You may call me D.T. His hand was velvet smooth and his eyes were the same. She wavered and ended the handshake too soon. His sister's eyes were on her, an uneven lipstick-red smile. Isabella, she said, pleased to meet you. The light in the room was glowing with flickering light, bleeding and smudging the edges like the corners of that lipstick smile.
All around her people were talking, laughing, drinking. Mostly drinking. All these girls dressed up, standing tall on their stilettos, still hoping there was going to be more to tonight than putting on the flat shoes hidden at the bottoms of their bags and waking up normal. These girls all watched D.T. from the corners of their eyes as they laughed too much, too loud.
A Jane Austen hero, with all the perfect flaws to match. A scar just below his left eye, an alcoholic rich mother and devastatingly well spoken. Named after Dylan Thomas. He was still looking at her expectantly, a hint of amusement creeping into his eyes. She ran her hand down the soft inner part of her other arm, fastening her fingers around her wrist. My sister tells me you paint, he said, a polite interest in his voice. Yes, I do, Isabella searched desperately for something more to say but her mind was blank. Slowly words began to inscribe themselves onto her mind's eye, like black ink staining across a canvas.
What do you do? The ink spilled out of her mouth and she adjusted her expression to match; eyes slightly widened, eyebrows slightly raised. Something about him made her aware of every move she made. His eyes were an explosion of shadows and light, shimmering like the dimmed bulbs in the hall where they were standing, leaning against the cool polished banisters as people flowed up and down the stairs.
I write, he said, but not well.
It's true, a voice came from behind him. Same wide mouth and grey eyes. His sister.
They laughed like only beautiful people can, with teeth and arching necks. Isabel smoothed the silk of her green dress over her hip, feeling as if she was watching the scene from far away, high up in the rafters of the beautiful old house. Outside the big arched windows the night was deepening in colour.
His sister's name was Anna and she wore a red dress that clashed with her auburn red hair, held in a bun at the nape of her neck by a pin that shone with different coloured stones. Her collarbones caught valleys of shadows.
Hello Izzy, she said, is he charming the pants off you like he does with everyone else?
She took a drag off her cigarette and left a bright circle of red underlining the word Marlboro. Isabel suddenly itched for one of her own and fumbled around in her bag on the floor until she found her tattered packet, covered in tiny drawings from the train journey. She righted and, before she could ask, D.T. produced a silver lighter that flashed her reflection back at her as she leaned towards the flame.
Thank you, she said, allowing him his first smile.
There was a faint hum of music reaching the hallway and Anna grabbed her arm. Let's go dance, she said. There was a small painting behind her of a young woman holding a tall black horse by the reins, her face an angelic ideal of radiant happiness. Isabel decided that dancing would be agreeable. She hid her bag under a closet, tucking her cigarette packet into the top of her left stocking. D.T. moved forward to lead the way, and as he moved past her his fingertips brushed off the back of her hand. Let's go, he said, as the night drew ever closer in towards the windows and the girls in their stilettos were beginning to lose all feeling in their feet.
Inside the glowing ballroom the shadows danced and followed the feet that moved across the floor like loyal foxhounds following their master. Isabel found a glass of champagne in her hand and drank it down to feel the heat spread through her veins and calm the jumping nerves that climbed like insects through her skin. D.T.'s hand was on her back and slid slowly down her spine to rest cool on the bare skin where her dress dipped low. He did not look at her to see her reaction, just pressed each finger one by one then touched his flat palm against her and moved her forward through the crowd. Her mind flashed, she thought to resist, but instead she exhaled the smoke from her lungs and caught his eye, held it, the white mist stinging her eyes. Somewhere deep beneath her ribs, a pain began to shout.
I don't know how you do it, Anna said in her ear, lips pulling up, her eyes flicking to D.T.'s hand on Isabel's back. She half smiled back, shrugged one shoulder, the strap of her dress sliding down. Across the room, two girls in bare feet with interlocked hands spun around wildly. D.T. took her hand. Do you dance, Isabel? he asked.
She bit her lip, nodded, let him pull her towards the middle of the floor. His fingers were flecked with ink. Would he write about her? she wondered.
You're very quiet, is anything wrong? he asked. His face was smooth, clean shaven, his eyes full of questioning concern and the reflected lights from the chandeliers.
A girl appeared at his shoulder. Her hair reached for her elbows in rivers of white and yellow and her dress was pulled tight across the hollows where her body should be. When she moved it was as if you could see her veins working beneath her translucent skin. Her honey-coloured eyes flicked across the floor and she blinked lazily, catlike, at Isabel.
Well, well, well, she said, and bared her dazzling teeth at D.T. She leant forward to kiss him on either cheek, sliding her long fingers under his collar to rest on the thin skin of his neck.
Isabel moved away, instinctively. The heat of the bodies all around her pressed into her chest, and she raised her hand to her throat. She briefly raised her eyes to D.T.'s and saw nothing. Turning, she drove between the bodies, not feeling the elbows and hipbones that bruised and marked her skin as she watched the pale wood floor draw her out and up the stairs.
The carpet was soft and muffled the sound of her feet as she shut the bedroom door behind her with a click. The moonlight flooded the room and dyed the sheets, the pillows a radiant silver that hurt her eyes to look at. By now her heart had stopped racing her thoughts and beat softly in the knowledge that it would not be ignored. The flaking paint stuck to her dress as she pushed the window open, letting the freezing night air fight the warmth of her skin, raising goose bumps racing all along her bare arms. She fumbled for her packet of cigarettes, pressed one between her lips, flicking the flame back and forth in the darkness, just missing the cigarette until the heat off the flame lit the end up in a glowing red.
When the door opened, letting in a gust of noise, Isabel didn't turn her head. The door frame creaked as a man's weight was leant against it. The air was thick with smoke and anger.
I've had enough Dylan, she said.
You almost made a complete fool of me down there, D.T. said, his hands in his pockets.
Yes, Isabel said.
What's got into you? Dylan paced a few steps across the room and stopped. His face caught half the moonlight, the perfect mouth traced in shadows.
Why can't we just be normal for one night? She whispered.
The perfect mouth twisted into a mocking grin. Normal, he spat, ah yes.
Isabel ran her hand through her hair, letting it run through her fingers like sand. The darkness swam in front of her eyes.
You want to be normal, Isabel? Dylan unconsciously mimicked her gesture, grabbing a fistful of his hair indignantly, well come on then, we'll go downstairs and find you a nice boy who'll hold your hand in public and buy you milkshakes. Jesus.
No... Stop it, she said, I'm just tired of pretending, every time. It's not fun anymore. What's wrong with acknowledging the fact that you know me? That we're together?
Dylan laughed bitterly. Forgive me for trying to make things a little bit exciting.
But Anna, she looks at me... and that girl down there... I don't know…
Isabel drew her knees towards her and smoked quietly, looking out the window.
This is about the girl, Dylan sounded amused.
Oh god Dylan! Don't you understand! Can't you see! Look at me. You know me. We met two years ago. You told me you were daft with the drug that's smoking in a girl and I believed you had come up with it yourself. I've kissed your scars a hundred times, as you have mine. For god's sake what is wrong with you?
She was crying now, and Dylan caught her wrist and pulled her up.
Calm down, you're being ridiculous, he said.
She pulled away, but his grip tightened, painfully. If you go mouthing off, no one will believe you, he said. His beautiful grey eyes were like steel, hard and cold.
What? Isabel's tears were dripping down to her neck and suddenly the man standing before her was no longer a Jane Austen hero but a Jean Rhys one, a damaged rich boy terrified of reality. Let me go, Dylan, she said.
The front door slowly swung closed behind her as she stepped out onto the grass, the rich night-earth smell cooling her tear-hot cheeks. Her shoes sank into the ground as she wrapped her coat tighter around her and headed towards the train station. She stopped briefly to look over her shoulder at the house, all corners burning with golden light. D.T. was standing in a darkened window, watching her go, his face smooth and empty. In the window below him, beside the front door, Anna stood in her red dress, her hair having tumbled from its clasp. Slowly, she nodded. Isabel nodded back, and, pulling her hood over her head, faced into the empty night.
Sara O'Loughlin was born in Amsterdam in 1988. She moved to Ireland when she was nine years old. She has just completed her final year studying English and Drama at UCD. In the coming year she will join the Writing MFA program in Sarah Lawrence College, New York. This is her first publication.