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SONG OF SONGS - Philip Ó Ceallaigh


ILLUSTRATION BY CIARAN MCFADDEN

She was getting off a bus with about twenty others when he saw her. If you don’t fuck this one, thought Joey, you can toss yourself off the balcony. Though Joey did not like big asses specifically, there was something special in the vast twin rotundities atop short solid legs, like upside down triangles, down to the points of her heels tap-tapping the asphalt as she negotiated her way through the profane human mess. She wore loose semi-transparent cotton trousers – well, maybe cotton, he didn’t really know – and her thong panties made a tiny triangle of fabric over her tailbone. He was looking at a big naked ass, basically.


Motion was the holy spirit that gave the language of the ass, the ass-song, its poetry, and hers was the soul of sex in motion, rolling and flowing to the mad music of the heavens. Joey mouthed the words:


Love is as powerful as death; Passion is as strong as death itself. It bursts into flame


And burns like a raging fire. Water can not put it out;


No flood can drown it.


It was a hot day. He felt that if he rose forward on his toes and held his breath it would happen, that he would float above the people and the traffic.


Everybody was getting out of work, determined to get back to the buildings where they ate and slept. People struggled with each other to board buses, and made it very hard for the people getting off. The people on the footpath hurried to connect with other buses, with trams, and walked into those going the opposite direction. Joey pushed his way through the human obstacles and followed her.


At the intersection she did not join the throng waiting to cross the road. She turned left. There were less people now and he followed at a discreet distance. Her generous haunches set off a slim waist, delicate back and narrow shoulders.


Some women had the shape, but did not have the motion. This one, walking ahead of him, had that very pure lateral gyration, the sideways switch of the hips on the horizontal plane, inflected only slightly by the nodding vertical motion by each buttock. Women, Joey figured, didn’t just bleed to the moon and wake to the sun: the movement of their backsides, like all heavenly bodies, could be described on a series of planes. The annual journey of the earth around the sun could be described on a horizontal plane, relative to which the daily rotation of the globe occurred on a vertical axis. These two axes intersected at the earth’s centre. On the axis of the horizontal and lateral movements of the female backside, Joey also posited a central point. He did not know whether it was in her cunt or up her ass, but this was dead bones anyway, like mathematics, irrelevent to the fact that the world spun, women shook their buttocks and it was all magical and sad.


About a hundred metres after a shack made of aluminium, or some kind of metal, that sold booze, chocolate and cigarettes all night, she turned left towards the entrance of a block, rummaging in her handbag for keys.


Joey grunted and leapt the steps, caught the door with his fingertips just in time. As the ass disappeared round a corner, he slid into the cool shadows of the hallway and pressed his back against the cold wall. He heard her opening the lift door and entering and pulling the clunking door after her.


She ascended in the metal box, and Joey strode forward. He watched the lighted display as she rode past the fourth, fifth, sixth floors. It stopped at the seventh.


He called the lift, and rode to the seventh.


There were four apartments on the floor. He pressed his ears to the door closest to the lift. There was no sound. At the second door a man and a woman were talking. He reckoned a new gearbox. She thought the bathroom should be retiled. Joey moved on. At the third door the television was on. The newscaster said it would be a very hot week. Some people were going to the mountains, but most people were going to the coast. There would be a special report, random citizens giving their accounts of hot weather. Joey moved on to the last door. He heard a toilet flush. That was her. He knew it. He knocked.


“Whozat?” “Joey!”


“Who?”


“Joey! The windows man!”


She opened the door. Her face was nothing special. Round and kind of stupid. No matter. Her hallway was still painted with the cheap grayish mud they sprayed on the walls when the block was first built, thirty-something years before. Linoleum on the floor. Probably she rented, and worked in a government office where there was not much to do.


“Special offer for PVC double-glazing,” said Joey. “Do it in the summer, you’ll be glad in the winter.”


“No thank you.”


“Colossal savings on utilities. Free estimates.” “Not interested.”


“Here, let me give you my card, case you change your mind.”


Joey went through his pockets but there was no card, because he had never had any printed.


“I can come back.” She closed the door.


Joey took the stairs back down, two at a time.


That night he woke from the dream, the moon shining in his window.


I will stay on the hill of myrrh, The hill of incense


Until the morning breezes blow


And the darkness disappears.


He stood up and knew it would happen even before it did. He rose up on his toes and just kept going, gently, like a balloon, and put a hand up and touched the ceiling. He pushed gently against the ceiling and came back to the floor. It was a simple matter of concentration. With practice he would learn to control it, surely, and fly as high as he liked. He could probably launch himself off the balcony and float down to the street, five floors down. But he did not think he should try that trick just yet. It would be the sort of thing that could disappear by a wavering of confidence.


He knocked on the door. He could hear the after-work noise of the televison. He closed his eyes, ignoring the sound as best he could, and breathed, reciting:


I have come down among the almond trees


To see the young plants in the valley, To see the new leaves on the vines


And the blossoms on the pomegranate trees.


I am trembling; you have made me as eager for love


As a chariot driver is for battle.


He felt the lightness and pushed off gently from the floor. The door opened.


“Holy fuck!” said the woman.


He opened his eyes. He was levitating very slightly. He felt it wavering and brought himself back down.


She looked around the hallway. “I come in peace,” said Joey.


“Yeah right. How do you explain THAT?” Joey sighed.


“Do not be afraid. It’s a gift. I don’t understand it yet myself.” “Wait a minute, aren’t you the window man?”


“It’s true, I can do windows, but that’s not why I’m here. Can I come in a minute?”


She looked around, suspicious.


“Listen,” said Joey, “you’re going to have to trust me. Do you believe in angels?”


“Alright then, you’d better come inside.”


He entered the hall and she closed the door. He introduced himself. They shook hands. Her name was Maria.


“Pleased to meet you, Maria.”


In the hallway, the good smell of the meat and onions she had been frying in old grease. On the TV they were moving through the ads.


“So, get to the point,” said Maria.


“I’ve chosen you,” said Joey, “from amongst all women.” She raised her eyebrows and opened her mouth.


“Is this some kinda-?”


“You saw me fly, didn’t you? You think it’s easy to do that?”


“I saw some kinda trick, don’t know what it was. Wasn’t flying exactly. Floating a little bit maybe…”


Hard to impress some of these ladies, thought Joey. “Want me to do it again, huh?”


“Wouldya?”


“If I’m not interrupting your evening’s viewing.”


The television was on very loud, advertising instant soup. They went into the small room where she lived. There was a narrow mattress on the floor.


“Do it again, so,” said Maria.


“Help me out a bit. Can you turn off that racket? Got anything to drink? Some nice music?”


Maria switched off the set and indicated a small cassette player. She went to the kitchen and Joey looked through the casettes. They all showed stocky men wearing tight tops, grinning horribly. Adrian the Wonder-Boy, one was called. Keyboard and drum-machine pop. He turned on the radio and tuned into a classical music programme and got lucky with a Chopin nocturne in B flat minor. The sun was going down and from the window it looked like half the city was on fire. Fine by him if it really was. The fire engines could howl down through the smoky twilight streets and they could all go to hell. Maria returned with a litre of red wine and two water glasses and Joey felt it was going to all work out. He emptied a glass and poured another.


“Okay then, you going to do it or what?”


The piano notes surged upwards, sure of their direction.


“Yes, Maria, I certainly am. I’m going to fly specially for you, but you’ll have to turn round for a moment.”


“Hey! What’s the big idea?”


“Just for a moment, till I’m airborne, then you can look.”


She turned to face the wall and Joey took another good swig. He stared at her miraculous ass. He felt it welling in him. He spoke softly:


You my love, excite men


As a mare excites the stallions of


Pharoah’s chariots


Your hair is beautiful upon your


Cheeks


And falls along your neck like jewels.


He inhaled and pushed off and felt it, more surely this time, and was able to direct his body so that he tilted forwards a little as he gained height, floating in the middle of the room with his arms outspread.


Maria turned her head. Her eyes were popping. “Jesus fucking Christ! Howja do that!”


“Don’t turn around!”


Too late. Joey veered right, into the doorjamb, and crashed to the floor. Maria was beside him, her hands on his face.


“Sweetie! You OK?”


“I’m still getting the hang of it.”


He smiled wanly. Her hands caressed his sore head. “Maybe you shouldn’t drink when you fly, hon.” “Booze helps. Gimme some more.”


He chugged another glass down, the two of them kneeling on the floor. Then he stuck his mouth on hers and reached around with his left hand and grabbed some haunch while working with his tongue. It was a good combination, with his eyes closed. When they took a break they were both breathing hard, and transfigured.


“Tell me how you do it,” she murmured.


“Well, it’s been a while coming, but I’m only learning how to harness my power. Actually it has something to do with you. With the essence of your womanliness.”


“Hey, don’t go poking fun.”


“Really. When I saw you today in the street I knew you were special. But your face distracts me. Maybe I’m still a bit shy, but I need to see you from behind.”


He got her onto the mattress and had his hand under the elastic of her trouser-things. He had almost worked a couple of digits into her snatch but she bucked him out of it.


“Hey, Joey, don’t you think this is moving a bit fast? We haven’t even talked about stuff.”


“The speed feels about right. We’ve got something magic here, can’t you feel it?”


“Yeah, I can feel something. Joey, fly for me one more time, baby.” “Let’s get it on, then I’ll do loop-the-loops for you. I might leap from the balcony even.”


“Listen, let me go freshen up. First you fly. Then we fuck.”


“Sounds good.”


Maria went to the bathroom. Joey sat up on the mattress and drank some more red. He heard the water go on and thought about it flowing all over her.


When she came back she was wearing something see-through that came to just below her pussy, and fresh thong-panties.


She lowered herself onto the mattress and lay on her side. Her hips were a fine rounded mountain range with the bedside light making a Himalayan shadow onto the back wall. Her tits were nothing special.


“Listen Joey. I want you to know this isn’t something I usually do. I usually like to get to know a guy first. To go out to a restaurant and talk about things, like where we grew up and what we expect from life, and to find out if we’re compatible. You know what I mean?”


Yeah, I know exactly, thought Joey.


“Maria, you are the only woman I have even flown for.” “Do it again Joey. Do it for me.”


“OK. Lie on your front. That’s it. Take your panties off.”


He could see it all anyway with the bit of material on but she obliged him. He took off his shoes and socks and trousers and shirt and stood there, lordly, in his shorts. Life would never be the same again for either of them, he was sure. Once he got this flying thing under control, there would be no looking back. Just ignore the face, he told himself. Concentrate on the centre of gravity. Luckily the station was doing a run of Chopin nocturnes and he had one in D flat major that was just perfect.


The winter is over; the rains have stopped; In the countryside the flowers are in bloom This is the time for singing;


The song of doves is heard in the field.


He pushed off gently with his toes, giving a little more with the left for torque. He kept it going until he was right above her and felt his head graze the ceiling, then held it there above her. Gradually he came down until he was trembling above her, not touching, with his face before her ass. He rubbed his face against it and kissed it, reached down and caressed her hips, while his feet were hanging in the sky. This is it, thought Joey. This is how it is supposed to be. He felt up her ass for a good long time, not wanting it to end.


“It’s OK Joey,” she said. “I’m on the pill.” He murmured:


I have entered my garden, My beloved, my bride.


I am gathering my spices and myrrh;


I am eating my honey and honeycomb; I am drinking my wine and milk.


Flying was good, but when he was in her, giving it from behind and getting handfulls, feeling up the sun and the moon – all the stars in the sky sparking up his mind – that was the real thing too.


“OOH! UUH! Joey! Aaa!” “Huh! Huh! Huh!”


“Right there!” “UH! Uh!”


“Now, Joey! Now!”


All the heavenly bodies rushed together and exploded briefly. There was complete darkness and one shooting star fell through the black sky like a drip from the ceiling. It went very quiet for a moment, then the radio said they would be back again at the same time next week. The ads came on. Does your deodorant ever let you down? Joey disengaged and fell off to the side, which was the floor, because the mattress was not big. The blood pounded in his head.


“You’re a special guy, no doubt about it,” said Maria, reaching for her smokes. She offered him one and they lit up.


He sat up properly on the linoleum and looked around. There was a row of paperbacks on a shelf of a unit. He couldn’t read the titles properly but one was definitely by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. On another shelf she had made up an arrangement of empty perfume bottles. It was some kind of shrine. He took a few drags of the cigarette. Maria was talking:


“Nobody ever flew for me before. I’ve met a lot of creepy guys. Most guys think they got a big dick or a car they’re hot shit. Fuck them sons of bitches. You’re the real thing, Joey. Flying, that’s real magic. And you know poetry too. You don’t look like much, but with this flying we’ve got it made. You just need a haircut and some decent clothes. Maybe if you got some exercise too, worked out or something.” Joey began to put on his clothes.


“Got to go,” he said.


“Oh well. Here, gimme a big kiss.” He gave her a big kiss, just to be nice.


“Fly one more time for me, ‘fore you go.” “I’d love to Maria, but I’m pretty whacked.”


“Just float a little. Nothing flashy. Here, I’ll lie on my front the way you like.”


She flopped onto her belly and stuck her ass in the air and wiggled it a little. He sighed.


“Why don’t I leap off the balcony for you?”


“You can use the front door like everyone else. Come on now! Three!


two! One! Lift off!”


He looked at Maria’s big fat ass. It said nothing to him. It was a dead jellyfish on the beach. He concentrated on his breathing but he knew it would not work. He did a lame little jump on the linoleum, but that was all it was.


“Hey, what was that?” He shrugged.


“Seems like I’m just like everyone else again, huh? Well, you can blame me, I can blame you, but that won’t get us out of it. How about I just say thanks for a good time and we leave it at that?”


He heard the glass hit the wall behind him. He was out the front door before she could throw the second one.


Back in the street the light was gone from the sky. He decided to pick up a couple of bottles of beer to drink at home. He was sad about the flying because he did not think it would be back soon. But he did not want to get stuck with Maria, flying or no flying. If he could get airborne for any woman, or get women by getting airborne, that would be a trick. But he knew it would not happen. There had just been something special about Maria, briefly, and that was all.


Somewhere, on a street parallel, a fire engine was screaming its way towards a burning building. The 24-hour sheet-metal shack was coming up. Joey put his hand in his pocket and felt his money.


*


Philip O Ceallaigh is the author of the short story collection, Notes from a Turkish Whorehouse (Penguin, 2006). Widely acclaimed, it won both The Rooney Prize and The Glen Dimplex Fiction Award as well as being shortlisted for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award. A native of Country Waterford, he currently lives in Bucharest.