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Touched
Kevin Whelan

It really did all begin by accident – literally.
It was one of those busy Saturdays in Shop Street in Galway and I was avoiding a group of teenage boys and girls bearing down on me in one of those long grinning uninhibited lines of theirs, like they don’t have a care in the world. And why would they have? They’re young.
Teenagers alarm me for all sorts of reasons, and they seem so much better-looking and taller than they did when I was that age, which is over twenty-five years ago now. All those years ago … The girls are prettier too, more confident, thinner. I was never a pretty girl or a thin one, though I was never fat either, and the only thing I have in common with a beautiful woman is I know what it means to be stared at, or noticed at any rate, though in my case for all the wrong reasons. My face is round and pale, I have a weak chin, dull grey eyes, and very dark not quite black hair that makes my paleness even more striking. All the same, I have a good enough figure and large breasts. But seeing these carefree kids, seeing how youngsters like them feel so easy in the world, adept at whatever magic it is they do on their phones – well, it makes me regret that I never found anyone to love me, to truly connect with, and ultimately to have children with.
Odd the things the young incline you to think about.
I think a lot of women go a bit odd if they don’t have children. I suppose if I hadn’t jilted Oliver at the aisle all those years ago now things might be a lot different, but I couldn’t bear his lumpy hands on me, his hairy back like a sweaty pelt, his fat belly, his habit of doggedly snapping his fingers whenever he made a point about something very boring and Oliver-like as if he had hit upon a profound truth about Life.
‘Oliver and Olivia.’ We sounded too good to be true. ‘Imagine how our names will look on our wedding cake,’ Oliver enthused
The not having children thing – well, I keep this opinion to myself with other women at work or the friends I have that are also childless, or I should say the one friend I have left, and – I’ve not seen or heard from her in months and months. I don’t miss Emily one bit though. I really don’t. Let herself and her man Frank have their tedious evenings of determined and forceful fun.
I, Olivia Mosley, deserve much better.
Anyway, I made to move around the teens and did so quite successfully until I caught my heel in one of the uneven paving stones that are all along the middle of Shop Street and stumbled. Out went my hands reflexively; I gasped and the grey surface of the pavement loomed into view but I somehow had the presence of mind to turn my head just in time or my teeth would have had it.
I lay sprawled among the pedestrians for all of five or six seconds before strange hands reached out to help me up – I had three sets of limps on me at one time, the most I have ever been touched by in my life. I wondered if this was what an orgy felt like. 
My mind sometimes has a habit of going off on these weird tangents.
It was three women, then all of a sudden a man was there, barging in and taking charge like they do, and from all sides came questions – was I all right? Did I want to sit down? Would I need an ambulance? Something to drink? ‘Here, have some of my water. It’s from a spring in France.’
All these total strangers competing eagerly for my attention.
I checked my hands; I didn’t have a single graze or mark.
I blushed as I moved my head this way and that, taking in the genuine concern in their faces, and thanking each of them profusely.
` I think one or two of the teens from the group stopped to film the whole event.   
For all I know their little home movie is all over the Internet by now. I wonder what title they put on it: ‘Ugly woman takes a spill!’ With lots of LOLs no doubt. Lots and lots of laughs. Lots of ‘Likes’.
But in spite of that the kindness of those helpful strangers made it almost a lovely experience, made me feel very wanted. It made me feel even a little bit beautiful and even something I have never properly felt: worthy of attention, even, on a small scale, desired.

That evening Bernard called me and right off  he had a go about something I had said to him the week before and I had a go back about how he is always going on about the Latvian girl Tania, someone in his office, and how good she looked at the firm’s charity 5K fun run for bipolar with her perfect Lycra-clad arse, and we batted our anger and mutual resentments back and forth for a solid twenty minutes and at the end of it and within moments (and as usual) I was in my car racing to his place and was in bed with him within seconds of arriving, Bernard violently whipping open the front door, frowning at the staircase, which I eagerly climbed.
I hate to stereotype anyone but Bernard is an accountant, a profession that does not exactly lure those with a teeming imagination, or any kind of imagination, apart from that which is stirred by row upon row of alternating figures. My own line of work, the civil service, involves similar delights, spreadsheets and clerical this and clerical that; and that’s all I’m going to say about my fascinating profession. I suppose I am as dull and boring as Bernard. We are a good pair in our dysfunctional way.  Somehow we work, but why it should matter that we ‘work’: this is not a point I concern myself with.
All the same, in terms of the men out there, I really think even I could do better than Bernard – as the phone call illustrates we do seem to grate against each other more than anything else. I never sigh with anticipatory delight at the prospect of our meeting, have not a single memory of any little acts of kindness on his part ever. Not once has he taken me out to dinner. There is no generosity of spirit in him towards others either. He’s just too mean. If anything I am more likely to moan and groan at the thought of our trysts, and not because I am anticipating the sensual delight of going to bed with his heavy, freckly body, as I think I have made clear.
So what does this unlikely man ‘do’ for me that I can’t seem to resist his overtures? I think I am not unintelligent, so let’s see. He makes me feel both wanted but wanton, intelligent but stupid, creative but dull. He knows how to get under my skin, and for this I let him get me under his cream duvet, which by the way could do with a good wash now and then.
The first time we went to bed I had to show him where my clitoris was, its precise, budlike location.
‘Now what do I do?’ he asked, his hand lying over my privates like a piece of breaded trout waiting to be fried.
‘Use your imagination.’
He gave me a blank look.
‘Imagine it’s a Lotto scratch card and you’re about to win a stack of cash.’
That did the job, but he was still bloody useless, working away at it like he was trying to pick open the tab on a can of beer with a blunt fingernail. He didn’t understand the secret to clitoral joy is a steadily probing and flicking finger-tip. He had no rhythm at all, no finesse. I released a moan of ersatz pleasure all the same. It seemed mean not to. As any woman knows, you have to give men a bit of encouragement or they just fold, and these days men are full of enough insecurities as it is. They need all the help they can get.
Besides, it was all over in minutes, Bernard going through the usual stealthy motions in that rutting way of his. I can’t say I have ever had the kind of sex other women are always harping on about in magazines, the perfect orgasm and all that, sensual bliss. Sometimes I think the magazines make it all up. Can such erogenous pleasure really exist? I have only ever had three lovers, if ‘lover’ is even the right word and in my heart I know it isn’t. I think I just haven’t had much experience with men. Or love.

Afterwards I was all set to tell Bernard about my little fall in Shop Street but something, I don’t know what, kept me from disclosing a single detail. I liked having a secret from him.
‘You need your head examined, seeing that fellow,’ my mother told me on the phone the following evening. I don’t tell her much about my life, God knows, but I wanted to let her know that it ran along normal lines, that I had, if not exactly a nice man, then a man at least, just like any other steady, healthy woman. All the same, I had told her often enough about how dull and mean and argumentative he was.
I think I told her too much, the way daughters feel obliged to with their mothers. No more than Emily, I don’t see her very often, thank goodness. She lives in Westmeath on the family farm.
‘Oliver asked for you last week. He has three kids now. A fine, fine fellow. He even managed to find another Protestant girl to marry – one of the Harmons. Remember them? Alison? Alison Harmon? Father a big noise in the legal world? So nice, active in the chapel too.’ She paused before really letting me have it. ‘Such a pretty girl.’
Thinking of my fall, though, cheered me up. I think it was the sheer thrill of being the centre of all that attention – it changed me.
I wanted more.
The next Tuesday I had to go to Ballinasloe for a work-related meeting about outsourcing.
The market town in east Galway is a dull enough place at the best of times but on a chilly morning in April there’s not much going on. All the same, on what passes for their main street, I cast a quick look around me and pretended to stumble, falling hard, or making it seem like I did.

I must confess that I did not really fall hard of course; in fact, I had been practising in my apartment the evening before, a glass of wine to hand (I managed to polish off an entire bottle – but I do that a lot). I think I had perfected a kind of stumble-trip. I kept practising like a ballerina might, again and again and again until I got it exactly right. I found the most successful and least painful movement was to quickly bend my right leg, put out my right arm, then fall over on my side, like I’d snapped a heel again like that first time.
An elderly couple came to my aid and a handsome executive type, plus a young girl from the chemists, who had been doing a window display on constipation remedies and saw everything. They were all very gentle, though their hands were only on me for about forty seconds, if even that long.
The elderly pair insisted on sitting with me inside the chemist for at least ten minutes until I felt better, the chemist even slipping me a Valium with a glass of water. He winked as he passed it to me. I don’t know what I was meant to make of that, but I thanked him all the same.
On my way home that evening I swore to myself that it wouldn’t happen again.

I started doing it regularly, the falling. I got really good at it too. I chose Saturday afternoons in Galway as the best venue and time because of all the shoppers, the sheer teeming variety of people.
Exactly two weeks after my first tumble, I fell in three different places: outside the camping store in Eglinton Street, outside the fancy Mayrick Hotel in Eyre Square, and then outside Easons in Shop Street.
I estimated that at least twenty people on all three occasions put their hands on me. One man was very rough, pulling me up from the waist, his big hands around me, over the waistband of my knickers, his hairy fingers just mere inches from my privates, the sudden awareness of which aroused me; he apologised for pulling at me so roughly and I blushed because I wished he hadn’t – apologised that is. He had an ugly, pock-marked face and horrible mossy green eyes.

I broke up with Bernard one weekend but was back with him the next.
‘Let’s watch some porn,’ he suggested. We sat semi-clothed watching ‘lesbians’ do their thing, which did wonders for what passed for Bernard’s virility but not a lot for me; he kept the video playing on his laptop, casting his eye at it as he rode me.
I thought the videos were ridiculous and decided men were mad, simple and stupid to be taken in by such rubbish.

Then Bernard and I broke up again. I was lonely. It was around this time that I kind of upped the ante with the whole falling thing.
I started doing it every other day in Galway, on my lunch breaks; then, since the evenings were lighter and getting mild, I would drive out to Salthill promenade –  my favourite place. I had gotten good at it too, even in places like the prom where there weren’t gaps in the pavement or wayward paving stones or dog mess to slip in – pretend to, that is. I wasn’t crazy. Who would deliberately slip on dog shit?
Months went by and the loving attention of strangers kept coming.
Things were going fine until I collapsed outside Boots in Shop Street (where it all started, more or less), and when the eight (!) pairs of strangers, many of them foreigners, helped me up, I couldn’t thank them all enough. I wanted to hug the lot of them, I really did.
When they had left, a security guard approached me.
‘You’ve got to stop doing this, this pretending to fall and be in distress craic, deliberately tripping yourself up,’ he started in a thick accent – Polish or Russian, one or the other. ‘I’m on to you, lady, taking advantage of the good nature of ordinary folk. That’s at least the fifth or sixth time in as many weeks you’ve pretended to slip right outside here. I’m on to you. You need help, lady. I mean it. I bet you’re going to sue the city council and rake it in. Well, let me tell you you’re on CCTV,’ and he pointed to two cameras further up the street, like white snouts, silently, taking it all in.
I looked him up and down. He was one of those eastern European men in their late twenties or so, the big muscly types. This one had tattoos on his neck and a shaved head. Very handsome, all the same, with deep set black eyes. I took in his huge hands, wide shoulders, massive chest and thick legs and felt myself getting dizzy. I felt like slapping him too, but was too humiliated and embarrassed. I thought, I bet you wouldn’t need directions to my clitoris. No, sir.
All the same, that episode alarmed me a bit. But I couldn’t stop myself. Luckily for me there are lots of busy streets in Galway, especially of course on Saturdays; the area around Mainguard and Lombard Streets, for example, when the market is jammed full of life and just hectic with nice liberal type people with copies of the Irish Times poking out of their organic veg-laden shopping bags, all anxious to help a stranger should an opportunity occur – it was pure bliss.
So many anxious hands touching my flesh, strange men’s deft hands around my waist and along my back; a hand with long fingers reaching up and touching lightly against my full breasts, my nipples shamefully hard. I was certain his fingers lingered there for just a second. It was enough.
If one of them had put a hand up my skirt, by mistake of course, I wouldn’t have let on.
Let him have a good feel. I wondered if any of them could smell the wet stinky heat of me during these episodes.
At night, alone in bed, I would pleasure myself, fantasising about these strangers’ hands, men’s and even women’s, rubbing themselves all over my naked body, and when I came I thrust my fingers deep inside the sloppy pasty wetness of myself and felt the muscles there contracting over and over again as I came and came, shuddering each time with the filthy glory of it. Now at long last I knew what those women in the magazines meant, that they were telling the truth. That I could do it all by myself was nothing less than a glorious revelation. I even contemplated investing in a sex toy or two, ordering them online, but was too embarrassed about anyone somehow finding out.
At such times I was no longer plain. I was a Julia Roberts’ type of woman, with glorious hair, big lips, perfect teeth – a body desired by all, wanton hands and tongues working over and inside me.
I knew it was all wrong but I couldn’t control myself. All of it was wrong. I should have felt guilty, but not being a Catholic and at best a very poor excuse for a good Protestant, that wasn’t a problem. To hell with guilt. Who had I ever hurt? Who had I ever offended?
One Saturday I collapsed outside the Brown Thomas department store in William Street but only one person helped me up and she was a nun of all things. Why do they always have such sweetly clean and trusting faces?
‘You don’t have to be alone,’ she told me, looking clear into my eyes. ‘Really, you don’t. What has upset you so?’ she asked. I could have wept. ‘Don’t be frightened. You can tell me.’
I think she wanted to touch me, not in a pervy way, but just to calmly reassure me.
I think I must have started looking mad by then, I mean my expression by turns anxious, frightened, confused and angry.
‘Thank you, Sister,’ I managed before walking quickly away.
It went on for months.
I started getting real injuries too. I appeared at work with bruises on my wrists, which elicited lots of funny looks, and my department head took me aside and asked if I wanted to avail of counselling (‘Free of charge, of course,’ he told me. ‘The State provides for its employees’).
At one point I even needed a walking stick when I tore a ligament near my foot. The bitter irony of it all wasn’t lost on me.
One or two of the girls in my office asked if Bernard had been having a go at me but I told them not to be silly, which only convinced them that he was the real culprit. Let them think what they liked, not least of Bernard, that penny-pinching creep.
But by now I was addicted and even had a big plan: to take my act to the capital.
I eventually went to Dublin on a Saturday in late October. My leg was healed and my body was almost bruise-free. I took the train up. It was like I couldn’t get there quick enough.
I was going to fall first outside the GPO – the iconic General Post Office – in O’Connell Street. I hurried over the bridge, taking in the beggars everywhere and craven faces of junkies whose tiny heads seem to bob up and down among the crowds, doing my best to ignore the ugly River Liffey. I felt wretched enough as it was.
I was a woman on a mission. Stopping at a pedestrian crossing, I looked at my clothes. They were getting worn and soiled. I hadn’t changed my underwear in weeks. I was thin. My periods had dried up weeks before and I didn’t know if this was early onset menopause or what was happening to me.
At the GPO, I wasted no time, just dropped down right outside. I wanted to get it over and done with. People passed by. No one took any notice until a woman stopped and said, ‘Come on, get up! Have you been drinking?’
‘Where am I?’ I asked as she helped me to my feet.
Before she could answer I walked away, almost at a trot, looking back at her confused face, but then I tripped, falling hard, and not on purpose either, I swear.
I lay, peering up at a cloudless sky, my arms outstretched, muttering to myself, as pedestrians, the bastards, moved around me like I was a filthy obstacle.
The city was so noisy and clammy, with much too many accents from all over the world droning inside my head. Strangers laughed. I heard the whirr of a million CCTV cameras honing in on me and the click of phones as photos were snapped and videos filmed. LOL: laugh out loud.
I stretched my arms over my head and waited in a kind of final ecstasy.
‘Let me help you,’ a man said eventually. He looked just like the handsome security guard from Galway.
‘I knew you would come,’ I said, and I took his hand and that of another man, and they helped me to my feet and into a waiting ambulance and off we went.
‘Take me away with you,’ I told them happily. ‘Anywhere. My name is Olivia. Olivia Mosley. Take me. Take me, I’m yours.’



(Issue 29)