xxlucyferxx: (ganster lyn-z)
[personal profile] xxlucyferxx
Title: A Bid For Freedom
Rating: PG-13 for allusions to sex, prostitution and all that jazz.
Notes: Creative response to Dubliners by James Joyce.

Summary: Meet Martin Finnegan, an aspiring author who fancies himself as the next James Joyce. Caught between his star-crossed love for Cherie, a local prostitute, and persistent rejection from a society that just doesn't appreciate his genius, Martin dreams of what his life could have been if only he'd taken the chance.

As the sun fell, Benburb Street came alive. Girls tottered along the kerb, shivering in their tiny dresses and stiletto heels. Shifty-eyed men peered out of their car windows, occasionally pulling up to let one of the girls in. Across the street, a group of young men were standing outside the pub jeering and yelling and staggering about.

Martin Finnegan had a rental flat on the top storey of an ancient terrace house opposite the pub. He was a nondescript man, with mousy hair flecked with grey and a weak, wobbly chin with the benefit of only a short, scraggly moustache to divert attention from his shapeless jaw. He liked to blame his father for his inability to grow a proper beard. His father had had only scant facial hair, and had passed it on to his son along with everything else he had to give. The only thing Martin’s father hadn’t given him was his attention.

What he couldn’t attribute to his father, Martin usually blamed on his mother. Born in the days before anyone gave a toss about women’s rights, she had eagerly embraced the feminist movement as an excuse to despise every man she ever came across. She had always wanted a daughter, and deeply resented her son for taking up so much of her time when she ought to have been nurturing a little girl instead.

Martin’s flat was squalid. Empty bottles and pizza boxes littered the floor, and piles of student notebooks and assignment papers were stacked high on his desk. He knew he’d have to get around to marking them soon. His students were cretins, and he hated having to waste so many precious hours of his life reading their horrid drivel. When he’d taken the job as a high school English teacher he’d envisioned himself as a powerful mentor, guiding a group of talented young people to the realisation of their full potential with the loving, patient hand of a noble and committed father. It would be a good way to pay the bills, he had thought, while he waited for his career as a novelist to take off. But like everything else in his life, his teaching position had let him down. Not one of the spotty-faced pupils he taught had the tiniest spark of brilliance tucked away in their sloppy grey minds. He might as well have offered literature classes to a family of chimpanzees. There were days he thought that even that might have been a more rewarding pursuit.

Joyce, he knew, had worked as a teacher for several years of his life. Martin wondered how he could stand it. He was coming around to the idea that geniuses ought to act on their own genius, rather than wasting their time attempting to impart their gifts upon unwilling recipients.

That night, as he leaned out of his window watching the drunken louts and working girls scurry around below, Martin contemplated leaping up on the sill and throwing himself at the ground below. His life, he knew, was utterly without merit or purpose. That morning, his manuscript had been sent back by yet another publisher, likely as not without having even been opened. He was beginning to feel that it was useless even trying to get his novel published. Nobody was interested in literature anymore. Trashy television serials had obliterated the demand for good things to read, and publishers these days were only interested in fast-paced, sordid garbage that they could market to an audience ignorant of beauty and culture. Nobody appreciated his work, and it stung. One day, they would all realise how foolish they had been. But by then, it would probably be too late.

Not even Cherie cared about his novel. Once, when he was feeling especially bold, he’d taken an excerpt with him and read it out to her as she lay stretched out in her lacy red bustier on the cool satin sheets of the brothel bed.

“Marvin could feel the grass crumpling beneath his feet as he strode across the park. Dewdrops like limpid tears shimmered among the blades, refracting the sunlight into a thousand glistening shards. A squirrel darted out from behind a tree, whiskers trembling nervously in the faint current of the cool spring breeze that tickled the air with the wistful nostalgia of a lover who knows that she must soon lose her beloved to the violent horrors of war; Marvin paused tentatively in his quiet journey and regarded the squirrel as it scampered for cover within a nearby garden bed full of dense, wiry bushes and insolent little weeds. His mind was drawn irresistibly to the contemplation of what it might mean to be a squirrel; to live in dilapidated dens amid the boughs of old trees, to spend one’s days sniffing and scurrying and gathering nuts in preparation for the desolate winter months when activity and discovery give way to a leaden lethargy, that makes nothing possible but to fall into a deep sleep and rise again only when spring claws its way out of the icy mire and chafes the land back to live with delicate green fingers. Marvin thought that mankind had a lot to learn from squirrels.”

“Your hour’s almost up, sweetie,” Cherie had said in that dull, dispassionate tone of hers. “You just wanna keep reading, or what?”

After that occasion, he hadn’t read aloud to her again.

Even if she wasn’t very good for discussions about literature, though, Martin felt that he would give anything to have her standing right there at the window with him. He knew that a few houses down, some dirty, sweaty old man was doing unthinkable things to his dear, sweet Cherie. It made him sick to his stomach.

Sometimes, Martin wished he could escape. Dublin was like a quagmire; an endless stretch of marshland populated by missed opportunities and squandered potential. Walking through the park on the way home from work, he watched the other people passing by – slick businessmen in suits, groups of university students with facial piercings and artfully dishevelled hair, glowing mothers pushing plump, healthy babies along in strollers. He envied them. He could never imagine how anyone could lead a fulfilling life in this city. Dublin fed on the energy of its inhabitants – sucked them dry of all their energy and hope and left them withered, lifeless shells. But the suits, the students, the mothers, they were all completely oblivious to their surroundings. They lived inside little glass bubbles of their own making, where dreams came true and fairytales had happy endings.

He wanted to see the world. He wanted to travel to beautiful cities filled with beautiful monuments and galleries; wanted to while away his evenings sipping expensive cocktails in posh bars, surrounded by like-minded intellectuals and high-flying, glamorous people. He wanted to coyly offer pages from his manuscript to people who would understand them, and humbly receive the praise he was due for them. He wanted to discuss Proust, wanted to share his insights on Byron and Yeats with people who knew what he was talking about; he wanted culture. There was no culture in Dublin. Nobody understood or appreciated literature, art, beauty. Joyce had known it. He was smart – he got out while he still could. Martin wasn’t sure he’d ever have the chance.

And quite suddenly, as he ambled along his morose way, inspiration struck. Nearly crying out with joy as the words began to flow into his head, he threw himself down on the nearest bench, scrabbled wildly for paper and pen, and began to write.

Marvin stood by the kettle, watching the spectral tendrils of vapour rising stealthily from the spout, and listening to the hypnotic burble of the water as its temperature climbed slowly higher – a rhythmic sound that penetrated the very marrow of his bones and blended harmoniously with the beating of his heart. It sped up – grew heavier, more aggressive – and then the bubbling was replaced by a soft hiss, like that of a great wicked serpent, and slowly faded to nothing. Marvin grasped the black plastic handle and lifted it smoothly, tilting it just so and allowing a thin stream of water to pour into his blue, floral china teacup. As the stealthy aromas permeated the surrounding air, Marvin heard a faint scraping of wood on tile as Celia rose from her seat by the western window and came up behind him, slowly, like a sultry panther stalking its prey.

“Did you brew me some?” Her voice was husky and melodic, like cold rain falling upon the spires of the chapel where Marvin’s mother used to take him, rain, shine or snow, for the Sunday morning worship. Marvin almost fancied he could hear the chorus of a slow, mournful church hymn echoing in her tone. He turned to face her, holding the cup between them like a liquid beacon of their hopes and desires.

“That is always the question,” he said solemnly, meeting her gaze evenly and with the unflinching insight of one who has seen too far into the internal processes and undercurrents of humanity to be fooled by the wiles and flirtations of the raven-haired siren before him. “What is there for me? What will I be gaining from this transaction? My darling, if only you could step back from yourself and look at the picture as a whole. This is not about tea. This is about you.”

And Celia wept, because she knew it was true.

Martin loved James Joyce. He loved the heavy symbolism, the metaphors, and all the fragments of thought that never seemed to fit together no matter how hard you studied them. He liked to incorporate some symbolism of his own into his writing – a likely explanation, he realised, for why publishers kept turning his book down. People just didn’t understand his depth.

Cherie was sitting on the bed beside him, puffing idly on a cigarette. “I could be with another client right now,” she muttered quietly to herself. “Why book an hour if you only need three bloody minutes?”

“Sorry?” Martin roused himself from his pensive daze and glanced at her anxiously. “Did you say something?”

“Naw,” said Cherie, briefly forcing a coquettish smile to her lips before returning to staring glumly at the wall.

“You’re very beautiful,” blurted Martin. He didn’t know where he got his courage from – he had never said such things to a woman before. She blinked at him, giving no sign that she had heard the compliment.

“This doesn’t have to be such an occasional thing.” If he had been surprised at his pluck before, he was flabbergasted now. Things were coming out of his mouth before he even realised he was thinking them. “You could come and live with me, you know. We could make a life for ourselves, outside this goddamn city. What do you think? We could go to Paris, Cherie! London, Stockholm, Berlin!” A strange fervour was coming over him. A world of new possibilities was dancing before his eyes. Maybe he could get out. An amazing feeling of freedom flared up in his soul, and he threw caution to the winds. “Marry, me, Cherie. Don’t you want to see other cities? I’ll take you there! We can travel for years, with no cares and nothing to tie us down. I’ll get my book published, and there’ll be plenty of money to live however we want to. Don’t you see? We have a chance, Cherie, a chance!”

He took a deep breath, staring at Cherie with shining eyes. For a second she seemed frozen in alarm; then her expression changed slowly to confusion, and then – an awful heat began to creep up Martin’s neck – amusement.

“What are you on about, sweetie?” she said carelessly, tossing her cigarette butt into an ashtray. “That’s quite enough nonsense about marriage. This is a professional relationship…you’re paying me.” She looked suddenly rather cross.

“Oh.” The heat had reached his ears now, and Martin could feel his insides shrivelling up in disappointment, humiliation and horror. “I’m sorry, I…forgot myself. I’d better go now.” He quickly snatched up his clothes and fled the room, tears of mortification shining in his eyes.

His flat felt even colder, dirtier and emptier than usual. Moving automatically, he warmed up a plate of leftover pizza and threw himself down on the couch. He had left the window ajar, and a cold draught seeped through the crack. He couldn’t muster the energy to rise and close it.

For a minute, he had realised what it felt like to be free. Now that moment had passed, and he felt more trapped than ever inside the grimy cage that was Dublin. He knew that he would never travel, would never meet people who understood his love of literature. Nobody would ever publish his book. He would spend the rest of his life living in this squalid flat in the red light district, reading papers written by fourteen-year-old imbeciles, and when he died he would be buried beneath a plain, unadorned headstone. Nobody would come to leave flowers on his grave. Nobody would care.

He chomped miserably on a soggy slice of pizza.

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