Mary Byrne

Student Visas

Woman Standing at a Mirror by Oscar Bernal

Bea bitched all the way over on the plane: its lateness, the free drink they gave us by way of apology
– how well they knew us – the ensuing fiddle-playing in the aisle, the loud song and laughter.

On our so-called orientation course, Bea complained bitterly when we were all evacuated after some
bright spark set off the fire alarm to see if all seventeen city fire brigades would really turn out as it
was rumored they had to. Then she bitched right through that summer.

Her shoulders became more rounded, her face darkened from the sun. She hated her work at a
luggage store – she was no good at playing the hypocrite – then hated her work at a tourist ranch,
where they called her ‘Black Irish’ and everything was fake from the saloon fights to the antique
whiskey bottles. Finally, she hated carrying the weight of a hundred dollars’ worth of change around
a casino for cowboy patrons in big hats. If we did manage to go out together, she hated tinkling
pianos in cocktail bars. Sometimes she just stayed at home and read a book.

There was another couple against whom I measured us. While we did nothing, they drove a car from
coast to coast, went to Burning Man, talked to people in bars in lonely places. They’d grown up on
National Geographic, loved the movies, the States, the hand-me-down clothes they’d received in


In the end, Bea contacted our student union, got herself a job in a New Jersey hotel and left me out
west on my own. I did my best to have a good time – this mostly involved drink and dope – before
heading for our flight home, where I knew I’d meet her.

On the plane she told me about an older hotel guest who ordered porridge every morning, because
of his Scottish ancestry. He drove her out in the evenings in an old car that made her laugh. They
drank cocktails along the coast in hotels that don’t exist anymore, on big sofas with fading
upholstery under pillared verandas with cracked paint. She made it all sound boring.

I reminded her that she could be mistaken for insular, petty, incapable of adapting, of change, of
loving her fellow man.


As we parted in Dublin, I wondered if she’d one day realize how beautiful it all was. Even now I
imagine her gazing at photos of resort architecture on obscure websites.

I spotted her one last time, recently, in a cinema in Dublin with an older man who might have been
a husband. She was wearing a poncho and sat hunched over herself, glowering at the screen where
another narrative of our past was being played out.


About the writer:
Mary Byrne was born in Ireland, but now lives in France. Her short fiction has been published, broadcast, anthologized or is forthcoming in Europe, North America, Australia, and New Zealand. Byrne has been recognized by awards from Kore Press, Fiction International, and Hennessy. She is currently working on short fiction collections set in Morocco and Ireland. Her debut collection (set in France) is forthcoming in 2019. Byrne loves philosophy, art, and anything baroque.

Image: Woman Standing at a Mirror by Oscar Bernal (1945-2016). Oil on canvas. 42 x 32 inches. No completion date specified. Public domain.