Photography – Jane Riddell is a writer of contemporary fiction and an enthusiastic blogger, including penning letters from a Russian cat. In addition, she loves travel and photography. She is the proprietor of an editing service, Choice Words Editing. Jane holds a Masters in Creative Writing and her first novel, Water’s Edge, will be e-published by ThornBerry Publishing in Spring 2013. Check out Jane’s website. Follow Jane on Twitter @JaneRiddell
Short Story: Half Of What I Say Is Meaningless
– By Ruth McKee
I learn through Facebook that Julia is dead. This from some guy I have never actually met. I stare at his profile picture for ages, communing with his image and the momentous message. Soon my newsfeed is buzzing with death, and we all form a group: Julia’s funeral arrangements. Although they are not calling it a funeral, but a valediction. I stop myself from posting something sarcastic.
It’s not going to be a religious ceremony, thank God. All that comfort of the litany makes me want to turn a blind eye to the gaping void; believe me, I know first hand just how terrifying that dark mouth is.
Julia’s dead, and I have stopped existing in a shared past, in our communal memory. There is now only my crappy recollections, and whatever is left in Julia’s extinct hippocampus — perhaps the memory of me like a hippo at campus (I was on the large side then), who the hell knows. She’s going into the ground in a cardboard box. Most of us won’t have a clue what to do. With the usual, at least you know to stand around looking sombre and repeat words after someone, and stand up and sit down in a clean room with a polished box. This alternative thing sounds totally like Julia (although it’s not an alternative to actually being dead, so I don’t see the point).
I never caught up with her again; she was never on Facebook. She had a profile, but no picture, she was inactive. She’s bloody inactive now anyway. Ha! I am not laughing. I’m driving, feeling the lumps grow all over me, from my stomach to my throat, to the aching cold sore that broke out last night. I wish I was going to see her. Even to see her body in death — her corpse, let’s not dress it up — would be something. The old traditions have it right: sit around the body and laugh and sing and talk, and make it have happened over and over, and then put the body in the ground. My phone bleeps and glancing down at the empty passenger seat, I read that Caroline has just checked in at Julia’s valediction.
Julia would not have believed how connected I am to the lives of others; the words ‘social’ and ‘networking’ are the last I would use about myself. I openly express my emotions and my whereabouts (my opinions always came for free): in other words, I update my status. It’s amazing the freedom that little box gives you (no offence, Julia). I never had this kind of help at college. I struggled with Julia, her openness, her romanticism, her offensive sentimentality. I felt more comfortable with Caroline, her sensuality not asking for declarations. I think Julia was waiting for the tortured creature inside me to crawl out and be known, a slick of repressed emotion oozing its way onto our sheets. She was waiting for me to learn emotional articulacy. Poor girl.
I remember us one evening side by side on the sofa. Julia sighed, turning towards me,
“You’re not talking to me.”
“I have been talking to you.”
“No, you haven’t. All you said was ‘how many metres square do you think that living room is?’ That is the best you can come up with.”
“Julia, we’re watching a home improvement programme. What do you want me to ask? What would a woman ask – ‘how do you feel about this living room extension?’”
She looked at me, a world of exasperation.
“You never, ever tell me how you feel.”
I didn’t know what to say, I truly didn’t. I expect she was thinking about her past romance, with Percy fucking Shelley.
I remember this conversation (poorly no doubt, there is no digital record), partly because this was the day that I slept with Caroline, and the day before Julia and I split up for good.
Caroline had been there later that evening looking absolutely gorgeous. She was drunk, so I imagine she had some excuse for betraying her best friend (although to be honest I’ve slept with quite a few best friends over the years, and none have seemed overly plagued by conscience). I was sober and had no excuse, and although I wasn’t eaten up by guilt afterwards, Julia spotted straight away that something was wrong, so I told her. Not a smart move it turned out.
I arrive and it’s very awkward as there is nowhere particular to go. Me and a few others are just standing around on this hill overlooking the sea. If Julia were here she would describe it beautifully. The sun is low, long beams of light, it’s cold. There are quite a few people here, all looking like they’ve arrived at a party with nowhere to put their coats. I’m sure there must be a few pairs of eyes on me, just like I’m scanning the crowd, trying to recognise some faces. Some stand out, instantly, from their digital selves. There’s Shane, knew him at college, one of Julia’s old mates. He’s a Facebook friend. He is married and his last holiday was in Mozambique (‘cool pics, hope you enjoyed’). He has liked a picture of me at a birthday party, and was sorry that I had the flu last month. No one has clocked me yet, or not enough to come up and say hello. And then I catch someone’s eye, some middle aged woman in one of those expensive proper coats; I look and see flickering underneath that it’s Caroline. She walks over, smiling.
Everyone fancied Caroline, she was stunning and clever and funny. I can see her profile picture hovering above her, off to the left, and it distracts me as I look at her physical self – lines, blotches, the roughness of anxiety when I shake her hand.
We don’t have the usual awkwardness as all that was broken when she friended me online. First my stomach turned over reading her full name, then unabashed curiosity, comparing how we’ve aged, and finally she became demythologised, an ordinary face posting on my newsfeed. The opening small talk is easier too, as I know that last week she had some dental work done, and she must know that I got pissed and embarrassed myself last Saturday night, she’s probably seen the clip of me Greek dancing with Dave. I know she works part time, is a strict vegetarian and likes sci-fi and apocalyptic movies. So we cut to the chase.
“It’s unbelievable, isn’t it?”
“She’s the first one of us ––”
“Makes you think ––”
“It does, I know. You’ve gotta just, like, make each moment ––”
I feel oddly comforted. I don’t have to ask how she’s been for twenty five years. The burden of communication is light. She leans in towards me,
“She’s the first real friend — you know what I mean — to die of it.”
This fact somehow unites us, like an amicable conspiracy.
“You know, statistically there’s bound to be another one of us here today who’s on the way to meet their maker soon.”
“Or meet oblivion.”
“Indeed, or meat oblivion,” she giggles, we both giggle, we guffaw. It is not at all funny.
I find I’m having too good a time and remember that I’m at Julia’s funeral and I should be a little more tactful. I try to say something deep.
“Julia was –– well, Julia was Julia.”
“Did you get over her?”
I change the subject.
“Did you guys stay best mates?”
“Nope. Didn’t see her after college. Didn’t hear from her for years until Facebook.”
“Yeah, me neither.”
“But she was inactive.”
We look at each other, the joke gaping at us from the proceedings at the front, and guffaw again.
Someone is signalling for us to gather round, and soon a quietness breaks out. I notice Gregoria standing beside the box, tall, pale. She is Julia’s daughter which comes as a surprise, she must be in her early twenties. She is about to read something. I hope and pray that it is not Stop all the Clocks (she would have to change all the pronouns anyway, it wouldn’t work). I have had enough weddings butcher great poetry, now this whole civil burial thing is opening another can of worms. Everyone waits, and Gregoria begins.
“It’s lovely to see so many old faces here, Julia would be pleased that you all came – although of course it doesn’t really matter to her now…” — a damp laugh rises in condensation — “but it matters very much to John.”
If my name weren’t so common I’d draw some conclusions about her marrying a John, but then, I’m most definitely a Johnny. John nods. Gregoria talks about Julia and suddenly she is there in front of me, fresh faced and gooey with love, laughing into my up close face.
I am back in our old rooms, smoking, the radio blaring, the sun hot on the windowpanes, years sprawled out in front of us. Julia is lying on the bed inhaling a cough, Caroline is sitting cross legged on the chair, posing. I see John beside her, his hand on her shoulder, possessive. We live in our own drama, of flirtation and deception and the full on depth of the future, aswim in all the mucky loveliness of twenty something angst and sex and fierceness.
I was healthy then. I didn’t have pills, medical bills, estimated remaining time.
I look at Gregoria (for god’s sake, Gregoria?) and I can clearly see Julia’s eyes, her dark brows. But as she turns to the side, the hand she lifts to her face, her profile, they are unmistakably mine.
Too late. It’s too late.
I have stopped listening to Gregoria, I have been watching her in slow motion, something like fear and happiness at my throat. But it’s time now to put the box in the ground. The small huddle of people gather more closely around the hole and I see they are going to play some music, and then I realise with a shock it’s going to have to be that song, one we listened to all that summer, and Julia is gone, gone, sloping ungraciously into the earth, and now the music plays and I don’t snigger and joke with Caroline because now I can’t ignore what’s happened to her, what’s happening to me. So I sing a song of love,
Ruth McKee has been shortlisted for RTE’s Francis MacManus Short Story Competition. She is working on her first historical novel. She is a PhD graduate in literature from Trinity College Dublin and lives in Skerries with her two small children and three cats. Follow Ruth on Twitter @RuthMcKee
Short Story: Seamus Gavara and the Fat Capitalist Pig
– By Patrick O’Flaherty
‘Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me.’
‘Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me.’
The class fell silent and bowed their heads like chastised pups. This only encouraged the two boys to sing louder, ‘Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me.’
The jaw of Mrs O’Brien – the religion teacher – now touched the floor. She tried to speak, then shook her head, burst into tears and ran out of the room. Seamus Gavara and his comrade Fiachra ‘The Beard’ Cassidy – les enfants terribles – had to find themselves a new school, but the events of that day forged a bond which would change the course of Irish history.
Seamus and Fiachra had been friends since the age of fourteen. Magnetically drawn to each other by John Player Blue cigarettes and their Rage Against the Machine T-shirts.
Together they would fight the machine to the death.
Throughout their teenage years they waged war against capitalism. They refused to wear watches, to recognise Greenwich Mean Time, buy Nike trainers or to eat in McDonalds. They were small but tenacious thorns in the arse of the multinational cartels. They demanded a new Ireland – a socialist republic – a proletarian utopia. Such was their anarchic reputations that even Joseph Higginsbottom – the Godfather of Irish Socialism – wouldn’t take their calls. He distanced himself from their seditious agitation.
Fiachra first came to international prominence as a member of a far-left Marxist revolutionary ornithological observation group in the Columbian jungle. Fiachra’s research led him into close contact with the terrible poverty of that continent and the massive gulf between rich and poor. Seamus joined Fiachra in South America on a J7 Visa from college. They bought a Honda 50 motorcycle and for twelve weeks rode around the beaches of Cancun and Rio de Janeiro observing the tremendous destitution of the indigenous people and the breath-taking beauty of the local bikini-clad women.
Seamus kept a diary of this historic trip, which later became internationally famous; it contained amongst other things a list of his many sexual conquests. He was known as ‘The Ginger Conquistador’ and the ladies found his freckled charms irresistible.
The adventure wasn’t without its struggles however as both Seamus and Fiachra suffered severe sunburn on their pale Irish skin and also fell victim to the scourge of intoxication in their undying efforts to help the South American people. This epic journey crystallised their egalitarian beliefs.
The Ireland of the Celtic Tiger years was a playground for the corporate mafia of the giant American multinationals. Like 1950s Havana, it was mired in corruption. It was Havana with potatoes and rain. A safe haven for the faceless conglomerates to wash their profits – a developer’s paradise, a brown envelope Shangri La.
Seamus and Fiachra wanted to rid Ireland of the cancer of greed, of the culture that spawned the fat Hibernian capitalist pig – Hiberno Vulgarianism. That pig had grown grotesquely plump during the now extinct Celtic Tiger. It had its snout in the filthy trough of property speculation; its ostentatious displays of wealth were vulgar in the extreme. It was time to put the pig on the spit.
Being nouveau riche hadn’t suited the Irish psyche. The Irish were used to centuries of famine, forced emigration, evictions, and good old-fashioned misery. The newfound affluence drove the natives instantly mad, which was only to be expected of an island of perennially oppressed peasants, some of whom were still living in mud huts until the late 1800s. But the mood of the people had darkened. The Teflon Taoiseach – the Irish Batista – Gertie O’Hern had been dethroned. The Emperor had no clothes.
The arse had fallen out of the country. The world was in turmoil, the bankers and the developers had fucked the people – big style – and the government had let it happen. The socio-political landscape was transformed. The people wanted change – they wanted blood. Now, twenty years after first standing up to the machine in the form of Mrs O’Brien, Seamus and Fiachra and their newly formed party – The People’s Party of the People (PPP) were ready to seize that opportunity.
Seamus Gavara had revolution on his mind but his ideological thirst was yet again quenched by a crippling weakness for the drink. He awoke with his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth. His body shook violently. A black beret nestled on his wild mane of ginger hair. His world was upside down.
‘Seamus, are you dead or alive in there? Do you know the time? Tis three o’clock, the day’ll be gone. You’re sleeping your life away,’ said Betty Gavara. Betty was Seamus’ long suffering mother, locally famous for her superlative scones, an open mind and an acerbic wit often sprinkled with sexual euphemisms of an adolescent nature. It kept her young at heart, and with a thirty-four year old ideologue son in the house, she needed to be.
‘Ya, ya, Jesus Christ I’m awake. Will you leave me alone woman?’
‘My heart is broke with that young fella,’ Betty said, throwing her eyes up to heaven.
Seamus jumped up out of the bed, staggered around looking for the clothes that he had on before tentatively venturing out of the burrow that was his room. He met Betty in the hallway. She was upside down and speaking in tongues. He looked down upon her undulating double chin and attempted to decipher her utterances. Betty shook her head and wondered where did it all go wrong for her. She wondered what the fuck was she after rearing? She went back into the refuge of her kitchen to the soothing sounds of RTE Radio One to make a fresh batch of scones.
Seamus, now terror stricken by his fragmenting mind galloped towards the front door, past the reflection of his head high red Doc Marten boots in the hall mirror.
‘I’m headin mam, good luck, talk later,’ he shouted, as he ran out the door.
He emerged to a sky of lush green fields, populated by black and white Friesian cattle that were upside down happily chewing the cud. They were surrounded by lines of grey stonewalls. An ethereal lawn of white cumulus cloud covered the ground in front of him. Brambles, whitethorn and blackthorn hedges, horse chestnut and tall slender ash trees hung perilously from the sky in complete disregard to Isaac Newton’s theory of gravitation. The Fire Brigade rescued a meowing dog from an ash tree. Crows and finches glided over little fluffy clouds to the sound of barking horses at 30,000ft. A line of chattering neighbours passed the house walking on their hands. The road moved beneath stationary cars like a travelator in an airport departure gate.
To Seamus, this had all the hallmarks of a CIA operation – sensory manipulation – a classic mindfuck. They must have spiked him with hallucinogenic drugs. Seamus had seen the film The Men Who Stare at Goats. He knew what those fuckers were capable of. He wasn’t going to crack. The Bay of fucking Pigs he thought. Maybe they got to Fiachra? Fiachra and the CIA? Seamus ran over the various scenarios in his head. Nobody could be trusted. He needed to pull himself together. He took a deep breath and tried to reassure himself – just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.
America – the cheerleader of free market capitalism had been the sole superpower since the demise of the Soviet Union but the capitalist system was on its knees. China was a monolith and America was crippled by its debt due to its ill-fated Middle Eastern campaigns of imperialist aggression in the aftermath of 9/11. The Western civilization was in decline, soft centred and bloated. Seamus and Fiachra studied the great Roman, Mayan and Aztec empires, all of which imploded and crumbled making way for new and hungrier powers to emerge. Powers like India and China.
The PPP were ready to exploit this new reality.
Ireland was a key battleground because of its proximity to Europe and its importance as a corporate centre. The extreme austerity measures imposed by the troika of the EU, IMF, and the ECB had led to the disillusionment of the people.
The PPP made their move with a campaign of Blitzkrieg electioneering. Their posters were omnipresent, quoting Mao underneath the letters PPP, ‘A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first few steps.’ The people had turned to the People’s Party of the People and the revolution would be televised on TG4 as a party political broadcast after Sergio Leone’s classic western Once Upon a Time in The West.
Seamus made contact with the Chinese secret service under the cover of a takeaway restaurant ‘The Dragons Belly,’ in Rathkeale, Co Limerick. He walked up the red neon-lit curried steps of the entrance, opened the door and walked towards the counter. A young girl sat watching a Chinese game show on a television mounted on the wall.
‘I’ve an order in for a Mr Kung Po.’
‘Gavara, Seamus Gavara.’
‘Ah Mr Gavara, we’ve been expecting you. Welcome to the belly of the dragon. Pleeze come with me.’
Seamus lifted the countertop, walked underneath the television to the sound of a clapping Chinese audience into a back room where he met the man known only as, Chang.
The PPP used their burgeoning political power base to make representations to the Minster for Offense about the building of a Chinese missile defence base at Shannon Airport. In return the Chinese promised significant inward investment – a major project in Tipperary involving the construction of a satellite city as a European base for the Chinese companies. This project would create thousands of jobs and would forge a co-operative bond between Ireland and China. The local TD Mickey Maowry had played a pivotal role in the development due to his extensive contacts in the Asian business community.
Mickey Maowry was known as a man to get things done and was wildly popular amongst his constituents despite high profile scandals involving the awarding of lucrative licenses for massage parlours and the illegal importation of Rhino horns into the greater Tipperary area. Officially announcing the project, Mickey Maowry told the Tipperary Enquirer:
‘After several years of hard work and personal sacrifice I have delivered
this project for the good people of Tipperary who have stood by me during this campaign of vilification by the national media. I would also like to thank my long suffering wife Pamela, my sons John, Johnny, Pa, Patrick and Paddy, Mickey and Mickey Junior, my daughters Bridie and Bride and our Labrador Blacky. They are my rock and without them I would be just a lonely hardworking bachelor politician without a family or a dog. Thank you.’
The Chinese had extensive interests in Africa and in the mineral rich Australian outback. Their hunger for resources was insatiable. Their tentacles were truly global and Ireland was next for Chinafication.
It was during these turbulent times that Seamus met Saoirse. A sultry brunette, tall and elegant with a smouldering sexual allure. She was a force of nature for which Seamus had no resistance. He melted beneath the scorching flame of her ferocious eroticism.
Saoirse had travelled the world after college working casually in bars and restaurants. She liked to dance and drink in a narcotic haze. She exploited her erotic capital. Saoirse was wild as the wind but still found time for her volunteering and charity work, including a month long spell at an orphanage in New Delhi. Her father Sean had a top job in Googlesoft, Ireland and he bankrolled her decadent lifestyle in between her ephemeral periods of gainful employment.
Seamus fell helplessly under Saoirse’s spell. They hit the bars and nightclubs. They feasted on each other in an alcohol-drenched banquet of depravity. The world around them blurred into an inconsequential mass.
Meanwhile, the Chinese had begun construction of the base at Shannon and the satellite city outside Thurles. In the July elections Fiachra and the PPP’s newest apparatchik, Mickey Maowry, were elected on the first count helping to win the party an overall majority.
At a White House press conference the American President and the leader of the Tea Party administration Mitt Palin spoke about the Chinese presence in Shannon, ‘The Irish and the American people always had a special relationship, a shared history of struggle and endurance. We will stand by our friends in Ireland. This is an act of aggression, a threat to democracy and to the free world.’
There were high-level leaks about a covert invasion and CIA funding for the far-right anti-immigration party – The III ‘Irish Ireland for the Irish.’
Seamus had become increasingly paranoid. He saw CIA agents at every corner – old women pushing trolleys in supermarket car parks, street cleaners sweeping the roads, parked taxi drivers. They were everywhere, always seeming to avert their gaze whenever he tried to look them in the eye. Falling silent when he walked into a room. He moved into a new apartment with Saoirse and checked it daily for bugs and cameras. He checked light fittings, ashtrays, picture frames, clock faces. Even the fruit bowl, ticking them off a list as he went.
Saoirse was worried. He was distant and had a glazed look in his eyes. She decided to confront him.
‘Seamus are you alright? Is there something on your mind?’
‘You’re not yourself. You’re very quiet with me. Did I…do something?’
‘I’m sorry Saoirse, it’s just with the PPP and the negotiations with the Chinese, things are mad lately. That’s all. I’m just…a bit stressed out. I’m grand.’
‘You don’t look grand. You look off your fuckin game.’
‘It’s those CIA fuckers…fuckin with my head.’
‘What…are you talking about Seamus?’
‘Mind control, sensory manipulation, Project MK-ULTRA, the Men That Stare At Fuckin Goats. At my mothers house…the bastards. She’s nothing to do with this.’
‘Calm down hunny…it’s ok. Breathe…talk slowly.’
‘They must have spiked me the fuckers. After the Rage Against the Machine concert I woke up and everything was upside down. I was trippin out. You saw what the Russians did to Litvinenko. Poisoned the cunt. With his tea. His fuckin tea. Polonium-210. They’ll get me too.’
‘Don’t you remember Seamus? The acid? We took the acid after the gig. Remember? Got it from Tim O’Leary in town. Larry in the Sky with Dinosaurs? Seamus calmed down a little after their talk. He still thought that the CIA were somehow involved but he kept it to himself. The less she knew the better, for her own sake.
The PPP were monitoring Seamus’ erratic behaviour. Nobody could jeopardise the Party. Fiachra distanced himself from Seamus and had taken to smoking big Cuban cigars. He was elected president of the PPP.
Seamus was now only a peripheral figure in the Party he built but he didn’t care. All he wanted was Saoirse. He loved her so much he took a manufacturing job in Googlesoft to help pay the rent of their apartment. Saoirse’s father Sean pulled a few strings and got him the gig. They settled into a quiet life of debauched domesticity.
Saoirse took up ballet after watching the film Black Swan. Seamus purchased his first watch to observe GMT because his overlords at Googlesoft demanded strict adherence to the clock. Betty would drop over fresh scones to supplement their Big Mac meals.
‘Mrs Gavara, is it yourself?’
‘Saoirse, how many times have I told you? Call me Betty.’
‘Sorry…Betty. Come in.’
‘I’ve some fresh scones for ye. Where is he, where’s my boy?’
‘He’s working overtime. He’ll be home at seven.’
‘I don’t know what you’re doing to him. I’ve never seen him so happy. You even got him working. I thought he was still one of those antichrists, marching and protesting and that. We’ll have to keep you Saoirse.’
‘They’re anarchists Betty.’
‘Sure, they’re all the one, aren’t they?’
‘ I’m going nowhere Betty. I love him. He’s a heart of gold. He’s idealistic and…vigorous.’
And with that, both women laughed heartily.
Life was blissful, well; it was until Saoirse choked on that chicken bone.
If there were any lessons to be learned from this inglorious expiration it would be to avoid dancing while eating a chicken leg. In a Swan Lake finale Saoirse choked while practicing after the day’s ballet class as Seamus dozed in front of the T.V after a feed of drumsticks. Saoirse never could sit still. Seamus hit the bottle.
The Chinese intent on world domination bought Googlesoft. A drunken Seamus was at his evening Mandarin course when he heard that Sean and the entire board had been sacked and the Union shut down. Overnight wages were quartered and working conditions deteriorated. A heartbroken Sean jumped from a tenth floor window of the Googlesoft HQ killing himself and a RTE News reporter in the process.
The PPP had consolidated its power through emergency constitutional reform. Everything changed overnight. Ireland became a one Party State with Fiachra as its figurehead but everybody knew the man known only as Chang really ran the country. Ireland was now closer to Beijing than Boston.
Seamus was drinking three bottles of whiskey a day. He lost his job. He wouldn’t open the door to Betty. He was skin and bone.
Some months later an American journalist interviewed him about his history in the PPP. Seamus criticised Fiachra and the betrayal of the PPP’s original ideals. He was immediately arrested and sent to the Curragh internment camp. Witnesses claim he mounted one final protest outside the office of the camps commanding officer, comrade Zhan, where he shouted pro-American, pro-democracy slogans. He was promptly executed by firing squad.
But Seamus lives on. His organs were harvested and it’s rumoured that a Shanghai millionaire has one of his kidneys and is doing well.
Patrick O’Flaherty is from Limerick, Ireland. He has previously been published in The Moth magazine and in theNewerYork. His writing is an involuntary response to the chaos of his mind, to the insanity, absurdity and the beguiling beauty of the world around him. Folow Patrick on Twitter @PaddyofNazareth