A swan doesn't need to tuck in its scars to be graceful, neither do I. My given name is Alycia. I can't look at oranges without feeling thirsty. I use the phrase sunny side up unironically even though I'm allergic to eggs. I've never liked the notion of living for the weekend. My favourite word is ‘clavicle', I like how your tongue must click clack as you say it. I've always thought the sea is stroppy-choppy not because of the moon but because it can't create more havoc. It saddens me to see the jollity of youth hibernate more and more as we age.
Like the glitter that's expectorated by a party popper, my name had overstayed its welcome. I hated the soft plink it made when I stretched out a hand and introduced myself. So bleurgh! I hated the ‘you live and you learn' vibes that clung to it. Gross and double bleurgh!
I'm old. Sometimes I dream in monochrome. It's so simple, everything leaches of its colour and complexity. One dream changed my life. Don't get me wrong, I was still the same person but when I awoke the training wheels of permission had been torn off.
I did my research. I knew that it was just a label but I wanted a pretty as well as functional one. I wanted a name I had chosen, not a name that someone else had liked enough to give me.
The first time I reinvented myself was at a conference. A middle-aged man with a penchant for chatter arrived late and pulled up a chair beside me. He didn't ask to share my desk. I didn't ask for his audio scrapbooking of his life but there we were. Two people. Two names. John and Alycia.
There was a break for refreshments. He topped up his reserves with milky coffee and cinnamon swirls. I said I didn't want anything but he brought me back a soft drink. That's when the moment presented itself.
"I'm sorry. I didn't catch your name, dear."
I hadn't been caught. That's right. I hadn't been caught.
"I'm Sharon. Nice to meet you!"
He didn't know. He won't know that nothing compares to the feeling of being seen without enabling his looking. He doesn't need to know that some joys don't ever fade. He may never know that bouts of wonder are best if unchronicled and lived through for their splendour. He wasn't owed the rush hour moments of a life for conversation fodder. He wasn't entitled to a morsel from my table.
Throughout the day, he shared more and more of himself. He has six grandkids, once owned a Beetle and forgave his second wife one too many times. I gave him more Sharon. I found my voice within the role. I decided to be kind and fed him the tributaries of what her life could have been. He saved my favourite anecdote for the mid-afternoon slump; he once scratched the underbelly of a Taiwanese tiger. His tone was honeyed, my laugh tinkled.
When the day's events ended, we stepped out into rain. He offered me his hand and thanked me for my company. I hoped the mist would refresh my wilted parts as it does cut flowers.
I hear you scoffing but know before you judge me that I've seen you insert your pods when he tries to fish you away from your shoal. I've heard your voice quiver when you tell him ‘So sorry, but this seat is being reserved for a friend'. You saw that look in his eyes as you denied him the paltriest of social alms. I've seen your shoulders concave with each passing stop as the bus journeys on without your phantom. Let me be clear, you don't fool me!
Alycia told you this. We're not that different, you and I.
Wait! Are we soulmates? Shush! Don't tell on me, insert name here.
Catherine O'Brien is an Irish writer of poems, flash fiction and short stories. She writes bi-lingually in English and Irish. She holds a Ph.D. in English Literature. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Eunoia Review, Mystery Tribune, Comhar, Flyover Country Magazine, Ellipsis Zine, Splonk, Flash Boulevard, Tether's End Magazine, Indelible Literary Journal, Tír na nÓg, Selcouth Station Press
& more. You can find her on Twitter