'Storyteller' by Jenny Darmody



She had thought it would be enough to lose her virginity. But Hannah couldn’t bring herself to tell the truth. So, she fashioned a different tale. An elaborate play for those who wanted to know.


It hadn’t started out elaborate, of course. It started off quite simple. A family friend’s son. Someone she had hardly met over the years. Why would he come with his parents when they were visiting mine, she would say. And of course, he’d never been in his own house the odd time she was there with her parents.


Quite a bit older, you see. But the age gap matters less now I guess, she would lament to her friends. He was tall and handsome, of course. And he looked at her with electricity sparking in his eyes.


If he’s so hot, why haven’t you mentioned him before, they would say. Well, she said, they never really crossed paths, but for this weekend.


This magical weekend when her parents suddenly decided to go on holidays with the Gleesons. Yes, the whole family. So, Thomas was there. Thomas, yes, that’s his name. There were fireworks immediately between the two of them. He kissed her on the first night, while hanging out down by the river. Yes, it was magical. It was like a movie. Not like a drunken fumble at a nightclub, sweat dripping down too-short skirts and too-low tops, dry ice itching at already blurred-eyes. No, not like that at all. This was special, she said.


The questions kept coming, so Hannah kept adding the details.


No, our parents didn’t mind us hanging out for the whole weekend. Happy to get us out of their hair, she said.


No, they didn’t know we were kissing.


No, he doesn’t think I’m too young for him.


Yes, he did take it slow.


Yes, he took me for a walk along the river.


No, it didn’t hurt. Well, it did a little. But not much. He was gentle.


Yes, of course he has had sex before, he’s 25.


Yes, we talked about it. He knew it was my first time.


No, he didn’t mind.


Hannah wondered halfway through the interrogation if it was worth it. If she shouldn’t have just told the truth. But it wasn’t just for them. She wanted the story too.


Her virginity was a protective skin she so desperately wanted to peel off, but she still didn’t want that story to be stuck to her real skin everywhere she went. And if you’re going to lie about it ever, you may as well do it from the start. Erase everyone in the world who might know the truth. Choose a different narrative. Carry it with you until eventually, the truth starts to disintegrate from your mind.


But it started to feel like even her perfectly constructed narrative wasn’t enough.


Why so soon?


You barely know him.


Was it basically a one-night stand?


I thought you wanted it to be special.


Didn’t he kind of take advantage?


Why is he interested in a 17-year-old anyway?


So, the simple(ish) story became more extravagant. Hannah decorated it with lavish declarations of commitment and grand promises of dates and ornate text messages.


She had gotten used to it – sending herself texts, deleting the duplicates. A conversation with herself.


Thomas’s number (her own) was saved under his name with a heart emoji. That’s what boyfriends and girlfriends do, right? Yes, they were boyfriend/girlfriend now. It was official. She had made it so.


She became a master architect, constructing carefully thought-out conversations with Xs at the end of them. Each time, taking care to delete the duplicates of her own message so that only the ‘incoming’ messages remained before sending a ‘response’.


Hannah was now an expert at lying. A fact she chose to admit to her friends to prove how she was keeping her relationship a secret from her family.


Oh, I just say I’m at Ger’s house.


Or the cinema with the girls.


No, I’m not worried about getting caught.


It would be fairly hard to get caught with a boy that didn’t exist, after all. But of course, she didn’t say that.


As time went on, it became increasingly difficult to remember her original story.


Yes, we kissed on the beach. No wait, we kissed on the side of the river.


He asked me to be his girlfriend before we left. Well, no I know, but he did sort of ask before we left and then he rang later to ask properly.


Her brain started to muddle and when she tried to recall the story, it was drowned out by the bass of the club music. The sticky sweat down her back. The flashing neon lights burning strange colours onto the inside of her eyelids.


So, she wrote it down, like an English essay. Two pages, front and back of exactly how she lost her virginity. She wrote every detail perfectly, making sure to add in any decorative ornaments she was forced to fill in after the fact with wandering minds and curious questions. She then studied it, relentlessly. She read over it twice every night before she turned off her light and gave it a quick scan every morning before heading to school.


She singed every detail onto the inside of her brain, adding any additional lies that she may have had to cough up. All the while, she kept up fictitious conversations with Thomas. Loving statements and questions about how she was getting on, occasional petty fights, but they would make up quickly (He was such a good boyfriend – he always said sorry).


It went on for months. It became easier as her friends lost interest in hearing about it. But Hannah was always prepared. She never stopped reading the story at night. She continued having conversations, just in case. She kept adding details from those conversations that may be important down the line. She was fleshing out a character. Making him three-dimensional. The pages kept building.


And then it was a new year – her final year – and she found herself sitting beside Michael. He had always been on her peripherals. Hannah knew him to see, but never spoke to him, really. They had never been in the same class before.


Now, four times a week, they sat together and it came to be the highlight of her day. He made her laugh with stupid doodles and surprisingly witty jokes under his breath that she struggled to keep hidden from their Geography teacher.


She wasn’t nervous talking to him. She was protected by her Thomas illusion. And his knowledge of her relationship status seemed to relax him too. But she wanted him. So, she decided it was time for the story to come to an end.


The one-person conversations continued, but these ones contained more fights than kisses. Hannah played the part of troubled girlfriend well. She was a wonderful actress. She acted sad all of the time, even when she came into Geography class. She wanted Michael to know she was going through a bad time with her boyfriend. That she may not have a boyfriend for much longer.


It would be perfect.


She had lost her virginity. That was true.


But the magical fairy-tale manner in which that happened had gotten more elaborate than she had ever intended and far more exhausting to keep up than she could ever imagine. But now, it could finally come to an end.


It would crash and burn in such a spectacular inferno that she would never want to hear from the fictitious Thomas again. She would delete ‘his number’, play the part of heartbroken teenager for a few weeks and then her life would go back to normal. She could still maintain her virginity story, but it would be simpler with any new people because it was in the past.


A family friend’s son on a weekend away.


He was a bit older than me. I was 17.


We actually went out for a few months.


But it ended badly. He broke it off. I was heartbroken.


But then I got with Michael.


Hannah was already writing Michael into her new narrative. She just needed to get through the breakup first and everything would be fine.


Michael did a great job cheering her up from her fake heartbreak, curing her upset in every Geography class. She left smiling, but she always remembered to make that smile weak, never coming fully out of character.


She was secretive with her friends on purpose. She didn’t want to make the mistake of tripping over too many details again. She remained vague, but mopey, to show them the end was nigh.


She stayed up until 2am writing the details of the breakup and stayed awake for an extra hour after that drilling it into her memory. She read over it again and again the next morning. She looked noticeably exhausted.


This is how one should look after a breakup anyway, she decided.


She relayed the details with perfection to her friends through tears of exhaustion. She told Michael she didn’t want to talk about it, implanted the idea for him to ask her friends, who were very obliging with the details.


A month of walking around school under a cloud was tough when it was all smoke and mirrors, but Hannah was nothing if not committed.


Eventually, Michael got up the courage to ask her out and she dutifully accepted. The pages and pages of notes about Thomas were left strewn under the bed gathering dust now. No need to memorise such fables anymore.


Michael took her to the cinema and out for pizza and drinks once they turned 18. Their first time together was in his bed while his parents were away and it really was magical. For a second, Hannah wished she was still a virgin for him, but the mere thought of that jerked her brain back to a dank nightclub that she was too young for.


*


Neon, seizure-inducing lights to match sickly-sweet neon alcopops. Vodka shots. Jager bombs. A mini-skirt and V-neck top she had to change into away from the watchful eyes of her parents.


Not that they were that watchful on that weekend away.


‘Thomas’ Gleeson was actually Sarah, the Gleeson’s 19-year-old daughter who arranged someone else’s ID for Hannah to go to a grimy underground club with her friends that night.


Stumbling around the dancefloor, one word pumped around her skull to the beat of the music.


Virgin. Virgin. Virgin. Virgin. Virgin. Virgin. Virgin. Virgin. Virgin. Virgin. Virgin. Virgin. She was the last one of her friends now. That had been the case for the past month, ever since Kate and her boyfriend decided to have sex for the first time. Now she was on her own in the world of being single and having never had sex. Even the word put a knot in her stomach. She needed to get rid of it. She needed to shed the skin of being too young, too inexperienced. Left behind.


If she can lose it in some underwhelming way, she won’t worry so much about not having a boyfriend. Maybe the confidence will radiate from her and she’ll be suddenly snapped up. Her eyes were blurring but she managed to lock them with an attractive boy across the floor.


He had hungry eyes, like a lion that just caught sight of an antelope. He was definitely in his early 20s, but she didn’t care. She wanted male attention tonight. She wanted to not be 17.

So, they kissed. It was nothing special. There was a lot of tongue. Wandering hands down her back. Up to her modest breasts. He was gripping her tightly and his moist forehead was up against hers. When he finally came up for air, he led her to the bar and ordered more shots.


He asked her age, she said she was 19 and he said he was 21. She expected he was probably undershooting at least as much as she was overshooting. She got drunker and continued to let him stick his tongue down her throat and grab at her body. He asked her to come home with him, but even in her bleary-eyed state, she knew how dangerous that was. She told him as much and he understood. Instead, he offered somewhere nearby but slightly more private.


He checked if the coast was clear in the men’s bathroom and led her into one of the bigger cubicles. Even with too many shots to count, Hannah could remember wondering if they were built this big on purpose.


Locked cubicle. More sloppy kissing. Hands everywhere. Removed to briefly undo his jeans. Zip. Hannah’s stomach was in her throat, but she swallowed hard.


Hands were back on her then. Ass. Breasts. Under her top. Under her skirt. Then she was turned around to face the tiles on the back of the toilet. His hands pulled her underwear down and hoisted up her skirt. Then his hands were on her hips and she dutifully bent over slightly, hands clammy on the cold tiles.


Then, all at once, there was intense pressure between her legs and she gasped in shock while he grunted in satisfaction. Her hearing became blurred then as she could faintly make out heckling from the other side of the door. He went faster and harder, pushing her feet apart with his own and she leaned down further for a better angle. Then he cried out and he was finished. He grabbed her breasts one more time before pulling out and doing up his jeans again. He thanked her and left the cubicle, while she stood there, shivering slightly.


*


These memories were imprinted on her mind once again now, obliterating the story she had so carefully weaved. Now, no matter where she goes, the truth will follow her. Her perfect history will always be a little bit fractured. Even as the need for that story becomes less important, even once the pages are destroyed, Hannah will always be able to see the strings when she looks back on the puppet show of her own life.





Jenny Darmody is journalist and editor working and living in Ireland. She has previously been published in The Incubator, Brave Voices Magazine and The Galway Review. She was also one of the Young Writer Delegates at the 2018 Dublin Book Festival. Find her on Twitter @Jenny_Darmody

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