a good dream, for once

Got home from university tired, hungry and sweaty, the cotton strap of my Army Surplus backpack digging into my shoulder. Bag full of books on Cycladean figures and Geometric votives for my Greek art essay, due Monday. An unseasonably hot day in May. Mum was in the kitchen, methodically bread-crumbing veal cutlets. Alex was in the family room inspecting Mum’s African violets, which sat on a planter just inside the plate glass windows looking onto the weedy patio.

“Hey Mum, hey Al,” I said as I headed past them to my bedroom. Then I stopped, backed up, and looked Alex full in the face. He blinked.

“I like your hair,” I said.

“Just had it cut,” he said, rubbing the back of his neck.

“Aren’t you going to introduce me?” asked Mum.

“Err – sure. Mum, this is Alex, a friend of mine from… Ireland…”

“Nice to meet you, Mrs Chalmers,” said Alex.

“You’ve never been to Ireland,” said Mum.

“No, but I will,” I said. “Alex – what are you doing here? I’m not even going to meet you for another, what, three, four years? Is it 1989 or 90?”

“Ninety, I think. I’m at Bull Alley. Have you seen these plants? They have fur on the leaves.”

“But -”

“I just thought I’d come and see if your childhood really was as 70s-grotesque as you always said.”

“I beg your pardon?” said Mum.

“He’s joking,” I said, grabbed Alex’s arm and dragged him past the unicorn poster and into my room.

We sat awkwardly side by side on my single bed, facing the mountain of old computer printouts on my desk – Dad brought them home from work so I could write abysmal poetry on the back – and the dusty fantasy novels and china horses crammed onto my bookshelves. There was a dead fly on the black window-sill.

“This house is very…” said Alex. He picked up my poem about Yuri Gagarin:

(Y) The stars are shining where you left them
(U) One hundred miles above the ground
(R) No one goes out there to disturb them
(I) The skies are empty that you found…

“Yeah, the house,” I said, gently retrieving the poem. “Do you like my Hollie Hobbie wallpaper?”

“It’s not quite as spectacular as the lime-and-orange paisley in the kitchen.”

“Jesus. To be fair, Mum’ll replace it with fake red brick in a year or two, when she pulls up the wall-to-wall flokati in the front room… I can’t believe you came.”

“Hey,” said Alex with a grin. “What are friends for?”

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