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Patrique

Editor's note: Due to the sensitive nature of this essay, as well as privacy concerns, we agree with the writer's use of a pseudonym for the subject of this piece. A few identifying details have also been changed. The important themes of the work remain unaltered.


I was talking on the landline to my sister, who lives in England. Speaking on a proper telephone lends a conversation more substance, I feel. We were discussing The Reckoning, a televised drama, which we had both watched, on our separate sides of the Irish Sea, the night before. In this production, Steve Coogan gives an eerily effective performance playing the part of Jimmy Savile, the highly successful D.J. and television presenter, whose paedophilic crimes came to light after his death, aged 84, in 2011.

He had groomed, abused and raped children and young people on a shocking scale, hiding in a sort of plain sight afforded by working in show business, protected by the aura of his extreme self confidence and celebrity.

I remember he visited Ireland several times. A cousin of ours was a fan of his and the seemingly selfless work he did, raising funds for charity, partaking in well publicised marathons for worthy causes. Our cousin was going to attend a ‘fun run’ of his in Dublin. Why didn’t we go? We were keeping well away; instinctively we did not like Jimmy Savile, or appreciate his demeanour. We thought he was too old to be presenting Top of the Pops, the popular T.V. chart show on which he was a regular presenter, where he waggled his fat cigar about, embarrassing the girls encouraged to surround him on camera. We lamented his straggly peroxide blonde hair, the offending cigar, and the catchphrases he delivered in his North of England accent such as:

“Now then, now then, boys and girls...”

And another, which I find myself accidentally repeating to this day, temporarily forgetting its provenance.

“’Well, ow’s about that then?”

My sister’s and my phone conversation turned to discussing occasions in our past in which men had behaved inappropriately towards us, and this provoked a particular memory I thought I had safely interred in some secret chamber of my brain. I remembered Patrique, the hairdresser, whose salon I visited when I was about seventeen.


Patrique’s salon was in the basement of a premises somewhere off Grafton Street. I frequently had ‘Despair of my Hair’ episodes and my glamorous aunt, Jenny, who was only eight years older than I was, arranged for me to have my hair cut by Patrique. She was a regular client of his; she trusted his skill; her hair always looked amazing.

The day of the incident was not the first time I had been to see him. I had liked a previous cut he had given me, but Patrique himself made me feel uncomfortable. I was inclined to think that he fancied himself as a bit of a Ladies Man and, like many a male hairdresser, he had been probably been unduly influenced by the character played by Warren Beatty in the film Shampoo. Patrique flirted manically, and in my case this was like battering his enlarged butterfly wings off a brick wall. Socially, I was acutely timid, especially around men; getting a conversation going with me was akin to trying to extract haemoglobin from a small grey pebble. If anyone was drawing a cartoon of my utterances, the speech bubbles would have been extremely small.

Patrique wore his brown wavy locks brushed up and off his face, which seemed prematurely wrinkled, especially around the eyes, as if he spent a lot of time squinting in the sun. He probably was no stranger to hot holidays abroad, though I’m sure he took care, most of the time, to wear designer sunglasses. He was slim, wore a white open necked shirt and tan wide ankled trousers, which neatly encased his small Irish bottom. He was shod in Cuban heels that clacked dramatically across the tiled salon floor as he walked, unless he was treading on locks of discarded human hair - the as yet un-swept leavings from previous clients, which muted the percussion.

As had also happened to my female siblings, and many of my contemporaries, over the years I had been flashed at, leered at, and offered unsought-for lifts in cars from strange men. A man had masturbated beside me on the bus once, and the father of a child I babysat for had returned, alone from an outing suspiciously early, told me not to leave, and had sat too close beside me on the sofa grabbing my knee in a vice-like grip. If I hadn’t put away my maths homework already, I would have liked to stab the offending hand with my metal compass.


In the salon my hair had been washed, combed out, and the cut was in progress. Patrique had draped a white towel around my shoulders to protect my clothes from the damp falling tendrils. At some stage, the towel became loose and he readjusted it. As he did so, he let his hands fall down my front and brush over my breasts.

I went bright red, I could see my complexion suffuse with blood in the mirror. I said nothing and his crinkly eyes met mine in our joint reflection. He was revelling. He knew I knew what had happened but I was choosing to ignore the incident, or I was mentally trying to pass it off in my head. “Perhaps, it was an accident,” I made myself think. It could happen, couldn’t it, someone unintentionally coming into contact like that?

The haircut proceeded. Snip, snip, snip.

He did not touch me up, grope me again, and I never spoke of it to anyone except now – in the wake of having seen The Reckoning – to my sister. I caused no fuss at the time, never confided in my aunt or another relative or friend. I even went back to the salon in subsequent months for at least one more haircut. Inappropriate contact did not recur, though I remained on guard as the ghost of the possibility remained at the back of my mind.

The insults and assaults I suffered in my childhood and youth were not in the same league as the more serious offences inflicted by Jimmy Savile. So often, though – in the last century, certainly – men "got away with it," long before the birth of any Me Too movement. When you were a child, leery uncles loomed on the horizon - and when you had grown up and got a job, there were the office pests to contend with. The lecherous man, over whom the female staff vied with each other not to have to sit beside at the office Christmas party. You might leave early lest you felt obliged, were organised into having to share a taxi with him because you lived in the same direction, in the aftermath of the festivities. We called those touchy feely men who invaded your body space and dropped the hand, letches. The term made them seem somewhat impotent, extracted the danger. “He,” the girls at work would point out, indicating some sad specimen, “is just a letch.”

Discussing The Reckoning caused me to take an unexpected trip down a quiet memory lane, unilluminated except for the light of the moon, dark wisps of cloud streaming across its face. Silhouettes of trees were swaying on either side. When I reached the end of the lane I found a generator of some sort with a switch on the side. I flipped the switch and it turned on a spotlight that trained itself on Patrique, who had been hiding behind a bush. He emerged from behind the foliage, blinking his tired, strained eyes against the intense, bright beam; his face looked washed out. He reached for something in his pocket and pulled out a pair of sunglasses, which he put on in an effort to ameliorate the glare; then he ran a hand over his scalp through his upswept hair.


 


Róisín Sheerin

Róisín has performed in a number of roles including poet, actress and comedian. Having just completed the M.Phil. in Creative Writing at Trinity, and turning her writing hand to non-fiction, she is mostly appearing these days as herself.

1 comentario


Beautiful essay 🌠

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