Fortnightly Fiction | 7 Minutes

7 minutes. You can have your first sexual experience in 7 minutes – 7 minutes in heaven – that’s what they tell you. Does every cigarette take away 7 minutes of your life? Can a headless cockroach really survive for up to 7 minutes after decapitation? I’d never been interested enough to find out.

When you die, they say it takes 7 minutes for your brain to completely shut down and your whole life flashes before your eyes. And then – Poof. You’re gone.

I saw rainbows. The look of wind as it blistered around trees and whipped them to the point where they seemed as though they’d snap on a cold January day. Chocolate ice-cream laced with raspberry sauce in the summer. I was going to miss that. I was going to miss dogs – goofy and loyal – the way cats walked pompously on garden walls that did not belong to their owners. That incessant, unnerving squawk of seagulls at young couples dining romantically at the seaside sharing 4.99 portions of fish and chips.

Sand. My first real memory that I’ve never found difficult deciphering is a trip to the beach when I was five. The feeling of hot, uneven sand in between my toes was not likely to be forgotten. It was new, a first in a world where firsts were becoming less exciting and further apart. The beach was packed, full of mothers who were refusing to help their husbands with the children, resigning instead to large towels with thick books about relationships and sex lives steamier than their own. Some were simply enjoying the suns temperate rays. Never above 20 degrees mind you. This was Ireland after all. I face dived into the warm bitty earth every chance I got; I was unaccustomed to it. The sea water rose up with ferocious intent and then collapsed in a ripple of white froth, gently tickling my feet with imperturbable splashing. It was cold – freezing even. “You think that’s bad?” my mother laughed – she was still pretty then. “Try the Pacific. Much colder.” She was gazing at my father lovingly – with nostalgia? Did she still love him then? “Don’t go out too far!”

7 Minutes Katy Thornton

Memories blurred and shifted before me, nonsensically and dishevelled. Cartoons on a Saturday morning rang in my ears, accompanied by the sight and distinct taste of soggy, forgotten coco-pops and Vitamin C tablets deceptively shaped like little teddy bears. Spongebob’s laugh – Calpol – Rain; always rain. Waterslides – golf courses –  Tesco shopping centre – ballet. Finding that precious lace ballerina tutu that I’d begged and begged for shoved carelessly into the bin after I had failed irrevocably to master the art of the toe-touch, having just about as much flexibility as a ruler.

Granny’s funeral; a foreign affair. Another first; not a particularly exciting one. Being forced into itchy dark purple tights and a velvet midnight-blue dress; the closest outfit I had to black. Gloomy faces – uncomfortable handshakes – cheek kisses – compulsory embraces. Intrusive coffee breath and prickly chins. “Lovely day for it.” Vase upon vase adorning the church with heavily perfumed genetically modified lilies; Gran’s favourite. Choking on the overpowering scent of incense the priest shook liberally toward the end of the service. Frightening waxy sculptures of Christ hanging limply from the cross. Adults swapping awkward glances around the room wondering when the alcohol was coming out and if they’d spent sufficient time in front of the coffin to look like they’d paid their respects. The sound of my father shouting at my mother, saying I wasn’t dressed appropriately, her shouting back, venomously that there was nothing to be done about it. That everything wasn’t her fault. Knowing exchanges of looks between my aunts and uncles. They knew something I didn’t.

Court – social workers – finger puppets of ‘mummy’ and ‘daddy.’ Being told I could choose whomever I preferred to live with. “Everything is going to be okay.” Echoes. Repeated until the words twisted my insides with sharp contempt. Constant streams of tears – angry – upset – defeated. None from my eyes though. The sound of a gavel knocking. More shouting.

New clothes – new teddy bears – new Bratz dolls. Suitcases – weeks away – two Christmases – two birthdays. One pet fish – one pet hamster. Goldy and Alfredo was it? Or Flipper and Albie? Were they that cousin Rupert’s pets perhaps instead? Oddly enough, it was the hamster that bit the dust first; shortly followed by the fish. I never got another one, and I fail to remember what they look like now.

Trips to the park – watching kids with their parents play with bubbles that float and float to beyond where we can go.

Sparkly pink nail polish, sloppily painted onto my left hand and even worse on my right. Pink that soon turned into dark purple – black to French Tips. That first bra, uncomfortable and as desirable as a mosquito on your skin in a blisteringly hot country. Bras that soon became bigger, lacier, plunging, tightened to their maximum and exposing small rolls of fat around the arms and back that signalled the deceleration of a previously fast metabolism.

Hair colours – hair layers – hair extensions. Why had I cut in that fringe? Why had I shaved off that eyebrow? Heels that cut my ankles but made me feel advanced and beyond my years; this was precisely the way of thinking and acting that portrayed quite the antithesis of my hopes.

The discarding of old baggy swimsuits, swapped for two piece bikinis. Filling up water balloons and throwing them at unsuspecting by-passers. Learning the concept of “step-dad.” Luxurious trips to Greece, Paris, Thailand with my mother and… him. Sipping alcohol laced drinks to make her feel younger, although ageing had not been kind to her. Those smile lines that had once inspired such enthusiasm now dismayed me. Crow’s feet took their place, deeply engraved and clotted with camouflaging creams.

“Don’t wade in too far!” she’d shout absently after me, being groped inappropriately by my new daddy with a complete disregard for my feelings on the matter. “Is she happy Lil, with that guy?” “Nah, it’s just a phase.” I’d cannonball into the deepest end of the pool in an act of defiance, nearly toppling over a cougar’s lilo. I doubted she even noticed. It was just the chlorine burning my eyes.

Dad, sitting softly and round in his armchair, surrounded by plastic containers of TV dinners and mountainous newspapers. Watching soap operas together that portrayed the kind of exciting life that he once had – had once lost. The bright memories of everything forsaken captured vainly by photographs that did them no justice. Mum’s grinning face turned grotesque and mocking the more the photo yellowed at the edges and curled as if trying to crumble itself. Time went so slowly until it came to its end. A phone call. Beep – beep – beep. Time to go. I actually wore something black this time.

Days turned to months. Months turned to years. Years brought new difficulties – Junior Certificate – oh those mean nothing – your Leaving Certificate is what matters. As in Art projects, Cs in English, Fs in Maths. That first cigarette, so dreadfully wonderful. That first illicit bottle of Tesco vodka, sliding down my throat like it wanted to set light to my insides. That first kiss, sloppy in a game of spin the bottle, which then turned into a grope in the hostess’s bedroom. Rumours flying – parties galore – cigarettes yellowing my teeth and clinging to every fibre of clothing. “What’s wrong with you?” “Don’t lie to me, your uniform stinks of it!” “Where did you get it?” “You’re grounded.” I bet mumsy felt real good about herself after that. “Wonderful parenting job, what she needs is some discipline.”

Experimenting, watching how baking soda and vinegar react. Going for that subtle glow with a bottle of leaky tinted moisturiser. Sticking fingers down my throat – just to try it – just to see. Waiting for the euphoric relief after putting a blade pried from a sharpener to the wrist for the first time; only feeling the distinct throbbing of failure. Covering the mediocre wound with a Winnie the Pooh plaster in shame.  

Waking up in unfamiliar places, discovering the enchanted antidote of caffeine – sunsets – train destinations. The loss of virginity; that old lie. It’ll only hurt for a moment. Telling my girlfriends that it had been epic, music playing, a gentle experience that enticed me for more. Burying the reality – behind a bin at a club in town. Angels didn’t exactly start singing. Nothing spells romance like the smell of dead fish and an old can of Druids washing the streets while you’re being humped for approximately 30 seconds against a stone wall. Being thrown my suitor’s jacket to cover up the blood that began trickling down my leg. “Ugh, did you just start your period?”

Car crashes. Ambulances. The ceaseless ‘ne-naw ne-naw’ escorted by flashing blue lights. Urgency to get a look, even for a second. The sobering sight of a vehicle crushed irretrievably. The moment you think it cannot get worse, but then comes the fire brigade, barrelling down the road. Rolls upon rolls of yellow tape, a force-field to warn away wandering eyes. But wander they did. The motorway slowing to watch; engrossed in disgusting fascination. Each driver and its passengers feel that selfish delicious sensation of relief. At least it wasn’t me.

Exams – boyfriends – the taste of a Domino’s pizza to cure the hangover. Odd socks – not caring they were odd. Facebook – Twitter – Tumblr – Tinder. Revenge porn, a serious hit and almost rite of passage when entering college. Parties with those big balloons spelling 21, the realisation that I could now drive, and better yet, drive legally, and that I was soon due to have a party of my own, with those big balloons spelling 21.

7 Minutes Katy Thornton

People dying. Relatives – Colleagues – Friends overdosing on MDMA. The peculiarity of this suddenly becoming an expectation. The older you got, the less time you got to grieve. Death walked alongside each of us, claiming each person at will. No warning. No goodbyes. Three week grace period and then back to work. No moping. The alcohol on your breath at eleven in the morning swiftly stopped being excused.

Interviews – glasses of water – suede couches – the little fake rooms in Ikea. Ice skates – yoghurt. Jobs in the hairdressers – vets – offices. Photographs; not of people I had known for very long. Burnt bridges.

Moving out.

“Don’t go too far sweetie,” my mother had crowed lamely, who was trying to regain the last of her beauty with ointments that smelt like rubber and oils strong enough to disturb her new baby. My half-sibling; that’s what you would call it right? Honestly, was its name Millie or Billie? “We’ll miss you around here.”

That was something I was not likely to miss. Lies. No, you don’t look like a beached whale in that dress. Of course that hickey could be mistaken for a curler burn. No baby, honestly, that’s my sister’s bra, I don’t know how that even got in here. Why did we have to? Yes, Mummy and Daddy still love you very much, nothing is going to change. Everything is going to be okay.

Yachts – Gliding on water with ease. Saline water spraying wildly around us like some grand performance.

Rolling around heavily and aimlessly in-between satin sheets, with more clumsiness than you see in the movies. His smile, crooked at one side. Near equal moments of bursting lust and dangerous hate. Mixed smells of sweat and woody aftershaves. Astonishing blue eyes – dark hair – strong arms – that laugh. The first date that turned into a second and a third and into a number that I couldn’t even begin to count. The moments that floored me to cold bathroom tiles for days, and the ones that elevated me beyond reasonable elation. The ring – the promise. The feeling that everything was good.

Until it wasn’t.

“Don’t go out too far!”

Lungs fill with ease like water balloons. Breathing becomes bubbles upon bubbles that taunt as they rise to the surface when I cannot.

Thrashing. Desperation. Fighting. Emptiness. Stillness.

A few frightened existential questions of “what was it all for” “what did it all mean.” “Where am I going?” “Who even was I?”

And then…. Books – The smell of a good, old library book – apples – slides – swings – fish – butter – maps in geography class – cigarettes – laughter – photographs –diamonds – the smell of fresh coffee in the morning – orange juice – eggs – pancakes – Tuesdays – pyjamas – butterflies – fresh linen – hotel bathrooms – kissing – caressing – holding – Charles – flowers – lilies – funerals – fake tan – real tan – sunbed tan –wrinkles – my mother – my poor, poor father – that first unflattering bra – blue eyes – sunbeds – daffodils – UTIs – Bikinis – uneven socks – high heels – music – rings – dead birds – water – rain – cinemas – popcorn – the taste of Coca-Cola – rainbows – Shania Twain’s, ‘Man I feel like a Woman.’ Spiders – scorpions – worms – sea shells on the seashore – candles – fire – cushions –

“Don’t go out too far!”

“What now?”

7 minutes.

And then… Poof.

You’re gone.

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