A Portrait Of The Artist

Jim Larkin Statue, O'Connell Street, Dublin - Photo by Emily O'Sulivan

Jim Larkin Statue, O’Connell Street, Dublin – Photo by Emily O’Sulivan

The Great South Wall

– By Niall Foley

Dead.

That’s how you’ll find me.

The sea is brown at my back, the autumn breeze urging it against the rocks on which I sit. In front of me the rippling tide is black, then blue. The water looks gentle with the evening light tip-toeing on its surface. But I know beneath is strong, dark and cold.

I will not resist.

I will go willingly.

Lapping of the sea echoes pleasingly from under the rocks. Pleasing is the sound, soft on the ear. Pleasing too that my body will soon be down there. With the rats. And the worms.

A wretched business for whoever identifies me. They’d have to ask someone, wouldn’t they, to be sure? Would they ask Alan? I wonder, would they?

Alan. Great big block head on thick shoulders. A sour face. A landlord of the old school.

It’ll shake him up a bit alright, having to identify my body laid out on a slab. All blue and bloated. Recognisable yet unrecognisable. Alan, forced to have a good long look with eyes wide open before whispering, “Yes, that’s him.”

I can see his sickened face. The same face he has the rare time he does the dirty work and cleans sick from the stairs or lifts someone’s shit off the floor in the jacks.

His disgusted face makes me shiver with glee.

Stiffness claws at my back so I shift a bit but that starts my hip off, waking the untouchable dull pain that is never far away. So I just sit and wait for a little of the pain to go and a little more of the evening to pass.

A cargo ship with containers stacked tidy row upon row leaves Dublin Port for the mouth of the Liffey, one green light flashing her slow heartbeat.

An old pair nearing me now. With tanned skin, beige trousers, and plastic water bottles. Not paying me any attention at all so they’re not.

“How are yez? Nice evening!”

Nearly run, they do. Christ.

Ah, the tourists, where would this country be without them but?

Céad Mile Fáilte.

I wait.

A father and son come cycling. The old feller nods. I nod back. The boy trails behind bumping on the uneven stones, forehead furrowed in concentration. “You’re playing a stormer, kid,” I tell him. “You’re flying.”

The Da smiles.

Alan has kids too. And a nice home, no doubt, with a comfy warm scratcher. But soon all he’ll see when he goes to sleep is me and my rotten face. There will be a stench. God, will there be a stench. It will give him nerves alright.

My gut suddenly lurches and my head is light. Pinpricks of heat circle my neck and rise in a fizzy rush to my face. Sure wouldn’t Alan be glad to see me dead? Aren’t I a problem to him? What would he care if I was out of the way? Unemployed barmen are two a penny these days.

I cover the sight of the world with my fingers, angered and embarrassed at my own stupidity. Because the only person they could ask to identify me body will be glad to see it.

Is there someone else they could ask?

Sarah.

No, not Sarah. It won’t be Sarah.

The cargo ship inches level with me. The Andromeda.

It’s not quite time. At the far end of the Wall I see blurry silhouettes fishing. But when they go it’ll be just me.

It could never be Sarah. You’d be a fool to think otherwise. And I never did. Not really. There’s the age, for starters. Sarah. Twenty-three years old.

The one time I’d lost the run of myself at her birthday drinks. If it hadn’t been a Sunday I wouldn’t have gone. But it was. On a Sunday, my day off, wearing my good clothes, not the usual faded trousers and old polo shirt. Sunday means Terry, all dressed up and with places to go, drowning in thirst.

I was only messing. Tried to give her a birthday kiss, is all. And that was all. We were mates.

The kiss was just banter. I know it was. But everyone else said otherwise, and when everyone else looks at you different to how you look at yourself, well, it clouds your thinking.

I know what they say.

I stand, unsteadily. The breeze cools my head and carries salt to my eyes and lips.

I walk to the edge.

The red-and-white towers of Poolbeg hide the steel and glass of the Docklands. In the low-rise houses of Clontarf opposite I see old Dublin, my Dublin.

New Dublin is everywhere. It even sparkles in the dark sky. Kite-surfers on Bull Island. At this time of evening. At this time of year. When I was young it was just fishing. Fishing and football.

Fifteen years I’ve been pulling pints for Alan. Five months Sarah has been behind the bar. Part-time. But she fills the place. As every other pub in town loses trade. The punters go for her like flies to shite. It’s the oldest trick in the publican’s book.

While me, after years of feeding and watering them – I’m just sick of people. I have the craic as always. Chat about the weather. Pass on racing tips. Compliment the women. But it’s all a lie. And maybe it shows. Maybe that’s it after all, just that and nothing more.

Maybe that’s why Alan put me on split-shifts. Open the bar at ten in the morning, work till four. Come back at nine for the few hours to close the night.

Leave Sarah alone.

Just ignore the others.

There’s not a lot you can do in five hours. By the time I walk home to the room in Finglas and catch my breath it’s nearly time to go back to the pub again.

I walk because I hate giving my money away to the buses or taxis and because I need to lose weight. I do be needing to lose weight. Now and then I’ll get into the hardness of having a salad sandwich instead of the usual fried pub lunch. Now and then I won’t lash six or seven pints into me while cashing up. Now and then I won’t drink on the job.

But it’s not easy. You go behind that bar with the worst hangover of your life and vowing to never drink again but after five minutes of pouring pints left right and centre, breathing sweat and farts, men and women stepping in off the street and shrugging the day off themselves so strongly that you can hear it hit the floor… after five minutes, you’ll be gagging for a pint, and the first chance you get, you’ll horse the drink into you.

Horse it into you.

An excuse, of course. Always an excuse. The good habits never last. It’s not Alan. It’s not Sarah. I wish them the best. I really do. It’s me. Failing the false dawns. Letting myself down. Struggling, fighting against my nature, my thoughts, my self. Always trying again. Always failing. Always excuses. I’m sick of nothing in this world like I’m sick of me.

I step forward –

“Fucking shite in the end, wasn’t it mister?”

The voice sprung from darkness sends my heart to my throat. I spin around. A boy of eleven or twelve, fishing rod in hand, stands there.

“Pure bollocks it was,” he says, his blue eyes piercing through the gloom. Then I notice the green and white football shirt.

“Rovers?” I say, tentatively.

“Yeah. I see you there every game mister, standing at the back. We were pure muck on Friday, weren’t we? Another missed penno in the car park end.”

It’s just me and him and the wind.

“You must be freezing in just that top,” I say.

“But I don’t feel it, mister,” he shrugs and walks away. “Don’t feel it.”

He leaves me alone on the edge.

Shamrock Rovers Football Club.

The cry of the seagulls above.

Passing the All American Laundrette on South Great George’s Street in winter and inhaling the hot soapy steam blowing from its air vents.

The smooth stone of Jim Larkin’s statue against my fingers.

Is that all there is? These solitary and fleeting touchstones of happiness in my city?

What more do you want?

Well?

What?

Well then. It’s settled.

For today.

I take a careful step back and turn my back on the dark void of the sea.

Far behind me the green light of The Andromeda continues to strike its heartbeat, faint against the black canvas of the night.

Niall Foley has been harnessed as a barman, labourer, clerk, lecturer and journalist – and several other functions. He currently lives in Edinburgh, and is happiest when unshackled and alone in a room with a desk, some paper, and a pencil. Check out Niall’s website.   

Dun Laoghaire By Emily O'Sullivan

In the Words of James Joyce – Photo by Emily O’Sullivan

Pop Goes The Gun

– By Vikki Gemmell 

Flecks of gold circle his irises, like blasts of sun in a blue sky; a detail I’m only just noticing. After three years of working together he’s still a mystery. He clinks his beer glass against mine.

“Cheers,” he says.

“Cheers.”

“This is good, you agreeing to come out for a drink with me. We can have a proper chat before you come over tomorrow. I think you get me; it’ll be perfect.”

I nod. “I’ve never done any… modelling… like this before.”

“All you need to do is stand there. I’ll have my paints and gun ready.”

“Gun?” I laugh nervously.

He laughs too and I smile, not exactly sure what’s so funny. His is a proper belly laugh.

He pinches my cheek. “You look pretty cute when you giggle.”

I look away, heat creeping up my throat. “How long have you been painting?” I divert attention back to him.

“As soon as I could pick up a brush,” he says. “It’s tough getting anyone to give a shit about it all. You know, Van Gogh didn’t sell a single painting until he died. I think he was onto something there.”

I survey him curiously. “I’m sure he would’ve preferred to have been around to see his success, don’t you think?”

“Sammy, Sam,” he winks at me. “It doesn’t always work like that. You’ll see…tomorrow, my dear.”

*

His flat smells of turpentine and ashtrays and something sweet… the odours concoct a potent mixture in my nostrils and shoot to my head. My head spins and I feel it’s slowly breaking away from the rest of my body; my neck is the string of a helium balloon and someone just untied it. I can almost feel my hair brushing against the ceiling… static electricity.

Static electricity is the real reason why I’m here and we both know it. I’m bored with my boyfriend. He’s bored with his girlfriend. He wants me to pose nude because it’s the fastest and easiest way he can think of getting my clothes off and it saves us having to make excuses to our consciences.

“In here,” He pushes a door open and I follow him inside.

My eyes don’t know which wall to focus on first. I blink then take a deep breath and focus on the one facing me. My face burns as I am confronted with wall-to-wall coverage of nude women posing like they are in pre-edited James Bond credits. No silhouettes here.

“D’you like them?” He sees me looking and I open and close my mouth, not sure what he wants me to say.

“Took me fucking ages. I used a different kind of paint for those ones so it was hard doing much detail.”

“Oh,”’ My throat collapses into my stomach. Not much detail? I can practically see the goose bumps along their inner thighs… I begin to feel panicky and stupid. Maybe he really does want to paint me naked. Like seriously. In detail… to add to his wall. Shit, shit, shit.

I turn to look at his other wall and see Andy Warhol prints, movie posters… a Trainspotting poster with him and his friends in place of the actors. He’s Renton. I look at another poster for Pulp Fiction and realise it’s his girlfriend, donned in a black wig, pouting. I try to decide if this is cool or just…weird.

“Sit down,” he says, motioning to his bed.

I perch on the end of his bed. I watch as he starts to sift through his CD collection.

“What kind of music you into?” he asks.

I shrug. “Rock. Alternative.” Did alternative exist anymore? It seemed everything alternative had gone mainstream. Even the kids hanging around town were confused; their eclectic wardrobes borrowing a piece of everyone in an attempt to look different, only to turn up and see fifty other people had had the same idea.

Nirvana blasts out from his stereo and I laugh.

“What’s so funny?” he yells in my face, as he dances around, an unlit fag between his fingers, his jeans slouching half way down his arse.

“I haven’t heard this in ages,” I say.

“What?” He cups his ear with his hand and smiles. I can still see his dimples even though he clearly hasn’t shaved for a while.

I smile back; my body begins to relax.

“Have you ever thought about dying?” He appears in my face again and I jerk back, unnerved by his abrupt question.

“Well, not exactly. I mean I’ve thought about death, but not, like, the actual act of how I’ll go…”

“Sammy, Sammy, Sammy,” he tuts, shaking his head. “All the interesting people are dead. I can’t wait to meet them all and party with them.” He lights his cigarette and laughs as he blows circles into the air.

“You could always hold a séance,” I shrug.

He ponders this seriously. We really don’t share the same sense of humour. I begin to wonder if he is so crazy that he is beyond a sense of humour…

“I don’t really believe in all that shit.” He waves a hand dismissively at me. He pulls out a bottle of whisky from his cupboard. “Ah, there you are my sweet baby.”

He takes an over enthusiastic swig and the liquid glides over his chin, dripping on to his t-shirt. He keeps drinking. I hold my breath along with him. How much whisky can you down in one go?

“Ahhh,” he gasps, pulling the bottle back down level. He burps loudly. “Here, have some.”

I take the bottle. Peer into the half empty gold pool. I take a swig. The roof of my mouth roars in protest. I feel every drop sail down the back of my throat, down, down, down, exploding in my stomach.

“You’re so cute,” he says. He sits down beside me and pinches my cheek.

“Thanks.” His eyes analyse every line and pore on my face.

“And sexy.” He brushes my hair back from my shoulder and his finger traces a circle around the delicate skin on my neck. Every inch of my body begins to pulsate, my lips are screaming Kiss me, kiss me.

“Just perfect. Hmmm…” He snaps his fingers and I blink. He jumps up and rushes over to his easel.

I swig some more whisky. Oh my God. Just kiss me for Christ’s sake… His jumping around is beginning to make me dizzy.

“Okay. Cool,” He begins to squeeze tubes of paint and colours squirt out onto a palette, like a melting rainbow. “Take your clothes off, Sam. Let’s get started.”

I swallow the whisky slowly. Uh oh. That doesn’t sound like the ‘Ooh baby. I want you,’ that I was expecting. He really wants to look at my body. Objectively. Fuck. I have cellulite. My boobs are too small…I look at the Bond Girls dancing across his wall. Their boobs are fantastic; their bodies acquaintances of the local gym.

“Uh, Scott…” I sit up; feel the nausea grip my tongue.

“Mmm?” He is mixing frantically, chewing on a paintbrush.

I am on the verge of saying I feel sick and want to go home. No lie there. But I seem to have lost the ability to speak.

“Come on beautiful. Smile for the camera.” He peers at me through the square he has constructed with his fingers.

I stand up. My hands are shaking so much I can’t unbutton my shirt properly.

“Would it help if I got naked too?”

“Umm…” He’s already thrown his t-shirt over his head, is climbing out of his jeans…

I laugh and quickly unbutton my shirt, slip off my denim skirt. Then the underwear… quick and painless, like ripping off a plaster. I glance over at him. He hasn’t taken off his boxers.

“Hey…” I protest, crossing my legs, hugging my chest.

“Don’t get all coy, Sammy!”

He bends down to open a box underneath his easel and I notice how smooth his skin looks, the slight muscles in his arms ripples on a flawless canvas.

I stand awkwardly, waiting.

He holds up a gun.

“What is that?” Asking the obvious. I think back to his comment in the pub last night.

“A gun,” He hands it to me and I forget about my nakedness. I hold the weight in my hand nervously.

I want to ask if it’s real. But I don’t want to know. “Why d’you have a gun?”

“For my art darling,” he says, nodding towards the Bond Girls. “All part of the little picture I’m painting.”

Of course. How stupid of me to think that he wouldn’t just add in some fake guns afterwards.

“Okay, strike a pose,” He lunges forward, pointing his fingers in an upside down v.

I hesitate, then point the gun; mimic his pose.

“Hmm…” He scratches his chin, scanning my body.

Don’t look at my bum. Don’t look at my bum.

“Bit more to the left.”

I move.

“Perfect!” He claps his hands and bounces back to his easel.

Twelve songs spin past. I’m getting a cramp in my shoulder. The gun’s getting heavier.

He lays down his palette. “Sam, do you know why I really asked you here today?”

“What d’you mean?” Hallelujah. I hadn’t read the signals wrong. He did want my body for a different kind of creativity. My thigh twitches.

“Take a break, sweetie. Sit down.” He walks over to me, motions for me to sit on the bed.

I sit down, laying the gun beside me. He crouches, facing me. I’m slightly disappointed that he holds my gaze. I try to stop my eyes from devouring his whole body.

“I think we get each other. I can see the same desire inside of you that’s inside of me.”

Waves of panic and anticipation wash over me as I follow his gaze to the ‘bond girls’ on the wall.

“Those other girls – they weren’t quite ready…”

He grabs my hand, grinning. A spark runs up my arm.

“Come on, it’ll be more dramatic and memorable in the living room. My best paintings are in there.”

I let him pull me up, my head spinning. He reaches behind me to pick up the gun.

“Are you going to paint me in the living room?” I ask, following him out the door.

“No, we’re moving on to the main event now,” he stops and touches me gently on the cheek. “The timing had to be just right. I feel ready now.”

A shiver tickles my spine. I’ve been ready for so long…

We walk down the hall and he turns to smile at me as he leads me into a large, sun filled room.

He shuts the door and he hands me the gun.

Biography: Vikki Gemmell lives in Scotland and has fiction published in Spilling Ink Review, Flashflood Journal and recently won third prize in the Multi-Story flash fiction competition. She is currently working on a Young Adult novel. Her observations about life can be found on her blog. Follow Vikki on Twitter @VikkiGemmell

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