Amy Kennelly is an amateur photographer from Kerry currently on a voyage of self discovery, like Eat, Pray, Love but supplemented by a job in customer service.
Future Bohemic Boyfriend
– By Brianne Kohl
I know you are out there, spinning so free in the universe, just waiting for the day I’ll ride into your life on my 1984 Shwinn World Sport fixie with the retro pink and white lettering. I’ll braid my hair loose like a mermaid and wear a Che Guevara T shirt even though I spent years thinking he was the lead singer of Rage Against the Machine. But, you won’t care, future try-hard-boyfriend. Because, you couldn’t find Cuba with google maps and a prayer.
When I meet you, you’ll be in your late 20s/early 30s. You’ll be sporting a full lumberjack beard but dress like you are auditioning for an episode of Happy Days. You’ll have a neon green Vespa LX 150 scooter that you’ll ride to your job as a barista at the local non-corporate coffee shop, Counter Culture.
“Four-stroke single overhead camshaft!” you’ll say.
“Automatic torque slave transmission,” you’ll say.
“Come over here,” I’ll say.
You will be good with your hands. A grease monkey underneath it all just like my Dad was. Your fingernails will always be rimmed in engine oil and dirt, even when you scrub them clean. You’ll carry that roasted smell of freshly ground coffee beans in your shaggy brown hair. Sometimes, I’ll think if you would just shake your head like a dog, beans could fly out onto the floor.
On the weekends, you’ll be a drummer in a post-post modern Band of Horses cover band. People will flock to you, eager for that nearness of you. You’ll know the difference between essential and non-essential hygiene and even though you’ll have no political or religious objection to antiperspirant, you won’t bother using it. I won’t notice this at first, because we’ll meet in the Autumn, just as the leaves start to turn orange and red and the nights have a slick coolness about them.
You’ll have a slightly crooked front tooth, cocked to the side like a swinging door. I’ll feel it with my tongue every time I kiss you. On our first date, we’ll meet up in a parking lot and share a PBR and a Parliment. I’ll get chilly so you’ll lend me your gray fitted hoodie. It will almost be too small but I’ll squeeze it around me, stretching it tight against my chest. I’ll run the zipper up to my mouth and suckle the metal pull tab. I’ll love you that quick.
I’ll start spending my nights at yours. We’ll stay up late, listening to Elephant 6 and Neutral Milk Hotel on vinyl. People will begin to expect us at all the wrong-for-the-right-reasons shows in Cobble Hill. You’ll get jealous when I get friendly with that noise scene musician we’ll meet outside Derby’s but I’ll only be friendly with him because he’ll know my room mate’s sister. His music will be marginal, squawking baby toys spun against radio transmission wave noise. It will be borderline in all the right ways, even if we can’t stand to listen to it for long. You and I will make up over a couple of gin and tonics, leave the noise behind and head home. As you slide into me that night, your weight pressed down on my hips like a clamp, I’ll smile up at you and think of him.
You’ll hate my room mate. She’ll hate you even more. We’ll start to argue about what to do when your lease is up. You’ll barely be able to afford your little one man pup-efficiency in Bushwick. So, we’ll start to talk about getting our own place together, someplace that belongs to you and me and no one else.
“Williamsbug,” I’ll say.
“Metro North Railroad,” you’ll say. You’ll have this need to track your life like a hobo on the side of a freight train as the ground conveys passed your heels. I’ll narrow my eyes in confusion. “Hastings-on-Hudson,” you’ll say. “The city’s been over run. We need someplace new. Someplace a man can get a real job.” All I can think is, “What the hell would we do in Westchester?” But you’ll fucking love it, all that roving hipsturbia and I’ll begin to tick off the moments, rolling my eyes and sighing, until you lose interest.
You’ll get fired from Counter Culture because of a pissy missive you’ll blog, decrying all the wrong ways customers order coffee. “They don’t even fucking know what a Machiato is!” you’ll cry out, throwing a spoon into the sink. It will clatter against my nerves and I’ll hope I hid my Starbucks cup far enough into the trash can so you’ll never see.
We’ll start to plan a community garden that we’ll never build. You’ll get a job at the local co-op. You’ll start dreading your hair, just two long tufts at the base of your skull. I’ll have dreams of running past you with scissors, cutting that gnarled bark of hair from your head. You’ll forgive me for throwing out your ratty black Bel Biv Devoe Tshirt – you’ll leave it at my place and I’ll think its a rag because of the threadbare holes in the back. We’ll sit outside on the front stoop and you’ll feed me beautiful fresh cherries in the Spring. I’ll spit the pits back out into your hand.
I’ll get pregnant and miscarry and never tell you, blood as ripe as those cherries, that fragile pit lost forever as I cry on the toilet.
I’ll fall deep into a hole, so deep that I won’t be able to see your face peering down at me. You’ll get confused and with the confusion, you’ll start to get a little mean. I’ll start to get a lot distant.
“You’re a shitty musician,” I’ll say.
“I can’t STAND you right now,” I’ll say.
“Trendslut,” you’ll say.
After a while, you’ll stop peering down into my hole and I’ll stop looking up.
It will take us a long time, too long, really, to admit it will be too late for us. You’ll send me a text, maybe. Or, I’ll get one of your co-workers at the co-op to pass along the message. But, we’ll close that door and I know you’ll be out there, spinning around and away. I’ll eventually find my way out to Hastings-on-Hudson – housing will be so much more affordable in the sprawl. And, I’ll think of you, of your battered Doc Martins hanging out over the rusted rails, every time I take the 9:06 into Grand Central.
Brianne M. Kohl is a fiction writer who has lived all over the United States but currently resides in Chatham County, North Carolina. Her work has been published in Black Heart Magazine, Ohio Edit, Crack the Spine Literary Magazine, Corner Club Press and in ‘In the Hardship and the Hoping: Poems of Northeast Ohio by JB Solomon Editions. She was the best fiction recipient from Bop Dead City’s 2013 Summer Fiction Contest. Her work and musings can also be found at www.briannekohl.com.
Joyce and Me
– By Anna Byrne
It was in Oxfam’s, in the used book area. Section M to P. That’s where it happened. Later, when I went through things, I realized I’d already read some of her short stories. This book however, had a Getting to Know the Author section in the back, including a personal profile, a segment entitled Writing with Words and a photograph. The photo showed a woman with dark curly hair and large, soulful eyes, staring off camera. And right then, I knew there was something about her that would change my life. Joyce Carol Oates.
Before. That’s a word people used alot in Ireland. Before, guys would proudly write their number on the back of their ATM stubs and pass them out among the waiting ocean of high heeled, sun bedded women. Before, people were marching up the property ladder and buying five hundred euro dogs at the weekends. They were thronging the bar, fifty euro notes fluttering like miniature flags heralding our fiscal wisdom. I had a good vantage point, my circumnavigation in the employ of the eating and drinking establishments of Cork city almost complete at that time.
Now. That was a different story. Now, people lecture bitterly about household tax and the pitfalls of buying to rent, and get thrown out for smuggling in their own Tesco vodka. Now, no one bothers to print out their bank balance because they’re all either bankrupt or on the dole. Or just gone. If Galway is Ireland‘s graveyard of ambition, then Cork is the wake, with everyone sitting around, drinking too much and lamenting about somebody that went too soon.
In bed that night, John snoring beside me, I reread Joyce Carol Oates Writing with Words. I copy out the main points.
She doesn’t own a computer but works longhand and then on a typewriter.
She writes in silence.
She does not read, watch or listen to anything trashy. Life is too short.
I set up a small desk from Argos in the tiny room of our apartment underneath the stairs. I unpack the notebooks I have kept under the bed. They are full of the word Idea printed and then circled, and then the idea written underneath. Privately, I have harboured the ambition of being a writer for years. As a child, I had written a story about a hedgehog that was published in a book of children stories for children, by children. I place this, entitled Rainbow Days, on the desk. Since then there had been a dry spell.
I don’t really understand what happened. After school everyone dropped into their places, so sure they were the right fit. I started a course in web design, decided it wasn’t for me and moved to Cork with a vague notion of saving money to go traveling. I met John at a party. It made sense that we’d move in together. I’d sit back and listen to him and his friends talk about how to roll a perfect joint, and watch as they tried to master it. They talked about taking ten pills before they even ‘gotta tingle offa them.’ I had a job, money. I was even skinny because I usually didn’t eat at the weekends. Things were good.
But then one day I was taking a glass from the cupboard and I noticed it was cloudy looking. I held it up to the light and I saw how dirty it was. I took out the other glasses. They were the same. Then I collected the mugs from around the sitting room. Their insides were stained dark brown. I tried scrubbing at them but it made no difference. I started to sweep. How had I not noticed how the floor sloped in the kitchen before? I went out to the tiny back garden, where I thought the mop bucket would be, and saw the pile of sodden rubbish bags. I realized I didn’t have a mop bucket, or a mop. My head got this funny buzzing feeling. I got my keys and jacket and went outside. It was late morning and the sound of children echoed along the narrow street. I walked down the hill past St. Finbarr’s Church, crossed the South Mall with a vague notion of Oliver Plunkett Street and on the way I walked into Oxfam’s and found Joyce.
In work, at Ned’s Irish Fusion Bar and Restaurant I’m on the early shift with Iris. Iris is American. She’s outstaying her visa here because she’s having an on/off relationship with the drummer from the local heavy metal band Rancid Corpse. She is what my mother would call brazen. She pokes at the blueberry muffins in the pastry basket. I polish forks and imagine Joyce Carol Oates and her morning routine: wandering through her house to the study, coffee cup in hand. Do her friends call her Joyce, or JayCee? I think probably just Joyce. I conjure up a chance encounter we’d have; how we’d end up, somehow, going for a coffee. I’d hand the sugar to her, call her Ms. Oates, and by the end of our first cup she’d look me in the eye and say, Just call me Joyce.
Iris is waving at me.
‘You’re in another world Sarah.’
She bends her neck, shouting at the ceiling in mock frustration.
‘God, this is so boring.’
Twisting her lip ring she calls out the old game.
‘Okay, if you had to, had to choose: Simon Cowell or Perez Hilton?’
I smile vaguely.
‘What’s going on with you?’ she asks.
I just shake my head and kind of float off; what I imagine Joyce would do.
I search the library for her books, then the bookshops. I line them all up on my desk. I underline the sentences of Joyce‘s that I can identify with most and stick them on the desk, the wall, the bathroom mirror. I stick one on the front door so I can read it before work. John comes up behind me, puts his hands on my shoulders.
‘What’s this?’ he asks. I try not to wince when he touches me. I try to remember why I fell for him. He had a car. With a sub woofer. He brought me to Mondello race track when we were going out first. He still has it. The sub woofer, I mean. We haven’t been getting on recently. If I’m honest, part of it is because I know that Joyce wouldn’t like my boyfriend. She wouldn’t say it, but I’d know.
She’d have that intuition, that he would let me down and then one night, after something unspeakable, I’d arrive at Joyce’s house with the words ‘I had nowhere else to go,’ and she would take me in, no questions asked. She’d draw me a bath. Then, in the morning over coffee, she’d offer me the spare room.
Things would go from there. Joyce would see herself in me. I’d be like her little sister. I’d discover her love of ginger tea, spicy Mexican food. Her abhorrence for bananas since eating a rotten one when she was three years old. We’d go to book readings. I’d read her latest manuscripts while she paced in the next room, finally coming to the door where I would look up at her and smile.
After her book readings we’d go out for dinner. Somewhere small we could talk. She’d look at me with those soulful eyes over a plate of tacos with extra jalapeños and say ‘Oh Sarah. Don’t waste that talent.’
No, she wouldn’t. She’d never say something so twee. She’d quote maybe, something from her favourite authors, Joyce or maybe Dickenson.
Understanding. There would be an understanding between us. Joyce and Me. Me and Joyce.
I’m in work, thinking about a trip Joyce and I could take on the Trans Siberian express when Ben, the manager, asks me to come into the office. His office is cramped and smells of that aftershave all male bar managers seem to use. His shirt stretches when he sits down. I can see the outline of his bellybutton. He scrapes the stubble just under his chin and asks me if everything’s ok. Everything’s fine, I tell him.
‘Your mind isn’t on your work anymore.’
I can’t answer that, so I just look at him, around him. I know Iris has said something. Yesterday I refused to gossip about a story leaked on the internet that said John Travolta is gay. She was shocked. Ben rakes the remaining hair on his balding head with a chubby hand.
‘Sarah, things are difficult, I’d appreciate if you could – pull together with me. Will you do that?’
I nod my head.
Then everything starts to move to the edges of the page. John tells me he is going on a football trip with the lads, a something Cup or other. Finally, another of Joyce’s keys to writing accomplished – silence. At this point, I have shunned my computer, don’t have to worry about what people are saying on Facebook, or who is emailing me. I head to work on Monday morning to find a notice on the window that Ned’s Fusion Bar and Restaurant has gone into liquidation – apparently people don’t want to spend ten euro‘s on chicken wings anymore. Smiling widely, I go straight back to the flat and my desk and write like a demon in longhand. I write so much that I can’t keep track of it all. The phone rings and rings until I send a group message that I got a cheap package holiday to Lanzarote and then shut the thing off. Sometimes I wake up in there. Sometimes when I wake up I spend hours trying to figure out the tangled web of writing across the pages that carpet the floor. Sometimes I‘m sitting there and just thinking of the door, the door that is opening and staying open the more I write and it’s only when the motor on the fridge clicks on that I say ‘thank you,‘ and start writing again. The house is cold. I shiver, make a cup of tea. The milk lumps in the cup. I laugh at that. This is real writing, I think. In a jubilant mood I scrape coins off the mantelpiece and go out to the shop for milk. It is there, standing in line, holding a pint of milk, that I see the poster.
I walk across Parliament bridge, down South Mall and into the library. The event is confirmed by the librarian. I walk back across Parliament bridge. My legs are trembling and I buy a chocolate bar for sugar and find a bench by the river beside a homeless man .
Joyce will be coming to my town! She will read in the library for the literary festival, in four days time. I look at the pamphlet the librarian handed to me. In it is a photograph of Joyce. She is looking upwards, her chin resting on her palm. I could swear her eyes are green. The homeless man beside me hawks up a gob of phlegm. It sits on the pavement like a rejected oyster. I close my eyes, chewing slowly.
It is true.
I am going to meet her.
The next few days I spend in preparation. I hear the door bell but it seems far away, like the shouts I imagine coming through the letterbox but I don’t answer them; I don’t have the time! I re read all of the quotes, paste some that have fallen off back on the walls. I try to remember what I want to ask Joyce, but there’s so much, I don’t know where to start. So I copy more of her quotes into a notebook and write my questions beside them.
On The Day, as I have referred to it in my notebooks, I get up early. I’ve been so busy I’ve forgotten about clothes. I manage to find an almost clean wool jumper and a pair of leggings I have to just quickly wipe down with a wet cloth.
Outside it’s the usual summer weather, the sky a cloudy marbled glare that hurts your eyes. I make my way down the small steep hills. At this time of the morning it’s just the same few delivery men and street people shuffling along. The library isn’t open yet so I wait outside. I peer back across the river at the derelict government building and the vegetarian restaurant that shoulders it. Finally, the library opens and I follow the woman inside. I watch her set out chairs, a small desk and microphone. I settle into one of the chairs. I change seats several times. I double check my notebook. I study the photo of Joyce, the same one that was on the poster. It has been blown up and sellotaped onto the wall. I like it.
Soon another librarian arrives with flasks of tea and coffee, a plate of biscuits. People trickle into the library, elderly people at first, then someone with a camera. They congregate around the tea and biscuits. I can’t believe people can fathom eating and drinking at a time like this. I read the leaflet about the literary festival but can’t get past the first sentence. I breathe deeply, in through my nose, and out my mouth. I stand; try to shake some of the energy out of me. The librarian is making a special fuss over a small, thin, elderly lady with short hair. Someone beside her carries a sheaf of pages and a laptop. She must be a benefactor of the library, I think.
I must be staring, because the librarian turns to me and nods in the direction of the old woman.
‘This young lady was especially keen to meet you.’
I watch; an uncomprehending observer.
‘Ms. Oates. I assumed you were waiting here for her this morning.’
I look at the librarian and back at the old woman.
‘Ms. Oates was just talking about her new collection of short stories. She’s just published them on Amazon.’
Ms. Oates nods. Her eyes aren’t soulful. And they’re not green, they’re brown.
‘Tell me,’ she says. ‘Are you a Mac or a PC person?’
A single, trembling biscuit crumb clings to her lip.
Originally from Ireland, Anna Byrne is a writer and filmmaker. She focuses her work on the female experience, and recently travelled to Iceland to work on a short experimental film. She is currently working on a short experimental documentary set in Berlin and her first novel.