– By Patrick H. Fitzgerald
We had the idea we’d play house. Make believe our happiness. I baked banana bread and you caught summer swallows that flew through the open kitchen window. I’d remark that it was early for swallows, pretending to know about the rhythms of such things.
When you got home the house stank of sweetness drifting from the kitchen and I’d listen to all the boy bravado. I made myself meek and mild and all the pleasing things that big men need. When the trees grew too close to the front windows you’d cut their branches, while I sat watching, making domestic declarations about the lovely cut I’d gotten from the butchers. In the pantry, I put a fuss of food and salted meats and washed your clothes by hand in the basin because there was more honour in it. In return you’d give me gifts of half-baked promises and wild notions.
We made savage messes, every way, in every room of that place. When you laid your hands on me, to lust, or rage, regardless, my body bucked, a lump lodging in my neck, another slowly swelling.
But you saw me those days, docile, beached in some forgotten, lonesome corner, counting kindnesses. The words fell blankly from me, shifting shape in empty air, and behind it all, I raged against every tender smallness.
You had built me a plywood front, painted pleasant enough, but soon the wood would warp, the paint peeled. If I could have worn you then, like we slept, gripping and crawling across each other, swallowing big blocks of square air. Those times you shuddered and we forgot the bad match, the bitter taste.
But those days were long days and thoughts turn to softer men. Men put together from bits of remembrances fleeting, flown. And from these, grew notions of grander things, of things said once by others sheathed in the blue night. While you sat fat, making sport of princely pomp, walking a tree-lined procession as our paper palace yellowed in the sun.
So starved the smallness of it. That smallness once curled and pressed softly against the inside of my breast, that choking and spitting then drowned in my gut. The petitions, hoarse, quivered in our throats, and though we longed and longed, we lost. And even then, when the light bled saffron along the line of your back, you took my hand in yours and I heard the bones break.
I went back to the house a few times but saw no sign you had been there. The pane glass was broken and I found bits of us scattered. But you left in a hurry, I think, not long after I did.
Patrick H. Fitzgerald is originally from North Co. Kerry. A Fine Art graduate of Limerick School of Art & Design, he has come to writing, through his visual arts background, experimenting with flash fiction and poetry. He has previously collaborated with artists writing work for performance art pieces. He is currently living in Australia, working on a collection of short stories.
– By Graham Conners
David was sat with his back against the wall, in the middle of telling Aisling and Emer some story that had happened years ago when I noticed Laura and how she held herself. She nodded along as he spoke, her lips curled into a soft, almost hesitant smile, her arms folded across her lap. She studied David’s face, watching him with a distracted, almost melancholic, attention and I was certain that it picked at the corner stone that held her together. As I watched her in the snug I knew that she hadn’t looked forward to this night. It seemed that she almost didn’t want to be here at all, as being here made things real. She turned away, catching my attention accidentally and looked at me for a moment, studying my face. I’d known Laura a long time and I saw a sadness she was trying to disguise. She smiled wanly, reaching out and slapping the back of my hand playfully, like I was a bold child. In that moment I felt that, for her, time was moving all too quick and she was afraid of wasting whatever little was left. I returned the smile and leaned in to her.
“I’ll give you a million quid for a smile.” And she did, her eyes flashing in the dim light. “Can I owe ya?” I asked and she nodded. I leaned in a little closer and she leaned in to me. “It’s going to be okay, you know.”
“Yup,” she said, winking at me softly before turning away, trying to slip seamlessly into the conversation. I watched her and knew that she was trying to avoid the reality that David would not be here tomorrow. And David would never be coming back.
I met David, through Laura, from coffee’s shared in the student centre, study days in the library and eventually nights out and weekends at festivals and such. At first I wasn’t sure of him, this fella with an accent that seemed to say all the right things. To the best of my knowledge he never offended anyone. No one ever said that David was a prick, or that he kept bad company. He held open doors, carried heavy things for the girls, remembered birthdays and always seemed to give the best advice going. He read books like they were going out of style and found it very hard to keep hold of them, always giving away his second hand paperbacks if you expressed so much as a passing interest in reading it. Jesus, he was so hard not to like that Laura and I fell out for a short time when I decided that I wasn’t going to like him, just to be different. Most of it was jealousy as he had, did and was everything I wanted or wanted to be. I left the room when he entered or poked fun at his opinions when he offered them. I soon learned that all I was doing was making an arsehole out of myself. Laura told me to cop on and stop being a prick, cornering me in Doyle’s one night out. She started to cry. Laura only ever cried over people she cared about. In that moment I wasn’t sure which one of us she cared about more, David or me, but seeing her cry was enough. Things changed after that.
I came back from the bar with the last round of drinks we’d ever have together. David had moved across into my seat and Aisling into David’s so I found myself sitting opposite them, on my own. David and Laura were sitting beside each other, talking between themselves. She was laughing and it seemed, though I couldn’t hear what they were saying, as if they were talking about things they would do tomorrow, or next week. They had found someway to enjoy whatever time was left and I could not begrudge them that. There’s a song that I use to sing at parties with the lyric ‘the heart is a package tangled up in knots someone else tied.’ I couldn’t help but smile at the two of them together and suddenly I found a new meaning in those words, it made a lot more sense. In that instant part of me wished I were David, even just for these last few minutes, as he seemed to fill her world. I remembered the days before he came along and I knew that things would never again be like that. I would never be able to fill that David-shaped hole in her life. No matter what I did, I’d never be David.
David had his bags packed and sitting in a tidy little knot at the foot of the stairs. He had donated the bigger things he owned to people he felt would use them best. I got a collection of books. The taxi was waiting, parked up on the street outside. Instinctively we all knew that the others in our group needed space. Emer sat in the sitting room, having said her goodbye already, vacantly watching something she had recorded during the week. Aisling and David shared their goodbyes in the kitchen. Laura and I waited in the hallway. I could hear them, Aisling warning him not to forget about us and to hurry back. What else do you say to someone that’s leaving?
I stood by the radiator, warming myself, Laura sitting on the lowest step of the stairs. She fidgeted with the tags on David’s bags, reading the stickers and the patches he’d sewn on over the years, tracing some roadmap of his time in Ireland. The kitchen door opened. David stepped into the shadows of the dim hallway. I straightened up and offered my hand. He took it and shook it, his deep brown eyes boring into mine and we said our goodbyes. Laura was listening, standing to face David as we had finished. She took two hesitant steps down the hallway, she was crying and he began to cry too. She could say nothing, could not say goodbye, her face red with tears as she tucked herself in under his arm and he held her and rocked her slowly forward and back, like a parent with a restless child. I looked away and I stepped up the hallway to the door, turning slightly to view them out of the corner of my eye. His big hands cupped her face, his thumbs wiping away her tears.
“You will see me again,” he said, his heavy voice coming like a whisper, tender and loving. He held her once more and they shook with sobs, David wrapping his great big arms around her little frame tighter, as if folding himself over her, protecting her. “You will see me again,” he said once more and released her, making for the doorway, towards me. “Goodbye Barry,” he said, pausing but a moment as he picked his bags from the floor. I offered to help but he declined it, saying he could manage. He did, taking the three bags with him out into the darkness. We watched him load up the taxi and climb in. He did not look back, or wave, and the taxi slowly pulled away and around the corner.
“Bye David,” I said to myself and to no one in particular as the taillights faded away into the darkness. And then he was gone, flitted away into the night.
She cried more that night as we sat in the kitchen, letting cups of tea go cold on the countertop, letting long drawn out pauses blossom between us. I held her, trying to reassure her that the world was still turning, that things weren’t over. She apologised to me, saying how she was acting like a child. I told her everything was fine and that I understood; it’s hard to lose someone you love. I wish my motives had been less selfish, but they weren’t. I needed to know, needed to know that she loved him. Laura looked up, taking her head off my chest, nodding so smoothly that it was almost invisible, but totally inevitable. She patted my chest and smiled, wiping at the tears on her cheeks and at the damp patches on my shirt. She apologised and broke away from me, taking her cup of cold tea and pouring it down the sink.
“Good night Bar,” she said and half smiled, squeezing my hand as she passed me. She closed the kitchen door over and I listened to the soft thud of her steps on the stairs until they faded away. Standing in the silence of the early hours I felt the ground shifting beneath me. I remembered what David had said to her; you will see me again. And I know she will, I know she will. I hope she does.
The Morning (Hers)
She was gone before 7.30am, leaving early for work. We passed on the landing as she was going and I asked her how she was. She said she was fine but I knew she was lying.
David had lived with us for nearly a year, a great silent hulk moving quietly about, talking about music or movies or about his confusion at an Irish person’s happy disposition in such as sunless country. David was from Trinidad and had followed some crazy idea of coming to Ireland in search of adventure. We laughed about that many times, telling him that if he wanted adventure to try walk through Temple Bar unmolested around 2am of a Saturday night. He never did, to the best of my knowledge. One night, years ago, with the rain sluicing down the windows in great torrents, he told me about home, about ‘his’ island as he called it. He had been home only once in four years, for his sisters wedding. In that moment I felt that David was running from something, as if he had let some gap develop and he regretted it. He rarely spoke of his family and when he did it was always of his mother. I once asked about his father, had he passed away? David replied with a simple, soft ‘no.’ Though I wanted to, I never pressed him on this, I never went fishing for more information. That evening he told me that he had been away for a long time and he felt maybe he was ready to go home.
Home, I always found it strange how he spoke of it. Home never seemed to be thousands of miles away but somewhere you could walk to, somewhere just around the corner that he could visit whenever he wanted. To me David held a little of his home inside him, stored in some jar or cubbie hole in his soul. He carried the sun and warmth with him and, though it was a kind of precious energy that kept him going, he was not afraid to share it with you. That was David and that was why people loved him.
The Morning (Mine)
Usually being the last to leave the house, I checked all the windows and doors were locked and secure. As I gathered my coat to leave I noticed the door to David’s room was open just a crack. He had not pulled it after himself, not sealed it shut with the finality of his leaving. I don’t know why but I looked in. The mat he had was gone, donated to someone or other. It was just that little bit too thick and often jammed the door in some strange position that was neither open nor closed. Now it opened freely and I peeped in, taking a moment, as if waiting for permission, before I entered.
I stood in the doorway and looked about me. The room was virtually bare, all the little bits and pieces that made David, David, were gone. His bed spread, his photographs, his magazines, his rosary beads; all packed away and vanished. And though the room was quite small, and David quite a big man, this empty space now seemed cavernous, hollow and absolutely different. It seemed like he had never been here at all and that is when I felt it, I felt this twinge in my chest that spoke to me of the brittle nature of people, of hearts and life and love. Here I was in a room in a house I’d lived in for four years and I felt like a stranger. I could claim no ownership over it; I felt an alien in this space as, no matter what this room became now David was no longer here, a study room or an office, this will always be known as David’s room. Where’s the old lamp for the sitting room? Try David’s room. Have you seen the suitcase? It’s probably in the wardrobe in David’s room. This will always be his room and now that he is gone it feels so wrong, like it shouldn’t be a room at all. It wasn’t just his room for a while, it was his room for life and as I turned away I felt that maybe it was the heart of the house if only for a short time.
As I left I spied something hanging on a hook just behind the door. It was a small tag from an old Christmas present, a smiling happy Santa looking out at me. It lifted my spirits and for some reason I reached to turn it over.
I read the words over twice and set the tag back in its place. This little piece of card had been too important to throw away, it said too much but still was too heavy to take with him, too rich in memories and emotions. I found myself crying and dried my eyes. I left the room, closing the door over. I stopped and listened to the wind outside running against the side of the house and heard his words in my mind, a smile catching the corners of my mouth.
You will see me again. You will see me again.
Graham Connors is thirty years old and has previously been published in wordlegs magazine, 30 Under 30 (both e-book and paperback editions), Allegory magazine, Under Thirty magazine, The Lit Garden, Link magazine and long-listed for the Doire Press International Chapbook competition. He is the founder and editor of Number Eleven Magazine as well as contributing editor for the Dublin Informer newspaper. He successfully staged his first play, ‘The Mortal Pitch’, in both Wexford and Dublin. He is from Gorey, in Co. Wexford but has lived in Dublin for the last ten years. Someday he’ll find his way back home.
Categories: Issue 18