His was a name which was neither specific nor personal. Brennan could have belonged to any male in Ireland, at any time.
When Eileen married him and took his name, Brennan desperately wanted to feel flattered. He tried the angle that women were not doing this sort of thing any more. But Eileen just laughed, told him she loved him. She kissed his cheek.
‘Besides,’ she said, ‘Eileen Brennan works.’
With a crackle of clarity, Brennan realised that like him, the beautiful Eileen would be condemned to a life of mediocrity.
Already, he carried average like a loss. He longed to touch it, worry it away.
Every morning on the forty-five minute train journey into work, he would rub thumb and forefinger together, the lapel of his jacket between them.
He often looked at other women, wondered what name they had adopted, taken, or abandoned. What did it mean, to have a name and to give it up, to have a name and to lose it? What did it mean, he wanted to shout as everyone hurried through the station, what did it mean to have a name to which you did not belong? To be named Brennan, like so many others?
For Brennan, wearing his everyday tie – yellow leaning to gold – the day of his fifth wedding anniversary was long.
He oversaw debates on public policies, justice made and then undone, speeches given from the podium. Wording worked and reworked, meaning slipping further and further away.
Repeatedly, he gazed at his polished wedding ring as it caught the light filtering through dusty blinds. It was almost beautiful.
That evening, on the train home Brennan considered the lingering taste of copper in his mouth.
He watched a woman in front of him apply make-up. As she applied an imperceptible colour to her cheeks, layer after layer, brushes moving across laguno-like-hair, Brennan was transfixed. He followed the short strokes of shimmering substances as they moved from brow to chin.
She snapped the compact mirror shut, sighed, and looked at him, accusing. Still, he stared, unable to make the connection between the myriad of brushes, the different shades of liquids and powders, and then, her face: essentially unchanged. He glanced out the window in embarrassment, the sense of failure spreading.
The cornflower blue flowers stuffed into his briefcase had just about wilted. He licked his dry lips.
Over dinner of pink boiled ham and waxy potatoes, he looked at Eileen with her pretty round face. He noticed lines gathering like pleats around her eyes.
‘So,’ she said, her voice soft, ‘how was your day?’
Her bare foot reached for the opening of his trouser leg, her toes attempting to caress but instead scratching.
He stared at his wife, Eileen Brennan, and shifted his leg. He turned to the window as the sky darkened, watching the heavy rain with its fat drops lash against the glass. His voice was almost a whisper.
‘You know, when people say something works it makes me terribly nervous.’
Copyright © Shauna Gilligan, 2015.
Shauna Gilligan‘s short fiction and reviews have been published in places such as The Stinging Fly (Ireland), New Welsh Review (UK) and Cobalt (USA). She holds a PhD (Writing) from the University of South Wales and teaches writing as part of the Arts Council of Ireland Writers in Prisons Panel. Her first novel, Happiness Comes from Nowhere (London, Ward Wood: 2012), was described by the Sunday Independent in Ireland as a ‘thoroughly enjoyable and refreshingly challenging debut novel.
Banner image: Copyright © Jo Mazelis, 2015.