There But For: A Triptych by Nuala O’Connor

I rub in the hand cream, slide it over giraffey age spots, sniff the petal scent. Marcus watches this ritual with unbridled irritation. Before he would have wanted the cream slick on my palm, the better to slide him to ecstasy, to mix his bleachy spurt with the floral smell

‘Why do that?’ he says.

‘Why not?’ I answer.

‘Oh Joanna,’ he says, and I hear the pinch and blow of every sorry thing we’ve become.

‘Go fuck yourself, Marcus.’

Does everyone end up here, gluey and blinkered and sodden with self pity? Or are happy souls a real species?


Sad to report I’ve always been horrible. Uneasy. Shifty. Easily swayed. As a child, I laughed at my friend Regina Skerritt, who was tormented about her name, and whom I commiserated with.

‘Don’t mind those bitches,’ I said.

But, with them, I named her Vagina Skirtoff. Oh, the shame.

‘She sunbathes under a sieve,’ I said. ‘Her curly hair is horrible.’ (I envied her both freckles and ringlets, naturally.)

Why are kids so miserly with friendship? So two-faced? So sad? But then, happiness has always felt like hysteria to me. Is it meant to feel that way, manic and scary?


My life is an out of body experience, I don’t know who I am or why. Part of me yearns to be young again, but only if I can do it better. To be young and appreciate everything, to learn that and hold it to my heart like a talisman.

I need to give more love. To my children. To my Marcus. My life needs to be thicker, root and branch. I hear the twitch and snap of other couples and I revolt. People shouldn’t be so unhappy. I resolve to do better. To be better.

I will rise up.

Nuala O’Connor lives in Co. Galway, Ireland. In 2019 she won the James Joyce Quarterly competition to write the missing story from Dubliners, ‘Ulysses’. Her fourth novel, Becoming Belle, was published to critical acclaim in 2018 in the US and Ireland and will be published in the UK in June 2019. She is currently writing a bio-fictional novel about Nora Barnacle, wife and muse to James Joyce. Nuala is editor at new flash e-zine Splonk.

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