, I, I’m not sure there’s an always-ever answer to that question,” I stammered. “Not sure? Of course you’re sure. That is the correct answer,” the Monsignor continued. “My purpose, Jamie, as you well know is not to embarrass you.” I was embarrassed. I was certain by now Lucy was doubting the sincerity of someone – me - who had spent the last week being admired for the rigour of their convictions. More times than I cared to remember just then, she had said things like “I wish I had your discipline, Jamie - Do you think I’m terribly weak?” And now it seemed the Monsignor had exposed me for a fraud. “The point I am trying to illustrate,” the Monsignor continued, “is that the final test of someone who says they are in favour of revolutionising, for instance, the environment is always whether or not their purported commitment is matched by action. Talk is cheap. Everywhere, except in this classroom.” Then with a long sigh the Monsignor’s expression changed into an alternative mode we were all to get used to. “I’ve been teaching at Georgetown on and off now for a total of twenty-five years, two hundred and eighty-two days precisely. How do I know this? Why am I telling you this? “Well, this very morning I received in the mail my first ever pension payment. When I finish
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teaching you, God willing, in nine months’ time you will have been my very last pupils. “But does that explain why I should then hang from a wall?” I calculated this was a rhetorical question and stayed silent. I was right because the Monsignor continued almost immediately after holding my eye for a second. “ Indeed. I don’t wish to be remembered in oils. I want nothing at all to do with oil. My image, I trust, shall live on in my students’ heads. In what you all do in your lives and, more importantly, in what you don’t. In what you refuse to do. “I just want to rest and tend my garden. I am like one of those indigenous people who feels put upon by all these outside forces. They all; you all; you all want a piece of me. Well, you are the last class who shall have a piece of me. Thanks be to God.” Lucy was writing down in shorthand every word the Monsignor said. I started to write them down in longhand but couldn’t keep up. Emily chewed her pen for most of the class. Tom looked very concentratedly. He occasionally noted stuff, but mostly sat there looking non-committal. “Right. So what have we learned today?” the Monsignor started in again. “The powerless have the most to lose in a revolution. And the powerful have the most to gain. Or is it the other way around? I don’t know. What I do know is that you are not going to turn your backs on the powerless. Are you? I am going to see to that. “When the conquistadors arrived in the Americas, the Aztecs had a choice, and they chose to collaborate. The result? Decimation. The Maya, on the other hand, revolted. They were also decimated. Lessons for us? I don't know.” “Right?” Another rhetorical question. I was beginning to work out the Monsignor’s rhythm, or so I was beginning to think, again. “Your first week’s reading is Rosa Luxemburg’s Reform or Revolution. Good. Now, have a good read, a good think and, by God’s grace, we’ll see each other next week.” As the others left the room, I hung back and asked whether there were any particular aspects of
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the book I might focus upon. “You shall see,” was the Monsignor’s impossible response. “Oh, Mr. Dwyer,” he called to me just as I was out of the room. I re-entered and stood by the door. “I scanned the manuscripts sent with your applications.” “Manuscripts?” “Yes, I read them with interest. Lucy’s, of course, is better realised. But your idea is much cleverer.” I didn’t let the Monsignor see I didn’t know exactly what he was going on about. He seemed to think Lucy and I had applied to Georgetown together. “Normally, as you know,” the Monsignor continued, “to pass this course you would need to do an internship in an environment related organisation. I have considered your stated desire very carefully to be excused from this requirement. I think if you spend your time profitably instead turning that paper you sent with your application into an article for a prestigious learned academic journal, Jamie, we will have no problem finding you one in which to publish it”. “That’s amazing. Thanks very much.” “Right. See you next week.” When I arrived outside the building into the large open red bricked square – known as Red Square – (where Lucy and I had had our first conversation less than a week before) the end of summer heat hit me. I was going to have to ditch the tweed jacket. Lucy, Emily and Tom were standing there smoking. “Emily thinks you’re going to be teacher’s pet,” Lucy said as I approached them. Emily started, and seriously too, to deny this. “Did you ask ‘teach’ for some extra homework?” Lucy continued unabashed with a mischievous grin I hadn’t seen her wear before. Tom was chortling. “No, I told him I thought you’re not, well… You completely sure you’re up to this level? I don’t want you falling behind.” “The finest leaders always come from behind,” observed Lucy.
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Chapter Three

After the torchlight red on sweaty faces. After the crash and the frosty silence in the car going away. After the words with the police and the formal statements. After the guy with the medical bag had put the police on to us. After they found and confiscated most of our stash. After Emily's call to her parents in New York. After her father's lawyers made their play. Half-an-hour afterwards we were free and the detective apologised they'd been over the top - Be careful y'all - Sorry, he said, for our grief - We wouldn't be hearing from them again. Somehow the half-an-hour in the cells became all part of the dream that was that evening. All red torchlight and sweaty faces, in my woozy, wonky memory. What a dark, dark day. Only it was such beautiful weather. But then, the agony and all the too answerable questions: ‘Could we have stopped it?’ ‘Was it me, should’ve died?' ‘Lucy, baby, you saved me.' 'What does it all mean?’ Nothing. Nothing at all. After the song lyric stopped replaying hour after hour on the brim of my awareness… ‘Death is abroad this day and I don’t feel like dying’ ... After that lot, and the light flashbulbs red on our tired suddenly sober faces. After the journalist torture and sitting in the dark away from it all in a hotel suite downtown at The Biltmore. Em had rang Tom from the station and quick thinking Tom had sent us there. We just didn't know what to do; where to go. After a bit of Bourbon, which didn't work anyway... Not to forget never to forget she who was living now is dead...

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And after all, after that, we left the hotel: none of us could sit still. We stopped by the formal garden of Dunbarton Oaks, as soon as it opened, and lightly tripped through the Orangerie with a little humidity, out into sunlight and onto lawns. Just adjusting to life again. We're alive Emily cried. That worked for a moment or two. We settled on the grass, amongst the Saturday morning easy busy families with their young children, drinking coffee; jogging parents pushing their flesh in large wheeled pushchairs. Next, we wandered along the avenues amongst the specimen trees... And after all we had just been through invisible to all those around us we caught parents in the act of envying our debauched appearance; half-dreading, half-wishing their children might become so free-seeming, golden future-bound Georgetown students’ like us or perhaps regretting the day when they once were too. She who was living is now dead. Us, so evidently in the midst of such pregnant and glamorous lives. “In the midst of life, we are in death, et cetera”, as Morrissey might sing I said. Emily corrected me; it wasn't the Smiths - it was Saint Paul the Apostle. Was he a sociopath? Lucy said no - She should know. That was her school? Morrissey High? Stupid joke. St. Pauls. Stupid tetchiness. didn't, couldn't stop the lyric running around my head. I mouthed it sometimes. That much I did know. In the midst of death we are in life, et cetera. Or was it the other way around? But after, we began and after we stopped again to walk together silently, Emily, Lucy, me together, Tom arrived to join us, hugging us each in turn when he arrived. We left Dunbarton Oaks and we walked, still silently, through the 11am Saturday streets, muttering retreats, reluctant feet... Busy families piling into Scandinavian cars, going to soccer and going off to do shopping; students’ jogging… The diner full on O… Familiar faces.... Couple strange looks here and there. Strange bliss of a crispy blue skied Western Saturday morning. Dean and Deluca for more coffees. Almond croissants. We left them uneaten for the swans by the canal.
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And Cecilia’s sullen small mouth haunting away, all of us, chip, chip, drip, in different ways… Each of us remembering something... She who was living is now dead… Damn, a new lyric to replay endlessly, dancing around the body of my awareness... She who was living is now dead... In the midst of life we are in death, et cetera. Midday by the time we finally made it back to Emily’s house. Difficult to know how to react to what had just happened. Lucy went upstairs where she tried to sleep for a bit. Couldn’t. For one thing: the drugs… Emily found her old stash. Lucy swore she’d been able to flake out on a gram in the past before. We did a line. “When you’re tired, you’re tired…” “Well, I’m not.” Slight bits of tetchiness. Hardly surprising, when you think about it… Trying not to think about it. Lucy ate two jam muffins. I ate nothing. Lucy made some for all of us. I forgot to eat mine. And Emily said she wasn’t hungry. Lucy said she wasn’t either. She just knew, she said, she ought to eat. I refused to be persuaded to eat, or do anything. No one was hungry or sleepy. We finished the coke. We played cards, patience, and solitaire incessantly. Repeatedly. It was something consoling, clear. Seven pm and we were all of us still, still in Emily’s basement thinking: let’s go back to The Biltmore. We'll drink high-balls and talk for an hour. How would that look? Tom was right. We wanted to be everywhere at once and not somewhere alone. He hadn’t even asked what exactly had happened. Tom and I sat beside on a futon sofa, playing pontoon. Near to us, Lucy and Emily were conversing quietly. The day had passed us by – thank God. It was almost totally dark outside. It was dark in Emily’s basement – bright lights did not seem appropriate. No one felt like switching them on. It would be twelve hours Emily calculated before her parents would send for her if she hadn't arrived in Manhattan. It was twelve hours already. Who would her father send for her. Knock, knock at the
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door... One of Lucy and Emily’s conversations turned out to be, as Tom and I spoke of thesis, antithesis and synthesis as an ongoing never ending dialectical process, about the question of bed. They’d come up with a plan. Emily had to drive Tom back to his apartment so he could get stuff to write his term paper, which he was late with and while he gathered his shit Emily would drop Lucy and me home. Once home we’d go to sleep and first thing in the morning Emily would come by and drive me to the airport. “Only, Jamie you’re not ready to come yet. Are you? Stay here, and come back when you’re tired.” But I told Lucy I wanted to go home with her (copy cat). I knew that if Lucy left to go home without me I would immediately regret that I was not with her in bed. Thus I chose to go with Lucy. But the way I told her this was, frankly, odd. I communicated it by saying “listen-to-me-okay-?” without speaking – I merely virtually, violently shadow clasped Lucy’s cheeks and then said intensely (far too intensely), “I only want to be with you”. The effect was completely ridiculous. Lucy told me not to freak on her. I chilled. Slightly. Just enough. Raw nerves all round. Cecilia? Damn. So after an hour of no knock, knock on the door, Emily left us home to 49 O. There we were sitting on Lucy’s bed, now, Lucy drew me into her arms and gently sobbed. That made me too. Lay there an hour or two. Hugging one another. Then she got up – we had, she said, to get ready for bed. Lucy was so together. She said it was because her mummy had died when she was young. And so we bathed and again lay down, again, together. My arms around her. I’m assured in response to my question of her “do you mind?” She does
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not – mind, that is. My head, she insisted, be below her shoulder. I snuggled into her body but I couldn’t sleep. My only desire to be with Lucy now granted, what now? Why’d I feel still, so odd? In a few hours, I’d be flying to London and on to Sorcha's wedding in Kerry. Leaving Lucy for a whole week – our longest time apart since we'd met. I’d thought about not going. But why? Lucy would go to New York with Em. Jamaica was off. Em's parents had summoned her. And she wanted Loose to go with her, for cover. Emily's parents were grand with that. Fair enough. While Lucy slept, I laid on the bed my knees upwards on which rested the book in which was written words – mere words. Dressed, I, in sleepy black, was writing, smoking, breathing, moving, preparing myself for this absence. So I gazed upon her sleeping form, drunk in the moments slowly passing; absorbing her scent; watched her thinking, hearing her breath… Watched she who snoozed gently with those two silver ear rings in her left ear; snuggled up so thinly within the enveloping folds of her dark blue eiderdown. Laid out, her beautiful head and drifty, gleaming hair scattering itself all across her pillow. Candle burning scentedly in star shaped earthenware container. Beside a pile of books on her bedside table. The crimson walls of her room. While I’m in London… “I’ll go to meet your nanny, Lucy. Grand.” I shall go to see your nanny in London Lucy. I shall bring Nanny her birthday present from you, my darling Lucy. I shall deliver it to Nanny myself, Lucy. I will pass muster - Lucy said ages ago Nanny’d know whom she ought to marry the moment Nanny met them…. While Lucy slept softly sweet out of the eiderdown sneak her lily white feet. US college kids: we’re in one of those mid-eighties' movies: I’m Andrew McCarthy and Lucy’s pretty, pretty in whatever. I woke her at five am today in that way of mine... I endeavoured to engage her in caresses, which although unreproved, did not seem so very desired. I pressed on. Flushed and decided. Lucy hangs Freida Kahlo prints on her crimson chamber walls. And then to sleep, again. And what was left of the night and the fucking (again) of the early day melted into one, and it was time for me to
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get to plane. Emily arrived. She took us to Dulles. We said our goodbyes. Everything desultory. Sad to be separating? I boarded. It all felt too weird. I arrived in London and connected with my flight to Kerry immediately. That's grand, isn't it. Adjusting to Irish me through the accents of my fellow passengers. Walking across the tarmac, through the brisk Kerry air. Almost dark (again) already. A whole day passed between when Cecilia was alive and now when she is not. And I am not. Only partially. With a little patience. Rain or drizzle? That’s hard to say. That’s what you’d miss about Ireland: so few words, so many types of rain. DA. So much wetness. Customs. Dia duit Ireland. I love Ireland. Inside the terminal, there was my sister Siobhan. Adjusting my grip on my suitcase I just caught her face changing from a (probably false anyway) warm anticipatory smile to a troubled frown. Should have shaved. “There you are.” I kissed her on her offered cheek as I said it. “Nice to see you.” Cool greeting. “Good flight?” “Cool, cool. A little tired...” I replied. “I can see that,” she muttered. We walked outside. Mountains looming. Twilight. Brisk pace. “Same car, I see,” I tried. “You’ve only been gone six months.” “Feels like longer. I feel more grown up now. Don’t know why.” We sat in. “I don’t know why either,” she replied. “When exactly is it you’re going to grow up?” “Don’t start. I’m feeling shite.” I moved the seat back. Shiv started the car. “You look it. You know if you hadn’t cut it so fine you would have been here when that crash happened?” “Good reasoning sis. But just maybe there would have been a crash here if I had.” “I don’t understand why you bothered coming.”
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We pulled out of the airport car park and onto the dual carriageway. A large sign welcomed us to The Kingdom. I gazed away sure the rain was merely drizzle. “You were all at me,” I started to explain why I'd come. “To sign those focking papers. And Sorcha particularly wanted me here. I couldn’t really let her down.” “If you've decided not to sign, why bother coming back? Why’s Sorcha so special? You let the rest of us down without a second thought.” “I don’t want to fight sis.” “Then don’t come back here looking like you’re on drugs again. Are you?” “You’re not making things easier at the moment, you know? I’ve been awake for 48 hours. I can’t get the crash out of my head.” We were driving along the new by-pass. Night had fallen. Rain drumming on the roof. And in the distance other lights twinkling across the dark speckled mountains. “Jamie, I’m too annoyed to sympathise…There’s no good in it. You’re a mess, you know that, don’t you?” “Things are going great over there. Lucy and...” “Jamie? Your friend was just killed and you're telling me things are going grand? Hello?” “I just need a shower and a shave,” I replied. “Your eyes are on fire. What’re you on, Jamie?” I pulled down the visor. I examined them. “I’m tired, that’s all,” I concluded. “When did you say mum was arriving?” I asked, trying to change the subject. Bad move. “If you ever phoned her you’d know…” “Sis, she focking told me. I just wasn't listening. You’re such hard work today.” “How upset will mum be when she sees you in this state? It’s like, like you’re back to the bad old days. Am I the only one in this family who isn’t falling apart?” “No sis. You’re the only one who’s being a perfect bitch.” “You’re also speaking like you’re English or something? What's with the posh voice?”
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“Please tell me when mum’s arriving,” I replied. “I will listen to everything you say from now on. If you would just focking tell me that. Sis?” It suddenly seemed very important I had a chance to sleep before seeing Mum. Perhaps Shiv was right. I was in a terrible state. I felt focking awful. “Around 9. Later. She’s coming down with Iseult's mother,” sis said finally. Izzy was, apart from Sorcha, my oldest friend. I remembered why America had seemed like such a very good idea. Home could be so tricky. So many people to see. “Great,” I exclaimed, thinking about four hours’ kip between then and now. I would be straight with that. “Not ‘great’, unless you tidy yourself up,” Shiv said as she turned in off the narrow country road we were by now on. We pulled up to some large white wrought iron gates. Paint was peeling off of them. To one side trees, to the other a gate lodge. Smoke rose from its chimney. Lights on. “Have you sorted things out with Izzy?” Shiv asked. I undid my seatbelt and opened the car door. “You don’t have to...” A police appeared from the lodge and opened the gates. “Uncle Joe’s back in,” Sis explained. “Course. I forgot. That’s grand, isn’t it?” “Not really,” Shiv said. “He’s been taking a battering. He’s too old for it.” “Ah, he’s grand. I’m just glad I don’t have to get out in that.” We drove in through the gates, through the rain, and waved thank you to the police, as he shut the gates behind us. “Have you sorted out things with Iseult?” Shiv asked again. “You were so close last year. What's the story? Don't fuck that one up Jamie. You hardly know this English girl.” “We spoke about the crash, last night,” I answered. “We're grand. I'm glad... Really glad she'll be here.” “Mum was so upset when she heard. Her very first reaction was ‘Jamie’s on drugs again, I just know it’. Were drugs involved?” “Course not.”
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“Dad also wants to see you as soon as you get back to Dublin.” “I’m planning to stay here all week. I don’t really fancy Dublin.” “You’re not exactly flavour of the month around here either Jamie.” “Uncle Joe told me he understands.” “We have agreed you're making the biggest mistake in your life. Just don’t get bloody sanctimonious about it again with mum or with Joe.” “I’ve decided sis. Just leave me be.” There was silence for a bit. We continued driving along the winding, bumpy several miles’ long drive. A couple of times Shiv had to slow the car almost to a stop as she negotiated a pothole. “You'd think uncle Joe would sort this drive out.” We shared a comfortable family look. My phone rang. It was Lucy. She said the crash made all the DC papers, and the New York Times. The drug thing too. Fock. Not a bad time to be in Ireland it had to be said. But would they hear here? Fockin' hope not. Journalists had been phoning and calling at our house in DC. Lucy was staying with Emily at her parents' in Manhattan. They were planning to go to her summer house in East Hampton, as soon as Emily’s parents had finished bawling Emily out. Emily's dad's lawyer was taking care of the whole thing from a legal point of view. Lucy needed to fax a form for me to sign giving him power of attorney to deal with libel or defamation stuff or something arising from certain articles about the crash. At that point though it was like the crash, and Lucy and America were a million miles and several world's away. I said I’d phone her back as soon as I got into the house. I didn’t mention anything about us all being in the papers to Siobhan beside me in the car. Nor about the fact the papers were making a fuss about Georgetown students and drugs and the crash. That was the time I needed my sister to be my big sister most I think. She was angry, and not I now see for any selfish reason as I suspected then. She was just worried that my wanting to sever
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my relationship with our family trust fund meant, also, that I wished to sever my relationship with my family. I didn't. It was just pretty complicated the whole thing. My father, you see, had been a councillor since he was my age 23 for an area within central Dublin in which our family garage business was situated. At the very top of the property market during the Celtic Tiger boom my father finally accomplished what he had always wanted to: the rezoning of our ten acres of dilapidated sheds and old abandoned buildings from industrial to residential use. Suddenly a piece of land built up over several generations and covered in sheds and forgotten corners, lilac and Georgian tenement ruins which had been worth, at most, a few million became worth around 500 hundred million quid. For my father though who had worked hard over twenty years buying up bits of land here and there this wasn't free money. Unfortunately at practically the last hurdle after the rezoning decision went through and after the land was all sold, Dad got busted for bribing two of his fellow councillors. And he was sent to jail – a total scapegoat for all the other shenanigans going on in Ireland at that time. However as the land had belonged to a number of family members, none of whom it could be shown knew about the bribes, only dad's share was forfeit. I had been younger than 18 when my share was bunched up with the others'. Now it had been decided to cash in, and transfer the money to Grand Cayman in one tranche. It needed the whole family's agreement though. Instead of selling the site for 'development' in the first place I had lobbied hard in the family to have the land or most of it dedicated to a large park in honour of our great grandfather, one of the founders of the Irish republic. The others looked at me like I was special or something. I was only seventeen, they said. They were having absolutely none of it and since I didn't have the legal power to stop it anyhow the land was sold. And here we were a few years later with an unbelievably huge whack of cash and the plan to place it off shore far from any tax man. Years later now when nothing still has been built and much torn down on that ten acre site and the money's largely dissipated I still regret that that land's not a park.
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Still moving slowly along Uncle Joe's drive, jungle-thick red flowering flowing rhododendron bushes either side filled in every visible space between the tall poplars. “I should’ve stayed in DC... This is gonna be a whole hassle.” I was getting nervous. My sister was freaking me out about my appearance. Mum would go ballistic if she thought I was getting stoned again. I cleared away the condensation on the windows with the open palm of my hand. Finally, after a sharp corner, my uncle’s house appeared suddenly in all its faded, unostentatious grandeur. Granite, double-fronted, Georgian, huge. Placed between great mountains and the ocean. I smiled as I remembered all the times I’d turned that corner before. Lights in all those giant paint chipped sash windows. Ten across. Three down. Shiv scored deeply the gravel as she turned and stopped her car in front of the library. “You get out,” she ordered. “I have to bring it round the back.” We shared a smile. Uncle Joe's rules'. “Don’t be caught on the mobler inside either. It’s still no mobiles in the house rule.” “Yeah, yeah, yeah...” “Ach Jamie, it's not me. You know it's not me. Why make out I nag the whole time?” I pushed open the giant oak front door. I heard from deep inside the house echoing noises from the kitchen. The pleasant whining of a piano and clatter and a clatter from deep within. Big vase of flowers. Scent. Fock. Nectar already on my nose and lapel. I need sellotape. Beyond, in past the glass porch door I saw, just coming down the stairs, uncle Joe, the man himself, Prime Minister of Ireland. Beside him striving to lobby him on some very important matter strode my youngest cousin; one of his six daughters. She was seven and the moment she spotted me she suspended her protests and ran over quickly at me. I’d got my bags down on the paved stone hall floor just in time. “Jamie, Jamie,” she cried. “Socks.” “At dawn.” She giggled as I knew she would. “Fight. In a sec,” she said skidding down on her knees and pulled up my trouser legs. Her father looked on half-way between amused and surprised. “They
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match,” was her disappointed diagnosis. “Didn’t when I put them on. Look again, Mouse.” She looked more closely and pinged them a couple of times. “They still match,” she looked up at me sternly, sceptically, “Gorilla legs.” “Don’t.” “Do.” “Don’t.” “Do.” “Do.” “Don’t.” “See. Even you agree now. I win.” I wasn't too focked to outbid the Mouse and she was sharp as a, well, a mouse. Bit of sleep. I'd be grand. “Leave the poor man alone, for heaven’s sake,” interrupted uncle Joe. “You’re in the attic. Yellow room, I’m afraid Jamie. But we're very glad to have you. Full house, for obvious reasons. Only family though. So we'll be comfortable enough. Come on down quickly, will you? You’re just the man to keep Uncle Tim sober while I take care of some business.” No sleep for me then. I galloped up to the attic, installed myself in my room and while I undressed I spoke to Lucy. It didn’t look good; they’d found actual heroin in Cecilia’s car. Jesus. I didn’t know she was into that. “Like I did?” Lucy replied. “I wasn't accusing you, Loose,” I said. “Anyway, darling... The media has all our names, except Alejo's. They're in all the papers.” “Seriously? Fock.” “Emily's family are doing their best. They know the papers' owners. As her father said, if they can't kill the story, no-one can.” There had even been a reference to our being foreign scholarship students abusing American freedom. “Georgetown Eurotrash Crash” screamed the headline in the Post. And a New York Times
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investigation into the Eurotrash scene at elite schools. Feck it, at least no one here should find out. After I’d shaved I went down and through the varnished double doors into the library. The rustle of the day's Examiner being rapidly folded and a tall portly man stood up to shake my hand. “It’s grand of you to come all this way to see us.” Uncle Joe came in furtively just after me, and shut the door quickly behind him. “Yes, Jamie we're very happy to have you here,” he agreed with his brother. “Wouldn’t have missed Sorcha’s wedding for the world,” I answered. They asked me about the crash and we spoke of it for a bit. Meanwhile, I was only half there... I was drifting off... Thinking… The library looked exactly the same as it always had. Being home so suddenly after being in DC. The juxtaposition. The familiarity… That set of ivory elephants a long dead knighted relative had brought back from India parading across the tops of those same filled floor to ceiling book-cases. Ancient bound Spectators. Punch. 1911 Encyclopaedia Brittanica. Sorcha and I learned more from that than anyone now could easily imagine… All that coursing through my mind, and more, spaced, pacing through my mind as my uncles and I spoke of matters political, the crash, and soon no doubt all that cash… The torn lamp shade. The growing number of souvenirs on the marble fireplace - each marking a trip abroad. Fock. I hadn’t brought one. Would have to find something. The worn leather sofas; that sofa behind which Sorcha and I’d hid, manys a time listening to the grown-ups. Trying to come up with ways of monetising knowledge gleaned from the political discussions we'd secretly overheard... We'd even once written an anonymous letter to a newspaper... The half-closed thick red velvet curtains dragging across the worn wooden floor. The giant lapis lazuli vase on a stand in the middle of the room with the long dead plant spilling over its sides. The still hanging in there aspidistra. A spitting log fire in the large open grate. The sofa, facing it, Uncle Tim’d been sitting on. And the armchairs,
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none of which seemed to match the room or the sofas. Arranged, so that the whole was cozy, inviting and relaxed. Perfect for late night discussions. Many of the behind-the-scenes’ deals which caused the rise and fall of the Celtic Tiger had been made in this very room. “I respect your right to make the decision you have made Jamie,” my Uncle started. “Neither your father, mother nor I understand what’s going on in there.” I smiled as Uncle Joe indicated his head theatrically. “When you have children,” he continued, to educate, and to feed you will look back at this moment and say to yourself ‘Jamie, you were a fool’. You must change your mind Jamie. All it takes is a signature and you will be rich beyond your wildest dreams. I will say this now and never again will I say it: You know, I always hoped you would continue our name in politics. To be elected you will need money, Jamie. That is why I advise you not to divest yourself. The secret of life, though, Jamie is... Don’t change queues half way through. It might seem attractive to you now. The Irish rural dream. Wattle hut and daub and all that. Even poverty. I've never been poor. I wouldn't know. I do know that in ten years you will regret this. You will come to me and you will say... “Uncle Joe, you were right”... It's lives lived like yours which were the ultimate dreams of your ancestors of everyone's ancestors, even of most of your contemporaries. Your freedom. Don't ever forget you're what they fought and died for in Ireland. Your life is a duty to justify their sacrifices. So think further about this Jamie. We are meeting at McVeigh's, Kildare Street on Wednesday at 10 am. If you're there we'll say no more about any of this. There I’ve said it. So...” Uncle Tim suddenly perked up from under his paper. “Tell us about Georgetown, Jamie,” Tim standing up and wandering over to the drinks' tray addressed me. “Politics, isn’t it? You could probably teach Joe here a thing or two, I’d say, about politics.” “I often wish I had time to study politics,” answered Joe. “You’re not missing much, I don’t think. It must be great to be back in,” I congratulated uncle Joe. “Ah, you know, it’s grand. Never thought I’d have another crack at it really. It's a gift. There’s
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a different feel this time, though. We are going to get things done.” “He always says that,” Tim said as he handed me a drink, slugged back some of his and sat down. “First rule of politics is optimism. Do they teach you that in your American university? I hope they're not turning you into a capitalist Jamie.” Joe was standing. He rarely sat down or still. “A paper I’ve written is being published in an academic journal.” “I hadn’t heard that Jamie. Congratulations. You are a chip off the old block. What is this paper about?” “About revolution, really,” I said after a pause during which I tried to gauge how much detail to give him. I'd guessed right. Keep it thin. Keep it real. “Best be watching our backs then, wha’,” uncle Joe boomed proudly. My aunt then entered the room. “Darling, have you heard Jamie is about to become a published author? He has a very important paper appearing in a renowned academical journal, isn't that it Jamie?” I kind of nodded. “Joe, would you ever cop on? I told you this a month ago. Jamie, we are so proud of you,” she said. We hugged warmly. She was great my aunt. Always on my side. “Joe,” she continued, “we really have to get to the hotel. We're supposed to be there half-an-hour ago. Jamie, when will you go to see your father?” she asked. “I wasn't definitely planning to,” I replied. “Ah Jamie. He's desperate to see you. You need to speak about the trust thing. He doesn't want to speak about it on the phone. He's feeling so powerless in there to influence you. Joe? Hotel...” Joe looked to us conspiratorially, and raised his eye brows. He was led out of the room. Unexpectedly, he popped his head back in around the door almost straight away. “Jamie,” he said. “One more thing - Cousin Enda will be here tomorrow direct from Columbia. I understand he is looking forward to seeing you. Peace process or no peace process Cousin Enda will end up in jail,
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from what I hear. Do you follow what I am saying, Jamie?” He then left the room without waiting for a response. I knew exactly what he was saying. But politics couldn't have been farther from my mind at that point. There was no need to worry. The fire crackled. For a moment I totally wished there wasn’t to be a party or a Georgetown or an anything. I just wanted to sit there with the fire just the way it was. Ten logs and the scent of Messiaen. All that said, I was looking forward to seeing Iseult, and in a strange way also to watch Sorcha marry. Meanwhile Uncle Tim and I were chit-chatting about the idea which I favoured of countries becoming again totally self-sufficient. Whereas my uncle took the conventional view of free trade and all that. We had a couple more drinks. Sis came in. We got onto the subject of violence as a political strategy. “… I don’t entirely disagree with you, Jamie. But I wouldn’t necessarily say as much.” “If it’s true, I can’t see what the world gains by staying quiet about it,” I said, referring to the moral bankruptcy of Tim's Grand Inquisitor argument. “Ergo you don’t have what it takes?” “Course I’ve got what it takes. I just refuse to prostitute it.” “Same difference.” Tim was maddening. I loved arguing with him. Especially now when I could at last get the better of him. “Jamie,” Shiv interjected. “You’re getting obstreperous.” “He’s not. He’s grand,” Tim replied. “You’re just trying to get a rise out of him,” Shiv insisted. “I am not.” Something in the tone of Tim’s denial suggested the opposite. “It doesn’t matter,” Shiv demanded pointedly of me. “Idealism’s endearing in a child. It’s a waste in a talented man.” Tim ignored her. “At least I’m going to deal with my ressentiment without ballsing up the world.” “That’s your privilege, Jamie. Just remember who are the guardians of it.”
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“It’s not you politicians anyhow. All you’re guardians of is… is rubbish.” “So much for your highbrow Marxist ways. We're here when you leave Marx where he belongs as Joe and I did. I’ll remind you of this conversation then.” “I’ll never be like you and Joe.” “You already are, Jamie. You already are.”

***

Back in Manhattan, Tom, Lucy and Emily had driven to the beginning of Cecilia’s shiva. He let them out around the corner and went to find a parking valet. Turning from Madison into East 63rd street Lucy and Emily heard shouting. Around the entrance to the synagogue was gathered a group of well dressed people. As they got closer both Em and Loose experienced a certain frisson. There was shouting. Just as they were about to walk into the lobby they noticed Alejo. He was flanked by three stocky men in black puffa jackets. They looked like they were escorting him out. Lucy and Emily froze there just to the side outside decoding the scene. As he was practically pushed through the doors back onto the street past them Alejo was too absorbed in his predicament to notice they were there. “… She was my girlfriend…” Alejo said back at the building, only half caring. “I have a right…” “Please leave. Please go. You have no rights here. You’re not welcome here,” a man following the puffa jackets was saying sotto voce. A few people, obviously on their way in, had collected outside. From inside they could hear sobbing. A handsome middle-aged man inside the lobby was being restrained by two besuited men around his own age. “… You killed my only daughter,” the middle-aged man was telling Alejo. He pointed towards Alejo whose back was now turned away from him.
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“Shush Dan. Shush. Shush. He’s going. He’s gone.” “My God he killed my child and he wants to pay his respects? He has no respect.” “Shush, it’s okay. Dan, it’s okay. He’s gone. He’s gone.” “Get him out of here,” a woman who knew Emily said. “Just get him out of here before he causes any more suffering.” “Let’s cruise,” Emily said putting her arm around Alejo’s waist. He let her steer him towards Fifth. They rounded the corner. Tom arrived back having parked the car. Lucy hung back and described what had just occurred. They turned around as they were making Fifth and looked back. The crowd outside the brownstone was gone. At its door Alejo’s puffa wearing escort remained like sentinels. There were tears in Alejo’s eyes. ‘Come on, come on.’ Tom and Lucy exchanged ‘I don’t know what to do either’ glances. Emily led them across the road towards the Park.

***

Mum and Uncle Joe had already flown back up to Dublin when I was woken up the morning after the wedding by one of my little cousins landing on my bed with a cup of tea and toast. I hadn’t really eaten now since the crash. I hadn’t really noticed. But I was hungry then. My cousin told me he had liked a speech I had made. He was either bluffing for a laugh or I did something I didn't remember at all. “Shame about the mirrors,” he then said as he unsuccessfully tried to get a rattling tea cup over to me without spilling it on the covers. “I didn’t do that?” I didn't think I had. Shite. “We caught you and Mouse red handed. You had shaving foam all over.” “I was trying to stop her. Ever think of that, Titch?” “She said it was your idea?” “I wouldn't misspell “'ho did dis?” on a mirror, would I Titch? I can spell. It was Mouse stoopid.” I knocked back the tea practically in one go.
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“Mouse said you spelt it bad on purpose, Jamie.” “'Wrongly' Titch.” “You're lying Jamie?” “It is 'wrongly'. Not bad. Do they teach you anything in that national school of yours?” “Stop it. I don't like your music. Your MP3's were weird. Izzy says you listen to that stuff, even when you're not at a disco? Izzy said you do,” he said, as he picked up my empty tea cup.” “Wha?” I said. “It's too early for this. I'm half asleep Titch. Laters. K?” “Mouse DVD'd you and Izzy. We all saw you. Izzy's your girlfriend again? But Mam said you already have a girlfriend. In America. Do you have two girlfriends? “Titch. Scram central. I'll be too tired to go riding with youse lot. 4 we said, yeah? Race to the stone village? But for now, scram centrale.”

***

Later that afternoon Lucy called me. She recounted why they hadn’t made it into the funeral. “Cecilia's parents didn’t like Alejo anyway and then the horse they found with her in the car. They blame him.” “Well?” “It was hardly Alejo's fault when you think about it actually Jamie. Cecilia picked-up not Alejo.” “What’d you do after that?” I asked, ignoring the defense, but noting it. “Save it for the Judge” I quipped in my head silently. I still felt odd. “Came back here.” “Old Prince von Trapp's gone away?” I tried. “Who? It's Emily's mother's the princess, actually. But we're not there. We're at Alejo's. Down the road from Emily's parents'. He’s in a wretched state. He's paranoid. Won’t see anyone but us.
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He’s scared he’ll be taken away somewhere.” “Don’t be alone with him Loose. It's not your responsibility. We don't even know who he is.” Lucy hesitated slightly, but not slightly enough. “You on your own with him now?” “He’s asleep. He's on so much medication he's not sure where he is.” “Where’re Tom and Em?” “Emily went home to pick up something. They’ll be back any second. Relax, Jamie.”

***

Years later deep in my southern Mexican hole I would read in Lucy's diary what Alejo was like then. Their dreamy conversations. “What do you most fear Lucy?” Alejo asked one afternoon. They were in his apartment overlooking the Met. Next door to Jackie Kennedy's building. Two floors. A roof terrace and a picture window over the park. “Nothing really. Cruel things.” “I despise cruelty Lucy. What is the cruellest thing that ever happened to you Lucy?” “My mother died. I was 8. What about you?” “I'm so sorry to hear about that Lucy. I didn't know. Emily did not tell me this. I am so sorry. Poor Lucy. I think the person I'm in love with being cruel, Lucy. I'm beginning to fall in love with you.” “Don't be mad Alejo. What about Cecilia?” He looked hurt. But he still pushed. “Is Jamie your true love?” “Alejo? Isn't Cecilia's death cruel?” “I don't want to talk about that Lucy. Not now. Please. Let's just talk about lightness. I want to talk about you Lucy.”
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“No,” she laughed nervously. “I'm not sure want this conversation Alejo. Actually I'm sure I don't Alejo.” “If not him who?” “What?... Doesn’t matter.” “Please tell me Lucy? Lucy? I must know. It's the most important thing to me.” “Archie was. I’m sorry Alejo. I don’t really want to talk about this with you.” “Was he Irish too?” “God no. The exact opposite. Tom and Em will be back soon.” “Let's order food?” Alejo said. “Tom and Em will be back soon,” Lucy repeated herself. “They’ll eat without us. They always do,” Alejo answered confidently. “Em won’t. Doesn't. What are you talking about? I know she won't. She asked us to wait for her. Don't you remember Alejo?” “They won’t mind…” “Alejo? What is it about you? You push, push? I'm sorry Alejo, but actually...” “It doesn’t matter.” “I know it doesn’t matter. But it’s like you’re trying to bargain with me the whole time. I’m not actually for sale.” “Is this because of Archie, you said his name was? Please tell me about Archie? I have a way of finding these things out anyway. Did you meet at Cambridge? Your first love? Your hard riding Byronic country boy?” “I'm not ready for this, Alejo.” “I've touched a nerve. Sorry Lucy. I'm very sorry. Please forgive me.” “Maybe the crash and all... You're just being weird Alejo.” “It's the crash. I'm sorry Lucy. I am just very grateful. I want to thank you.” “Then leave me be. I am very sorry Cecila has died Alejo. But I am not going to be her
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replacement, am I?” “I don’t know,” he said silently, as if hurt. “Well, actually I do. I love Jamie. Besides, if I were you, I would get over Cecilia before -” “You're right Lucy. You're always right. Is that what you did? You got over Archie before you fell for Jamie? Of course... that's it. I will follow you Lucy. I'm just grateful.”

***

Lucy and I next spoke again two days later. I was back in Dublin. I went to see Dad. I was signing the papers now. They were right. Everyone was happy with me. Mum asked me never to put “us” all through this sort of thing again. I had made such a storm in a tea cup. Uncle Joe said he knew I would see sense in the end. We all went out for a fine meal after signing the papers. We drank our toasts to Dad and through video cell phones had him with us in a private room. Uncle Joe spoke of how he had arranged for 'structures' to be put in place which would mean our fortune would remain intact and in the family for centuries. It was a strangely magnetic feeling. Not being able to speak about it to anyone outside the family meant, though, that we all became closer. I really missed Dad. Lucy rang almost at the end of the meal. I went out onto Merrion Row to talk to her. It was drizzling rain. 'Normal' 'real' people were hurrying around in the post work rush hour. Lucy said when she rang that she was back in DC. While we spoke I was looking at all the expensive bric á brac in that shop there. I could buy any of it now, I thought. All of it in fact. As I said, it was a very strange feeling. It wouldn't change me though. I was glad to be as old as I was before it all happened. “I thought you were going to the Hamptons with Emily?” I replied. “Has something happened, Lucy. You sound strange. What?” “Her family want her to themselves and Alejo has been taken away.”
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“How is he?” “Still weirded out and actually creepy as hell. Sometimes,” she added, oddly. “By the way,” she continued. “Have you noticed anything odd Jamie? I mean do you feel weirder than normal?” “A little, why? Long hangover from the crash night. It's weird how there seems to be a physical reaction in me to the crash,” I confessed, crystalising a thought which had occurred in bits and bobs over the previous few days I suddenly realised. “We’re still actually high, Jamie. That coke...” “Lucy,” I replied gently. “I think I’d know if I was high or not.” “You wouldn’t actually.” “Not you as well,” I said reflexively, thinking of my sister. “What are you talking about?” “Nothing. My sister.” “See Jamie? We're both still high, that's why this is all so difficult. We're actually tweaking. Alejo says it’s properly easy to miss, unless you know what you're looking for.” Another phone rang in the background. “Hold on, Jamie. Must get that.” “Leave it.” “Can’t, darling. It's Emily.” 'So?' I thought. Lucy put the receiver down and I could hear what Lucy was saying on the other phone. Even from where I was I could hear the totally different, more softly, chatty, voice Lucy answered the other phone with. “You’re mad, Em… None of this is real… They’re still not speaking to you(?) … I just haven’t actually told him yet… He’s on the other line I better get back to him… Big kiss.” She picked me up again. “That was Em. She’s seeing things. That wasn’t coke we got from Brett the other night. It was crystal meth. Crank.”
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“Sorry?” “Crystal meth amphetamine. Alejo says it’s, like, extra, extra strength speed. Everyone takes it here to write late-night papers. We’ve taken a gram each. You only need a tiny line to stay up all night. Alejo reckons we’ll be tweaking for a week, at least.” “Tweaking?” “Tetchy. Not totally with it. Sleepless. Unable to eat. Unable to concentrate…” God.

***

Saturday afternoon I flew over to London on the first leg of my trip back to DC. I went straight from Heathrow to Waster’s house at Vicarage Gate. We were going raving together. Just like old times. We went out to dinner first. Waster described his first five months as an investment banker. “What you thought was freedom just was greed.” After dinner we called the information line and went to the squat. It was the same as ever: some Godforesaken outer London suburb, disused cinema, whatever you wanted, dancing with pretty dredded foreign girls, exhaustion. We got back to Vicarage Gate at 7. Neither of us could believe we’d once spent a whole summer once doing that every weekend.

***

My flight back to DC was at five o’clock that evening. But first: It was 13h13 by the time I arrived at Lucy's house. Only forty-three minutes late. Feeling bleary. Blinky, after the previous night's endeavours. The Boltons. Neither Kensington, nor Chelsea, nor Earl’s Court, but somewhere in between. Finally I found the house and felt like bolting. Presents from Loose in hand. So couldn’t. It’s vast.
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Basically a proper country house in west London. Bright white. Stucco. Video intercom. I cleared my throat. Quick visit. Hand this stuff in to nanny, then, back to Waster's flat, chat, little splifferooni, fly, then Lucy… I wondered why I was there – the ideas you get when you’re high… Bleep. Hesitant hello. Alive hello back: my name’s Jamie... “Of course, of course. Lucy told us to expect you. Come in. We expected you earlier? Not to worry. Just stand very close to the gate. It will open automatically.” “No. Closer. No need to push it.” “I see.” The gate swung open slowly and slammed shut fast behind me. Very James Bond. Channel Island plates on all the cars in the carriage drive. Immaculate small lawn. Early spring flowers bloomed like they were planted there already blooming. Golf green grass. Front door open. Glimpse of a tennis court to my right. Her father. Lucy's father. Girlfriend's father vibes: am I ready for this? Nope. Up the steps. Shaking hands. Cold hands. “Nice to see you. Lucy asked me to drop this by,” I said handing over Lucy's birthday gift for her nanny. “Of course. Of course she did. Thank you very, very much Jamie. You will stay for lunch, won’t you? We’ve actually been waiting for you.” “I…” “My wife’s counting on an extra mouth. Eh?” I knew now I didn’t really have a choice. What was I doing there? Shite. I felt terrible. “No thank you, Mr. Anstey.” “What’s that? Call me Giles.” Door’s shut. Intricate ancient Persian rugs over the vast hallway floor. Letters to be posted on the hall table. Tate Modern catalogue, still in its clear plastic cover. I was led into a reception room which was of the proportions of a country house. Paintings in that Italian way cluttered the walls. Caught myself wondering: Christies or handed down? “Is that Lucy?” I asked suddenly. I stood up and walked over to a small portrait in oils. It was
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of the face and body of a raven-haired girl with mere pinprick hazel dots for eyes running like a watercolour in the rain. “Yes,” her father’s reply thankfully shook my thoughts away from God knows where. “Lucy’s mother painted it while Lucy was eight.” “Lucy's mother must have been very talented. She's captured Lucy perfectly.” “Yes, it was rather a good likeness. Drink? I’m on white. Lucy's mother tried for a very long time before she succeeded in capturing, as you put it, Lucy's rushing, as was her wont, at almost every visitor to the house crying: ‘I love you! I love you!” “My cousin's a bit like that.” “Did you say red?” Giles asked. That’s grand with me.” “Sorry?” “White please.” The door-bell chimed. “Of course. That’ll be Henry.” There were footsteps in the hallway. Sound of greetings. A lady’s voice. Lucy’s step-mother walked in, leading who must be Henry. I stood up. “Please don’t get up.” Too late, I thought. I’m fucking your daughter: somehow I knew that was exactly what Giles was thinking at that moment: that bastard's fucking my darling daughter. Giles handed me a quarter-filled glass of red wine. “Henry, this is Jamie…?” “Dwyer.” “Of course. Young Jamie here shares a house with Lucy in Washington DC. Henry and I were at Rugby together.” A slightly awkward silence ensued. Mrs. Anstey excused herself and left the room to check on
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something. “Will you stay in America after Georgetown, Jamie?” inquired Henry. “We’re not sure yet what’ll we do.” “I’d stick to Georgetown, if I were you,” advised Giles. “Funny place America. Fine for making money,” added Henry, not entirely relevantly. “And England’s the finest place to enjoy it,” concluded Giles, taking up the thread. “I’m not sure I’m all that interested in making money,” I put in needlessly. “Really? Would of thought a young man like you’d be ambitious. Still, Henry, as I’ve always said there’s more to life than money.” “And as I’ve been known to reply: indeed, but not all that much,” said Henry with perfect timing. They were both laughing heartily when Mrs. Anstey walked in and cheerily told us lunch was ready. During soup we chatted about writers. I had mentioned that that was what I really wanted to do. Henry had been at a dinner party with Salmon Rushdie on the menu a few weeks before. “He was in our house,” Henry explained to me as if he might be both proud and ashamed of the fact. “I felt like going up to him and saying: come on plot properly for the next one, eh? Honestly. All that magic. You won’t get the Nobel prize, if you don’t. You can tell he’s, at heart, from the Third-World.” “Of course,” concurred Lucy’s father. “What was it Wellington said of being born in Ireland?” “You can take the pig out of the sty. But you'll never get the sty from the pig?” Henry tried. “No. That's not quite it. Though close. 'If a man was born in a stable it doesn't mean he's a horse'. Yes, that was it.” I was lost. But there was a silence. “You weren’t his fag, were you?” I suddenly quipped. “Wellington was a Harrow man. Besides he was born two centuries ago. You do know who Wellington was?” answered Henry, just a tad condescendingly.
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“Yes. Of course. I meant Rushdie. It was a stupid joke,” I said sensing a serious faux pas in the making as soon as I said the word “Rushdie”. Henry hadn't reacted at first. But then what can only be described as a magnitude of horror grew over Henry's face. ‘Fuck,’ I thought. Though I had no real idea why he blanched so. A bad joke is a bad joke. No need to have a heart attack. Giles, rather firmly, interjected: “Of course Henry wasn’t Rushdie's fag. He wasn't even in school by the time we'd left.” I thought: that was the point. Joke? Shite. Lucy’s step-mother passed round some vegetables. “You’re a vegetarian, Jamie… That's nice,” she said, breaking the silence and smiling warmly at me. I had to get out of there. “That’s for some ethical reason, I presume?” said Giles after a further pause. ‘Yes. I think it’s terrible the way all these creatures with souls are slaughtered just so you can get fat.’ But I didn’t say what I was thinking. “I just don’t like the taste,” I answered curtly. “Of course. What do you make of all these vegetarians who hate killing animals but who wear leather shoes?” I replied quietly I didn’t really know. I was wearing Church's brogues. “Hitler was a vegetarian,” observed Henry. Only dessert, now, to go. “You chose Georgetown because you’re a catholic?” Giles asked as he resumed his polite attempts to draw me out. “Dwyer’s a catholic’s name.” “I was offered a, a scholarship…,” I retorted. “You’re not a catholic then?” “I'm not really a christian,” I claimed.
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“Would you like a bit more Jamie?” interrupted Mrs. Anstey. “No, no thank you, Mrs. Anstey. I’m cool.” “James is a christian name,” Lucy's father puzzled deliberately. “Were you at one of those frightful Christian Brothers schools one always reads about in Irish novels Jamie? That must have been what put you off religion,” he persisted. “No,” I replied softly. “What was the name of your school?” he pressed. “You won’t’ve heard of it,” I answered defensively. “You never know.” “Gerards. St. Gerards,” I answered finally, before realising I shouldn't've given him the saint bit. “Of course. So you are a catholic, then, Jamie?” “Is it really that important?” I snapped. “No I don’t suppose it is. Just making conversation. I do apologise for upsetting you Jamie.” “You haven’t. Please excuse me. I'm sorry. I am so jetlagged.” “There’s nothing to excuse. Of course, religion doesn't mean so much to the English.” Giles turned to Henry and asked him something about his work. Lucy’s step-mother stood up. “I’m sorry but I’d best be off. My flight’s at five,” I said flatly, after I’d eaten dessert and no one had spoken to me for a while. “You have nothing to be sorry for, Jamie,” Giles said genially. I walked over and rather awkwardly shook hands goodbye with Henry. He seemed a little surprised at my formality. Decided just to wave bye to Giles. That went down equally well. Focking 'ell. “I’m so sorry,” Mrs. Anstey said as she led me into the hall and towards the front door. “Nanny’s not back. I expect she forgot. Poor Nanny. Now. I am sure I mentioned to her this morning Lucy's beau would be here. I am so happy Lucy found you over there. We were so worried
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about her being lonely in Washington. She was so very nervous about going there. But when I spoke to her after she met you – it was the day after you first met, I think. Yes, I was so certain just from the way she spoke that you two were perfect together,” she continued, as we stood in front of the open door. “You must give our love to Lucy? And do please come see us next time you’re in London. You must. Promise?” “I do. Thank you, Eva, for lunch... I’m, I’m sorry if I offended Henry. I was just…” “It actually would’ve been very funny. Except that, and you mustn’t let on to Lucy’s father, now, but Henry’s… How shall I put it? Not quite as straight, as he seems. Lucy will tell you what I mean. I almost burst out laughing when you asked Henry if he was Rushdie's fag at Rugby. I am so glad I was chewing food at the time. Bye for now Jamie.” Something told me even then I would never see her again.

***

Later that day Lucy and her father were speaking on the phone. “First thing he did was look at the pictures.” “Daddy?” “It’s rude. When you walk into a room you address people, not the walls. Manners maketh man and all that. He's a bit rough around the edges, darling.” “You were rude too.” “He said that?” “No. No. I just heard what you talked about. It’s rude to ask about religion at the table.” “I never taught you that, love. Besides, I was teasing. The Irish are actually supposed to have a sense of humour. He may come from an illustrious family or whatever you tell me, but he did seem well a bit ordinary to me, are you sure?’’ “Stop it Daddy. Please. We're not actually getting married. You're so funny.”
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Chapter Four
Two days after I returned from Europe we had to go meet the Monsignor. His office was in one of the red brick late nineteenth-century neo-gothic buildings that so characterised campus. On the way there Lucy rather discombobulated me by, aggrievedly, assuming I was stoned. I was (a weency bit) but if there was one thing I prided myself on it was that no one could tell when I was cained, either from my behaviour or from how I appeared. Lucy was different, of course, because she knew me so well. However, I told her I wasn’t, and her apparent distrust of that denial annoyed me. The Monsignor’s room was very grand. It was lined with floor to ceiling height bookcases and tall, numerous windows that allowed in great ironing board shards of light. He sat behind a big uncluttered desk and looked up absently as I quietly closed the door behind us. He then switched to (ostentatiously?) hunting for the cap of the gold trimmed black fountain pen he held in his hand. Lucy and I waded our way through the deep red, blue and green Persian-style rugs over to him. He indicated the two chairs in front of his desk. Without having located its cap, he put down his pen with a temporarily frustrated look and stood up. We shook hands with differing grasps and sat down again. He remained standing though. Shit. I wondered whether we shouldn’t stand up again. We had both been in the room before of course, but it had always seemed a lot less sombre. “I hope you don’t mind my request to see you together. Do you object to this modus operandi?” he asked. I looked to Lucy as she shook her head. I tried not to think of quite how much I wanted to fuck her. We hadn’t hardly since I’d come back. I did the same. “Last week Cecilia Schwartz’s parents came up to see us.” My expression and what lay behind changed the instant he began her name. “I frankly didn’t know what to say to them. I let her into this university, you know. Now she’s gone,” he said, almost matter of factly. “Well, I’m a priest but
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they weren’t looking for spiritual guidance from me.” He paused and, still standing, looked down upon us intently. I sat up a little straighter in my chair and met his gaze. I was in the headmaster's study trying to persuade him it wasn’t me he’d seen throw that snowball. “How much of your fiftythousand-dollars’ scholarship did you spend on illegal drugs? I only ask because the alumnus who donated that money is, sooner or later, bound to ask us.” In the corner of my eye I saw Lucy look down. I was taken aback by the way our relationship had so suddenly changed. Last time we’d met was in class the day before the crash. Knowing of Lucy’s involvement through her internship with the proposed biosphere reserve in Chiapas he had mentioned an old colleague of his who lived in Chiapas was coming to DC; he’d said we’d all have dinner together. But although this made me sad later on, at the time I just felt defensive. I mean we hadn’t done anything. “We’ve both worked really hard,” I replied. I now could feel Lucy’s glacial stare on me. “It’s not your work we’re here to talk about, is it?” he asked superciliously. It was my turn to shake my head. “I couldn’t be happier with you as students. My disappointment in how you conduct your private life, however, is in exact proportion to the pleasure I had in teaching you.” Thankfully, at this point, he stopped staring at us like laboratory animals and sat back down. “Every day, since your night out, we have spent more time than we can afford to speaking to alumni who ask, ‘what’s all this, Monsignor, we hear about drugs at Georgetown?’ Every day we have to speak to parents worried about the tens of thousands of dollars they spend educating their children going up in smoke…” I was irritated. It wasn’t our fault Cecilia hung out with a crack-head. “If the university wants a scapegoat, why not Alejo de Tolejdes?” I challenged, perhaps unwisely. Lucy suddenly said, “Dr. Ferguson, I would prefer to speak to you alone.” I looked to her furiously. She ignored me. “I appreciate that,” he responded, looking at her patiently. “But, there isn’t much more to be said. The university Regents have asked that I remind you both that whether or not your
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scholarships for next year are renewed is within their absolute discretion. Normally, given your respective academic performances, this would be a matter of-course. In the circumstances, however, I think you ought to make alternative arrangements for next year…” “We didn’t do anything…” I started, but was interrupted by Lucy saying “shut-up Jamie” in a high-pressure whisper. “… On a personal level, for you, I’m very sorry about this. But the whole community pays a price when something like this occurs and you must bear your portion of it,” he went on, looking at Lucy more than me and making it clear he didn't mean for me to feel so compensated. “Your transcripts will mitigate somewhat the damage this might do to your careers; they shall reflect what you would have achieved had your time here not been so precipitately cut short,” he concluded before picking up a stack of papers from one side of his desk and adding. “All right. Good luck.” Right. Once outside in the Spring I made a stupid quip to alleviate the tension. “No more homework, then.” “I think we should give each other a wide berth, for the time being” was Lucy’s response. “Don’t blame me,” I said. I’d just noticed some kids were looking at us from across the lawn. Since our pictures had appeared in The Hoya, the daily campus newspaper as part of a big spread about the crash, we’d become campus notables. Alongside a sensationalist piece on Cecilia’s death they’d written-up profiles of me, Lucy, Alejo and Emily under the headline Eurotrash Crash. On the basis of an abstract of my RevengeNow article I’d distributed at one of my class presentations I was ‘The Irish Commie’ (Lucy was ‘The English Fall’, which took us some time to work out). The day before, on my way into campus for the first time since I’d gotten back from Ireland, I’d been asked if I was Jamie Dwyer (No (in an American accent)) and pointed at a couple of times. One jock from the safety of a group of friends had even suggested that if I hated America so much I should just piss off (in his rubbish impression of an English accent). “Jamie, this is one thing which actually isn’t only about you. We’re both going to say things
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we’ll regret if we speak anymore right now. I’m going to work,” she announced. ‘At a time like this?’ I thought. “What am I supposed to do?” I asked. “Don’t, Jamie.” “Loose?” “No. Look it’s happening already. I’ll call you later.” “We have to talk strategy, Loose. About what we’re going to do. Let’s fight this. We didn’t do anything...” “It’s over, Jamie. I h a t e t h i s p l a c e . I thought maybe when you got back it’d be okay again, but it’s not. I wouldn’t stay if they paid me; which, if you weren’t too stoned to understand, they’re not going to do.” She must have seen how her words had affected me because she relented. “We’ll have supper. I’ll call you later. Okay?” “’K,” I said reluctantly. And then she left me standing. I decided to go for a hot chocolate at a non-student café on M street. Campus was beginning to freak me out. It was fine with Lucy, but on my own... The very first person I bumped into was Alejo. “How’s it going?” I greeted him with absurd normality. “Jaime. Wonderful. Welcome back.” We were just like two old friends meeting after long apart. We hadn’t seen each other since he’d been whisked away after the crash. Whenever I had thought about him, it was usually with anger. I hadn’t been prepared for seeing him in person. He wore a perfectly fitting dark suit, white shirt, thin black tie and seemed so genuinely pleased to see me I was, I was touched. “Do you have t-t-time for a bite, Jaime.” Only when he pronounced my name the way he did, did I remember: ‘Of course that he’s Mexican’. Otherwise, to me at any rate, he was completely indistinguishable from the posh prep-school educated Americans ubiquitous at Georgetown. “I think we should t-t-talk.” “I’m just…” I was just going to make up an excuse. Instinctively I thought Alejo would be the very last person in the world I wanted to see just then. Weirdly, though, I felt immediately better for
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being in his presence. It wasn’t just a case of ‘any port in a storm’. It was more than that. I was actually happy (distracted?) now I’d bumped into him. He knew a quiet Italian place down a side street near the canal where no one from school’d be. I realised I didn’t have any money on me. When I told him he looked momentarily confused. “I invited you so you are my guest,” he said simply. While we strolled to the quiet Italian place I asked when he’d arrived back to DC. “I just flew in on a commercial flight for a wholly unwelcome appointment with my tutor – our plane is still being fixed.” “Lucy and I just saw ours.” “Is that why you appear as you do? Yes. That must be it.” “I look that bad?” “Tired Jamie. You look tired. As soon as we order you’re going to tell me exactly what transpired.” Once we were settled, I described precisely what had been said in the meeting with the Monsignor, though of course I left out the bit where I tried to land him in it. Sitting face-to-face with him, I now felt pretty badly about that. “But that’s terrible Jamie. Whatever are you going to do?” The food arrived. “My first instinct is to fight. Lucy thinks she wants to leave. I’m going to persuade her to fight with me.” “What does it take for any of us to unravel? That is a question I have been asking myself Jamie. Jamie there are three questions which have been troubling me lately. I particularly want them of you. There is no necessity for you to provide an answer. It would be better for you to listen very carefully. We Mexicans are like you Irish. We have a great gift for friendship.” “The Northern Irish call southern Irish people who come over the border to work or live ‘Mexicans’,” I said to try and lighten things up a little bit. I thought Alejo would be interested to
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know that. But his expression did not change; did not relax one jot. “When I left New York after the crash Jaime, my parents had me locked up. For one week I was given so many drugs. I was asked so many questions. And do you know what the doctors concluded? I am saner than they are.” The waitress came over just at this very moment. “We're absolutely oaky. Thank you. Aren't we Jamie?” She started to go. Somehow he made her stop and turn without really saying anything. “I am being very rude,” he said to her. “Ask my guest would he like anything further?” There was something menacing in the way he said it. “I'm grand thank you,” I said when she looked at me strangely. She didn't get what I meant by 'grand'. And she stood there. “He said 'No. No thank you. I am fine for now too. Just like my friend Alejo.'” She went away immediately. And I took a sip of water. “Jamie, the question I really need to ask you is... Well it's about you and Lucy? You told Lucy, didn't you, that you and Cecilia kissed, didn't you? Why did you do it Jamie? I would never have said a word to Lucy. But it doesn't matter. My doctor said I had to speak to you about this. Now I have. I don’t blame you. No I don’t Jamie. It's important you know that. It is that little minx of a dancer I blame. You see I never minded Cecilia being with girls. In fact I encouraged it. It’s only boys I mind. But I don’t mind you Jamie. You’re fine. I won’t tell Lucy. You’re wondering what Cecilia and I were arguing about before the crash? It was you Jamie. There I've said it. It's important you say nothing about any of this. They have put me on these anti-depressants. Do you know how they affect me?” “No,” I managed. I felt sick. I wasn't clear about what had just been said. Not absolutely. What Alejo said and how he seemed while saying it seemed completely inconsistent. His body language genuinely suggested he was completely at peace with himself, and me. The menace was gone. Utterly. Yet the things he was thinking about. What I had done to him, surely was unforgiveable. But here we were sitting in this little Italian restaurant, like two normal friends. A completely mad thought occurred to me, which to this day I am happy I suppressed. I was weighing up whether or
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not to tell Alejo that Cecilia also kissed Lucy. “While you were in Ireland Jamie I saw Lucy and we looked you up on the internet. Your family is just as interesting as mine, isn't it? Well, you don't know my family. But I feel I know yours. Your poor father Jamie. Did you see him when you were in Ireland? What was it like? Prison. He did not deserve it. What I can't understand is that you never told Lucy any of it? She was so surprised when we read the articles about your family. So surprised. I can't understand why she never researched you. I am talking so much? I research everyone. Forgive me, Jamie. I am tired. So tired. Do you know what my parents have been trying to do to me?… I am no Holden Caulfield I said to them. Mother corrected my grammar. I want you to come to Mexico to meet my mother. You would like my mother. But I do worry about you, Jamie. Things have been very difficult for you,” he seemed to recover quickly enough. “And about Lucy. Poor lost Lucy...” “We're fine Alejo. Look. I'm sorry. I am so sorry. I don't...” I faltered. “Jamie, I haven't spoken like this to make you feel worse than I know you feel already. No that was not it at all. We all feel it. I have said what I must. That is all. What we have been through together all of us is something we will always have together. We are bound together. Forever. This is a tense time for all of us. I just want it to stop, but every day some new, some new consequence. Your parents Jamie, do they know?” “About the crash, yes.” “If we can all get through this, we’ll get through everything. We must stick together.” I found this reach for solidarity curiously consoling. “Alejo I’m so sorry about Cecilia...” “We must get on. We must all go on…” He pushed away his plate. “We must just stick together.” I said something non-committally. He paid the bill. That made me feel so bad – him paying the bill, after what had just gone on. As if my paying a bill would change anything. Once we stepped outside the beauty of the day, that glorious sharpness in the air, the blue sky, it all seemed perverse. “I want you to consider something very carefully, Jamie,” Alejo said just as we were about to
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go off in our different directions. “I want you to come away with me. I want us all – Lucy, Emily, you and me – to go away from here and think about what has happened. Together. I have a house in a very, very interesting part of North Carolina. It’s a wonderful place. Only one or two hours away. You’ll come?” “I-I don’t really know what I want to do...” “Then come. You must come. For one or two days? You can persuade Lucy. Won’t you Jamie?” “I’m not sure I should… Alejo.” “Jamie,” he said intensely. “You must come. Say you will? It would mean the world to me. The world. Jamie?” I was cracking. “You and Lucy will have plenty of time alone to walk and I, well, Emily and I can prepare the house while we await your return. Jamie? It’ll be wonderful. Wonderful.” Just to stop him going on, I agreed. He immediately beamed back. “I knew I could convince you. In a couple of days?” “Fine, fine,” I replied. I totally didn't want to go there. I had this crazy thought that he wanted to lure me there to get some sort of revenge. And he left me to go see his tutor. I went home to get ultra-stoned. That really helped the whole paranoia thing. I needed to distract myself with work. But I just kept on thinking of Lucy. I needed to see Lucy. I ended up spending the afternoon listening to music. I hardly managed to read one page. Before six, I decided to get dressed. I thought when Lucy called, as she had promised she would, we’d go out to a bar downtown and then go eat in the Ethiopian restau she liked in Adams Morgan. I put on an outfit she had once said made me very handsome. When she hadn’t called by eight I began to worry: Distancing manoeuvre? And when she eventually did call what should I say? Should I hide my distress? Release it aggressively? Teach her a lesson about me and what I would or would not put up with? Or would I let this distress of mine be delicately, discreetly
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understood? I enjoyed running over the possibilities in my mind. Meanwhile the phone refused to ring. I checked my email. Tried Emily’s cell: no answer. I would not call Lucy's phone. I would not seem impatient.

***

Around eight Lucy was waiting for Emily inside the Eighteenth Street Lounge. It was probably the most fashionable bar in DC at that time. New York style. Four leather sofa strewn floors, waitress service. Dark finishes. “Hello there,” Lucy said when Em approached the third-floor window sofa where she was sitting. “Hi. You look cool.” Emily admired Lucy’s tightly fitted, smart pinstripe trouser-suit. “Too cool. I need a sweater.” Emily unwrapped hers from around her waist and handed it over. “Thanks dal.” “Vodka-cran?” asked Emily. Lucy nodded and Emily ordered another one for herself as well. Outside, the juggler Lucy had been watching while she waited still stood on the sidewalk surrounded by a crowd of people as he threw silver clubs into the air. The waitress left them with menus and disappeared. Another one came, almost immediately. “What do you feel like?” “Quarter-pounder and fries,” Emily replied. “In this weather I should be having a salad, but I’m ravenous.” “Two quarter-pounders and two fries,” Lucy ordered when the waitress returned. “I’m sick of playing vegetarian,” she explained when Emily made a face. “I don’t think he even notices.” “He would if you didn’t,” Emily put in. They handed over their menus and Lucy leaned back.
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“How was your meeting?” Emily asked. “Great. Properly great,” Lucy beamed. “I thought something was up. You asked?” “He said as soon as they get funding for next year. Mexico here I come.” “When? How soon?” “Couple of months. August, maybe.” “You can wait till then?” “Not if I can help it. The whole point of going for this was to get away from here. There’s a thin chance of a few weeks’ assignment at the UN.” “New York time?” Emily asked, smiling. Lucy nodded. “What did you tell him about school?” “The truth. No funding for next year and after the crash I don’t feel the same about DC.” “How do you do it?” Emily asked with a curious expression on her face. “Charm,” Lucy smiled. “I suppose.” “He fancies you.” “He’s great to work for,” Lucy replied. “But that’s it. I saved his ass with that conference paper I wrote for him. That’s why, I suppose.” “I still say he fancies you.” “Stop saying that Em. I’ve worked properly hard all year.” Emily blushed. “Sorry, I was only joking.” The waitress returned with their drinks. When she had left, Lucy looked silently at Emily. She didn’t return it. “You say you are, but you’ve said as much before. Why be nasty?” Emily looked out the window at the juggler who was now throwing flaming torches and catching them in his mouth. She was fighting with herself, not knowing exactly what she wanted to say. “Seriously Emily. Why?” Emily looked away from the window and picked at her nails. “I think Alejo and I are going through a bit of a difficult patch,” she said finally.
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Lucy didn’t say anything. She took a sip of her drink and regarded Emily thoughtfully. Em took hold of a carnation from the vase on the table. “That’s hardly surprising,” Lucy said at last. “This’s difficult for all of us. Now you know they’ll let you graduate that must be a weight off your minds. How are things with Tom?” Emily absent-mindedly plucked the leaves from the flower. Their burgers arrived. Lucy loaded mayonnaise on to the side of her plate and poured ketchup liberally onto the chips. “Comfort food,” she attempted to make Emily smile. “Hope it works,” she said as she took her first bite. Then she was silent, waiting for Emily to speak. Emily coughed a couple of times. “I’m being awful. I’m taking it all out on Tom,” she said eventually. “And it’s getting to him. I can see it is. He’s never ever lost his temper with me, but he almost did yesterday.” Lucy popped a chip into her mouth. “It’s hot,” she gasped, her eyes watering. “What’s the problem?” “I don’t even know if I love Alejo,” she said. Then it all came flooding out. Even before the crash, he’d been spending very little time with her. All his free time he was spending with Cecilia. Then whenever he didn’t call her she would lose it with mild mannered Tom. Throughout the whole post-crash period in New York Tom was her brick; whenever, because of nightmares or the Crystal Meth, she couldn’t sleep he was there for her. “Why do you think this has happened?” asked Lucy. She wiped her eye. “He thinks I’m fat.” “Alejo? Don’t be ridiculous, Emily,” Lucy laughed. “If you think he’s that shallow drop him. It’s not as if Tom doesn’t love you.” “Even you think I’m fat. God...” “I didn’t say that. I meant, I meant even if you were then he’d have to be…” “Tom’s stressing me out too,” Emily continued. “I met him straight after today and he was so unsympathetic. I need a Xanax…”
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“Or a change of subject? Let’s talk about something else?” Lucy suggested as she arranged her knife and fork ‘I’m finished’ on her plate. “You told Jamie about Mexico?” “It’s only a possibility, Emily… No. Since he came back from Ireland, I don’t know…” “What?” They ordered more drinks. “It feels like we’ve been married a hundred years,” Lucy said. “Look on the bright side. At least you’re not.” “Yes, but I don’t think he’s even aware of it. I don’t think he’s been in a relationship like this before.” “I wouldn’t go become Jungle Jane just ‘coz you want to give him the can. Tell him.” Lucy chewed the inside of her lip. “You’re one to talk.” They both giggled. “I don’t know if that’s what I do want. We were both so happy a month ago…” “It’s all Alejo’s fault.” Lucy looked up at her sharply. “What do you mean?” “Easy tiger. I meant the crash. All this. What’ll you do if Mexico doesn’t work out? Home?” “No way. I hate England.” “You have to come to New York. I just wish you had met my parents at a normal time. Normally they would have loved you. You could have stayed forever. But come to New York anyway. I'll help you find somewhere to stay.” Lucy stirred the dregs of her drink around and around. “Well, it’s one jungle or another...” “Speaking of which… Will you come away with me and Alejo next weekend?” “Don’t think so. Where?” “Please Loose. I can’t tell Tom I’m going away with Alejo alone and you said you wanted to get out of DC. It’s this crazy house on the edge of a primeval swamp in the Carolinas.” “Sounds interesting. Maybe… Might be good to get away from Jamie too...”

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***

When Lucy hadn’t called by nine I was sure she wouldn’t. I went downstairs and sat in the darkened living-room, by the phone. Doorbell rang. That’s her. She’s lost her key. She’s decided to come back. Needless to say it wasn’t any of those things, or even her - it was Tom. “Let’s drink,” he said when I explained what had happened. He went out to grab some beers while I waited on the sofa for one last hour for the phone to ring. When he returned we sat on the barely lit deck and talked quietly so we wouldn’t disturb the neighbours. “As soon as I got back,” I started, “I noticed the spark was gone. Even after the crash there was, there was always this feeling between us.” I began to skin up as it all poured out of me. “But now it’s gone. Kissing, she suddenly stops. ‘What?’ I ask. ‘Oh, nothing.’ Then I, I tried to undress her and she blew me out. Again.” “You’ve just got to find the right level again,” Tom advised. After the last two weeks it’s not surprising things shake.” “Sorry,” I said. I was always trying to hand him spliffs. “I just want her to know I love her.” “Then act like you don’t give. If she’s being cool with you, be cool back.” “Our relationship doesn’t work like that, Tom. We’re really very open about our feelings.” “Jamie, I really admire your relationship, but you don’t always know your own feelings. I think you’re going through a transition period…” “How are you guys coping?” I cut him off. “Good. It’s all good. I’m just trying to be there for Em when she needs me and far away when she needs space.” “How do you know though?” “You don’t. That’s why it’s good she blows you out once in a while.” “It was a lot easier when we were going to be here for two years. Now I don’t know.” “I still don’t think it’s fair Alejo and Emily get to graduate.”
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“I’ll go back to Ireland. What’s the point if Lucy and me are over?” “Don’t play dead, Jamie. Fight for her. She’s properly worth it.” His impersonation of Lucy’s mannerisms always made me laugh. We left the house at one-fifteen. He’d told me ages ago about this strip bar up at Glover Park, a blue-collar area just north of Georgetown. Since Lucy hadn’t bothered to call, thinking it was bound to annoy her and it might be my last chance to go I decided now was the time to pay it a visit. From the outside it looked like a boarded-up shop and after you paid the five bucks’ cover you entered what was a normal looking bar except that all along one side of the room was a narrow stage with poles. A girl was dancing. She wasn’t as fit as Lucy, but the same idea. There weren’t too many others there and we made our way through to the bar and ordered shorts. Beside us a couple Hispanic guys were paying the girl to dance right in front of them. It only cost a couple bucks. After watching for a time we wandered over to a seating area, but you could only drink drinks there you’d ordered from the pretty waitress who was hovering around the tables covetously. So we ordered more drinks and let ourselves be Maître d’d into a small table with an obstructed view of the stage. “I bet she called soon as we left.” “Fuck it.” “Hope she did. If we’re going to get married I’ve got to teach her she can’t treat me like this,” I said. “Woo, dude. You do not want to get married. We’re all too young…” “If you meet the right person, it doesn’t matter how young you happen to be,” I replied. “It’s not meeting the right person’s the problem. It’s knowing yourself well enough to know who’d be right for you. Jamie I think this crash has affected us all in ways we cannot imagine at the moment. Just take it easy dude.” Now, I’d known Tom since that first class back in August but I couldn’t say I knew him that well. This was the first time we’d ever been out together without the girls. We’d talked a lot about
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esoteric subjects like politics, US foreign policy, or about stuff to do with class assignments. We’d talked enough to know we shared the same views about a lot of things. A couple of times Lucy had gossiped about his and Emily’s relationship. The secret of their relationship, Tom told me that evening, was that they had been close friends for months before anything romantic had happened and they were quite disciplined about how much of each other they saw. It was due to this, Tom explained, that they’d successfully negotiated the rapids that lie between being in love and actually loving one another. “Why does someone fall out of love?” I asked as we left the bar. We were totally smashed, and it was four. “Be positive Jamie. Make her love you again. Keep it cool.” “I don’t want her to think I don’t care,” I said as we got into his car. “That’s what’ll make her see you do love her. Just give her space,” he reasoned wisely and started the engine.

***

Alejo lived in a portered red-brick on P street. Emily’s plan was to go there after dinner with Lucy. But when it came to it she didn’t want to go alone. Lucy reluctantly agreed to accompany her, but she’d only stay, she said, for one more drink. He lived on the top floor. When the elevator opened they slipped through the double doors into a large sitting room. Alejo had been on a sofa hunched over a table legs splayed playing out a complicated-looking game of patience. He came towards them. “You can’t imagine how happy I am to see you.” He kissed Emily perfunctorily on the cheek and went to kiss Lucy, but with a deft, possibly ambiguous movement she avoided him by going over to the wall of windows and looking out at Virginia beyond the Potomac. Emily went to the bathroom. “Lucy it has been so long,” he said joining her there. “I’ve been wanting to apologise
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for how I was in New York…” “There’s nothing to apologise for,” Lucy answered. “That’s Alexandria, isn’t it?” Lucy asked looking down out across the river. “Yes. It must have been horrible for you. I was so much trouble?” “It was only a couple afternoons.” “I didn’t mean that,” Alejo said walking over to her. “What didn’t you mean?” Emily asked walking back into the room. They both turned around and Lucy walked back away from the window. “I was just saying that it was only a couple afternoons I sat with him in New York,” Lucy replied sitting down on one of the long sofas. “The way he’s going on you’d think I was with him twenty-four-seven.” “That was me Alejo. I was the one who sat with you every hour I could bear,” Emily corrected, sitting down opposite Lucy. “I know you did,” he said irritably. Lucy hadn’t heard that note before in his voice. “Lucy says she’ll come away with us to the country,” Emily announced, suddenly wanting to please. “That’s wonderful. Absolutely wonderful,” he replied, perfectly altered. “I met Jamie today and he said he’d come too.” “What? Tom’ll know now we’re going away.” “Don’t stress Em. It’s better Jamie comes. That way you can tell Tom, it’s a crash party?” “Seriously though. Why are you such a fuck?” Emily confronted Alejo viciously. “Ever think Lucy mightn’t want Jamie there?” “Is that true, Lucy?” he asked. “Course it’s not. I’m glad you asked him.” Lucy was looking at the upside down cards laid out before her on the table. “This’ll work,” she said taking up a card and turning over the one behind it. “And this.” She continued for about a minute. “It’ll be fine Emily. I promise.” He placed his hands on her shoulders from behind. “You’re
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amazing Lucy,” he continued, noticing how she was finishing the game. “I was having t-t-terrible trouble with the next move.” “Let’s play a proper game,” Lucy suggested. His smile returned and he got up to fix them drinks while Lucy picked up the cards and shuffled them expertly. Emily looked like she was sulking. Noticing this, Lucy said, “Actually I think I’m too tired to play.” Emily sat up and said, “No, Lucy stay. What game? Blackjack?” “Poker?” suggested Alejo. “I don’t want to,” Emily replied petulantly. “Pontoon,” Lucy said authoritatively. “Great. You gamble don’t you Lucy? Whoever has the most matches at the end wins.” He fetched a glass vase crammed with match-books. Looking up every now and again Lucy could see the lights of Virginia shine beyond the river in the distance. And for a tiredless hour they all forgot themselves and played the game. Emily was first to fade. “I’d drive you home Loose, but I’m so tired,” she explained. “I'm going to crash here.” “That is a very good idea Emily. You stay here while I take Lucy home. I can do that. Lucy, would you like to go to bed?” asked Alejo. “That’s okay. I’ll grab a cab.” “I’ll take you, Lucy. It’s nothing.” “You don’t mind if I don’t come?” asked Emily. “Course not. I’ll see you…” “Tomorrow?” “Today. Later?” “I’ll call,” said Lucy. “As soon as I leave work. I can't believe I stayed up so late and I have work tomorrow.”
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Once in the car, Alejo pounced. “That talk we had in New York, Lucy…” “Forget it.” “No really. What you said. I’ve thought a lot about it. It really helped.” “I’m very glad.” “I don’t think I would have survived those first few days without you…” “And Emily, and Tom…” “No it was you, particularly. How you managed your grief when your mother died…” “Forget it, Alejo. I only talked because it helped me too.” He looked hurt. “I mean I’m glad it helped you, but it helped me too. So don’t thank me.” As they pulled up outside our house they saw me lying down in a foetal position on the steps. “Something’s happened,” Lucy exclaimed. She jumped out of the car. Alejo followed and calmly concluded as she gently tried to rouse me I was only asleep. They could smell my boozey breath. “What you doing?” I slurred when slightly awake. “Why’re you not inside?” “Pissed-no key-I’ll show you,” I responded, cogently enough for her to get the picture. I then collapsed again and fell asleep. Alejo helped her carry me to her bed. It was the first time Alejo had seen her crimson bedroom. After he’d left, Lucy took off my shoes and undressed me, put me under her fragrant striped sheets, and went upstairs and slept in mine. Lucy was supposed to be at the office at ten for a meeting. She tried to dress quietly so as not to wake me up. She didn’t succeed. I’d waited up all evening for her call, I told her before I’d even opened my eyes. “Talk later. Got to get to work. I’ll be back at one. To sleep.” “Bunk.” “Don’t be ridiculous Jamie.” “I was fucking ready all night long and you never called,” I said still from her bed.
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“I fucking did call. A hundred times. But you had left the internet on. You're such a clown Jamie. I just assumed you didn't fucking want to come.” “What’s going on Lucy? Why are you doing this?” “Because, like, some of us have to work.” “I don’t mean that. Why’re you, why’re you phasing me out?” “You’re being seriously a dick right now, you know that, don’t you? Just get a fucking life and stop fucking navel gazing.” And with that she left me and the house.

***

Alejo’s country house was a couple of hours’ drive from DC, he said. Around it, he explained, were swamps, and flora and fauna that hadn’t altered greatly in ten-thousand-years. His Aunty, whose house it was, had given up the struggle against the encroaching jungle many years previously. She was still alive and living in Equador. And as she never visited Alejo did every now and again to check on things. Since the strip-bar night I had hardly seen Lucy. We had made up a couple of days after the fight – our most serious yet – but things weren’t quite back to normal. Lucy had told me about her job possibilities. New York sounded amazing. Especially as I wanted to concentrate on expanding my article into a book I needed libraries. On the down side, though, I didn’t want a normal job so this meant, I told Lucy, I might have a problem making the rent; We should therefore live together there I said. We’d manage somehow, I was sure. Lucy’s attitude was a little hard to understand, however. She said if I came to New York we’d be living apart. She’d be staying at Emily’s. It’d be good practice, she thought, because if Mexico worked out she’d be living there in basic conditions and there wouldn’t be room for me there. There was a new hardness in the way she was relating to me. I didn’t think it was only due to
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our disagreements the morning and evening after the strip-bar night. But I didn’t know exactly what it meant. She was working on a project in the office and wasn’t back till late each day when, she said, she was too tired to talk about our relationship. I was just trying to take Tom’s advice and give her space. But it was hard because it was basically all I thought about all day while she was at work. I couldn’t wait, though, to have her in the countryside. We could go on walks and work out what to do next. Only when we got onto I-95 did Alejo tell us the last time he’d gone there was with Cecilia a couple of weeks before the crash. No one spoke for a while after that. This was exactly the type of adventure I’d hoped to find at Georgetown. One of the stupid angry thoughts that seized me these days was whether meeting Lucy so soon after I had arrived in DC meant that I’d missed out on opportunities to find Secret History type friends. It was ironic that now our time at Georgetown was almost over, I finally was doing the kind of stuff I’d expected to be doing the whole time. Straight down the highway we sped. Passed signs warning hitch-hikers might be escaped criminals and one which actually said: Antiques Made Daily. After six hours we still weren’t there. I wondered irritably were we lost? “I seldom know how long trips take. An hour we'll be there,” reckoned Alejo. “But you said…” “You’re like a child, Jamie,” Lucy interrupted me although I was sure she was as pissed off as I was about being misled. After another hour we stopped at a strip mall, ate lardo pancakes and bought groceries. Emily, Alejo and I also did a little key. I felt better after that. “We’re almost there,” Alejo reassured us before we set off again. Soon we’d turned off the interstate. I stared bleakly out of the window. We passed sawmills and pine barrens, preposterously rosy in the early evening light. Emily, in the front seat, opened her window. Warm, dusty wind blew her hair in her face and whipped monotonously a loose flap of upholstery.
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“Some of my mother’s family also had a plantation down here,” Alejo said. The landscape of endless pines reminded me of parts of the west of Ireland too, in a way, though on a much smaller scale of course. Just before turning onto an even smaller road we passed a dismal cluster of businesses in a strip mall: a garage and a gravel store. A young white trash looking guy in jeans with a hunting cap was holding what seemed to be an unloaded shot gun slung over his shoulder and a brown paper grocery bag. Some chickens wandered across the road. We had to slow down. On we drove. Shacks gave way to more woods, with occasional flat fields that smelled of chemicals. Then we descended rapidly for about ten miles before reaching a sign declaring our entry into a UNESCO designated biosphere reserve. The countryside had changed. Now on either side of the road the sparse woods gave way to thick tangles of reeds. And despite the air con in the car, you could feel the humidity rising. After about twenty miles began something I hadn’t seen before in the American countryside; the kind of miles long brick wall that sometimes surrounds European country estates. It seemed to go on forever. Every time I thought it was finished there it was again peeping through the hugging vegetation that rose before and above it. “It has more bricks in it than any other wall on the Eastern sea-board,” Alejo told us. It surrounded, he added, the house we would be staying at. We must have driven a further ten miles along and around the wall until we reached a pair of double gates topped with razor wire. Alejo pressed a bob and nothing happened. He and I got out and pushed them open a bit before their electrical mechanism kicked in. The first thing you noticed on the drive was the thickness of the foliage on either side. It reminded me of my uncle and aunt’s house except that here the flora really was jungle thick and impenetrable. At times the tangle of branches, leaves and vines on one side of the drive joined with those of the other making a canopy which the roof, windscreen and sides of the car scratched along. It was so dark in there even Alejo took off his shades. After a further few miles, we broke out of this forest and now on either side of the grassy road grew long grass about half car height. “It’s mostly back to marsh now,” Alejo explained. “Last century, slaves fashioned several
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thousand hectares of marsh into the finest parkland in the Carolinas. Thousands more acres were reclaimed for agriculture. Nothing’s been grown here for eighty years, though. And no one’s lived permanently in this house for about fifty. My aunt inherited it when she was eighteen, but she’s lived most of her life in Ecuador. And apart from when she was younger and would come spend some of the winter here she never came here much. Won’t sell either. I might inherit it when she dies,” he concluded as we approached the house itself. It was southern style – eleven windows across, three storeys, with an eight columned balconied portico protruding from the front. It was completely falling apart. Probably once it had been brilliant white. Now only tiny speckles were visible here and there on bricks where the kudzu leaves were absent. The long grass stretched practically to the front door but it wasn’t half as tall as the really long grass that covered now what might have once been an elegant and constantly cut front lawn. Alejo went off to see if the caretaker was in - he wasn’t - and we adjusted ourselves to the weird environment. It was a few degrees hotter than DC and, if you can believe it, a lot more humid. It was like DC after a thunderstorm, except worse. Alejo said it was always like this, but in winter it was such a relief to get here from a freezing DC. We stepped in through the creaking, rotting front door. “There’s only one old guy now to look after the place. He doesn’t do too much.” Where would you start? I thought. “I always thought,” Alejo continued, “I might buy it, if it’s not willed to me. I really would if I decided not to return to Mexico. It reminds me so much of my family’s land in Chiapas. I love coming here: the jungle, the swamp at the back, the damp, the heat, all of it.” The atrium was the height of the house and empty, except for plaster here and there on the floors in little, anciently swept heaps. A grand double-staircase that looked pretty rickety led all the way to the ceiling. I tried the echo - good. It was terrible dark inside there until Alejo opened some of the doors that led off the hall. Lucy said it felt creepy, and she wasn’t wrong. Strangely, though, it was about ten degrees cooler inside the house than outside, and that without any air conditioning.
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“I had a party here. Freshman year. Fifty of us came. That was the weekend I first made Cecilia,” Alejo reminisced. We didn’t say it, but the three of us knew now for sure that for Alejo this was some sort of pilgrimage. We wandered through the ground-floor rooms. There was hardly any furniture. At the back of the house was a room that seemed to run the entire length of the house. Three of its walls were made of damp stained glass fronted bookcases while the fourth consisted of shut shutters which Alejo began opening almost as soon as we had stepped in. The three of us headed straight away for the shelves of books that were filled with hundreds, maybe even thousands of titles. “You used to be able to buy them by the weight,” Alejo explained after we’d shouted out a couple odd titles to each other – medical, legal stuff in all sorts of languages. “No one thought it worthwhile removing them with the rest of the contents.” We continued to peruse the spines in the increasing light as Alejo threw open the shutters; nice bindings but the pages were all mildewed and bug eaten. Early evening light streamed into the empty, dusty room from the windows Alejo’s shutter opening revealed. You could see in places the ceiling-plaster was entirely gone and only the floorboards of the upper floors were visible. Through the unshuttered windows you could also see the long grass quite as high as a mid-summer cornfield. In one place though roughly opposite what looked like window-doors there was a mown gap a few feet wide that opened up into several mown paths that wound away from the house. Alejo opened the door-sized windows and we stepped back outside into the humidity and the noise of frogs, cicadas and birds. “We must pay attention. The swamp moves closer and closer to the house every year. There should be safe paths cut through the grass all the way down to what was once the lake, though.” “What’s it now?” “Swamp. The old island’s still there. We can row over to it tomorrow for a picnic, if you like. But there’re crocodiles and the boat’s not very good.” With that he took out one of those little smoked-glass bottles you buy coke in and suggested we do a few keys.
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“I’m going to pass Alejo,” said Lucy. “I wouldn’t mind a little sleepey. Is there actually any furniture?” “Me too,” added Emily. “We’ll sleep upstairs. I’ll show you.” Closing the window-door behind us we stepped back into the gallery and through the hall carefully followed Alejo’s exact footsteps as he ascended the grand staircase up to the third floor. He explained, as we passed it, the second floor was completely unsafe, rotten. Papers were strewn all along it. Old letters. Old documents, he said. Torn, damp. Boring, legal stuff, apparently. The third floor looked relatively well-kempt or at least when we reached it Alejo walked without any hesitation on the floorboards. All the doors were wide open. Nothing was inside the rooms. We padded along looking into them or down unto the atrium until we reached the end. Then Alejo stepped through a narrow door and we followed his ascent up the, even narrower, stairs. When we reached what was probably once the servants’ floor, Alejo opened one of the closed doors to reveal a large low ceilinged room with a vast antique bed covered with a transparent heavy plastic dustsheet, other pieces of furniture all covered too - a bed side table, and an ensuite bathroom with old age-specked appliances. “There’s only cold, I’m sorry,” Alejo said to Loose as she tried one of the taps. “Welcome to the Hotel California,” he added, a little worryingly. He was now fiddling with the manky mosquito shield on the tiny window. We took the dustsheet off the bed. It was well bouncy. Alejo then uncovered a chest of drawers and told us to help ourselves to the clothes within. “Cecilia and I spent a couple of weeks here last year. She left all these clothes. They’re hers,” he added needlessly. “Let’s leave the women get ready. I can show you further around Jamie.” “I might sleep, though, in an hour or two.” ‘Only one bed?’ I thought. I was disappointed. I had envisioned a high ceilinged bedroom in which Lucy and I might have privacy. It didn’t look
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like there was a chance for any of that. I was in no particular rush. So we left them there to get into Cecilia’s pyjamas. Once downstairs Alejo and I did two enormous lines. I’d never felt more awake. A spliff speedily put paid to that. We went back down through the windows into the darkened noisy garden. We walked the whole way around the house with a torch crushing the high grass under foot and squelching every now and again into islands of swamp, as we did so. Alejo showed a practical side I’d not suspected him of possessing. He pointed out here and there aspects of the house that needed an urgent seeing to. Gutters mostly. “The roof’s good. Just. But the lead flashing needs replacing or the house is finished. Will you help me go up there and check it?” I looked up to the top of the house. It looked very tall. I made a non-commital noise. Alejo didn't seem to notice. He described how one of his family estates in Mexico was like it here; how it was located in a similar environment, albeit further away than this from a swamp. He pointed out a strange looking grey-green shrub to me he called a pain tree, because, he said, should you brush against it invisible patches on the leaves and bark would leave a painful scarlet inflammation on your skin. He also indicated another tree whose trunk stank when you approached. Alejo led me along one of the paths cut through the long grass, every now and again we’d turn off onto smaller branches until I was totally disoriented. I wondered, shouldn’t he show me all this in the morning when it was light? But he was sure it’d be fine now. The only things we had to worry about, he said, without any irony apparent, were the attacking snakes. Within fifty metres, as the crow flies, of the house, such was the slope of the former back lawn and the height of the grass, you couldn’t see even the outline of the roof any longer. Every now and again we’d reach an odiferous little copse composed only of incense trees, or squelch through a marshy bit of grass. Along the way Alejo, aided by my questions, told me the history of his family. “We’re one of the only truly American families alive. We’ve been intermarrying with
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conquistadores’ families for four centuries, so I’m a mixture of Castilian, Galician and Andalusian. There’s even some Breton. We’re aboriginal Celto-Iberians. That’s why you and I Jaime we get along so fine. Impervious and hard-headed, that’s what we Iberian-Celts are. I have cousins in almost every country in the Americas. One of my great grandfathers, the Marques de Tolejdes, inherited over four million hectares of land in Chiapas. Well, by the time he was twenty-five he’d given two-thirds of it away - to his tenants. Some say with that action alone commenced the Mexican revolution. We’re now down to one hundred thousand hectares. It’s fine land, but my father won’t allow us to inherit more that ten thousand between us.” “That’s terrible,” I put in. “My father’s very old fashioned. He thinks we should make our way in life. Bizarre, don’t you think? Are you rich? What an absurd question. Of course you are. But how? Will you ever need to work I wonder? I shall have to work. My father ordains it. If I have to work I will go to Wharton. I would like to be president one day. Perhaps. But part of me would like just to remain here with you and Lucy and Emily of course. We could live here together forever? That is my dream Jaime. My dream.” We reached what might once have been a little harbour on the lake. Barely any water was visible through the weeds. I couldn’t help but imagine this landscape transposed to Ireland, unto that land which I knew best up in the Dublin mountains; the estate we’d lived on had had a wild lake too. Until it was part filled in to make way for new houses. “Not really.” “Does it matter you didn’t get a degree at Georgetown?” “Don’t suppose so. No, not really.” “What’s your next move?” “Not sure. Lucy wants to leave DC now. We could go and live in a cottage I own near Dublin. But she wants to stay in the Americas. She’s going to Mexico soon, you know?” “I find Lucy's plan very bizarre. The jungle’s no place for a woman. I wish you would go to
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New York.” “Easier said than done.” “Say the word and me casa sua casa.” “That’s kind, Alejo. But I don’t think it’d work.” “Why ever not? No, you must come to New York. It’s settled.” “Thanks Alejo. But that would be too much.” “I insist. I’ll be in Mexico most of July. Then we can all live in my apartment together. Yes, my parents are insisting that I don't live alone. This is the solution. I will work on Wall Street and we will all live together for the summer. Say you will Jaime? You must.” As we walked back towards the house I conceded I’d think about it.

***

“I’m worried about Alejo,” said Emily to Lucy when they were both snuggled up in bed under one big white silk sheet together. “Since the crash. He’s weirder than ever.” “I wish Jamie would tell me what’s going on inside him. He says ‘nothing’ whenever I ask.” “How about you? Do you think much about it?” “No. Not really. Work is a Godsend.” “I think Alejo might go off the rails.” Soon afterwards they fell both asleep.

***

As Alejo and I re-entered the house through the library he suddenly suggested we wake the girls. “Let’s sleep with them,” he added, with sudden energy.
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“We have to anyway?” “There’s nowhere else to go.” We went upstairs and when Emily went to the loo Alejo took her place beside Lucy and I lay down on Lucy’s other side. At first she and I were facing each other. I was so on for it. The heat. Our few days’ abstinence. Her scent. The impress of her body against mine… When she turned over to face away from me, I moved closer in and we gently pressed each other in the darkness as we fell asleep. An hour or so later Lucy was half awake and with me behind her she felt Alejo’s breath upon her face. Opening her eyes a little bit she saw a pair of brown eyes staring back. She closed them, but what she’d dreamily expected to happen did happen: first, his lips pressed against part of hers. She didn’t move away. She could hear his and our breath. She felt his tongue press in looking for hers. Her mouth opened a little. A little more. And for a moment he explored it before withdrawing and quietly turning over to face Emily. She was left staring at the back of his head, at his neat wiry hair, awake as a God. We woke up the next morning early and after breakfast Lucy and I went for a walk together down to the lake. “Are you sure this is the way?” “Sort of,” I replied. “This walk is a parody of the way our relationship is going.” “Come on, Loose. Everything’s cool. It’ll be fine.” We were lost, but I was pretending I remembered the way from Alejo’s walk the night before. “You say that but how well are we getting on these days?” I told her about Alejo’s New York offer. “I can go to the New York Public Library every morning and meet you after work. We could explore Manhattan together.” I did recognise that pain tree, but where was it in relation to the lake? “That sounds great, but I’m not going to be there long and there won’t be libraries when I get
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to Chiapas.” “I can photo-copy stuff before we go.” “We’re not going anywhere,” she said abruptly. “I mean, Jamie, I love you, but maybe a break is just what we need.” We’d just found the lake. I tried to conceal the hurt her words caused me. It was best just to let it lie. I was going to win her back, whatever she said. “Do you really want to be Alejo’s guest?” she said as we looked across at the island. It was just trees and bushes. “You don’t even like him. You’ve told me.” “He’s cool. Little weird. But who isn’t?” “Tom.” “What?” “Isn’t weird.” The mid morning sun was beating down on us and the humidity made us sticky. I agreed. “Okay, he’s straight along the line. Everyone else, though, is.” “Cept me.” We crossed some meadows to a wood above a stream. “This way?” “Jamie,” Lucy said suddenly. “Let's fuck right here right now.” I flinched. I don't know why, but she noticed. “Sure,” I said. Talk about taking me by surprise! “You don't sound very enthusiastic. Jamie? I thought this would be what you would want. Normally you're always on at me for sex?” “I am. I mean I do.” And I knew then that she saw this as the last chance we had to become lovers again and for us to taste what was fast becoming a forbidden delight. Neither the part undressing in the heat nor the bed of dry long grass cushioned awkwardly by Lucy's top helped to arouse in me the blind urge I needed to carry it through; Lucy was just passive. I couldn't do it.
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Shite! When we finally got to the house the others were sitting by the windows of the library smiling in the sunshine. Emily was sunning herself. Alejo too. Having cooperated in finding our way back using the sun, we too were happy again, though there was something ineffable between us which I could not shift and which was growing. The ruse hadn't worked. Coming away together hadn't helped. After lunch that day we drove to the tourist entrance to the Okefeenokee reserve about five miles away. The only way to get away from the humidity was the air conditioning of the bus which took us and a group of tourists through the reserve. We saw what Alejo had meant when he’d told us the house was on the edge of a primeval swamp. We went out in a boat the four of us. I quoted from the Waste Land and we chanted: Elizabeth and Leicester, beating oars the stern was formed... By Richmond I raised my knees supine on the floor of a narrow canoe... In the mountains there you’ll be free.... Beating oars our gilded shell the brisk swell rippled both shores southwest wind carried down stream... That evening we all went to bed drunk and when Emily and Alejo started to kiss beside us. Lucy and I did likewise. I was so hungry for her this time. And then for Em. One thing led to another and we all came together. The next morning I woke as Lucy was getting out of bed. I wanted her again, but she was no, no, no. The others got up then too. It was a little embarrassing, but no one said anything about it. We decided to head back to DC after a short walk. During the walk I ended up with Emily and Alejo and Loose got separated from us.
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“Why did you kiss me Alejo the other night?” asked Lucy. It was really the first time they’d been alone since then. “I thought they were right behind us,” he replied innocently, but he added when he saw Lucy’s expression, “I thought you were Em.” “I saw the way you looked at me. There was no mistake.” She had stopped walking. They could still hear our voices. Alejo had stopped now too and turned around. “Oh, Lucy. I’ve so wanted to kiss you…” He moved towards her. “No, Alejo,” she said putting her hand up to stop his progress towards her. “I have a boyfriend, you know?” She moved back a little. I shouted out “guys?” just at that moment. “He wouldn’t mind,” Alejo said looking straight into her eyes. “I know he wouldn’t. You kissed me back.” “Yes, but I didn’t mean to…” I called out again. “Stay where you are. We’ll come find you,” yelled Alejo. “Besides I didn’t want to make a fuss. I was half-asleep,” she turned away from him. “We’ll find them this way,” Alejo suggested, seemingly indicating the opposite direction from where we were. “Emily’s fed me snapshots of you, Lucy. For many months and months. Since last September in fact. The whole year, for sure. And she did not know what inflammable celluloid into my insatiable mind since. I’m in love with you Lucy. Lovely Lucy,” Alejo confessed moving forward again. The grass either side of them was taller than they were. “Stop it. Why are you so weird? Even if I felt the same Alejo I would never cheat on Jamie.” “It’s not cheating just to kiss-n’-go. Jamie understands that.” “How would you know?” “Why he kissed Cecilia and I didn’t mind.” “How can you lie about something like that?”
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“Don’t you have an o-o-open relationship?” Just then they found us standing watching a snake cross the path in front. Of course I didn’t know what had just passed between Alejo and Loose then, so I was sure she was suddenly being stand-offish again as a result of something I’d just said. Back in DC the next day Lucy returned from the office and told me that her secondment at the UN had come through. She would start the following Monday. In Manhattan. I was shocked. I knew the end of our time in DC was imminent. But until a date is fixed nothing really seems that immediate.

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