Áine Lonergan is a final year history student at Trinity College Dublin.
‘Abandoned House’ was taken in Samara, Russia in June 2012.
Follow Áine on Twitter @alonerga
– By Lucy Montague-Moffatt
Their bodies mushed into one another like butter oozing into a carpet; legs entwined, hands everywhere. He whispered “I love you” into her ear. Kate shrieked in ecstasy and they rolled off each other, clammy and flushed.
He went to the kitchen to fix tea, he always did after. He was able to do it naked now that her mother had passed. It still felt odd standing in the middle of a room he didn’t feel was his, in the nip. He always had an eerie sensation that someone might walk in at any moment even though there was no one for miles. He made sure to keep a ‘dignity’ dish cloth near, just in case.
She was already watching TV in bed when he returned with two full cups, the creamy liquid sloshing over the sides as he lowered them on to the bedside table. He sat with her and half watched the blurred screen for a few minutes then, realising the time, jumped up to get ready to go to the shop.
“Get us a takeaway when you’re coming home, Pad” she called from the bedroom when she heard car keys jangling in the hall. He walked back to the doorway, a clean polo shirt tightening around his arms as he moved. There were still speckles of sweat lingering on her glowing cheeks and her hair was sticking up, framing her face, the way he remembered loving, once.
“But we got takeaway last night.”
“Well I want it again.” She didn’t look up from the TV but a tiny frown line appeared between her eyebrows.
“Couldn’t you…maybe…you’re here all day…and” he hesitated, wary of the agitated face of hers he knew so well.
“Cook for you? Like some sad housewife who has nothing better to do but cook and clean for her darling man?” She said it in a joking way, flailing her arms about overdramatically, but he knew there was no way she was going to cook now.
Paddy’s shoulders sagged inwards as he returned to the front door. He hated chipper. He didn’t mind it when he was actually in the process of eating it, chewing the soggy mass to a pulp and washing it down with thick black coke. No, it was the oily regret after. The horrible layer of grease that was left in his mouth like slugs had been dancing around his gums. But he knew he would be eating chipper tonight. That was a fact.
His car was just a small red thing. It was reliable, good for the narrow country roads and if he admitted it, which he never did, he kind of loved it. Or her. Her name was Sheila- complete with an ancient tape deck and a 2 cent coin that could never be yanked out from where it was wedged between the seat and the gear stick.
He arrived at work a few minutes late and rushed to open the shutters on the shop front and unlock the two dark toilets around the back of the building. It was a small white building with bright yellow gas canisters lined in front like miniature footmen. The shop had no name but locals fondly called it ‘Oil Stop’ because of two faded signs that hung on the outside wall. One said ‘Oil!’ in big black font with an illustration of a smiling oil can. The other one displayed lots of writing but now, after years of weathering and rust, the only word you could make out was ‘Stop’. Paddy knew that it was only a matter of time before it would be called Centra or Spar or similar. He didn’t want to still be there when that happened.
Inside it was dim and grotty or, as most tourists liked to call it, cute. There were two tiny aisles with tins and packages and cartons stacked with no thought of order or reason. Sometimes, on really slow days, Paddy would take the time to organise everything, making sure the cat food wasn’t beside the baby food or putting the tins of tuna away from the washing powder. Half way through this job he would usually get bored and leave it unfinished. The owner Mr. Connor, or Tom to everyone who knew him, would undo all this work the next time there was a delivery anyway, so it was pointless. Tom was a great boss and Paddy was grateful of that. He had worked in a few places since he left school, a restaurant, a couple of pubs, delivering pizza, but this was his favourite job because Tom was so fair. He treated him like an adult, unlike so many of his bosses before. He was turning twenty six at the end of the month but didn’t look a day over twenty, he had spent most of his grown up life being treated like a youngster.
“If it wasn’t for you I would have moved away a long time ago.” Paddy would often joke when Tom called in during his shift.
“You’ll move away when you really want to, nothing to do with me” Tom would answer back, flashing him a winning smile before handing over a wagon wheel biscuit. Tom paid Paddy well, especially for how easy the job was, but his real currency was wagon wheels. He’d pass them over through a handshake, as though they were sealing the deal on a big business agreement. Tom would always follow the transaction with a wink, as if to say “keep that a secret.” Paddy would sit on the bench outside the shop front, dust from inside still clinging thickly to his nostrils, and devour his chocolaty prize. It was always a little bit melted and he often wondered how many biscuits Tom carried on him during the day and whether his wife was used to the regular chore of washing out crusty brown stains from his pockets.
The first customers were a bus full of tourists, mainly Germans and Americans, on their way to Galway’s Gaeltach, or as they put it excitedly “your Gaelic region.” The tiny space was quickly swarmed with Trinity college hoodies and backwards baseball caps. An old woman with enormous glasses knocked over a stack of Pot Noodles, which Paddy admitted had been inevitable. He told her not to worry as he hurriedly stacked them back up before returning to the queue at the cash register. They used to same cash register that had been put into the shop when it first opened in the 20s. After every transaction the cash drawer would shoot open and a little bell would ding loudly, throwing most tourists into a wild fit of giddy clapping and hooting.
“Alright Pad, how’s it going?” the coach driver pushed a packed of chewing gum across the desk and leaned one elbow casually on the shabby wood.
“Good, Harry, I’m good. It’s not raining so I have nothing to complain about.” Paddy took a crumpled fiver from the man and rung it through the till.
“I thought you were leaving.” He laughed and Paddy grinned back. This happened nearly everyday.
“I am, I’m telling you, I am.”
“I won’t believe it till you’re gone.” He stood up and waved the packed of chewing gum at him as he strolled out the door. The Americans had slowly filed back on to the navy coach and it eased gently back on to the road before disappearing into the distance.
Paddy went to sit on the bench outside the shop, letting his head rest back against the glass window behind him. Sometimes sitting there, the silence only being cut by the rare vroom of a hurrying vehicle, he played with the idea of just leaving, right at that moment. He’d walk, no run, straight to his car. He’d let Sheila take him wherever she wanted to go, possibly a ferry or to an airport. And then he would be gone forever.
It was a busy morning with three more coachfulls of people stopping to buy food and trinkets before noon. Paddy was run off his feet, which he was happy about as that made time fly. He was mopping up 7up that a child had spilled in one of the aisles when a little old woman hunched in to the shop. She was almost completely vertical, with a large bump protruding out of her back, stretching her purple coat.
“Ah Paddy, what have you got for me?” This is what was called to him every visit, as though she was pretending she hadn’t phoned in with her grocery order and Paddy was actually going to give her a lucky bag full of surprises.
Paddy looked up from his mopping and gave the old woman a nod.
“Mary, my favourite customer. I’ve the bag ready for you.” He went to a hook behind the counter, took a half full canvas shopping bag from it, and brought it to her.
“You’re a great lad. My Tony will be in tomorrow to pay, you know yourself.”
“No problem, Mary.” He placed it in her wheeled shopping bag, carefully as it contained eggs.
“So how are you? How’s Kate?” Her face turned serious as she looked up at Paddy, letting her eyes do most of the work as her neck couldn’t reach very far.
“Oh she’s alright, much better actually.” Paddy leaned a hand on the front of the milk fridge, resting the other on top of the mop.
“She took it hard, she really did. But losing your mother is always hard. Oh it was sad.” She sighed wistfully and Paddy nodded.
“But you have the house now, that’s good. That’s one less thing to worry about. My grand kids now, they are killing themselves trying to afford homes. You’re all set.”
“Yes, it’s good. It’s…” He trailed away trying to think of another word but Mary had stopped listening. She had said her piece and was tipping her shopping trolley on to its wheels getting ready to leave.
“Listen, look after yourself Paddy, you’re a great lad.” And she squeaked out the door at a snail’s pace.
The rest of the day crawled by, as Wednesdays usually do, with the clock on the wall seeming to tick slower than usual. Finally night began to ooze hazily into the sunlight and Paddy dragged the briquette stand into the shop before pulling the shutters down and locking up the two toilets. The trees rustled in the newly made shadows, as though whispering to eachother the events of the day. He drove slowly to the chipper in the village; passing fields just as the sky was turning into a golden hue, making the shaking crops almost shimmer.
“Two singles with extra vinegar and one large cod to share.” said the woman behind the counter brightly as Paddy pushed his way into the warm shop.
“Hi Janet, yea…” he said, a little taken back, “that’s right.”
“Don’t look so worried Pad. I’m not going to charge you extra for remembering your order.” she chuckled, wiping her hands across a greasy apron covering her expansive stomach, “it’s hard not to remember when you order the same thing every day!”
“Not every day.” Paddy frowned. He never liked Janet, even when they were in school together. She loved to know everyone’s business. He hated her even knowing his order.
She winked playfully at another customer in the shop and Paddy left to get a six pack of Miller from the off licence next door. When he got back his food was waiting for him on the counter and he left quickly, mumbling a goodbye as he went.
“See you tomorrow!” Janet called as he pulled the heavy glass door open. He frowned back at her before letting the door swing shut soundlessly.
He rested the dripping bag hesitantly on the front seat, almost apologising to Sheila, and turned up the radio as he drove back to Kate.
He turned on to the thin winding road that led to the house. The slanting trees shadowed the tarmac and the hedgerow either side grew darker by the minute. He knew that when he got back, after they had devoured their salty feast and maybe after a beer or two, for courage, he was going to break up with her. He had said the same thing to himself the evening before, and the one before that, but this time he was almost sure he was going to do it.
He rolled down the window letting the wind rush into the car and over his face. The smell of fresh leaves mixed with manure and he smiled sadly, thinking about how much he would miss it, but in a good way.
Lucy Montague-Moffatt is a 23 year old writer, comedian and student from Dublin. She has a poem and short story featured on the ebook Wordlegs Presents: 30 under 30 available on Amazon and a short story in the recently published collection 30 Under 30. She was one of the winners of the Fishamble: Tiny Plays competition and her piece will be performed in The Project Arts Centre in March 2013. She was commissioned to write the first year play for Inchicore College of Further Education last year, which was performed in March 2012 and has been commission to write the play this year too, which will be performed in March 2013. She was a Funny Woman Competition 2012 finalist. She wrote and performed two comedy shows as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2011. Lucy is currently a columnist for the UCD Observer. You can read her column here. Follow Lucy on Twitter @LuSay
Fabio Sassi has had several experiences in music, photography and writing. He has been a visual artist since 1990 making acrylics using the stenciling technique on canvas, board, old vinyl records and other media. Fabio makes his acrylics mixing up homemade stencils, found tiny objects and discarded stuff. His work can be viewed on his website.
A Little Dante
– By M.V. Montgomery
I was in Hades, not Hell: that much was clear. As I drove along, I saw the place packed with all the dead.
Clusters of souls generated their own force fields. A coterie of tightly packed bodies on one hill chatted and gossiped endlessly; gamers pursued their passions without relent; Internet scammers and spammers on another rise spouted off in their bubbles.
The operative principle appeared to be magnetic attraction rather than gravity. Souls were bound together by their own sticky, deeply rooted obsessions. And the further they attempted to part from the like-minded, the more resistance they encountered.
The selfish drifted like Greek seers in blind circles, and the isolates bumped into each other like mummers and then darted away, occasionally straying into the road.
It was no use honking: they were impervious to sound.
While I braked for one lonely soul and waited for it to drift by, a group of teen ghouls jumped into my car. They were vandals, scoundrels, and thieves, seeking to travel somewhere new to wreak their destruction. Resistance was impossible—they growled like the monsters they were.
And this place was full of frights: former devotees of bodybuilding, or plastic surgery, or of junk food and drink, who, stripped of all mortal constraint, now pursued their pet loves with infinite license. I shall not attempt to describe their grotesquely exaggerated forms.
The gruesome passengers in my car ogled and grrred aggressively at the others as we cruised by. Then they could no longer resist the temptation to get out to kick and torment a perfectly round, gluttonous soul.
I stopped the car, making an empty promise to wait. I sensed they would be oblivious to my departure while they pursued their quarry.
I then saw souls of the greatest earthly exercise-fiends nearing a suspension bridge over a vast bay. Call it the Ocean Styx, if you like. A light was just beyond, though it could never reach this enclave of shadow people. The souls crawled on hands and knees toward it, nearing the completion of a triathlon of triathlons.
One seemed just about to break through the penumbra of darkness but faltered near the finish, the force of resistance becoming so overwhelming that his limbs broke apart.
As I watched, others piled up on the beach near him. It was a noble defeat, worthy of Thermopylae.
I was filled with pity, yet drove on.
The long bridge ahead would have comprised still another marathon for these runners, had any of them reached it and sought to melt into the light beyond. But it was empty.
Halfway across, I felt warmed to the bone to feel the dawn break, and fortunate to wake up again out of darkness.
M.V. Montgomery is a professor at Life University in Atlanta. His most recent work includes What We Did With Old Moons (2012), a collection of poetry, and Beyond the Pale, a forthcoming collection of stories, both from Winter Goose Publishing. Check out his website.