really did all begin by accident – literally.
It was one of those busy Saturdays in Shop Street in Galway and I was
avoiding a group of teenage boys and girls bearing down on me in one of those
long grinning uninhibited lines of theirs, like they don’t have a care in the
world. And why would they have? They’re young.
Teenagers alarm me for all sorts of reasons, and they seem so much
better-looking and taller than they did when I was that age, which is over
twenty-five years ago now. All those years ago … The girls are prettier too,
more confident, thinner. I was never a pretty girl or a thin one, though I was
never fat either, and the only thing I have in common with a beautiful woman is
I know what it means to be stared at, or noticed at any rate, though in my case
for all the wrong reasons. My face is round and pale, I have a weak chin, dull
grey eyes, and very dark not quite black hair that makes my paleness even more
striking. All the same, I have a good enough figure and large breasts. But
seeing these carefree kids, seeing how youngsters like them feel so easy in the
world, adept at whatever magic it is they do on their phones – well, it makes
me regret that I never found anyone to love me, to truly connect with, and ultimately
to have children with.
Odd the things the young
incline you to think about.
I think a lot of women go a bit odd if they don’t have children. I
suppose if I hadn’t jilted Oliver at the aisle all those years ago now things
might be a lot different, but I couldn’t bear his lumpy hands on me, his hairy
back like a sweaty pelt, his fat belly, his habit of doggedly snapping his
fingers whenever he made a point about something very boring and Oliver-like as
if he had hit upon a profound truth about Life.
‘Oliver and Olivia.’ We sounded too good to be true. ‘Imagine how our
names will look on our wedding cake,’ Oliver enthused
The not having children thing – well, I keep this opinion to myself with
other women at work or the friends I have that are also childless, or I should
say the one friend I have left, and – I’ve not seen or heard from her in months
and months. I don’t miss Emily one bit though. I really don’t. Let herself and
her man Frank have their tedious evenings of determined and forceful fun.
I, Olivia Mosley, deserve much better.
Anyway, I made to move around the teens and did so quite successfully
until I caught my heel in one of the uneven paving stones that are all along
the middle of Shop Street and stumbled. Out went my hands reflexively; I gasped
and the grey surface of the pavement loomed into view but I somehow had the
presence of mind to turn my head just in time or my teeth would have had it.
I lay sprawled among the pedestrians for all of five or six seconds
before strange hands reached out to help me up – I had three sets of limps on
me at one time, the most I have ever been touched by in my life. I wondered if
this was what an orgy felt like.
My mind sometimes has a habit of going off on these weird tangents.
It was three women, then all of a sudden a man was there, barging in and
taking charge like they do, and from all sides came questions – was I all
right? Did I want to sit down? Would I need an ambulance? Something to drink?
‘Here, have some of my water. It’s from a spring in France.’
All these total strangers competing eagerly for my attention.
I checked my hands; I didn’t have a single graze or mark.
I blushed as I moved my head this way and that, taking in the genuine
concern in their faces, and thanking each of them profusely.
` I think one or two of the teens from the group stopped to film the whole
For all I know their little home movie is all over the Internet by now. I
wonder what title they put on it: ‘Ugly woman takes a spill!’ With lots of LOLs
no doubt. Lots and lots of laughs. Lots of ‘Likes’.
But in spite of that the kindness of those helpful strangers made it
almost a lovely experience, made me feel very wanted. It made me feel even a
little bit beautiful and even something I have never properly felt: worthy of
attention, even, on a small scale, desired.
evening Bernard called me and right off
he had a go about something I had said to him the week before and I had
a go back about how he is always going on about the Latvian girl Tania, someone
in his office, and how good she looked at the firm’s charity 5K fun run for
bipolar with her perfect Lycra-clad arse, and we batted our anger and mutual
resentments back and forth for a solid twenty minutes and at the end of it and
within moments (and as usual) I was in my car racing to his place and was in
bed with him within seconds of arriving, Bernard violently whipping open the
front door, frowning at the staircase, which I eagerly climbed.
I hate to stereotype anyone
but Bernard is an accountant, a profession that does not exactly lure those
with a teeming imagination, or any kind of imagination, apart from that which
is stirred by row upon row of alternating figures. My own line of work, the
civil service, involves similar delights, spreadsheets and clerical this and
clerical that; and that’s all I’m going to say about my fascinating profession.
I suppose I am as dull and boring as Bernard. We are a good pair in our
dysfunctional way. Somehow we work, but
why it should matter that we ‘work’: this is not a point I concern myself with.
All the same, in terms of the men out there, I really think even I could
do better than Bernard – as the phone call illustrates we do seem to grate
against each other more than anything else. I never sigh with anticipatory
delight at the prospect of our meeting, have not a single memory of any little
acts of kindness on his part ever. Not once has he taken me out to dinner.
There is no generosity of spirit in him towards others either. He’s just too mean.
If anything I am more likely to moan and groan at the thought of our trysts,
and not because I am anticipating the sensual delight of going to bed with his
heavy, freckly body, as I think I have made clear.
So what does this unlikely man ‘do’ for me that I can’t seem to resist
his overtures? I think I am not unintelligent, so let’s see. He makes me feel
both wanted but wanton, intelligent but stupid, creative but dull. He knows how
to get under my skin, and for this I let him get me under his cream duvet,
which by the way could do with a good wash now and then.
The first time we went to bed I had to show him where my clitoris was,
its precise, budlike location.
‘Now what do I do?’ he asked, his hand lying over my privates like a
piece of breaded trout waiting to be fried.
‘Use your imagination.’
He gave me a blank look.
‘Imagine it’s a Lotto scratch card and you’re about to win a stack of
That did the job, but he was still bloody useless, working away at it
like he was trying to pick open the tab on a can of beer with a blunt
fingernail. He didn’t understand the secret to clitoral joy is a steadily
probing and flicking finger-tip. He had no rhythm at all, no finesse. I
released a moan of ersatz pleasure all the same. It seemed mean not to. As any
woman knows, you have to give men a bit of encouragement or they just fold, and
these days men are full of enough insecurities as it is. They need all the help
they can get.
Besides, it was all over in minutes, Bernard going through the usual
stealthy motions in that rutting way of his. I can’t say I have ever had the
kind of sex other women are always harping on about in magazines, the perfect
orgasm and all that, sensual bliss. Sometimes I think the magazines make it all
up. Can such erogenous pleasure really exist? I have only ever had three
lovers, if ‘lover’ is even the right word and in my heart I know it isn’t. I
think I just haven’t had much experience with men. Or love.
I was all set to tell Bernard about my little fall in Shop Street but
something, I don’t know what, kept me from disclosing a single detail. I liked
having a secret from him.
need your head examined, seeing that fellow,’ my mother told me on the phone
the following evening. I don’t tell her much about my life, God knows, but I
wanted to let her know that it ran along normal lines, that I had, if not
exactly a nice man, then a man at least, just like any other steady, healthy
woman. All the same, I had told her often enough about how dull and mean and
argumentative he was.
I think I told her too much, the way daughters feel obliged to with their
mothers. No more than Emily, I don’t see her very often, thank goodness. She
lives in Westmeath on the family farm.
‘Oliver asked for you last week. He has three kids now. A fine, fine
fellow. He even managed to find another Protestant girl to marry – one of the
Harmons. Remember them? Alison? Alison Harmon? Father a big noise in the legal
world? So nice, active in the chapel too.’ She paused before really letting me
have it. ‘Such a pretty girl.’
of my fall, though, cheered me up. I think it was the sheer thrill of being the
centre of all that attention – it changed me.
I wanted more.
The next Tuesday I had to go to Ballinasloe for a work-related meeting
The market town in east Galway is a dull enough place at the best of
times but on a chilly morning in April there’s not much going on. All the same,
on what passes for their main street, I cast a quick look around me and
pretended to stumble, falling hard, or making it seem like I did.
I must confess that I did not really fall hard of course; in fact, I had
been practising in my apartment the evening before, a glass of wine to hand (I
managed to polish off an entire bottle – but I do that a lot). I think I had
perfected a kind of stumble-trip. I kept practising like a ballerina might,
again and again and again until I got it exactly right. I found the most
successful and least painful movement was to quickly bend my right leg, put out
my right arm, then fall over on my side, like I’d snapped a heel again like
that first time.
An elderly couple came to my aid and a handsome executive type, plus a
young girl from the chemists, who had been doing a window display on
constipation remedies and saw everything. They were all very gentle, though
their hands were only on me for about forty seconds, if even that long.
The elderly pair insisted on sitting with me inside the chemist for at
least ten minutes until I felt better, the chemist even slipping me a Valium
with a glass of water. He winked as he passed it to me. I don’t know what I was
meant to make of that, but I thanked him all the same.
On my way home that evening I swore to myself that it wouldn’t happen
started doing it regularly, the falling. I got really good at it too. I chose
Saturday afternoons in Galway as the best venue and time because of all the
shoppers, the sheer teeming variety of people.
Exactly two weeks after my first tumble, I fell in three different
places: outside the camping store in Eglinton Street, outside the fancy Mayrick
Hotel in Eyre Square, and then outside Easons in Shop Street.
I estimated that at least twenty people on all three occasions put their
hands on me. One man was very rough, pulling me up from the waist, his big
hands around me, over the waistband of my knickers, his hairy fingers just mere
inches from my privates, the sudden awareness of which aroused me; he apologised
for pulling at me so roughly and I blushed because I wished he hadn’t –
apologised that is. He had an ugly, pock-marked face and horrible mossy green
broke up with Bernard one weekend but was back with him the next.
‘Let’s watch some porn,’ he suggested.
We sat semi-clothed watching ‘lesbians’ do their thing, which did wonders for
what passed for Bernard’s virility but not a lot for me; he kept the video
playing on his laptop, casting his eye at it as he rode me.
I thought the videos were ridiculous and decided men were mad, simple and
stupid to be taken in by such rubbish.
Bernard and I broke up again. I was lonely. It was around this time that I kind
of upped the ante with the whole falling thing.
I started doing it every
other day in Galway, on my lunch breaks; then, since the evenings were lighter
and getting mild, I would drive out to Salthill promenade – my favourite place. I had gotten good at it
too, even in places like the prom where there weren’t gaps in the pavement or
wayward paving stones or dog mess to slip in – pretend to, that is. I wasn’t
crazy. Who would deliberately slip on dog shit?
Months went by and the loving attention of strangers kept coming.
Things were going fine until I collapsed outside Boots in Shop Street
(where it all started, more or less), and when the eight (!) pairs of
strangers, many of them foreigners, helped me up, I couldn’t thank them all
enough. I wanted to hug the lot of them, I really did.
When they had left, a security guard approached me.
‘You’ve got to stop doing this, this pretending to fall and be in
distress craic, deliberately tripping yourself up,’ he started in a thick
accent – Polish or Russian, one or the other. ‘I’m on to you, lady, taking
advantage of the good nature of ordinary folk. That’s at least the fifth or
sixth time in as many weeks you’ve pretended to slip right outside here. I’m on
to you. You need help, lady. I mean it. I bet you’re going to sue the city
council and rake it in. Well, let me tell you you’re on CCTV,’ and he pointed
to two cameras further up the street, like white snouts, silently, taking it
I looked him up and down. He was one of those eastern European men in
their late twenties or so, the big muscly types. This one had tattoos on his
neck and a shaved head. Very handsome, all the same, with deep set black eyes.
I took in his huge hands, wide shoulders, massive chest and thick legs and felt
myself getting dizzy. I felt like slapping him too, but was too humiliated and
embarrassed. I thought, I bet you wouldn’t need directions to my clitoris. No,
All the same, that episode alarmed me a bit. But I couldn’t stop myself.
Luckily for me there are lots of busy streets in Galway, especially of course
on Saturdays; the area around Mainguard and Lombard Streets, for example, when
the market is jammed full of life and just hectic with nice liberal type people
with copies of the Irish Times poking out of their organic veg-laden
shopping bags, all anxious to help a stranger should an opportunity occur – it
was pure bliss.
So many anxious hands touching my flesh, strange men’s deft hands around
my waist and along my back; a hand with long fingers reaching up and touching
lightly against my full breasts, my nipples shamefully hard. I was certain his
fingers lingered there for just a second. It was enough.
If one of them had put a hand up my skirt, by mistake of course, I
wouldn’t have let on.
Let him have a good feel. I wondered if any of them could smell the wet
stinky heat of me during these episodes.
At night, alone in bed, I would pleasure myself, fantasising about these
strangers’ hands, men’s and even women’s, rubbing themselves all over my naked
body, and when I came I thrust my fingers deep inside the sloppy pasty wetness
of myself and felt the muscles there contracting over and over again as I came
and came, shuddering each time with the filthy glory of it. Now at long last I
knew what those women in the magazines meant, that they were telling the truth.
That I could do it all by myself was nothing less than a glorious revelation. I
even contemplated investing in a sex toy or two, ordering them online, but was
too embarrassed about anyone somehow finding out.
At such times I was no longer plain. I was a Julia Roberts’ type of
woman, with glorious hair, big lips, perfect teeth – a body desired by all,
wanton hands and tongues working over and inside me.
I knew it was all wrong but I couldn’t control myself. All of it was
wrong. I should have felt guilty, but not being a Catholic and at best a very poor
excuse for a good Protestant, that wasn’t a problem. To hell with guilt. Who
had I ever hurt? Who had I ever offended?
One Saturday I collapsed outside the Brown Thomas department store in
William Street but only one person helped me up and she was a nun of all
things. Why do they always have such sweetly clean and trusting faces?
‘You don’t have to be alone,’ she told me, looking clear into my eyes.
‘Really, you don’t. What has upset you so?’ she asked. I could have wept.
‘Don’t be frightened. You can tell me.’
I think she wanted to touch me, not in a pervy way, but just to calmly
I think I must have started looking mad by then, I mean my expression by
turns anxious, frightened, confused and angry.
‘Thank you, Sister,’ I managed before walking quickly away.
went on for months.
I started getting real injuries too. I appeared at work with bruises on
my wrists, which elicited lots of funny looks, and my department head took me
aside and asked if I wanted to avail of counselling (‘Free of charge, of
course,’ he told me. ‘The State provides for its employees’).
At one point I even needed a walking stick when I tore a ligament near my
foot. The bitter irony of it all wasn’t lost on me.
One or two of the girls in my office asked if Bernard had been having a
go at me but I told them not to be silly, which only convinced them that he was
the real culprit. Let them think what they liked, not least of Bernard, that
But by now I was addicted and even had a big plan: to take my act to the
I eventually went to Dublin on a Saturday in late October. My leg was
healed and my body was almost bruise-free. I took the train up. It was like I
couldn’t get there quick enough.
I was going to fall first outside the GPO – the iconic General Post
Office – in O’Connell Street. I hurried over the bridge, taking in the beggars
everywhere and craven faces of junkies whose tiny heads seem to bob up and down
among the crowds, doing my best to ignore the ugly River Liffey. I felt
wretched enough as it was.
I was a woman on a mission. Stopping at a pedestrian crossing, I looked
at my clothes. They were getting worn and soiled. I hadn’t changed my underwear
in weeks. I was thin. My periods had dried up weeks before and I didn’t know if
this was early onset menopause or what was happening to me.
At the GPO, I wasted no time, just dropped down right outside. I wanted
to get it over and done with. People passed by. No one took any notice until a
woman stopped and said, ‘Come on, get up! Have you been drinking?’
‘Where am I?’ I asked as she helped me to my feet.
Before she could answer I walked away, almost at a trot, looking back at
her confused face, but then I tripped, falling hard, and not on purpose either,
I lay, peering up at a cloudless sky, my arms outstretched, muttering to
myself, as pedestrians, the bastards, moved around me like I was a filthy
The city was so noisy and clammy, with much too many accents from all
over the world droning inside my head. Strangers laughed. I heard the whirr of
a million CCTV cameras honing in on me and the click of phones as photos were
snapped and videos filmed. LOL: laugh out loud.
I stretched my arms over my head and waited in a kind of final ecstasy.
‘Let me help you,’ a man said eventually. He looked just like the
handsome security guard from Galway.
‘I knew you would come,’ I said, and I took his hand and that of another
man, and they helped me to my feet and into a waiting ambulance and off we
‘Take me away with you,’ I
told them happily. ‘Anywhere. My name is Olivia. Olivia Mosley. Take me. Take
me, I’m yours.’