Mr Brown

Mr Brown was a man in his forties with a receding hairline and a fondness for tea. His hair worried him. He began to grow his fringe further down onto his forehead, and felt an increasing affinity with those old men you saw in pubs with truly awful comb-overs. He let his fringe grow, and hoped that when the time came that it could be hidden no more, he would accept his baldness with grace and dignity. His wife, he thought, would surely never let a comb-over in the house. But then, he supposed that she too might be caught unawares, lulled by the gradual decline. So, every now and then, Mr Brown peered into the bathroom mirror and pushed back his hair, inspecting the damage and wondering if it was time to succumb to his impending baldness.

He liked his tea strong with a dash of milk and a small bit of sugar. If he was honest, he actually liked it with a bit more than a small bit of sugar; but he didn’t like to admit this, and slipped in the extra spoonfuls when his wife wasn’t looking. He told himself that it was his little luxury, like the bars of chocolate his wife kept in the drinks cabinet. Mr Brown was fascinated by the way she savoured these bars, nibbling on one or two squares every evening as they watched the nine o’clock news. He himself was not overly fond of chocolate. Sometimes he tried to enjoy his evening cup of tea in the way she enjoyed her squares of chocolate, but he always felt unable to grasp her passion.

His wife was called Rosemary. Although she was frugal with the chocolate, she had a multitude of similar little indulgences, and it seemed to Mr Brown that she spent half her life in their grips. She liked to take frequent long baths – she would light an alarming number of candles, add several salts and bubble mixtures to the hot water, and lie in complete silence for upwards of half an hour, leaving steamed-up mirrors and strong feminine scents in her wake. She also had her hair done every month, another ritual which seemed to take much longer than necessary. The rich, auburn shade of her hair was so vivid that it had erased Mr Brown’s memory of her natural hair colour.

However, on the occasions when Mr Brown chanced to see his wife’s pubic hair, he noted that it was turning increasingly grey, like the fur of a badger. The sight of these coarse white hairs made him think of his receding hairline, and he always found himself raising a hand to his forehead at the sight of Rosemary’s naked body.



When the tears come, she doesn’t know what to do with them. She lies in the dark and her pillow becomes damp and cold, but she can’t be sure what she is crying about.

At times like this, she wishes more than anything that she could pinpoint the source of her misery. There are always triggers, but never anything that warrants the depths of despair she plummets into. Is she lonely? Dissatisfied with her life? Bored and stagnant? Or are these just chemical imbalances that flood her brain, as random as nature?

Usually, when the morning comes, the sadness has washed away, as though sucked out of her by her dreams. It takes a day or two, maybe, for her to slip back into contentment. And she forgets that she was ever miserable.

It’s like the difference between waking and dreaming. When she is happy, these emotions feel as though they are her real life, and the sadness becomes a shade, a dreamworld. It seems less real, illogical, and unimportant. A character flaw she needs to move away from.

She fears the dreamworld of sadness. Because in her fantasy of life, this dark side of emotion is a bad sign, a red flag, an indication that all is not right, that something needs to change. It feels like a setback to happiness, to everything she has worked for in the wakefulness of contentment.

So she wakes in the morning and feels better, but worried. The sun is struggling to break through a soft blanket of cloud, and she struggles with it. She knows everything is fine, but the niggling worry still holds tight to her ankles, slowing her down. Because how can you tell when enough is enough? Where do you draw the line?


We met as children. When I was seven, pale and skinny and already taller than all the other boys, a new girl joined our school class of scruffy and boisterous children. Her name was Judith Mirsky, and she had an English accent. She was demure, with an impassive face, straight brown hair and deep chocolate eyes. In her ochre-coloured school uniform, she looked like a sepia-tinted photograph. Next to us, with our ruddy cheeks and bright sea-grey eyes, she was like a glimpse of the past.

She glanced around the classroom at us from under a long fringe and hid her small hands in the pockets of a brown coat that was too big for her. But despite her apparently timid nature, despite her alien accent and appearance, she was greeted with curiosity rather than hostility.

In class, she was quiet, but knew the answers. Out in the schoolyard, Judith was transformed. She ran faster than anyone else and laughed harder than anyone else. A red flush seeped like blood from two pin points high on her pallid cheeks; her eyes turned jewel-bright amber. She became abrupt and sharp, the kind of girl who would pinch you when you weren’t looking, but not hard.

Judith and I were not exactly friends. And yet, her presence was notable throughout my childhood. We would bump into one another at the supermarket. Our mothers stopped to make small talk, and we made faces at each other across the laden shopping trolleys. She came to my ninth birthday party, and broke Steven’s action figure, because he wouldn’t let her play pirates with the boys. When we were in fifth class, we were both enrolled for swimming classes at the local swimming pool.

I had been to the beach on July days when the dull Irish sun deigned to shine. My father had waded into the sea with me, water streaming in rivulets through his chest hair, and held me afloat in the water, his big hands under my torso. I kicked and splashed, but as soon as he let go, I sank spluttering under the waves.

My experience thus far with swimming had therefore not instilled me with much confidence. Emerging from the warm, damp changing room into the cool air of the connecting corridor, I walked carefully along the ledges of the green tiled pond of disinfectant to avoid getting my feet wet. The clamouring echoes of the pool made my head ring, and I could feel goose bumps erupting on my skin as I approached the edge of the water. Several of the shivering children lined at the edge of the pool were in my class, and Judith was one of them.

There was no part of me that wanted to learn how to swim. Even my toes seemed to curl up in dismay at the prospect. They retreated back from the edge of the swimming pool with a mind of their own. ‘No!’ my knees shouted in agreement. The hair all over my body strained away from my skin in a desperate attempt to distance itself from the body that was, inexplicably, about to immerse itself in this expanse of deep water.

The children who could swim were separated from those who could not.

‘I’m a mermaid’, Judith said, poking me sharply in the ribs before joining the other group. I was eleven, far too old for believing things. But, I wanted to believe her. When I watched her small, lithe body writhe and contort under the water, I could almost, at times, see a flash of a tail fin, a scaly underwater glint.


The ring on his finger jolts her out of her reverie. She tries to focus on it, to catch the symbol engraved in the thick band of silver, but his hands dash about too quickly, and are shoved into his sleeves when he isn’t talking. But she has seen the ring before, she knows it. She has dreamed it.

It seems too cruel, this nudging of fate’s elbow in the face of hopelessness. Perhaps it is a trick of the mind; a desperate attempt of her subconscious to render this truth untrue. What is meant for you won’t pass you by, her mother’s words echo a grim cliché. She is not sure she ever believed them.

But she knows she dreamed this ring. He pauses with his hand to his face and she sees the symbols clearly at last. And she remembers. She had been on a train, in this dream. Coming home to her parents’ house from college, a familiar ritual of stopping and starting, of whizzing scenery. As the carriage pulled to rest in the station, she was simultaneously outside and inside the train. She felt herself stepping out onto the concrete of the platform, pushing past the warm bodies and feeling the crunch of passing anoraks in the station.

But she was also still standing inside the carriage, and the man she loved at the time was presenting her with this ring. He stood on the platform, facing her; they stood on either side of the door, facing each other. He held her gaze in his, blue eyes cold and frank. And his left hand held out a small black velvet box. But I’m not even your girlfriend, she said, confused. But in the dream it was alright. It was all going to work out, because he gave her this ring with this symbol on it, and this must mean that he loved her.

She knows she wrote the dream down somewhere, if only she could remember where. All of her diaries and notebooks stretch out before her mind’s eye, those in her apartment and those that have been left behind shoved into drawers and behind bookcases in her parents’ house. And suddenly she feels exhausted.

I have to go, she says to him. I’m sorry, I’m not feeling great. I’m going home. He looks surprised, disappointed, bewildered. She smiles grimly to herself at his oblivion as she walks away.