By Abeer Hoque
She first saw Sure at a pub in town. The place was like a cellar with wooden pillars in awkward places which made it hard to dance but easy to look all angles. Galway was thronged per its Saturday usual, pubs packed, the cobblestone streets streaming with people. The weather was warm, and there was a sheen on people’s faces, more than just the drink.
Sure stood out. Dark skin, lean body, shining teeth. The fellow he was talking to was from Dublin, but Sure was something else. Asian or West Indian. Whatever it was was far from home. Except he seemed just right where he was, leaning with liquid grace against the cold stone wall, going on about football. He was wearing a grey rocker tank top and jeans moulded to his hips, slung low. Aislin wanted to touch, feel for that hip bone she knew was just above his belt loops.
“Ash, I see a fine thing too,” Niamh laughed, her mouth a watercolour slash on her pale face. Niamh was a stunner true enough. Dirty blonde hair, green eyes, tits for the offering. It was her who got the catcalls, the free shots at any pub.
The music was a tinny 80’s mix. Aislin wanted something more mellow. Or another beer. But the boy was on his way out with his mate, having noticed nothing. Aislin wasn’t in the picture. Not yet. She looked at her reflection in the glass. She knew she didn’t have that pull. She was short, plump, ruddy. She looked the part, a social worker who did children’s cases. Her hair was always a bit of a frizz, her clothes never the right cling for her curves. But sometimes, just sometimes, she had gall. It made up for the rest.
Aislin would never forget the first time gall got her off. She was in the backseat of the car with Johnny, the boy king footballer from school and his on again off again girlfriend. Niamh had been driving, with a friend from Dublin up front. So Aislin had gotten stuck in the back.
They were going to the limestone cliffs, the Burrens, though it promised a washed-out affair, raining like mad. Even with the cold and wet, it was some kind of beautiful. There was enough light in the sky that sometimes a curtain of wet would sweep aside and the fields would shine out like spotlights. Patches of clover leaf, mud gold earth.
Johnny in the back was all elbows, never mind Aislin who were getting poked and pushed as he worked at the old game. His girl was playing the prude, so he was snogging her face off. Niamh drove the car over a hump, and everyone swallowed air. On the come down, Johnny sat flat on Aislin’s hand. Another hump and lift, and in trying to get her hand out, all Aislin managed was to turn it palm up, just about between his legs. She was trying not to laugh when she realised it felt good, the weight and the warmth between his legs. She gave it a squeeze and it felt even nicer.
The Cliffs of Moher were rising up and the sun too, like it knew the story. The wind went on slapping their little car around. She could tell it was going to be pure cold when they got out, so she cuddled in while she could. Then Johnny started cuddling back, his hips anyway. She felt him rock ever so gently into her hand. His own hand came round behind him, finding the crotch of her jeans, like some homing sex pigeon. She marveled at his marksmanship. But it was more than that. He knew what to do when there was denim in the mix, how much more to grab, how much harder to press. And he was still kissing his girl, his narrow back to Aislin.
She could feel herself getting hot, her hand weakening even as his strengthened. He pulled and pressed and squeezed and stretched, through the fuck all denim, and all the while, the cliffs kept coming like a parade, the sea a grey blue collar up against a craggy limestone neck.
Aislin tried to keep her eyes open to see if her growing arousal would change anything, brighten or telescope the sky, but it was hard enough keeping quiet. Thank the good Lord, Niamh had the radio on and was chatting up her mate. When Aislin came, she let out only the faintest moan, drenching her drawers. The next thing she knew, Niamh was getting out of the car, and the air draped down like a wet blanket on her flushed face.
Before she could open her door and face up to the towering cliffs, Johnny pulled her towards him. He pushed his hand inside the front of her jeans, his middle finger sliding in slick. His hand was out, and he had bounded out before she could say anything, his finger in his mouth.
The next time she saw Sure, he was bartending at a loud filthy pub. Niamh noticed him first. They were getting drinks at one end, Niamh doing the honours in case she knocked down the bill. She was wearing a tight green polo shirt with all the buttons undone. It left nothing to the imagination. Aislin herself was wearing a new wisp of a dress that matched the pale blue of her eyes and had a twirling cut. It was also a bodice clutcher, with sweet little buttons leading all the way down, but next to Niamh, nothing seemed to matter.
“It’s your ride,” Niamh murmured. “Deadly.”
Sure did look ready to eat. He appeared to be wearing the same clothes as last time, fitting jeans, narrow tank top. His arms were muscled, his arse perfectly outlined, but it was his face that Aislin liked best. Full lips, shining eyes, trophy smile.
“I’ll get in the next round,” Aislin said, though with Niamh it was just plain quicker.
Aislin could already see Sure in her little house, sitting on her bed with the quilt Grammy had stitched for her, his dark skin making everything look lighter, brighter. For once, she didn’t feel the usual pang of Gram’s death, because Gram hadn’t taken well to Aislin’s last love, and he was just from the North. It’d have been a holy show, wherever Sure was from.
Outside, it was bucketing down, gals stumbling in wearing cling wrap outfits, lads in dripping tees. Aislin threaded her way through the damp crowd to the other end of the pub and stood behind a gaggle of gigglers. She knew how to do this from watching Niamh. You set your sights and got yourself through. Though now that she were close, it didn’t seem as easy as all that. She gathered her gall, and pushed herself to the front of the bar.
A whole song played in the next breath. Did it take Niamh this long? Another bartender paced her way but got distracted in the last stretch. She looked at her nails, bitten to the quick, knowing this to be a defeat. Look up, you ninny. Look up. She looked up.
“What can I do for you, darling?”
Every syllable flattened her. His voice was deep and low, his accent lilting, singsong, warm.
She said nothing, only leaning her arms on the counter, watching him. He settled his forearms across from her, and watched her back.
“What can I do for you?” she repeated, laughing, mostly in relief. She remembered Niamh’s sexed-up advice, about imagining lads naked, and she thought about sliding his jeans off him slowly.
It worked like clockwork. His teeth flashed. “There’s a thing or two.”
He reached out and almost touched her lower lip, drawing his finger past her throat, stopping just above her cleavage. Even though he hadn’t actually touched her, she could feel the trail of his fingers, hot and suggestive. Her nipples hardened. She straightened, feeling their tips brush against the edge of the counter. His gaze fell to the minuscule movement, and she went scarlet, her collarbones heating up. He returned his gaze to her face.
“I count down in an hour,” he said, “Can you wait?”
“Here’s a pint of the black stuff, and one for your friend, but mind you find your tongue,” he said smiling. He leaned over the bar unexpectedly and pressed his lips to hers. Pillow soft. A small sound escaped her mouth.
“There’s more to it than that,” he said.
When she went back, she didn’t have to say anything. Niamh had reckoned the entire scene just watching.
Sure ate slowly at the dining table in her house, his foot resting on her chair, his toes pressing between her legs. He said he didn’t like Irish food, different as it was from his mother’s cooking in Bangladesh. Barely salted meat and cream, he called it. But he ate with such relish, every last crumb, rubbing his belly at the end, that Aislin found it hard to believe he weren’t enjoying it. Either way, he figured Ireland suited him.
“Back home, in Dhaka, there was always someone on my back, letting me know the story.” A rare rancour in his voice. In Galway, no one was watching him. No one cared what he did or how. In a way, it was like being invisible, even when he didn’t want to be. But he had been here three years and hadn’t tired of it yet.
Draining his drink, he leaned down and pulled her forward, pressing his lips against hers. That first kiss. She had never sucked such a satisfying lower lip. More malleable than a tongue, with a fullness that begged to be bitten. She bit.
Outside it was still pelting something fierce, Galway and everything around inundated by the storm. It made her think of Johnny, the rushing car ride, the inching pleasure. She thought what it must be like at the Burrens right now, the grey white cliffs lashed by vines of water, the wind glacial.
When they went into her bedroom, Aislin immediately memorized the scene, in case it didn’t happen again, the tiny beaded lampshade throwing a sunny yellow light on their bodies. He stood in front of her and undressed. Bit by gorgeous bit, she saw his body emerge from under the faded jumper, sculpted stomach, small nipples, almond eyes obscured for a tragic second by his clothes, then revealed.
When he tore open the condom packet, she asked, “No more snogging?”
He didn’t stop putting it on. He just laughed, his teeth feral, “Girleen, you don’t have to ask. But ask.”
“And I’m asking,” she said, just in case.
He hovered his fingertips above her heated skin. “Tell me where we begin.”
They lay on their sides, naked, facing each other, and he traced the side of her body, shoulder to breast to belly to thigh, first with his fingers and then his mouth. She wondered if he would stay, if she wanted him to, then pushed the thought away. As if he heard what she were thinking, he lifted his head from her hip and looked at her.
“You know this is going to take some time, right?” A stop and go accent, clear like moonlight. “You and me.”
She raised an eyebrow.
He grinned. “I’ll tie you to the bed, make sure you never leave.”
Despite her previous insecurity, she suddenly felt trapped, and if she had to admit it, aroused. Was it an old world patriarchy speaking through him? Was this some kind of getting what you asked for?
“Keep on it, lad,” she said, tugging down at his thick black hair, watching it feather and release through her fingers.
“Aye,” he said. “You can be sure of that.”
He pushed her on her back and multiplied his oral assault, covering every inch of her skin with his tongue and teeth. Massaged, licked, smacked, nipped, caressed, she felt consumed, every nerve ending on fire. He devoured her tongue itself.
When he finally gave her a go at him, she leapt at it. Somehow being held back and then released had escalated her desire. When she came, it was like a wave, tears coming to her seawater eyes. She subsided, melted into the quilt, and he lay down, a stone statue on her body, pressing the day’s breath out of her.
In the morning, she stood at the bay window in the telly room and blew into her tea. The day was promising to be bright and the grass looked lacquered with the dew. All the other houses on the street were the same as hers, stone and brick dollhouses, tiny patch of green by each side door.
She was almost sure it were a one off, her and Sure. Something told her so, despite the sensate sweetling night. Because of it. Or she was preparing herself for her usual fears.
Sure’s quick light steps sounded down the stairs.
“Hot water in the kettle, dove,” she called. Instead, he came into the living room and stood behind her.
“Where was you this morning, lass?” he mock rasped. “Or are you wanting to try it some place new? The rocking chair?” He made to move sideways with her.
“The gall of it. That’ll be my Gram’s old rocker,” she said smiling, but snatching at him just in case. Her teacup tilted dangerously.
He took the cup from her hands and set it on the windowsill, wrapping his arms around her. “So eager. Do you Galway birds always get what you’re after?”
She let herself sink against his body and squinted into the growing light. Maybe it won’t break today, she thought. She imagined walking out of her dollhouse with Sure by her side, her skin singing in the wind, each strand of hair against her face a caress. Maybe tomorrow.
Nur Nasreen Ibrahim talks to Abeer Hoque about “Fuck All Gall.”
Abeer Hoque is a Nigerian-born Bangladeshi-American writer and photographer based in New York City. She has published a coffee table book (The Long Way Home, 2013), a linked stories collection (The Lovers and the Leavers), and a memoir (Olive Witch, 2017). She is currently working on a novel, a chapbook of photos+poems, and a screenplay. Her short story "Gall" is part of an abandoned travel-themed erotic story collection. She likes thrift stores, airplane turbulence, and silver tinsel. See more at olivewitch.com, and find her on Twitter @olivewitch.
Anum Awan is an interaction designer and new media artist, based in the Bay Area, who crafts mixed-reality experiences by blending physical and digital media based on queer, immigrant and non-western narratives. They were born and raised in Pakistan and came to the U.S. in 2008 to pursue a practice in art and design. They are a graduate of Massachusetts College of Art and Design and California College of the Arts and have shown work at San Francisco venues including SOMARTs, the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts, Gray Area and Joe Goode Annex. You can find them at anumawan.com and on Twitter @AnumAwan.