During the last decade James has been fortunate to have his life on a pretty even keel and enjoy some very interesting and varied contract work. He has been able to do a fair amount of travelling while indulging in other things that interest him, such as photography and writing for business magazines. Check out more of his work here.
Last Year’s Child
– By Kenneth Duffy
Even with his mother’s sunglasses, the light becomes so excruciating that it drives him from the salon. The noise of the hairdryers drives him from the salon. The pink neon sign drives him from the salon. The stink of dry rot from the flat upstairs drives him from the salon. The condensation on the windows, the absence of his father, the burping of the water cooler, the twitching of Mrs.Greevy’s mismatched nostrils as his mother hoses the suds from her hair, his thoughts, his thoughts and his thoughts; all of these things drive him from the salon.
He runs. The church, the post office, the bus stop, the empty cinema, Harlow’s, Dempsey’s, Pinewood Lawns, the Garda station, the old handball alley, the FÁS office, Cherrylane Heights, Lidl, Maja Konopnicka pushing a buggy, the tinkers, the red bullock, the windy road, Tim Gallagher’s farm- their old farm; he runs and runs until the miles begin to stretch and overflow their banks. He runs until even the ridiculous energy of his stringy body begins to fail. Breath burns. Sinews burn. Muscles burn. Thoughts burn and burn until all that remains are ashes and Stephen can rest a while. His head aches but his head is a constant ache these days as his brain swells and pushes against the roughness of his skull. Writing, reading, sums, dates; all have begun to lose their wildness. All have begun to grow tame. Tuna. Magic tuna. Tuna. Someday soon. Tuna. Tuna. Tuna the magic food that makes you smarter. If only he had known sooner. Crack! Remedial classes. It had not taken long for the nickname to stick. In another hour the sun will touch the Earth and burn a hole right through Hannon’s bog and he will no longer need the oversized sunglasses which make him look like a gigantic ant. Retard. Crack!
He leans against the old washing machine that someone has dumped in the ditch. He fumbles one of the cans from his pocket. A white car with Dublin plates and a cracked windscreen appears from nowhere. It slows as it passes him. He hides the can behind his back. He waves but the driver does not see him. Soon the car is gone. He empties the can in two swallows and throws it into the brambles. Christ, his head! He pinches his arm just to distract himself from the pain. He bends double and forces himself to swallow the bitter spurt of vomit which fills his mouth. The tuna stays down with difficulty. His head aches but his head is a constant ache these days as his brain swells and pushes against the roughness of his skull. What is an element? An element. Come on, you know this one. An element? A perfect number, then? Or secondary industry? Or the French word for a strawberry. Why can’t he remember? Crack!
Retard. Crack! Soon he will remember. Soon all things will be made new. His T-shirt is too small for him but it is his favourite piece of clothing. Bee cool. It has a faded picture of a cartoon bee sitting in an igloo with a squint eyed Eskimo. It’s funny because the words mean something else. It was a gift from Adrian for his eighth birthday. Crack! He raises the T- shirt and winces. The rash is worse than ever. A blister ruptures beneath his probing and releases a tear which trickles down his belly and soaks into the elastic band of his underwear. A piece of skin comes away in his fingers. It is thick and rubbery, almost opaque. He pops it into his mouth. It tastes like tuna. He sees something in the raw skin that has been exposed, something metallic. He frowns. He can’t be sure. His head hurts. When he looks again, the metal has vanished. The light! Everything is so bright these days. He is grateful for his mother’s sunglasses.
The memory comes unbidden as it always does. Why does his brain do this to him? Is he not the one in charge? Once again, he is a toddler. His father is in the slurry pit. Oh, this is such a bad thought! Mercifully, Stephen has learned how to drive the bad thoughts away. He begins to crack his knuckles. Crack! The look of surprise as his father realises that he has begun to sink. Crack! His father growing frantic as he searches with his feet to find the bottom of the tank. Crack! His father’s mouth filling with slurry. Crack! Crack! Crack! His hands are numb by the time his brain agrees to leave the thought alone. He is no longer a toddler. He is not a child. He is not yet a man. His mother says that he is last year’s child. Next year’s man. Tim Gallagher still uses the tank in which his father drowned. It took two days to dredge the tank. Two days. The coffin was closed. Crack! Crack! Crack! Obedient brain. His head hurts.
He kicks at the dock leaves. His head hurts. He kicks and kicks again until the leaves are a pulpy mess.
After a minute his anger subsides. Patience! The change will take time. He must be patient while the tuna works its magic. He must be patient like that time when Adrian had brought him to the hide and they waited half the morning just to see the Harrier. Stephen had never really seen the bird, just a patch of lightness among the trembling leaves. He had lied when Adrian had asked him. His uncle had seemed so happy. Stephen still misses his Uncle Adrian. Maybe his father’s family was cursed.
He spies the empty can of tuna among the weeds. Tuna. Spitting a gob of salty phlegm, he straightens and looks towards the battered sky. Somewhere a blackbird is singing and somewhere else a bonfire is blazing. At first, Stephen thinks that the Fish is a hot air balloon, a stray from out of the castle at Cathnaspera. Rich Knobs with more money than sense sometimes drive down from the city and hire a balloon for the afternoon and then get wasted as they float over the lakes. Getting high, getting high; that’s what they call it. Oh, to be a Knob. Last summer, Stephen had spied on a crowd of them through the gap in the orchard wall. The cars! Man, the cars! Mercs, Beemers even an old E type with a bonnet the size of a pool table. And the women! Knobs can afford the very best women. Then again, Knobs are not retards. Crack!
As it moves closer, Stephen can see that the Fish is not a balloon; the fish is a fish. With one kick of its enormous tail, the great Tuna descends. The low sun makes the edges of each scale burn as bright as tungsten but then a cloud moves and the shadows deepen and the scales cool as quickly as if they have been doused with water. At first, Stephen is afraid. Then he is not.
The Tuna God is a mountain, an island, a continent, an entire world which hangs in the midge filled sky above Stephen Rooney. Tree sized gill flaps open with a sucking sound to expose a variegated pinkness which ripples obscenely and then falls still. Waxy fins twitch minutely and ceaselessly; the drafts created by their movement quickly dries the sweat on Stephen’s brow until it is no more a gritty crust. The Fish’s eyes are as tall as two Stephens standing one on top of the other. The unfathomable depths of the vast pupils are ringed by an iris of violent silver. Galaxies have ended as those unblinking eyes looked on.
For a full minute they do not move but merely look at one another, the Tuna God and the Retard.
“Who are you?” It is Stephen who speaks first.
“I am the Tuna God,” says the Tuna God. The Tuna God’s voice is that of Stephen’s father, or the voice with which Stephen imagines his father spoke. The blackbird falls silent and all of the many pains and shames and sorrows in Stephen’s body vanish.
Stephen nods. He considers kneeling before the Tuna God but instead he thrusts his hands into his pockets. His fingers close on another can of tuna.
The Tuna God does not move. Another Minute passes like this. From the main road come the tormented notes of some boy racer’s engine.
“Who am I?” Stephen removes his mother’s glasses and winces in the twilight.
The Tuna God shrugs in the way in which all fish shrug. “You are my son. Through you will all things be made new.”
“When?” Stephen vomits. The puddle of tuna steams gently among the weeds.
The Tuna God seems not to notice. “Soon, my son. All that is needed is the courage to swim.”
The great Fish cannot smile but Stephen knows that if He could, He would.
“Remember, my son.” The Tuna God allows Himself to be turned by the breeze. “Bee cool.”
Stephen drinks the juice from the new can as the Tuna God swims into the setting sun. He laughs out loud. It’s funny because the words mean something else.
“Did you get far?” Even though her mouth moves, Stephen can tell that his mother has already left for the day, that she is lost somewhere in the bottle of cheap vodka which she is trying to hide by the side of the couch. “There’s some dinner left in the oven. Pizza. It got a little burnt but sure you don’t mind, love. Do you?” His mother takes a slow motion swallow from her glass. Retard. Crack! Stephen can feel himself growing angry at the empty space beside his mother. Crack! His head has begun to pound again. Slurry. Crack! Tuna. The Tuna God. His father is the Tuna God. All things will be made new.
In the kitchen, Stephen checks to see if the cat has been fed. The cat is his responsibility. The bowl is empty. He roots in the cupboard beneath the sink. The cat food contains real tuna chunks. Stephen would have thought chunks was spelled with an x. Retard! Crack! He helps himself to a spoonful of the cat food as the cat looks on. Even though he doesn’t mean to, he eats half the can. His head hurts. He starts to cry. There will not be enough food for the cat’s breakfast. Oblivious to the pain it causes him, he scratches his belly. A strip of flesh as large as a saucer comes off in his hand. This one is too large to eat. He throws it into the bin and mops at the scorching constellation of bloody pinpricks left behind with some kitchen roll. The kitchen roll has pictures of palm trees on it. There is definitely something in the new skin, something hard, yet soft. Scales! Stephen is growing scales! Stephen is becoming a tuna. Stephen is becoming smarter. Stephen is not a retard. Stephen is…In the living room, Stephen’s mother knocks over her bottle. The cat winces. The time has come to swim. Stephen can hear his mother’s cursing. No matter. Soon she will be asleep and he will… For now he must bee cool. It’s funny because the words mean something else.
Tim Gallagher pretends not to listen as the doctor talks to Cathy Rooney about hallucinations and rashes and liver damage and kidney damage and mercury poisoning and tuna. Christ! How much tuna had the poor lad eaten? At least the guards have left. Stephen’s mother is drunk. She’s been drunk since the funeral. Tim can see that her hands have been scarred and scarred again by the frequent slip of scissors. The woman herself is just one big scar. Everyone knows that she’s in trouble with the bottle. The salon won’t last much longer. The other lady must be her sister. Hard to know if she is younger or older. She made good time coming down from the city. Then again, there’d be nothing on the roads at this hour of the night. It’s a good road too. The doctor looks sad and tired. The nurses look tired and sad. The family is cursed. Though they mightn’t believe it, everyone knows it. First the father. That slurry tank has always given Tim the chills. He should have filled it in when he first bought the place. Then there was the brother. Adrian was a lovely fella. Hard to believe that accident was four years ago now. The lorry dragged him for six miles before they flagged the driver down. Tim closes his eyes. And now the boy. Thank Christ for Queenie! Tim’s eyes jerk open. He reaches for a magazine with some young one in a bikini on the cover. Christ! His mind begins the loop once more. Queenie’s barking, the fumbling for trousers and boots, his wife’s whispers, how light the shotgun had seemed, the circle of torchlight bouncing off the walls of the sheds, the nakedness of the poor child; arms and legs like broom handles. Christ ! The look of rapture in Stephen’s eyes as he had lowered himself into the slurry tank. Tim had been to Lourdes when the auld one had started to lose her mind. He had never seen such ecstasy on those withered faces.
Kenneth Duffy is a science teacher in an Irish language school in Dublin. He lives in Wicklow with his wife.He restricts himself to no more than two cans of tuna per week.
– By Duffie
A long time ago on a far away planet there was a race of people called the Elementorians, the planet thrived for millions of years until two fell in love, the imbalance of their species led to chaos, they were opposites and were told to either separate or be banished from their planet, but their love was so strong they decided to leave together. The rulers of their planet were enraged by their choice and so imprisoned them in a far off galaxy to encircle each other until they died.
The two could only be with each other once every so many years, but the time was unbearable so they decided to create their own race which was allowed to love whoever they wished, here was born Earth, at first it was a dried up rock but eventually as they circled they formed it into a sphere but the planet was bear so the next time they were together they created from themselves 4 new Elementorians; Earth, Air, Fire and Water. In time the planet grew beautiful and life began to form, the Elemento’s combined themselves in many different ways to create even more of their race; Metal, Sand, Cloud and Rock, in time they created mountains and seas, deserts and forests. Soon creatures were born roaming the planets, but there was no passion in there mating and too much violence, so the original Elementorians combined their power to bring about the Humankind, they were to have no powers and to be all equal yet perfectly individual, each with their own mind and free will and to live short life spans.
Over time, the Humans got smarter, the Elementorians were all given names; the originals were called Sun and Moon. The planet had many vulnerabilities and the Humans suffered from them, some painful, deadly, some weren’t even noticeable but had long term effects. Over thousands of years their ability to adapt was proven and technology was getting more and more helpful. Medicine, housing, facilities, languages, education and transport were invented and progressively getting better.
The Humans had created several Religions, all which were mostly made from wishful thinking, there was only small parts that rung true in each theory. At the next Eclipse the Sun and Moon conferred with the first four Elemento’s and came up with an idea to grant one human a special ability every year. As they put this to action they noticed that the chosen humans didn’t even realise they had these abilities.
All seemed lost as the Humans didn’t believe such a thing existed, the Elemento’s were slowly dying out and were now desperate for Humans to take their place and used the stars to determine what magic was given; people born under the Zodiac signs for Air had power over air, people born under Earth signs had power of earth etc. Another problem arose; whenever a human claimed to have used their power they were shut away and called crazy by those who were afraid of what they didn’t yet understand.
With the Elemento’s slowly dying they lost control of their Elements. Tornados, Volcanoes, Tsunami’s, Tidal waves, Earth Quakes, Floods, animals becoming extinct or endangered, plants dying out, Avalanches and so on, the world was falling apart. So finally the Elemento’s got so desperate they came together in a Human form to prove to other Humans that this “magic” existed. Many people were frightened and ran away, others were curious and watched. Their authorities could do nothing watching as they bent their assigned Elements, explaining to them they could also do it.
Now, another Century later the world is thriving again, the Sun and Moon are worshipped as should and people freely use their abilities for good, sometimes evil but with their passion and strong will they overcome any obstacles that want to imbalance them. The Sun and Moon themselves used the still could not be with each other but smiled upon the Earth knowing that the other was doing so to, and watching them made time fly so it never seemed like an eternity before meeting anymore.
Danielle Duff, preferred name Duffie. 20 years old lives in the North West of England, aspiring novelist currently studying Creative Writing. Hobbies include everything. Very dry sense of humour, sarcastic most of the time. Unemployed by choice, to begin a career just for the money is a very unhappy career, living in poverty is preferred however currently living with Grandparents. Further plans until long term goal is achieved would be to keep learning new things, discover and see what is available and just live, laugh and love.
Categories: Issue 20