This story, "Apples and Angels," is set in Dublin, Ireland, where I lived long ago. I see now some anachronistic issues, or at least one, having to do with currency (but imagine that the story takes place, as it is meant to, in the early 1990s, and understand that I couldn't say "pounds" without that seeming confusing to readers now, and picture this story taking place pre-cell phone, etc.).
Because I just do not have the time to actually type up eleven pages (I could find an old version, sure, somewhere on my desktop, but the marketer in me says, "Tease the people. No free milk in this day and age!" and also, my daughter is making it very difficult for me to think and type), here is the first part of my newly published short story.
If you care to read more, "Apples and Angels" by Elizabeth Collins appears in The Massachusetts Review (MR50; Fiftieth Anniversary Edition; spring/summer 2009).
This fine, charmingly designed literary journal may or may not be available for sale at your local bookstore. I hope that your community--whoever you are, and where ever you may live--has a bookstore that is not just a big box chain, but more independent, intellectual and wholesome. I hope that for your sake, you live in a college town. Those are the best places, in my opinion. If this the case, you may be able to find my entire story.
If you visit The Massachusetts Review web site, you will see my story listed, but there is no hyperlink. Perhaps, if you are so inclined, you could e-mail to request one from the editors.
Anyway, here goes:
"Apples and Angels" by Elizabeth Collins
They have become almost mythic creatures to him. The girls seem untouchable. They float like naughty seraphim in the air around him, clutching luscious balls of fruit. They exist in a parallel universe, one to which he cannot gain entry or feels unworthy enough to try.
Alone in his bed sitter--one small room carpeted in sticky gray shag, a bed with a thin, dark blue coverlet jammed against the wall, a stovetop and mini-fridge on the side and a lonely commode behind a door--Joe sits on his only chair, smoking.
He can hear the girls laughing as they tromp through the house. He cannot see them, as he does not dare to peek out at them lest they think him an old pervert (he prefers to remain quiet, unseen, an innocent mystery), but he can always hear them.
And even through the door, he can smell their perfume, their shampoo. They smell like lemons and sugar, he thinks. Like the Clementines at Christmas. Joe inhales sharply.
Young girls are everywhere around him, so close--and yet so far away, Joe thinks. They are running up and down the stairs in front of his own room. Down to their own rooms. Up to the kitchen. Up even higher to their toilet.
American girls, no less. Slim and hale and strong-voiced, nicely dressed, prone to lavish entertaining. There is a constant stream of visitors now--young men, mostly--to the rowhouse where he rents his room. None of the visitors are for him, just the girls, so Joe stops being startled by the doorbell after a while. He stops straining to listen to the faint moans and giggles that emanate from their rooms in the middle of the night.
Why do I live like this? he wonders, suddenly. Why do I subject myself to this temptation and longing? Then he shrugs off the rare, self-pitying moment and takes a step over to the cooker, to make himself a fry-up.
He flicks on his television, to the channel he always watches; the endless yet mellifluous cycle of the RTE news with its heavily made-up anchors, mostly female, of mixed and indeterminate ancestry (so as to appeal to the largest possible number of viewers, Joe supposes). They repeat the same stories, live, until something else happens. Joe finds this oddly comforting. It whiles away the evening.
Reflexively, he reaches for his packet of tobacco to roll up some cigarettes, but it feels wrong, too light. He opens the empty bag and pointlessly peers inside. Ah, hopeless. Of course. Just sitting there, thinking, as the news cycled on almost endlessly, Joe hadn't even realized how much he'd gone through.
He crumples the empty bag with his hand, irritated. He doesn't feel like heading down to the corner shop for more, even though he wants more, not when the girls are out in full force, getting ready, he guesses, for a night in the city.
No, he'll wait until he hears the final bang of the front door. Then he'll silently glide down the carpeted steps, and down to the shop. He'll slip back inside, just as quietly. No one will see him, hear him, miss him. That is the way Joe likes it.
He is out of the house at four a.m., down to the market by the quay to deal in fruit. He is a fruit wholesaler, not some gypsy with rickety cart. Not many know that about him. Not many know what he does. Joe thinks that this mystery might make him slightly more fascinating--or it would, if anyone cared. The just know that he is gone--or back, behind the closed door of his room, cooking a fry-up and watching the news. The murmur of the television, the thick, greasy smoke from his frying sausages, those are the only indications of his life, at least to the girls in this house...