What Kind of Man by Aoife Flynn

Tonight is the night I’m going to kill Rosalind Farrelly. Yes, the comedian. Or the comedienne, as she calls herself in her Twitter bio, though I can’t tell if she’s using the term ironically or not. Personally, I don’t like it. I mean, I understand calling it “Best Supporting Actress” at the Oscars, but other than for the sake of brevity, I don’t get why some women still attach themselves to those outdated gendered words.

Anyway, I’m going to have to brutalise her. Why? So I was grading papers in my office this morning, listening to the newest episode of The Bartley Bros. Podcast. Now, I know what you’re thinking: what kind of maniac would willingly subject himself to seventy-four minutes of those two Blackrock cunts waxing philosophical about the Premier League and famous women they think are ugly? And yes, on any other day, I’d sooner light myself on fire than let Garrett and James Bartley’s prepubescent voices corrode my ear canal.

But on today’s episode, she was the guest. Ros. I’m going to refer to her as Ros from now on because that’s what she told me to call her when we met. Ros was the interviewee—though I use that word loosely, since I think the only question they asked her was what bra size she wore—so naturally, I had to listen to it. And let me tell you what happened. I was a topic of discussion. Me. Let me set the scene. Ros and the Bartleys were debating whether it was harder to be a man or a woman in the West (a stimulating discussion, as you can imagine, with two men whose singular argument was that they’d had to hide their erections in secondary school). I’ll give you a transcript of what ensued.

ROS. Look, this is pointless. It’s just, it’s categorically harder to be a woman. We’re more vulnerable in every way. And on top of that, there’s this insane social pressure to be nice to everybody all the time, and that just makes you more vulnerable.

JAMES. You don’t have to be nice to everybody all the time.

ROS. No, you don’t have to, but … I mean, especially if you have a job like mine … here, let me tell you something. I’d like to—may I share a story?


ROS. Well, tough shit, I’m gonna tell it anyway. So, I had this, uh, individual, who I first met after a show earlier this year. He came up to me at the bar, he was in a wheelchair, and he was telling me about how he was going through physiotherapy after a skiing accident, and how, y’know, my comedy got him through some rough times, and I saved his life, and all this. So I’m like, ‘You know, I’m really glad. I hope everything turns out okay for you.’ And he’s like, ‘Well, I wanted to see if you would make a bet with me.’ I’m like, ‘Huh?’ And he’s like, ‘My physio says there’s only a twenty percent chance that I’ll ever walk again. But I’m really, y’know, I’m really determined. So I was thinking that it would help, y’know, motivate me, if you agreed that, if I gain control of my legs again, I get to take you out to dinner.’

GARRETT. Oh shit!

JAMES. Was he attractive?

ROS. (laughing) That’s not the point, James, the point is that he was putting me in a really awful position asking me that. I mean, what am I gonna say? ‘No, fucking stay crippled’? No, no, no.

GARRETT. So what did you say?

ROS. I—I panicked. Like, what could I say? He knows I don’t have a boyfriend because it’s in my fucking routine. I couldn’t lie.

JAMES. A twenty percent chance is pretty slim.

ROS. That’s what I was thinking, right? So I said, ‘Yeah, man. Maybe, sure.’ And then I just try and forget about the whole thing, just hope that …

JAMES. Hope the guy never walks again.

ROS. Well, of course not. But, I mean, kinda? So then, about five or six months go by, and I don’t see him, and then one night, I’m in McCausland’s, I get finished doing a set, and guess who comes up to me?


ROS. Guess who comes walking up to me?

JAMES. But Ros, Ros, was he attractive?

ROS. I mean, he was like—first of all, he was a lot older than me. Like, forties.

JAMES. I thought you were into older guys, though.

ROS. Well, it depends on the guy. This guy was like … ugh, he wasn’t my type. And besides, he was a fucking intense nightmare. So I was like, ‘Oh, dude, I’m actually seeing somebody now, I’m sorry.’ And he’s like, ‘What? But you promised me that I could take you out to dinner.’ He started getting pretty aggressive. And I was like, ‘I’m not engaging with this.’ So I got my manager to come over and, like, defuse the situation, and he left. But then the next night, I’m in the Druids’ Club, and he shows up there, too, and pulls the same shit. He comes up to me in the stairwell just before I’m about to go on, and I’m like, ‘Dude! I am not going on a date with you! Can you please let me live?’ And I go on, and he comes into the audience and starts heckling me, calling me a bitch and a whore and all this, and security has to come in and make him leave. And I tell Seán, my manager, like, ‘That guy is banned from all of my shows. Do not let him near me again.’

GARRETT. So what happened to him?

ROS. I don’t know, but I never saw him again. Seán did his job.

JAMES. Well, Ros, I think you were being too hard on the guy.

ROS. Oh, shut up, James. You see what I mean? I can’t fucking win.

JAMES. I’m just joking.

ROS. I know, but there are people who would say that and be dead serious about it. It happens all the time. Women get accused of being too harsh when they’re just trying to protect themselves from misogynistic psychos.

By this point, I was already out of my seat, and hearing the “misogynistic psycho” remark, I launched a fist at my laptop screen, cracking it in the middle. It was mind-bending enough that she believed I was in my forties—I’m thirty-seven, thank you very much, and my hairline is exactly where it was when I was seventeen. And it’s frankly laughable that she thinks that pixie-dick manager of hers has been sending me packing from her shows for the past three months. I lost all interest after that night at the Druids’, and haven’t tried to go to a single show since. She was not, by the way, the Little Miss Sunshine that she made herself out to be on the podcast. When I approached her in the stairwell and made a light-hearted but hopeful remark about the date she owed me, she told me to kill myself. Yes, I’m still talking about the Rosalind Farrelly who tweets her support for the destigmatisation of mental illness in Ireland on a regular basis. Pretty shocking, right? That’s when I realised this was not the Ros I’d fallen for, the charming young woman I’d first seen doing a silly but surprisingly accurate Shakira impression on YouTube, the sweetheart who had fawned over me when I’d rolled up to her in my wheelchair and asked me a litany of questions about my skiing accident (my story was golden—Ros has always said she loves athletes). I still followed her on social media, of course, but only in the way you might keep up with a family member who’s been led astray by substance abuse or bad friends. I had no intention of subjecting myself to her exhausting presence ever again.

But then along came this podcast, and her mindless abuse of the word “misogynistic”. It loses all meaning, ladies, if you stick it on every male you meet who rubs you the wrong way. What if I had tweeted at the Bartleys to let them know this so-called misogynist was actually a tenured professor of gender studies at one of the country’s highest-ranked colleges? How would that make Ros look? But I am not interested in humiliating her, although that’s what she did to me. Instead, tonight, after she finishes her set at the Comikaze Club in town, I am going to follow her home—I know she lives in the area, because any time I’ve seen her leaving the venue, it’s been on foot—and I am going to follow her to her front door, and I am going to bash her brains in.

During lunch, I went for a power walk across campus to cool off, then went back to my office and took some xanax. I started shopping around online for a replacement laptop screen, but at some point I passed out on my chaise longue, and woke up at 4pm dripping with sweat. I’d accidentally left the radiator on full blast, which intensified my sour mood, because too much heat gives me brain-fog, and I couldn’t open the window because of the rain. I opened the door instead, which helped a little, and went back to grading papers, but it’s four-thirty now and all I want to do is go home. You know what? It’s the freakin’ weekend. I’m gonna go pick up some Lebanese food, go home and wash the sweat out of my hair before I head out for the evening. I’m shoving the remainder of the unmarked Virginia Woolf essays into my desk drawer when there comes a soft knocking on the open door.

“Dr. Maguire?”

I look up and see Ellie Halloran standing in front of me. She was a student of mine last year, a small, timid girl, with a penchant for oatmeal-coloured clothes and a mane of hair like Robert Plant’s. A few days ago, she emailed me to ask for a letter of recommendation for a scholarship application to study abroad, in Finland or Tokyo or somewhere like that. It seemed a little odd that she would ask me, seeing as it’s been a while since I taught her, but I agreed to do it because she was one of the few who didn’t sit at the back of the class looking at videos of Instagram chefs baking layer cakes, or spend five minutes making bland, rambling statements about Donald Trump to cover up the fact that she hadn’t done any of the reading I’d assigned. I banged the letter out this morning after coming home from a midnight swim, just as the coke was starting to wear off and the xanax was starting to kick in. “Hello, Ellie,” I say.

“I hope I’m not disturbing you,” she says, entering the room and beginning to close the door behind her.

“Don’t close that door,” I say.

She stops and leaves it ajar. “Sorry,” she breathes. “I just wanted to come by and say thank you for the letter. It was really very kind and … well, much more than I was expecting.”

“Like I said, Ellie, it’s nothing.”

“I wanted to give you this,” she says, approaching my desk and placing a bag from Fallon & Byrne in front of me, before retreating a few steps. “It’s just a token.”

“Really, Ellie, this is quite unnecessary,” I say. I reach into the bag and pull out a bottle of Pinot Noir. “Thank you, but I don’t drink.”

Her face falls. “You don’t? Oh, no,” she says, clapping a hand over her right temple. “Really?”

“Yes, but it’s alright. You shouldn’t have gotten me anything.”

“I know,” she says. Her eyes are moist. “But what you said in that letter, it was … so thoughtful.”

I can’t remember anything of what I wrote after “Ellie is an unsentimental student with impeccable timekeeping skills”, but it’s possible that I got a little carried away. In any case, I make an attempt to shoo her with, “Your gratitude is sufficient. And, uh, that you make the most of the scholarship. I know you’ll do great.”

“Thank you,” she says, and heaves a small, girlish sigh. “It’s a little scary, if I’m honest. The idea of packing up and moving to Seville.” She looks at me and blushes. “Well, I’m sure you’ve been through it, the whole ordeal of studying abroad.”

“No, I stayed in Dublin my whole life,” I say, “which is why I envy you.”

She stares at me momentarily, then whips around and scuttles towards the door. I lean back in my chair, relieved, and start looking around my desk for my car keys. The door closes. I look up and see that Ellie is still standing there, back to the door, the whites of her eyes showing, chest heaving. We stare at each other for some moments. I signal my confusion to her with my open palms. She still isn’t saying anything. So I go, “Ellie, I need you to open the door.”

She doesn’t move. She just looks at me like a small, hungry woodland animal. Then her shoulders slouch.

“I’m sorry,” she mutters, pulls the door open, and hurries out.

I feel like screaming because she’s after closing the door again. I can already feel the air in the room turn practically tropical. I find my keys and stand up. Before I leave, I contemplate the bottle of wine, picking it up and weighing it in my hands. Not bad as far as inconspicuous weapons go. I wonder if I could whack Ros over the head with it. No, let’s not be whimsical—best to stick with the hurl, the old reliable. Besides, it’s been so long since she’s seen any real action.

I have to stay glued to social media this evening because I don’t know when Ros will be leaving the venue. The show starts at 8pm, but God knows what time she’ll actually be on at—she’s headlined at Comikaze before, with her set ending just before eleven, but once or twice they’ve bumped her down the list for some less funny male comedian. And she’s unpredictable when it comes to staying for afters: sometimes she stumbles out at three in the morning, sometimes she barrels out before the show’s even over. Twitter’s no good for gauging that kind of thing, so instead I’ll have to monitor Instagram, where she’ll usually forecast a late one with a series of blurry stories featuring herself and fans wearing her merch, or Seán smacking pretzels between his dick-sucking lips. I leave it till ten to drive up there. It’s a desolate enough area, but on Friday nights the guards are usually around and I’ve been barked at for parking on a double-yellow line before. By eleven, I’ll know whether or not it’s going to be a long night, and I can go park somewhere else until the social media updates run dry and Ros seems ready to leave.

For the moment, I’m sitting listening to the Eagles, eating sour-cream-and-onion crisps and watching the riff-raff pass in and out of the bar. Some of them are my age, or older, but a clear majority are college students. There’s an unusually high number of girls tonight, in jeans and sweatshirts that say “I’m glad I’m here and not in a nightclub” (not literally, though I wouldn’t be surprised to see that actually printed on someone’s shirt). It’s an uplifting sight. There’s a woman with frizzy, dirty-blonde hair flicking cigarette ash into a drain and for a second I’m convinced that it’s Ellie, before I realise, with a chuckle, that this woman is menopausal. Of course Ellie isn’t here. She probably stays in on Friday nights, sipping a reasonable amount of wine and reading Spanish poetry while listening to her roommate having sex. I check my phone, and see I’ve received a new email from none other than Ellie Halloran. Charmed by the coincidence, I click into it.

Dear Dr. Maguire,

I’m writing to you to apologise for the way I behaved in your office this afternoon, and to let you know I wasn’t deliberately trying to make you uncomfortable or put you in a compromising situation. What I wanted to tell you was that I have held a strong affection for you since the first lecture of yours that I attended. I understand that even telling you this is inappropriate, but given that soon I will be in Seville, I thought I might as well share with you the truth, if only to explain my actions. Needless to say, I’m extremely ashamed. It was, above all else, incredibly poor judgment, because what kind of man would you be had you accepted my advances? Certainly not the man I fell in love with.

Rest assured, this is the last time I will be contacting you.

Thank you again for the reference.

Kind regards,

Ellie Halloran

I’m momentarily blindsided. In love with me? Why, before this afternoon, we’d never exchanged two words that weren’t “Ellie?” and “Here.” How could she be in love with me? I consider the idea that this is a mean-spirited practical joke, but then remind myself that my ego has been bruised by Ros’s overestimation of my age on the podcast this morning. She was embellishing the story, as comedians often do; I look good for thirty-seven. I’ve put on a bit of weight over the past couple of years, but it suits me—I was always too skinny in my twenties. It’s not so far-fetched that Ellie, or anyone else, would be allured by my virility.

I hear the venue’s front door swing open, and I return to the present moment. I turn and look, and my heart stops. Ros is walking out with Seán, chatting warmly, her long, bare legs looking white under a streetlamp. They stop at the roadside and exchange a few more words before Seán steps out onto the street and flags down a taxi. For five excruciating seconds I imagine that Ros is going to get into the cab with him and speed out of my life. But no. As he hops effeminately into the backseat, she crouches beside the open door and says with a yawn, “Enjoy yourself, anyway.” She blows him a kiss, the door closes, and the taxi pulls away. Hallelujah! Alone on the kerb, she checks her phone, one hand wiggling idly in her pocket, then slips her headphones over her ears and begins her walk home. I snatch up the hurl from the passenger seat and get out of the car.