Joe Loves Ramona But...

The only sound as I walked across the classroom was myasthmatic breathing. There, it's established: I'minadequate. It amplified around and took on theproportions of a snare drum in a football stadium.

She slumbered over the table, wanting me to believeshe was asleep. The other students were outsidesmoking. I walked over and put the book in the spacewhere her arms were spread. Her eyes fluttered behindtheir lids. She sensed my presence. She feignedwaking up, glanced puzzled around her, then at me,then at the book. She welcomed my intrusion, Ithought, but would never admit it.

"What the fuck is this?"

"It's for you." I turned and retreated.

The next day.

"I have a present for you."

"Your telephone number?"

"I don't have a telephone," she lied.

You have given me so much already.

"I looked all night for a stone to give you."

A stone?

"To remember me by. When you hold it you can think ofme and I will always be with you. But I couldn't finda special stone for you."

No worries, it's the thought that counts.

"So instead I'm giving you a piece of paper with theword 'stone' written on it. Here."

Thank you. I'll keep it here in my breast pocket, beside my heart, where you will remain.

"No, you jerk! That was a joke, shit. Here's thestone, okay? I found it in the car-park. Swallow itwith some water!"

My flat is populated by a family of ladybugs. Theydon't fly so much as 'whirr,' epic struggles to stayaloft, when they're in the air at all. They look socontent on terra firma. Probably ladybugs are dirtyand carry disease, but I like them anyway. I comehome and twirl around them like I'm back at the ballin Vienna. Sometimes I carry them to a safer place. I wonder why they seem so reluctant. If I offer thema leaf to climb onto they walk away again and again, but I'm patient. I like the tickle of their ladybuglegs on my skin, especially against the inside of myarm, where there's no hair.

Mostly they are black and red but last week I saw onethat was yellow and green, I wonder what this means,if anything. I hope it wasn't ill.

Today I waited 3 hours for Ramona in a cafe. She wasdown the road having her hair colored. She stood meup. I figured I've wanted to meet someone calledRamona all my life, so I waited, and still she didn'tcome. I sat there drawing stick figures of men fallingoff the earth. I sat there drinking coffee, smoking.I could have gone to the salon. But it was up toher, to come on her terms. They played Kenny G in thebackground, and it rained. All in all a quitedreadful afternoon.

One day in class I'd told her I play sax."You? Come on!"

It was my only dream, now I can die in peace.

We smiled, looked point blank too long, irrespectiveof the other students. They shrugged and grimaced, notknowing how to react when in the company of people inthat "special" place.

"Find a new dream! What's wrong with you, do you havea head injury?"

But she knew I had, found a new dream. Her eyes mademe think of crushed ice.

Thoughts went through my mind as I waited in the caféthat day. Maybe she came early. Maybe she was hit by abus. Maybe she decided that seeing me mightjeopardize her current relationship. It's okay thatshe didn't come. Well, no in fact, it's not "okay," With half a chance I would take her away from him. Icouldn't help thinking of Charles Bronson. One doesat times like these. The same Charles Bronson who'dadvised David McCallum (The then Man from Uncle) thathe would be leaving the party (they were at a party)with the latter's new wife, Jill Ireland. How McCallum laughed! Funny chappie Bronson! Jill Irelandstayed married for 30-odd years, to her secondhusband, a certain Mr. Bronson.

"How was your weekend?"

I went for coffees, down by the river, remember? Youwanted to pass by after your appointment?

"You believed me? Jeez, you are a no-brainer."

I should be thinking - I respect her decision, Idon't want to destroy what they have. I'm not ahome-wrecker. But no, I'm thinking - half a chanceRamona and I will take you away from him. To hellwith chivalry. I burn the codex! Not even half achance, an iota.

Last week on my way home a young girl stopped me.

Monsieur, regardez les fleurs monsieur, elles sontjolies, non?

Oui, elles sont tres belles.

In the middle of the cars and people and stress Istood awhile and looked at the blue and violetflowers on the sidewalk.

Along came her father.

Mais que fais-tu Louise? Tu parles avec tout lemonde!

Mais papa, il est gentil le monsieur.

Oui, I speak French.

She looked over her shoulder and smiled as he led heraway by the hand. Her feet had trouble keeping up withone another. I hadn't noticed it was Spring. Sometimes I wish, not for anything in particular, Ijust wish. And sometimes when I wish I receiveclandestine messages, not all of which were intendedfor me. Wish time, somebody wishes I will neverforget her. Is that all there is, to not to beforgotten?

She could be as happy with me as she can be with him.Say it often enough and you might start to believeit. Then again.

Today the Summer sun smiled in my face, and all I candream of is her lips against mine, the faint taste ofcold smoke, and Ramona retiring me to memory.

I miss her voice. Her voice reminded me of home. There were two employers in the town I grew up in, achocolate factory and a potato chip factory. Shebrought back that smell, a warm, indulging, sickening,excessive smell. There was a swimming pool too, Iremember the chlorophyll, and Saturday morningsburning in my eyes. A long ago place. She took meback there. I smothered myself in her. I fell intoher, but she pulled me, if only a little, it wasenough.


I liked that she addressed me directly. She wouldpush back her chair and make some comment or ask aquestion, about this or that or whatever. Conversations outside the group. She sought contactand was interested in my opinions.

"What the fuck are you talking about, 'teacher'?"

I liked how she made speech-marks with her fingerswhen she called me "teacher." Cute.

She gave me forewarning. She was quick to let meknow how okay her relationship was, reminding me thatshe was another man's woman.

But nobody comes along without you wanting them to.

She told me that she treats him bad, that he's sonice to her. She told me that he cares for her. Shesaw it in a tear in his eye, she felt it in thescratches on her back. She feels a little crazy everysix months, she told me so. Well, actually she wassharing with the rest of the class, but I was therethe whole time. She didn't make not one grammarmistake. The girl impresses on all fronts.

Already the first morning when I introduced myself,"Hello, good morning and welcome! For those of youwho don't know me, I'm Joe Costello and I'll be yourEnglish trainer for the next two weeks. Now, as youmay know, it is quite normal in the English-speakingworld and especially in the English-speaking'business' world, to do business on first name terms. So please for the duration of our time together pleaseaddress me as 'Joe,' which is my name. Otherwise Iwon't know who you're talking to. If you're lookingfor Mr. Costello, he's at home in Melbourne, and I'drather not think about the bastard. Good, anyquestions? No? Excellent. We have an 8am start, a60-minute lunch break, and we'll finish between 5 and6pm, depending on how far we have come with thematerial. There will also be a couple ofopportunities throughout the day to inhale nicotine ifyou so wish. English-speaking nicotine-breaks are 10minutes long, French, German and Spanish breaks are 3minutes long. You may of course also use these timesto send SMS's to loved ones. Questions? No? Good. So, moving right along, I'd like to begin today byfocusing on two questions, the most important questionI'll ask you this week, namely 'Why are you here?',and the second question, the most difficult question Iwill ever ask you: 'Who are you?' Now, do we everreally know who we are? Well, a 14th-century Indianphilosopher said this question consists of threeparts: How do people perceive me? How do I wantpeople to perceive me? And how do I perceive myself? So, with this in mind..."

"What do you want to know – my age, my address, myjob? Or what smells turn me on, what music makes medance, what sickens me about myself? The hopes anddreams I will never realise, and how I deal with thefailure?"

Ehh, yes, actually, yes. That would be fine, jollygood... excellent! So, ehhh ... off you go intopairs, be prepared to report back about your partnerin 20 minutes!

She nailed me in one.

Walking home today I almost stepped on a ladybug.

I looked closer and saw that somebody else had alreadydone the damage. She struggled, she fought to remainin this life. One ladybug wing beat frantically. Iwilled her to live but couldn't help. I wondered ifshe had been one of my house-guests, and if so Iwished that she hadn't left me. I thought I saw aladybug tear. A suit muttered something rude when hehad to step around me on the sidewalk. I gentlylifted her with a gum wrapper and held her in my palm,then closed my hand around her, taking away the lifeshe so dearly longed to keep.

Eight exhausted, drunken hours later I took Ramona'sstone from my pocket to see the reflection in thelight of the full moon. The sky was violet. I liftedit close to my eyes, it glared at me, and slippedthrough my fingers, down down tumbling down. I fellto my knees, lurched forward, the toes of my bootsscraped the ground, away from my grasp, the stoneleft my world and entered a sewer in the street. Itsank into the waste water, never to see light again. Tears welled in my eyes, the dawn-chorus began.

About the author:

Kevin hails from Cill Bharrog, an enchanted forest on the banks of Lake Blarney. On clear days you can see the Hill of Howth. His ancestors were High Kings at Tara.