Kimberly Campanello was born in Elkhart, Indiana, and now divides her time between Dublin and London. Her first full-length collection Consent was published by Doire Press (Galway) in May 2013, and her pamphlet Spinning Cities was published by Wurm Press (Dublin) in 2011. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in magazines in the US, Canada, the UK, and Ireland, including 3:AM Magazine, Abridged, filling Station, MsLexia,nthposition, Tears in the Fence, Penduline, The Penny Dreadful, and The Stinging Fly. She was selected to read for the Poetry Ireland Introduction Series in 2011 and recently performed at the Dublin Book Festival and the Maintenant Camarade Poetry Festival in London. Kimberly has taught Creative Writing at Florida Gulf Coast University, Middlesex University, and Big Smoke Writing Factory, and the Irish Writers’ Centre.
Laura Cleary (28) is a poet and writer (among other things) living in Dublin. Her poetry has appeared in can can, Outburst,The Poetry Bus, bare hands poetry and Subterranean Blue Poetry. She was a featured poet in the 2013 Ash Wednesday series in Ranelagh, Dublin and also received first prize in the inaugural Heart in Mouth competition for her performance of her poem “Note to a Mislaid Friend”. Her first play “And You Expect Me To..?” was featured as part of 10 Days in Dublin 2013 and Shore Writers’ Festival 2013.
She currently lives in Dublin with her partner Colm and an extensive nail polish collection.
on a deathly cold mattress in a semi-d drowsy estate.
And the smooth curve of your chin in dusky morning
light was a great hung-over killer—Yes. Bound by fear’s twine,
un-willing to budge for a day; no harm if we skip a few classes.
I deny the hopeless romantic—knock it right down
New Year’s days. Love isn’t always, but can sometimes
be, just that—romantic trash shite on blissful repeat.
My first one—a cheap one bought in Cranmore—was stolen
from the Trades Club by boyos on speed and too much time.
Leon saw some of its flesh like shrapnel on Rockwood Parade.
But my second one, the second one—a Phil Lynott black P-bass
(mirror plate) to go with leather pants, cat-kohl eyes—played magic.
The stage lights blow up: splinter-flash on racks of young faces.
Heart’s chambers boom in The Ambassador; bass clef springs alive.
Lunchtime—April Saturday—in a high-rise block. Partner holds a hammer
outside locked spare single room. Polish kids play with their new words
on the green. The ice cream van comes around, Match of the Day jingles.
The hammer-man is having a panic attack. The pinna in her ear waits
for the bang cracking the rosewood frets, the maple neck, the alder body.
Fifties Hits, parents’ bedroom and nothing-to-do summer Saturdays.
The house all to my sister and me dancing on imaginary street corners
of American diners. Dax-hair and over-sized shirts mimic the steel-pluck
of speaker strings. The doo-wop purity of Only you; Only have eyes for you;
In the still of the night; Blue moon; Earth Angel is satin in the pit of my stomach.
My Dad leaves the family car at bottom of black
night hill that brings you up to our house.
Our hands freeze, clutch our ribcages, as we trek
bodies’ bent forward, heels dug in. Twenty-six
years and we still love each other only
in Christmas, and Birthday cards. Salutations—big
as elephant in room—are loud trunk-trumpets of
blue ink, scrawled. Christmases are Attenborough:
The Blue Planet, The Frozen Planet, and The
Human Earth. Pringles and ice cubes get stuck in
the strait of my throat. I’d look through the kitchen
window when I was younger—imagine my Dad at
work. Crêpe crowns and cracker toys made joyous;
softened some dozing heads. The residence’s lights
glint over from across the lake, and through the
slight dark he dispenses medication; asks what
people would like to watch for the rest of the
evening. Patients cried at his retirement do, as they
shook his hand farewell. We are on separate
couches now, legs-up on the arm-rests. The kitten
I rescued and sent to Sligo from Galway has grown
to truly be my Dad’s pet. We watch All Things
Must Pass—a documentary about George
Harrison. Years of snapped tempers, no-sky eyes—
of be seen and not heard—when he came back
from the night-shift begin to ken inside my heart.
The fire cracks alongside the voiceovers, the
soundtrack playing on the HD screen. I am proud
of the care he gave; I learn this more as I mature
into myself. We sip fizzy juice out of soda-lime
tumblers. Dinner is ready. Little toys, assembled
out of lucky bags burst open, decorate the house.
Our home-kiln cools—the blank, blue temper
for new shapes between us is set.
Elaine Cosgrove is from Sligo, and lives in Galway city. She has an M.Phil. in Creative Writing (Distinction) from Trinity College, Dublin. Most recently, work has been published in Icarus, 30 under 30: An Anthology of Short Fiction (wordlegs and Doire Press), and The New Binary Press Anthology of Poetry: Volume I. Follow @laineycos Scrapbook: elainecosgrove.tumblr.com Side-project: returnedpoemsproject.tumblr.com
My wife is losing her elasticity. Her skin is puckering up, crinkling like an ancient accordion. I have begun to wonder if it had been happening since we’d met five winters ago, and that I’ve been too enamored to realize that her skin is turning to dust. But I’ve begun missing her—collecting the fragments of her. That’s what she’s become. Her skin had always resembled sandpaper from November to February. It couldn’t have happened over night.
I’ve vacuumed her apartment—picked her up with the Hoover and emptied her remnants into a glass IKEA canister. She loved IKEA.
Now I place her in my mammoth purse, pull her out at the sliding doors, and put her into the half basket buggy. I push her through the lighting section, past her favorite Kvart wall lamp. I pause to show her the new Varde double bowl sink that we’ll never purchase and install.
We arrive at our bed—the same model she had bought when we decided to toss our single’s furniture and build our very own new world. This bed is where we’d made love innumerable times. I settle my back into the pressed showroom sheets. I cling to her, in her jar. I unlatch her suctioned canister clasp and press my cheek to the opening. Don’t fret, darling, echoes from the dusty jar.
My wife is now a fine, ground soot. I cannot make love to her powdered form.
I buy two seaweed green coffee mugs. She’d want me to continue constructing our life because clearly she can’t.
Telling her boss was the most uncomfortable of situations. He never cared much for me and naturally he thought I was lying about Jess’s current condition.
“What do you mean she’s in pieces?” He bellowed over the phone.
“She’d tell you if she could, Davis, but she’s got no mouth.”
I wonder when the police will show up. She’s a likable woman, sure to be missed.
She sleeps on the nightstand now. At first, I’d tucked her into the charcoal colored bed linens with me. But one night after we’d finished watching a movie, she slid off the edge hitting Pirate, our cat, right in her fat middle section. If not for Pirate, I’d be sucking my wife back up and spilling her bits into a new receptacle.
Sometimes I try to spruce her up.
While we’re having our morning coffee, I’ll pop her open and spin her around picking out the stowaways I’d carelessly siphoned up off our apartment floor. But it’s really those extra pieces that embody who she is. The little bits of white Pirate fluff, a stray coffee bean, one of my bobbie-pins now nearly rusted.
She was always flaky, but it grew worse when we’d begun our life together. She would get out of bed in the morning and brush her skin sprinkles off the fitted sheet. She didn’t know that I was aware of her shedding.
Every Sunday, since she turned to ash, I take her on a bike ride. My wife loved to ride bikes. I strap on her Chrome messenger bag, tug the strap tight across my chest, and ride her around downtown. I want her to feel the wind rush through her hair, but that notion is foolish—she has no hair. She’d just blow away and I’d lose her for good.
Gidga, her dog, has become depressed. He’s torn up the two small kitchen floor mats and swallowed her shoelaces. I have no idea how he un-strung the shoes.
We tried everything. Medical lotions, oil treatments, organic products, oral supplements, mud wraps. Into her last two weeks, her skin-shard trail began to coat our wood floors. I spent one hour each morning whisking her up. I should have saved those earlier pieces of her. But then she might not fit in my purse, in her jar.
I’d have to turn her clothes inside out before washing them to make sure her fleshy crumbs were washed away.
Most mornings I take her to shower with me. I place her on the built-in ledge where the shampoos supposed to go and I wash and watch her.
If I act as though she can come back, collect those grainy pieces and assemble herself, she just might.
I dump a palm-full of conditioner onto my head. “Honey, I washed your favorite jeans today.” I’ve grown to enjoy her recent silence. After six weeks of wordlessness you have no choice.
Gidga is taking this a bit harder than I am. I’ve considered dumping him at the pound. But I decided it’d be smart to wait a little longer, till I was certain she couldn’t come back. I wouldn’t want her to sit trapped helplessly behind thin glass, watching, and unable to save her poor pup. I can’t be the bad guy.
It’s been five months. I am no longer empathic to her muted state. All of our friends are sectioned into couples—pairs of two. Jess is in a jar. I cannot kiss her lips. I cannot lace my fingers between hers.
My wife hated love stories, but she has no opinion now. I made her watch P.S. I Love You on her last night. I opened her container and let my tears trickle down onto her. Miniscule dust plums ruptured and rose from her gritty matter. I tucked her in one last time. I awoke the next morning to Pirate meowing, standing with her paws on my chest. I sit up and set her down. I knew it was time. Jess and I showered, as usual. I set her on her ledge. After I finished shampooing my hair I opened her up and stepped out of shower stream. I sprinkled her over my pink pom-loofa and smeared her onto my skin. I let the lukewarm water push her down my abdomen and watched her circle clockwise down my shower drain.
Amber Koski is a writer of experimental forms with a love of simple diction. Identity and sexuality are themes in her prose while her poetry tinges on Southern Gothic. She is has just completed her Creative Dissertation Project for Kingston University earning a masters in Creative Writing and Pedagogy September 2013. She is working towards a PhD fellowship stateside where she will continue to publish her work with the aims of teaching at university level.
“Do you accept babies?” he asks hoisting a bulging duffle bag on to the reception desk. He’s wearing a tracksuit and some kind of inflatable orange jacket.
“Depends,” I say slowly. I can still taste the acidic remains of last night’s breakfast, gluing my back teeth to my front. “Was the baby abandoned or forgotten?”
“Dunno. What’s the difference anyway?”
“Sir, let me assure you there is a world of difference between abandoned and forgotten. Abandoned always implies intent and we here, at The British Museum of Forgotten British Things, have no interest in intent. Forgotten articles reveal so much more about the owners, don’t you think? Now, was the baby in question abandoned or forgotten?”
I click the top of my pen, implying urgency and paperwork pending. It’s a lie. We don’t keep any records here. Records reek of intentionalism and we are all about forgetting things.
“Never mind,” the man says, “I’ll try next door at the National Portrait Gallery.”
He grabs his duffle bag sharply. Already emitting a dull, low-pitched whine, the duffle bag cranks it up a notch, bleating openly like a transistor radio. I’m not about to argue with the man. There have been nine babies already this week.
It’s only to be expected. Good weather seems to bring the babies crawling out of the woodwork. We kept three of the nine; only the genuinely forgotten of course. (Two off the Underground and one left behind in the First Floor changing rooms at Debenhams). By now we can tell the difference between an abandoned baby and a genuinely forgotten one. The forgotten babies rarely come with blankets or extra nappies.
The babies are stored in purpose built filing cabinets at the back of the Museum. We file babies between television sets and sheep, and directly opposite carrier bags.
So far this has proven to be an excellent system.
Babies like television and sheep do not give a damn about babies. Carrier bags seem to hold no worthwhile opinion on the subject and thus the entire lower, left quadrant of the museum continues to drift companionably towards the next millennium.
No one has come looking for any of this week’s babies. This strikes me as odd. Odd enough to justify checking the museum’s answering machine six hours earlier than usual.
“Brip,” it creaks, “Brip, brip, brip, you’ve reached the British Museum of Forgotten British Things. For opening hours please check behind the sofa. Currently accepting bicycles, cheeses, (both local and foreign), men’s shoes, magazines, cutlery and library cards. No longer accepting empty food containers of any kind. Always partial to a timely livestock donation, infants and the elderly. No members of staff currently available. Please leave a message after the tone. Brip, brip, brip.”
The answering machine is uncharacteristically empty. No anxious parents, no police officers, wrong numbers or even the obligatory Monday morning rant from the British Museum proper, demanding- as they have demanded every Monday morning for the last two decades- to have their stapler returned asap, not to mention that early Picasso print. (“It’s your own fault,” we explain endlessly, sighing to emphasis the fact that this conversation has been twenty three years in the telephone wires. “You forgot to bring it inside, so it belongs to us now.”)
It strikes me as odd, and somewhat unsettling, that no-one has called in regards to this week’s babies. Normally we get to keep babies a day at the very most. The British public, it seems, are much better at remembering babies than bicycles, cellular phones or any of the half empty crisp packets we’ve been blessed with over the last two hundred years.
Down in the lower, left quadrant of the museum, the current batch of research students- bored to the back teeth with weighing Wellington boots and measuring the land speed velocity of tea bags- are having a grand old time with the forgotten babies.
“Good golly,” a particularly exuberant student cries, as he compares the eyelash length of this morning’s babies, “you can tell so much about the British people from the things they leave behind.” This student, though American by birth, speaks in a plummy, English accent, developed during a pubescent infatuation with Mary Poppins.
“Damn right, you can,” replies the second, using a shoelace to measure the space between the other two babies. He holds the shoelace up to the light. “Look at this Student A. I’d estimate it’s a good six inches at least. You know what that means? The people who forgot these babies are more than likely capable of skimming a stone up to seventeen skips in one toss.”
“No kidding, Student B, you are more than certainly right. And, look at the small freckle on the heel of this baby. I’d speculate that the woman who forgot him, enjoys a custard cream with her morning coffee; and his hair, parted unevenly to the right, smarts of cosmetic dental work.”
“Student A, you have excelled yourself this time. I would never have spotted the thing with the hair, and though I hesitate to patronize you, and am more than sure you’ve already noted the rather obvious scar on the right elbow, may I be the first to state the obvious when I suggest that the man who forgot this baby, is quite rightly voting Labour in the next general election.”
All over the British Museum of Forgotten British Things, similar incidences of important research are taking place. In quiet corners, with empty notebooks, research students from foreign countries are poking, prodding and estimating the volume of forgotten things, trying, as many before have tried, to concisely define the British temperament.
Unbeknown to most regular Britains, the British Museum of Forgotten British Things had been an integral and defining facet of British science, religion, politics and package holidays for the last two centuries. Each year the museum accepts only the top five graduate students from the top five schools in the top five foreign countries, as voted by the hosts of a certain, popular British talk show. (Consequently, no Spaniard has set foot inside the museum during its illustrious two hundred year history).
The Museum’s mission remains staunchly unchanged from decade to decade.
“Gentlemen,” every fresh student is forced to read, as it appears in regal, red lettering on the first page of their welcome packs, “you are here for one reason only, to observe and define the British temperament as exhibited in the detritus of daily British life. At the end of the year you will return to your foreign home, fully equipped with all the information necessary to represent Great Britain and her citizens in honest, scientific and literate detail.”
Each research student, before beginning their studies, is required to sign an official waiver declaring themselves to be sound in mind and body, to be capable of appreciating at least 10% of all humorous British anecdotes and, to have no affiliations political, sentimental or otherwise with Guy Fawkes. (It is a somewhat outdated waiver, based loosely on the Magna Carta, and covers all imaginable grounds for litigation, including earthquakes, Armageddon and the unlikely possibility of reincarnation).
Over the two centuries of the Museum’s existence a great deal has been discovered about the nature of the British temperament. Unfortunately, each fresh batch of research students is forced to begin at the point of ignorance as they retrace the previous year’s steps, eternally scuppered by the Museum’s strict, “No records,” policy. As this important research continues unquestioned in all four corners of the British Museum of Forgotten Things, I do my bit, manning the reception desk. At precisely eleven fifteen the main door flies open for the second time this morning, revealing the same man with his duffle bag.
“Do you accept bags?” he asks hoisting the duffle bag on to the reception desk. (He’s still wearing the tracksuit but has managed to lose the inflatable jacket.”)
“Umm, yes,” I say, a little confused, “we do accept forgotten bags. But, does it have a baby in it? I think you already know our policy on babies, Sir.”
“Why would it have a baby in it?”
“Because it had a baby in it five minutes ago!”
“No it didn’t.”
“Yes, it did. I’m no idiot Sir, I heard the baby crying inside the bag. It sounded like a transistor radio going off.”
“…It was a transistor radio… That’s exactly right. It was a transistor radio in a duffle bag. I was taking it to visit my sister in Camden.”
“Bullshit,” I say, losing my temper. I have been trained not to lose my temper even in the most trying situations, but the man and his tracksuit are beginning to give me a migraine. “I was not born yesterday. There was definitely a baby in that duffle bag five minutes ago.”
“Check for yourself,” the man says, sliding his duffle bag across the reception desk, “you’ll see I’m right. There’s nothing in there but a bad smell and my sister’s transistor radio.”
I open the bag carefully in one long, zippered drag. Just as I’d suspected there’s a three month old baby inside.
“Sir,” I say, having regained my ice, cold professionalism, “there is a baby inside this bag.”
“No way. Let me see.” He stands on his tiptoes to peer into the bag. “You’re right guv’nor that’s definitely a baby in there.”
“How did this baby get into the bag?”
The British Museum of Forgotten British Things is forced to accept its fourth baby of the week.
The man insists on keeping his duffle bag. “It’s of sentimental value,” he claims, “Smells exactly like my Gran’s hotpress before she died.”
In the lower left quadrant of the building two fresh-faced research students prepare to estimate the pH factor of this new baby’s right knee. Eventually they will plump for more than averagely acidic; a clear indication that the person responsible for forgetting this baby was wearing a track suit at the time.
Jan Carson is a writer and community arts development officer currently based in Belfast, Northern Ireland. She has a BA in English Literature from Queen’s University Belfast and an MLitt. In Theology and Contemporary Culture from St. Andrew’s University, Scotland. She has previously lived and worked in Oregon, Colorado and London. Jan has had several short stories published in literary journals on both sides of the Atlantic and has recently read her work at the Irish Writers’ Centre in Dublin. She also has experience in screenplay writing and writing for radio and theatre. Her first novel, “Malcolm Orange Disappears” is due for publication in Spring 2014 with Liberties Press, Dublin.
The cold was sharp as light that day, casting chills in place of shadows in the brown, branching wood. There was no wind, but Carlos traced flurries in dead leaves and thought of mice, a furry undercurrent in the fungus-spotted mulch. His beard prickled, his toes ached in his hardening boots, and the numbing peace he sought was starting to seep, familiar, when the song wisped through his head.
Green, how I love you, Green, it sang. It was neither his voice, nor his thought.
Green skin, green hair, oh how I love you, Green. Carlos circled a bare beech tree and tried to smirk. There’s no green to be seen anywhere, and what is this? He shook his head, to shake out the voice, and let the cold sink back in. There is succour in cold, one pain replacing another.
He trudged in the still brown air, stale for want of a tree’s breath, towards a place where the brambles churned and a slight slope made for a view.
Not green but grim, he thought. Grim was his goal in these deadening walks and he knew how to become as numb as a stump, rigid right through, to forget for a time what was lost.
He made for the dint in a long-fallen trunk, his favoured seat, and in the final strides of his approach there seemed to unfurl, right there in the bark’s old crease, a fungus. He stopped, and bent over it. Had he not noticed it, his steps automatic, his eyes tired? A velvet brown ear glistened, so new, so soft, it looked warm.
There was a scurrying away beyond the trunk, a quivering through the brambles. Carlos bent closer, caught a scent of something like truffle, like chestnuts sweetly charred, and he whispered into the ear.
Green, how I love you.
He started back. In the windless wood, impossible leaves long flown from the trees whispered in return so that he seemed caught amidst a chorus. Green skin, green hair. Carlos stumbled further up the slope, stamping down curls of thorn, shaking his head again to chill his cheeks and sluice himself back to his senses.
The hill crested soon, he knew, and would show him a bank of sky, but the trees reared up with the heaving ground, confusing his path, and their bodies were rich with dark ringlet moss. His palms as he grasped were stroked by it. As his hands slid down it licked at his wrists and he was maddened by the thrum he felt in response.
There is no green, he said in his head. No green, no love, now breathe in this cold and take it down and hold it. Cold is comfort now.
He bent over, breathing, so far down that he saw the wood between his legs. But the warmth of his breath made him furious, the heat of his folded belly and his hot hands on his knees and he let out a groan backwards down the slope. His head hurt and his ears began to ring. The familiar beat of blood, he thought, at least that is how it should be, but the ringing was tinged with a high-strung note that was not red but green, the fine green of grass tips, of saplings, sap, the green blood of trees.
He saw her then, the singing thing. Or he saw through his legs a waver like heat in the air, and the dead leaves rising in it. Green, how I love you. It rang in his ears, and the hum of it purled through his veins and then she was gone. The wood faded back to sepia but for a tint, the hint of sap that glowed now from deep within each tree.
Carlos righted himself and turned and ran down the slope. He felt the last threads of her wavering heat in the air and his mouth watered at the scent of chestnut, of smoke.
He followed it like a bloodhound, but as he crouched down, nose to the ground, the shiver ahead would slide up and shake old man’s beard in a taunting cloud or leave tumbling specks of lichen. Then up he would gaze, running hands-out, with the chaos of canopy crazing his eyes only to hear her whisk through the leaf litter, marking his path up ahead with heel dints that he probed with muddy fingers.
How far he went or for how long, no tree in the wood or thought in his head made measure, and what did it matter? For he found the place – her place – and how perfect, how secret it was.
The song curled through his mind but Carlos did not know how to sing. He was all breath, after the chase, and he smelled his own sweat and the blood in his pulse disgusted him. The shirt that clung to his sticky flesh, the wool that protected his beating skin, he threw off, and he rubbed himself with leaves. They were dry, paper brown, and he shuddered at their lifelessness but breathed in deep all the same.
He knew what to do. Naked, speckled with leaf fragment, he crawled between leaning slender lengths of birch and beech. They made a tunnel that funnelled him down into a gully, where the musk overwhelmed him and the ground grew soft with mulch. Every chestnut breath was a draught to his veins; every close of his eyes brought her nearer, and when he thought he murmured her song it was her voice that thrilled him.
Green, how I love you, Green. Carlos rolled in the bed of leaves strewn in the gully’s depth, green and red and rustling brown, and when she finally crept upon him, he sang too.
It was not like birds, like the cries of love, or like a ballad that worships the woods. He became a chord that would play with no tune but her, and had no resonance except for her response.Green skin, green hair, his limbs seemed to say, and those were the only words he wanted now, all he would ever want.
He learned more quickly than ever he had, as if woodland ways are given. How to bury into the ground and borrow the soily sleep of earthworms; how to follow mud to water and lap with his tongue. But best of all, how to tap the sap that rose all around him, the sign of it in the air growing so clear that it pierced his head and made an orchestra of it with its sweet high notes and throbbing drone, whether at leaf or root. Green’s own hard tongue, made so much stronger than his own by life, would turn for hours against a wrinkle of birch bark, until the juice found course and poured down her chin. Then she fed him, and he bit at her lips, so hard to feel between his own that had barely lived at all.
It hurt him at first, the sense of what had been wasted, his mind cramped all these years by thoughts that came in such limited shapes, hardening out the wild world beyond. Whatever he had left, whatever had been lost, shrank to a small red stone, hard and silent. Then, in his bliss, he forgot even this.
Carlos grew slender and so his limbs seemed to lengthen, their pale angles dotted with leaf shred, so that he felt a kinship with the silver birches that lent stripes of moonlight to the wood at night, and that yielded so gracefully to Green’s sweet, hard tongue. So attuned did he become to Green, the colour of her song and her mischievous quiver, that her form became more and more distinct to him. In bright beetle backs he discovered her eyes; in the old pollards he traced the sharp line of her shoulders, until sometimes he glimpsed the whole of her as she swept through a clearing, or wound her way up the trunk of an oak to send down showers of acorns.
Without speech, without time, it was no surprise now to watch a trumpet of fungus bloom from a stump, and always before he teased it away with tender fingers, he would sing first to its sensuous ear, Green, how I love you, Green, and he knew she would hear.
Their gully, under its stripling roof, grew musty with Carlos’s scents, the pungency of his shrinking flesh a note that soured her aura of truffle and chestnut. When the wood began to change, dressing itself with a shy, verdant growth, he scattered these tiny dapple-leaves into fresh beds for them, and rubbed himself raw with what was left. Still, the freshly excited air vibrated, and foxes came, drawn through the warming, prickling wood. He felt the damp nose of a vixen dotting his thighs one night, and she carried away the smell of him like a secret while Green pulsed against his side, invisible in her veil of sap. He felt himself betrayed and betrayer, and was shocked to find these words in his head.
With the spring came other disturbing sounds that froze Carlos still in his leaf-litter bed. One was a crunch, that brought back to his mind that small red stone. The next was a sting, a call that was not a bird but had the same joyous thrall about it, and made pain weave through his head. The air was shot with sun in that moment, and heat on his skin made him shudder for something, a feeling he could not grasp. Green trailed away like smoke through the undergrowth and his hard white limbs could not follow.
Far up from the gully the earth shook. Trees tensed their roots, and Carlos tensed too. Green, where are you, Green? he gasped, and it was no song at all, but a terrible wheeze that tore at his unused throat. The tumult of tones grew too much to bear, and his thoughts made another word: voices. But the word was so strange that he let it dissolve in his mouth. Bury, he thought in its place; burrow down, and he wriggled his elbows, his wasted hips, and felt the leaves scrape the dirt from his withered skin.
Plump pink hands dragged at his roof, tearing away rich shadow. Shrieks as foreign as parrots burst above Carlos.
“This is the place! Let’s make a castle, with dungeons!” The voices cut shapes in his head then, hard and angled and irresistible. Carlos groaned with new remembered pain, the spikes of words pricking him so that he longed to roll instead in coils of brambles, have his sap speared from him but not blood, not red.
Green, he wheezed, but the sound, love cramped into a mere word, was all that was left.
A pink face peered, small and round. Carlos turned away, pressed leaves into the creases of his own numbed cheeks.
“Go back to the car, right now,” said the words. “God, the smell. What the hell do we do?”
He heard someone start to cry. Only human beings cry, he thought, only flesh and blood. Is it me? Is it me, crying?
“Can’t we call someone? Do they even have wardens out here? God, I can’t breathe, it’s foul. I don’t care if he can hear me. Did the kids see? Give me the phone, we should call the police. Don’t touch him. I said don’t touch him.”
Carlos searched in his limbs for the sense of tightening tree roots, the swallow of silent birds, and it was all gone. There was only a faint thud, thud, thud, that came from his red human heart.
Zoe Gilbert lives in London where she curdles together a full-time job and a creative writing PhD. She is fascinated by folklore and the fantastic in short fiction, and is working on a collection of interwoven folkloric stories set not quite in this world. Her fiction has won prizes from the British Fantasy Society amongst others, and appeared in journals including Luna Station Quarterly, Glint, Fringe Magazine and Vine Leaves. She also has stories published in UK and Irish anthologies from Labello Press, Cinnamon Press, Earlyworks and Duality, and she blogs about writing and creativity at www.mindandlanguage.blogspot.com. Most of all, she would like to live in the woods.
He awoke clutching his liver, or at least the spot where he believed his liver lived. The pain was excruciating, a bird nestled beneath his ribcage pecking relentlessly at his pickled organ.
At the doctors, he had whitened at the news: if he didn’t give up drinking he was going to die. He knew that one day his lifestyle would lead to this death sentence. How long do I have? The doctor explained that exact expiry dates were the fanciful creation of television, a countdown for dramatic effect. It seemed unlikely, though, that he would see the other side of Christmas. It was July.
Death beckoning, he lost concentration. His thoughts wandered as his doctor held a model liver and with his finger outlined the abuse to which he had subjected it. From the doctor’s hands he retrieved it, held it like a talisman. Wrapping up his consultation, wishing to forge ahead with further heartbreak, the doctor had enquired, any questions? This was usually the stage where patients became enraged, bargained for more time, tried to convince others, if not themselves, that they would change their ways. His patient contemplated the replica liver, weighed it in his hands. Snapped from reverie, his eyes beseeching, he asked simply, where did you get this?
He sourced his liver online. Within two to three working days, he was unpacking it in his living room. Having long suspected that one day he would await a new liver, he had never guessed that it would arrive so quickly. It was identical to the one he had handled at the surgery. It felt alien in his hands, a prize vegetable at a village fair. Box fresh, robust and solid, he doubted that his own had ever seemed so shiny and new. Surely his drinking couldn’t obliterate something of such substance?
He recalled childhood games, tweezing hindrances from a lifeless patient, a flattened sap reliant upon steady-handed children to remove sidesplitting obstructions. A piercing buzz nettled the hesitant. In this field, as the operator, he had proved himself a surgeon of distinction. He imagined approaching it now, his hands trembling deliriously, the ceaseless screech that would greet his intervention.
He planned to externalise his condition, confront death head on. There was no question of his giving up the drink – it would take more than a malfunctioning organ to keep him sober – but rather than pretending that it wasn’t happening he would make a centrepiece of his affliction. On a coffee table, unaccustomed to coffee, he placed his plastic liver.
It was not purely decorative; this bizarre ornament would play a key role in his final months. Each day he drank, which was each day he woke up, he marked by gouging at its surface: with a chisel he chipped a little at his liver. In this way, he reasoned, he would see the damage he inflicted. Bearing daily witness to this increasingly pockmarked form would perhaps help reduce his intake.
How else could he map his own demise? Funds would not run to a scanner, a blizzard of printouts, a grim flipbook, or, pinned to the wall, a time-lapse gallery of his liver’s disintegration.
Gung-ho, he had chiselled initially with relish. He would show his liver to visitors, revel in their reaction to his perceived bad taste, as their fingers explored its cack-handed cavities. How could he treat impending death with such disrespect? They implied that he was in denial. How could I be, he reasoned, when the evidence is right there before me?
His cocksureness shrivelled with his liver’s diminishment. No longer blasé, he became convinced upon confronting its withered form that it was shrinking outside of his gouging, that it was somehow decreasing of its own accord. Acknowledging the absurdity of this assertion, he still bought a set of scales, weighed it to a number of decimal points before retiring for the evening. The next day, though the figures tallied, he remained sceptical.
He chipped away steadily, as he had done all his life, at family, friends, partners, until nothing remained. For the first time, he would be left with traces of the destruction he wrought.
His amendments lacked surgical precision; a sloppy sculptor, he was lucky not to lose a finger in the process. He wished he hadn’t begun with such enthusiasm, hadn’t taken such sizable chunks from its structure. What remained now presented itself to him as a morbid marker, sands of the hourglass solidified.
Would he reduce his drink intake or the amount he chipped from the block?
He bought a smaller chisel.
Spooked by his jaundiced reflection, he suspected that the mirror was yellowing rather than his skin, ascribed his sallowness to some unearthly patina on its surface. He binned his fickle image. In a skip, at its smash, he flashed back to older superstitions: seven year’s bad luck. What he wouldn’t give now to luxuriate in such protracted doom.
In silhouette, in steady regression, a lost love, a woman shrunken in his memories. An ultimatum had been her final offer: the drink or me. She had looked angelic as she walked away.
Through persistent snicks, it reduced dramatically. For safekeeping, he transferred it to the mantelpiece, so small now that it could be easily misplaced. Another couple of chips and he could squeeze it into his pocket.
He regarded this portentous pebble, all which remained of his once vital organ, or at least its external incarnation. He was not sure that it would take even the finest of chisels. It would necessitate more delicate equipment than he had access to. If he was looking towards nanotechnology, then maybe the battle was already lost.
Between his actual liver and its whittled twin, he sensed a twisted symbiosis. As he gazed upon this gnarled, misshapen trinket he felt unwell, clutched at his side as he drew long breaths. Did he actually feel worse or was his mind tricked by his wilfully fractured manifestation? He entertained voodoo delusions, considered the notion that rather than duplicating internal dysfunctions, his attack upon this model was in fact the source of his suffering. At each approach, sharp tool in hand, was he effectively sticking pins in his own effigy? He imagined returning to hospital, subjecting himself to another scan, and as his doctor explained the shadowy image of what remained, unfurling the tightened fingers of his fist to reveal its physical double, identical in every respect to the onscreen, chiaroscuro flicker. Alighting upon supernatural explanations he realised his grip was slipping. He would escape such thoughts in the only way he knew how.
He lamented not keeping the pieces, the plasticized flecks he discarded daily. And if he had kept them? It seemed unlikely that he would spend his remaining days puzzling together the pieces of an impossible jigsawed liver, attempting to reconstitute the whole, undoing damage done.
Eventually it was whittled to a point where he didn’t wish to leave it unattended. It had reached a state of portability. This dwindled, synthetic liver he would guard with his life.
Shaking, he pocketed what remained, walked his anxieties to the pub.
His worries supped away, he awoke the next day to light relief and a thundering hangover. Feeling wretched, he fumbled in the previous night’s trousers, having had the foresight not to remove them, in a bid to retrieve his prized possession. He turned out pockets, shook them frenziedly, but to no avail. His liver was gone.
He had failed, had proved a luckless custodian. Where was it now? He scanned for memories that were no longer there. Had it been scooped from his pocket, perhaps, a minor land mass in a sea of small change exchanged for one final drink? Had it eroded to nothing, a final unseen disintegration?
It didn’t mean anything, he tried to reassure himself in his panicked state. Any superstitions were of his own construction. He would not succumb to such routine voodoo.
And then he felt a twinge.
Stuart Snelson is a London based writer. His stories have appeared in Litro, 3:AM, The Londonist, Paraxis and Popshot, and are forthcoming in Ambit and Structo. He is currently working on his second novel whilst seeking a publisher for his first. He can be found on twitter at @stuartsnelson
As you have read this far, you will understand the importance of my contacting you. If you will permit me, as I know you will, I would like to provide a more personal summation of how I became involved. I had known Fionn Adana for as long as I can remember but cannot quite put my finger on the precise moment I became aware of his writing, writing that would change everything for me. It was as if I had always been aware of his work yet only became overtly conscious of it in hindsight, like a child realising he or she has never believed in God. This, however, was a presence rather than an absence. Yet there must have been a moment when he contacted me, if I might call it such an act, when these writings ‘arrived’, a moment that utterly eludes my recall. I remember, certainly, nights in the library having taken his papers there to examine, studying them in the half-light, feverishly and to the considerable detriment of my eyesight. I remember becoming so engrossed in his work that I failed to notice the rising of the sun or the changing of the librarian at the front desk. On occasion, I forgot to eat. It was as if, I must confess, the worlds of which he spoke were more interesting than this one, worlds that tentatively, in the true sense of the ill-fated Tantalus, remained just out of reach, like a sublime morning dream to which we struggle, but fail, to return.
They began, it seems, with essays on the works of others and travelled inexorably further and further into the margins, by which we might also say deeper and deeper into language, philosophy, into treatises on space, time and consciousness, until they were not treatises on any subject but subjects in themselves. Realities you might say. Which came first? We do not know. His analysis of Bruno Schulz’s The Messiah? Joyce’s oceanic rhapsody The See? John Toland’s De Tribus Impostoribus? Perhaps it is his essay on the role of psychopomps in literature or wunderkammer or memento mori? It is idle to speculate. Juvenilia is constantly being unearthed, to the extent it would seem that he never actually began at one fixed point at all. He is moving backwards, earlier and earlier into his writing as we speak, as well as forward in time. Colonising the history of literature in all directions. Continually writing his first work, backwards into time and re-delineating the present and future as he does so. The claim, by some, of reviews printed before the books they reviewed were written remains a controversial but recurring one.
Such talk is the talk of madmen. The profound solipsism that is a writer’s ego. There are some who might suggest that he was always mad, that it was the inevitable product of his findings and ambitions. Ludwig Wittgenstein and Georg Trakl met him on a Viennese Street, apparently by chance, whilst walking silently together. They were “beset by an apparition made flesh.” The encounter profoundly unnerved Wittgenstein, who Adana chastised claiming his focus on language and logic was like “trying to define what lay in the abyssal sea depths by spending your life analysing the froth spewed on its surface.” In contrast, he complimented Trakl, who nevertheless had to be restrained from throttling the interloper. Immediately, Adana was seen to run away “wild-limbed through the crowd.” Professor Walter Benjamin has spoken of engaging in vigorous conversation with a fellow matching his description in New York City, conversations that left him simultaneously exhausted and enthralled, “for several days I neither wished to sleep nor to remain awake, such were the thoughts he had aroused in me.” Might we locate the point at which madness assumed sovereignty over him? Might there be, or have been, a tipping point?
If we look closely, we can establish certain vertices, where he crosses over from his essays being about other works to becoming something else entirely. In all his texts, he is given to conjecture and tangential or inter-textual referencing in his footnotes. When assembled in certain orders, these footnotes seem to grow until they rival then eclipse the main body of the essay and then even the subject of the essay. His study of Plato’s Hermocrates is several dozen times longer than the work it is based upon, his analysis of Livy’s Ab urbe condita libri several hundred times. At various points, the footnotes begin to encompass the entire work and it becomes apparent they are no longer linked to points in any corresponding text but to things physically around him; inanimate objects in his room, contemporary events, matters of universal magnitude and microscopic complexity. The footnotes eventually seem to escape the text and Adana is driven to record everything, from every thought he has to everything he perceives in the natural world, reciprocally. It became a monomania, if indeed you could define existence and consciousness as mono, which as we know from his studies they are most certainly not.
Around this time, given the exertion of the exercise to which he had set himself, Adana began to physically deteriorate, perhaps in direct proportion to his philosophical ‘expansion.’ According to witnesses (no family, conventional friends or love interests have ever been identified), he began living unconventionally. Effectively a hermitage, his flat became filled with vast reams of paper, forests-worth, none of which were filed or organised but simply scattered, presumably over his shoulder, as he typed. He appears to have slept on his typed scripts, even bathed in them given the drains were found blocked with scraps of sodden papyrus. Whether the writing remained as consistently inspired is a matter of pending enquiry. It will take several centuries of critical study before we will even come close to regarding even the texts of this apartment alone as coherently mappable. Yet even this is but an epigram to the main body of his writing, if we may be so bold as to even limit such a thing by its naming.
On a fateful November morning (dates vary), a young postman became concerned when he found he was unable to squeeze the junk mail he was delivering to Adana’s address through the letterbox. Upon investigation, he discovered that the door was barricaded by a vast pile of paper. Having recently learned of an elderly woman who had died and lain in various degrees of decomposition in her flat for seven years, he phoned the police. An hour later, two officers called around and, fearing there was a possible loss of life involved, gained access to the premises by force and with a degree of struggle. When they finally entered, they were confronted by an unkempt and startled Adana, as bearded and wild as Blake’s Nebuchadnezzar. One of the officers was so unsettled by the sight that she instinctively drew her weapon at which Adana was said to emit a feral shriek and bolted for a back room. Wading through masses of paper, the officers were unable to catch up with him. They were forced to watch as Adana exited via the second floor window and ran off, ‘like a man possessed’ and limping, in a north-westerly direction. It was the last time he would be positively identified for two years.
In his intervening period of physical absence, he nevertheless made his presence known. Having abandoned or been denied a typewriter, he began transcribing directly onto walls and surfaces in acts of flagrant vandalism. These have been compared to the methods of the ‘Cold Mountain’ poet Hanshan of the Tang Dynasty era who wrote his verse on rocks, trees and bamboo. Adana’s writing was notable not only for its content and verbosity but the urban environment on which it was transposed. He wrote on glass, metal and stone. His handwriting was authenticated by experts in the field though several examples of copycat writing have been identified. Somewhat controversially, he scratched vast treatises onto restaurant windows and parked cars at night, texts so sprawling and labyrinthine that the cars were more scripture than automobile upon their finding. He wrote on pool tables, church pews, lightbulbs, even sleeping vagrants. We can only speculate as to his lifestyle and subsistence during this period of inner exile and dissolution. We know, almost for certain, that he spent time living in various abandoned buildings and indeed the sewers. One particular section of the subterranean network became his own catacomb with some of his finest writing being scrawled in negative space in encrusted filth on the walls, including his acclaimed The Ghost Tractitus. This was for some time his most significant work, or more accurately excerpted work, until his famous or rather infamous passage On the Nature of Parallel Universes was discovered behind the wallpaper of a gentrified once-dilapidated tenement block (both works remained untitled by their creator). It is suspected that many other works remain undiscovered within the city and perhaps beyond.
After several clandestine years, Adana was reportedly identified at several sites; in a public chamber in The Monument to the Third International, on the Eighth Sister of the Zaryadye Skyscraper, in Ville Radieuse and La Città Nuova. Almost every time, he became irate when approached, by security or well-wishers alike, roaring that he required “a reception” or “signal” and to leave him in peace before escaping in signs of evident distress. His appearance was reported to range from ‘goatish’ to ‘putrescent.’ All spoke of his almost nauseating intensity.
The one certifiable act we know of in detail is also his most notorious. Max Brod was a prominent figure in Tel Aviv’s literary and theatrical circles. He’d published the novel Schloß Nornepygge to some acclaim in his youth. By all accounts, he was an amiable, highly intelligent and fervently loyal fellow. It was of some surprise to those who knew him, when he was discovered in a near-comatose state, having slit his wrists on a broken window pane. Under sedation, he related to nurses and police stenographers that his apartment had been broken into by a ‘wildman’ who called himself Fionn Adana. Keen to avoid unnecessary confrontation, Brod had sought to placate the intruder to little avail. During the course of the ensuing conversation, Adana had accused Brod of disposing of certain valuable documents penned by a friend of Brod’s by the name of Franz Kafka, an obscure Jewish legal clerk who had published several minor short stories before dying of TB decades previously. The matter related purportedly to a cache of burnt manuscripts. Brod broke down and asked Adana how he had found out “his secret,” believing Adana to be an agent of the devil sent to torment him. Adana replied that he had discovered ways “neither mechanical nor celestial” to see through the boundaries between parallel universes, divergent worlds created with every decision we make and crucially “to establish contact between them.” In at least one world, he had become aware of some grave sin Brod had committed.
How he was able to permeate through to these ‘other worlds’, if indeed he could, has become the question of countless academic studies, with the suggestions providing less than concrete results. When Brod was found, a warrant was finally issued for Adana’s arrest. When he had recovered, if indeed he ever recovered, Brod refused to speak about the incident, aside from revealing that Adana had stolen a briefcase from him. Brod died a somewhat broken man, declining to ever reveal what it had contained. His last words were “This need not have ended like this.” Or words to that effect. After several months eluding the police, Adana was eventually captured and sectioned under the mental health act. He refused to answer any questions from police or psychologists. Under their strict guidance, he was however permitted to write as a form of rehabilitative guided therapy. To assert a degree of control over his ‘hysteria’, he was restricted to ten minutes writing at a time. He chose to write letters. Psychologists presumed they were messages even taunts towards them. It seems their occupational talent is for always making the issue about them. You will be aware as I am that he writes to himself, or rather his selves.
Perhaps at this point then, we might begin our study of his work. All points are arbitrary after all. Let us examine his essay on the Golem, focusing as it does on deciphering codes in the Torah and how the right letters in the right order might have magical properties. How the deciphered secret name of God placed under the tongue of a clay figure might conjure it into life. How the right words in the right order could unwind the stars or create a hole between one place and another, parallel worlds perhaps, and enable the two to speak. Your thoughts?
I’ve spent more of the last two years outside of Ireland than inside it. I’ve spent some time in Paris, Birmingham and Toronto. These are a few of my thoughts on the matter.
Always be strung out in airports. It’s the only way to live. Either be hung-over or, preferably, drunk. Otherwise the weight of all those journeys, all those people ’getting places’ will crush you. At any given moment, the airport is full of people, the planes are packed to capacity, and the world is urgent to be elsewhere. What’s worse, if you’re in an airport, you’re part of it.
Loneliness changes quality when you’re abroad. At home loneliness is an inward, private affair. Living in a city where you don’t know anybody pushes that outward, fixes it onto the people around you, onto the peopled streets and the strangeness of the culture. It becomes more bearable and less yours.
The French game of pétanque is less a game than an elaborate excuse for older French men to wear moustaches.
Airports briefly turn us all into Beckett characters. We drink coffee, read papers, and stare endlessly into our phones, wishing this small segment of our life would be finished with. Airport waiting areas are a great place to observe people will time out of existence. What percentage of our lives do we will out of existence in this fashion?
It is possible to think about cities, not in terms of space, but in terms of contested attitudes of time. Most cities are a great catastrophe of counting. In the business towers of La Defence for example, time is counted as profit; the turning of the clock is the ticking of bank balances. It is a sour time, but a certain, self-assured one. The challenge is to find wild, remote time, often hidden in small flats among soft-spoken people lounging in their memories and thoughts.
There is something ornate, artificial and intoxicating about the version of yourself you discover in the eyes of others when you travel. The lightness of your life can make you forget.
All cities have moments, and they are moments specific to the place, where it feels possible to step straight out of existence. In Birmingham they are harder to find than in Paris. I did discover the Dudley Canal No. 2. Walking along the mucky path that traces the canal from Selly Oak into the centre of the city, dodging the occasional joggers sweating themselves into perfection, a moment descends. The moment makes life feel as thin as a blade of grass. The dark water, the abandoned industrial warehouses, the pottering geese, all combine to gather your life into an extraordinary lightness. You think that your next step might not touch the earth but rather touch silence itself.
The only thing I did while in the U.S.A., while on a half hour stopover to Toronto, was block a toilet. I consider this to be a political act.
Paris, through a sheer effort of beauty and excitement serves as definitive proof that a human life is enriched from a different source than either beauty or excitement. It is such a muchness of place and still not enough. If in Paris, you are still fidgety, uncertain and full of want, then no place can solve you. The city is an argument for the impossibility of living a necessary life until you’ve confronted the question of home.
It was in Coventry that I first seriously considered the possibility that my life would be a complete catastrophe. I intend never to return to Coventry.
There is a persistent perception that travel is good for creativity. Any big city will have a community of drifting artists who indulge in this belief and will scurry from Berlin to Bilbao, searching for a lifestyle and a vision of themselves that they are happy with. The truth is, it is living with sincerity that’s good for creativity. That challenge doesn’t become any easier while travelling. Very possibly it is harder.
When the storms come to Paris, and they seem to come plenty, and you are drenched in the fall of the sky, and the people who wander are shocked into wonder, the people who wander are lit in the glow of the fact: time is passing and we are creatures who know it, and we haven’t a notion what to do with this life.
Once you’ve spent time away and returned, something has changed. The old facts, the stuff of your world, which once loomed with such certainty and weight, have been thinned. The undulation of the hills, the brown lakes and wet fields, rough with reeds and gorse, assume the quality of a lit candle flickering in a draft. You notice how your family has aged. Children are covered in spots and speaking with deep voices. Your old life has been steeped in the pathos of change.
This is certain: when the plane takes off and you are hurled into the clouds and the sky, a change happens. You will not touch the ground again without knowing the sweetness of ache and loss.
Shane Mac an Bhaird is from Ballybay, Co. Monaghan. He has had work published in wordlegs presents: 30 Under 30, The Irish Times, The Bastille, The Bohemyth, The South Circular, Ropes and wordlegs. He came second in Doire Press’ 2013 Poetry chapbook competition. As well as writing, he works in theatre, has just completed his MRes in playwriting from the University of Birmingham and will be part of Rough Magic’s 2014-2015 Seeds programme.
CAITRÍONA BOLGER WAS BORN IN KILBARRACK, DUBLIN, IN 1992. RAISED BY AN ARTISTIC FAMILY, SHE ALWAYS HAD AN INTEREST IN PAINTING, MUSIC AND LITERATURE. ONLY AT THE AGE OF 18 DID SHE BEGIN TO WALK INTO THE WORLD OF PHOTOGRAPHY, ENVELOPED BY IT’S BEAUTY AND DIVERSITY. YOU CAN FIND MORE OF HER WORK AT HTTP://WWW.FACEBOOK.COM/EANBEAGPHOTOGRAPHY.
Originally, I had intended to use this introduction to try to give people a better understanding of what it is that I want to see from future submitters, but in the end I decided the best way to achieve that would be to let the work within this issue speak for itself. In my opinion, these words and images all embrace what I like to call ‘New Raw Communication’. I hope you enjoy it, but most of all, I hope you are affected by it.
Editor – MNS
The Relaunch Issue – December 2013
Essay by Shane Mac an Bhaird
Photography by Caitriona Bolger
Fiction by Darran Anderson + Amber Koski + Stuart Snelson + Zoe Gilbert + Jan Carson
Poetry by Steven J Fowler + Kimberly Campanello + Elaine Cosgrove + Laura Cleary + Maire Morrissey-Cummins
I am pleased to introduce the new Assistant Editors – Clodagh O’Brien and Ryan Van Runkle.
Clodagh will be assisting me with selecting and editing the short fiction and poetry submissions. Ryan will be assisting me with selecting and editing the essay submissions. For more information about them, visit our About section.
I would like to thank all the wonderful and capable applicants who enquired about becoming part of The Bohemyth team.
Also, I was recently interviewed by the lovely Rozz Lewis, in which I discussed the submissions I would like to see. Read the full interview here.
The new era of The Bohemyth is here – visit our Submit section to see how you can be a part of it.
I was nothing once. And then I was born, created in a moment of heated desire and emotion, a moment of love, pride and vanity.
And like all creations, in that moment, I knew love.
The love of a man can change you: it can reach inside and alter your soul, transform you in ways that you never thought possible, that should not be possible.
But love is not meant to last: it is not a fierce unchanging beauty, but a delicate seed that needs to be nourished, that needs to grow and to be allowed to change.
The love he felt for me could never last. I was a passing fascination, an obsession with a moment that had to end so other moments could be born. But it was glorious when it lasted: he would stare at me for hours on end, his eyes moving over every line and every detail. He would lose himself in me and I would welcome him with open arms. I would relish the attention, the pride that he felt in my form.
When he touched me, it was with the caress of a lover, of a man enchanted with everything he could see and feel. Every stroke, every blemish would disappear under his smooth fingers and I would be perfect.
But those blemishes became more pronounced with time: when he touched me, I could feel him press softer against me as if to avoid them. His fingers began to smell of absinthe and opium, of foreign spices and herbs that I could not repeat, of other men and women whom he loved and lost in their own moments.
He notices each fault in my features, and I know that I am lost to him forever. His visits become more infrequent, and his eyes are now pools of disappointment. His fingers will not explore my surface. I remain covered, as if he is embarrassed by everything that I have become.
There was a time when I would have done anything he asked of me, when I read the desire in his eyes and listened to his wordless prayers. And so I took his sins and made them my own; I wore them on my own flesh. I wrote each crime and disgrace on my features, each inhumanity and injustice on my soul.
He thinks that he lost his soul forever in me, that I am the symbol of the wasted years that he cannot destroy and will not forget. But I know that he gave his soul willingly: I know that this is what he wanted, though he will never admit it. As much as he loathes me, his hatred turns ever inwards, eternally reflected between his eyes and mine, like a ghost trapped in a hall of mirrors.
He visits me no longer, unable to look at me: he acts as if he cares no longer for the soul that he has left here, like he hates me as much as he hates himself.
I am safe here, but I do not feel safe: a man who hates himself is a dangerous man, and this attic is a dangerous place.
Ken Mooney was born in Dublin, Ireland and still lives there. He studied English at TCD, and currently works in TV advertising. He released his first novel in March 2013: Godhead is a contemporary dark fantasy about the Greek gods and is the first book in The Last Olympiad. He is currently working on a sequel, The Hades Contract, which is due in early 2014, and will have a non-fiction release later in the year. Follow him on Twitter @kenmooney or check out his website.
The Master and the Matchbox Girl
– By Karen Quinn
The orphans were inside for their morning prayers. They had been kneeling in the cathedral for an hour, each little head bowed before the cross at the altar. The Mathematical Master was in charge. He sat at the back nearest the door, arms crossed, head held high. He never prayed. Once, in class, the orphans asked him why. In response, he asked them why they did. None of them could really answer.
He checked his pocket watch. The face was cracked, the photo on the inside worn. Quarter to twelve. The Master caught the attention of the youngest orphan, telling her it was time to leave. She nodded, nudging the child beside her. Slowly they began to shuffle to their feet, each genuflecting ever-so-properly before they walked down the aisle.
Outside they assembled in pairs. It was approaching the end of autumn, so the orphans put on their scarlet cloaks. The Master was in the middle of a head count when he heard one of them speak.
‘He looks just like an angel.’
He followed the orphan’s gaze. She was looking at the statue of The Happy Prince.
‘How do you know?’ The Master said. ‘You have never seen one.’
The orphan nodded. ‘I have.’
The Master laughed. ‘Oh, is that so?’
‘And where did you see this angel?’
‘In my dreams,’ she said.
The Mathematical Master frowned. He did not approve of children dreaming.
He always thought the statue was grotesque. The Happy Prince was a large figure that loomed over the city. Draped in fineries, leaves of gold, with a sword that had a ruby on its hilt, and two fine bright sapphires for his eyes. The Master tried not to look at it, but he glanced at the figure as he and the orphans walked by.
Winter came and frost kissed the ground. The orphans were only allowed to play outside for an hour at midday. The rest of the time they were ordered to stay indoors. The orphanage could not afford sick children. In the evening, as the orphans prepared for dinner, the Master would take his leave. He would walk aimlessly around the town, hands in pockets, inhaling the crispness of the air. He never spoke to any of the townspeople and they never spoke to him.
On one unremarkable evening the Master felt faint, so he sat by the statue of The Happy Prince. He was recovering from a fever that had taken hold a week previously. As he waited for the feeling to subside, he took out his pocket watch. He ran his thumb along the photo inside. The faces were no longer visible, but one was smaller than the other. A child, possibly. He rested this thumb there for a moment.
Then he heard her speak.
‘Would ye like a packet o’ matches, sir?’
She was only a few feet tall. Her hair was frizzy and she was dressed in rags. The Master noted her left eye, swollen and purple.
He waved her away. ‘Not today, young lady.’
‘Only a shillin’ for a packet.’
‘No thank you.’
‘Help keep you warm this winter.’
‘I am pleasantly warm.’
She looked him up and down. ‘I don’ think so. Ye look a bit peaky.’
His tone was definite. She walked away.
The Master didn’t let her get too close, but he checked his pockets nevertheless. The coins still jangled pleasantly. He took it as a warning though, it was time to go. Before he left, he noticed the most unusual thing – a swallow, sitting on the statue’s sword. A swallow at the beginning of winter. The most unusual thing.
Then he saw that the ruby was gone. Another unusual thing.
The Match Girl was sitting by the statue, legs swinging. She had three boxes to sell. The Master thought she was loud and obnoxious. His orphan children would never speak like that, regardless the attention they sought. Although her swinging legs reminded him of someone who he thought he’d forgotten. The pocket watch ticked close to his heart.
She noticed him approach her.
‘Are you a thief, child?’
She frowned. ‘Not today, sir.’
‘And how about yesterday?’
She looked puzzled. The Master pointed at The Happy Prince’s sword, where the ruby once was. She looked back at him.
‘I’m no climber sir, whoever took that must not be afraid o’ falling.’
She appeared honest.
‘Would ye like a seat, sir?’
He knew better than to take a sit beside a thief. ‘No, thank you.’
‘A shillin’ for a box, sir?’
‘No thank you.’
He put up his collar, turning to leave. Her light voice called after him.
‘Strange t’ see a swallow in winter, isn’t it?’
He continued to walk, passing by the town’s seamstress. She was particularly gifted, making beautiful gowns for the Queen and her maids. He thought it was odd to see her buying oranges from the merchant. A luxury for a woman who earned so little. He had heard that her son was sick, so maybe the Queen had shown pity. She shuffled past, head low. She had no time to speak.
The orphans walked in pairs to the cathedral. As they were passing, the Master noticed that the Happy Prince was missing an eye. “A rare sapphire”, was how it was described by the town councillors. The Match Girl was skipping nearby. When she saw the Master, she waved and pointed to the statue. She had noticed too. He didn’t want his children to see her, so he looked away. He couldn’t associate with such a child, but he promised himself to return later.
In the evening, he met her by the statue.
‘Did you take the Prince’s eye?’
‘Are you lying to me, young lady?’
‘Then who did?’
‘I don’t know, sir,’ she thought about it, ‘well, I think it was the sparrow.’
The Master didn’t appreciate jokes.
She shrugged. ‘Why else would he stay here? All his friends are in Egypt and he’s very much alone.’
‘Maybe he is stupid.’
‘Or maybe he’s our thief.’
The Master looked very severe. He had very little time for games.
The next day he was passing with the orphans when he heard her scream. A desperate woman had tackled the Match Girl and both had fallen to the ground. It was frenzied, the girl was scratched and punched. Eventually she reneged on her defence, loosening her grasp. The woman grabbed a box of matches and ran away. The rest were scattered on the wet ground, destroyed. The Match Girl sobbed, her tears heavy and loud. The Master was only a few feet away, but he had to walk on. He wasn’t in a position to help the girl, not in front of the orphans. He could never trust her anyway. She was a vagabond, a self-confessed thief. He was in no position to help her.
That evening it began to snow. Light at first, but then heavier and heavier. The Master was sitting in his office, wearing his coat. The lining was damaged, but the weight offered some warmth. He felt restless. The worsening weather offered no comfort. To him, each gust of wind sounded like a crying child. Unable to bare it any longer, he stood up. If he was prepared to be outside then he might as well be there, with the ice and the snow.
Outside, it was quiet. The snow had scared away the townsfolk and the houses glittered by candlelight. The Master would have thought it beautiful if not for the beggars and the white faces of starving children huddled together in the dark lanes. He found himself drifting towards the Happy Prince, towards the place that had rested on his mind all day. There were a few people there, closing up stalls and sweeping snow away from the cobbles. The Match Girl was nowhere in sight.
He sat by the statue and took out his pocket watch. Their faces were almost completely gone now. There were only shadows left. Then out of the corner of his eye he saw her brogues. The Match Girl was standing in front of him. Her lip was swollen, a trophy from her battle with the woman. It matched her bruised eye.
‘Can I sit beside ye, sir?’
‘Yes.’ He was planning to say “no”.
She sat close, her feet not touching the ground.
‘What happened to your eye?’ He had never thought to ask her before.
Her response was innocent. ‘If I don’t sell m’ matchboxes, sir.’
They both fell silent. The Master forced his eyes to the ground.
‘Who are they?’ She said pointing at the worn photo.
‘This is all I have left, young lady’, he said. ‘It’s fading away. Bit by bit.’
The Master noticed her legs swinging. He felt a pang of sadness, which she noted, forcing her legs to remain still.
‘Does that upset you, sir? I’ll stop if you want.’
‘No, by all means, swing.’
She resumed. The Master felt himself smile, only for a second.
‘Can ye remember what they look like, sir? The people in the photo.’
‘Not really, no.’
He expected pity and was taken aback slightly when she just shrugged.
‘Doesn’t matter anyway,’ she said, ‘ye will, when ye see them again.’
He was uncertain, but he found comfort in her whimsical nature. They fell into silence once again. Eventually he spoke, looking at her as if she was one of his orphans. ‘Did you steal the ruby and the sapphire?’
She shook her head.
‘No, sir. It was the swallow.’
She reached into her pocket and pulled out a beautiful, glittering sapphire. The Prince had lost his other eye.
‘Just like it gave me this,’ she explained. ‘I think it looks like glass.’
The Master wasn’t sure how to respond. He should reprimand her. She was a thief, after all. He should take the precious jewel and march her straight to the council. Yet there she sat with a look of complete and utter honesty. To her, the swallow gave her a gift. That gift she could give it to her father, who thought that gold could make him happy. She could go home instead of being judged by those who thought they had the right to judge. She needn’t be a beggar or a starving child. No, tonight the Match Girl with the frizzy hair and the rags was a princess with a fine gem. The Master shuffled to his feet.
‘I think I have spent too long outside. I have not fully recovered from my fever. Go home, child.’
They parted. He watched as she ran around the corner and out of sight. As he made his way to the orphanage, he thought he saw the swallow visit the children and the beggars. He shook his head. That would be a very unusual thing.
The newspapers announced it first. The Happy Prince was to be torn down. He had been stripped of his gold and jewels, his lead heart was cracked in the middle. He was no longer beautiful or useful, really, so the town councillors wanted to melt his body and erect a new, “possibly finer” statue. The Master knew that was impossible. He thought that The Happy Prince found its magnificence in its simplicity. In a smaller column, he read that the winter swallow had succumbed to the cold, having been found dead at the feet of The Happy Prince.
During his stroll into town, he saw the Prince’s lead heart and the swallow’s body lying on the dust pile. He stood there for some time. He was about to check his pocket watch and leave when a woman caught his eye. She was standing on the pile, dressed in white, her feet bare. He thought she would be cold. He blushed at such a silly thought. He watched as she collected the broken heart of the prince and the body of the bird. She smiled at him then, the Master Mathematician. He was sure that he had met her before.
The following day he sat in the cathedral with his orphans and prayed. Outside, the Match Girl played in new sunlight.
Karen is a prose and scriptwriter, as well as a playwright. She is currently writing a children’s novel and working on a number of new projects for the stage and screen. This is her second contribution to The Bohemyth, with her short story After Anna published back in Issue 15. You can follow her on twitter @Monsoonstorm19 or check out her daily blog threebagsofsugar.com.
The Beautiful Lie
– By Sarah McBride
The robin whose breast was as red as a ruby, sat on a delicate branch of the bare weeping willow which stretched its long frozen arms towards the lake.
Beside that same lake sat the young artist, tears glistening beneath his eyes. The robin thought, ‘how beautiful he looks, how he fits in so well with the world around him, made so melancholy by winter.’
The bird unlike the young artist had grown used to being alone. Most of the other birds had again flown south towards light and warmth. The robin had once spoken to a sparrow who told of long decadent days high up in a Jackal-Berry tree where his feathers were warmed by the African sun. He told of how he watched as the sky changed colour from sapphire to deepest amber and amethyst, how he breathed in the scent of the tree’s fragrant flowers and ate its fleshy fruit.
The robin had revelled in the story but secretly thought that his long wait to greet the spring ended in a more noble form of beauty. Only when the death, the dark and the cold of winter were embraced could the beauty of nature truly be appreciated.
And so the robin had savoured the spring, year after year. He loved how the buds appeared, filled with such promise. He loved how the golden narcissi nodded their glorious heads at their reflection in the lake, delighting in their own beauty. He loved how the crocuses opened their petals and welcomed in the grateful little bees that glutted themselves on pollen and saffron. Most of all he loved how the sun emerged from behind her cloudy seclusion and shone her warming rays on the re-awakening earth.
The young artist however, did not share the robin’s patience for he had always looked to nature as his guide, the inspiration for his art. This winter more than ever before, he lamented the lack of beauty in the world. So his paint palette lay dry and cracked on the floor and at the foot of his bed his easel stood forlorn, holding a painting as empty and colourless as the landscape.
One day as the young artist walked towards the lake he saw a beautiful young girl lying on the newly snow covered ground staring languidly at the sky. The girl had ivory skin and long golden hair which sprawled behind her like a fan; she wore a long purple coat.
‘What are you doing?’ He asked, noticing a red ribbon in the girl’s delicate hands.
‘I am making a carnation to put in the button-hole of my new coat. I have looked far and wide for one; in fact I have now wandered miles from home. So I have taken this ribbon from my hair and will make a flower of my own.’
The girl sang as she made the red ribbon into a beautiful flower and her song filled the silent air:
“I have seen true and beautiful flowers with my own eyes,
but soon those flowers withered and died,
so they had merely half the beauty of my own beautiful lie.”
The young artist was shocked by the song and asked; “How can a lie be beautiful?”
The girl did not speak; in fact she never spoke again. She got up and brought the finished carnation to the young artist, holding it close to his face, so close that it brushed the end of his nose. It was the most perfect flower he had ever seen; it was so perfect in fact he thought he could smell its perfume in the frost-kissed air.
As the young artist walked away it was plain to see there were no other footprints on the snow by the lake; aside that is from those of the faithful robin who gently hopped behind him all the way home.
The next morning more snow fell on the garden. The young artist sat in his room and opened the wooden box in which he kept his most vivid and vibrant paints.
The robin stood on the icy window sill, close by as ever and watched enthralled as he began to paint on to the empty canvas.
It was as though he had transcended reality and entered another world entirely. As the painting grew and changed so too did the young artist’s face, which now seemed quite incongruous in the winter landscape. His eyes glowed with joy and his pale cheeks flushed crimson.
The robin had turned his little feathered back on the desolate garden behind him and become quite mesmerised by the unfolding scene.
On the painting there were three mighty Oaks which stood like wise old Kings in a field of golden corn and three little children in short sleeves playing hide and seek between the sovereign trees. At the forefront of the painting stood a girl, hair as golden as the corn, which fell around her shoulders in waves. She had a face of pure, ethereal beauty and held a bunch of red carnations.
The robin wondered how someone could create such beauty from nothing. In fact the young artist, during those fleeting moments when his paintbrush slowed a little, had thought the very same. For he was quite sure there had been no girl at the lake that day, that she was in fact only a beautiful lie he had told himself.
And yet, how preferable she was to the truth and every day the painting grew more perfect.
‘Oh to bask in such beauty’ thought the robin and he could almost feel the warmth on his body, which in reality had now become quite frozen; until one day, the very day that the young artist finished his painting the little robin fell down dead.
The people of the village and villages from miles around heard of the painting and came to delight in it. Indeed it possessed a beauty which sustained them through one of the harshest winters they had ever known. In the presence of the art they felt quite warm and restored and the real world ceased to exist while they looked upon it.
When winter came to an end as it always does, spring and summer came and the sun shone on the bones of the bird. The autumn came and leaves feel on the bones of the bird. After another bleak winter where the bird lay a flower grew.
Sarah McBride writes poetry and prose. She studied for her BA in English at Queen’s University Belfast where she also graduated with an MA in Modern Literary Studies in 2012. She currently works as a Training Support Officer & lives in Mid Ulster. Sarah is composing a collection of Fairy Tales and recently started writing her first children’s novel.
A Trump Card
– By Kevin O’Farrell
Horace Fortune was a frivolous fool. This was the opinion of his uncle Maximilian; and to be fair, it was not one he was alone in, nor was it a conclusion he had rushed to, for he had practically raised the boy after his parents’ idiotic death by misadventure. Horace’s father had been partners with Maximilian in a company they founded together, but which only became stupendously successful after his demise. Now Maximilian was dying, and so he summoned his brother’s son to see him in his final hours. They had not met in five years, since Horace turned eighteen.
Anyone expecting a sentimental deathbed recantation of the unadulterated pursuit of wealth simply did not know the man whose motto was the unoriginal, if pithy, time is money. And for his nephew he had in mind not reconciliation, but revenge. What the lad needed to be taught was the value of the wealth he had so undeservedly been born into.
To underline the seriousness of his point, he spoke in a dramatic whisper and grasped Horace’s hand, as if seconds from death (it was the only way to ensure the dolt’s remembering): ‘You will continue to receive your annuity,’ he told him, ‘but it will be reduced by half with each successive year. The majority of the estate will remain with your cousins, for you simply cannot be trusted with it. You should be comfortable’ he added sternly, ‘with what I have given you, but I want you also to try and do something for yourself, boy.’ He gestured to the butler and he on cue brought forth the antique timepiece and handed it to Horace. ‘Open it,’ Maximilian prompted. Inside the golden pocketwatch was a sombre photograph of Maximilian, and on its face his motto was inscribed. ‘Heed those words boy, heed them. Every second counts. I learnt that when I was your age and from then on I never wasted another of them. This piece is extremely valuable y’know, its value increases every day – so should sure yours, boy; so should yours. Keep it always, that is all I ask you; keep it as your guide.’
The theatricality of this final audience certainly did ensure it stayed with Horace, though in rendering it so many times he rather forgot which parts had actually been said and which were his own improvised additions. He did indeed carry the watch with him always and sometimes when drunk would open it and mock at his uncle’s image. His fortunes declined in perfect tandem with the years, as ordained; and he did nothing to reverse this, because for one he was having too good a time, and for another did he not have a trump card in his pocket? Finally, time caught up with him and he brandished it cheerfully to the city’s top jewellers. As he sat waiting to go in, Maximilian’s stern countenance seemed now to be smiling slyly from the watch. It barely covered the cost of Horace’s funeral.
Kevin O’Farrell is 29 years old and from Dublin, where he still lives. Last year he completed a doctorate in English Literature at Oxford.
In order to adequately handle the new submissions procedure, and because I want The Bohemyth to continue to be a journal with a collaborative spirit, I am seeking out people interested in becoming Assistant Editors/Readers.
If you wish to be considered, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, and include your level of interest, any writing/editorial experience, and indicate if you only want to read Short Ficton/Poetry/Essays or a combination of these.
These are not paid positions; they are for people who love literature and want experience.
More information will be provided about the nature of the process upon receipt of your application.
Ideally, I want to have the Assistant Editors confirmed by the start of November, in order to begin the new era of The Bohemyth.
It is with greatly mixed feelings that I can inform you that Alice Walsh, founding editor of The Bohemyth, has stepped down in order to concentrate on her own writing.
If you know Alice and her work, you will have no doubts that success awaits her, but I’m sure we all wish her luck.
Now that the editorial reins have been passed on to me The Bohemyth will be undergoing changes to design and submissions.
More info will be published later this month, but for now I can inform you that, from December, The Bohemyth will be published monthly, in the first week of each month. We will publish Short Fiction + Photography + Poetry + Essays. For now, we are CLOSED to submissions.
I will also be sounding out interest in people becoming Assistant Editors/Readers.
For everyone who has been involved during the first year of The Bohemyth – whether you submitted, read, or promoted – sincerest thanks.