red-yellow by Nooks Krannie

i think orange is a perfect color for rebirth. when i was 6 years old, i was given an orange notebook to write down all the bad things i did in a day. i did many bad things but so did others. there were tiny purple flowers that grew inside the orange cardboard, they multiplied by a dozen in an hour of me having it and started a subway line that ran in thick, gold tracks. all of this happened in front of my eyes. the gold tracks would run all the way from the softest bud on the spine to the darkest corner of spit and chew, all the while remaining in the false shine of the cheap cardboard, orange with fallen teeth marks of a baby.

false memories are real memories to someone, that someone is likely a version of you in a parallel universe and probably has false memories about you that are real memories of you of yourself in this universe that you occupy.

sometimes i wonder if i feel the opposite feelings of the general majority. i love the smell of petrol, i get euphoric when i suffer from any deja vu, i hate cinnamon, i hate apple pie, french fries are tedious, i think kids are evil and killing the planet in vast numbers.

there’s a dream that i had when i was a kid, i have dreamed it so many times since that now i’m not entirely sure if it’s a dream or a memory. a man, big and smelling like styrofoam holds my hand. i look up at him and there are sand waves, convulsing, dropping dull ringlets of purple fire – a waltz of ceaseless dunes on his head. his smile is warm and i can make out half moons staring back at me, fluid and weak somehow. his grip on my hand is one of security and i taste ash on my tongue. as we cross the street, i feel cold but sweet. we get on a big red bus and climb the stairs till we reach a shiny mountain. the mountain speaks in a piled, old voice and i realize it’s a woman, short like my body, wearing yards of lemon peel, drinking acid and shouting insults in my face. i can’t hear what she’s saying but i know whatever it is, it’s true.

all hospital beds smell of a shaman that has bathed in 70% alcohol and mountain dew, that’s how you know you are safe. old fathers, young fathers, everyone gets sick. i never thought one of the deepest regrets of my life would be not being allowed to kiss a fading grain of saffron, ill and dehydrated, on whose body vessels spread rivers and strike currents that have lost their hue, turning a wasted orange.


Nooks Krannie is a Palestinian/Persian female writer from Montreal, Canada. She is the author of two poetry chapbooks, “I have hard feelings & I wish I could quit chocolate” (Moloko House Press, 2016) and “candied pussy” (Thistlemilk Press, 2017). nkrannie.com insta: @nookskrannie

Image Credit: Tu Cam

Building Skyscrapers by Dara Thomas Higgins

The light unravels outside, spills in the windows, across the floor of the hotel bar. The carpet has become golden with day. What’s it trying to prove? We order another round. I’ve switched to whiskey. It’s more formal. You’re telling me about yourself, like an American would.

-In the eighties, you say, I built skyscrapers in Manhattan.

In the eighties I needed to know that, for the kids on the street who pointed and laughed and said you have no da, you have no da, the kids whose fathers came home and painted purple the eyes of their mothers, the bitter tang of chips and booze on the their tongues, the fucking indifference of the world in their ribcage somewhere. Twanging away, rattling around, bouncing off those bones, playing them like the keys of a xylophone. This dismemberment of maleness. But if I’d known, I could say, me Da’s in New York and he’s building skyscrapers. Fucking skyscrapers. And what’s your da building? A car park, maybe. A shopping centre near Cabra. Maybe his week revolves around the dole office, the promise of a few hours queuing in the blue air for a handful of notes and a trip to the bookies on the way home. My Da, single-handedly building skyscrapers. So high and bright, the sunlight twinkling off the glass, the sky fucked by them, these huge things. Single handed. My Da.

-Well, that’s interesting, I said. And I was interested, maybe somewhat impressed. Pictures of workers on a lunch break, perched on a crossbeam, the vista of New York below them popped into my head. I pictured you there, lunch pail beside you, among the other Irish and Polish and Italian lads. Putting down a real legacy, something that will last and be a source of wonderment for years to come. Something even as it’s being demolished will be a spectacle.

-After that, I went residential. Huge gated communities in Massachusetts.

Somehow there was more money to be made in these prosaic sprawls than in five hundred feet tall skyfuckers. Less magic, more money. Isn’t that always the way? And suddenly I’m disappointed, as if you’ve let me down somehow. As if this is your crime, your talk of millions.

The Irish would never, not even from your generation, bandy digits about with such insouciance. I never have money. I don’t know what it’s like. I know, for example, I couldn’t afford these drinks you’re paying for, the largesse of your tab. Or those chinos that hang elegantly off your slim hips. Or the Ralph Lauren shirt. The heavy gold watch. I couldn’t afford it, I wouldn’t want it.

Maybe things are different for you in America. Here old peoples’ maturity is earned in boredom and submission, and worn across the ordinance of their faces. The American male’s greatest misfortune has been an abundance of choice, the niggling doubt you may have bought the wrong thing, perhaps imparted too much of yourself in that television. Oh, you went with the Sony? Yes, I went with the Sony, what’s wrong with the Sony? There’s nothing wrong, per se. I just went with the Samsung. The fear, the fear.

-What about you, you ask. What about me. I’m ordinary, in the way everything is ordinary. It’s a struggle. It’s a succession of minor failures and harsh lessons, this life. It’s a grind. I read French philosophers and complain to walls life is meaningless. That’s me.

-I read a lot. I listen to music.

-What kind?

You see, that’s disappointing. Small. There’s no genre to me. I’ll listen to anything. I don’t mind, I’m just looking to be moved, and it’s the notes that do it. But seeing as you’re asking, I’m an Arcadia man, before the Power Station. Beatles before Stones. While we’re on it, Paul before John. Beethoven over Mozart. Mozart’s just pop music. Right?

You nod. You tell me how you used to hang on Baggot Street as a youngster, still in school. How you’d sneak in to O’Donaghues and sit there during the epic, legendary sing songs with all the greats. Luke Kelly and Anne Briggs and the like. I picture the yellow walls, the smoke an indoor nimbus and the porter on the tables and the mouths open, the decayed teeth and the singing and the singing, and I wish I’d been there, part of something. There’s nothing here nowadays. No scenes.

-Have you ever mentioned me to your other kids?

-No, I have not. I’ve meant to you know, you say, and rest your head on a folded hand for a second, with some intense middle-distance staring that tells me how difficult it is for you. –When I left here. A pause. –I really felt as if I couldn’t come back. It took years. Then my mother became ill. I came back for the funeral.

Great, another family member I didn’t even know I had bites the dust. Corpses are piling up. I’m beginning to think it’s me.

-And then I saw the country was changing. It wasn’t the same grey, hopeless place I left.

You left me to no hope?

-Have you brought them over? Your other children.

-Sure. Ellen met her husband over here, if you can believe that.

Hold on, my sister, prowling for men in my hometown. Perhaps…

-I will tell them. When we’re all together.

-I’d like to, I start. And then I pause and try the intense inward looking, as you have done. But you misread it or disregard it and plough on, telling me how it’s hard to get them all together with the various ex-wives involved, some less accommodating than others.

-Lana never had any more children? You ask. Lana, my mother. Her death left me orphaned on this continent. Precipitated our meeting. I shake my head. -I was sorry to hear…

-It’s fine. She was sick for a while, so it was a blessing.

I’ve said those words to Lana’s friends repeatedly over the last few months. Save your sorrow. Her life was a painful, the end was a release. But whose suffering ended that day? Mine or hers?

You mumble something about how she was a good woman, and you’re sure she made a good mother, but it’s numbing to me. You stretch, the bad leg, the one with veins that had to be removed, wince almost imperceptibly. You flick an eye towards your watch, and pick up your glass, the ice melted. You swirl it around and neck the remains with a calm finality. You’re telling me this meeting is over, as you must have done hundreds of times before in board rooms across the East Coast, discussing the millions and billions required to shelter humans and their belongings.

-I’m glad we did this, you say, and manage to make it sound almost like you mean it. Here in your hotel, your itinerary didn’t even need to change. To get from the plush, combed velour of the couch here in the bar to your suite is a mere matter of a few steps to the gilded elevator, even after your operation.

-I’ve never been here before, I say uselessly. –It really is as nice as they say, I add, for extra uselessness.

-I stay here every time I’m back.

All those times, and where was I?

A regal twist of your wrist and the waiter’s at your shoulder. You place your tumbler on his tray.

You stand and I stand and we’re separated now by only a couple of feet of foot-deadening pile. We admire each other for a moment. I’m taller than you, broader, but you still have your hair and mine is a chimera, wisps plastered across an all too exposed pate. Grandfather, mother’s side, was a chromedome. Not your fault. Your shoes are polished, my Adidas leak. You’re lithe, an animal quality, as if always poised, even with the stick to aid your recovery. We shake hands. I give it everything I have, but yours is rock solid.–It really was good to see you.

-And, uh. You. And I wonder, should I say anything else. What else does one say? –Maybe I’ll drop into you when I’m in America.

-Sure, you say, with a wide, over-bright smile and a twinkle that says: as if that will happen, and I wonder, briefly, if the bank would be quite so accommodating with their pre-approvals now, post-crash, and sure, isn’t it worth a go. Get out a few grand, head to America, meet the family. Try again. Try life again. Fail life again. Fail it better, American style.

-If you’re ever in New Hampshire, you start. But then you stop, and look out the window at the park across the road, the suffusion of golden evening light. Summer in Dublin, its last breaths. The autumn closing in on us, every syrupy sunset coming earlier and earlier. There’s a look that travels across the smooth, soft sheen of your face, as if something simple has occurred to you. Something so simple and so true, something that’s been there for ever and you haven’t noticed. You’re still holding my hand, and suddenly you grasp me. I grasp back, I don’t know what else to do, and when you fall, you pull me down too. I disentangle myself. You’re convulsing, mouth opening and closing, no sounds in there. A waiter reacts quickly. He drops to his knees and listens to your breathing and thumps your chest. I too am on my knees, leaning over.

-I need some space, says the waiter. –Please.

-He’s my dad, I say. The words I have never uttered previously. They sound strange, too weighty, as if unearned by me. The waiter pummels your chest.

-Please.

Someone else from the hotel runs over. A man returning from the gym who’s a veterinarian offers his help. An ambulance is on its way. I watched your face turn blue, a strange hue of polished cobalt. The bustle of hotel staff removes me from your side, and I have to stand, stumbling backwards, falling into a chair as I watch. Within ten minutes the paramedics are there, which is impressive. I imagine they had a special hotline, places like this, with their exclusive clientele of the wealthy and the privileged. There’s overdosing junkies on Thomas Street being ignored right now. And rightly so. Here is a son of Erin, a captain of industry, who did more than the gombeens he left behind here on this sod. He left, he conquered. He accumulated a few wives, as they do over there, and seven children, upon whom he dotes, and a business portfolio, of which he’s equally proud. He won. He deserves his life.

The paramedics are working furiously. Some other patrons are down the back of the bar, looking on idly. The barman hasn’t stopped pouring drinks. I go to him, and ask for another whiskey. He pours silently, freely, not using the little pewter measure. He nods at me, and I back. I upend the tumbler and suck it all down at once. –Stick it on the tab, I say.

There’s nothing for me to do here. I’m no undertaker. I leave. They don’t notice me, any of them. The paramedics are wheeling in a gurney, less enthusiastically now. Outside is dark. Hours must have passed. I take your gold Rolex from my pocket and check the time. I think of the funeral. I wonder will it be here or in America. I’d like to go to America. Start again. Start life again. Maybe get it right this time.


Dara Thomas Higgins is a writer and musician based in Dublin. He currently writes screenplays for State Broadcaster RTE and plays bass guitar for Ireland’s premier psycherock group The Jimmy Cake, among others. @Diplah

Image Credit:  Rohit Tandon

 

Michael McGill

 

Department Store Window, Frankfurt, October 2013

MMK, Frankfurt, October 2013

Graffiti, Digbeth, Birmingham, November 2011

MMK, Frankfurt, October 2013

Michael McGill recently had poems and photographs published in the Embodied Masculinities edition of HARTS & Minds journal.  He also has work published in Funhouse Magazine, The Transnational, New Walk and Ink, Sweat and Tears.  Michael performed his poetry on The Verb on BBC Radio 3. 

They’re on the Roof Again by Odrán Waldron

The stone hit her window and interrupted her shaking. Her teeth cut against each other with fright, the top row jagging off the inside of the bottom row, but she bounded on the balls of her feet towards the window, toes folding underneath. Jess knew the stone had been coming, but had let the anxious pit of her stomach steal away her awareness of time passing. She was shocked back into a linear cycle by the clang of stone on double-glazing. She folded down the handle of her skylight and climbed out onto the sloped black slates of the roof. Laura was there waiting for her.

Jess’ house was the only one for miles. From her vantage point, she could see the metallic red of Laura’s bike, strewn in the ditch that framed a narrow country road roughly half a mile away. The sheen of the bike stood out against yellowing greens of the furze and gorse that made up three quarters of the view from the roof. Laura was singing a Lorde song quietly, underneath her tongue. “L-O-V-E-L-E-S-S,” she sang and then belted the last word out into the countryside as she stretched it beyond all recognition: “GENNNNNNEEEERRRRRRRRAAAAAAAAAAATION.”

“Shhhh,” Jess hissed at her, tugging the sleeve of a red and blue plaid shirt.

“What?” Laura asked. “Good tune.”

“Yes, it’s fantastic and Lorde is a luminescent spectre of hope in a world severely lacking any, but that doesn’t mean you should sing her songs out loud on my roof while my parents are downstairs.”

“As if anyone would hear.”

“Look around you,” she said, propelling her arm in a semi-circle. “There’s nothing but cows here. There’s no other sound; we hear everything. Things aren’t vying for space in the winds out here, they make the space theirs for the time they exist.”

It was almost as if one of the cows in the field a mile in the direction of the village had heard her kind being referenced. It looked at them. The cow stood on the crest of a hill with the receding sun behind it. Laura held its gaze. She turned back then and sang the word “generation” again in a whisper. “If you mix up your eyes a little bit, it looks like that cow is standing in the sky,” she laughed.

“You’re such a dope,” Jess said, shaking a simper back and forth.

“Relax, Jess,” Laura said, and, oddly, she did. Jess lay back against her roof, feeling the ridges of the slate settling themselves in the interstices between her vertebrae with familiar, yet welcome, discomfort. Laura unfolded herself into the sloping of the roof too and when she had fully lain down, she rubbed the bud of her nose against Jess’s shoulder, the stud in its left side moving with it. “Thank fuck it’s not windy,” she said, her lips brushing the cotton sleeve of Jess’s green Abercrombie hoodie. Laura looked resplendent in the greys and oranges of the pre-sunset summer evening, her brown hair was tossed from her climb, her eyes were wide and dilated to the point of minimising hazel irises, and her smile had widened to flash her fangs and display the brittle chipping on her left lateral incisor. Jess wore less emotion and a heavy peroxide fringe down to her eyebrows, one of which bent as she watched Laura at her shoulder. Her thin lips hinted at a smirk on their outskirts. She looked away, back towards the field and the almost sky borne cow and said, “Yeah. Thank fuck.”

They barely spoke after that; they rarely did on these nights when the absence of school in the morning allowed them to chisel at the evenings without the urgency of looming early awakenings. This was the last one of those evenings for some time; the day after the next was Monday, the last one of August and the beginning of fifth year. At some point, Laura’s head would move more solidly onto Jess’s shoulder and then Jess would stack her head on top, like some cranial, romantic Jenga. The evening air was cathectic with a contentment too mature for the youngsters to fully grasp and appreciate; this was the peace of being in exactly the right place at exactly the right time, doing exactly the right thing. They breathed through nostrils; Laura’s left soughed with a blockage that she didn’t bother to clear. Still, the girls knew there was something there, some equilibrium of life that would be impossible to maintain as time slicked and slid by them. They never allowed themselves to be out of time, they clung to it and for now it was all they could do to allow their eyes to be flooded by the flooding of greens between ditches and fields and the light to dark greys of sky to road. The cows and bike interspersed where they could, but this was a scene of motionlessness, only varying in degrees. They knew that they would have to get down eventually, and when it came time to do so, they were as silent as possible, with only the knocking of knees on slates, the light bounce from Jess landing back on the balls of her feet on her wooden floors and the harsh crunch of gravel under Laura’s Vans making any indication that there was life in this part of Goldfields parish. Still, it alerted Jess’ parents.

Jess’ father, with beard and cropped hair more white than black at this point, breathed a gust through his nose, a sort of unmouthed attempt at a chuckle, but didn’t shift in his armchair or look away from the television.

“Hmm?” his wife sounded, curled on the armchair’s matching sofa to his left, looking up from the book in her lap, over her glasses and through her forehead.

“They’re on the roof again,” he turned his head and said. They both gave half-smiles at the right sides of their mouths before he turned back to the television and she returned to her book.


Odrán Waldron is a writer and journalist from Kilkenny who has been published in Cold Coffee StandStorgyThe Journal and New Socialist among others. He babbles on Twitter @odranwaldo.

Image Credit:  Sandra Chile

Stefana McClure: Reconfigured Books

Infinite Jest: a novel by David Foster Wallace, 2016 – 2017, cut paper, 55 cm circumference

Moby Dick: A Novel by Herman Melville, 2005, cut paper, 53.5 cm circumference

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through The Looking Glass, two books by Lewis Carroll, 2012, cut paper, 34.5 and 35.5 cm circumference

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: a novel by Haruki Murakami, 2008, cut paper, 40.5 cm circumference

Map of the World (Central Europe), 2006, cut paper, 56 cm circumference

Map of The Universe, 2009, cut paper, 65 cm circumference

 

Born in Lisburn, Northern Ireland, in 1959, Stefana McClure received her BA from Hornsey College of Art, London, and continued her studies at Kyoto Seika University, Japan. Recent solo exhibitions have been held at Bartha Contemporary, London; Sleeper, Edinburgh; Arróniz Arte Contemporáneo, Mexico City and Josée Bienvenu Gallery, New York.

Hollow Earth Theory by Gerard McKeown

We grew to one side in millimetres, not miles. The house, a hollow squat, purred amid our quiet. Your stomach drained nightly into our mattress. Vinegar breaths melted frost on the windows.

                        Our voices drilled the walls, vibrating molecules, as the sound passed through, but didn’t mark, the paint and plaster. My voice prodded you for warmth. Its weight curved your spine. You replied in hacks and sniffles that spread germs and caused colds. Your breakneck sneezes broke the windows.

                        Quiet kisses blew away down the hill, searching for someone new. Their sounds travelled underground, to echo and haunt us.


Gerard McKeown is an Irish writer living in London. His work has been featured in The Moth, 3:AM, and Litro, among others. In 2017, he was shortlisted for The Bridport Prize. More work can be viewed at www.gerardmckeown.co.uk

Image Credit:  Wenniel Lun

Kerrie O’Brien

Bewleys,  Dublin 2017.

Flower Seller, Grafton Street, Dublin 2017.

Grafton Street, Dublin 2017.

Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2017.


Vienna 2017.

 

A selection from a series called City Light, all taken with an Olympus Trip on 35mm film. 


Kerrie O’Brien is a writer, photographer and painter from Dublin. Her debut collection Illuminate was published by Salmon Poetry in 2016. She currently working on a solo exhibition. 

Currents by Jamie Stedmond

They lay there in bed together in the pale sunlight of a seaside morning. He woke first, and she after him. Her head was a warm weight on his chest. She could feel his heart beat slowly; slowly, at least, for a heart. They lay together entangled in white hotel sheets: soft, thin and cool.

She was the first to get up, swinging her legs around and over the edge of the bed. She let out a little gasp as her feet touched the cold tiles, tiptoeing as quickly as she could to the bathroom. He squinted out at the balcony, which forecasted good weather, judging by the sunshine on the white plastic furniture. His eyes slowly adjusted to the daylight as he ignored the dimness of the room and continued to watch the balcony.

“You alright?”
“Yeah, jus…”

“Hm?”

“Nothing”

The nothing was said without much meaning, absentmindedly and morning slow. He moved himself to sit on the edge of the bed and stretched his shoulders as he yawned. She took her phone off charge and scrolled through a feed with lazy concentration. He searched through a bag on the floor for clothes for the day.

“Did you see?”
“What?”
“Joany’s sister, she got her thing”
“Oh, right”

He began to get dressed, slipping into a pair of shorts and a shirt, and after a couple of confused mid-morning misbuttons he was ready. The fabric felt fresh and tactile on his skin, his holiday clothes were nicer than his everyday clothes, which struck him as impractical at that moment. He asked her what she fancied doing today and she said that she didn’t mind. She tossed her phone somewhere into the swell of sheets on the bed and went out onto the balcony. She watched the wind whip the water further out at sea, the sun making millions of dazzling little pinpricks of light on the surface.

“Actually, I fancy a walk, down to the beach maybe”
“Yeah?”
“…”

She could see the water lapping gently over white sand at the shore. It wasn’t like the beaches back home. Back home most beaches were rockier, long strips with floors of wet pebbles clumped together. It seemed strange to her to use the same word to describe them both. She remembered swimming in the sea back home, so much colder, both of them would come out of it all red, panting and laughing. Then they’d sit together in warm dry clothes, still a little wet and shivery, eating bland, watery chips in a cafe. Loading them up with sea salt was the only way to eke a bit of flavour off them. She almost started to ask him if he remembered the chips, the phrasing came together in her head, but the words died off in her throat.

He always said she looked beautiful with her hair wet. It would go from brown to black and form a tight cap on her skull, leaving dark tendrils clinging to her back. The sun there had dried her hair out a bit, she was aware of its frizziness but unbothered to brush it.

“You ready?”
“Gimme 2 minutes”
“Alright, I’ll wait outside”

He stood waiting for her in the corridor outside the room. The hallway was long and anonymous. He always found it strange how hundreds of people were staying in these rooms and yet he never saw anyone in the halls. He felt the same way about estates. He’d said this to her before and she’d made the point that they themselves only spent a few minutes each day actually traveling through the estate, coming and going. They were as invisible as their neighbours. He’d said she was right, he just wished they somehow weren’t such lonely places.

“You look nice”
“Thanks”

Their sandals made a slapping sound as they walked down the hallway to the lifts. The first lift they called opened to reveal a maintenance man with a large bucket and trolley filling its space. After a little while another one, empty this time, gave off a soft ding as it reached their floor. It was cool and silvery in the lift and music played from somewhere. She hummed along with the tune, he didn’t know it.

“I used to be scared of lifts when I was a kid”
“I remember you told me that yeah”

That had been a long time ago. He’d wanted to take the stairs and she had said that it was too many to walk up. When he told her she asked was he still scared and he said no, he was just very used to taking the stairs now. He said he used to lose his sense of orientation when the lift moved, and was left feeling like he was vibrating in place, falling and rising at the same time, being phased out of existence. It had made him very uneasy; he had thought it felt like dying, but he’d only been a child and didn’t really know what that meant. Poor baby, she had said, smiling and taking his hand to lead him to the lift.

The lobby contrasted the corridor greatly, it bustled with the life that hotel hallways and housing estates lack. Children ran between cheap, ornate couches, being chased slowly and laboriously by bent-over parents. The people sitting on the couches watched the two large televisions on the wall, one showing a football match, the other a 24hr news channel. Groups of people stood together drawling the day’s plans back and forth at each other, streaks of suncream visible on their faces which were shielded from the sunlight by the brims of large hats, receptionists beamed friendly smiles at guests whose own expressions ranged from polite to confused and enraged, porters wheeled trolleys of luggage back and forth between it all, weaving through the crowds without ever changing course, on a separate plane of existence to the rest. They made their through the lobby, not talking to, or taking great notice of, anyone within it.

“Wooph”
“Yeah, wow, hot out”

The sun swooped down on them as soon as they came out of the hotel, cloistering them in muggy feathers of heat. They felt the breeze brush over their skin, the air was hot and crisp. They began to make their way downhill, toward the sea, sauntering along steadily, their sandals sometimes slipping on the smooth white tiles that lined the roadside. At one point she almost came tumbling down, as her yellow flip-flop slid too far on the surface and upset her balance. He reached out to help steady her, a little too slowly. Instead she grabbed hold of a nook in the wall beside her to avoid falling.

“You okay?”
“Yeah… just, my hand, a bit”

Her palm was slightly grazed. Furrows of torn epidermis had been traced across her hand, and at select points, little blooms of blood were coming through. She hid her hand from him. She knew the sight of blood him made nervous. He’d always get a bit faint whenever he saw anyone bleed, whether it was from a nick he’d given himself peeling potatoes, or a gunshot wound staining a shirt on the television. The only time it didn’t bother him was around the water. The seasalt stung and sealed, it smarted and healed. This was just as well, they were always coming out of the water with little scratches and scrapes. Little cuts, from the thrust of the waves, the craggy rocks that lined the beach, the detritus of the shore. Little cuts, on arms, and on elbows, and feet.

One thing that had mesmerized her was when his feet bled. She felt there was something so strangely beautiful about his feet: broad, pale and wrinkled, with trails of blood swooning down them, the deep red turning almost orange as the seawater met and calmed it. Something so strangely beautiful about his face: usually distant and panicked at the sight of blood, especially his own, smiling and satisfied, prepared to let his blood stain the sand, to let himself be content and things to run their course.

Upon reaching the beach she was forced to revisit her tiptoeing motion from the morning, this time to skip across sunbaked sand. He kept his flip-flops on, and walked calmly behind her. She always put them in her bag once she got to the beach, to save them getting sandy. He followed her further down the beach, closer to the water. She found a spot a little back from the lapping waves and seemed satisfied. She unfurled her towel, and when he got there, he unfurled his, next to hers. Then they lay there for a little while, in the sun, silent, little drops of sweat beginning on their foreheads.

“Do you want to go for a swim?”

It was the night after a swim the first time she’d said it.
“Hm?
“…”
“…”
“A swim”

and this first time she’d said she loved him it had been a shout. Her words had floated across the dark, like wind in a void; the first and only thing he would ever have called magic

“Hmmm, not really”

“…”

and when he said it back he said it quietly. He said it softly, like he was afraid of breaking its bones. His words exploded in the vacuum and she thought that she could see him by their light; the first and only thing she would ever have called real.

“You sure?”
“Yeah… don’t feel like getting wet”

and then they’d kissed and since then the days had skittered by electric: running for the train their coats fluttering behind them like capes and drinking wine in bed at night and holding hands in the dark of the cinema and walking along wet and lonely streets at night and laughing and shouting and warming their hands with cups of tea and he’d drink earl grey and she drank breakfast tea and she’d hold him when he cried in the mornings and he’d wait for her bus when he had nowhere to go and she called him at odd hours whenever they were apart and his voice made white noise of everything else around her and night after night and day after day and they’d burst up out of the water together like geysers and send spray up to the heavens and they’d ignore the current whenever they swam towards each other and

“What’s wrong?”
“I’m fine”
“You’re crying”
“…”
“Is this about last ni-”

“No”
“…”

“…”

“Please, what is it?”
“Nothing”

I’m sorry
I know, It’s okay.

The nothing was spoken, and in itself, as a word, hadn’t much meaning there, particularly. But words and meaning were different… words changed, broke down, drifted away… somehow, meaning, was always preserved, like ancient honey; insects in amber; bogbodies. Water lapped at the sand, the sun retreated and gave way to cloud. Now there was meaning.

Slowly, the sky became completely clouded over, and they were dwarfed beneath its cover, as if under the foliage of great trunkless grey-leafed trees, lost in a forest, it’s leaves and branches dampening the sound of nearby sea.


Jamie Stedmond is a young Irish writer, currently based in Dublin. Jamie is pursuing an MA in Creative Writing at University College Dublin, through which he is working on a debut novel. Previously published on Paragraph Planet, and Cagibi, as of January.

Image Credit: Sam Wheeler

Oldies Night at Sidetrack by Adrian Slonaker

 

Alex stood against the wall in what is known as the gay bar on Sunday night, Oldies Night. The screen displayed a parade of audiovisual snippets of nostalgia designed to elicit smiles and memories, a kind of escape. But the gay bar itself was a kind of escape from a world where someone felt out of place, marginalized or just plain fucked-up. Alex was supposed to be among his own kind, although even here there was a hierarchy of haves and have-nots. Alex watched the grainy images of Petula Clark and Tom Jones and inhaled slowly on the Du Maurier Ultra-Light cigarettes he knew were turning his fingertips a grotty shade of gold. Yet he did it anyway because the hits of nicotine compensated for lacklustre serotonin levels. If it hadn’t been nicotine, it would’ve been chocolate. And too much chocolate would’ve cause more unsightly damage than a few ochre fingertips.

He didn’t normally drink booze-not even on his twenty-first birthday eighteen months earlier, but he wanted to feel something special, something different. He forwent his Diet Coke and ordered an Absolut blackcurrant slushie. The smiling, tanned bartender, muscles bulging, cheerily handed the slender, overpriced glass to Alex. The bartender smiled at everyone. That’s how he stayed employed. Alex sucked down the sweetness; it reminded him of blackcurrant pastilles he crunched as a lonely suburban child. Then the vodka slammed into his head with a not unpleasant rush. He fellated the straw with more gusto and slurped again. He was now watching the Beatles while simultaneously eyeing the parade of fellas marching, stumbling and sashaying past. Queens, leathermen, bears, twinks, businessmen, pimple-dotted students. Pensive types, sluts, gigglers, the stray fag-hag escorted by her loyal attendants.

He lit yet another Du Maurier. He also lit a Du Maurier for the dude in the blue cowboy shirt next to him who had asked for one, flashing a flirty smile with a hint of somehow genuine warmth surrounded by thick whiskers. ‘Thanks, cutie.’ Sharing the wealth. Building up karma, Alex guessed. The smoky, dim room reeked of liquor. Reeked of sweat. Reeked of masculinity. And cologne sold at a variety of price points. And desperation. Alex wondered who came here on New Year’s. And Christmas.

Alex politely-since his Mennonite parents had once instilled courtesy practically into his corpuscles- edged away from drunken conversation from a skinny, drowsy-eyed twenty-something with stereotypically Polish cheekbones who was floundering in a river of consonants punctuated by a few token vowels. He might have been be trying to pick up Alex. Or sell him cocaine. Or discuss quantum physics. Alex couldn’t understand him due to his slurring and the noise levels. And Alex didn’t want to understand him because he wanted to be left alone. Aloof. Just among people. But detached. Or did he?

The Guy fascinated Alex. Not the drunk, but this other Guy. Unpretentious, blokey, but not cartoonishly so, boxy-shaped, like a pit bull, accessible, low-key, clad in a white t-shirt (or a singlet? It was hard to tell.), black leather biker jacket, blue jeans, trainers. A receding hairline. Fortyish. Or fiftyish. That was honestly hard to tell, too, especially since Alex was bad with ages. And directions, for that matter. The Guy was sipping something piss-coloured, likely a beer. He was studying the Searchers performing on a Ready Steady Go clip. With sad eyes-The Guy, not the Searchers. So The Guy liked ‘Sweets For My Sweet’, an innocent song from a supposedly more innocent era, at least on the surface. Alex didn’t know how to read into that. The Guy had sad eyes too, sad espresso-coloured eyes capable of arresting Alex’s attention. And nice, pulpy lips-but in a butch, Harley-Davidson-riding way. And ebony caterpiller-like eyebrows. And broad shoulders. Boxy, again. Alex wondered who The Guy was.

The Searchers ended their performance to thunderous, decades-old applause on screen, and The Guy slid off his stool, turned and headed out into the street. It was about time. It was getting late. So Alex followed, snaking his way through the dense, throbbing crowd and out the bouncer-guarded door. The mid-May air at 1:00 a.m. was refreshingly cool. Sweeter than the slushie, even in the bowels of the city. Alex followed The Guy as he took a leafy side street. It was on Alex’s way home, after all. The long way home, but still. A few dark blocks down, The Guy crossed the road. Alex had thought he’d caught The Guy peering over his shoulder at him a couple of times. But now the Guy stopped and brazenly stared. Alex followed suit. It was like a hunter face-to-face with his prey, but whether Alex was the hunter or the prey was uncertain. Even he didn’t know. There was only stopping and staring. And silence. Something had to happen. Sometime.


Adrian Slonaker works as a copywriter and copy editor in St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada. Adrian’s work has appeared in Always Dodging the Rain, Aberration Labyrinth, Nixes Mate Review, Red Weather, Red Fez and others.

Image Source: Alex Knight

The Piano by Sorcha Fogarty

My husband is deaf. Once, he asked me if snow made a sound when it fell, and I lied. We have been married 11 years today, and I am leaving him.

He is in the bakery on the corner where it is warm and they know him well. He will return within the hour to our apartment with a box full of little cakes which he ordered especially for this day. He will walk through the door and toss his keys into the little ceramic bowl on the hall table. I am the only one who ever hears the sound of the keys as they fall into the bowl. He will place the cakes on the second shelf of the fridge and seek me out, but I will be gone.

There is a violent rip in the couch. A giant piece of leather hangs off the armrest like a tongue. It has ruined the couch, but we never bothered to get it repaired.  Just like us. One violent rip has divided us forever. We love each each other differently now; we just remind each other of what is missing. Each time we look at each other, an inexorable ache rises up from deep inside both of us. It is tangible. It pollutes the air between and around us. We have almost completely stopped looking at each other. Instead, we look through each other, or behind each other, or around each other. The ashtray is empty and now only decorative in function, and it tempts me to smoke again. My lungs are hollow and empty and long for the weighty, constricted feeling of being a smoker; just to feel something, anything. Just to feel a feeling that isn’t interminable, unresolved sorrow.

He plays the piano every day, and I am taking it with me. It was made in 1783 in Prague. It sits quietly in the corner now, poised for exile. We’ve moved home three times in eleven years, and each time, the piano goes out of tune when it enters a new environment, as if it were afraid of change. My husband once told me that in the darkness of its body, deep in its belly, there is a piece of him which is living secretly, breathing, pulsating, fed by scherzo and allegro. I am taking the piano for exactly this reason. Inside, quiet as dust, a part of my husband anticipates resurrection, while I have given up completely. I do not want him to have the benefit of resurrection when I know I will never experience such merciful relief.

He is watching the fat baker squeeze the icing in the shape of tiny red hearts onto the little cakes that we are supposed to share with our friends tonight, in celebration of our anniversary. He once told me that he loved me because I was the only thing he could hear. He can feel the vibrations of the piano strings through the soundboard, but I am inside him, he said. I am a song soaked into each bone of his secret body where the world has never been able to wander.

The fat baker is packaging the cakes. He places them delicately into a pink box, tying it up in white ribbon with a flourish. I want to leave before my husband returns, otherwise I will be swayed by the sadness in his eyes and have to wait yet another year. I am running out of years. I have to be on my way to the airport; the piano movers should have been here half an hour ago. I do not want my husband to find them struggling on the stairs with a part of his soul. I want no scenes.

I have already burned all the photographs; they made a crackling sound and set off the smoke detector, which I promptly smashed. He won’t need it because he is deaf and it gives off only a minute vibration, too mild for him to notice. I have written down all the reasons why I am leaving, and I am overcome with a sad longing for the world, to be a part of it again, because I have not spoken to anyone for weeks. I must go now, I can’t wait for any more tomorrows. My feet barely touch the ground as I take a final sweeping look around the apartment. My heart is in my mouth. I can feel it throbbing and taste the pulse.

For some unknown and annoying reason, the moment we met fills my mind. He was giving a recital. I was with friends, eager to see and hear this deaf pianist, like a sort of modern-day Beethoven. I felt like a voyeur, not really caring about the music, but fascinated by the idea of this man. He played several pieces, but the only one I recognised was Chopin’s Nocturne op.9 No.2, with its beautiful, discordant notes. And I was mesmerized by the way he played. It was as if he was listening to every single note, his head bent towards the keys, his eyes half-closed. His fingers dancing like little ballerinas, so delicate and long and elegant. After the show, I went up and introduced myself. I couldn’t resist. I wanted to hear if he could speak at all. It was crass and nosy of me, but he could speak; with palpable strain and effort, he forced out a melody of muffled sounds in an awkward staccato rhythm. I complimented him on his Chopin rendition, and he told me it was his favourite, that he played it every single day. He invited me for a glass of wine. We went to a wine bar, one of those little places that plays quiet but lively jazz in the background, dimly lit by candles on each table. It was there that he asked me the question whether or not snow made a sound when it fell. He wrote it on a napkin, and underneath his question, I wrote, “Yes. It sounds like angels falling”. But of course, he would never hear an angel fall. It was an in impossible answer to an impossible question. But he took my hand immediately, and tears filled his eyes. And he said “Thank you”, with his stunted, strangled voice. A trickle of red wine stained the napkin as we continued our evening. I kept that napkin for years. But today, I burned it with the photographs.

Albert Camus suggested that we would not love if there was no lack within us, but we are offended by a similar lack in the other. Expecting to find the answer, we only find the duplicate of our own problem. And, as a result, we become disgusted, disappointed, and try to flee from the other in an attempt to flee from ourselves also. Inside my husband, outside him, all around him, is the duplicate of my problem. I can never be free, I know that, and I know I can never flee from myself; but I can at least flee from his hopefulness, from his will to force life to go on, which only serves to exacerbate my own emptiness.

The piano movers arrive. They are brusque and professional and ready to get on with the job. They manoeuvre the antique piano down the winding staircase of our apartment building with cautious, studied movements. As they make their descent, the door to an apartment on the second floor opens, and a frail Russian woman called Ida who has lived in the building for over thirty years puts her hand on my arm and looks concerned.  She sees my eyes, she sees the panic and the longing. She wants to know has there been any news. She always wants to know has there been any news. There is never, and there will never be, any news.  I am also escaping from her. I am escaping from the constant questions, the pitying looks, the awkward silences, the stilted conversations on the stairs or outside her apartment door. I tell her, babbling, making no sense at all, that my husband is in the bakery buying little cakes iced with tin red hearts, and I have to be in the taxi on my way to the airport before he returns. I tell her it is our eleven year anniversary and I am leaving him. This makes her gasp; her eyes water, and she lets me go, offering some support or strength or affirmation with a slight squeeze to my shoulder.

I shut the front door of the building behind me. I have no bags, except for a small handbag which contains my passport, my aeroplane ticket, some money, and the address of my new home written on a scrap of paper. I don’t want to take anything with me. Just the piano.

He was playing it the moment the phone rang, eight years ago. A little girl had been found, lying on the wrong side of the footpath, face-down on the road, blood seeping through her little blue coat. Our phone number was in her bag, in her little notebook with the birds and the rainbows on the cover. She had wandered from school. Whoever hit her, whoever killed her, just drove off and left her there. The driver was never found. Her ponytail was sticky with dirt and blood. A tiny bird, broken and forgotten. She was there one minute, perfect and small and dressed so smartly in her little blue coat, and gone the next. He was playing the Chopin Nocturne when I hung up the phone and went to find him. With shaking hands I spoke to him, my fingers trembling as I made the shapes of the letters because I could not speak. My mouth would not work, my tongue dry and lifeless in my mouth.  He never played Chopin again.

I can see his face now, as he enters the apartment, and sees the space where the piano once stood. I can imagine the emptiness that will follow him around. I can imagine him sitting him at the edge of our bed, her photo, the only photo I didn’t burn, in his hands, as he too remembers the night that he asked me if snow made a sound when it fell. He makes his way to where the piano used to be, and, sitting on the stool which I left behind, he holds his hands out in front of him, poised over the no-longer-there keyboard. Closing his eyes, he mimes Chopin’s Nocturne op. 9 No. 2.

The pink box of little cakes iced with tiny red hearts sits forgotten on the bed, her photograph beside it.


Originally from Omagh, Co. Tyrone and presently living in Cork City, Sorcha Fogarty completed a PhD on “The Affirmative Nature of Impossibility in Jacques Derrida’s Work of Mourning” in 2010, and spent several years teaching Undergraduate English in University College Cork. She has previously had academic articles, based on Jacques Derrida, published on The Literary Encyclopedia, an online journal. She has spent the past six years teaching Creative Writing in various libraries around Cork City, and presently works as an Assistant Librarian, while continuing to teach Creative Writing. 

Image Credit:  NeONBRAND

Body by Mia Döring

My body is a real thing. It exists in the world. It takes up some space. The air parts around it as it
moves. It weighs ten and a half stone and it is five feet ten inches tall. It is 33 years old, nearly 34.
It has thick long brown hair which falls below the shoulders. It has two green eyes. The left eye is
slightly smaller than the right. It also has a slightly heavier eyelid overlap. The eyelashes are
different too – scarcer, patchier.

My body is covered in skin. The skin never stops, even all the way inside the places that open up –
mouth, throat, vagina, ears, nostrils – all constant skin. My skin ranges in colour from very pale
creamy peach neck and chest and belly to pink arms and hands to red blotches on my knees and
elbows to white where the skin has died on my fingers and face and heels. Some of the skin has
been pigmented by tattoo ink – wrists, arms, shoulder, back, stomach. There is scar tissue on the
left wrist, on the left eyebrow and on the left knee. Around my fingernails the skin is sometimes
jagged where I’ve torn it, or pricked it, or pulled it, or scratched at it. I am most uncomfortable with
skin. It is exactly where my body meets the outside. It is where I end and it is where I begin. The
presence of some bones is visible through my skin. My collar bone, the nub of bone at my wrist.
My jaw. All around my face. My elbows. I feel at my most self indulgent and wallowing when I
contemplate existing inside my body. Most of the time I try to avoid doing this. I regularly remind
myself that my skin cells regenerate every six weeks. This skin is not that skin.

I am most comfortable when contemplating my innards, or things we cannot see. Guts and organs.
My heart. Intestines. Things I don’t know the name for. Blood and fluid. When I was a child I
enjoyed slicing a thumb with a sharp blade and pulling the skin apart to see the inside. The raw
pinkness, warning spots of seeping blood. I’d nibble at the dead skin, gripping it between my teeth
and pulling until I’d painfully rip live skin, revealing redness underneath. I often had plasters on the
skin of several of my fingers at a time. My mother got so frustrated with my skin nibbling habit
that for a while she made me brush anti nail-biting fluid onto my finger tips.

My skin is covered with fur. Hair. I remove it from my legs and underarms and vulva daily in the
shower. I dont like how it feels against my clothes. It makes me feel unclean even though I know
that this is not true, not even slightly true. But I still feel it. The dirt of the day stuck to my hair and
being carried with me. My dirt and other people’s dirt and the world’s dirt.

I run my fingers over my skin and cup my jaw and try to relocate myself into the inside of my body.
I open my eyes very wide to feel the skin of my eyelids and eyerbrows stretch. I practice
mindfulnesss. I do body scans. Nothing makes it less weird to inhabit this body. It is a little like
accidentally overhearing yourself – an echo on the phone or Skype, hearing yourself on the radio,
watching yourself on TV. I refuse to watch. I refuse to listen. This is what I really sound like. This
is what I really am, and how can that be true if I don’t recognise any part – my inner experience and
what I see or hear of myself having so little to do with each other? I do not know myself. There are
things about me which are out of my control. The tone of my voice, the slant of my nose, the
growth of my nails, hair, the shape of my breasts, noises I make, when and for how long I shed
blood.

Around 2011 I decided to go to my local gym. I pretended to know how to use the machines
instead of asking for help from the staff for fear they would acknowledge my physical existence, for
fear their casual emodiment of their own bodies in comparison to my anguish with being would be
too painful. Yet as difficult, prickly, as it was to be among those so comfortable in their physical
form, I also absorbed some optimism from their energy, some acceptance of the fact. I thought, if
these people can walk around and do weights and all the rest, if they can do it without feeling like
they are made of glass and shattering, maybe I can get there. They are only as human as I am, and I
only as human as they. So I faked it until I sort of made it. I sat on different weight machines feeling
the stretch and pull and strain of various muscle groups. I closed my eyes to focus.

This is what your muscles feel like, I told myself. On one weight machine was a sign – do NOT
overextend your legs. I sat under it and pushed the weight up and down and toyed with the idea of
overextending my legs and what would happen and would my knees bend back and pop out. I lost
weight and was unmoved. My only consideration was reluctantly knowing I needed my physical
form to transport my mind around, that without it my mind would also not exist. This is its only
value. I wanted to be a ghost and I still want to be a ghost and I think it’s fair to say that I live my
life, slightly removed, like a ghost.

Do you ever suddenly get an overwhelming awareness of your existence that lasts a mere few
seconds? Like you are in touch with something much bigger than yourself – the universe, all of us,
something otherworldly? Like seeing yourself from beyond yourself. A profound and
confronting realisation of something impossible to put into words that, although accurate, doesn’t
feel as ridiculous and childish as: I am me. It is not just the realisation that I am alive, that I exist,
but it’s the realisation that I am myself.

I’ve had these moments since I was small. I would run to wherever my mother was in the house and inform her: I AM ME. To urgently tell her this vital fact, which never lessened in importance every
time it happened. It never became normal. One time I remember her busying herself in her
bathroom mirror when I came racing around the corner to inform her of my existence. She was not
surprised or even bemused, in the slightest, cheerfully responding: yes you are! Still today, I feel the
same urgency to inform someone else, impossible to keep to myself this profound truth, this
Unknown Existential Truth. These are my hands, these are my fingernails, this is my skin. This is
apparently who I am.

The gym helped me to physically feel. I started running. I toned up, as they say. I liked this, truly
liked it, appreciated it. I was, at last, accepting my existence in physical form and even moving
towards the more superficial aspects of it – how it looked to me, how it looked to others. I didn’t
like that it was becoming a source of validation for me but I liked that I had moved on from being
absorbed wholly and completely by excruciating feelings and thoughts of existing, to a more normal and lighter sense of being.

Back when things were really weird, I used to watch people walking, eating, chewing, waiting for
the bus. I said things to myself like look at that person walking, totally at ease with her existence.
Look at those people talking together as if it’s a totally nothing thing to do. Look at that woman
moving down the road and not being mesmerised by leg muscles contracting and releasing and
shoulder joint rotating as she swings her child’s arm. Awareness and realisations happened silently,
merged, without my knowledge. How the world looked and felt kept shifting. I became obsessed
with jaws and places where the bone is very near the surface of the skin. I have no discomfort with
upper arms, for example, where the bone is bedded deep within skin tissue and fat – epidermis,
dermis and hypodermis – but jaw and skull and hip bones were sites of deep discomfort. Trauma sits
in the bones, I believe. It sits and waits. In the marrow of the bones, in the most inside place. It
weighs them down. I canot feel my bones because they have no nerve endings. Trauma lives in here
in the non feeling insulated place. Trauma can be a look, or a gesture, or neglect, as well as an
outrageous act of violence. We sensationalise trauma but actually its seepage into marrow is silent
and invisible, the consequences of it everyday in nature, nearly boring, tedious. It takes nine
generations for trauma to leave the body. It is difficult to dig it out from inside bones. You have to
be as patient and considered as an archaeologist.

I had, and still have the leftover taste of, a painful awareness of jaws, gums, teeth. Pink wet gums
covering lower parts of teeth. Teeth embedded in gums. Teeth are the hardest human material,
harder than bone. Only a temperature of 537 degrees celcius can destroy them, and even then, this is rare. They are well protected by gums and cheek and nestled into jaw bone.

I watched people chewing and found it repulsive. I found the mindless action of jaws going around
and around and thick red tongues slipping out and bits of spit on lips and specks of food taking
flight devastating. As if these people were flaunting their existence, flaunting their absolute comfort
with their existence! Eating in company, in front of people, was next to impossible. But only in the
company of those who knew what has happened to this body. Eating with those who were unaware
was fine – an escape – their ignorance a cloak of safety around me, allowing me permission to
experience normalcy, to expose my teeth and swallow and accidentally spit and get coffee on my
lips and lick it off and put lipstick on and not mind people seeing the insides of me. We’re all in this
gross existing thing together. There is nothing profoundly different about me. I can belong with you.
As long as they didn’t know. When around those who did know, I became paralysed. They knew the
places of me meant for love which have been filled with hate. Eating affirmed that I needed
sustenance to survive like any other animal, that I was an animal, just an animal. And that I could
not escape being physical in form and therefore could not get away from the fact that I carry these
places within me, that I cannot remove them. If they were gone I might feel less jagged about this
living in a body thing. I want to scrape them out. The places of me meant for love that were filled
with hate.


Mia’s short stories have been published in Litro Magazine and Headstuff. Her non fiction has been published in The Journal, Headstuff and Huffington Post. Her novel Falling was long listed for the Mercier book deal competition in 2017 and her poetry has been published in the Vias Poetry journal.

Image Source:  Rosalind Chang

A Diet of Feathers by Paul Whyte

If a bar is not kept at all times moist to the touch it will grow feral, dangerous. 
       Think of it as a type of sessile organism, a compact colony surviving only on the odd sobs of stout and the dead skin of patrons.
     This particular bar has pulled the fibres from the knit of my jumper and planted them upright in the mahogany so that they sway like sea creatures. Poor thing must have been starving.
     It’s St Stephen’s day morning and I’m consulting the paper. First meet is 11. 
     I use an inch-long pencil to circle names. My first pick is a tip from the radio, 6/1.
 
     Neil returns from the bathroom preening with dull satisfaction. His paper wagging beneath his arm like the tail of one of those strange fish that sticks to the bellies and backs of sharks.
   I can see his picks, circled with red pen so that his choices cannot not be easily erased or forgotten.
   He pays for his drink and while he does I catch the contents of his wallet – a loyalty card for the only barber in town and a balance of cash for the day, all big notes. His bank cards are at home. He knows better.
 
   We leave and walk to the bookmakers, two doors down, last year it was five.
   Neil is shorter than I am and going bald in the most unfortunate of ways, thinning in strips instead of patches. This doesn’t seem to bother him. He lets it grow until it’s unbearably mossy.
He has pale pocked skin and a sturdy crest of a nose. Sometimes when you call to the house for him, his brother will answer and tell you that Neil is out the back breaking blocks with it.
   Right now he has the look about him of someone confident, canny.
 
 
   The bookies is packed and has the visual palette of a stuffed ashtray. It smells of insoles and devastated carpet. 
   The only female here is the cashier, Joanna. She has the kind of calm in her eyes that you see in nurses and first responders. 
   Once on the carpet Neil doesn’t respond to verbal signals. He will not discuss picks or winnings. Men are invisible in this place.
 
   At 2 o clock I tell him that I’m hungry. He seems agreeable. This must mean he’s up.
   We go back to the pub and eat vegetable soup, crumble in soda bread that’s thick as scones. We have a carvery lunch and a pint of free cordial each. There is discussion of Ibiza.
   He tells me that he’s going to get a job in the new year, that he’d like to come with us on the holiday. Says though, that it’s hard with the Mother the way she is. I sympathize, but secretly I know that if it wasn’t this it would be something else. Neil has the sort of mind that subconsciously seeks labyrinths. It’s not broken, it just does what it does with a ruthlessly efficiency.
   He’s never been out of the country. He’s never eaten pasta or drank barista coffee. To my knowledge he has only ever been to the cinema that one time with school. He likes football and playing poker online, thinks he’s better at both than he is.
   We step outside for a smoke. I rub my belly and tell him what the Father told us over Christmas dinner.
   He told us that when he was thirteen years old his Dad organized a job for him in a plant nursery somewhere between Aherlow and Lisvernane. They supplied food and accommodation for the summer and a couple of quid would go back home.
   The meals weren’t much, spuds and bacon, mustard from a tube if they had it. Breakfast was porridge and tea without milk or sugar.
   He told us that he would be so hungry that by lunchtime he would start to eat chips of wood from the handle of his shovel and in bed at night he would sometimes chew the feathers from inside his pillow.
  The story has Neil shaking his head, ”Different times.” he says.
 
   Back in the ashtray the smell has evolved to include the bizarre body odours of farmers fresh from the field. 
It’s not wholly unpleasant. It has a spicy quality to it, something cheap splashed against a hairy throat on the way into town.
   Later myself and Neil huddle in the doorway as a heavy shower leathers the blanked out windows. Threads of rainwater drop from a clogged-up gutter and clap against the pavement. Even the smoke we’re blowing wants nothing to do with the weather, it circles our faces, seeks shelter in our pores.
   Neil is about as happy as Neil gets. Tells me he’ll put the deposit down on Ibiza tomorrow, maybe he’ll even get a deal in the sales.
   When the bookies close we make our ways back to the pub. Neil keeps walking. 
 
   I pat his back dutifully, offer to buy him a drink, curried chips if he’s hungry. He doesn’t answer me, just carries on down the street, trans-illuminated by a connect-the-dot forest of birches wrapped in fairy lights.
 
Once inside, I go to the bar, run my hand across its skin. It feels dewy, fed. I knock it once to see if it answers, thumb the vinyl-like groves in the wood. A voice comes; I order a stout. 
 
 I think of Neil, walking alone in the country dark. I bet he’s starving. 

Paul Whyte is an emerging Irish writer. Originally from Tipperary, he currently lives in Dublin with his wife and two children, where he is working on his first short story collection – Brazen Head. Paul has been writing for about 10 years. He works mostly on speculative literary fiction.

Image Source:  Tommy

Our Chimera by Clare Diston

We built a bookcase from the pieces of the crib.

            We found it in the corner of a bric-a-brac shop. The crib was smooth and wooden and boxy, a rectangle on rockers, and it was filled with dozens of discount scatter cushions. We loved it the moment we saw it.

            It was delivered on a Sunday. We carried it, laughing, in the seagull-screech afternoon as the wind blew the hair into our faces and we tripped over cobbles and brushed past green carnations, up the little path to our house.

            “We’ll never get it inside!” we hooted. “We’ll have to cut it in two!”

            But we didn’t, of course, although we did end up bent double with laughter when we tried to get it up the stairs.

            For a while it lived on the first floor, covered by a sheet, as we feathered the room around it with fresh paint, new carpet and triangles of rainbow-coloured bunting. We liked to go up there early in the mornings and watch through the steam from our mugs as the sparrows hopped on the window sill and the breeze ruffled the sheet like it was trying to look inside.

            We held hands, and for now the secret was ours.

Three months later, it happened, so we took the crib downstairs. This time it caught on every corner and dug into our limbs, until one of us could not hold up the end properly and our hands slipped and we lost control. It slid, carelessly, all the way down and landed with a crack. For a moment we looked at it, immobile at the bottom of the stairs, one rocker broken and hanging limp. We replayed the sound of the crack in our heads. Then we picked it up and put it on end in the large cupboard under the stairs, and we snapped off the broken rocker and put it inside.

            We pushed it back, squashing everything behind it, and closed the door.

            Like swans we tucked away our heads and let our bodies get on with the business of living. Calmly we took down the rainbow bunting; quietly we packed up the clothes and linen. But our composure exhausted itself before we could get to the understairs cupboard, and as time passed our grief gathered like dewdrops around the only thing we had not dealt with. The crib sent out ripples, lapping us softly every time we passed the cupboard door, until we could not even look at it. One of us tried to tell the other that it was just an empty box, something which only carved up air, but that did not work at all – it was an empty box, it carved up the air.

Then one day one of us said, “I need something.”

            “Then go and get it,” said the other. “What are you looking at me for?”

            “It’s under the stairs.”

            Even though we knew where it was, we searched the whole house first and even rooted through the car. A turtle dove watched us, purring in the highest branches of a tree. At last we went back inside and stood in front of the understairs cupboard.

            We took each other’s hands and it was a surprise and a comfort.

            The thing we were most afraid of was that it might have changed somehow. Perhaps it had tilted forwards and would come tumbling out on top of us the moment we opened the door. Perhaps it would be bigger than we remembered, or worse, smaller.

            But when we opened the door it was exactly as we had left it, standing on its end, the broken rocker inside, framing an emptiness, but not one that wasn’t familiar to us already. In fact, seeing it again felt like alighting on a branch; at last we had something to push off against.

            We pulled everything out of the cupboard and found what we needed. Then we put the crib back in, right way up, and filled it with everything that had been crammed behind it. Now when we closed the door it didn’t feel like a weight against our hands, and when we walked past there was no need to curve our steps towards the far wall. Brushing against the handle was no longer the worst thing in the world.

            We allowed our caged grief to take flight, until it was time again.

One of us had an idea and did not know how to tell the other. One of us stood in the upstairs room – repainted, refurnished, refilled – and knew that something had to go in the empty corner. In the end, when we spoke, one of us decided the what and one of us decided the where.

            We took the crib out from under the stairs and emptied it of everything but its own broken rocker. Then we carried it back to the upstairs room, and it bumped into edges and the soft parts of ourselves until we had it upside down on a sheet, helpless, belly exposed. We had never seen it like that before, and even as it stirred our pity, we found ourselves hating it.

            We wondered whether we were angry enough to claw the thing apart with our bare hands.

            “Why don’t we do it like this?” asked one of us.

            “It would be better this way,” said the other.

            The screws were old and rusted, but with enough force they could be turned. We detached the second rocker and began to take out the screws that tightened the sides to the base, but we saw straight away that it would not be so easy. Ridges of hardened opaque glue squeezed out of the seal between the base and the rest of the wooden frame, and we ran our fingers along them and pecked at them with our nails. But we carried on anyway, one of us dropping loose screws onto the sheet, the other putting them into a little dish. Of course, even when the last screw was out, the structure still held fast.

            “Why would anybody glue this?” asked one of us.

            “They probably never expected it to be taken apart,” said the other.

            We attacked the seam with screwdrivers, which we jabbed into the glue and worked and worked so that we could get the points between the two pieces of wood, and then we levered up and down and side to side, mashing the wood and pulping the dried glue, loosening the base enough that we could force our fingers into the join and really wrench and tear until, finally, it came apart.

            We sat back, breathless, on our heels.

            “Do you think we’ve damaged it?” asked one of us.

            “Let’s go and have lunch,” said the other.

            When we returned there was a collared dove standing on the window sill, cooing and bowing its head. Now and again it paddled its little feet like it was excited about something. When we opened the window it flew away.

            The frame of the crib now became our work table; we laid the base across it and trimmed off the ruined edges with a jigsaw, and then we cut the base into strips which became the shelves, secured with nails and glue. The old screws, some scattered on the floor, some collected neatly in the dish, all ended up in the bin. The crib’s old rockers became an unexpected decoration, added to the top of the new bookcase like deliberate wooden moulding.

            When we had finished we stood it upright and examined our creation; the product of our plan, hatched. It bore the scars of our work, certainly, but it was sturdy, perhaps even sturdier than before. To begin with it was difficult not to see it as a bottomless crib standing on end, but as we stared at it we stopped seeing the shape of what it had been and began to see it in its most basic elements – pieces of wood, nails and glue – like looking at a word for so long that it loses its meaning and all that’s left are the empty letters.

            Right then we wanted nothing more than to fill the shelves with books, but it had to be left to dry. So we went downstairs and out into the garden with mugs of tea, and the air was so crisp the steam looked like feathers. We stood among the violets and looked up at the open window. A breeze stirred the curtain and we knew it was setting the glue.

            “Do you remember when we thought we would have to cut it in two to get it through the door?” asked one of us.

            “I remember it all,” said the other.

            We held each other’s hands as a distant cuckoo started to call.

 


Clare Diston is a freelance writer and editor through her business, Human Voices. She received her MA in Creative Writing in 2011 and she loves reading (and writing) literary and science fiction. She blogs about all things books at www.50ayear.com. This is her first fiction publication.

Image Source:  Kari Shea

A Party by Lucy Montague-Moffatt

Driving at night beside you you ask me to drive with your eyes over the people at the party I say yes back with my eyes because that’s what love is driving you home when you are tired from working all week and want to have another whiskey Fiona has just poured me a third glass of wine and has been telling me all about the particular grape that this wine is made from she has said fabulous about ten times I don’t know if she knows any other descriptive words I pour my glass down the sink when she isn’t looking and the sink gurgles fabulous back to me and Fiona shrieks that I have drank that very fast I flush and shrug and go to the bathroom and use my earring to remove a piece of spinach from my teeth I wish you had also told me across the room with your eyes about the piece of spinach I don’t know how long it has been there or if everyone has been talking about it behind my back I saw a group of Fiona’s archaeologist friends laughing loudly beside a bookshelf howling they must have been laughing at the spinach because what else do archeologists have to laugh about you hate museums and whisper crap crap crap under your breath as we walk around the glass cases of pottery and although I am fascinated I giggle because that’s what you do to me and love is coming to a museum with me even when you prefer to read an Ian Rankin under a beach umbrella you talk to a woman for a long time I watch across the room but can’t get away from Fiona’s conversation because she is right in the middle of a story about buying brie and there’s never a point where it would be polite to step away as she is doing hand gestures and accents and it is taking a lot of effort so I watch the woman from a distance as she touches your shoulder she pours you another whiskey your fourth and you throw your head back in joy and adulation of this moment when an attractive woman is touching you and feeding you alcohol and telling you things that make your eyes wrinkle at the sides with pure happiness when the brie story is over I don’t go over and disturb you I let you keep talking into the night because that’s what love is I watch your eyes wrinkle from how wide your smile is driving at night beside you as you doze and no matter what happens I can bring you anywhere and you would come because that’s what love is


Lucy Montague-Moffatt is a writer from Dublin currently based in Manchester. Her radio drama ‘In His Kiss’ aired on BBC Radio 4 in July. She is currently the Writer-In-Residence for The Gaiety School of Acting, writing their grad play which will be in Smock Alley Theatre in 2018. She graduated with a Masters in Scriptwriting from the University of Salford last year. Her website is lucymm.co.uk 

Image Source:  Adam Jaime

Six Nights by Aileen Ferris

When Colin came into view descending the stairs of the wine cellar, I knew I wasn’t attracted to him.  He was skinny, about my height, and clean-shaven.  He had obviously made an effort, and that put me right off.  It seems counterintuitive not to want someone to make an effort for me, but it contributes to that contrived feeling of being On A Date.  The effort is for themselves, really. I’m more comfortable with people in their natural state, without observance of rules that no one knows who wrote.

He spotted me sitting at the table and waved.  My selfies must at least look recognisably like me.  I took a long gulp from the glass of Malbec in front of me (not intended to be gulped) and stood up to greet him.  A quick, superficial kiss on the cheek – he really was only about an inch taller than me.  How to get through the next hour?  More wine, of course.  While listening politely to stories of his advertising job at a large multinational (you know the one), I guzzled the stuff (not intended to be guzzled).  We (mostly I) went through a bottle quickly and as soon as enough time had passed to excuse myself I did, telling him that this was nice and wishing him safe home.

I checked my phone while walking in the opposite direction.  My friends were in Pantibar dancing, so I joined them and drank some more.  That was where I met Lacey.  She wore baggy jeans and a beanie hat, her soft flesh hanging out self-confidently from her yellow crop top.  She was twenty two, a student from Oregon on a semester abroad, and she knew what she wanted.  We talked, laughed and danced until closing time, when I said I should go home.  She was upfront.  “Can I come?”  Hell yes.  Yes, you can.  Once in my bedroom, she cut through the smalltalk.  “Do you wanna fuck?”  Hell yes.  Yes again.

Lacey wasn’t trying.  She didn’t care what I thought of her.  She had hair on her legs.  She was comfortable in herself, and it was sexy as hell.  She told me about the guys she fucked now and again when she felt like it.  She usually went home right after, but she stayed with me till morning, when we ate hummus and I drove her home.  She was perfectly content.

*

The left are the good guys, we agreed as we walked, feeling reassured and slightly superior to count ourselves among that group.  The only problem is that people on the left are too principled to compromise and this keeps us fractured.  The right is happy to compromise, we supposed, because it has no real principles.  That’s what keeps it in power, and how it perpetuates the oppression of women, gays, trans people, bisexuals, immigrants, Muslims, non-whites, the working class, the disabled, the mentally ill, the chronically ill, artists, the polyamorous, the unemployed and any other group it can get its hands on.  “The right is interested in the good of the individual”, Logan said, “while the left is interested in the good of all.”  I could have fucked him there and then in the street.

Later, we talked about television, which we considered unforgivably low-brow.  Logan breathed his appreciation of Twin Peaks, however, telling me that I would love the music, the intimacy and the broken fourth wall.  I rushed to order the DVDs as soon as I got home.  The interaction between the characters felt staged and surreal, but in Lynch’s stylised ambiance it was believable, as though the unreal was more real than the real.  A hyperreal, Baudrillardian simulation of reality, the cinematography and style winked and grinned at me, like a perfectly made up face with a gaping, dripping wound glaring from the lower lip.  Jarring like the sight of blood on an image of performed beauty, it was impossible to turn away from.

Logan was surprised when I told him I didn’t have a television.  “It’s by choice”, I said.  “But how do you keep up with current affairs?” he asked.  “That’s what Twitter is for.”  And maybe social media has taken television’s place as the dulling apparatus of contemporary times.  In any case, my reflection in the black mirror of his empty television screen while bent over his single bed looked more engaged and present than when in front of screen lit with dancing pixels.

*

I was already drunk when I met the beardy Shinner with the tattooed arms.  We talked about little that I remember, except for the fact that he was in Sinn Féin, and presumably I must also have told him about my own political affiliations.  Both a little the worse for wear, he ended up scrapping with his mate and I ended up kissing someone who called himself a “non-practising Catholic”, thought it would be handiest to baptise his future children to get them into school, and said that politics was boring.  I might have bored him with the reasons why church and state should be separated, but what with all the wine I can’t say for sure.  Either way, the beardy Shinner and I both ended up going home alone.

A week later I found a contact I didn’t recognise in my phone: Cathal.  Confused for a second, and then it came back to me.  He had given me his number.  I was supposed to text him for a drink.  Better late than never, I thought.  He was happy to hear from me, and said he’d be in touch at the weekend.

The following day I crashed my car into the side of a yellow BMW.  Broken neck.  Lying strapped to a board in A&E hours later, I told my sister about Cathal the beardy Shinner.  “You’re going to go out with a Shinner?” she asked, alarmed.  “What are you going to tell Dad?”  “I hadn’t planned telling him anything.  Besides, I’m in no fit state to go anywhere now.”

I didn’t hear from Cathal again.  I saw him at a protest months later.  Too much time had passed to say hello.

*

I met Joanne on a crowded Saturday night.  She was the new friend of my friend, who had met her in the psych hospital.  My friend had gone off her meds and got manic.  She ended up getting arrested for trying to break into the national broadcaster to prove that the government was using radio signals for mind control.  Joanne had borderline personality disorder.  She was a nurse, although not working at the moment.  She was vivacious.  Her huge curves seemed to spill from her dress as she leapt at me to kiss me.  She showed me the little plastic ziplock bag with her meds for the night in it.  There must have been ten tablets.  She was amazed that I could manage my bipolar with just an antipsychotic.  I hadn’t been up or down in over a year, and it helped me sleep, too.  A wonder drug with no side effects, I thought, though I knew that my friend hated it.  She said it messed with her lateral thinking.  I never saw Joanne after that night.

Two years later my friend mentioned her at a party – “Poor Joanne”, with a reflective pause.  “What happened to Joanne?”  My friend looked at me with dismay.  “You don’t know?  Joanne killed herself three months ago.”  I couldn’t distinguish the feeling.  It wasn’t grief – I had hardly known her.  But she was there, she was real, I had touched her skin and kissed her lips, and now only her absence was there.  Only Not Joanne.

*

I wasn’t really attracted to Xavier.  He was nice, and we had good conversations.  He thought Hillary Clinton was a criminal but was voting for her anyway.  I met him two nights in a row just before leaving LA.  It was good to have someone interesting to talk to.  The practice of driving to a bar, drinking, and then driving home would remind me of rural Ireland if this wasn’t such a sprawling metropolis.   Xavier said he was a feminist, but told me that in America the man always pays on a date.  I told him that on the rare occasions when a man insists on paying I get uncomfortable.  What if my date wasn’t a man, anyway?  He paid for dinner, and was impressed when I bought him a drink in return.  It was the least I could do.  He said that he liked this system because “It renders women more independent and puts less pressure on men”.  “It puts less pressure on women”, I told him, “because there’s no unspoken expectation to repay a man with sex.”

We had sex anyway.  I wasn’t that into it, but it had been three months since my ex and two years since anyone else, and I wanted it out of the way.  His flesh was squishy, and his breath smelled.  Just as the thought that America’s culture of body hair removal for all genders was too much floated idly through my mind, he commented “I’ve never had sex with a European girl before.”  Sure enough, I had more hair than him.  I like hair.  Xavier thought it was novel.

*

I sat at the bar waiting for Nico twenty minutes past the time we had agreed to meet.  My phone hopped with frantic texts every few moments, always assuring me that he was two minutes away.  Eventually he appeared, hurrying down the stairs toward me – I recognised the messy black hair and pointed face from his photos – but when he reached the bottom he veered off course and straight into the men’s toilets.  Minutes later, he greeted me.

He was agitated, and drank his pint before I had finished my wine.  Conversation was clipped on his side; gently probing on mine.  Less than half an hour in, Nico lunged at me.  “Lobbed the gob” is the expression my friend used when I described it to her later.  Startled, I froze for a few seconds before extricating myself and returning abruptly to contrived conversation.  He sulked, but kept his hands to himself for at least ten minutes.

He kept bringing the conversation back to an ex-girlfriend of his.  I asked how long the relationship had been over.  Two months, he said.  Gently suggesting that he may not be quite over it yet, I drained my wine glass, making moves to leave.

“You have nothing to worry about”, he insisted, grabbing my arm.

Oh, I thought, that is definitely not what’s going on.  He ordered another round of drinks, as I dropped my coat with dismay.

For hours I tried to remove myself, politeness too deeply embedded in me to stand up and walk away.  I let him rave about filmmaking, LSD and ‘crazy’ girls, all the time searching for my way out.  When I stood up for a bathroom break, he grabbed both my hands.

“I just don’t want to lose you.”

“My coat is still here”, I pointed out with impatience.  “I’m coming back.”

When I returned, Nico took his own bathroom break.  I waited.  And waited.  He was taking his time.  Suddenly it hit me: just leave.  I was out the door and down the street without another thought.

With a dead phone battery and an empty wallet I walked the forty minutes home.  When my phone was revived in the secluded safety of my bedroom, there were six text messages, fourteen missed calls and three voicemails.  They kept coming.  After ignoring many more, I responded asking him to leave me alone.  He said he’d never forgive me.  I blocked his number.

 


Aileen Ferris has published poetry in Route 57, the University of Sheffield’s online literary journal.  A Dublin native, she ran a travel blog at www.frequent-flier.com for some time before turning to writing fiction.  She is also an aerial acrobat and channels her creative energy into that as much as her writing.  This is her first fiction publication.

Image Credit:  Bruno Martins

Frog Bookshop by Bernard O’Rourke

You’re sitting in a corner booth of the bakery café when the man with a face like a dehydrated frog storms in and starts to yell about how, just this morning, this building housed a bookshop.

Do you?          A) respond,

or                     B) ignore him and continue to eat your slice of apple pie, accompanied by black coffee that tastes just a little too bitter because they’ve only recently started doing coffee here and the staff haven’t mastered the art as yet. Clearly none of them have ever worked as a proper barista before. Probably everybody learns to make coffee in Starbucks now. You begin to suppose that what this raving derelict is saying may be really true after all, that as recently as this morning this place was a bookshop. You’ve walked past here but never been inside before, have you ever really noticed, are there any clues to the place, apart from the sign that reads: we now serve coffee––

If you choose A), and stand up to tap him on the shoulder and inform him that this was – for the last 24 hours at least – always a bakery, he’ll get violent and start to throw things, and the police, whom the bakery staff have even now dialled for, will arrive and find him making a scene, leaving them little recourse but to take him on with pepper spray and nightsticks (did you see the way his hand shot into his pocket, they’ll say. Nine out of ten times it’s a concealed weapon, they’ll say).

If however you choose option B), and everyone else does too, and goes right on about their day, the frog-faced man will get a bit discouraged after a while, will become suddenly crippled with an embarrassing clarity – a sudden doubt of what he has been claiming married with an equally sudden realisation of how stupid he looks. His froggy face will fall and he’ll start to look pathetically old as his shrivelling features sag into an acceptance of his own utterly pathetic nature. If you choose option B), there will be no scene here when the police arrive, and who knows what they might do if they lack such an easy target.

Bernard O’Rourke is a writer & filmmaker. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in The Penny Dreadful, The Tangerine, The IncubatorQueen Mob’s Teahouse, The Honest UlstermanTheEEELThe Bohemyth, and Wordlegs. In 2017, his short film Impression, Canal was shortlisted for the Ó Bhéal Poetry Film Prize at the IndieCork Film Festival. His Twitter account is @guyserious. He lives in Dublin.


Image Credit:  Nafinia Putra