Lucy Sweeney Byrne

CATARACTS

From an extensive and
Highly detailed study
Taken out in the field
Over a period of, God,
More than
Twenty-five years now;
With copious notes
And gallons of blood
And other liquids
(And hope, etc)
Given to me
And from me
In return
(As is the custom);
I have concluded,
Definitively,
That fellow-feeling
And disinterested
Empathy
Are fictions
Created to
Pacify, and so
Survive
Relatively effectively
For a set time.

***

I don’t know about you, she said, but
For me, there’s this strange
Ache; in the hands.
A throbbing.
It’s like
The blood in them,
Has been set alight!

Do you know what I’m saying?

And now it’s boiling over,
Like it can’t
Be contained.
I can’t seem to hold it in.

Like it wants
To flood; break my
Banks. Or to rip the
Seams, which only just
Hold together
The ends of me.

***

The girl across the carriage didn’t speak a word of English, and so hadn’t understood any of what had been said, although she did smile encouragingly, and nod her tawny head. Her eyes, too, appeared red, although perhaps she was just tired.
Above her in the storage rack was a box with a latticed metal front, presumably hers, although I could not, from my position, see inside.
It was night, and so instead of the land passing by (fields and then, sometimes, trees, and so on, looping) we could only see ourselves, doubled, but backwards.
I’d understood almost every word, having studied English abroad for a year in Brighton, but continued to pretend to read my novel, rather than engage.

***

A girl in blue denim jeans feeds another girl in blue denim jeans the last bite of her doughnut from a white and pink-striped paper bag as they walk along North Avenue, and they smile and chew, and it’s only then, after all of a rolling Saturday filled with the usual nothings in late August, that they can go back to her mother’s empty house and fuck one another, sweat, clasping fistfuls of hair, almost crying with the lack they hadn’t before known they were holding.
Tongues, fingers, in; explore and discover, and they lie back after, panting, and listen to a car engine pass below, dark now, light across the wall, and think of later, and feel themselves begin to grow hungry, now, again.

***

He told me to go fuck myself and I asked him what does that even mean and he said trust you to first off take it literally, and second to not fucking know.

***

There’s one official palmist in the Republic of Ireland. Her name’s Jane Grey. On her website, she has written the following;

“… I have studied hands a few years now. I find that lines change so I always take a photo, so later if the person would like a reading you can show them the drifferece between the hands. I always go back in to the past to see if the person is holding on to any thing then try to solve the problem, and I try to help them get back on track. I travel to the persons house and I do private reading and partys. I can also help couples, and I specilise in helping you find love and happyness. So if you would like a reading please call Jane.”

***

His balcony overlooked a street of well-dressed activity on the outskirts of downtown Chicago. Buildings were still lowrise, but the area was dense, boasting independent coffee shops and bookshops with handwritten signs saying ‘no photographs or cellphones please!’. On weekends in summer there was constant human din from the open-fronted bars and restaurants, and sometimes if he couldn’t sleep through it he’d come out on the balcony with a Heineken from the fridge and a notebook, and try to catch snippets of the conversations happening down below. He’d smile, and shake his head, as though someone could see him. But they couldn’t. He was high up, and nobody thought to look. Which was good, because he only wore his dirty old robe, and sometimes not even that.
He wondered why those who considered themselves ‘cool’, why those people below his feet (below his limp dick, his anus, his bunions), would choose to be cool and young and free, in a city like Chicago. Why go to an almost-best place? Why not just go to one of the best? New York, London, Paris. Moscow even, would be better than this. Tokyo, Beijing. How could you consider yourself a proper thing, a person at the forefront of something, in a place as ‘not-quite’, as ‘nearly’, as this?
To him, this was just a poor imitation of other, more authentic cities. Chinese whispers had warped it, along the way somewhere. It was like a fucking Coors Light ad down there.
Whatever. What did he care? He’d only come back here to die. His sister had died already, three months ago now. She’d had an anurism while some dark-skinned guy he hadn’t known (and didn’t want to know) was fucking her in the bed back there, in the middle of the afternoon, apparently. And since he was her only living relative, he’d gotten this place. So here he was, with money in the bank and no mortgage and a balcony, for listening to those people down below, who didn’t see him anyway.

***

Nobody thinks of California as a desert now, but it is. You can pour as much water as you like into a place like that. But if it’s a desert, it’s a desert, and that’s that. I’m sorry, but it’s true. Something like that can’t be maintained indefinitely. It’s bound to dry up.
He sat back in his chair and intertwined his fingers on the table. She filled his glass, saying ‘mmm’, and nodding absently. She was still listening for the door.

***

Right, so this is it. Just like that. I d’know what I’m supposed to do now. You could’ve given me a bit of warning, to be honest. Given me a chance.
I did. I wrote you a letter in red marker and stuck it on the fridge two months ago, telling you I thought things weren’t working. That we needed to talk.
You know I’ve been on a diet. I haven’t been near the fuckin’ fridge. You did that on purpose. I think you wanted this to fail. Well, here, you can have your ring back. It was ugly anyway. I’m taking Rodolfo though. I’ll catch the late train, tonight.
…There’s really no need to be cruel.

***

I love watching birds fight over the last scraps of crumbs thrown by a child or an older person. Only people at the very stretched-out fingertip ends of life ever feed birds. One out of intrigue, the novelty. And the other out of a sense of affinity, I guess.
They break up the bread into chunks using those small, unwieldy hands, or disperse the crumbs gradually, like ugly snow. The children are usually with their parents but the older people are almost always alone.
I don’t throw bread myself, being young and healthy and full of purpose, but if I see a child or an older person throwing it I stop to watch. Birds don’t share, or take turns, or ration. They don’t give a shit about all that. It’s a frenzy. I like that. I like their honesty.

***

My friend fell in love with this guy who loved her back and Jaysus you should’ve seen them, they were mad about each other, tied at the hip. Even got each other’s initials tattooed on their ring fingers! And then being the foolish young things they were didn’t they go and get her pregnant. She was worried and had a little cry over a cuppa and we told her not to worry we’d be there for her whatever she decided and so would he surely. And to be honest she was a little excited too because they were in love and God what harm to have a baby when they were so mad about each other, they’d certainly discussed it and it’d be so amazing really, as well as hard work and all that.
And so she cooked him a nice dinner and her mother agreed to not be home that night especially for them to talk it out and make plans just the two of them, adults, parents even. So when they finally sat down, she told him she was pregnant and he stopped eating and didn’t say much, and slowly the foetus in her stomach sank. Then after dinner she’d expected him to stay and all but he didn’t, said he’d an early morning and needed time to take it in, but yeah of course it was exciting and yeah of course he still loved her and they’d make it work whatever they decided. He gave her a big kiss then and held her close and she was sort of reassured but also not at all actually when she looks back now. So then the day after the next when she’d still heard nothing she called his house and his brother told her he’d moved and no he didn’t know where, and she didn’t hear from him again.
And so two months later just before she ran out of time, with tears pouring and no more words for asking she went with myself and her mother to the clinic and undid the whole thing and now we don’t really talk about it any more.

***

It was cold, out there, and open. Unnervingly so. They’d said the ground would be hard. He’d wondered, uneasily, if it’d be cold where she was, breathing, and if she’d see it too; warm mist white as lungs depleted, before fading. It’s always there, breath. Cold just makes you see. Usually, you forget.
Something moved across the horizon, but he couldn’t make it out. It was too far gone. He grasped the biting shovel’s neck, upon which he’d leaned, to breathe, and resumed. His hands had grown red raw and pained from the cold and the motion of it, repeating.
Nobody spoke. It’d feel too loud, the vibrations disturbing, resounding. The whole thing, it was too echoingly wide. Soundless thoughts abounded, in garish, vulgar colours, flitting between crunching exhalations. They looked at the ground as they worked.
The body waited patiently, aside, frost creeping furtively into exposed extremities, fingertips, unheeded now. There was, he noted, a snake, in a circle, tattooed on the back of her left shoulder. It appeared to be eating itself. This disconcerted him, and so he resolved not to look again.

***

From an extensive and
Highly detailed study
Taken out in the field
Over a period of, God,
More than
Twenty-five years now;
With copious notes
And gallons of blood
And other liquids
(And hope, etc)
Given to me
And from me
In return
(As is the custom);
I have concluded,
Definitively,
That fellow-feeling
And disinterested
Empathy
Are fictions
Created to
Pacify, and so
Survive
Relatively effectively
For a set time.

 

Lucy Sweeney Byrne is a writer of short fiction and poetry. She graduated with first class honours in English literature from Trinity College Dublin. She has had her writing published in Banshee and Headstuff, and has work forthcoming in The Incubator and The Stinging Fly. In the last few years Lucy has lived in London, Madrid and New York, and is presently residing in Wicklow, Ireland.

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