I had lunch in the gallery today, then took a walk around to look at the paintings. You have to, really, don't you. You can't just get the large salad plate in the café and sit there reading your book with your sunglasses on your head and then fuck off to the park with a takeaway coffee. And you really can't eat in the café and then browse in the gift shop and fuck off to the park without visiting the art. So I did. I was more interested in the other visitors than in the masterpieces on display. I watched them carefully, especially the ones who looked like they were there alone and hadn't just come there to kill time before their hospital appointment. I tried to spend as long as they did in front of each painting, looking to see what they saw. But the only one that caught my eye was William Orpen's portrait of John McCormack. I have an eye for older men, grey-haired, creased, soft around the middle.
I like the bathrooms in the gallery. I took my time in the ladies', washing my hands, looking at myself in the mirror. The new freckles that smudge my cheeks and upper lip complement my curly hair and the heft of my hips. I look healthy.
I spent a while browsing in the gift shop but I didn't buy anything. I picked up each of the notebooks in turn, admired their beautiful covers and the texture of the paper inside but I have shelves of notebooks at home, all empty. Too busy hanging the shelves to fill the notebooks, I thought to myself, but that's not true.
I fucked off to the park then, with my takeaway coffee, and sat down on an empty bench. I sat right down the end of it to show the world that I am happy to share, and after a minute an elderly man in sandals with plastic shopping bags stuffed into their soles sat down beside me and offered me a cigarette. "No thank you" I said, though I really wanted one and I really wanted him to like me. "But please have one yourself. I'll be asked in a little while if I smoke and I have to be able to say no and mean it." He nodded and lit his cigarette. "It's nice here" he said "much more peaceful than Stephen's Green." We sat there quietly for a bit. He told me that he was waiting for his friend, Mary. That she'd gone for the cancer check and he was wondering how she'd got on. I told him that they can't tell you right away, that it takes eight weeks sometimes. "Is that right?" he said "she won't like that at all."
I stopped to photograph some flowers on my way out of the park. A cherry blossom tree and a broken street light, a bed of bright pink tulips. I knelt on the grass to take a picture of the tulips but it was damp and soaked through the knees of my grey leggings. The cold wet on my knees was such a surprise that I forgot to take the photo. The damp patches were another thing to explain to the nurse. She won't ask, they never do, but no sooner am I in the consultation room than I'm offering excuses for my knees, the mayonnaise on my dress, the yellowed bruises on my shins and thighs, the abnormal cells I expect they'll find again on my cervix. Because at the root of this is my fear that I am rotten, that something I have done has led to me having to present my self here every six months, making small excuses for this flaw at my very core.
Sinéad introduces herself and asks me for my date of birth and the correct pronunciation of my surname. She is impressed that I know the exact date of my last period. She notes it in my file and then recognises her own handwriting among the previous entries. "You're back on Thursday for the gynae clinic" she says. "I'm so sorry, if I'd realised then I could have spared you the trip and we could have done both on the same day." But I tell her not to worry. I needed the day out, the afternoon off. To have a smear done and then to sit and talk with a doctor about how I might someday somehow have a baby when I'm not sure I want to would be too much all at once, I say, and as I do a creeping rash crawls up my neck and flushes my cheeks and she looks at me with such sympathy that I think I might cry. She does the smear test, assisted by the tiny nurse who always enters the room like she's arriving at a party, and then afterwards she tells me that if this one comes back negative, I'll be able to attend the GP again instead of the special clinic. She tells me this while I'm standing there with no pants on, and I am grateful to her for not leaving the room while I get dressed, as if that might spare my dignity. "See you on Thursday" she says.
And so I left there feeling quieted.
Back on Merrion Square I passed a crocodile of students from Hedley Park, twelve three-and-four-year-olds tied together with string, the girls in straw boaters and the boys in school caps. People smiled to see them pass and to hear their chatter. They were like something from Madeline. I wanted to take a photo but of course I couldn't. Not of other people's children. So I took a seat on a bench instead and started writing on the back of the only paper I had to hand, a letter for a neighbour from VHI Healthcare mistakenly delivered through our door that I'd been meaning to repost for the last week. It seemed important to capture the image of the Hedley Park kids as they made their way up the street, the black leash wrapped around their wrists and bunched in their chubby little fists, the way they bumped into one another when their teacher stopped at the lights. I ran out of space on the envelope, and of reasons to stay sitting on a bench in the park. I called Andrew to see if he'd finished work. "Hi" I said "will you walk me home?"