Chris Connolly was born in Dublin in 1983. His work has appeared in the ‘Global Shorts’ short story anthology, Boston Literary Magazine and The New Guard Review, and has been broadcast on RTE Radio. In 2012 he was the winner of the Canon-Sheehan Perpetual Literary Award. He was also shortlisted for the RTE Francis McManus Short Story Award, the Fish International Flash Fiction competition, a runner up in the Penguin/RTE Short Story competition, and longlisted for the Fish International Short Story competition. He is currently shortlisted for the 2012 Over The Edge: New Writer Of The Year award. His first short story collection, ‘Every Day I Atrophy’, will be published later this year by Sidecartel.
Bricks Don’t Float
By Chris Connolly
Marcy has a mark on her face where the college boy hit her last night. She woke up when it was still dark with him telling her she had to get out of his apartment. It was when he called her a whore, she tells me, that she gave him a meagre, drunken slap on the face and he hit her back with a full fist. She’s telling me this because I noticed the mark just underneath her left eye.
‘What a dick,’ she says, and I say something in agreement before she starts telling me that George will be around later and she doesn’t want him to see the mark, so if it doesn’t fade enough for her to cover it with make-up she wants me to tell him I haven’t seen her. She’s going to stay inside and sleep.
I like Marcy, even though her mind isn’t quite right. I like George, too. George has a wife, but him and Marcy go way back so I guess he’s somewhere in between a friend and a boyfriend. He looks after her.
The college boy bought Marcy drinks for the night and seemed like a nice guy so she went home with him, but he turned out not to be a nice guy after all and punched her in the face. She isn’t too fazed by this. I’ve only known her a few weeks but I know this isn’t the first time a man has hit her like that. I don’t tell her that I think she shouldn’t be going home with college boys at her age, because I know she knows this but does it anyway. It’s not an age thing – she goes home with men of all ages. If I asked her why I know she’d probably say something like ‘why not?’ so I don’t bother.
She’s 40, or close to it, a fake blonde with big tits and a body that looks like it used to be toned. Not that she’s fat. She isn’t at all, but things are starting to move in the wrong direction and her skin looks sick from too much sun and drinking. For a woman her age she still has a pretty face, prettier than most, but I can tell that when people see her, because of the clothes she wears and because she’s usually half-drunk – because of the aura she gives off – they think that they can either walk right over her or ignore her. I can tell this because that’s the impression I got the first time I met her. I feel bad that I thought that way, even though it was a fair assumption.
There’s something tragic about her. Sometimes it makes me sad just thinking about it, but she’s interesting and she’s honest, and I guess that’s what matters.
She’s been staying at this motel for almost a year. I moved into the room next door six weeks ago. It’s not really a motel, but if you have to call it something a motel is what it most resembles. It has fourteen rooms. Seven that open onto the parking lot and seven on top of those which open onto a long balcony. You can hear the drone of the highway even when you’re inside with the door closed, but you can’t see it. My room is at the corner, on top. Marcy’s is next to it. Each room has a double bed, a TV, a bathroom and a little kitchenette with a hot plate and a sink. The rooms are clean but the place is grim. That’s the word for it: Grim. Not just the building itself, or the rooms, or the location – which are all grim – but the people that stay there, too.
I don’t know any of the other lodgers, apart from Marcy. There’s a Mexican family a few doors down that all live in the same room – a wife and husband and three young kids. They leave every morning when it’s still dark and come back in the evening, and you don’t see or hear them until the following day. I don’t know what they do, but I can tell it’s probably grim, just like everything else.
At my end of the long balcony is a little table and chair that I sit at most days, reading and drinking beer. At first I thought Marcy was crazy, and she probably is, but I like her anyway. She doesn’t know how long she’s going to stay at the motel for. She wants to get an apartment somehow but she doesn’t have a job. She says George will help her out, but she doesn’t know when.
I rarely ask Marcy any questions – she just starts talking and telling me things, so I don’t have to. She comes over to where I’m sitting and starts talking as if she’s continuing a conversation we’ve been having, but that’s never the case. She might wander over and start telling me about when she was a kid, say, and then leave and come back and start telling me about a guy she used to know with one arm, stuff like that, as if I’ve asked her a very particular question about something when I haven’t said a word.
I know a lot about her from what she tells me, but the more she tells me the less I seem to know about who she really is. I don’t talk too much and I don’t think she knows much about me – she thinks I should be an accountant or a doctor or something, because I’m usually reading a book if I’m not too drunk. To her that means I’m smart, means I should be wearing a suit instead of sitting on a rusted balcony in a lousy motel all day. I could be wearing a suit if I wanted to be, but I don’t tell her this because I know she’d think of me as somehow superior because of it; that’s just the way she thinks.
Marcy is an alcoholic. She used to be into a lot of other things too, when she was my age, but now she just drinks and does coke now and then, just for fun. She used to be a stripper when she was younger, and that’s exactly what she looks like – someone who used to be a stripper. She’s not embarrassed by this. She doesn’t get embarrassed by anything. Usually she goes home with a man – like the college kid last night – after he’s bought her a few drinks. Sex is no big deal to her. Sex to her is what kissing is like for most people, or maybe even flirting. It’s not a big deal. She’ll go to bed with most men who show an interest in her, even if it’s just for a few hours and even though she knows they might call her a whore and give her a slap once they’ve got what they want. That’s just the way life is, she says.
She tells me all of this in little snippets of conversation, all these little elements of her life, so that it’s like I have pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that I gradually put together and get a better picture of who she is and what her life has been like.
I thought George was a shady kind of a character when I first met him and it turns out he is, but he’s not a bad guy. Marcy is telling me she doesn’t want to see him today with a mark on her face because if he finds out what happened he’ll probably go and find the guy and get himself into trouble.
George is about 50, shabby and shifty-looking. He drives a pickup and sweats a lot and always wears a baseball cap. I don’t know exactly what he does for a living but he always carries a lot of cash. Every time I’ve met him he’s managed to take out a big thick wad, making sure that I see it. I don’t know if this means he’s rich or if it means he wants people to think he is, but he’s good to Marcy.
I suppose he’s been good to me, too. He and Marcy came out of her room one morning and she started talking about something or other that had nothing to do with anything, and George finally interrupted her and asked me if I wanted to make some money. The way he said it made it seem like a test of some sort, like saying no would mean there was something wrong with me, and he seemed relieved when I said yes. I didn’t ask what the job was. I thought for some reason he wouldn’t want to tell me in front of Marcy, that it would be something shady, but it turned out it was just lifting some window-panes from a building site into his truck. He picked up two Mexicans on the way who didn’t speak English.
I think Marcy must have mentioned me to him so he wanted to suss me out. After the job we dropped off the Mexicans and he offered me a bump of coke. We went back to the motel and sat at my table for a while, drinking beer and getting high.
George is a quiet kind of guy, but when he does coke he speeds up and talks a lot. He told me about his wife and about him and Marcy. He met her when she was a stripper, when she was my age.
‘She used to be a fine piece of ass back then,’ he said.
I could see what he meant. Marcy has that look about her that you see in people sometimes, when you can tell they used to be beautiful but they’ve had the beauty worn off them.
‘You fucked her yet?’ he asked me.
He wasn’t asking in a jealous way, just out of curiosity, like he expected me to have slept with her, like it wasn’t any of his business if I had or if I hadn’t. For some reason I felt bad for him when I told him I hadn’t, as if it was an insult, but he didn’t seem to care. I suppose he was thinking that a young guy like me didn’t see Marcy in the same way that he did, someone who knew her in her prime.
He told me he was going to set her up with a proper apartment somewhere, but that she had to get some kind of a job first.
‘She drinks too much,’ he said, as if it was a secret or as if I wouldn’t have noticed. ‘I drink too but I get my shit done. She lost her last job for drinking. I’ll help her out but she has to help herself out too.’
I liked George after that. I hadn’t thought there would be anyone who cared whether or not Marcy drank too much.
‘Some people can handle the drink,’ he said then, saying it in such a way as to let me know that he considered me to be one of those some people. ‘Some people do and some people don’t, but the trick is knowing which one you are,’ he said, which made sense, but I told him the real trick was not needing to know which one you were.
Because of the way I said it – we were both stoned at the time – it came out sounding a little profound, and it wasn’t often I said anything with any real feeling to it so he sat there thinking about the words for a while before saying ‘yeah’ a few times.
‘Yeah, I guess that’s about right, kid.’
George is decent. Shady, like I thought at first, but decent.
Marcy’s telling me about the college boy. She has this way of acting things out when she describes stories, like she’s auditioning for something. She’s doing impressions of him, making fun of the way he talked and saying how she teased him about being shorter than her and how he was so drunk after a few shots that he couldn’t get it up and they didn’t even fuck in the end. She can be funny sometimes, like a weird cartoon character, but it’s not so funny when I know that the guy ended up calling her a whore and hitting her. She doesn’t seem to care about that, just about the mark that it left.
I didn’t plan on staying at the motel for so long. I came across the big neon sign outside that says ‘The Wave Inn’, even though it’s not near the sea or any waves, and I checked in for the minimum week. I felt like drinking on my own in a room for seven days because there wasn’t any reason not to and I was tired, and as reasons go it’s as good as any.
It isn’t a nice place, but I like it. I don’t know why.
I’ve been staying in these motels for a while. Not for any particular reason. I suppose I’m travelling, but I don’t go out much, don’t go sightseeing or anything like that; I don’t know what I’m after, but that’s not it. I’m just floating through these different places until eventually I leave each one and move slightly further along. Sometimes I don’t even know where I am. Usually, I don’t care.
Marcy laughed when I told her this and said, ‘don’t you want a job? Or a girl? Don’t you want to see stuff instead of sitting around in dumps like this all the time?’
I didn’t have a proper answer for her.
‘Bricks don’t float’ was what came to mind, and Marcy laughed again in that cackle of hers and asked me what I meant by that.
‘You sure are strange, hun,’ she said. ‘Did I ever tell you about this girl I knew whose hair all fell out?’ And then she was off again, going on about something that made no sense to anyone but her and giving me more pieces to put in the puzzle.
I think that I could listen to her stories about everything for the rest of my life and, instead of finally completing the puzzle and figuring her out, I’d just end up with more and more pieces of a bigger and bigger puzzle, as if every new bit of conversation she has with me just complicates her that little bit more. Sometimes I think it’s me with my books and my silence that’s the simple one, the one who doesn’t take much figuring out.
Marcy didn’t finish high school. She says she left home when she was 16. She says she was wild back then, but she still seems pretty wild to me now. I tell her this and she laughs.
‘I’ve calmed down a lot, kiddo. When I was your age I was tearing the place up!’
I believe her.
Marcy leaves me on the balcony to go and sleep and I wait for a while to see if George will turn up. I sit there reading for a couple of hours and eventually hear his truck pulling in down below, and I can tell it’s him because of the screech the truck makes when he puts the brake on. George looks scruffy as usual. He tells me he’s hung-over.
‘Big night last night,’ he says, and he offers me a bump and I say no at first because it’s still early in the day and I’m happy just drinking, but once I see the little bag of white powder I say ‘why not?’ and he laughs and sits down.
He speeds up straight away and starts telling me about his night and he asks if Marcy is around. I tell him I haven’t seen her, like she asked me to, and I wonder if the mark on her face has turned into a bruise yet. He doesn’t mind that she’s not home and keeps on talking. I want to ask about him and Marcy – I have this strange urge to know more about the two of them – but he hasn’t told me too much before and neither has she, and I don’t ask because sometimes it’s best not to.
He stays for a little while and apologises about not having a job for me today, but he might have one tomorrow.
I tell him thanks. I don’t really care about his jobs – I just go along with him when he offers because it’s something to do and he’s an interesting guy. He leaves the balcony and I stay sitting there.
I start thinking about the way he looks out for Marcy.
I start thinking about how I’ve been feeling sorry for the two of them all this time, because when I look at their lives and what they’ve turned into – each time I think about what they must have imagined their lives being when they were my age and how it’s just this now and nothing else – it twists up my insides a little bit more.
And as I hear his truck pulling away that twisting in my gut starts up again and I start thinking that maybe I’ve just been pretending all this time, maybe it’s myself that makes things twist, and maybe it’s myself I should be feeling sorry for.
I start thinking that maybe Marcy is the lucky one because she has George, who cares about her, and maybe George is lucky too, because he cares.
I start thinking about the pieces of my own puzzle and what I said to Marcy that time, that bricks don’t float, and maybe I didn’t know what I meant when I said it, but I do now.
Bricks don’t float.
And all I can do is stay sitting alone on my balcony, sinking, and have another drink.