Sophie Furlong Tighe
Short Story // Graduate
The girl put on her coat and a scarf. It was cold. She turned around and looked at her faceless mother and waved. “I’ll be back late,” she said. She did not know if she would be back late. He had only said that people were arriving at nine. Her mother did not reply on account of her not having a face.
Her ex-boyfriend texted her on the way to the bus stop, “The address is 174 Croyden Road. Don’t commit any war crimes on the way.” This was an insensitive comment regarding the job she had accepted a week after their break up. She did not commit war crimes, they were not technically crimes, and “commit” was inaccurate. Last week, he had referred to it as her rebound job. She also found this cruel.
The trees weren’t on fire in Marino, though it was often the case that they were burning in the South but not the North, or vice versa. She didn’t want to text him again to ask, and the internet made her nervous, so she put a silver bunker suit in her bag just in case. The burnt stub of tree outside her house had still not been replaced. Typical. The fires were dealt with better on the South than where she lived, but it was good to be safe.
She checked the bus app. It said, “YOU PROBABLY HAVE TIME TO GO TO THE SHOPS,” so she did. She needed to buy wine. There would be alcohol, he had mentioned. But probably not enough. One of the clerks in the shop had a face, which was a pleasant surprise, perhaps she was a lover from a different life. The girl wasn’t in the mood to figure it out, so she went to a different till. “Wine, please. White. Chardonnay if you have it.” She paid and the clerk handed her a paper receipt with the bottle. They didn’t exchange other words, because they couldn’t.
The bus was long. She didn’t see any trees, though could smell burning in the air. The girl had decided to attend this event out of politeness and a change of personal scenery. Her ex-boyfriend had graduated from college that morning. It was her first time seeing his house, or meeting most of his friends. If his parents were there, it would be her first time meeting them too. She didn’t want to drink on the bus, because she was not that kind of person. However, she was the kind of person to drink when she was nervous. She had a book for him, a gift. She wrote a note on the inside cover, but the bus's movement spoiled her type-face handwriting. Some faceless girls were drinking behind her. They were loud, in that wordless way that people without faces had to fall back on.
He let her in through his front gate. They had not seen each other recently, as she had been working a lot. She handed him a book. She had thought about how to do this before she got here, what the right balance of sentiment was. She decided to do it casually. He did not look at the cover but thanked her. “Congratulations on graduating,” she said.
His friends seemed kind and funny, and some of them had faces. They laughed at her jokes and nodded when she said interesting things. She wondered how much they knew about her. Instead of reaching a conclusion, she made the decision to start drinking her bottle of wine as if it was a bottle of water. One or two of them grew faces as the wine displaced.
She accidentally revealed that she was a poet and one of his friends accidentally revealed that they knew that already. “I don’t think war crimes is an accurate term” she said, a little bit hurt both that he had shown his friends her poetry and that they had opinions on it. She stood up to go to the bathroom and got sick in the toilet. She could feel the friends watch her stumble back to the living room, even the ones who did not have eyes.
She was fine. She drank prosecco now, passed to her by hands she did not recognise. He said something that appeared to seem meaningful, but she didn’t know what it was. There were songs on his playlist which she had shown him during what they retrospectively referred to as their relationship. This too, was imbued with a meaning she could not discern. Once, she had pulled away from a kiss to point out that a song playing in the pub was a beautiful, brilliant work. He had disagreed at the time, but it was on this playlist. This made her uncomfortable.
She wasn’t sure how they had ended up sitting beside each other. Her hands were stuck to the armrest between them. She became afraid he would think that she wanted to hold hands, which she did not. If he was to touch her, she was sure she would die. She thought it would be rude to die in his house, in front of all his friends, at his graduation party.
Her hands were released from their armrest-prison as her body realised that it needed to vomit again. Onto her hands and into her lap. Her ex-boyfriend touched her back and she did not die, but felt something close to a death. They all looked at her, she assumed. She was brought to a bedroom she decided was his. She had not seen his room before and could not see it now. She was in sleep then, lulled by the smell like nausea and burning. The trees must have just started.
She woke up in the vomit-dress. She had a meeting in a few hours. She texted the people who would be at the meeting, “woke up somewhere unexpected, won’t make it today. sorry,” which was a true excuse but not a real reason. It would have perhaps been too dramatic to say, “I am experiencing a great amount of turmoil. Go on without me.”
She found her phone on the floor and checked the app which would tell her about the bus. It said, “WANDER AROUND FOR A BIT AND YOU WILL FIND YOUR WAY HOME”.
The girl put on a jumper which was also stained with dry vomit and went down to the kitchen where she had briefly wept the night before. A person she deduced was a parent of her ex-boyfriend made a noise that sounded like a greeting, and she nodded back, not wanting to verbally remind them that they did not have a face. Her ex-boyfriend appeared. “I don’t think war crimes is an accurate term,” she said. He hadn’t slept. He had stayed up all night talking about things she would not have understood as someone who was yet to graduate. “There is vomit on every piece of clothing I am wearing,” she said.
He offered to show her out. Everything outside was burning, not just the trees, but the sky too, the bushes and the houses, the puddles of water on the ground. She stepped into the silver bunker suit and said goodbye. “I’m glad I don’t know any of your friends,” she said. He assured her that she had been making a good impression before the projectile vomiting. She told him to look at the burning sky, which was beautiful, but he needed to sleep and did not have a suit. His face began to come into focus, as if for all this time, he hadn’t had one. And now he did. “It’s okay,” she said to her friend, “I’ll take a picture for you.”
Sophie Furlong Tighe is a writer from Dublin. They are currently the editor of Icarus magazine. They have work published or forthcoming in Sonder, Abridged, ROPES, Yes Poetry, and elsewhere. Their first zine, LIGHTWEIGHT, was self-published in September.