Catherine Farmer lives in Co. Wicklow and works in Ashford Film Studios. She studied Media Production in Liberties Media College after which she moved to San Francisco, where she lived for 10 years. Always interested in Arts & Culture, she came to love photography having received her first digital camera as a gift in 2004. Capturing images of nature is what she loves most. She has participated in several exhibitions and has won a number of local photography competitions.
In the corridor beside the gantries, she hid with her hands in Oliver’s shoes. She leaned right down, till her cheek was on the carpet, feeling the spread of her fingers where his toes would be.
Downstairs, on stage, the performance was coming to the end of Act I. She sighed, sat back up, and put the shoes back under where the rest of his Act II costume was hanging. She liked to stay here during the show, officially as costume designer ready for quick changes. In this small theatre building they were renting, nothing was soundproofed. No one wanted it to be their footsteps or their conversation that threw off a whole performance. The actor’s voices created a silence that was like a spell; complete and unbreakable. For this, she thought anyway, Oliver’s voice was the most effective because he made it softer. She felt like he understood the potential of the building, forced it to breath in time with him by drawing back just a little. Under this spell, no one could ask her what she was doing with shoes on her hands; no one was supposed to walk this way at all. In this silence, her secret, her adoration, breathed with the building, with Oliver.
She followed his lines on her script:
Malachy: I want you with me Niamh! When you go, I want you with me.
Niamh: But where can we go? What’ll we do when we get there?
Malachy: We’ll go as far as we can. I want to beat those fucking rain clouds Niamh. I can’t take more cold! If we try to leave now, it’ll be hours before anyone notices. We can disappear, and no one will even know it. Maybe no one will even mind, in the end Niamh.
She loved how Oliver said “Niamh”, with two syllables, like Nee-Uv.
She didn’t, though, like the play all that much. It was sentimental and new, and the director was a fretful angry man; David. He came to every rehearsal in the same denim jacket and sat there with his laptop out, covered in the stickers you get from Amnesty International when you sign a petition in the street. She’d seen him, peering over that screen, leering at Molly. Molly was playing Niamh, and Niamh seemed some kind of fantasy for him, following Malachy all the way around the world with her dark hair and her sweet, quick heart only to die on a tiny boat in the night in an unfamiliar sea. David screamed and shouted and ran things over by an hour, or cut them short when everyone had got up at 7am. She hated him for his cruelty, but more for what he had written into life. It was only the second night, and already rumours about Molly and Oliver were falling off the stage and into the real world.
She waited until she heard the murmur of the crowd before standing up and tucking her script away back into her bag. Molly was the first up the stairs from backstage at the bottom of the corridor.
“How’s it going?”
“Alright I think, bit low energy maybe”, Molly replied, taking the tights she was holding out to her and starting to pull them on under her skirt.
“It sounded good from here anyway”. She held out the rest of the costume.
“Thanks a million Laura” Molly said, and turned towards the dressing room. Laura watched her go for a moment. Molly was tying her hair up; she hoped she hadn’t been on stage this whole time with that bobbin on her wrist.
“Could you give me a hand with this?” Oliver. Laura had made him a shirt for Act II, but had put the fastening very high up on the neck by mistake, so that it was hard to do up yourself. She nodded.
He was taller than her, and now she was eye level with his chin, feeling his breath on her hands. Laura felt lately like there was a flood that followed her, that she was only ever just about ahead of. Here, she felt it rise, coming to rest just under her nose as she did the fastening. He lifted his chin to give her space, and she wanted to throw her arms around his neck and lift herself up, away from the flood, up to his height where it couldn’t get her. She took a small, extra second, and stood back from him. The water sank a little.
“There” she smiled.
“Thanks!” he said, and bounced away down the corridor. The water drained down the stairs after him. She smiled to herself that he didn’t feel the need to check his costume in the mirror.
She heard a shout for their five-minute call, and watched the rest of the cast traipse past her, back downstairs. The lights went darker, and she sat back down and took her script out again.
There was never much of a routine before the play started, always a lost pair of shoes, or a new tantrum from David. No one really noticed then, except Laura, how late Oliver was on the fourth night. Ten minutes until open, her breaths were coming shallow with worry, and David stormed into the corridor. He seemed not to notice Laura, but she felt like he knew someone was watching. He was performative, like an angry person in a film, pacing around on his phone
“Fucking nothing!” he screamed, and kicked the piping running along the wall. “Molly!”
Molly came out to the corridor then. Laura liked Molly. They had been in the same class at college. They always commented nice things on each other’s pictures on instagram. Once they had run into each other leaving the library and gone for a drink and Molly had cried about her sick cat to her.
“I can’t get through to Oliver, have you heard from him?”
Molly shook her head.
“If he doesn’t show up in the next like two fucking minutes then I’m gonna do his part tonight. Just to give you a heads up”.
Laura saw real fear cross Molly’s face at the thought of acting across from David, of acting in love with him.
David could no more do this to Oliver than to Molly. He was too cruel to stand where he stands, say his words in his clothes.
She gathered Oliver’s costume up, waited until the cast came out and started downstairs, before slipping into the middle of them, four pins in her mouth so that she’d look like she had a task to do. Downstairs, she got changed in the dark backstage, rolling up the legs of the trousers, pulling the shoelaces as tight as she could, pinning the shirt at the back to make it fit better. The fire announcement began as she stuffed her hair into his hat, patting around the edges for strays. She could hear David stomping around upstairs, and hoped that he’d still care enough about the play to stop making noise soon.
She waited for Oliver’s, or Malachy’s, first scene, running over his lines in her head. She knew them perfectly. She had studied them like they were sacred the past few days, had come to far more rehearsals than she really needed to hear Oliver say them. Her hands shook with worry, with the burden of filling his place, with disgust at the thought of David standing in these shoes.
She felt a hand on her shoulder and turned around. David was there, with the rest of the cast peering at her from behind him. Without waiting for even a gesture from him, she turned and slipped on stage, too early for her scene, and paced at the back. As she became Malachy , her anxiety dissipated. She was safe here, in Oliver’s place, holding something precious for him.
The performance went completely smoothly. They heard from Oliver at the interval; he had been knocked off his bike and had a concussion and a broken ankle. He was safe, and she imagined Molly texting him later about what had happened, and him seeing her name and imagining her in his clothes.
Oliver couldn’t come in the next day. When Laura arrived, Molly and David were screaming at each other. She waited in the corridor, with his costume clutched to her chest. She heard a door slam and footsteps and Molly rushed into the corridor. She said that David had left, that we were to run the show ourselves tonight.
“Thank you so much Laura”. They hugged, the bundled costume caught between them.
The same thing happened the next few nights, until David seemed to give up on the whole production. He stopped even watching, spending the whole show smoking on the balcony and then only going downstairs at the very end to collect his praises and his ticket takings. The cast was grateful to her for creating such a distance between them and David. Every night they flocked around her, chatting, asking for help with their hair, laughing with her. She thought all the time of Oliver, wondered what he was hearing about what was going on, if he was curious enough to come watch, feeling that same flood rising and falling around her.
She still changed backstage in the dark for every show. She preferred it to be dark; it made it easier to forget herself, to inhabit Oliver. On stage, she tried to copy everything, his accent, his gait, squinting slightly to change the shape of her eyes, and always looking out, past the yellow lights, to where he might be in the audience. As she walked home and as she fell asleep every night she thought of nothing but his eyes on her.
On the thirteenth night, the second last, she changed as usual in the dark. As she was tightening the lace on her shoe, it snapped off in her hand. She had pulled too hard and it was only cheap and elastic. The break pinched her skin a little. She tested the shoe; it was very loose, much too big for her. She tucked the raw end of the lace inside and stood up as the fire announcement came on.
As she stepped out, gripping the inside of the shoe with her toes, she went closer to the edge of the stage than usual, so she could see better beyond the lights. The audience was small tonight; he was not there. The weeks’ worth of hoping and getting nowhere weighed heavy on her; she was tired. It was her line but she waited, let the silence grow. She walked out of step with Oliver’s blocking, and took her hat off, feeling her hair fall down around her shoulders. She didn’t pay much attention as the scenes passed her by, always looking outwards, wide-eyed.
She turned, at last, to Molly:
Malachy: I want you with me Niamh! When I go, I want you with me.
She stepped forward, and left her loose shoe behind. She used her foot to loosen the other one.
Niamh: I can’t leave here, what will I do? Where will we go?
As she spoke, Laura untucked and unbuttoned her shirt. She faced forwards at centre stage. Molly was backing away, until she was outside the line of the lights, almost off stage.
Malachy: As far as we can. I want to beat those fucking rain clouds Niamh.
Laura felt herself begin to shout. The rest of her clothes began to come away. They were not hers and they didn’t fit her. They slipped off without her trying.
I cannot take more of the cold. If we try to leave now, it’ll be hours before anyone notices.
Laura stood on stage naked, the trail of the costume behind her, staring
straight into the yellow lights above her.
We can disappear and no one will even know it! Maybe no one will even mind, in the end.
Image Credit: Peter Hershey
He examined the plant as the sun set over the skyline. A day out of the glasshouse had not improved the colour of the tomatoes as hoped, but the vines had wilted. The rusty screech of the back-door hinge announced her arrival to this quiet space at the back of the terraced house.
“I must oil that later. Are you at your flowers?”
“I don’t do flowers, only edible stuff,” he barked. “Organic. It’ll be good for you.”
She was peering into the ramshackle glasshouse, imbibing the chlorophyll. He watched, willing her not to touch anything. A flicker of movement at the back-bedroom window next door caught his eye. Someone had noticed him raise his voice to her, again. Dusk was looming.
“You’ve a lovely crop of gherkins lovey,” she said. Her voice was tinny since that last surgery.
“Cucumbers,” he snapped.
“They’re not gherkins ‘til you bloody pickle um, Mam. Cucumbers”
She sighed and stood before him, smiling. He wondered why she persisted with these inane conversations. Tensing, he shifted his gaze to the window next door again. No movement to be seen. When he glanced at his mother again, she had focussed her attention on his barrel of collected rainwater.
“Oh Jesus,” she said.
“There’s a dead bird in there. Don’t look now love.”
He edged toward her and eyed the oily sheen of the water, interrupted by the greasy feathers of a swallow.
“He won’t get back to Africa now anyway,” she said, fishing it out with her right hand.
“God, Mam! There’s germs an all sorts. You have to be careful of bugs.”
“Don’t you worry, pet, I’ll get rid of it.”
She lifted the lid of the steel bin in the corner and replaced it with a clang, wiping her hand on her apron afterwards. He imagined bacteria flourishing all over it, creeping all over the eroded Kiss The Cook embellishment. The pathogens would garnish whatever awful meal she was preparing indoors too. Endotoxin stew.
She paused then, hovering along the fencing that separated his garden from that crowd next door. The shrieks of seemingly happy children permeated the air of the estate on either side of him. Glancing at his mother he was struck by how thin she seemed. Though the evening was fine, and the coral sky beautiful in its way, this close-proximity living was not something a true country woman like her would ever get used to. The August wind picked up, whipping the scant remains of her hair into her eyes and she jumped. She would need a scarf for her head soon, or a wig, he thought.
“Must go back to the dinner love, come in after me now won’t you.”
When he was sure he had heard her close out the back door, he entered the glasshouse, and tore down the last of the nests.
Anna Foley lives in her native East Cork. She completed an MA in Creative Writing in UCC in 2016. She has had several pieces published in various journals including The Lonely Crowd, The Incubator, The Quarryman and the Honest Ulsterman.
Image credit: Markus Spiske
A woman, blonde, blue-eyed, glides down a white-sand beach. Waves crash. Sea breeze tousles her long tresses. Her translucent sarong flutters. Her tiny white bikini covers very little. Her thigh muscles ripple with each graceful step.
A man, chiseled, bronzed, pads toward her across the wet, white sand. He wears a confused expression. Breakers roar. His unbuttoned white tailored shirt whips in the wind. Close-up: pecs, abs, face, abs, pecs. From neck to navel, sweat droplets bead and run.
A jaguar, lithe, limber, races through the lush jungle beyond the beach.
Cue the strings.
The woman and man embrace in slow motion against a backdrop of tumultuous surf. His fingers dance up her spine. Her lips gnaw at his stubbly chin. “Passion.” He holds her cheek in his hand. She wraps an arm around his waist. “Pleasure.” He brushes her locks out of her eyes. She paws his tight rump. “Destiny.” They tumble into the sand in a passionate heap.
Sunlight refracts through sea spray. Surf pounds the beach. From the edge of the jungle, a jaguar preens and roars.
“Fugue. The new fragrance. For men.”
A woman, chiseled, bronzed, pads across the wet, white sand. Her unbuttoned white tailored shirt whips in the cold tropical wind. It’s snowing. Close-up: breasts, abs, face, abs, breasts. From neck to navel, goosebumps.
A man, blonde, blue-eyed, plods down a white, snowy beach. He wears a confused expression. Waves crash soundlessly. Cold wind tousles his long tresses. His translucent sarong flutters. His tiny white bikini covers very little. His thigh muscles ripple with each plodding footfall.
A jaguar, loose-limbed, lissome, races up the snow-covered sand in a red Alfa Romeo Spider. The top is down. He sports Ray-Bans.
Cue the harps.
The woman and man embrace in slow motion against a backdrop of gathering storm. Her fingers dance up his spine. His lips gnaw at her stubbly chin. “Passion.” She holds his cheek in her hand. He wraps an arm around her waist. “Pleasure.” She brushes his locks out of his eyes. He paws her tight rump. “Destiny.” They tumble into the accumulating powder in a passionate, shivering heap.
Sunlight refracts through blowing snow. Ice crystals form in the surf swell. The jaguar spins donuts around them in his bright red convertible, roaring.
“The new fragrance for men: Fugue.”
A blonde, blue-eyed ski bunny glides down a snow-covered slope. A thick crust of ice glistens on the surface of a mountain lake. A cold wind tousles the long tresses trailing from her stocking cap. Her white bikini covers very little. Her thigh muscles ripple with each graceful turn.
A man, chiseled, bronzed, pads toward her across the wet, white slope carrying hot toddies. He wears furry boots and a confused expression. His unbuttoned white tailored ski jacket whips in the icy wind. Close-up: pecs, abs, face, abs, pecs. From neck to navel, goosebumps.
A jaguar, svelte, supple, races up the snowy shore in a red Alfa Romeo Spider. The top is down. He sports a snow-leopard suit and Ray-Bans.
Cue the banjos.
The woman and man embrace in slow motion against a backdrop of snow-covered mountains. His mittens dance up her spine. Her chapped lips gnaw at his numb, stubbly chin. “Passion.” He holds her cheek in his mitten. She wraps an arm, blue with cold, around his waist. “Pleasure.” He slides off her stocking cap, pawing at her sweaty, matted locks. She pokes him in the tight rump with the handles of her ski poles. “Destiny.” She loses her balance, and they tumble into a heap of poles and skis and awkward, icy passion, hot toddies spilling in the snow.
Wind whips powder into stinging clouds. Ice on the lake creaks and moans. The jaguar in the snow-leopard suit adjusts his Ray-Bans, revving the engine of his bright red convertible and roaring.
“Men: The new Fugue. For fragrance.”
A blonde, blue-eyed farmer’s daughter splashes up out of a river. Summer sun carries the secret scent of tilled loam. Snow-capped mountains tower over the valley. She wrings out her long tresses. Her tiny, non-existent white bikini covers very little. Her thigh muscles ripple as she lies back in the soft riverbank grass.
A man, chiseled, bronzed, pads toward her across a fallow field. He wears a confused expression. Cicadas hiss and rattle. His unbuttoned tailored white overalls flap and sway in the warm wind. From neck to navel, sweat droplets bead and run.
A jaguar, spry, lithesome, races through the cornfields on a red Alfa Romeo tractor. The top is down. He sports a straw hat and Ray-Bans. In his paw, a .12-gauge shotgun.
Cue the fiddles.
The farmer’s daughter and man embrace in slow motion against a backdrop of cornfields, river, and snow-capped mountains. Her spine dances down his fingers. His stubbly lips gnaw at her chin. “Passion.” She holds his hand against her cheek. He wraps a sweaty waist inside her arm. “Pleasure.” She brushes his eyes out of her locks. He rumps her tight paws. “Destiny.” They tumble to the grass in a disheveled heap.
Sunlight refracts through dust clouds. The cicada clatter swells. The straw-hatted jaguar barrels toward the lovers at full throttle, adjusting his Ray-Bans, cocking his .12-gauge, and roaring.
“New. The fragrance for men. Fugue.”
A woman, blue-eyed, blonde, glides down a bright, white street. Cars crash. Fetid subway wind tousles her long tresses. Murky late-autumn sunlight casts a glare on mountains of snow-capped dumpster garbage. Her translucent thigh muscles flutter. Her tiny white bikini covers very little. Her sarong ripples with each graceful step.
A man, bronzed, chiseled, pads toward her across the wet, white sidewalk. He wears a confused expression. Traffic roars. New Yorkers, too. His unbuttoned white tailored shirt whips in the fetid subway wind. Close-up: pecs, abs, face, abs, pecs. From neck to navel, raindrops bead and run.
A jaguar, limber, lithe, races through the concrete jungle, blowing stoplights and cutting off cabbies, in a red Alfa Romeo Spider. The top is down, despite the drizzling rain. He sports Ray-Bans and can’t see where he’s going.
Cue the jangly electric guitars.
The woman and man embrace in slow motion against a backdrop of rush hour road rage. His fingers dance up her spine. Her lips gnaw at his stubbly chin. Drivers honk, bleat, and make obscene hand gestures, then someone throws a bottle, which explodes in a spray of jagged glass. “Passion.” He holds her cheek in his hand. She wraps an arm around his waist. Rats squeak and scurry, gazing at the lovers from their snow-capped mountains of dumpster garbage. “Pleasure.” He brushes her locks out of her eyes. She paws his tight rump. A divorced secretary in a no-nonsense gray skirt and glowing white Reeboks shoves them accidentally-on-purpose and yells, “Get a room!”, face plastered with disgust and envy. “Destiny.” They tumble to the filthy, glass-shattered pavement in a passionate heap.
The trickle of rain turns to sleet. The air feels cold and greasy. The jaguar stands upright on the hood of his red Alfa Romeo Spider, Les Paul sunburst in his paws, a Marshall stack big as a bus behind him, strumming jangly power chords and roaring.
“Fugue for men. The new fragrance.”
A woman, bronzed, chiseled, pads down a wet, white sidewalk. Traffic roars. Mimes, too. Her unbuttoned white tailored shirt whips in the sweet spring wind. Close-up: breasts, abs, face, abs, breasts. From neck to navel, sweat droplets bead and run.
A man, blonde, blue-eyed, glides down a bright, white street. He wears a confused expression. Buses hit delivery trucks hit cars hit motorcycles hit mopeds hit bicycles hit pedestrians. The unfamiliar wail of Parisian sirens. The wind off speeding emergency vehicles tousles his long tresses. His translucent sarong flutters. His tiny white bikini covers very little. His thigh muscles ripple with each graceful step.
A jaguar, lissome, loose-limbed, races through the concrete jungle in a red Alfa Romeo Spider, spinning around the Arc de Triomphe and slaloming down the Champs Elysées, a smoldering Gauloise between his lips. The top is down. He sports Ray-Bans, a jaunty-angled beret, and a crooked smile.
Cue the accordions.
The woman and man embrace in slow motion against a backdrop of other women and men and women and women and men and men embracing in slow motion. His spine dances up her fingers. Her stubbly chin gnaws at his lips. “Passion.” She holds his cheek in her hand. She wraps her waist inside his arm. “Pleasure.” She brushes his locks out of his eyes. Her tight rump slides beneath his paws. “Destiny.” They tumble into the tulips in a passionate heap, along with at least two other couples.
Sunlight refracts through Gauloise smoke. The warm breeze carries the scent of daffodils, crêpes, and fresh espresso. In his bright red convertible, the jaguar barrels down the steps of Sacré-Coeur, smashes through the Louvre, and drives straight up the Eiffel Tower, roaring, “Sous les pavés, la plage!”
“Fragrance: The new Fugue. For men.”
A woman, blonde, bronzed, glides down a giant golden dune. Sunshine assaults her. Hot, arid wind tousles her long tresses. Her translucent kaftan flutters. Her tiny white bikini covers very little. Her thigh muscles ripple with each graceful step.
A man, chiseled, blue-eyed, pads toward her across the sandy void. He wears a confused expression. The wind howls through a bleached human skull. A javelin sand boa constricts around a wayward goat. The man’s unbuttoned white tailored shirt whips in the wind. Close-up: pecs, abs, face, abs, pecs. From neck to navel, sweat droplets bead and run.
A jaguar, supple, svelte, races up and over the vast dunes in a red Alfa Romeo Spider. The top is down, despite the blowing sand. He sports Ray-Bans and a turban. He sips sweet mint tea.
Cue the ouds.
The woman and man embrace against a backdrop of spitting camels, endless sand, and empty sky. His fingers dance up her spine. Her lips gnaw at his stubbly chin. It’s 120 degrees, and there’s no shade. “Passion.” He holds her cheek in his leathery hand. She wraps a sunburned arm around his waist. The blue dome of sky stretches and shimmers. “Pleasure.” He brushes her locks out of her eyes. She paws his tight rump. On the horizon, an enormous sandstorm rages. “Destiny.” They tumble down that golden dune in a flailing, passionate heap.
The roiling wall of sand blots out the sun. The wind carries the scent of recent slaughter. The jaguar presses a button, transforming his bright red convertible into a bright red coupe in which to weather the storm. Sand and wind hammer the windshield. He preens in the lighted vanity mirror, roaring.
“Fugue. The new fragrance. For men.”
J. T. Townley has published in Harvard Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Prairie Schooner, The Threepenny Review, and other magazines and journals. His stories have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net award. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia and an MPhil in English from Oxford University, and he teaches at the University of Virginia. To learn more, visit jttownley.com.
Image Credit: Jakob Owens
At the opening night party of a writers’ festival, I watch a lady with fine, wheat-coloured hair. People surround her and she nods, happy and clutching her white wine like a string of beads.
‘I want to be her,’ I whisper in Aarna’s ear, as the lady’s disced earring rotates and blinks.
The next day, we see her on the stage between a famous Australian cartoonist and a famous Australian restauranteur. The panel is on the juncture between writing and art. From my plastic chair in the audience, I learn her name is Janet Hawley, and she’s been interviewing artists—mainly Australian, but also international—since the 1970s. I’m beginning to recognise the feeling I have. It’s a feeling I’ve had before.
Like when, on a flight to New York, a woman called Prudence slid into the space two seats away and waited a moment before asking me about my book. I like the way she rubbed almond oil into her palms. A week later, her best friend’s daughter Katie walked me around Columbia’s journalism school. Eliza has told me our star charts correlate. She told me while we sipped drinks bloody with Campari.
I don’t know much about Australian art but Hawley makes me want to learn. After the applause Aarna and I join the droves of older women heading to the Collins Booksellers Book Tent to buy her book, which is yellow, tome-ish, and has an attractive cover. Encounters with interesting women needn’t exclusively be In Real Life. Andrea Lee wrote an entire short story collection called Interesting Women, and the story titles are things like: ‘Anthropology’, ‘Interesting Women’, and ‘Brothers and Sisters Around the World.’ I’ve since told Aarna about the collection. We first bonded while talking about therapy on the Paris metro.
Artists in Conversation
The heat in the tent is white. Beside me, Aarna’s flushed. On the stage, Janet Hawley reads from her book, her hair falling forward over the sides of her face.
“I knew Brett Whiteley slightly from his first superstar show, held in Sydney’s Bonython Art Gallery in the 1970s, on his return from living overseas for a decade. Every art lover, hippie and socialite in town […] I was taken to a quiet room off the courtyard, and Whiteley entered for the pre-arranged interview. [He] appeared to be in a surreal daze, big eyes under a wide halo of curling ginger-blond hair […] A rapid staccato flow of disjointed, disconnected words spewed out of his mouth [but] when he wasn’t stoned, he was the most lucid of speakers.”
When it’s over, I ask Aarna who Brett Whiteley is. Aarna and I have looked at a lot of things together: mauve waterlilies, Karlie Kloss off-duty, raison-studded buns from Poilane. She taught me to like contemporary art and made me move briskly between nail-riddled Jesuses in gli Uffizi. Slapping along the Seine, we congratulated ourselves over our ability to make analogies which we found meaningful: ‘the difference between a regular and patent leather finish on a Repetto flat is similar to that between the Eiffel Tower lit and the Eiffel Tower sparkling.’ I am grateful to Aarna for bringing me to the Byron Bay Writers’ Festival, putting me in contact with spiritual mentors and accompanying me as we buy the same book— — —
‘You must deepen the game by adding contradiction, argument, toughen a picture by having a point of tension in it, risk, obliterate, edit, or the painting won’t have mystery’.
‘Paintings are like slides, skins off God’s eyes’.
‘I love the calligraphy of dog wees in Paris’.
‘I paint pictures in order to understand; I exhibit pictures to show that I don’t’.
‘The immediate effect was a heightening of reality, in that everything I looked at took on an intensity, an expandingness’.
The mud at the festival is cakey orange. Small pools turn violet in the afternoon sun. Aarna and I sit with our heads bowed grazing fingers through the new grass. I wonder what Wendy Whiteley wore to her husband’s art party in the 1970s. Necklaces, probably, but how shaped? I think about layers of bright, angular beads. Aarna stares off into the adjacent paddock to a band above the horizon of pale, clean blue.
East Sydney Dreams
Aarna and I get invited to drinks at the bottom floor of a Darlinghurst pub. There’s a new guy there—tall with flowing hair. He thinks Australian cinema is boring then tells me about an article he’s read in The New Yorker about the Tamil Tigers. He won’t stop clutching our legs, as if shaking his point into our hearts.
At twenty-one, I was thrilled at the thought of Boticelli’s ‘Primavera’. My stupider self squirts out of me and I agree: ‘Yeah, it’s all just grit and pain and landscapes.’
‘Heroin’, agrees Aarna.
The Whiteley studio is a stone’s throw from my house. I go there for penance, where a nude drawing class is set against Brett’s sprawling Alchemy—lashes of paint, transmogrified birds and body parts. ‘Climbing my tree, green branch, green branch, dead branch, break, fall heavily to ground’. Books and posters and wall scribblings, people murmur around a box of Japanese brushes and the room is wide and slabbed in light. I trace dreamy, dizzy circles and do not feel the need to talk.
In Lavender Bay, fish drift in milky green water. A feather hangs on the surface and seaweed billows beneath. There’s a boardwalk to the Whiteley house behind the rail sidings. The passage up to Wendy’s garden is torn open and soft green. Inside, flowers rupture from stems and leaves drip over a couple in the undergrowth holding hands. Women thread inky routes in jogging gear and groomsmen idle in a line. When you push further in, the sounds become more dulled. And you’re eaten, fall into the earth with Brett’s ashes.
There are a lot of paintings of Jesus in gli Uffizi, and I tried to get to all of them, reading the wobbly translations because I thought I should. Margaret Olley, aged twenty-five, joined the ‘droves of Australian expatriates heading to London and Europe.’ With hindsight, she felt she ‘first went to Europe too young’.
‘I meet [interesting women] everywhere these days, now that there is no longer such a thing as an interesting man.’
As a student reporter I wrote articles about things I saw in Italy and France. Pasta, the Arno, the time my hair caught fire while holding forth on Italian cuisine. What makes the culture in Europe more important than a stretch of open sky?
The Whiteleys have inflected my dreams. So have Prudence and Katie. As Katie walks me to the Columbia subway station she tells me it’s a shame I’m not sticking around to meet her friends. I am regretful too, though there will be others: Mareike, who feeds me strips of German literature from her Berlin apartment or Stef, a law school mate who has similar feelings about men, scents, history—we joke in change rooms trying on club skivvies.
Meanwhile, I read Helen Garner and all the memoir pieces in Meanjin. Words refract off sun-baked concrete, splay through rustling boughs during dawn walks in Holder. The writing is as seminal as statues in Florence. What art is privileged is often dependent on resources. My copies are full of bark and sticks because I read them on the ground during lunch breaks at ANU. I give Peter Carey to a friend in England, though it’s a while before I’ll discover Andrea Lee. In her collection, diasporic women flirt with Milanese men, tussle with locals on Madagascan isles, have reluctant heady chats with women they meet in Thai resorts. Helen Garner is thanked in the acknowledgements.
 Janet Hawley, Artists in Conversation (Slattery Media Group, 2012) 93-94
 Brett Whiteley in Hawley, 101.
 Brett Whiteley in Hawley, 103.
 Brett Whiteley in Hawley, 102.
 Brett Whiteley in Hawley, 98.
 Brett Whiteley in Hawley, 99.
 Brett Whiteley in Hawley, 98.
 Hawley, 59.
 Andrea Lee, Interesting Women (Fourth Estate, 2003) 118.
Jacinta Mulders is from the Blue Mountains, Australia. She studied Italian film and law before completing her MA in Prose Fiction at the University of East Anglia. Her writing has appeared in Meanjin, Seizure, Oyster, and Pollen. She lives in London.
Image Credit: Marcos Paixão
Robert R. Thurman is an artist, musician and poet. His work has appeared in such publications as Coldfront Magazine, 3:AM Magazine, Columbia Journal, Ars Medica: A Journal of Medicine the Arts and Humanities, Rune: The MIT Journal of Arts and Letters and Exquisite Corpse.
There is a gap in the treeline reminding me of a door. I don’t stare at it because I have never cared for doors. Light, in just one instance, struggles to make its way past the cluster of leaves and stays on the other side, the side I cannot see. However, I suspect moving further up the bank would grant me greater vision. Still, I don’t move. The sunlight is often too much at this time of day anyway- always low in the sky and dying arrogantly. The cold can have me instead. And of course, it does. It’s not that I necessarily concede to the winter wind, I hardly say oh yes, freeze me but the cold translates even silence into negation. Doesn’t it?
My baby boy cries. His tiny legs look like they’re kicking out, thrashing as a wild boar does, fighting at the cotton blanket around him. I continue in my own peace and mutter, deliberately, I don’t mind, it’s all fine, and I don’t, I don’t mind anything in the world. Only am I thinking- when will it be midnight?
His wailing continues outside of my personal quiet and my shoulders bear the brunt of this sharp Icelandic evening. When I was a child, I imagined coldness would have died before I grew up. Is that not what it is to be young, I mean, achingly young, to believe age carries the ability to minimise the brunt of frost, that with time bodies become immune to cold. My Grandmother gave me her gloves to wear in the park once because I’d forgotten my own. I didn’t think her hands would suffer much, they would not go blue like mine, she would not go cold like her granddaughter- so young and innocent. The babe, sobbing, ceaseless. He feels the cold but doesn’t even know the word – so what is his right to cry so hysterically? It is nothing other than a sensation to him.
Gradually, the sun falls on its last legs. My proof God is fiction, right there in the sky. The light stops behind the trees. Surely should it not burst through treelines and drown me in warmth? If His design were adequate, should it not drown us freezing ones in what we need to be drowned in? I was cold when I was first told about God, too. In a Church, mid-December. Singing simple little hymns, trying to mask my jealousy, terrified the others could smell it on me. I was jealous of them all, everybody else in the church and the world, for I wanted to be His only child. Adored in my unique humanity, given everything like a brat. I was twisted even at six. I knew if He truly loved everyone, then He truly loved no one.
The baby doesn’t cry at this moment, only whimpers in small cat-like murmurs. The hysterics will begin again soon though. They always do, but the sunset’s beauty assails. Fog carries inside itself an element of the unknown, which is lost with urgency as soon as it smears the waters icy surface. Think of a pianist. Think of his hands, having composed wonderfully intricate and revered music all of his life, suddenly fingers crippled by arthritis mere days before his transcendent masterpiece meets completion. And he never can finish it, obviously. This is the only way I can describe how fog touches the water. All fog touches water this way and shall do for evermore. I, too, have been touched like that. Touched and lost a great dream afterward.
Do you know, Freyja, you shouldn’t eat so much and you shouldn’t eat it all so messily? Both parents had scowled at me with fury. I was eight years old and around my little dry lips was a thick mess of dark red sauce and between them long strings of pasta hung out. My cheeks were bloated like a fat dog’s, but I continued, stuffing my hands with sweets and cream and chocolate and whatever else was on the table in front of me. I kept going, hands full of food flying to my mouth and back to the plates, and when my sister left her fish I ate that as well. Later, as night lapped into morning once more, as though one were a river and one were a bank, I thudded into the bathroom as it all came back up again as vomit. I made sure to be loud as I retched and retched, clutching my belly and sniffling, the tiles cold on my scared skin. I hoped my Mother would hear and either rattle me or hold up my hair and kiss my cheeks. Singing it’s all right, it’s all right but she didn’t come. And I don’t love her very much now, not like I used to, and I think it’s because I remember that night. Everything adopts a nihilistic quality when you cry for somebody and they don’t come. You give yourself over to a default apathy, which is of course the ugliest and easiest thing.
Screaming from the edge of the lake; the child is upset again. When will there be just one moment without the damn sound of bawling? I want- I think- dawn. When everyone is either silent or sleeping. The night deafens with its noise. Baby, just shut up, please! For your Mother- please be quiet! You cry, you cry, you cry, nothing changes you.
The sun now just a white circular bone- it takes ages for me to realise that in fact it’s a freshly born moon. Sun is gone. I am dizzy, full of milk, and hungry. I will fish tomorrow. At first light, when there are red marks on my skin from how deeply these rocks dig into me when I’m laid upon them. Sleeping.
He screams and this time the shrill sound bleaches me thoroughly. I stand and walk to him, and I look and wait, wait for him to look at me too. He does eventually, with eyes that- for me- are just right. No other eyes I’ve seen are as right. If I were to take a single photograph into the ground with me or with me into cremation, I would take a small polaroid of his darling face. I stand there and love him. Simply, unmoving, loving him. Then, I feed him milk, holding him against my chest for a very long time after he has stopped suckling. His mouth smiles and his hand grabs my thumb. I think this means he forgives everything I haven’t done. I run his small waves of hair through my fingers.
Upwards, at the high point of the bank where the treeline is, we become a huddle together. With its ferocity, the wind has blown some of the branches free and the gap is so wide I couldn’t possibly mistake it for a door now. Just a wide open window with light streaming through. Of course, it must be city light. City light or moon light. I hold up the boy so that whatever light it is- it finds and warms him first.
Once he smiles at me- beautifully and innocently toothless- I rest him on my belly, which is a fairly soft place to sleep on. I would say as good as a bed. I lay back on jagged stones, arms crossed like wings over him. There isn’t one sound in the universe but my baby’s breath. Behind us the magnificent aspen breaks further in the breeze.
Kaylen Forsyth is a writer from Cumbria, England. She works with Spark Movement/PBG, an online platform dedicated to articles on gender and racial injustices in particular. Inspired by writers such as Hemingway and Woolf, and poets such as Celan and Sexton, her fictional wrtiting focuses mainly on different human relationships and ultimately- the human condition.
Image Credit: Lukasz Szmigiel
Dolls’ House Love
No More Pretending I
No More Pretending II
Love Makes You Shine
Raquel García is an English philologist and school teacher. As a photographer, her curiosity is piqued by intimate scenes. She is passionate about suggestive shapes, lights, shadows, bodies that stimulate our senses and invite us to imagine an intimacy that we ordinarily allow “our chosen” discover.
These works belong to her project “Love is Love”, created to celebrate love and sensuality. She tries to draw attention to love between men and between women, and its sensuality while also avoiding stereotypes. Her same-sex lovers fully display their masculinity and femininity in their body language . It’s a minimalist project that focuses on a particular body part, avoiding faces.
In the doorway he stood waiting, waiting for a jump in her pulse at the vicious cold or the residual hang of the air or at the little pieces of him and those before him scattered and leaning and draping. But she waited with his hand in hers for nothing at all. On the perimeter they stood peering in at the space between four forgotten walls, where she saw the shape of a woman and her head bent down toward unfolding shapes of ink. Where the slick accompaniment of ball point scratching on paper played its rustic rhythm, woman to woman. There was no other movement amongst the living or the dead, just a concentration of authoritative wrist surrounding the stillness of a ceaseless hour. Nothing perturbed the silent cloak the woman gathered around her, not a shriek of the school bell, not the shrill echoing haunt of children, not even the two stripes of mineral and flesh in the doorway, one who saw her and one who stared through her into the abyss as he did every other day. They were all faint sounds or blips or nothing. A slight pause to absorb the pair of beats standing in the wooden frame between now and then before the silent rage of her cloak swooped by them down the deep black stain of the corridor behind.
And he was still waiting in his deity of the free
And she said nothing about the shape of the woman, her sweeping cloak or her feathering veins of black ink
An hour or half-dozens had passed and now they were in between those four forgotten walls both nurturing the hum of ravenous desire, a pair of flickering silhouettes; a strange girl with a pulsing leg whispering at him it’s time time time. Fibreglass crackers and wine. Silent again but for the impatient rasps of breath in this new world without occupant, the coldest room she had ever found to be so warm. His beautiful face glowing beneath his dark angular trim, burning her with longing for his touch, his lips, his caress, the sweet press of his chin, telling her his story. All it took was his warm finger-clasp surprise in the cracker aisle followed by sharp conscious waves of stale air as he stood by her, showing her, waiting, oblivious
By now any sense of survival without the lonely dance in his eyes seemed beyond any bearable shade of bleak. Ripples gathered across his limbs sipping away her wintery-moon skin
It was like discovering a distant chimera of stars coarse in a midnight-blue watery sky or the unreal script of a reality dispossessed between the parting of her blood-red lips
Scarlet rugs and throws and paintings crawling upon the surfaces
her scent and taste wrapping his senses tight tight tight
in such dim blisters of light
‘Do you always shake your leg like that?’ he asked the shivering beats of flesh alongside him.
‘Yes’ she lied turning toward him again. ‘It’s a habit.’ But she wrestled with something new, something untameable, something her body could not hide from the iodine blots in his eyes.
He pulled her close into him, kissing the ice building on the curve of her nose
Somehow in the dead weight of the dark they both knew they would win.
Then she heard the scratch scratch scratch where the silent woman had been
Gráinne is from county Tipperary where she grew up with a love for reading and writing. The unrelenting love grew wings and brought her temporarily to The Netherlands where she is now thesis-ing. Follow her on twitter @Grainne93
Image Credit: Aaron Burden
To think he had thought the onion near essential as thumbs. That he had once dismissed all realists as false, considered Philip Larkin a minor poet. Life moves on and we within would do well to remember ourselves objects, ever stuck, our principles such flux. Worrying now about each quid that he ruins. Decisions consigned as past having to be made again and yes again we’ll just be getting on with it. Money enough for scran or booze so buying a pizza and pocketing the wine. To think he had thought the onion near essential as thumbs.
Longsince twenty-six and each journey by public transport a minor niggle, some taunt enough to distract him in those minutes lapsed waiting for the bus. Even, even knowing, even with the knowledge that he should be above such words letting it affect him, minimally even, even if but a distraction, just a gripe. Suspecting it a throwaway comment, wondering over context. Those journeys too long for foot.
Daylight bleaching through the earlycusp of morning and his first hot drink steaming from the cup. Dreams in the night of a slightly disappointing sandwich. In his notebook an imitation moleskine copying out words, pages they’d called it at his school but for him now in this his time this time belonging to him it is not punishment so much as affirmation or plea bargaining, grasp towards hope.
Workboots on the doorstep so as not to muddy the house. He wonders about the sandwich. Was it too dry or over abundant with mayonnaise, craply sliced. So many ways to be disappointed. Idiots everywhere in this life. They do not offer returns so he gets a day ticket, never remembering whether they are called savers or rangers on this service, rovers maybe. Growing up near a county boundary so asking for a fare to the border and a day pass after that. No fizzy drinks allowed. Not punishment but plea bargaining.
To think a future could open up, some twisting of the forking paths through which this his notebook an imitation moleskine might be worth something, serious collateral. Becoming a higher state than being. Hemmingway’s stories misplaced on a train.
Home again tired worn thin. No longer amongst the scattergun insults of bricklayers, encumbered by the wheelbarrow. Really each day he should clean out the shower, do more than swill dirt from the bathtub. Grime thickening like guilt postponed. Washing-up a matter of appeasement, means of considering himself yet useful and civilised, some worthwhile property within the household. Such things to be done in that hour before collapse. His ordering of the task handed down, an inheritance from his mother, her mother beforehand. Glasses then cups, plates before cutlery. Living once with a man who went first for the pans, what his mother taught him. Was a sieve, where did the sieve belong in that lesson. What did Jim’s mother have to say. Now with it the sieve in hand and the end of the water, residual meats fixated on wire. Maybe it belonged before the ceramic, this sieve in his hand and not worth a fresh sink. Certainly it should have come before the baking tray. This sieve in his hands and the spongescourer gone soft, fat in the water solidifying white, the spongescourer soft consumed, useless, the scouring face of it abraded to ruin by past sieves, this same sieve but elsewhere, former, another sieve in time as he was then another man in time opening out so possible, with so much potential beyond sieves to be cleaned, fats mottled on dank water and his hands clammy soft with the sludge of this hour his time before collapse. Dreaming that it is he who makes the sandwich.
Still there clogged through the sieve come the morning as it bleaches struggles to bleach through nightborn mizzle. Workboots dampwaiting on the step. The sieve remaining as he himself remains himself a man with so many futures open and permissible, to be stepped into with spongescourer soft consumed, in damp workboots and this sieve to be cleaned, brought through the door and into mizzle in which it might be scrubbed again, achieve purpose. To think he had thought the onion near essential as thumbs.
Biographically speaking, David Roberts is a writer, poet and artist currently based in Sheffield, England.
The almost garden of the house that my friend Meredith wanted to break into, was one dying bush, a dirty rock and two pot plants with spider ferns crawling up their sides. I knew they were spider ferns because our gardener grows them behind his cottage but he grows them in an old tub, one of those claw types although it’s not so old. Anyway, my friend Meredith didn’t even lift one of the pots because she says that’s too obvious a place for keys and poor people don’t like to look too obvious whereas rich people don’t think of it either way.
After we knocked on the door and no one answered, I lifted them both up just in case. As usual, Meredith was right. She always knows about these things. She’s fourteen and much smarter than I am.
We found the key under the windowsill at the back of the house, in fact the key found us, because we stepped on a loose porch-board and it hit the sill and the key popped out and we nearly missed it because it was rusted the colour of the house. Meredith told me she didn’t want to use a key anyway because then it wouldn’t be bona fide ‘break and enter’, so she put it back.
There was an empty house next door where we didn’t need a key, we just walked through a wall or where a wall would have been if it hadn’t fallen down with neglect. Some people are so neglectful.
We waited there watching the house, for what seemed like too long but of course time drags too much when you just wait and have nothing to do and Meredith made me be quiet, by placing a finger over her mouth every time I started to speak and then by putting her hand over my mouth when I kept on talking.
A man soon came along pushing a wheelbarrow with a large sack of potatoes and two cabbages perched on top. He went behind the house with the spider ferns, propped up the wheelbarrow and opened the door. I saw Meredith’s eyes narrow when he didn’t even use the key. She had pushed the key so far back it had fallen through and under the house but he didn’t look for it because the door had been unlocked all along. The man was wearing denims with knee worn holes and a dirty shirt. Maybe he was one of the dirty men Meredith’s mother warned us about. Although I know it’s not that kind of dirty but maybe the dirty dirt shows the other kind of dirty. He also had tattoos like sailors have, but I couldn’t see if they were of naked mermaids or not. Meredith’s eyes opened wide but of course she wasn’t scared. Meredith’s not scared of anything.
The man came back out, tossed the bag of potatoes over his shoulder, and we could see how he got dirty, because the bag puffed out dirt, kind of like smoke and the dirt went all over his shirt and down his back. He picked up one of the cabbages in his other hand and went back inside his house. Some people always eat cabbage. And they often smell like cabbage. An old man who sat next to us on the train smelled like cabbages .
Here’s what happened next. Meredith ran out and grabbed the other cabbage, she tossed it to me and kept running, but I dropped it. I could see Meredith’s eyes going as black as her clothes, her eyes always go black when she’s cross with me so I snatched up the cabbage and tossed it back over to her. She ran around the side of the house where we’d been hiding and threw it as far as she could into the backyard, which was all weeds and rubbish, then she grabbed my hand and dragged me into the empty house.
The man came outside again and looked at the wheelbarrow for ages, kind of like he thought the cabbage would rematerialize. If he’d started shaking his head we wouldn’t have been able to hold back our laughter, it would have all been just too ghastly, but then he walked over to where we were hiding. I ducked down but Meredith just kept standing and staring. I wondered if she was going to use her little-girl voice but she didn’t.
“Hey you. There,” the man said, lifting his hand in half a wave. “Do you know you’re trespassing?” Meredith and I exchanged a glance which said of course we do but then Meredith did go very little-girl. “No, please, mister. We thought nobody lived here anymore.”
“Well,” the man said, “that may be by the by. But folks don’t always live where they own. And someone owns this house.” Meredith grabbed at my hand; kind of grazed it, not held on and I followed her out. She stood in front of the man, with her hands behind her back, eyes lowered and her head tilted sideways and one of her feet hooked back over her other ankle.
The man was having none of it. “Go and get that cabbage you threw away,” he said, his hand doing a wide arc across the yard. We both took a short breath and looked over at his house; he must have seen us from his window.
“If you knew I had thrown it why did you stare at the wheelbarrow then, like you thought the cabbage was coming back?” said Meredith. That’s how Meredith is. Now she didn’t have her little-girl voice; she sounded like her mother, all vowels and sniff nosed.
The man shook his head; he looked at me and then at Meredith. Longer at her because of how gorgeous she is. I’m used to folks doing this between me and her. Then he turned away and strode over to the yard and came back out of the long grass carrying the cabbage. He plucked a slug from it, flicked the slug to the ground and went back into his house without looking at us. Meredith followed and I followed her. That’s how we have fun talking to these people. Although we’ve never gone into their houses to talk to them and maybe that’s what Meredith meant about ‘doing a house,’ not just stealing. Anyway, the man couldn’t be dangerous if he didn’t even kill slugs; our gardener puts all the snails and slugs into buckets of salt and they shrivel up like they’re burning alive and he doesn’t give a toss.
The man had gone into another room and didn’t see us come into his house and we walked like we do when we’re trying not to wake everyone up when Meredith sleeps over and we sneak out for midnight feasts in the park. He had the ball game going but his television was inside and we didn’t see any beer.
Meredith put her finger to her lips again as the man went back outside and we watched him pass by the window and go down the street, pushing the wheelbarrow. The little grocery store was a ten minute walk so we figured we had time to look around, but there was nothing interesting and everything smelled like cabbage even the potatoes cooking in a huge pot on the stove. It was quietly bubbling, Cook calls that simmering and sometimes she boils up bones like that for father’s hunting dogs. Meredith poked through the drawers in the kitchen and held up a leaflet: Help The Homeless, it said. Saturday Soup Kitchen 6 pm. There was an address circled in red ink, of course we had never heard of it and of course Meredith wanted to go. I had to remind her we had to be at the station at 5 o’clock to meet her mother, but she said her mother was always late which was true. I had never known her mother to be on time but then we were never on time either so we really didn’t know if she was late because she was always there waiting. Anyway it was only 2 o’clock, so we had lots of time and then we saw the man coming back.
His wheelbarrow was full of wooden slatted boxes, the kind Cook uses for kindling; they were stacked on top of each other but balanced so they toppled a little bit to one side. The man kept stopping and straightening them, we could see this from the window but soon he was at the backdoor. This is how Meredith is; she hurried over and locked the backdoor from the inside, there was this little slide-across bolt the kind they have in public toilets sometimes, especially here in this part of town.
We held our breaths and watched the door. We could hear the man twisting the knob and pushing on the door, it rattled the bolt but the door held, and then after he’d done it lots of times Meredith opened the door and the man fell inwards nearly knocking into her. But I’d jumped back and hidden behind the other door and pushed my fist into my mouth to stop from laughing aloud, it was all just too ghastly.
The man did a strange thing, he didn’t yell at Meredith, like I thought he would but spun around, shut the backdoor and pulled the bolt across and then he took out a key; it was a different key from the one Meredith had lost. This was a shiny key but he didn’t use it, he just stood with his back braced up against the door like someone was trying to get in from the outside. Meredith, this is how fun she is, said “Please mister I’ve come about the Soup Kitchen. My friend’s gone home but I want to help.” He nodded kind of slow and smiled and instead of arguing like I thought he would, said, “Sure, sure you do.” And went over to the huge pot cooking on the stove and stirred the potatoes with a long handled spoon. I thought it was a bit strange he hadn’t got cross because he seemed crosser when we were just trespassing in the deserted house next-door. And it was kind of like we had broken in to his house but Meredith said, you have to break something like a door or a window to actually break in, so maybe that’s why.
Meredith half looked at me hiding behind the door and touched her lips with her finger, she went over to the sink and started to chop up the cabbage with a large wooden handled knife. The man came over and told her to do it this way. “Just like this,” he said, his voice low and different. His arms went around her from behind and he directed her hands. Then Meredith turned on the faucet and washed the cabbage. The water spluttered and the pipes whined and rattled and screeched like someone trying to get out.
Myra King lives along the coast of South Australia. Her poems and short stories have been published in many literary magazines and anthologies. She has won the UK Global, come second in the Cambridge Fiction Awards and been shortlisted for the US Glass Woman Prize and the Scarlet Stiletto AUS.
Image Credit: Andrew Neel
A whisper of blue: a light, soft and shimmering. It floats in from a place beyond the rise of mountains, the wilderness of rock – from somewhere out there.
Blume’s glad of it; the company. It feels familiar. It gives life to his roughened hands. It electrifies the blue in his eyes.
His glasses are taped together, grubby. There’re smudges from the night before; touches of fingertips – he always pushes them up off his face as he checks his work, steps back, dives in – flecks of acrylic, gesso. He grabs the end of his clammy shirt to wipe them. He has to see this new and delicate light.
It’s shy. It slips through the wrought-iron grille and hovers next to Blume. It has a texture; body. He reaches out, tries to take it. It throws little looping shadows on the bare floor, across his bony feet. It seems to pulse. Or else Blume’s in a daze. He has one of his morning heads. He’s not getting younger: the years pile up like stones. He can’t remember much about the night just gone: the hit of sleep. He remembers working, feeling alive, possessed.
Outside, the light swells. Blume pushes up his specs and peers through the opening. He doesn’t know this place, or its ways; hushed talk of mountain gods, a high cave. He’s the outsider, the loner. He isn’t trusted. He took the empty upper room as a retreat; somewhere to be unseen; to see. Rugs hang from a half-built house across the way. There are diamond shapes, ladders: reds, browns. Electric wires hum high up, swing from a sun-fried pole.
There’s panic in the air. Black sickle shapes dart across the sky. Swifts scream. Blume leans his lanky frame further in, desperate to see. They shoot past his window – an explosion of birds. Three, four, a multitude. They’re fleeing. And Blume wants to fly with them. If they can fly, why can’t he? Retreat to the mountain shadow: escape the sun.
Where’s the flat brush? And the palette knife, the pointy one: the scraper, the digger? Blume roots about, scuffing his heels. He’s lost: distracted by dreams. In the dead of night, it’s a grim world: the abandoned room, the naked bulb dangling low, crackling in the cooling air. He has to get going. He folds the mattress up, kicks it to the side. He rummages in the mountain of paints piled in the corner, and grabs the pumice. How did it get in there? He needs the ground-up rock for roughness, for bulk. And it’ll draw the light. He can’t work in the day. The heat rattles him: the sun cooks the tiles over his head. The light blinds.
With a rag tucked in his jeans, a plastic bucket by his feet, he looks down at his work, at the six-foot boards lying next to each other, laid out. Already – it’s only been a day – he doesn’t recognise it, what’s happened. It doesn’t belong to him. It’s someone else’s palette: hard, forced. Someone else’s brush. He doesn’t know how to approach it, what to do.
Then, in the dim umber light, they gather; the company. Blume can feel their presence as they shuffle in, dragging slippered feet, as they find a spot, a place by a wall to stand, to wait. Some stay behind, huddle near his shoulder. Some are on either side. He doesn’t look up, doesn’t see their faces.
–You’ve come, he whispers to the empty room.
He knows they come for warmth: to observe the living and the doing. Maybe they fear him, pity him. Maybe they come to wake him, to make him see. His father, his disapproving father, Blume knows his father the farmer is among them, is one of them for all time.
Blume grips the handle of the painting knife. He’s ready to hack, to cut away.
Shouting, banging. The door rattles, shakes on its hinges.
–Blume, you there?
The knob twists furiously back and forth.
It’s Melon Man. That’s the name Blume’s given him, but not to his face. He runs the place: operations. His name’s Barq – that’s what he goes by. It has a certain ring.
–Barq, I’m busy?
Blume slides the bucket, scrapes some pots.
–You pay Barq. Cash.
–But … I have a painting, it’s nearly done!
–Picture! No good. No one wants, Blume. Can’t sell. It. Dead.
The door strains against its frame.
–Months. No cash. Piss me off.
A fat fist thuds.
–Many people, Blume, want room. Quiet. Fucking nice view.
Blume curls his toes. He can’t face another spat with Melon Man: his burnt-black eyes. And a quiet falls, looms. Outside, Barq: unmoving, wide as a mountain. Inside: Blume and his visitors. They linger. His father: immovable. Untouchable. How long can Blume live the wandering life: flitting from one hole to another, from the shade of one wall to the next?
Work. He has to bury himself in work, in boards and paint. Ignore what’s out there: Barq, lurking, laughing now.
–Blume funny … like joke?
He chuckles again, down to the tar in his lungs.
–Listen, Barq no joke. You … fuck!
Blume holds his breath, doesn’t budge.
–Pay double, Blume! Or Barq board up room. Good joke?
His laugh bounces off the door.
–Blume? Barq friends. Not nice. Don’t like foreign shit. Knock Blume’s lights out. Disappear.
And he does. Blume retreats from Melon Man and his heavy-handed charm. He buries himself in memory, a past time. He scans the boards lying on the floor. On each panel, there are darkish sunflowers: an army of giant heads seething in the sun. They’re witnesses. They bow and sway and strain towards a swirling mass of yellow. He has to fix the yellow: he’s struggled for days. It should flare and scorch. It should be indomitable.
At his feet, where the deep green stalks are, he’s splattered threads of ochre light, criss-cross lines of reddish yellow that slice through the stems, singe the edges of the heavy leaves so they shrivel, blacken. In the undergrowth, it’s cramped, claustrophobic: the thick stems fight for their patch of earth.
The sky, he’s not unhappy with. Above the nodding flower heads he’s thinned the paint, poured it. It’s a milky black with little succour, on the edge of turning sour. He doesn’t have a blue to speak of a distant, departed God.
So: to work. It’s all he’s got. Glasses up, his hands become his brain. On his knees, Blume hacks at the boards, at the stalks bursting out through the dark earth. He’s crackled it and the paint’s split. He digs into crevices to open them, make the earth look thinner. He wipes it with the rag, checks it through his specs. He’s pleased. But he hasn’t pleased the company. He thinks that some have left, disappointed – his father.
–Don’t go yet. Take me!
He throws his glasses off to grapple, to fight for something like a finish. The flowers should be weighted. He’s made some pumice, ground the rock, mixed in a thick burnt brown. He clambers between the boards and daubs it on, so the seed heads droop like clusters of stone. With a mars black he scores the petals, so they burn in the furnace of the sun, yearn for the thing that kills them.
He sees himself outside, up, past the village. Only he can’t see the sun – as if it’s lying low, camouflaged. This mountain world is barren, bleak. The summit is sacred and not for any living soul. But Blume’s dying to go: to follow the birds. Escape. And if it’s cooler, he can climb forever, he can struggle to the top, if there’s time. The day’s highly charged; the light quivers. A wash of turquoise floods the sky. The clouds look brushed-in: yellow, cobalt blue.
He ploughs on, finds the flatter bits on the mule path; his boots are dusty, coated. At times, he has to manoeuvre round a monstrous rock. His legs ache but get used to it. He’d love to stop, catch his breath, but he can’t. Something in him driving: desperation.
The trees spring up like sentinels around Blume. And he’s wary. They look oddly angled, parched. As if, somehow, they were upside down and their trunks, branches, their leaves grew down through the rock, into the earth; their roots above, flailing in the air.
He thinks it must be part of a tree, a gnarled bit. But then the wind rustles up from nowhere and he sees a feather ruffle. A flat, black bird painted on the branch with its eye fixed on Blume. On its way to the top, it’s exhausted, weak. And it busies itself with resting and sleeping and dreaming of the end. He doesn’t reach out to touch it. He brushes it away. He has to get up to the pass, to the cave.
The final bit is tough. The path disappears. He has to figure out a way; find a stone that doesn’t slide, keep an eye out past boulders for what’s beyond. He can feel himself cracking up, flaking. He’s not used to mountains: false peaks, tricks. Sometimes he thinks he’s arrived, about to touch the sky, and another stretch appears still to go.
A loose stone skitters by. Something’s coming: a shape, a mountain shadow. A figure leaps into view. A man. A goat. He springs from ledge to ledge then races down in free fall. Blume tries to catch his face. And it … it’s him. It’s Blume … running away. Scared. In a blur.
The air thins near the pass. Ragged rocks become open scree. It’s a steep, sloping desert: a forbidden place. And Blume trudges on. Every step is an effort. He has to drag the air into his lungs. It feels like he’s climbing into the wind, into its cold heart, taking it on. He angles himself to stay on his feet, scrunches his face.
A gust, like the hand of God knocks Blume over, flings him back, sends him flying. It’s light and wind joined together; the forces of life. A clash. A test. And Blume’s ready to fight, whatever it is, to make it past.
–Come on! he screams.
He scrabbles to his feet, faltering. His legs give way in the brunt of the gale. He slips on the scree, tumbles down. When he’s up again he launches into it. He grapples with the strength of the thing bearing down on him. He wants to overcome it, master it.
–Let me pass!
He tries to wrestle himself into a better position. His opponent comes at him from every angle, bombards him, blinds him. Blume somehow elbows his way on top.
–Please, he begs, –let me reach the cave … see what there is.
He gains a better grip, a stranglehold. And for a moment, Blume has the upper hand. But then his opponent slips away; becomes transparent, no one thing. And Blume’s left empty-handed. His body slumps forward.
And he stirs. He’s back. His neck’s stiff. It aches unforgivingly. He’s lying in a heap, face down in the paint; stuck to it. He has to peel himself away; his hands speckled, caked.
The company has left. They’ve slipped silently from the room. Until … they decide to return.
What happened in the night? It was a dream. A quest. He tackled the light: the sun. He pulled it down on the board. He fixed it, made it leaden. He can see it’s dying now too, burning out.
He clambers up, gets away from it. He bumps his head on the unlit bulb, has to duck when it swings for him. He feels battered, defeated. He’s at a loss now. He heads for the door but hesitates. The window. The intangible light, reaching in, embracing – it’s something for Blume to grasp. He doesn’t need to know if the door opens. Really, he has nowhere to go.
SP Hannaway is fairly new to writing short fiction. His first short story appeared in Litro Online in 2014. Since then his stories have featured in Dream Catcher, The Sonder Review, Gravel, Brittle Star, Selected Places (an anthology), Abstract Jam and Lighthouse. He’s completed the Short Story Writing course and the Writers’ Workshop course, both at City University. He’s worked as an actor for a number of years and lives in London.
Image Credit: Tobias Keller
From an early age, David Rodríguez was attracted to the art world, but his love for photography didn’t start until 2013— the year he bought his first reflex camera. Shortly afterwards, he began to train himself through several courses. While studying, he discovered new photographers including Guy Bourdin or Man Ray. He likes to photograph people and feels very comfortable doing portraits, but he always tries to go a little further with risky compositions and a touch of surrealism.
The black mold is back on my bedroom wall. It grows in fuzzy patches that remind me of caterpillars. But the creatures that sometimes share my room aren’t fuzzy. Daddy longlegs nestle in my doorframe. Brown and orange slugs slime their goop trails on my windowsill. I thought moving to a place with endless rain meant I could burrow. No one told me I’d have to share my cocoon.
Last week, I got a new roommate. I didn’t tell him that our house grows mold. And during the tour, I didn’t show him my bedroom. I worry that he’ll try to interpret the black thought bubbles that have formed behind my headboard and cascade their way up to my ceiling. They lead directly to the off-colored, triangular patch where the rain has seeped through. There is a window upstairs that opens onto the roof above my head, and he asked if he could crawl through and sit up there to watch the sunrise. I warned him not to go too close to that corner. When I lay my head down on the pillow before going to sleep, I stare up at the ceiling and wonder how much rain it would take for the plaster to crumble and cave in.
It’s 4AM and I hear my roommate dragging a chair across the roof to set up and paint. I know he started an herb garden up there. Every so often he brings up a book to read; he loves rereading Bradbury and Kafka. One morning I woke up to the bottom of his bare feet just above the windowsill. I’ve watched him pluck an acid green slug about two inches long from our kitchen window, smile like a little boy and hold it right up to his eyes to inspect before his morning run.
I have never been up on the roof. He ignores the sudden gusts of wind that could blow you away and dips his toes in the puddle in the corner. Maybe he wears rain boots and splashes lightly in the water. No. He’d be the type to plunge his naked feet in the wetness and saturate himself entirely. He has a way of blurring boundaries.
Once when we were both in the kitchen, he told me that we dream more in the rain. I have spent ten months in this bedroom. I’ve fallen asleep most nights to the tip-tap snare drum of drops outside. Now, there’s the addition of the gentle thud of his pacing footsteps above me. He doesn’t sleep, and I haven’t remembered a single dream.
Erica Gonsalves, originally from Connecticut, U.S, is spending the year abroad in Ireland to obtain a Masters in Writing from the National University of Ireland, Galway during the 2016/2017 school year. Her work has been seen in The Galway Review. Before this year, she has been teaching high school English for the past six years.
Image Credit:Gabriele Diwald
They stood with their faces to the bronzed-red canopy, listening. It was a beech tree, he knew, abstractly, though he could not connect the name with anything in the reality of this burning swell, its restless wind-pulse. Words like xylem, phloem, chlorophyll went up out of his memory to be consumed by the leaves like paper scraps. He was not someone who did this, stand and look at trees, this was the pose, head back, eyes wide, of someone else, and he didn’t know what was expected of him, what the tree demanded. Bronzed-red canopy, burning swell: this was all the looking yielded, as alien to the tree as its name, nothing further from the truth. But she had not brought him out here to look.
Can you hear them? she said.
The evening’s sounds were a texture in the air like the clinging softness of tissue, and there was almost a physicality to the work of separating them from what was audible deep in the foliage. The layers were falling away under his fingers, not his ears, the voices of dogs and children, the surf of traffic two streets away, the tree’s own breathing; he thought that if he listened hard enough he might strip the world down to a final silence, and that would be one way to answer her. But then, there it was, high overhead: a hum, a steady, shimmering resonance, so irreducible now he’d fastened on it that his bones were singing with it. He squinted, trying to pick an anomaly out of the shifting branches and the mosaic of sky they constantly erased and remade, but there was nothing, and as the twilight settled the leaves’ fire was dying, and soon it would all be lost.
They’re up there somewhere, she said, but I can’t see them.
I hope it’s not wasps.
As if on cue, a dark little knot detached itself from the body of the tree and faltered down, carrying its smaller drone like a dispatch from the sonic mass. He ducked away instinctively, and she laughed.
Bumblebees. They’re only bumblebees, relax.
He did, he relaxed, because they were only bumblebees, a soft-furred commonwealth up there in their paper cells, assuming they built their nests from paper, assuming they built nests. They must build nests, because they were bees, but he didn’t know. He didn’t know if bumblebees were pollinators, if they made honey, if they stung. He didn’t know what chlorophyll was, not really. He knew it was what made leaves green, so why were these leaves they colour they were, bronzed, bruised? How old was this tree, how long had it been here before the house and the lawn the tree stood in, before the tree itself, became theirs? Did their tree imply their bees? Where did the word beech come from?
It became very suddenly an article of faith with him that these were all questions she could answer.
I love the sound of it, she was saying. I don’t know why. It should sound like danger, in the wild it would be like a warning, but it soothes me. The life of it. Just listen.
He listened. It didn’t sound of life to him. It was mute, somehow, like a geologic frequency, a mineral tone. He knew that for as long as he stood here listening to it he would fail square the noise, the idiot perfection of it, with the fact of the bodies making it, all those limbs and wings wired to their rudimentary intellects. It was too much, a mathematical impossibility. He was failing and the air was buzzing and the separateness of their experiences of this was a cold space between them.
He turned his face to her. He said, How many bumblebees are there in a typical colony?
I’m not really sure.
Where does the word beech come from?
How should I know?
But her voice only had the structure of annoyance, a reflex; she was too distant for anything except the bees, her head still angled back, her eyes in bright communion with something he’d be forever looking away from. And bright eyes was just another fiction. Everything was only what it was, eyes like eyes, leaves like leaves, sky like sky, regardless of his own desperate gaze.
He could go to her now, he thought: she was only a pace away. But then he would have to arrive at her, and he couldn’t see what lay inside that, humming. As hard as he looked, he could not see it. And anyway, she had not brought him out here to look.
They stood under the tree long enough that it became an implicit game, each daring the other to be the first to break, to admit their boredom and go back into the house, until eventually they both turned away together, carrying different things towards different rooms.
DM Lynch is from Cork, Ireland. He studied at Trinity College Dublin and holds an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia. His writing has previously appeared in Three Monkeys, The Stinging Fly, The Irish Times and the anthology The Best Small Fictions 2015, edited by Pulitzer Prize-winner Robert Olen Butler.
Image Credit: Morgan McBride
What looks beautiful is also right, the Dutch (land) Scape (Amsterdam)
Ants attack II (Barcelona)
The second walk (Bratislava, 2015)
I promise I am not the one to blame (Zagreb)