BOOKS IRELAND FLASH FICTION
The Life And Times Of Steve McQueen, by Jennifer McMahon
In the flickering light, Cara is a delicious curve on the edge of my vision. Every sweep of her hand, from tub of popcorn to pouting lips, inscribes a possessive apostrophe. For the third time since the movie started, she nudges me with her elbow, and whispers, ‘Isn’t Robert Vaughn the spit of Mr. Crowley, your French teacher?’
I can’t believe she actually said yes when I asked her out to the cinema, and then she really did come, even though the tenth anniversary screening of Bullitt wasn’t really her sort of thing. ‘Next time, I choose,’ she told me.
I could’ve punched the air, right there in front of her, but now she’s here, sitting beside me, and I want to punch myself in the face. Steve McQueen is cooler than cool. His life is big parties and fast cars. When he hits a crook, that guy stays down. If he wants to kiss a girl, he kisses her, and she doesn’t resist, because he’s Steve, and everybody loves him.
I’m short, with volcanic acne, and I’m only good at maths and French. I’ve never kissed anyone, other than my mother on the cheek.
What am I supposed to do when the film ends and the lights come up, when we file out the door of Cavan Cinema and into the cold night, to stand under the too-bright streetlights?
The other couples will curl into the shadows around the corner, to kiss and touch and melt into one. What will Cara expect? That I’ll walk her home, total gentleman, and talk about the movie? Or will she probe my mind for a solution to some calculus problem? I don’t want my mind probed, I want… I want to be Steve McQueen.
We’re onto the car chase, Mustang versus Charger. Steve is masterful, a man who knows no fear. How could he ever be any other way? Not like me. Not in any single molecule can ever I measure up to him.
Cara runs out of popcorn. I give her what’s left of mine, and she leans towards me so our shoulders are touching. The bad guys crash and burn, and Steve carries on. With Jacqueline Bisset, he’s gentle, but firm when he needs to be. She’s not afraid to tell him the truth. Cara moves closer. Airport, and then to the final scene, at home with Jacqueline. Steve stares at himself in the mirror, but he’s really looking at me.
‘Go on, Liam,’ he says, and it’s only for my ears. ‘Be a man.’
Cara turns to me. ‘That was better than I thought it’d be.’
Even Steve McQueen had to have his first kiss. Even he had to start somewhere. Maybe it wasn’t in Cavan, but that’s where I’m starting. I lean over, and kiss her beautiful, pouting lips.
She doesn’t resist.
Steve McQueen, c’est moi.
Jennifer McMahon’s words appear in the Oxford Prize Anthology and Solstice. She was a Top Ten Finalist in the Oxford Prize, and won the Bray Literary Festival flash competition 2022, while her work has been shortlisted in multiple places. Her novel House Devil was long-listed for Fiction Factory’s Novel competition.