Samantha Calthrop


Nobody took me to the debs. It was my mother’s great shame. She was certain I would die an old spinster, that if I could just get one single boy interested in me for this one night it would finally prove that I had a future. “Nobody asked me,” I told her. It wasn’t true. Sammy Philip had asked me, “Even though you’re a paki,” he said, “I don’t mind, like.” I minded. So I went to the debs alone.

I met her at half twelve, just before the band stopped and the DJ started. She was the only one in the smoking area. It was a little canopy set up in the car park, dotted with abandoned pint-glasses and cigarette butts; I carried my Orchard Thieves to one of the uncomfortable wooden benches and sat, drunk but not cheerful, and stared at the sky. The white marquee walls had a see-through film square that served as a window, and through it, I stared at a slightly warped version of the full moon.

She had an unlit cigarette and a lighter that wouldn’t start. Even in the murky smoking-area light, I could see her hair was beautiful. She looked like a model, or a painting in the Louvre. When she looked at me, the light caught in the strands of that beautiful golden hair and I thought: oh fucking shit.

“Do you’ve a lighter?” she said to me, and I fussed around my handbag until I found one. She raised her eyebrows in thanks, but said nothing.

She lit her cigarette, took a drag, and exhaled a long, slow cloud of earthy-smelling smoke. Then, still in silence, she held the cigarette out to me.

I said, “I’m okay.”

“Go on. You wanna try this, like.”

Did I? Yes, I did, if she said so. I would’ve tried bungee jumping if she’d suggested it. I would’ve tried grand theft auto.

I breathed in the way my brother had taught me; pull into the mouth, then slowly into the lungs. The sting of tobacco and cannabis mingled with something else entirely, something sharp and sweet and strange. I wasn’t careful enough not to start coughing, and she started to laugh.

“Mind yourself,” she said.

She had the face of what Baba would call an Irish Colleen; high cheekbones and sharp eyes. I passed her back the spliff, and I watched her take another drag, closing her eyes as she exhaled. She had no eyeliner, no eyeshadow, that I could see. Her skin was unblemished, lightly freckled; her eyelashes were pale like her hair, and they looked as though they had developed dewdrops. Perhaps she was albino, and had just dyed the gold into her hair. It would explain something about her; she looked odd, in some way I couldn’t put my finger on.

“I’m Niamh,” she said, and when she smiled, her eyes crinkled like a cat’s.

“I’m Roisín.”

She next to me on the bench. She had a glass of lager and a little paper wristband to say she was over eighteen. 

“What school are you from?” I asked her.

She offered me the spliff again.

“I came down from Kerry,” she said, “Where my ex lived. Loch Leane.”

“Who did you come with?”

She hummed. “Not my ex,” she said wistfully, “He was supposed to take me dancing in Cork, but he never did.”

“Oh. Uh. Sorry.”

Now I understood. I had been in enough women’s bathrooms to recognise a drunk straight girl trying to get over her ex when I saw one. I could respect that. Niamh seemed nice, and more importantly, she was so heart-stoppingly beautiful I don’t think I could have refused her anything. She could’ve asked to chop my head off with an axe and I’d have responded maybe. 

“I like your dress,” she said.

I liked it too. It was wine red, custom-made from the place on French Church Street. But I said, “I like yours more,” and meant it. It looked like simple green, but up close I could see the details of the fabric; it was soft and vibrant, as though made of velvet, or real silk, or some other material I had never been rich enough to see pure.

She snorted. “If I could,” she said, “I’d go to Penney’s right now and just buy a load of shite. €10 skinny jeans and a hoodie. My heels are fucking killing me.”

I said, stupidly, “Do you want my shoes?”

I expected her to laugh, but she didn’t. She seemed deadly serious. “I can’t,” she said, “I can’t be going barefoot here.”

Underfoot was car park rough. I didn’t blame her. “They’re nice heels,” I said.

“They are, aren’t they? I hate flats. I hate feeling short.” She extended out her feet to show me the heels; sleek and golden. “I love towering over fellas, making them squirm.”

Did she know she was towering over me, making me squirm? She was six feet in heels, and I was five feet without.

“What happened with your ex?” I said.

She twisted up her lips. I immediately regretted saying it. Great fucking job, Roisín! That’s what every cute girl at the debs wants to talk about: her ex. Unprompted. While talking about shoes.

“D’you know boundaries?” she said.



“Just the entire concept of boundaries?”

She sat up, suddenly passionate. “When you tell someone not to do something,” she said, “Even if it’s something that normally okay, but it’s not okay for you. And then they do it anyway?”

“Yeah,” I said. “I get you.”

“He was like that.” 

“He didn’t understand boundaries?”

“He did! He was nice. He wasn’t pushy, he was just…” She sighed. “He didn’t understand… context.”

“Sounds complicated.”

“It was,” she said. “Have you ever loved someone who was really nice, really good, but just… so different they could never understand you?”

“He was strange?” I asked.

“He was normal. Too normal. To him, I was the strangest person in the fucking universe.” She frowned. “But that was what I liked about him, too.”

“What did he like about you?” I said, stupidly.

“Not enough things,” she said, and took a vengeful gulp of her lager. “Not enough fucking things. He liked that I was hot and that I liked him. All those years, and sometimes I felt like he never knew me. Never knew us. Like he was just going along with things, never thinking about them.”

“Irish lad who only cared about GAA?” I prompted. She laughed.

“God!” she said, “Yes. Exactly. Lads never change.”

We stared at the moon together, through the warped plastic film of the smoking marquee. It was very quiet.

She said, “But I think it was my fault,” and for the first time, she sounded extraordinarily drunk.

“Did you tell him what you needed?” I asked her.

“Well. Yeah.”

“And did you ask him what he needed?”

“I did.”

“Then there’s not really much else to it, is there?”

“Isn’t there?” she said.

“My dad says that a relationship is just one long conversation,” I said, “One that never ends.”

“One long conversation,” repeated Niamh. “Yeah. We had a lot of moments. Good moments. But I don’t think we ever had one good, long conversation about something. He was just…”


“Yes,” she said decisively, “Too simple. What are your parents like?”

I told her. Mam had been an air hostess before Aer Lingus had done a round of 2007 layoffs; Baba was air traffic control in Bangalore. Nana and Granddad had been suspicious, but came around when Baba pulled out his charming white smile and a bottle of Talisker whiskey. They’d gotten married when Mam was twenty-four, and consequently, Mam was certain I would be alone forever if I wasn’t hitched before the end of college.

“Are they happy?” she said.

“I think so. They’re always going on dates and stuff. They said the reason I’m an only child was so they could still save money for dates.”

She said, “What’s it like, growing up with two different parents like that?”

“It’s normal to me,” I said, “I don’t know what it’s like to have two parents who came from the same place.”

She shook her head. “It makes the world feel tiny,” she said. “Have you been to India?”

“Only three times. It’s too expensive.”

She sighed. “I’d love to go,” she said. “I – “

A chill passed over my skin, like a cloud had covered the sun. Where the moon and stars had been visible through the plastic film was now plain black.

“Look at me,” said Niamh.


“Look at me,” she repeated, and I did. 

I looked into her eyes, the Irish shade of grey that seems like every colour at once. Green, blue, brown. In the grey I saw something reflected there, a strange warped shape that was not, I was sure, my reflection. 

“Do you like Ireland?” said Niamh, and – although there was nothing wrong with the question – it filled me with a strange kind of terror.

“I’d like to see the world,” I said.

“If you left,” she said, “Would you come back someday?”

“…Yeah. I think so.”

She held my gaze for a long moment, her beautiful eyes sharp and intelligent. She looked older than me, and much wiser. She took my breath away, and the intensity of her gaze made me want to die. It was –

– indescribable.

The shadow over the moon passed by again. I got the sense of something large, and looming, and nothing like a cloud; then it faded again, leaving just the night sky.

“I have to go,” said Niamh, “My ride is here. Thanks for the light.” Then, before my heart broke: “D’you wanna walk out with me?”

She tottered in her heels. We slipped through the music and dancers; I barely heard a thing, although I’m sure the music must have been loud. I’d finished my drink; I couldn’t remember how many puffs I’d taken of the spliff, but it had been enough. The world was her. The world was green dress, gold hair, catlike smile.

There was a white car there waiting for her, windows tinted.

“Thank you for talking to me,” she said. “I needed that.”

“No bother.”

The thought occurred to me to ask for her number. But her dress had no pockets, she carried no bag, and she had simply known when to leave without checking. She didn’t have a phone.

“It was nice meeting you, Roisín,” she said, and I, stupid and drunk in the hotel lobby, said, “Can I kiss you?”

She laughed. Her laugh was perfect.

“Live well, Roisín,” she said, and she sounded about a thousand years old. Then she leaned forward, and kissed me on the lips.

If I had thought Niamh was real – if I had any doubts about her at that point – that kiss would have dissolved them. That kiss was a dream. Sometimes, when I’m falling asleep, I still feel myself floating on the high of that kiss. 

“Thank you,” I said, knowing I would not see her again.

Samantha Calthrop is a Filipino-English writer from Cork, Ireland. This is her debut fiction publication.