Eamonn Stewart was born in Belfast. He is twice winner of the Irish National Children’s Poetry Competition. He trained as an advertising photographer and worked as focus-puller. He has been published in various magazines and some anthologies. His poem Bluebagopolis was nominated for the Pushcart Prize. He has worked as the director of photography on student films. His most recent publication was in The Centrifugal Eye Magazine, where a poem and photo essay were featured.
– By Boris Gregoric
Walking out in the morning, a Sunday out of the concrete-and-mortar boxes, past the Mexican looking white church in the suburbs, to the suburbs, over to the meadows, across the wild rye, the narrow gauge railway track, behind the barracks, the shacks, past the dirt yard in which two men in bib overalls putter with the rusty VW beetle — one, under the chassis, prone on the oilcloth and the other shifting the knob of the transistor radio as we hike by, the last few uniformly red tile, brick and mortar one-storey houses, the dogs barking like mad—that perpetually unfinished look of the Croatian brick and mortar homes — two Sunday hikers heading out, swimming almost, Jonah and the fields were the Whale is to receive them into his vast bowels gladly. Another shack, abandoned in the field, next to it a vintage pedal oxidizing splendidly but huge black tires in place, the odd paint job unfinished halfway — the three hues of sienna catching the casual glance. Onward. Three or four chicken scurrying out on no man’s land, clucking about the hard, patchy ground. What can they find?
“When was the last time you saw free-range chickens?”
“Hm, I guess at my grandmother’s, in the country, many years ago…”
Onward, down the ravine, over to the other side, past an air-raid bunker hidden amid the tall wild grasses —‘Beware, Minefield!’ —a lonely sign warned but that the war happened long ago, by now most if not all minefields have been cleared; the life had returned to normal —whatever the normal might be.
Onward, parallel the telegraph poles that always seem so full of promise of the far-off places. And it will be good to disappear. Southern Hemisphere beckons. Never to have to return to the ugly mews and the gray city.
“Don’t you love the telegraphic poles? They remind me of totems,” he said.
“Totems schmotems” she laughed.
“You can almost hear the wires buzzing the news of nothing new under the sun.”
“The wires buzzing I love you.”
“Yes, me too. Let us rest for a bit, here, on the mossy eiderdown, tickled by sun and stars let us watch the gentle drift of the faraway clouds.”
They laughed like two children. These were days before the ozone layer depletion.
They laughed together, getting up, holding hands, and there they went again, over a fallow field, another one, releasing the sweaty hands, the heat rising, he saying, the fallow fields are my favorite fields. Hey, look at the anthill. Giants, aren’t they? Like a fairy tale… he said. Or she said. Down the dirty path to the bottom of the grass gully:
“Nothing like a gully in the middle of nowhere.”
“Like two Spanish explorers!” she said. It made him smile, the childish enthusiasm of the adventure.
“Just so. Like two intrepid Spanish explorers.”
Where the famous Cortázar, the oversized head on the narrow shoulders brimming with various fantastic ideas, would perhaps have discovered bones of the slain conquistadors — the hungry ghosts of the dead in the field of a mindless massacre — shall we say, soldiers in their prime, their last thoughts of their faraway Spanish señoritas — of those faraway days of wine and roses — the old continent explorers find only that noon shadows are to get longer, that a host of sparrows flitters carelessly in the bush, that a thrush might be heard with a song, or that a crow would certainly start to craw its disturbed cry from the telegraphic totem they had left behind. A Sunday in the summer celebrated by the rise of crickets chirping, always quick to upstage cicadas that could not sing, but rather complained with their nonmusical, calling song. Onward, to the top of the gully, where they heard a locomotive whistle in the distance, the whistle so full of promise of the far-off place. Would they only at least climb up to the path, that lead still farther away, toward the levee in the dusty fields.
“Looks like a concrete pillbox.”
“Should we peek inside?“
“Why? You’ll find rats, or some old syringes.”
“What a memorable day, Borsky,” she said.
“Yes, Mia, indeed.”
Yes, always having such a good time together, Borsky thought, no matter where they went on Sunday afternoon field trips and excursions — to the zoo, to botanical gardens, to Sugar Mountain, to Cold Mountain, to the moon or, to the lighthouse in the field of wild rye. And it is maybe time to have it revealed halfway through, the lighthouse — for that’s where they were actually headed. To the lighthouse. Yes, that Lighthouse. Because, every Sunday walkout in a sense is but a walkout to the lighthouse in the field of wild rye.
On the embankment, she stooped low to pick the jolly white daisies, and then — adding to a posy — the salvia-like purple starflowers. How Whitman would have trilled at the sight and sound of bumblebees buzzing around the posy in Mia’s hands, and small yellow butterflies flittering over the huge dandelion head-towers ready to be puffed off with the slightest caress from the warm, lazy stream of air.
“These are huge,” Mia said. When the soft blow of the air scattered some fluff, Borsky made as if to chase the fuzz, and Mia twittered: “Mind you catch your luck that way!” And then Borsky, made a wry face: “Oh, yes, the luck is caught so easily.”
“Borsky, what if we were attacked by a pack of stray dogs?”
“We’d fight back.”
“How hard would we fight?”
“We’d fight tooth and nail, dear. And some of them would have their skins handed back to them.”
“Would anyone, in the case they tore us to pieces, find our bones down in the ravine?”
“People are bound to find you sooner than later, dead or alive, Borsky said. He thought for an instant of a dog trauma he had as a child when a German shepherd tore off the back on his breeches and bit him badly.
“There’s a famous Austrian writer who walked all across Europe. Handke is his name. Once in the south of France a pack of stray dogs attacked him.”
“Oh, I think in Provence, he was making pilgrimage to Mt St.Victoire —the Cézanne’s mountain. ”
“Talking of strays, there’s a mutt!”
It was true, a pitiful, sad-eyed tan colored mutt with most of his tail missing, quickly scurried off in the bulrushes that they were passing by, scared of his shadow, the creature seemed.
“A scrawny little thing…” Then, swiftly, out of nowhere, a pair of riders came cantering from the gully which they have explored. Would they make them yield on the narrow embankment? A snatch of words reached Mia and Borsky’s ears. What is the point in me telling youagain? —the man was saying to the woman. As they stopped on the level part, the riders dismounted, and taking over the leather halters, they decided to continued on foot in the opposite direction from Mia and Borsky.
“My father used to be a rider too,” Borsky said.
“Yes, Josie. He even took part in the horse jumping tournaments. I think he was pretty good..”
“I can quite see him.”
“Yes, in his youth he was svelte. Very prim.”
“What about it —what kind of sport is that?”
“Simple, Mia, astride of your horse you try to jump as many bars, hedges, brick walls as you can. Then, one day, you’d be ready for the Olympic Games.”
“The Olympic games?,” she laughed, “I haven’t seen fifteen minutes of them in my entire life.”
“Then, you haven’t missed much.”
“Your dad was a lot like you though.”
“How would you know? You have never met him.”
“Somehow, the way you describe him…quite a dreamer.”
“Writers are dreamers too, you know,” Mia said. His eyebrows arched.
“What makes you say that?
“The way they make up things we say or think…never really taking part in life, always observing it from the sidelines…”
“Yes, the writing game seems to be the sidelines.”
“Do you mind what I am saying? You might us it against me in one of your future plays.”
“Don’t worry. The best part is always left out of plays.” They laughed, and walked on. Walking readily over to the meadows, to the sun and the clouds in the endless Sunday afternoon. And already back past the grazing chickens, the rusty behemoth of a tractor, the red bricked houses, the men now gone from the court, away from the skeleton of the VW beetlesitting on cinder. Honk, honk, the honking gander; the barking dogs, finally the asphalt in the setting sun. once more, across the fallow fields. The scattered group of lads kicking the football; the sound of carpet trashing, the car claxon honking, the stooping week-end gardeners hoeing in the tidy cottage parcels of squash, string beans, turnips, tomatoes, what not ¾back in the rectangular prison world of high rise mews.
Here’s to the lyrical genius of a weekend gardener in rubber garden shoes hauling a plastic bucket of bright cadmium green. And to another, in wooden clogs, with a watering can, without hesitation, knowing what to do. Borsky and Mia have entered the elevator, six, seven stories up, and were already at the buzzer.
“Oh, it’s you guys. Come on in, we’ll have a drink.”
“We were in the are, so decided to swing by, briefly…”
“You are welcome. What were you up to?”
“Went for a little hike.”
“Terrific. Where at?”
“Past the church, across the tracks.
“Over those fallow fields.”
“Oh, yes. Astrid and I do go that way sometimes…”
“And you –what’s with you, Peter?
Peter wore a paisley tee with big letters on his chest: God Is Harvesting. Hemp.
“Nothing. Astrid is gone to see her parents. Fixing myself a spaghetti dinner and watching French film. Just started.”
In the room the metal shades were still drawn low, making the room dark and cool. A slow, deliberate film set in the 1880’s French countryside seemed like a perfect summer fare. While Peter puttered in the kitchen fixing iced tea, they sat at the sofa and watched the movie.
“A quiet and peaceful life then,” Mia sighed.
“It seems so, doesn’t it. I’d love to teletransport to the 1880’s,” Borsky said.
“I’d probably go to that period too,” Peter added returning with the glass pitcher of bright yellow libation. “This film is like the most beautiful tableau vivant,” Mia said. Pero had now joined them, and soon he made and passed the joint, its fragrance quickly permeating the small space. Peter’s uncle had problems with kidney stones, “Nothing worked for him” Peter said, ‘until he started drinking huge quantities of bearberry tea.” “The what?” “Bearberry.” “Does it really work?’” “He says it does.” “What about your aunt Louise?” “The therapy is only making her feel worse.” Peter said. “Does she still smoke?”
“She does. She said it helps ease the anxiety if not actually pain,” Peter said.
“Marijuana is good for her.”
“Marijuana is good for everyone.”
“In moderation, yes.”
It lasted quite a long time, the French countryside, and by the time the film finally ended Mia said, “Eight o’clock already. We better hit the road, Borsky.”
“Better hit the road, before the road hits you.” Peter giggled. They all felt lighthearted. Their muscles convulsed with laughter. It could have been triggered by anything anyone had said.
“Ha ha ha, hoo, hoo, hoo, better hit the road” they shook, and after an exchange of hugs, of unrelated verbal excursions and asides —the parting words petered out and the couple stepped in through the sliding elevator metal door while Peter happily hummed behind their backs:
“So long, farewell, Auf wiedersehen, good night…”
And the two echoed from inside the elevator: “…we hate to go and leave your pretty sight, but sun has gone to bed so long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodbye!”
Boris Gregoric is a Croatian-American short story writer, visual artist, translator and language tutor. The author of five books of short fiction, he has translated prose and poetry between English, Croatian and Slovene. This is his blog.
A Hate For Waiting
– By Sophie Fenella Robins
He stood by the open front door tapping his feet, his brow knitted like a worn down woollen jumper. He always hated waiting,
“I think it’s because of my childhood” he said, “when I was a child, my mother was waiting for my father to return from the war. I think she passed her anxiety onto me.”
Anxiety inherited like hair that goes frizzy in the rain. I imagine her pacing over loose floorboards that creak and keep my father awake. Whispers over neighbour’s fences about Mrs Jenkins now left alone forever. The dreaded fallen uniform, hangs like an empty shell, calling memories of what has been lost. Faded photographs that look like the past, remind my father of his mothers worry. Grey bricks crumble with the memory of a national downfall. I listen in with ears from the future, and wonder what it felt like to wait for bombs to drop over St Paul’s.
Waiting for delayed flights to summer breaks in Greece caused severe tension in his neck. He had a patch of dry skin on the outside of his index finger, caused by a bad habit of biting the skin. Skin erodes like pebbles on a beach. With his hands behind his back and his shoulders hunched, he paced, back and forth, back and forth, starring at the arrivals board. I prayed for our plane to arrive, because I could see how much waiting pained him. The airport air thick with tired sighs, waited with us, like a silence asking to be broken. We didn’t speak, exhausted by the effort of waiting. We didn’t move, tied to our seats for fear of missing the flight. We didn’t breathe, breathing felt like too much of a distraction.
The train is late and I feel my feet tapping. I begin to pace, back and forth, back and forth. The 09.28 has been delayed by two minutes. Two minutes feels like a life time. Anxiety creeps up my spine and causes my teeth to grind. I have a hate for waiting, inherited like hair that goes frizzy in the rain.
Sophie Fenella Robins writes poetry and prose for the stage and the page. She graduated from The Royal Court Young Writers Program in 2006, she then went on to study English Literature and Drama Studies at The University of Sussex. In 2012 she graduated from Central School of Speech and Drama with a masters in Performance Practices and Research. She is the co-founder of Portmanteau Performance Company and the The Patchwork Paper. She has also been short listed to be the Young Poet Laureate for London. Follow Sophie on twitter @sophiefenella
Alice Walsh is not a photographer. She is the editor of The Bohemyth. These are photos she took on holidays in Spain last week, she was too disorganised to find more appropriate photos in time for this issue. She Instagramed them to try to make them look a bit better.
Fame Dwells Only On The Lips
– By Sean Michael O’Neill
They were still. They were always still. They looked out at their surroundings which had changed greatly. There were no longer any walls in the museum that once housed them and their companions, many of them now gone forever. There was no longer any museum. The eyes of the man looked out from the painting judging the present and the past. Judging those who had gone before, his creators. He was steadfast in holding his pitchfork in the midst of all the destruction around him. By his side stood his wife. While the man looked none too surprised at this foolishness, his wife looked perplexed and sad to see what had become of man’s dreams and delusions. Behind them stood an image of the world that once was. Simple and wholesome looking, their house stood behind them with the trees behind that. These were simple folk. They had never asked to be made immortal. No, that was the wish of their creator.
The sky was dark and foreboding, lit by a hellish red glow and wisps of fire, like whips, cracked out into the lifeless sky. The great ball of fire consumed the horizon, burning and churning, spewing and stewing, like a vast cauldron of pent up red hot frustration. The desolate plains were burnt black and lit like the glowing embers of coal amid a cozy fire. But this was not a cozy place. The earth was scarred and barren and the horizon seemed to drop of a sheer precipice into the seething giant that was the sun. Everywhere the eye could see were the same four variants of color. Red, orange, yellow and black. If there was a hell it would surely look like this.
In places some curious structures could still be found. Remnants of an explosion, left unrecognizable. The forces of nature had worked on those structures too. Rusting them, eating them, crumbling them and devouring them with weed-like tentacles and parasitic swarms. Now even those forces of nature had perished. All that was left was this simple couple, bonded together by oil and canvass. There was no sound except for the waspish wind whipping up a solar storm.
The temperature continued to rise and rise and the charred ground began to change its atomic composition. What was solid was now beginning to become molten liquid. The surface of the earth now bubbled like a red hot pot of custard, thick and oozing. It moved slowly. In this unbearable heat things could only move slowly. It crept across the ground eating up everything in its path, slow and menacing. The whips of the sun cracked across the violent red sky. Deathly rays shooting out across the dying planet from frequent eruptions, sweeping the planet clean with radiation.
The woman in the picture stood by her husband. Looking away into the distance but looking at nothing. She was thinking. Thinking about all the remnants that not so long ago were there, that spoke of humankind and their achievements, that gave them some kind of immortality for so long. Thinking about how this had really been an illusion. Even at this time some remnants remained of the civilisation that once was. They had withstood the ravages of time for a long time it was true. Machines on which were stored the great books of literature, paintings stored in protected areas and music, statues and poetry of the ages all archived for posterity and cared for with great delicacy. Long after the creators of endless philosophy had been relieved of their curiosity, the books continued to live on.
They continued to live on but to what purpose. With nobody to talk about them or enjoy them, they were no longer immortal as their creators had intended. Now, at the end, things could be judged clearly. It is only at the end of something that its success can be judged. At the end of a project, the end of a story, the end of a man’s life. The poor simple woman tried her best to be a fair judge to these creations now gone, herself and her husband the last remaining.
It had to taken a lifetime to discuss but only a second for the searing heat of the sun, that filled the whole sky a murderous red to erase Dostoyevsky, Plato, Stravinsky and Van Gogh. And what if they hadn’t been destroyed, she thought. What if they all had continued to live on. Simply because they were still there did not mean they were still immortal. With nobody to talk about them they were only materials. Books were just paper, paintings just canvass. They only had a life of their on within the hearts of people.
When the molten lava slowly crept over those machines, those works of art. The faces looked out from the paintings, witnessing something their creators could not. In a second they were gone. All that remained of humanity was gone, all that remained of history, of hopes and dreams, of the permanence and immortality of art. Wiped out in one blow by nature.
And so what had been the point she thought. So much effort, so much life dedicated to creating these statements.
The man thought it was foolishness. He stood there, upright, looking out from the painting. Judging the works of humanity in this final hour. They should have been simple folk like us; he thought. They would have been a lot better off. So foolish, wasting their time chasing after dreams of immortality and fame that could never be permanent. What is the good of art? Is it not better to be practical in your kindness and do a service for those you meet in day to day life instead of trying to influence the world with grand ideas. Does it not also change the world to do your work well and treat others with respect? These artists he thought were merely interested in promoting themselves and their ideas, whether right or wrong, merely so that their names could live on. Well if only they could see things now.
If they had used their time instead to produce food for people and to give them shelter, that would have been a better use of their time.
Woman wrinkled her brow in contemplation. She questioned her husbands opinions sometimes. Even the value of producing food and shelter for people ended with the end of the civilization. In that sense it could not be said that art had been of any less value now that it also ended. To produce food and give shelter to people is surely a great service, but once they have obtained these basic needs they hunger for higher foods to nourish their minds. Had the artists not provided for those needs? Yes, they had.
So, the purpose of art must not be to gain immortality at all, just as the purpose of building a house or making some food is not to have it last forever. The purpose of creating art as in other things, is to nourish and give comfort to the civilization that feeds on it. The art that does this will be discussed and admired, if people are to hear of it, it will find a way into their hearts. The art that doesn’t nourish and comfort is forgotten. That is the art that seeks only to promote the ideas of its creator but not to nourish or uplift humanity, not to speak to their dreams and challenges, who they are and what they find humorous.
Then the purpose of art must be to live among people and once people are gone, it has served its purpose. Unless another civilization had come along to admire and discuss it again, then it would no longer be art but merely paper or canvass or whatever materials created it. Like, the body without the soul.
When the humans had perished you could have heard a butterflies wings beating a mile away. The chatter had stopped and that was it. So many things existed merely in their minds and souls. Without them, even the once mighty concept of money was reduced to mere paper and then dust.
Everything around was dark and red. Thick orange rivers of flame crept silently over the ground, searching for their next victim. Clouds of dust, belched up into the atmosphere by the guts of the earth, choked the sky but couldn’t block out the sun which filled the field of view. Thick smoke covered the canvass, choking the husband and wife, turning a once great work of art into something indistinguishable from a bread board. As the lava crept near its fate was sealed. It took just a second for the wood to catch fire once the orange goo had tipped its edge and in another it to was reduced to cinders, cremated with nobody left to mourn.
Some alien race might have wondered if this barren world could ever have supported life. And if life was to begin again would it create things to admire and discuss? Perhaps. There would be no immortality in that but it would be worth it.
Sean O’Neill is 32 years old, he was born and lives in Dublin. He is a husband and father of two children, with another on the way. Sean holds a BA in journalism and has been published in the Irish Independent, the New Science Journalism Project and various other web and student publications. He runs a blog on personal communication called Symbols Made of Sound and also writes poetry, short stories, essays and flash fiction. He occasionally provides coaching in creative writing for children in Dublin and the subjects of most interest to him are psychology, communications, education, spirituality and children’s rights.
– By Sam Poots
She cried. I knew she would. People always cry. She sat there, pressed into the corner of the room, screaming and bawling, her tears running down onto the flowers of her blouse. Beautiful. I have always thought so. Someone crying is such a fascinating sight. A single emotion tears through all a person’s masks and barriers until, finally, you are shown what lies beneath. I have never cried like that.
The girl was still crying when the police came and carried her out to their car. The tears had dried on her face, but I could still see the raw and naked freedom the emotion had let through, even from where I now stood on the other side of the street. It was a complete contrast to the stony faced visages of the officers. They went into the house, taking a moment to strengthen their barriers before stepping inside. When they came out I saw that their cages had been shaken, but no emotion got out. They had hardened their walls and blockades through experience, denying them the freedom that might otherwise have been achieved. Still, I consider it a success to have managed to shake the walls of such great foundations even slightly.
No one saw me that day. The image of the police men, their stony walls etched across their stony faces, stayed with me as I made my way homewards. I couldn’t help wondering, was freedom truly such a thing to be feared? What would drive a man to build up barriers that thick just to keep himself trapped? Of course, emotions are said to have the capacity to hurt, but I have always believed that freedom is worth any cost you might have to pay for it. Those French revolutionaries understood that. Many went to the guillotine, such was the price of freedom, and the people revelled in that freedom. It is one of the many times in history when people were able to achieve true freedom, momentary though it always proves to be. I often wish I could have talked to Monsieur Robespierre. I think that he would have proven to be a fascinating conversationalist.
I was at the funeral. Did you know that? It was what you might think of as the ideal weather for a funeral. The sky was bright, yet overcast, the sun breaking through grey snow clouds, which managed to hold back their load until after everyone had left. There was a large crowd gathered in that small church yard, all come to show their love for the departed. Funerals are another of those occasions where people can achieve momentary freedom. They turn up and they wear their love upon their sleeve. A love free for all to see. Except the one for whom it is intended of course. Then there were the tears. Many people cried. Not the loud wailing of the frightened child, but nonetheless intense, nonetheless revealing. So, so many people set free by one simple act.
From the back of the crowd I could see the girl standing by the graveside. Her hand was held by a large man, his Bastille face cracked and failing. At the head of the grave a minister spoke words. Comforting words, words of peace. And they were comforting; you could see that on the faces of the people there. However, I could tell that the true comfort was coming from the people. That gathering of love and affection. It reached out. It soothed and healed the people who had been revealed, who had had their shells so painfully stripped. Emotion touched emotion, person felt person, until they were able to once again build their barriers. You could see the construction work carrying on all around the graveyard. By the time people had begun to leave many of the walls were as good as new. Even the girl had managed to rebuild her walls, though I could see that they shook behind her eyes. Is it not funny that the very release which allowed emotion to flow freely then proves to be that which helps to once again damn the rivers of others? Funny, or frustrating. Take your pick. Personally, I am content that they experienced the freedom. If they want to return to their barricades, that is fine. Just as long as they realise that they must step beyond them. Or else be forced beyond them.
The boys in blue found me a few days later. I was in my living room at the time, reading Journey to the West. Have you ever read that? The Monkey King is trapped beneath a mountain by the Buddha, before being constrained with a magic head band to protect a monk on his odyssey to the Western lands. Remind me to lend it to you then. Well, my door was kicked in and a group of police officers, led by two detectives in plain clothes ran in, waving guns around and shouting. It was strange. Yes, they looked violent. They shouted the whole time, even as they were tackling me to the floor, pinning me down and cuffing my wrists. Yet it wasn’t the shouts of anger. I have heard the shouts of anger. These were controlled. I could see the anger in each of them. But these police wore the same granite-etched expressions as the ones I had seen a few days before. Anger was there, but it was behind the walls, smouldering at me from its enclosure. I have to admit, that was the first time I was glad that man, for the most part, does not live his life in a state of freedom. I have no desire to be beaten to death by a group of rage filled and wrathful officers armed with batons. Yet I couldn’t help wondering, as they loaded me into the police car shouting my rights, what could cause such fortresses as these to crack? A thought that has stayed with me.
So you asked me why I did what I did, Doctor? I suppose that that is your answer. What does it take? People need to be free, deserve to be free. But they don’t let themselves be free. So it is up to me to help them. To force their emotions to break through the flood gates, smash the walls and structures they have hemmed themselves in with. I have donned the mantle left behind by Robespierre. I realise that some might view me as evil, but if that is so then surely I must be a necessary one. If not me, someone else surely would. I cannot be the only one who looks in from outside, sees the people trapped and choking within themselves. Look at that person walking outside in the corridor, what do you see Doctor? You are a man of the mind, so you too must see the structures a person builds around themselves, to separate themselves from themselves. But that is all you see and it is your profession to help them rebuild those structures. I realised a long time ago that those structures are masks. They stop people seeing the real person, the side that is revealed through their own intensity of emotion. They prevent people from reaching out and connecting with those around them, as at the funeral. That is why I did what I did, Doctor. I stormed the Bastille and I broke through it.
Now, of course, the irony is that I have ended up with a cage of my very own. A barrier built by others. A wall to separate me from them. A fortress, a mountain, which they have placed upon my head with the hope of keeping me contained. Sitting inside, looking out through barred windows and bolted doors. I wonder. Is this the life that others always experience?
Samuel Poots is a 22 year old English journalist who has lived in N.Ireland for the past ten years and within his own head for his entire life. He studied English at University of Ulster and has recently returned from China where he taught English, as well as geek culture, at a summer camp in Yangshuo.
Jenny Hauser is from Berlin and stumbled into Dublin via Kuwait, London and Cork but is impressed with where aimless wandering can get you. She is a journalist and PhD student of media studies at DIT. Photography has been her consistent sidekick since she was a teenager and she studied film and photography in London after leaving school but before she knew what she wanted to be when she grew up. More photos can be seen on her criminally neglected blog and she can be found on Twitter @jenny_hauser.
– By E.M. Reapy
Our youngest child, Patti, came bawling through the door, her plump face red, dribble bubbling from her mouth.
My instinct seized my gut as I rushed over to her and asked, ‘What is it, honey?’ trying to keep the alarm from my voice. My husband Bill stayed in his chair but watched us intently.
‘Cooper- And – Justin Beiber,’ she said, struggling to get the words out. ‘Cooper and Justin Beiber, they- they-‘ And then she broke down.
‘Where are they?’ I asked.
She pointed to the wall behind me and I knew she meant the garden. I scooped her up in my arms and kissed her fair curls a couple of times, shushing and cooing her. I walked out to through the sliding doors in the kitchen. The day was marshy, grey clouded but dry for the moment.
Cooper was to the left of a crow, his paw clawing the fat, awkward looking bird, Justin Beiber was to the right and took swipes from that side. The cats wailed like pained babies and the disorientated crow cawed deep and mournful.
‘Oh Jesus,’ I said and shielded Patti’s head. I took her back inside. ‘Daddy, come out here for a minute,’ I said and Bill paused his TV show.
‘She alright?’ he asked me as he rose.
‘Yeah. But we have a situation.’
I gave Patti my phone to play around with and promised we’d be back to her in a minute.
I took Bill’s hand and ushered him to the garden. The cats had grown bored. Cooper leapt onto the wall and patrolled around. Justin Beiber skulked on the grass while the crow, like he was headless, rather than half headless, flapped and cocked erratically, blood making his breast shiny and reddening the dewy grass around him.
‘It’s awful,’ I said.
Bill nodded at me and gave my palm a gentle squeeze.
‘The bird, it’s not fair is it? We need to stop the misery.’
I could feel emotion threaten up my chest to my throat. I didn’t like crows, little pricks that woke me up most mornings, even before Patti did with her hopping and cuddling and playing. They squawked demented as early as 5am sometimes, before the night had even lifted. But this little one had been destroyed by our pets, by the creatures that we fed and allowed roam our house and snuggle up beside us on the couch.
Bill inspected the bird but didn’t touch it. ‘How will I do it?’ he asked and I shrugged.
‘Just do something, hit it with a stick or something?’
‘Ah no, I can’t do that. What if Patti caught me? No,’ he said. He took a deep breath and bunched the bird into his hands. I was shivery.
The cats eyed us from different angles of the garden.
He went to one of Patti’s sand buckets. It was filled with Irish summer rainwater.
‘Sorry birdy,’ he said and plunged it into the bucket. The crow didn’t put up too much of a fight but then again Bill had strong worker’s hands. I dread to think of me trying to drown it, its wings flittering and protesting, me screaming, flittering and protesting.
Bill put the dead bird beside the bucket and said, ‘I’ll get a shovel, will I?’ and went to get a shovel.
Cooper and Justin Beiber sprang over to sniff at the bird.
The choke in me changed shape.
Cooper strutted towards me and purred against my leg. I recoiled and nudged him away with my shin, ‘Go away,’ I said but he rubbed, clinged, his furry heat on my skin.
I tried again to shoo him away before using my foot,
and into his face.
EM Reapy is from Mayo, has an MA in Writing from Queen’s University, Belfast. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee and edits wordlegs.com . In 2013, she was awarded an Arts Council Literature Bursary for her debut collection. She is the Irish representative for PEN International’s New Voices Award and directs Shore Writers’ Festival in Enniscrone. Follow her @emreapy
The Mask of Ophelia
– By K.S. Moore
The stage is closed up but dressed up in loud gold curtains. The only figures visible are marble formed, lazy operators, leaning against pillars. Behind the scenes are murmurs, sideways looks and put downs. All is a flurry of preparation, hair scraped, make up on. Nobody has time.
Martha has less than most; the fear has stolen it all. She sits, tense and shivering at her dressing table, a mug of steaming black coffee beside her. She hasn’t even begun to apply her make up. Her hands are too clammy.
Leonardo hovers, offering comfort or condemnation. He is sly, ever watchful and yet she is addicted to his company. They first met at the auditions for ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream‘. He was the obvious choice for Puck with his diminutive stature and wicked edge.
She had harboured dreams of playing Titania but was eventually cast as Mustardseed. The role was better than it appeared. The production was a blend of drama and ballet and she was given extra dialogue and a solo dance. She had hated the colour of her costume though; a shade of yellow that fell somewhere between bile and peanut butter. She had felt ugly and not good enough.
Looking back, she had been blessed, cast in a role that did not place her under too much pressure but still up there on the main cast list. Everyone told her she had stolen the show. The critics called her and Leonardo ‘the stars of tomorrow’, whereas the actress playing Titania was labelled ‘frigid’ and ‘disconnected’.
When Martha had been chosen to play Ophelia in ‘Hamlet‘ she had felt beyond ecstatic. But the madness and despair of the role must be catching. She can almost feel the water closing over her head. It had taken hold in the dress rehearsal as Hamlet struggled to remember even one line of his soliloquy. His fragility was unnerving, as were his heavy lidded eyes.
When he asked her to ‘get thee to a nunnery’ she felt like racing straight there. But she is imprisoned in this role.
Steering her senses back to the present, she sees Leonardo advance towards her, a hip flask in his hand.
“This will take the edge off.”
But she is too afraid the alcohol will rob the shine from her performance, make her sluggish and inclined to slur. Jerkily, she shoots out a hand to stop Leonardo. She catches him mid-pour and the liquid trickles out onto the carpet. It smells like her Father’s going out jacket, slightly chemical, with a hint of the outdoors.
She listens, detached as Leonardo curses and leaves to find a rag. She is usually distraught when he is angry with her but tonight she is untouchable. She is still immobile when he returns to furiously scrub at the carpet.
“I’m not giving up on you!”
A few members of the chorus, butterfly in. They feign concern, giving themselves an excuse to be present. Both Martha and Leonardo know they care for nothing but their own aspirations. Leonardo glowers until they all drift away, leaving only the sickly union of their perfumes.
The word signals the start of the rescue operation. Leonardo swoops on the foundation, measuring out the exact amount required for each cheek and for Martha’s high forehead. He dots, blends and expands, taking the reddish hue from her skin, replacing it with a pale sheen: the mask of Ophelia.
His next task is to darken Martha’s eyes. They are green and watery but by the time he is finished they are vibrant, enormous. He has swirled black and silver eyeshadow, given her eyes shape with incisive dark eyeliner and finished the look by attacking her eyelashes with mascara. She now resembles a doll. All her features are exaggerated and there is no life in her eyes. She has still not woken up.
“The dress Martha, where is the dress?”
Leonardo’s words have become a hiss and Martha feels no compulsion to answer him. She is lost in memories of triumphant moments, spontaneous outbursts of applause, encores and cheers. If only she could take back the control from these memories. She has been that person. She can be her again. But before she can complete the transformation, she is drowning in cloth.
Leonardo has found the dress and is forcing it over her head. For the first time since sitting down at the dressing table she moves, feels slippery, like the first catch of the day. She doesn’t know whether she is complying or fighting but she cannot sit there like a dummy. Halfway through the struggle, she realises it is Ophelia she is resisting.
When it is over, she looks at herself in the mirror. She resembles a bride from the Romantic Gothic era, doomed to be wedded to a monster. The parallels are accurate. The stage has become her enemy and she is an innocent all over again. She understands now, that the dress has become her catalyst. It is terribly significant, symbolic of Ophelia’s purity and trust.
Leonardo attempts to remove her from the chair. He has long sharp fingernails like a girl. She winces but stays put. Her bare shoulders are fraught with red and she feels like the sacrifice has already begun.
Leonardo is stronger than he looks. He hauls her up, out of the chair and her eyes take in the dull colours of his costume, a peep of cream shirt, a laced brown topcoat and black felt hat. He is like a drab garden bird, nothing like his flamboyant appearance in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. She wonders if tonight will be a step down for him.
At last, she is standing, although swaying slightly. She is glad she didn’t take the drink. She feels otherworldly enough. She opens her mouth to say she will not go out there, but Leonardo speaks first.
“You are going out on that stage. Do you hear me? This is your big chance!”
The moment she realises he is serious, she hears the gong of her own heart, gathering speed until it is battering her from the inside. She has no idea how to quiet it, so moves forward in its pounding company. Leonardo is not touching her, yet she can feel his presence at her back and knows he will not allow her to turn.
She finds herself in the wings, regarding the action on stage, wondering how it can ever include her. She is incapable of speech, has no fight left and cannot even run away.
“Martha, it’s you, it’s Ophelia!”
Leonardo nudges her out from behind the curtain. Her heart is wilder than ever. At least she cannot see the audience. The lighting is so acute, all their faces blend into a silver mush. She finds herself wandering towards it as the floor tilts up.
She’s going down.
K. S. Moore was one of the FlashMob 2013 finalists, with her story: ‘Old and Free’. She also had a piece called ‘Bones’ selected for publication in National Flash Fiction Day’s FlashFlood Journal. A poem of hers will appear in the Winter issue of Welsh literary magazine: The Seventh Quarry. She has a background in publishing and ran a company called ‘Young Welsh and Poetic’ between 2005 and 2008. During this time she published pamphlets and full collections by young writers and produced four poetry collections of her own. She blogs at: ksmoore.com and has had articles published at Irish magazine site: Writing.ie. Recent achievements include performing her poetry at Waterford Writers’ Weekend, and being awarded a place on Artlinks Clinic Mentoring with Grace Wells. She is also the Clonea & Rathgormack Correspondent for The Munster Express.
‘We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.’
– Oscar Wilde
And what beauty do you find there in the stars? What is it that sustains your soul when all around you crumbles to ruin? What is the magic that makes it all worthwhile? We at The Bohemyth want to know!
We will be publishing a special Oscar Wilde Issue on the 16th of October (Oscar’s birthday!). We are looking for photography submissions, short stories, flash fiction and one act plays inspired by, referencing, associated with or somehow connected to the writings of Oscar Wilde.
To be considered for this issue please submit by the end of September. If you’re unsure of the suitability of your work for this issue, submit anyway.
Dicey O’ Donnell, mother of two, lover and taker of great imagery! These images were taken at the beautiful Borgo di Tragliata, wedding venue and working organic farm in the Roman countryside. A joy to saunter around in 30 degree heat snapping vibrant colours, playful shadows and intricate details. She’s going to move there and set up camp among the sunflowers…
We Can’t Go Home
– By Jacky Ievoli
We walked up and down the strip that summer. Our heels turned black as our feet hit the road, despite our flip flops. They stayed stained that whole summer. The sand, the sea, the scrubbing in the shower. The black of the road was stubborn. It marked us. It showed the miles we had walked. The sun beat down, bringing out our freckles, lightening our hair and darkening our skin. We rolled the waistband of our shorts to expose as much of our legs as we could. We didn’t want tan lines to traverse our thighs. Our taut stomachs exposed, our breasts barely filling our bikini tops. Our hair hung in salty waves down our backs, hers brown and mine blonde. Her green eyes danced in the sunlight and gold flecks appeared when she smiled. My brown eyes were always the same color. I wished they would dance in the light like hers.
“We can’t go home until we get up to twenty.”
I nodded. She was older. She had already been kissed by a boy. I looked up to her. Twenty. Yesterday it was fifteen. Five more? In one day? I wanted to say that maybe we should shoot for seventeen. Seventeen seemed more reasonable. Two more than yesterday seemed like a reachable goal. But five more? I wondered how far we would have to walk to get five more. I longed to go to the beach, to strip off my shorts, grab my board and hit the waves. Let the salt water crash over me and the current take me where it would. But I was getting kind of old for that, she had said. The boys won’t like me if I keep that up, she had warned. My flip flops were bothering my feet. I needed to wriggle my toes in the sand.
“Don’t look down at your feet! You gotta look up!”
I lifted my head. I watched her as she twirled her hair between her fingers and sashayed her hips. How did she do that? I looked down at my own hips as I walked. They stayed stubbornly in place. I tried to watch her out of the corner of my eye, but I could only see the side of her. I slowed my pace. I walked just behind her. I was mesmerized by the swaying of her hips in time with her steps. I tried to watch her feet, her legs, her thighs to try and figure out what part of her made her hips wiggle like that. But I was perplexed. It seemed like something you should just know how to do. As a woman. How to make your hips move in the way that made boys stare. I guess that’s why boys didn’t stare at me. I was somehow deficient. They could tell by the way I walked.
I high-fived her as the car speeding by us honked its horn. We almost had as many beeps as we had yesterday. I checked the next street sign. We weren’t even as far as we were yesterday when we hit fifteen. It was a game for her. How many beeps could we get and how many blocks did we have to walk to get them. It wasn’t like she didn’t have people staring at her everywhere we went and it wasn’t like there weren’t tons of boys who would take her out for ice cream come Friday night. And it wasn’t like boys didn’t tell her how pretty she was every chance they got.
It was. Well, I don’t know what it was. I think maybe it had to do with needing something quantifiable. She could count how many boys she kissed. But then she’d be easy. So that summer, she counted the number of boys who beeped at her as they drove by her in their cars. She said us, but she meant her. I was just there for the company.
“Do you think we can get to twenty before we reach the boardwalk?”
The boardwalk was the end of town. There was another town after it, but it was the end of our town. And as far as I was concerned, it was the end. I didn’t want to walk any further than the boardwalk. If we stopped at the boardwalk, got an ice cream and turned around, it would seem less… pathetic. We weren’t counting beeps. We were going to the boardwalk for ice cream.
“Maybe.” She paused and looked me up and down. “Pull your shoulders back. Don’t slouch. Stick out your chest.”
I looked down at the triangular shaped fabric on my chest. It was flat. The fabric and my chest.
“Like this.” She pushed out her boobs and her butt and continued walking.
The next two cars honked at her. She threw back her head and laughed.
“We can definitely get twenty before the boardwalk.”
We went out every night that summer. Her breasts had come on, but mine stubbornly stayed put. I was the smart one, everyone said. I was on my way to law school and I’d find a smart, handsome boy there who would run his family’s law practice one day. I’d just smile. It wasn’t worth it to explain that I was going to school because I wanted to be a lawyer, not because I wanted to marry one.
We stayed out until last call and then we’d lay on the beach until the sun rose. I knew there was a lot of hard work ahead of me, so I relished my last chance to be carefree. Sometimes there was a boy. Sometimes it was just us. On those nights, she’d hold my hand and tell me about the boy she was going to marry. The dark circles under our eyes when we went in for our lunch shifts marked us. We had been out late. I’d lay next to her in the sand on those nights when there was no boy and I’d tell her that she’d find him soon.
“Tomorrow we can’t go home until I find him.”
I’d nod. The movement would grind the sand into my scalp, making it impossible to wash it all out, making little grains of sand fall from my hair during my shift the next day.
I still hadn’t kissed a boy. All the boys wanted to kiss her. I guess some girls would get mad, but I didn’t really see what the big deal was. I had watched her kiss plenty of boys on the beach. I didn’t see what the fuss was all about. I didn’t think I wanted a boys lips mashed up against mine, his breath smelling of rum and Cokes. That was what everyone was drinking that summer. Rum and Coke. I didn’t drink soda. And rum made my head spin. So I had cranberry juice and seltzer.
“With vodka?” The bartender would ask.
“Just a lime.” I’d say and pray that she didn’t hear me.
He’d look at me funny and shrug, dropping a lime wedge into the pink liquid.
“What do you think of that guy?”
She’d grab my arm as I was leaving the tip for the bartender. She was always forgetting things like leaving the tip, so I was always doing it for the both of us.
I never had to look at him. I knew what he looked like. Tall. Dark hair. Pretty smile. Always the same guy.
“I’m gonna go talk to him.”
“Go for it.”
I’d stand by the bar sipping on my drink, watching her mesmerize the guy. I always felt kind of sorry for the guy. He had no defences against her and even if he did, I don’t think he’d want to use them anyway. She was pretty. No. Sexy. In that Brigitte Bardot way of sexy. The full lips, the bedroom eyes, the curves. And the hair. She had Brigitte Bardot hair. I reached up and touched my own chin length, choppy bob. Definitely not Brigitte Bardot hair. I looked down at my narrow frame. Definitely not Brigitte Bardot curves.
I guess that’s why I always stood there waiting and watching. I didn’t have it. That it that made the boys want to talk to you. To kiss you. So I’d stand and sip my drink and watch her talk to the boy. Some nights she’d come over with the boy and we’d go to the beach and we’d all talk until she decided she wanted to kiss him. Sometimes she never decided she wanted to kiss him and she’d turn to me and talk until he got the hint. Sometimes she left him in the bar. Ladies room, she’d say. She’d leave him standing there holding her half-finished drink and wondering later if she were even real. But he had the drink. So she must have been real…
“Do you really think I’ll find him one day?”
I reached for her hand as we lay under the stars.
“I know you will.”
She sighed and curled up next to me, laying her head on my stomach. I ran my fingers through her hair.
“We should go home.”
I never knew what clock she used or what would compel her to go home. I never asked what magic rule she followed on those nights.
We stopped going out every night the night she met him. Or I stopped going out every night. She kept going out. But now with him. She met him on the beach.
“Hey.” He had said.
She pretended to be asleep in her chair.
“Oh sorry.” He had been embarrassed.
“It’s okay.” I tapped her arm to ‘wake her’ and pointed up at the owner of the voice.
“Sorry to wake you up. I just had to say hi.”
He just had to. Why did he just have to? I wanted to ask him what she had done to make him just have to. What sorcery was it? They made plans to meet that night after our shift ended.
“Come with me?”
I didn’t want to go with her to meet him. I didn’t see the point. Nobody likes to play the third wheel.
Whatever magic she had wasn’t just for the opposite sex. After one drink she whispered for me to go home if I wanted to. So I left her with the boy who couldn’t take his eyes off of her.
We walked down that church aisle together, arm in arm, me and her. Her parents said she was too young. Her parents didn’t approve.
“You hardly know this boy.” They had said.
“So don’t come.” She had told them.
And so they didn’t. Her parents, it seemed, were under her spell too.
“But who will walk you down the aisle?” I had asked.
I didn’t want this wedding to happen but I didn’t know how to tell her that. I thought maybe if I tripped her up…
“Well, why not?”She put her hands on her hips. “You’re my best friend. Why shouldn’t you give me away?”
When she put it like that, I couldn’t see a counterargument. She was my best friend. And I was giving her to the boy she was going to marry. It hit me then. She’d be his. She wouldn’t be mine anymore. I linked my arm in hers and walked her up to the altar that fall. Summer was just fading. We had daisies in our hair and held the last of the day lilies in our hands. Only a few friends came. Even fewer family members were there. Mostly everyone just shook their heads.
Why would such a pretty girl throw away her whole life on a boy she had only just met on the beach? Well that’s just it. She was a pretty girl. And she wasn’t much else. And the yellow specks would only dance in her eyes for so long, and she only had so much magic dust in her pouch. She had to find him before it was too late. And if he wasn’t quite right, well, he’d do. At least she wouldn’t have to go out every night. And at least she wouldn’t be alone.
After the cake and the dancing, I went back to the little bungalow we had shared. It looked empty with all of her stuff gone.
Most of my stuff was gone too. I had moved it to my small apartment by the law school. But some stuff remained. We had paid the rent through to Christmas.
I don’t know why. We both knew we wouldn’t be there come Christmas. But it was cheap. And I think we felt sorry for the landlord, who we knew would have trouble renting it in the off season when all the summer people left. So we kept it. And I escaped there on weekends when I needed solitude. It would make a great writer’s retreat. If I were a writer. I sighed and unzipped my dress. She had picked out a frothy pink silk slip dress for me.
“Pink was always your color.” She had said.
I’ve always hated pink. But she was the bride. And I’d have my revenge one day. Lime green. She’d look lovely in lime green. I chuckled as I let the dress fall to a puddle on the floor. I stepped out of it and pulled a shirt from the dresser over my head. She found him. That was all she ever wanted, was to find him and to marry him and to have a baby. I admired her conviction. That marriage and baby was all she needed in life to be happy. A part of me wished I was a bit more simple. I wanted a lot of things. A baby, yes. But so many more things before that. I moved the curtains so I could see the stars. When she’d be kissing a boy, I’d be staring at the stars thinking of all the places I wanted to see and wondering if my dreams were more numerous than the stars. I laughed. I bet she wondered if she could kiss as many boys as there were stars. She’d never kiss another boy again. I sobered at the thought. That was it for her. There’s be no more boys and no more first kisses and no more only kisses. She was so young. I was so sad for her. I had so many firsts out there waiting for me.
I had given my best friend away in marriage, but I still hadn’t kissed a boy. I could buy a drink legally, but I didn’t know how to make the boys go wild or how to press my lips up against another’s. Maybe now that she was married, she’d tell me her secrets. I let the curtains fall and pulled back the sheets on the bed. Maybe I’d say hi to that boy in my criminal law class. I could ask him for the notes for the day I missed. I was stopped from crawling into bed by a knock on the door. Who could that be? I opened the door and saw my friend’s tear-stained face. Her wedding gown was ripped, barely hanging on her body.
She collapsed on me and I closed the door behind us.
“I can’t go home!”
After studying British fiction and writing about the courtship novel, Jacky Ievoli left the romance behind and traded her Austen in for legal briefs. She currently works for a law firm, turning lawyer’s legalease into English that people can understand, not actually want to read, but at least understand. She lives in Turtle Bay and loves watching people’s faces as they try to figure out where exactly that is.
– By Tom Offland
Have you done it?
This will be the last one, thought the man and he unpacked his tools. I’m not doing this again. Green leather gloves and garden wire and plastic bags and dishwasher solution and aluminium scourers. I’m not doing this ever again. Six tins of Danish lager and a ring bound folder and a bag of nails and two steel capped boots and a cordless drill and a half gram of cocaine and blue overalls and a black satchel and a house brick. The man slapped shut the boot of his car and leant his head on the window in meditation. Come on, he said quietly to himself, come on come on come on come on come on come on. And the glass steamed a little under his breath.
What do you mean, you haven’t?
When the man reached the iron gate he turned around one last time to check on his car and then passed through the arch into the garden. Spider webs and potting string and English Ivy hung from the trellises. Crickets squatted in the grass. The man picked his feet carefully past the blind snails and broken garden tiles. The daffodils nodding furiously as he brushed past. A plastic windmill turned on a bamboo stick and a plastic woodsman waved his axe and a plastic spruce tree bristled and two plastic singing birds revolved around the breeze. God, the man said, and pulled his cap on tighter.
I don’t care if there are laws!
The man followed the flower beds and the stinging nettles and the punctured footballs and the slug pellets and the pale half oranges and he found the house. At the door he dropped his satchel behind his feet and felt around in his pockets for his identification. A paper wasp fumbled in the leaves around the door. Another dropped out from between the bricks and drifted away towards the road. This is it, he said, rubbing his nose with the back of his hand. This is the one. A note beside the door buzzer read, PLEASE KNOCK, and the man closed his eyes for a moment and then knocked his knuckles against the wooden door. This is the one, he said.
What do you mean I have to do it?
The door opened and the man bent his knees and hoisted his bag over his shoulder and tried to appear professional. Look professional, he thought, holding his identification out before him. Look professional. There was a woman in the doorway, bunching her hair back into a pony tail. I’m here about the animals, the man said, and he felt the corners of his mouth twitching and he worried about his breath. The woman looked at the man’s identification and at the man’s face and at the man’s overalls and at the man’s steel capped boots and over the man’s shoulder and she stepped aside so as to let the man inside her house. They’re upstairs, the woman said, they’re on the children’s beds. The man stood in the doorway looking up the stairs. They’re on the bunk beds, the woman said.
I can’t do it!
The woman walked ahead of the man through the house, waving her hands and making a clucking noise with her mouth and stopping occasionally to pluck stray strands of black cotton and specks of thread from the carpet and the man followed slowly in his socks and cradled his boots and his satchel against his belly and tried to look at every picture on the wall. Prize cattle and chewed pencils and scavenging crows and thatch cottages burning down. It’s a lovely house, the man said. Racehorses kicking free and galloping riderless from their stalls and dogs walking on two feet and empty office blocks and empty beaches and dried up swimming pools and family portraits taken in dark rooms. Upstairs, the woman paused beside an open bedroom door and waited for the man. They’re in here, she said, pointing through the doorway and biting her lip and itching her forehead and studying the buttons on her shirt so as not to meet the man’s eye.
The man unpacked his tools gently in the corridor. The woman watched him, crossing and uncrossing her arms and she asked him if he had done this before and he smiled in answer and he felt as if he might throw up. The man slipped on his boots and buttoned his overalls and turned off the lights and crept across the bedroom. At the bottom of the beds the man stood and held his breath and listened and could hear the animals moving on the mattresses above. This will be the last one, thought the man, and he climbed the rungs of the bunk bed ladder slowly through the darkness. Eight or nine or ten gorillas stirred on the top beds. The man struggled to count them in the gloom. They stared at him with big black eyes and they paced the beds in fear.
Have you done it, the woman said as the man emerged from the bedroom. No, the man said, and he tried to touch the woman’s hand. What do you mean, you haven’t, the woman said. There are laws, the man said. I don’t care if there are laws, the woman said. And the man took a deep breath and closed his eyes and said if the woman wanted the gorillas dead then she would have to do it herself, and that he would remove them afterwards and that he would tidy up all the mess. And the woman said, what do you mean I have to do it? And the man started crying and he said that it was the law. And the woman said, I can’t do it! I can’t! And the man lifted a beer out of his satchel and offered it to the woman and the man tried to touch the woman’s hand and the man said, we can drink a beer together before it happens. And the woman said, I can’t!
Tom Offland lives in London. He keeps a blog here.
Amy Kennelly from Kerry via Dublin quit her job earlier this year to go on an adventure. She is currently living in a shed in Sydney surrounded by hipsters.
The street art pics are all of good vibes Amy found while wandering around Melbourne on a blustery winter day. She shot the heron on a beach at sunset while drinking wine and eating fish and chips. To her left (out of shot) were a couple taking their wedding pictures.
Interview With A Campfire
– By Brian Coughlan
The photograph on the front of the paper is of a dog shaking hands with a prominent politician. I repeat a dog shaking hands with a politician. What the newspaper did next set the tone for the whole day. Sporting tight brown trousers and dainty black shoes it emitted a sound akin to upholstery being ripped apart. There was a very faint quiver but no apology – not even an acknowledgement of the fact. While I muttered with indignation a sulpher-like stench engulfed the carriage.
The photograph on the front was still of a dog shaking hands with a politician. It was standing up tall on its hind legs and looking disdainfully at the future leader of this country. It was a very unusual dog – a cross between a Labrador and a Poodle. There were names underneath. I was more interested in the dog’s name but the writing was too small to make it out.
For the remainder of the journey I was troubled by my complete lack of enthusiasm. I got off at a small deserted station and walked into the town. The morning sun cast an orange light across cars and trees and buildings. Walking past the window of a man’s outfitters I noticed a mannequin in the window. It reminded me vaguely, of someone. It was the likeness of a young man with short black hair and a piercing gaze. His head tilted at an unusual angle – it may have been incorrectly screwed on – and his hands were frozen in karate-chop positions. I could not for the life of me figure out who he reminded me of.
On arrival at the factory I found the place deserted. There were clearly people working there – the car park was full but there was nobody at the security hut and no sign of activity behind the gates. I thought I could hear a dull repetitive thudding noise off in the distance but when I stopped to listen for it –it was no longer there.
A red button, sticking out like an erect nipple needed to be pressed – so I pressed it. A woman’s plaintive voice told me to wait for the buzz and then push the gate. I waited for the buzz. Nothing happened. So I had no option but to press the red nipple again. She came over the speaker. I did not push until I heard the buzz and when I heard the buzz I pushed but the thing still wouldn’t move. So I had to press the nipple again. Eventually a woman came out of a building walked swiftly towards me and pulled the gate open.
Without so much as a glance in my general direction she turned on her heels and walked away smartly, her large behind swerving from side to side, back towards a red brick building at the end of a series of concrete paving slabs. I was admitted to an empty waiting room furnished with a row of drab plastic chairs along the walls and a low coffee table in the middle, smothered in old dog-eared magazines. My eye roved from one barren wall to the next. It was a depressing shit-hole of a place.
After a long time sitting there I very nearly fell asleep. Out of nowhere another small plump woman in a smart suit appears in the doorway with a clip-board clenched to her bosom. I am perkily instructed to follow her. We walk up two flights of stairs and down a long dimly lit corridor at the end of which I am asked to wait in a small room of just a single chair. According to her they are nearly ready for me. The clock high on the wall across from me says eight forty-nine.
I watch time go past with the jerky, continuous movement of a red plastic hand as it stops – then carries on – past each tiny gradation. After precisely six minutes and thirty eight seconds I stop watching the clock but when I close my eyes I can still picture that red hand jerking along in a steady monotonous onslaught.
She comes back and leads me into a boardroom, a long narrow room with a long narrow table down the center of the room and a number of chairs pushed in neatly all along it. It is a really nice table, dark wood, expertly polished, smooth to the touch. I hear the sound of footsteps coming down the hallway and then the door of the room opens.
I rise from my chair to exchange handshakes with a HR woman who looks like an ostrich; long neck, black beady-eyes and short cropped haircut – puffball body encased in a power suit; and with the Technical Director – dead-ringer for an Albino Gorilla; thick-set and in a grumpy mood. The ostrich does the introductions and starts waffling on about the company. There’s a large window in the space above their heads and I gaze out through it. Beyond the walls of the factory there are fields made green by that still strong morning light. I can see a small figure walking its dog and throwing a stick-like object for the dog to retrieve; probably a stick.
So tell us a little bit about yourself?
If you were to ask my ex-wife I’m a demon of some sort; a cruel and sadistic schemer who doesn’t give a damn about his children. She accuses me of walking away from my responsibilities and not giving her the credit she feels entitled to – for the great job she’s done raising the kids. If you ask my friends they will tell you that I am unreliable and absent when needed – that I cannot be depended on, that I drift away all too easily. But they don’t really know me at all. That’s the thing. I keep myself hidden from view. In reality I am the reincarnation of St. Stephen. I know it’s incredible but what do you want me to tell you – a bunch of made-up lies and make-believe? I only found out myself last month through a series of visions I experienced at my hot yoga class.
The Ostrich is very happy with my answer. She grimaces with a smile and writes a few notes on my CV. She has a hole in her tights just above one knee. What is she writing down I wonder? And why hasn’t she made reference to or even glanced at my tonsure yet?
The albino gorilla takes off his glasses and deftly wipes them with a little cloth he has conjured, most likely from his anal passage. It’s a little yellow cloth imprinted with the name and address of his optician. He slides them back on in a remarkably gentle fashion and puts the little cloth back where it belongs. He glances down at his belly and removes a few bits of fluff from his tie.
So why did you leave your last job?
Because they did not want to hear the truth – that’s why. They subjected me to a show trial in front of other executives and representatives from HR and they sentenced me to be stoned to death. I brought up the whole ‘he who hath not sinned bit’ and the stones started flying so I hid under the board room table and used the Managing Director as a human shield to get the hell out of there. But you know something it’s like I always say – was there ever a prophet that they didn’t try and execute? You know what I mean? I’m just going to take a drink of water here at this juncture.
The gorilla nods his head in agreement. I’m giving him another one of those textbook answers. They are a basic requirement – any hint of individual thought is exterminated by stock answers to stock questions. He produces a banana and peels it gently as I continue to wax lyrical about the benefits of gaining experience in a multitude of different settings. As he lovingly devours the banana his ostrich colleague buries her head in the sand of ignorance. I already know the job is mine if I want it.
What motivates you to do a good job?
Money motivates me. Not unlike every other person who gets up in the morning when they don’t want to, travels into work at a job they dislike and stays working all day with this great pretence that it’s really not that bad once you get into it. Some people even buy into the whole business and enjoy repeating the company slogans and admonishing those who ignore them. I’m here for the hard cash Ms. Ostrich. Next question please.
What are your strengths and what are your weaknesses?
My strength Mr. Gorilla is that I can’t stand other people. I hate the fucking sight of them. I hate people and I hate work and I hate clocking-in and clocking-out and pretending. More than anything I hate pretending to be interested in the field of work I find myself wandering around in. So you see by not giving a shit it actually helps because it gives me the cold dispassionate eye one needs to survive in this kind of environment. And I can tell an asshole when I see one which is what you clearly are. I can well imagine taking orders from you and never doing things up to your expected standard. How long would it take for us to fall out I wonder? A month, two months…who knows. My weaknesses are too numerous to mention but I’ll have a go; I’m lazy, I don’t listen, I hate taking orders, I am un-sociable and prone to bullying people when they bug me…that’s all I can think of right now.
Stephen why should we hire you?
For a brief moment I am inexplicably thrown by the question. My mouth opens and then closes without a word passing my lips. I stare into those two sets of expectant eyes and I do not know what to say. Nothing! There is not one word in my mind that presents itself for usage. They are shying away from the act of bravery. They seek safety in the silence of the crowd. Instead there is an excruciating stillness in the room where the ticking of the wall clock becomes deafening. I am the mannequin. I am the dummy in the shop window; it reminds me of myself. Then I hear myself vomit out the following:
I believe that I have the relevant experience to do the job. I believe that I’ve proved myself more than capable in the past. I believe I would be an excellent addition to the team here at this well-regarded company. I am excited at the prospect of learning more and growing both as an individual and as a team player within this exciting organization and who knows? I think I would make a really significant contribution to the company and bring renewed success through my hard work and results-based dynamism.
The Ostrich nods her head emphatically and locks eyes with the Gorilla who shrugs his shoulders as much as to say ‘I’ve no objections’. The Ostrich thanks me for coming in to see them and she keeps smiling at me now. Well done for answering all the questions in a way that has meant we can tick all the boxes. Well done for making our lives that little bit easier. Well done for telling us nothing that we need be concerned about. Well done.
‘How soon can you start?’ asks the gorilla in a dour voice.
I’m gazing out through the large window above their heads. Beyond the walls of the factory there are fields made green by the now grey morning light. I can see a small figure being mauled by a dog. I jump to my feet and send the chair toppling over.
‘Look what’s happening out there!’ I shout.
Brian Coughlan lives in Galway where he works as a screenwriter and part-time pharmaceutical industry employee. He also writes short stories and the occasional poem.
Summer at Maghermore
– By Alan Walsh
It was early and no one was anywhere near the shore but for an old man sat against the rock nearest the tide, draped in a long towel, who watched out for the light to break. It was still a little like night to venture out and he sipped from a flask he had brought to warm him at that hour. The first call of gannets had woken two surfers inside of their camper van and they sat, with tea, and watched the old man, wondering why he was out alone so early and on such a remote stretch of beach.
“He’s trying to kill himself,” one surfer said.
“Why do you say that?”
“No one would arrive out here so early. He’s working up courage, drinking from that flask, maybe rum. He seems unsteady.”
“Then why did he change into that swimsuit? Why the towel if not to dry off?”
“Who knows what occurs in the mind of a suicide? Maybe he wishes to seem normal, like it might look an accident.”
They crouched behind the wheel of the van with the light off so as not to be noticed in all of the silence and darkness. The only thing to move was the low branch stooped over the old man’s rock and the loose strands of seaweed in the breeze. The gannets and gulls began to circle more frequently and the light began slowly to come in. When the water was lit well enough to make out, the old man folded his towel down into the bag where he had packed his clothes and placed his flask on top of the rock beside it. He began walking out toward where the water washed the first pebbles on the shore.
“There, he’s going to do it. We can’t just allow it to happen.”
“He doesn’t look anything like drunk. He’s just testing the temperature.”
They both silently got out of the van to watch from the shade, keeping sure to remain very still. The old man stood a while with the water reaching only his ankles. He adjusted his shorts, tucked up underneath where his belly hung, and crouched down to place his hands into the foam. He brought water up to rinse through his hair and down his face, doing this a number of times. He ventured out a little deeper, knee deep and then to his waist, and allowed the tide lap his belly and upper arms while he looked out at the sky gradually changing colours.
“Where are you going?”
“I’m going down there. It’s probably even a crime to stand by and watch someone kill themselves, doing nothing.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about. He’s just taking a dip.”
The man craned his knees to have the water cover his chest and then wash over his shoulders. That early it was still cold enough to throw you off if you didn’t take enough care. He went through this motion a couple of times, then finally dunking his head the whole way under to come up again wet all over. Sure of his footing now and far enough from the shore, he pushed forward into a forearm stroke, letting the water catch his weight under the belly and kicking hard as he could manage it. It churned water high in every direction, his strokes weren’t quite timed to replace one another in the water and his kicking legs weren’t strong enough to breach the surface and push him on. He floundered sideways, unable to bring his following arm round in time to keep afloat and kicked down to touch the bottom again. He stood a minute out as far as the water reaching his shoulders and took a few heavy breaths. He washed some more of the tide through his hair. Bending his knees further, he let the tide lap up to his lips and nose and pushed off again, horizontal to the shoreline, this time with greater effort and more foam thrown up about him. His legs kicked harder and he forced his arms on through the water ahead. But he was already off course, and soon heading diagonally out from the tide to where the bottom began to slope off. The push and thrashing soon tired the old man. He quit to stand still a while again, but he had ventured a little far out of his depth. His shoulders dipped under quickly to his surprise, taking his head down under as well and he had to reach right away into another forward splash, even out of breath, to make it in close enough to shore to touch down.
“He doesn’t know about us. He thinks he’s all alone out here. He can’t even hardly keep afloat. It’s still almost dark and there’s no one for miles.”
“He’s teaching himself to swim.”
“Why would anybody do that at this hour, miles from any possible help? At that age.”
“Maybe that’s why he’s out here.”
“He’s well into his eighties easy. He was unsteady getting out there across the stones to start off with. Hazard to himself. There have to be laws against people acting out of recklessness with their own well being.”
“There aren’t any people out in the water at this time. No one to pay him any attention back on shore either, to get unduly worried. He can concentrate freely.”
The old man was back down into another stroke, this one a little sharper, tighter to the line of the tide. He seemed not to kick as much froth up around him either. A number of gulls had settled on the moving surface, content to drift and watch. He only made a couple of feet along before having to touch down again and catch his breath. He knew he was doing it all wrong, that his timing was off, he was pushing too hard and without any grace. Stood deep in the tide, he tried to figure out how to better it with his next go. He waded out a little deeper and practiced moving just his arms, each over the shoulder in turn, slowly as he could, for imagined in this lay the key. Then, remembering what he had seen others do, he began rolling his head from side to side in the water, breathing in one side and out the other. He stood in place and did this a little while. The younger surfer watched him, shaking his head. The man took another breath and lunged forward again, this time in the opposite direction. Again, he kicked up a lot of froth and began to stray diagonally outward, but it seemed a little more contained a motion than before. He couldn’t maintain it for very long and hadn’t gotten the breathing right. He lacked the strength to keep stroking any length and had to stop to again pretty soon. The younger surfer shook his head some more.
“You know he’ll be back out here tomorrow morning.”
“He looks that type.”
“And we’ve taken the place up by Maghermore. So we won’t be here.”
The light had by then come in enough that the rock, the trees and camper van and both men were clearly visible and the old man, seeing them, wet his head one final time in the foam and began to stride his way back into shore through the water. He reached the stones and collected his bag and his flask from the rock, made his way back up the shingle slope and past the camper van, saluting the surfers with a nod as he went. Both of them nodded in return.
In a little while, they had suited up and prepared the boards, they’d locked up the van and headed down to the shore themselves. It was still early but the waves were starting to come in a little harder and break with more force. They paddled out far enough and caught what they could, but the waves weren’t as lively as they had been earlier in the month. That was why the younger surfer has suggested moving on up to Maghermore, where it was said to be rougher. They had planned to pass the summer there but had left it too long. He brought his board out past the furthest rock and let the sea rise and drop him until he felt there was enough in it to try and make it back in on. Each time he did it, though, it tapered off and he was left wishing he had left it longer. A few of these and he had given up. He relaxed and watched his partner fight to drag some life out of the waves, sometimes even getting a little. He sat on the surf board, flat on the surface of the water, and thought about that old man, wondering if he’d be out there the following morning and if he’d ever succeed in teaching himself to swim. It was too dead to surf. He paddled back into shore and lit a fire back by the van. He dried himself off and began to prepare breakfast.
Alan Walsh is a 36 year old Writer and Designer who has just finished his third novel. He has been published in The Moth, Outburst and The Illustrated Ape among other magazines and has written for Magill magazine and Film Ireland. He is currently involved in a graffiti project with hurls and an unlikely illustration project with Irish superheroes. Follow Alan on twitter.
Kerstina Mortensen is an Irish-Danish graduate of History of Art and German, Trinity College Dublin. She writes, paints and photographs, and has had work published in Icarus, The Attic and the Trinity Journal of Literary Translation. Check out her blog.
– ByYaseena McKendry
You rest in my arms, peaceful, quiet.
We’ve done this before in the months since you were born, sitting together along the
edge of the sand dune, looking out to sea.
I lean down and kiss your temple. Your skin is damp from your sweat, your curly
hair matted to your head in sections. The wind gathers around us, brushing against our
bodies and teasing you from sleep. I breathe in the salty air wishing it was warm enough for
a swim. I have a feeling you’d love the water, just like me. I’ll teach you when you’re older
and we’ll sneak out here just the two of us in the summer, away from mom and dad.
You look up at me, your eyes wide and curious. Your eyes were the first sign that
something was wrong, but I didn’t understand then. The midwife, who had been with mom
through her delivery, held you in her arms, careful and tentative. She looked down at you
for a long while, anxious as if she knew something she didn’t want to say out loud.
Everyone was talking, the stillness that had come over each of us while mom was in
delivery, broken now that you were there in the room– all of a sudden as if you always had
The midwife told mom and dad your eyes were too small, pressed too flat against
your face. Your nose was the same and later, when the doctors saw you, they said that it
would be hard for you to breathe, that you might need surgery one day.
Your body moves restlessly in my arms and I look down at your face to see if you’re
about to cry. Your eyebrows, fair even though your hair is dark, scrunch together and I run
my fingertip along the slope of your nose and you stop fussing.
My lips are chapped and I feel them stretch as I smile at you, the skin cracking with
the effort. I’ve held you each day since you were born, taking you with me where ever I go.
You like the beach best though, you’re always more peaceful when we’re out of the house.
I look out towards the ocean, watch the waves as they curl, changing from navy blue
to teal and then white as they turn in on themselves. It’s getting dark out and soon we’ll
have to go back inside. I don’t want to leave this spot, to go back to the house and listen to
the pressing quiet.
Mom used to call our cottage the perfect beach home. A getaway for us all when the
city got to be too much. I remember watching dad stain the deck a bright blue to match the
ocean. The siding such a crisp white it used to hurt my eyes when the sun shone against the
slats. Now the whole place looks neglected, forgotten. It’s been years since we’ve visited
the beach but mom thought having you by the water would be peaceful. A chance for
everything to calm down is what she said to dad.
The screen door is ripped now, the frame leaning off its hinges. Our deck used to be
bold. Now the colour has dulled and the paint is worn down. I can’t walk on it in bare feet
anymore or the paints chips scrape off and catch in my skin. Our house is one of the only
ones on this side of the beach. I used to love the privacy. When I was little I could yell and
scream and run as far as I wanted without annoying the neighbours. Now at night I hear the
wind slam against the walls and the rain hit the tin roof and all I want is to look out my
window and see light. Some sign of life that says we aren’t the only ones trapped here,
marooned away from every other sign of life.
I burrow my feet in the sand and wiggle my toes. I dig them deeper, finding the cool,
sticky darkness of the beaches underworld and try not to think of the tiny bugs crawling
around underneath the surface. Your little hand, so small and fragile breaks free of the
blanket I’ve wrapped you in. Your arm swings uncontrolled, luxuriating in the freedom of its
escape. I feel your fingers graze my face and lean closer to let you pet my cheek. You want
to sit up, I can tell by the look in your eye and the way you’re craning your neck to see
more. I raise you in my arms, bending my knees, letting your head rest against them like a
pillow. I brush your hair across your forehead, smoothing it back against the softness of your head. I take care not to brush the spot that’s so sensitive, your ‘soft spot,’ mom calls it.
She worries for you. She cried when you were born. She wonders if things would
have been different if she hadn’t been so desperate for another baby. Something to hold the
pieces of our family together. She wonders what might have happened if you’d been born in
a hospital. I tell her not to think of it. She had me at home.
I watched her hold you for the first time. She sat folded on the bed. Her legs splayed
outwards, spread wide and apart like they were no longer part of her body. Her arms looked
heavy as they held you. She was silent. She looked down at you, a frown on her face. I
stood in the doorway, leaning against the chipped white frame, the paint folding itself into
the threads of my sweater as I shifted, ripping from the wall and disintegrating into bits
when I moved. I watched them fall to pieces on the ground. I knew I’d have to sweep them
Mom called to me, told me to take you. To hold you tight. She needed to rest. I took
you in my arms that first day, scared and unsure. I didn’t understand what was happening,
why everyone was so quiet, so still. I looked down at mom. I didn’t know how to hold you,
how to make you comfortable. She wouldn’t look at me though, so I turned to the midwife,
ready to give you to her. She smiled kindly. Her sunken eyes looked me over, assessing,
measuring me. She motioned with her arms for me to cradle your body. I moved and your
head swayed, like it wasn’t properly attached to your neck. You made a funny sound, a wet
hiccup, and I looked down at your face for the first time. I guess I understood then, the
quiet. My mind went still. I wasn’t worried anymore. Your eyes were closed, your tiny hands
fisted by your cheek. I could feel my hands trembling, but the rest of me felt calm. I looked
at mom, but she had turned her back to me. I nodded at the midwife and walked with you
towards the door. Turning, I watched as mom moved her head into the downy softness of
the pillow, her eyelids growing heavy as the tears pooled in her eyes, falling into the sheets.
Her pallor scared me and sickened me at the same time. I didn’t want you to see her like
that. I wished you could have known her the way she was before her and dad started
stealing bits of each other.
I found dad in the kitchen. He was leaning against the counter, sipping at a drink. His
eyes told me everything I never needed to ask him. He didn’t know if he could love you.
I liked the quiet of those first few days. It wasn’t like at home before you came
along. Doors weren’t slamming; dinner wasn’t tense with ugly words being thrown across
the table. I could eat my food without feeling like I’d be sick later. It took me a few days to
realize that the absence of noise was worse than the shouting. The silence grated on me,
made my skin tingle with everything I could hear that wasn’t being said.
They called you special. I knew you were, but not for the reasons they gave. You
weren’t a test like mom believed. You weren’t a punishment that dad couldn’t understand. I
knew their thoughts and I was determined to protect you from them.
I lie in bed tonight, like I do most nights wondering if you’re all right in the next
room. If you’re sleeping soundly or if mom’s snoring keeps you awake. I think about dad
sleeping on the couch, why he thinks I’ll believe his lie. He said it’s to give mom peace at
night when she feeds you but I know that it’s because he doesn’t want to be around her
anymore. He doesn’t want to touch her. I think he blames her for you.
Too old to have another one – I told her…she was too old. Whole things a mistake.
He didn’t know I was standing behind him.
I don’t understand how he could blame her though, when half of you is dad and half
of you is mom. I wonder about that extra part. The doctors said you weren’t supposed to be
born with it, it isn’t right, it causes problems. Like the hole in your heart and the fact that
you won’t be able to see clearly and they said your hearing isn’t so good either. You can
always hear me though. I whisper softly in your ear and you smile at me. You know exactly
what I’m saying.
Mom coughs in the next room. It’s kind of a snort, like she rolled over and had to
catch her breath from the effort. I rise, pitching the blankets off my legs. I hear you start to
cry and I move away from my bed treading carefully on the floorboards so they don’t creak
and wake anyone up. I cross the hall and push lightly against mom’s bedroom door. She’s
standing at your crib, looking down at you as you stir within your blankets. The light from
the hallway skims the ground, slicing through the floor and lighting mom’s feet as they peek
out from beneath her nightgown. I notice for the first time how bony and frail they look. She
turns and catches me staring and I shrug, moving further into the room. I reach her side
and she looks down at me for a moment. I want her to smile, to touch my hair, smooth it
back from my face like she used to. She just stares blankly.
It’s okay momma, I’ve got her.
She does smile then. It’s faint and barely recognizable, it could have been a facial
spasm really, but I want it to be a smile. She pats my arm as she turns away towards the
bed. I don’t watch as she climbs beneath the covers. I turn to you and lift you gently into
my arms. You settle immediately and I feel better. I wrap you in your blanket and then step
slowly towards the door, closing it with my free hand. I take the stairs carefully and as I get
closer to the bottom I begin to feel the ocean breeze against my legs as it seeps through
the open windows. My skin tingles, the hair on my arms rising. Dad isn’t on the couch when
we pass. I hear the fridge door slam shut and turn the other way heading for the back door.
Outside I walk along the sand, each step guided by the cold glow of the moon. It’s
full tonight, brighter than most nights. I find our spot and settle carefully with you in my
arms. You’re awake now but I know how to get you back to sleep. I start humming at first,
the words mom used to sing to me stuck at the back of my throat.
Twinkle, Twinkle little star, how I wonder what you are…
My voice cracks slightly when I finally get the words out. You smile at me though, so I keep
singing. I kiss your head and smooth your cheek. I place my lips against your ear,
whispering, and you hear me.
Yaseena McKendry has an undergradute degree from Concordia University where she majored in Creative Writing and minored in Irish Studies. She went on to pursue a masters degree in Dublin, Ireland where she recently received an MPhil in Creative Writing from Trinity College Dublin. While studying at the Oscar Wilde Center, Yaseena worked with her classmates as one of eight editors to publish an anthology of their work. An excerpt of her first novel, currently in progress, was published in the anthology, A Thoroughly Good Blue: New Writing from the Oscar Wilde Centre. Check out Yaseena’s blog.
The Irish Father
– By Daniel Connell
“That is what you are. That’s what you all are […] all of you young people who never served in the war. You are a lost generation. You who have seen nothing of great pain, nothing but l’ennui and money woes. You are a lost generation.” Me in conversation with myself this morning.
This particular morning I was sad, as was the case with most mornings at the end of last winter. It wasn’t an abrasive or sharp sadness, but a dull one that sat from my jawline to my diaphram. I always thought it was because my dog had passed away earlier that winter. That was something that hurt me deep in my chest, much like being winded constantly. Anyway, I took the chance to take the day off college, sit around in my bedroom and do nothing in particular. The nearlyspring sun settled its way through my beige curtains. It gave the room a warm glow.
As I lay around looking at the television, I grew bored and hungry, which were the only things that would have stirred me to get up that day. After about two hours of growing hunger my stomach felt as though it had bottomed out. The sun had passed over my house and my room was now in the shade. There was a wall around four feet away from my window blocking out most of the light, and that made it damp and uncomfortable outside of my duvet. The sun would be glaring into my kitchen by now.
After I had stretched and struggled and nearly blew out all the blood vessels in my head I got up. I dressed into yesterday’s dirty clothes and got dizzy from stretching more. My dad probably heard me and shouted my name and something mumbling after, as he does when he is checking to see if I’m still in.
He sat with my niece Lucia at the kitchen table and he was clearly frustrated with her as she liked to act out all the time if there wasn’t sufficient attention put on her, as fouryearolds do. He was probably too old to mind kids, as he had already had four of his own, and he was pushing fiftyfive as a manual labourer. Surely he deserved his days off when they came around and they were all too frequent these days.
He had actually been working for most of his life, it was all he knew. He told me before that he had worked since he was around 12 or 13. That was the old Ireland. A labourer, a bricklayer, a handyman where he can be. And me, an arts student that doesn’t feel the need to go to college most of the time. But still, he seemed quite proud, proud that he can offer me and my siblings a more privileged and relaxed life of college, part time jobs and a bedroom each. All of these things were unavailable to him, which always made me sad and proud at the same time.
There is never much dialogue between us; it is more of a quiet understanding of mumblings, and affirmative grunts and nods, but I could tell that he was in a better mood than normal, though he was evidently agitated with Lucia’s lack of attention.
The kettle had boiled and I poured the boiling water into the coffee granules with two sugars. It sounded like fizzing, shifting sands and stank like bad coffee does. He began to speak to Lucia as I went over to the countertop behind them and sat on it with my legs dangling, and I began rubbing my eyes orgasmically.
“Look, Lucia, here, stop, look,” he sputtered. She was quick and strong in her messing.
“Gwandad, I’m bored. Put on the telly,” she said, with her unformed R’s.
“Look, watch this.” As I looked up with blurred vision he took up a piece of plastic that was shaped like an oval. It was one of those tops of the Persil or Ariel bottles that you use to fill full of washing detergent. He began to draw its outline onto a sheet of blank paper.
“Look, it’s easy Lucia, you just draw the shape and then colour it in. Now watch.”
He took up a few of the colouring pencils and began to draw lines waving through the shape, each line a different colour. Then he drew another outline of the same shape and began colouring it in with arching lines, each line a different colour. He repeated this many times, and each one became more intricate and colourful from what I could see. It seemed as though he had really been drawn into it. Lucia just watched with her chin in her right hand, balancing on my dad’s lap and the kitchen table.
He had finally got her attention and she was enjoying it.
“Can I have a go? Gwandad, gimme the pencils.”
He let Lucia take control and she attempted to do the same. Her attempt was good, but she then began to scribble through it violently trying to colour it in. Then she proceeded to scribble off the page and onto the place mat.
I could see a glint in my dad’s eye. There was some sort of sorrow that he showed. Drawing those shapes and enjoying it so much; it was only a distraction from his everyday labours. Labours that were scarce to come around these days, to his selfish shame. He just stared at the paper as Lucia began to ruin the place mat, but it didn’t matter. She always did that and everything in our house was wrecked from her anyway.
“Ah here,” he said in his loud voice, “don’t…stop…Lucia! Stop!”
She threw down the colours in her hand and he let her go out of his lap and then ran off into the living room with a skip and jumped onto the couch where some kid’s programme was on, probably Cbeebies or whatever it was called.
As she left, so did I. As I jumped down from the counter my dad noticed me there, and half embarrassed looking he picked up the drawing and said “not bad?” or something to that effect, then laughed throwing his drawings down onto the glass table.
I went into my bedroom where it was quite cool then as the sun had reached well over my house. At that point and I began to flick through different day time tv, Jeremy Kyle, Auction Hunters, and drifted into a boring comatose. I pictured Lucia did the same as me, and my Dad was probably still sitting at the kitchen table, looking at what he had created.
Daniel Connell is a 21 year old student studying English and is in his final year. He is a Dublin-based writer, usually through the medium of poetry and prose.
The intention of The Bohemyth’s Bloomsday issue is to celebrate Ulysses, James Joyce and the strange and wonderful city of Dublin. For the streets of Dublin are paved with something finer than gold, they are paved with the stories of the ones who walk them. James Joyce knew this better than anyone.
We whisper our stories to the trees in Stephen’s Green. We tell them to ourselves as we ramble along our way. We shout them at each other over pints in the pub. We cry them into the river. We scream them at the sea. We bury them where we can. We set them free where we can’t.
Once upon a time all of the stories of Dublin were gathered together and popped inside an empty old bottle of Guinness. It bobbed off down the Liffey. Inside were stories of love lost as soon as won, salvation and hope, moments lost and memories gained, some stories were made of songs and some were made with tears, but all were made with the heart. Then the bottle broke apart and all the stories fell out. Most were washed away, downstream and out into Dublin Bay.
We went fishing off Dun Laoghaire pier and caught a few that were still swimming about there.
Here are some of the stories we were lucky enough to catch. We hope you like them as much as we do.
We hope you love Dublin as much as we do!
– Alice Walsh
Photography: David Levingstone is a Photographer, Art Director and bearded man from Tipperary living in Dublin, more of his work can be found here. David currently works for Getty Images.
– By Laura Cleary
Last night I dreamt.
Dreamt I was found.
Love found me. There.
In that dream.
In a doorway.
Maybe nine was too early.
But I’d been awake since six. The sun had been shining in through my bedroom window. The birds had started hours before, they were in full chorus by then. I had lain there, playing the dream back over and over. By half past seven I was fully dressed and ready to go. The house was still as a tomb.
Ten to nine and there are three of us at the bus stop. A young Romanian woman, her buggy, me.
There’s a baby in the buggy. I’m sure that there is. I just can’t quite tell. All the puffed pink vinyl, femur-thick frame. It’s like a grounded spaceship next to her Romany skirt. I wonder whether the velvet is uncomfortable. If it itches. If it soaks up the damp, rain, piss, swinging as it does so close to the ground. I hope she doesn’t see me staring at her buggy. Or at her hemline.
The bus arrives late.
The woman boards first. Well, her buggy, the baby, then her.
I stand alone in the doorway. The driver is the old man that used to drive the bus to DCU. Years ago, back when I’d been in college. The driver that had asked to see my student ID every time he punched my ten journey ticket. The same one I’d bought from him the Monday before.
I stood in the doorway.
Then paid the fare.
Nine was too early. But it meant an empty seat in every direction.
The dark side of the bus in Naas is the bright side on the way to Dublin. And it’s bright this morning. We’re having a June for a change.
The bus follows the slip road’s curl out of Naas. Holds my window to the sun. I open the case and put them on. The case is much sturdier than the glasses. Two skulls safe inside a motorcycle helmet. I bought them back when I still worked in the shop. A spree on store discount. Two Calvin Klein bras and a pair of Chanel sunglasses.
The bus twists into Johnstown. Swans through and out. Past Kill. Rathcoole. Over the spot Veronica Guerin was shot. Under the speed cameras Da had us watch. Arches round the Red Cow and on to the Long Mile. Through Bluebell. Inchicore. Bless myself past the statue of Our Lady and wait for the first breath of air born of concrete.
Drink in the length of the Liffey. Wave to the sunlight buoyed between ripples.
Bridge after mismatched bridge.
A man in a blue Puffa jacket raises his fist in the air. A woman in worn runners and a rain jacket shuffles over to him. They stand very close together, crossing and uncrossing palms.
Nine was too early.
We stop at O’Connell Bridge.
I offer to unload the Romanian lady’s buggy but she hands me the baby instead. She smiles at me. The baby. Smiles and winds her little fingers in my hair. The lady says thank you and takes the baby back. Straps her into the spaceship. Tiptoes away.
All of the doors on Bachelor’s Walk are closed.
O’Connell Street isn’t a pleasant walk but I love to make it anyway. I love all of it. Bulletholes in statues’ breasts. Weather burned faces beneath them. Piss pooled on the streets. The layer of old Dublin laid on top of store fronts.
The Hugh Lane is open. I’m sure of it. It’s quiet in there. Restful. Nice coffee shop. I round the corner, pass the Writers’ Centre. I must have walked too fast. Its door is closed too.
I stand there, still for a few minutes. Turn around. Walk back the way I came.
It isn’t warm enough to sit in the Garden of Remembrance. I walk around it anyway. Remember taking my sister to see it years ago. She didn’t know the story of the Children of Lir. She took pictures of the sculpture while I told her what I could remember. Which wasn’t much. It’s even less now. Really just that the girl’s name was Fionnuala. That she looked after everyone else. Well, that and they were swans. For ages. It’s one of the Sorrows. I forget how many there are.
I leave the garden and turn down onto Parnell Street, through the birdshit and sunshine. Cross over onto Moore Street. Fresh flowers, fresh fruit, fresh fish, y’alrigh’ luv? Two for a tenner, lovely arndey? Isn’ir only glowrious ou’? Der yar luv Goblesha. Enjoydesun t’day luv shure itcouldbe raynin t’mara, wha?
I wave and walk on. Shop shutters are beginning to rise.
Weave through flocks of young girls on Henry Street. Making sure not to look right at them. They’re wearing tights they think are leggings. I know by the raised gusset outlining each twelve year old pubis. I don’t look. I can’t. They’d stride up to me just like they’re striding now, shouting about how I’m some fuckin’ sick lezzer ye bleedin’ queer paedo my da’s just ourathe bleedin’ Joy an’ he’ll fuckin’ come down here a bather ya watchin’ my arse ya sick queerass lezzbeen.
Duck into Arnotts. The piped music and designer handbags are soothing. Wander through aware that it’s only half one. There’s a bagel stand at the back, wedged between Menswear and Abbey Street. A turkey bagel for every day I worked here. The seat beside the far door is empty. Drape my coat there while I order.
The windows have been washed. The passers by can see and the door opens out. Perhaps Love will pass. Maybe this is the doorway.
They bring my order too quick.
Green tea, plain bagel, toasted, butter, jam. Just me and Huck Finn.
This is my third time through. It’s like going home. It’s more home than Naas. Like here. Maybe that’s it. A viscous Mississippi, the greasy Liffey beyond. Jim on the run, my cousin’s five years. Snakeskins, NAMA. Sivilization.
A second green tea.
I usedn’t feel able to get up and order seconds. Then one day, here, on my break I saw a mother send her eight-year-old son to the counter. He almost turned purple waiting at the register. But then he turned around and came back with hot chocolate.
A third green tea. The pen is for marking out passages but the Grangerford’s feuding doesn’t keep my napkin bare.
lOVe loVe LovE
I leave.The chair opposite me is bare. I need it to work. Need love to find me. Want love to find me. Sitting by the doorway. Want love to. Want to be found. Wantwantwant—
There’s a bar across the street. I used to go there often back when I worked here. It’s still bright out. There’s no football today, so it should be quiet. No washed out T-shirts. Bookies’ slips. Deep swallows. Roaring at the screen.
An empty seat in every direction. I sit in view of the door. Just in case.
Liffey street is just beyond the glass. It’s fluid, Liffey street. Moves at a constant pace. If it stops, it smells. It’s gorgeous to watch. Even abandoned shopping trolleys caught up in the current.
Soda water and a chicken stir fry. Too salty and over far to quick. A gin and tonic. A man in white pants walks past on his way to the bathroom. Huck won’t tell me about Buck Grangerford’s murder. I’m glad Jim’s okay. Another gin. It’s still bright out. I’m sure it’s getting later. Liffey Street flows strong. Another gin.
Huck and Jim begin to swell, then sink. They soak into the river and pull apart like tissue paper. I mark the page and fumble for my jacket.
“You can’t be leaving?”
The man in white pants stands beside me, smiling. He is short, grey haired, shirt collar unbuttoned to the order of wealth. Not that common these days. This side. Anymore.
Uninvited, he sits down. He strikes me as the type of man to put his voice into a sneeze. The type of man to decide when companions cross the street. The type of man to explain things.
I tell him I have to leave soon. That there’s a bus in ten minutes. He hands a green banknote to the waitress holding my bill.
“Wait for the next one?”
I hold my breath. Ten seconds pass. I take off my coat.
Two more gins.
He tells me he’s a businessman. CEO of a web design firm that specialises in translation software. You know when you enter a website for any big cosmetics brand a stack of different flags unfurl across the screen? You click on your own nationality to understand what to buy.
They deal with that. Dior, Clinique, Chanel. I run my fingers along my sunglasses case.
He asks about me. Maybe I’m hopeful. Or maybe it’s the gin. But I tell him. Everything. Mammy. Home. The Baby. Why not?
It doesn’t matter at this stage.
I don’t matter at this stage.
He listens. Says I’m remarkable. Surviving alone in a home like that. He tells me that living in a place where no one believes in you makes for remarkable people. Most of the time.
I think I’m supposed to ask about him.
I ask does he have children. He admits to a grown up son. Attending Rutkers in New Jersey. Was eager to leave home (Colorado) after his mother died. Car accident, 2010. Drunk driver. Killed instantly. Very tragic. Very tragic indeed.
I ask him is he enjoying Dublin. He says he hasn’t had the chance yet, looking at me from under his eyebrows. He reaches across under the table. Hooks a fingertip into my waistband. Grunts softly, just loud enough for me to hear.
There’s a bus in ten minutes. It’s still bright outside. He insists on walking me. I notice on standing that he’s shorter than me. A green note to the waitress. His hand on my waist.
We join Liffey Street, are carried over the Ha’Penny Bridge. I tell him about the time I ran, drunk, across it. That I didn’t notice the change from long steps to short ones. That I skidded the whole way down and didn’t fall.
He tells me I’m remarkable. I tell him he already said that.
I point down a laneway into Temple Bar. Tell him there’s a Lebanese restaurant he should visit there. A great gallery right beside it. He asks me to show him. I say it’s just a couple of steps on, but he insists. We turn down the laneway and he pulls me aside. Against a metal door. The rust nips at my shoulders.
Morning came with yellow light filling the room. A taste of dried wine on the tongue. Strips of plastic window shutters giggling in the breeze. The song of city cars playing on a distant street. A beautiful bleached blonde with a face full of nordic edges lying nude on the bed, sheets hanging from her and the boy. Him smelling orange and sweat and rubber, sitting up to look on the ground, and seeing a carpet awash with books, clothes and scribbled paper. The girl is smiling at him now. He wants to say a silly thing, but he just kisses her and keeps the ideas in his throat. What would you do? The boy is shy baby Cormac (me).
“Here,” two Camels ready between her fingers “Your roll-my-owns make me sad.”
I try to explain I’m a student and too socialist to bother working, and all the rest.
“You are such veal. Light the fugging cigarette and appreciate good things.”
I do. We puff. We tip ash into an empty cider can. I’m lying there dumbfounded.
“This room smells like poison.” she says. That’s her thing. When a word is clear in a sentence she swaps it for poison. Example: Motherly poison. I poison books. Late at night a man and woman can make poison. And so on.
“Cormac,” she says. “I couldn’t remember it for a second.”
Someone knocks on the door.
“Go away!” she pulls the sheets over us. “And my name really is Alice.”
Alice, lying in to me. Her face beneath my neck. Her voice coming up muffled from the pillow.
“Tell me a story.”
“Any story. Just tell me anything.”
“Once upon a time there were two alcoholics in a bar. A boy and a girl alcoholic. Dublin. The town he was born in. They could have been in any other place, but they were both in this one bar. The boy was there by pure chance, with his friend Barry, who left to work in America this morning.
(the girl hasn’t yet told me how life got her to The Globe Bar)
The boy was outside smoking his rollies when she appeared, and she stood crooked in the door. A man was in her way. A big man with a big beard who told a story about some war and the way it made you feel after so broken and sorry and everybody was listening to him because he had a hard voice and a big jaw. It’s a wonder she didn’t take him home instead!”
“People don’t hmmprff in fiction, Alice. Unless they hmmprff in real life. Unless women really do sigh and roll their eyes sometimes. But anyway, forget that old bore. The boy pointed at the crooked girl and said that the man’s stories turned women into statues. And that was enough to get her chatting. Boy and girl went inside and danced, her lost her, but he found her again. Outside, smoking her Camels. He saw the burns on her arms from the café and made a joke about razor blades. She said she got her marks playing Fight Club.
‘I’ll play with you,’ he said ‘Give me a punch and then I’ll give you one.’
They couldn’t in front of the doorman. They walked to the unlit corner of the street. She hit him on the left cheek.
‘And now it’s your turn’ she said. So he took her and kissed her. When they walked back Barry laughed at the red stains on his mouth. But he didn’t mind.”
She lifts her head from the pillow, her blond hair falling down and resting on my face. I’m in a hair cocoon. I feel lips.
“I’d read that. The tale of Alice and Veal.”
“I’d call it Alice at the Globe if I ever wrote it. Doesn’t that sound like Fitzgerald? Alice at the Globe?”
“It’d make a fine short story.”
“Well,” I pause for just one moment “Maybe it could be a novel”
Cormac Buchmann is a 22 year old writer of fiction living in Howth, Dublin. He drinks Karpackie and rolls cigarettes from rejection letter paper. He can also fold them into little hats.
Sitting With A Stranger In A Busy Café
– By Sophie Meehan
The vegetable moussaka is nice but vegetable moussaka is just what people on Come Dine With Me make when there’s a vegetarian over. He keeps hrrmphing behind his paper, so that’s what a hrrmph sounds like, I’d only seen it written down. RAIN TO EASE TODAY BUT WILL BE BACK and a fireman carries a small pink girl through a puddle. There’s a smudge of soup under the headline, the bowl is as big as his head. He has one of those professions that make grown men look like they’re wearing a school uniform, I think it’s the navy jumper. Go ahead plenty of room he says but the face buried means he doesn’t want to talk. The mashed potato has cheese in it which I don’t understand.
There’s a dingle at the doorbell, it must be a mother and a daughter, because she’s translating Shoes! Yes your shoes are lovely, they sparkle just like you do. Lunch! Yes we’re going to get you some food now, it’s closer to dinnertime though. I wonder if he’ll check what I’ve written when I go to get some cake, he probably wants me to go away. Everyone here is very trusting with their Marks and Spencers shoppers, but he’ll probably feel crippled with responsibility, coat-minding wasn’t part of the agreement and now he’ll have to stay put in the 3-7 minutes between chocolate and cheesecake. Doesn’t look like he’s going any time soon though, he’s getting his money’s worth out of that soup, all the way to the sports section.
He has a ring on his finger but it doesn’t look like a wedding ring. I bet he can feel me reading the back of his paper, he probably regrets his openness but it would be rude to move now. Elsewhere, this sponge is so spongey is feels like I’m cleaning raspberry sauce off the bathroom floor. I wonder if people think we’re a father and daughter who through comfort or discomfort are beyond communication. I wonder if he has a daughter. Maybe he had a childless marriage which divorced because they’re both financially independent, and now he lives in the Docklands which has changed a lot since his day but most of the old gang are still around, snooker on Wednesdays, no, Thursdays, and he’s planning his first trip to Thailand because he wants to get some warmth in his bones.
Sophie Meehan studies English and Spanish in Trinity. She wants to be a writer when she grows up, she also wants to have a dog and live in Sandycove. Sophie writes poetry, prose and theatre, she has been published in Icarus and THE SHOp and wrote and directed Does Anybody Ever as part of ABSOLUT Fringe Festival 2011. Follow her on twitter @someehan
At least I Have Her Love The City She Loves Me
– By Angela Finn
Yeah because after a night of no sleep we walk north to Clontarf past Pigeon house towers rising sun-glow platinum yellow flushes of first love making my heart pound into Saint Annes Park by the milky green pond Italian pavilion not like Dublin at all we lie on the cold stone steps morning bird song you singing your new lyrics then Janes Addicition Im done with Sergio treats me like a ragdoll you unbutton my blouse softly singing Red Hot Chilli Peppers the city like my only friend is the city I live in city of Angels smell of night leaving earth glistening green pond water frothy white scum sound of early tide lapping notsofaraway feel my stomach ribs breasts take me to the place I love take me all the way tweeting birds sky haze dissolving at least I have her love the city she loves me lick my face lips kiss me sparkly sun on olive green water under the bridge downtown is where I drew some blood eat breakfast through the cafe window glittering periwinkle sea eggs benedict oozing yolk starry eyes silver leaking teapot tea tastes of chlorine milk brown sugar crystals feet entwined fluttering belly take me to Cowper Road Victorian house brick red facade santaupe steps hot June midday drifting in and out of sleep squashed in single bed speakers amplifiers bass guitars posters waking fucking smoking end of spliff from your shirt pocket take me to the place I love take me all the way yeah yeah yeah in twilight we surface one drink at Bruxelles snoggers everywhere Pygmalion smells of sewage Long Hall mirrors reflect starry eyes sing try again tomorrow Im gonna kick tomorrow kick tomorrow summer city noise shrinks to quiet almost midnight drunken howls opposite University Church pinned against rusting iron railings dusty branches scratch my neck my bare shoulders Jane says Ive never been in love lonely as I am together we cry Yeah.
Angela Finn lives in Dublin. In 2012 she was shortlisted for Francis MacManus story award and was runner up in the RTE Penguin short story competition. This year she came third in the Fish Publishing short memoir contest and had two pieces of short fiction broadcast as part of RTE Arena’s New Planet Cabaret creative writing course.
One Good Eye
– By James Conor Patterson
At some indeterminate point in the day, when Dylan Ruddy could hear nothing at all, he opened his eyes with a slow scratch against the light in the room and felt it fade from above and around him with unnatural quickness. He couldn’t remember being asleep.
There was the sound of a clock ticking and it sent echoes through the wooden boards and coursing cell-like across the entire infrastructure of where he lay so that he imagined lying in a colony of locusts. He was aware of a single red candle dripping in the hearth.
The slightest manipulation of light from a glimmer of the wick, or even rising and falling with the fluctuations of a shallow breath kept the room moving in a constant swim of changing dark and as he adjusted further, he noticed alterations in the room’s fragrance between black coffee and burning wood.
Dylan lifted himself carefully onto one elbow and looked quietly around him. Barely daring to cough or stretch a tendon for fear of disturbing the atmosphere, he could see that what little light there was seemed to come almost entirely from the candle burning in the fireplace. Any remaining light was filtered sparingly through the black window on the side furthest from the hearth. He could also make the shape of a black plinth on the opposite side about a dozen feet from where he lay. Something which, when he squinted hard against the scant amber of the low flame, revealed a wooden bar with brass taps and a gaudy footrest. He had no idea how he had got there.
‘That was an awful fall you took’ someone said to him, ‘you’re lucky the wife and the two boys were here to help me get you up the stairs.’
Dylan didn’t move. He had presumed, up to then, that he was merely alone and that the room would reveal itself over time; or by deciding what may or may not have happened in order that he might end up on this strange floor at this strange hour; in a dark and strange and empty city pub with no boots or hat or coat on.
The floor itself was black and white and two-tone marble in a pattern that slithered quite everywhere and drew attention to the bright red velvet on the walls. It had done its best to make him uneasy before any voice had revealed itself beneath the dark, but now he was shocked completely into stunned silence. He didn’t know where he was.
The immediate fear he felt was that he hadn’t located a door and he had the strange urge that any access to where he was seemed at once both impossible and perfectly natural. He tried to locate the voice and looked to the corner nearest the window. A man leaned out from the dark in a wooden chair with a ladder of pipe-smoke climbing about him into the yellowing roofspace. He was wearing a greatcoat over some long-johns and spoke with an accent that Dylan couldn’t account for. Perhaps he was foreign.
‘Where am I?’
‘On the floor of a public house asking a strange man with a pipe where you are.’
‘Not to worry. I’ll tell you in a moment when you’re feeling a bit better.’
The man’s words seemed to come from the inside shell of a shared lung and Dylan could see that, underneath a peaked cap with silver badges that shone bright like teeth against the window and the moon, he had only one eye. The socket rang out against the featureless wax-bent drip of his skin and he could feel it watching him the same as if it were the eye of any number of gamblers he knew. Or the men he’d see with unnatural movement in the ring, who lurched hawk-eyed into the path of an oncoming throw without ever being hit and the hands of their opponents all the time by their sides as they slumped onto the mattress and the bell rang Time.
‘I had a fall?’
‘Where was that?’
‘On the street’ replied the man, getting up and pointing. ‘Down there.’
‘Did you see it happen?’
Dylan paused. ‘I wasn’t in here was I?’
The man shook his head, ‘No.’
He came over to Dylan and sat down heavily on the floor beside him. He carried a round cushion taken from somewhere in the dark and his bare feet were stretched out, twitching like dog-eared hares snuffing at a vegetable patch in spring. His back was against the wall where the fireplace lay and he motioned to a black plastic and glass pot that stood out on the hearth with two empty cups on either side of it.
‘You should have some.’ He said, ‘Black preferably. I can’t think of anything more suited to a fall and rescue mission.’ He smiled and shook his head as he poured out twice, ‘And quite a fall it was.’
‘I’d say you met more than your match today with a move like that.’
The man looked at him from behind one clear, blue eye and lifted a hot cup off the floor. ‘Not like that.’
‘I suppose not.’
‘Tell me though… would you never think about stopping?’
‘I have’ said Dylan. ‘Sometimes I have, but I don’t have much in the way of income, and there’s not a whole lot for me to go back to, you understand.’
‘Why do you ask?’
‘No reason. I just thought you could use a bit of sage advice from a man who’s seen this sort of thing before.’
He pointed up to his empty socket and winked with his one good eye.
He laughed ‘No, not me. Someone else. I’d just seen it so many times that I got tired of it and plucked my one good eye out with a teaspoon.’
‘Only codding’ he said, ‘Some people took it a number of years back in a bit of a tiff… I was trying to help them out of a jam…’
‘I’m sorry to hear that.’
He waved his hand. ‘Not to worry…’ he smiled, ‘it happens.’
Somewhere out the window Dylan could hear the grumble of a motorcycle, low and still and spreading across the warmth of the room like a sleepless man. He imagined it calling out over the dark dormant lawn of a suburban back-spread and the dogs speaking in monosyllables through the nooks of trees and up the sides of houses. There was a white rectangle rising sharp against a nameless black void, and an open garage revealing itself; a garage that would receive the shuddering bike and close back up into nothing once again. All was silent.
‘Listen’ the man said, ‘do you have somewhere you can go?’
‘And a wife and kids in the same bargain I presume? A bit like myself…’
‘Well then…’ he said, standing up, ‘put on your coat there. Get your boots and hat, shake my hand and make your way home this very minute. I’m sure your family think you’re dead along with the rest of the world.’
Dylan shifted his shoulder-blades and stretched his back as he moved up onto his hands and said quietly, ‘I’m not sure they’ll have me.’
‘They’ll have you.’ The man said.
‘How do you know?’
He smiled, ‘I know a lot of things.’
Back out in the street it had gotten cold. Dylan turned the collar of his coat up and buried his chin beneath it, slouching down against the frost as he went and the harsh wind up the Liffey from Dublin bay promising new snow if he didn’t get a move on and do what the stranger had asked.
He was walking now, believing that people would never fully appreciate the uncanny complexity of night until they had embarked upon a lone walk like this one: A walk across the deserted heart of a city street at three o’clock in the morning, for it taught a man everything he needed to know about human frailty. That everything was quite frantic, alive and urgent before a certain hour in the day seemed only to enhance the absolute absurdity of boundaries and social conduct and nothing deflated hubris for Dylan quite like the frozen dark of a city street laid out like the interior of a cobbled valley; vast and silent.
The street where he stood was completely empty; all except for a single white square a thousand feet from the city floor. Perhaps, he thought, there was a cleaner working late in the upper portion of an office building; someone dealing with the fallen staples and accumulation of the day’s debris. The relics of men and women who were likely now at home in their beds. Men and women, indeed, who could be lying dead in the city morgue.
The change from daylight to dark and the passage of time in general brought much that was unexpected and Dylan considered that really the only tangible reality at all was that beacon of light he watched shining several stories into the night sky. A light that, before tonight, he had known absolutely nothing about.
James Conor Patterson is a 24 year old Irish poet and short-story writer who, over the past few years has seen his work published in a number of publications including: Cyphers; Wordlegs; The Poetry Bus; Southword; Bare Hands; The Open Ear; Outburst; The QUB Writers’ Journal (Queen’s University Belfast); The Bell (University College Dublin); and Full-Stop (UL, University of Limerick). He will also be featured in the Autumn issue of The James Dickey Review, based in Virginia (U.S.A.)
In 2012 he was featured in the Wordlegs ‘30 Irish Writers Under 30’ e-book publication and also in its print anthology which was published in November by Doire Press. He currently lives in his home-town of Newry, Co. Down. Check out his blog and follow him on twitter.
David Martín is a Spanish photographer and dreamer living in Dublin, capable of eating a whole chicken in less than 8 minutes. Sadly, non of those hobbies or skills are paying the bills that why he is working in Sales for Getty Images. You can see more of his work on his Flickr.
– By Helen Victoria Murray
He had worn black that day. Normally a pale blue man, the black shirt burned a hole in his wardrobe. Like a cigarette burn marking out a misdemeanour, it was making him uncomfortable – as if he owed it something. It wasn’t really geared towards self-flattery. It did not match his eyes, it did not match his hair; it matched his mood.
And she’d worn green. A pale green jersey, which cynics would have said turned her sallow. And she was fair, yes. She was perfectly fair. But surely never sallow. The face, well it was symmetrical, you could say that for it, at least. But its expressions? Nondescript, half faded, as if toned to blend into the pattern on the wallpaper. Her intellect was watery. Addicted to thoughts about thinking, she was a dilute woman. He watched her from across the room, observed her trying to press her musings on the world, and was reminded of temporary tattoos. Childlike. The same transparent falsity.
But the hipbone…
The corner of his eye caught the hem of the jersey as it raised, a very slight amount. Her skin was exposed to the light. He saw the jutting angle of the bone, the smoothness of the skin. He saw her fingers extend, and graze it with badly broken fingernails. It was all it took.
In the unflattering overhead lighting, two screens flickered before him. On one, he watched his own extending hands. Something was wrong, something in the colours. The whites were too glaring, the darks too deep, the contrast too sharp on the eyes. He saw himself seize the hipbone, whirling it around and towards him, using it to mash it in amongst himself. The screen portrayed the frantic gnashing of him – animalistic and abhorrent, he watched the hipbone smash as she blacked his eyes and spat in his face. It made his skin creep inwards on itself in horror. And yes, the animal – himself – was withering now. He saw the hands, their sinewy knots grow soft and veined with blue, the nails blackening. Gradually, the grit set in and he watched himself become dust, all blown to pieces by her justified fury.
But the hipbone…
The action on the second screen moved slower, showing a steady, practised dance in which the hipbone featured. It was choreographed to perfection, every movement refined. Effective. The colours were warm and organic, something hazy blurred the motion. There was something captivating, almost mesmeric about the dance of biology: the hipbone melted, grew tactile, became like mercury in his hands.
Oh, that hipbone…
Everyone knows you can’t watch two screens at once. You get a migraine.
He stared at the floating screens until his eyes hurt, and when they flickered out, he was returned, slack-mouthed to the moment. That instant of dark clarity, whatever it had meant – was gone.
The remaining day was fuddled. Small sounds or light touches made him start. Night brought a welcome chance to clear his head. He lay, with the black shirt haphazard on the floor, and tried to recreate the vision of the hipbone, comprehend its meaning. All night he wrestled with the two scenes, trying to commit his mind to one or other. All night they played in tandem, flickering with the blink of his eyes.
Come morning, he was wearing blue again.
Helen Victoria Murray is a writer and poet from Glasgow, attempting to balance her literature degree with her literary aspirations. Find her on twitter @HelenVMurray.
– By Mary Róisín McGill
Des lay in the dark, wondering if he should chance it. Beside the bed, a sliver of light from his laptop slowly blinked like a lighthouse beam in the night. Across his chest lay Daisy, breathing softly, her slight arms wrapped around him as if he might be torn from her.
Des envied Daisy’s ability to completely surrender to rest in a matter of moments. He only ever managed a few agitated hours, during which the day replayed on an endless Technicolor loop, punctuated by faces hacked from magazine pages and online profiles, charging at him like a strange body-less army of vacant eyes and flat, grainy smiles.
His phone was on the kitchen table. If he were to get up, Daisy might wake – what would he say then?
He watched the fragile white light wink in the darkness, before finally reaching out to the screen, pushing it open just enough to see he had one new message from Pandora453.
With tiny movements he tucked the duvet around Daisy’s bare shoulders, manoeuvring her onto her back. Then he crept from their warm bed into the bathroom, its tiles icy beneath his bare feet, the laptop balanced on his palms like an offering.
Des met Daisy on the last bus very early one Sunday morning. She was only other person left apart from him. In a fit of boozy bravado he sat beside her, without ever thinking he might be imposing, that his sudden appearance might frighten her.
‘I’m Des,’ he said, taking her limp, unoffered hand in his.
Daisy pulled back, her red mouth curling downward.
‘Can’t you just leave me alone?’ she said, folding her arms over the bulk of her jacket, her thigh pressed against her ratty backpack.
After a moment he said, ‘look, I’m sorry if I’m bothering you. If you want to be left alone, I’ll leave you alone. If that’s what you want, that’s no problem… Is that what you want?’
Des meant to sound funny. Daisy studied him with wide-set, somnolent eyes before shrugging as if to say, ‘suit yourself’. In Des’s mind this was not the same thing as a ‘no’ and so he stayed.
Daisy had long butter-yellow hair, brittle to the touch with a blunt fringe she cut herself in front of the bathroom mirror, biting deeper into her lip with every snip. She smeared red gloss over her mouth and carried herself in a slightly round-shouldered stoop, as if the world was a weight she alone must bear.
When they started dating, Daisy liked to chat about her PhD research. Des, keen to impress her, filled her wine glass without taking his eyes off her face as if to say, ‘I’m present. I’m paying attention.’
‘You’re a really good listener,’ she said, picking up a pizza slice, tipping it toward her face. ‘Not everyone cares for the finer points of communication theory.’
‘What you do is really interesting to me,’ Des said, passing her a napkin, enjoying how serious his voice sounded. ‘The Internet is the biggest thing in the world right now.’
Daisy took a bite, thinking for a moment. ‘I’m not so sure it’s a good thing, the whole digital revolution. I mean, don’t get me wrong. It’s given me the opportunity to write my thesis but I wonder sometimes, about what it all means for us.’
Des locked eyes with Daisy, letting the moment stretch between them before leaning across the coffee table he’d rescued from the side of the street, kissing her for the first time with greasy lips that aimed for her mouth but got her nose.
Three weeks later she moved into to his place, a dive apartment above an Indian in Rialto where even the wallpaper stank of spice.
In the dark of the night Des thought, ‘I’m not a bad man, just a clichéd one.’
The man who he was with those women he met online, women whose real names he had no interest in ever knowing until Pandora453, was not the man who went home to Daisy, who brushed the hair off her forehead so he could kiss it, prepared dinner with her, side-by-side in their tiny kitchen or held her as she slept.
The other Des was all in his head, even as he plunged himself into another strange woman who was no longer just an avatar and yet, still was in a way. Though he felt himself grow harder inside her, it was never fully real to him and so, it was never enough.
But something about Pandora453 was different. They had a true connection, chatting for hours when Des was at work stacking whatever piece-of-shit bestseller made him rue not writing his own piece-of-shit bestseller this week.
He ducked in and out of the stockroom to message her with giddy fingers, the idea of her sending bolts of pleasure to his groin. Sometimes, Des felt a sting of actual pain when anything threatened to come between them.
The more time he spent with Pandora453, the more Daisy’s presence began to irritate him. He could hear her in the bedroom, typing furiously, not bothering to get dressed or even shower, leaving a trial of mouldy coffee cups in her wake.
‘You’re like a woman possessed,’ he said, when she gave him a sour look for daring to enter the feral den she’d turned the bedroom into.
‘It’s my PhD,’ she replied in a gobsmacked voice, as if no justification was necessary, as if by needing it explained to him Des was spectacularly, mind-bendingly thick.
When she said she’d be going out that evening to have dinner with her supervisor, he could’ve punched the ceiling with delight but instead, he reached for his phone.
‘What’s your plan?’ Daisy called, as she painted her lips in front of the bathroom mirror. ‘You can join us you know. You’d be very welcome.’
On the couch Des stretched, saying in a lethargic voice, ‘Arah no thanks babe. I’ve the match and a few cans to keep me company.’
Daisy made a face muttering, ‘well how can I compete with that.’
When she finally left, he bolted into the shower then doused himself in aftershave, pulling on the new shirt he’d hidden at the back of the wardrobe. He was standing in the hall texting Pandora453 when he heard lock tweak.
With reflexes he never knew he had, Des scrambled into the bathroom. He could hear her in the kitchen calling his name, explaining that her supervisor was sick.
‘I’m just having a shower!’ he cried, pulling the shirt off.
‘But sure the match is still on,’ Daisy said. He heard the pop and hiss of her opening one of his cans.
‘It wasn’t much a game,’ Des shouted, turning on the shower full blast, his heart beating like a jackhammer.
The opportunity, when it finally came, was not something Des forced. Rather the opposite: it was presented to him not quite on his dinner plate but alongside it.
‘I have to stay over on campus this weekend,’ Daisy said, glancing at him over her shoulder while draining a white hill of pasta, her cheeks ruddy from the steam, her buttery hair twisted into a loose bun. Des knew better than to be indifferent, so he slouched like a petulant little boy.
Daisy put the plate down in front of him and took a seat saying, ‘I know things haven’t been great between us but I promise I’ll make it up to you. I just need to get this part of my final report nailed. It’s the most important part. And I’m sorry for always going on about work but I’m nearly there now. I’ll shut up soon, I promise.’
She gave him a hug, squeezing him tight within her thin arms. He felt like an idiot then, like a royal jerk.
‘Can’t keep doing this Des,’ he thought, watching Daisy push her food around her plate, her brow creased with worries he couldn’t bring himself to ask about.
While Daisy filled the dishwasher, he tucked his phone into the pocket of his jeans and went into the bathroom.
Des sat in the booth, his eyes picking over the crowded diner aching for his first glimpse of her. Every time the door opened, the bells reminded him of Christmas.
Daisy would be getting the letter around now, pulling it out from where he’d left it, tucked into the edge of the pillow as she slept. He could imagine her pale face scrunching up, the kohl she never washed off her eyes seeping down her cheeks, her hands trembling as his words hit her heart. In frenzy, she’d probably stuff her things into some bin bags and lug them over to campus, never to return.
The bell jangled. When he spotted Pandora453, adrenalin flooded his veins like water from burst pipes. She was tall, slender, slightly stooped like Daisy but her shoulders and back descended into a graceful ‘v’ at her waist, accentuated by an old style mac neatly belted and speckled with rain.
As she slowly walked towards him, wearing the red bobbed wig and big black sunglasses they’d joked about, Des had the sense that they knew each other somehow, that this, despite the wrongness of it, was somehow made right by the sheer will of destiny.
She eased herself into the booth with a sigh, pulling the shades from her face and setting them down on the table along with her phone. Staring at her, Des felt winded. He had seen pictures in the trashy magazines Daisy liked to read in the bath but never in real life. Never like this.
The old woman’s face – for she was, despite everything, much older than Des had anticipated – was taunt, so plastic-like it glowed like an orb beneath the diner’s fluorescent light. Her eyebrows sat high and arched on her forehead as if she were perpetually surprised. Her eyes, red-tinged and wide, blankly regarded him. Her lips, two bulbous pillows, were too swollen to close fully so her breath made a faint, dry whistling sound as it passed through them.
When she pulled her face into a macabre grin, saying with sickening playfulness, ‘not what you expected, am I sweetheart?’ Des thought of Daisy. For the first time, in a very long time, he felt like he could cry.
Mary Róisín McGill is a web editor, talking head and writer who splits her time between Galway and Dublin. She regularly reviews books for RTÉ’s Arena and is the co-founder and co-editor of Irish feminist website Fanny.ie. Follow Mary on Twitter @missmarymcgill
Nick wore a waistcoat, as many intellectuals do when they live in the country. His floppy grey hair and silver-rimmed glasses weren’t my style, but at the food table I overheard him say he’d worked with Lindsay Kemp. I knew about Lindsay Kemp from David Bowie Black Book, the first biography I read as a teenager. Bowie made his theatrical debut in 1967 in Kemp’s mime Pierrot in Turquoise or The Looking Glass Murders.
This was 1995. Everyone at the party was still in the kitchen or upstairs doing coke. I was off the drink and feeling shy. I went to the sitting room and took a book off the shelf. Nick followed me. He introduced himself and asked what I was reading. I showed him the volume of poems by John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester. He knew Rochester by heart. He recited the twenty-three verses of Signior Dildo. Then he told me he had a house in the south of France; I could go and write there, any time I wanted.
At Violette’s one night, we met a guy who toured with Lindsay Kemp at the same time. He said Nick was Kemp’s favourite. Later, Nick says it’s because he was the one who always got Kemp his drink; he was his cupbearer, his Ganymede. There are photographs of Nick from that tour, taken on a cruise ship in Italy. He is wearing a brown suede bomber jacket and aviator shades. He has floppy blonde hair. He looks like David Bowie.
He writes about the dark-haired girl in the tartan jacket: lyrics for a song, or a poem, he’s not sure yet. Two days after the party, I am housesitting for Simone and James. They’ve gone to South Africa for Christmas. Through the letterbox comes a book called An Intimate History of Humanity: inside is a card saying, ‘Call me!’
I am chopping mushrooms when I fall in love with him. He is sitting at the kitchen table, drinking red wine and rolling a spliff by candlelight. His voice is soft, beguiling, almost a whisper. He is telling me a story about the kindness of strangers. The story is this: he was driving from France to England for his mother’s funeral when someone (a woman, perhaps?) was kind to him. There may have been a snowstorm. There may have been a missed boat, or train, or a breakdown on the motorway. I have no idea. Every time I hear him whisper this story into a woman’s ear, I forget another detail.
My only defence is idealism and naivity; I would like to add youth, but I was twenty-nine years old.
Raoul Vaneigem proposed a revolution of everyday life; Leonora Carrington apparently made a festival of it; Nick did both: he acted spontaneously, he was politically motivated, and he could make crisps and olives and a bunch of irises into a sumptious tableau vivant. He was beautiful naked. He had Iggy Pop’s body before the big workout, perfect sallow skin.
The first time I sleep with him, I’m spooked. I see the same-shaped face of a man who put me in hospital. The same hollow cheeks, the same vertical lines. These visual clues I will later pay attention to, but already I am in denial. I have met the man I am going to spend the rest of my life with. I want to marry him. I tell him so, our first weekend together. Hell, he wants to marry me, too.
My female friends are charmed. My male friends think I’m mad. This new man has two young children living with their mother in France. He has an ex-wife and a sixteen-year-old daughter in Devon. He is old, penniless, and he appears to be an alcoholic.
The first time he invited me to lunch, I cooked. He had six of us round to Miller and Virginia’s house, where he was renting a room. Miller was another art school friend. He bought a mansion with orchards when he was on a roll in the eighties, directing videos for Depeche Mode. He was now living like an minor aristocrat fallen on hard times, showing guests around rooms without furniture and pointing out the splendour of his mouldings. We were all seated at table. Nick went out to get a couple of ingredients he’d forgotten, and came back two hours later, drunk. At the end of the meal, I wrote Miller a cheque for Nick’s outstanding electricity bill.
We’re in his bedroom. He’s standing by the fireplace. He’s wearing a white cotton jumper, denims rolled-up at the bottom, and converse sneakers. He looks like a lesbian beatnik; like women I’ve bedded in the past. He’s smiling. He hands me a perfectly rolled spliff.
At his drawing table, he shows me plans for the play he is working on with Sarah Kane at The Gate. Kane’s new play is called Phaedra’s Love: a reworking of Seneca’s Phaedra, it becomes notorious for its violence; she calls it ‘my comedy’. She will commit suicide three years later, at the age of twenty-eight.
Nick has poetry collections stacked either side of his futon. I open one at a poem called Sheela-na-gig. This is fate. I am planning a novel based on these female exhibitionist stone carvings. What it’s about, he asks. I say, it’s a surreal erotic comedy about a bisexual performance artist who develops gigantic labia and becomes a reluctant serial killer when she starts to swallow people’s heads up into her vagina. I try to sound excited, but I’ve already said this two hundred times at parties. Nick says, is there a male version of Sheela-na-gig? I say yes, it’s called a Seán-na-gig.
James warns me off Nick. They’ve been friends since they were seventeen; they’re now forty-five. He’s friendly with Nick’s ex-partner, Jane, a former BBC costume designer. They all lived together in Soho when they left the Royal College. He tells me not to fall for Nick’s sob story about Jane having an affair with a local punk musician heroin addict half her age. They both had affairs, always.
Nick is spending most nights at my flat in Hampstead. While he is at work, I throw out all his waistcoats and shirts. He is stupified when he discovers this. He can’t believe my gall. He tells me the navy crombie I despise is worn by all lighting designers; or maybe all electricians, I can’t remember.
He is perfect naked, but I can’t cope with the seventies folk-singer. I want a French philosopher. I buy him black polo-neck jumpers, cashmere scarves and an Armani tweed jacket from the charity shop. The glasses go. He gets contacts so you can see his soft brown eyes. He slicks back his hair; it’s no longer grey, it’s silver. The teeth are bad, the look of the wrecked dope-smoker doesn’t ever entirely vanish, but it adds a touch of rock ‘n’ roll to him. He now looks like Jeremy Irons.
One evening, he runs a bath for me. I’m under the bubbles smoking a spliff when he walks in and hands me the latest edition of Vogue. What’s this, I say. I never buy women’s magazines. He says, you appear to be interested in fashion.
Before I met Nick, I wrote a film script most of my MA class thought was pornographic. One girl couldn’t read it. The film featured auto-asphyxiation, sado-masochism, and a man who bites lumps out of his own arm when he suffers attacks of sexual jealousy. It was based on my relationship with an experimental jazz musician. I found it embarrassing afterwards, how much I’d exposed myself.
I come back from Nick’s house in France without a written novel. I have sat by the fire for the winter reading every single issue of Art Forum magazine published in the seventies, and the biographies of Louis-Ferdinand Céline and Jean Genet. I have written dozens of starts to Sheela-na-gig, none of which go beyond a thousand words. My friend Saul, fresh out of the University of East Anglia’s Creative Writing MA, tells me I should publish a book of beginnings.
Nick is pissed off with me. That generation of Englishmen seems to have had a thing for Edna O’Brien. He says, I thought I’d met an Irish writer. He is a better writer than I am, which makes it even worse. He has a fine line in poetry and his letters to me are art. To inspire me, he reads aloud the work of Kenneth Patchen and B S Johnson and then he shows me the sentences on the page. There is one I remember about a leaf falling to the ground; the eye of a rabbit has seen it, build me such a machine.
I’ve just spent the day with Ralph Fiennes at a read-through for a film. He arrived at the door in the same outfit he wore in The English Patient; he says they let him keep the clothes. Nick rants about Ralph Fiennes. He tells me what I am doing is fluff. He is designing a virtual theatre for a London University. They are applying for Lottery funding. His theatre is politically committed; he wants to name it after John Berger. We drink wine and argue into the dark. Next morning the portrait I took of him is on the floor. The glass is smashed. I do not know if I smashed the photograph or if he did, to indicate that portaiture is worthless. Nick has devoted his life to radical theatre and avant-garde art. The only time he is interested in my work is when we do a Friedrich Dürrenmatt play called Frank V with members of Theatre de Complicite.
I am on a beach: the mean, stony beach in Hastings. It’s not cold, but I am displaying the first signs of hypothermia: I am shaking uncontrollably and I am disoriented. Olaf has gone to buy chips. He has driven me here so that I can keen by the sea like a good islander. Behind me are beached half-deck trawlers with ragged black bunting; they look like a fleet of anarchist boats. There are gulls flying over the shore. They’re squawking loudly. One breaks away from the flock and flies off on it’s own. The flock of gulls squawking loudly is Nick’s wedding party right now, chattering and drinking champagne. I’m the gull who’s flown off, solo. In the wake of my flight, he has speedily married a former children’s television presenter. All I know is she wears Doc Martens, has a very pretty face, owns her own home, has a gay father, and does PR for a museum. He says, she’s very spiritual: you would like her.
Seagulls always show up. They showed up in the sky above Kentish Town High Road at six in the morning when I walked it, unable to sleep. I pleaded on the phone with Nick to come home. I said I’m not ready; I can’t handle it; it’s too early in our relationship. I was hysterical. I telephoned so many times he turned off the phone. The man he spent the night with answered it the following day and handed it to him in bed. He was exultant when he came home. He told me it was my fault for encouraging him to explore his bisexuality. I said I meant as a couple, together. Not for you to go off on your own.
Sheila Mannix is from Youghal, Co Cork. Her work has been broadcast on RTE Radio 1 and has appeared in Cyphers, Southword, Poetry Now, Karnival, Microbe, Wurm im Apfel’s can can poezine, The Poetry Bus and the book Cork Caucus: on art, possibility and democracy. She last exhibited at the Black Mariah gallery in a group show curated by the SoundEye Festival. Her photography has been published in the French magazine L’Artiste and is on display at the Bodega and the Crane Lane in Cork. She was recently selected by Poetry Ireland for their ‘Introductions’ Series 2013. Check out Sheila’s website.
Marina And The Marine
– By Michael Naghten Shanks
And so just as I finish saying what it is that I want to say there are three beats of silence – beat, beat, beat – and she starts to open her mouth, but then I notice a bird sticking its head out from between her pink lips, its beady eyes blinking in the harsh light, and it jumps onto her protruding bottom lip, using it like a perch, and flaps a bit before flying onto the top of my head, and I look at her and she looks at me as if to say “Understand?” and a wind carries her away like sand over a dune, and then I feel the weight of the bird lift off of my head and I see it fly towards a tree where it perches itself on the lowest branch, within arms reach, and so I run to the tree, jumping and grasping, but I can’t get to it, and then I see all these other people jumping and grasping for things – balls, knapsacks, food, clothes, rifles, books – but then the bird flies past my face and up towards an open window of a building I had not seen was behind me, so I run in and up the staircase, two steps at a time, sometimes three, sometimes missing a step and falling, and I see the bird on the window ledge and just as I dive to grab it with both hands it swoops down and takes a shit on JFK and everyone in the cavalcade starts to scream and run around, and no-one notices the bird skipping along the grassy knoll because all of their eyes are zooming in on me, so I run back down the staircase and out into the street, but it’s empty – not a car, not a building, not a tree, not a blade of grass, not a person to be seen – it is just me, the bird, and a white nothingness that stretches on into the ether for eternity.
James O’Sullivan is a PhD candidate at University College Cork, where he studies cultural theory and transmission under Graham Allen and Órla Murphy. In addition to a variety of pieces as a journalist, he has had works of short fiction, poetry, photography and cultural criticism published. James is the founder of New Binary Press.
Josie was happy to look after Christopher’s child. But not on her own.
He’d said, “Back soon, Josie girl. Two hours, tops.” But that was years ago, and she hasn’t heard from him since.
She’d had no children of her own and this one was only a freckle past a newborn when he presented him to her, wrapped in a dirty blue bunny rug. Josie knew nothing about babies, her life had been hollow of them and so many other things until she met Christopher.
The baby was called Cabbage. She laughed at the time Christopher told her, but didn’t ask if this was his real name, and the baby had no words to tell her otherwise.
Cabbage has grown like his namesake but that is where any connection ends, everything else is as normal, as much as she would know. Except he stopped talking at the same time that Christopher left, and she is too far from help to ask for it.
He’s not well, Josie thinks. She wishes Christopher was here, for what does she know about childhood illnesses?
Cabby, as she calls him, is not outside chasing the chickens or playing with his dog, Sherpie, the little white terrier he loves so much. She sees him sitting on the armchair, the one with the flock coat that’s balding in places like an old man’s head.
Josie warms some milk on the stove, taking care that it doesn’t heat so much as to spill over the pan. She pours it into Cabby’s favourite mug, cradles it in her hands, feels the warmth ease the stiffness in her fingers. “Here you are lovely boy, milk to make you feel better.”
But Cabby is no longer in the chair. Placing the mug on the table, she shouts from the back door: “Cab, Cabby.’ She smiles, it seems like she’s calling an errant taxi. She brings her hands to her face then snatches them forward to focus. They look like her grandmother’s. She touches one hand with the other, traces the wrinkles, frowns. She was only twenty-five when Christopher brought Cabby to her.
Josie walks out into the farmyard. Everything looks the same but the trees have grown tall and the ducks and chickens have gone. Stolen, she thinks. Or taken by dingos. She squints towards the horizon, sees that the night is coming, wonders if she should set some traps. Her gaze draws around the fence-line, stopping at the old magnolia tree which, in contrast to everything else, is blooming. Soft apricot flowers like coupling butterflies are tip-massing on branches otherwise as barren as the earth. A breeze tickles her hair, sending it to cover her eyes, but she pushes back its greyness with fingers thinner than her memory.
Who was she calling? She feels the residue of something not right, something to which she cannot put a thought. Her stomach feels tight and her hands are shaking. Josie calls again, but this time not a name.
“Come on, come on now.”
A black cat with a white smudge on its nose stretches out from under a rusting car-body wreck, its claws driving the sand before them. It yawns, and walks a crooked path to her. She knows this cat, but she cannot remember what to call it. It follows her into the house and begins to scratch the old armchair in a rhythmic pawing. Josie takes the cup of milk and pours it into a bowl near the front door. She sits down, wraps herself in her arms and watches the cat drinking. Tiny flicks of milk spatter the floor like dandruff.
The pictures are clearer if she shuts her eyes, but then there is always the threat of sleep from which she fears she will never wake.
She rises and takes the cup to the sink, sees a note stuck on the fridge with a purple magnet. The cat’s name is Bobby, the note says, in a scrawl that is only decipherable by its size.
“Bob-by.’ She tries the name; her voice sounds empty, the syllables robotic, like a child learning to read. The cat looks up from the plate, there is milk on its whiskers and its eyes are staring. Josie turns away, reaches into the sink and sluices water through the mug, watching it swirl down the plug hole. She sees the greasy kitchen curtain, the edge of its faltering hem stuttering in the draught. The window behind is dirty and someone has written something in the grime. She lifts the curtain and reads: Turn off the stove. She stretches a bony finger and writes her name next to it: Josie. She leans back and stares. The writing is the same.
Then she writes: Christopher.
She closes her eyes and sees an image clearer than life.
“Josie girl, you have a photogenic memory,” he once told her. She recalls laughing. “Don’t you mean a photographic memory?” “No,” he said. “Photogenic, you remember the past more beautiful than it really is. Even the dark you turn grey.”
When she met Christopher she was attracted to him in a way she found hard to set to words. He was freedom and promise wrapped in a package. But she’d stopped trying to peel back the layers when she found nothing holding the structure.
Josie wipes tears from her eyes with the back of her arm and notices she is wearing her nightdress and dressing-gown. She wonders if it is morning and she has just got up. She rummages in the drawer until she finds what she is looking for. She pulls at the material on her sleeve. She wants to write: Go and get dressed but the fabric slips and the pen only writes the first word: Go.
Christopher was the man at the corner store. She saw him every time she went there with eggs to sell or cheques to cash. She has no eggs now and a woman brings meals to her house and puts them in her freezer. She reminds Josie of her chickens. She makes funny noises in the back of her throat. The last time she came, she kept shaking her head as well.
Then people came in two cars. Josie saw them coming. She hid in the bush- scrub surrounding her farm and waited, crouched like a dingo, swirling her fingers in the red dust, making circles that spiralled to nothing.
It was dark by the time she got home, and they had gone
Where was Sherpie? Cabby loved that little dog, he was always taking it for walks, she remembers. Maybe he’s gone for a walk with it now.
But no, Sherpie is dead. She closes her eyes and sees a picture of the terrier, its white turned red with blood.
Then she sees Cabby standing over the body. She quickly opens her eyes and sees him again in the chair. He is not well. That is why she made him the milk. Milk to make you feel better, my lovely boy.
It’s been so good since Cabby came, Josie thinks. The wonder of childhood is hers now.
He reminds her of Christopher. He looks like him, with his blue-green eyes and pale skin. His hair is as fair as Christopher’s was, with the same under-streaks like tiger’s stripes.
But now Cabby is gone again.
“Come out, my lovely boy. It’s too late to play.” She hears an old voice, wonders how it’s hers.
He was always a good boy, always happy, never making a fuss. But he’s been too quiet since his father left.
Christopher told her he’d adopted Cabby. It was a year after their wedding, not long after she’d been told she couldn’t bear children. She loved children, she said, when the doctor told her she couldn’t bear them. Doctor Willits had opened his eyes wide and gone silent, but Christopher had smiled at her. He knew her ways. He was the only one who ever had. And when he brought Cabby home she hadn’t questioned why she didn’t have to sign any papers. Why it had been so easy.
And when Cabby had grown more like Christopher every day, she’d laughed and said that’s what she’d heard, that adopted children often grew to look like the people who adopted them.
She recalls one day, when Cabby was just beginning to walk, an elegant lady came knocking on the door. Her breath smelled of alcohol and her fingers shook. She also had no manners, for she barged past Josie and demanded to see Christopher.
“Christopher’s at work,” Josie said.
“Not that one,” the elegant lady said. “The baby, Christopher.”
“My baby’s name’s Cabbage, but I call him Cabby.” Josie recalls saying.
The lady had collapsed onto the old chair; her shoulders were shaking and her face was red. Her hand was clutching her mouth and when she brought it away there was lipstick smudging her knuckles like blood.
“Christopher did say you were a bit simple. He told you the nickname I’d given the baby because he was growing like one. A cabbage that is. He couldn’t tell you the baby’s real name, I suppose.”
Josie was still trying to fathom why the lady thought she was simple. Simple meant easy. Her mother had told her ‘easy’ women were ladies of the night, but she hated the dark.
The lady continued. “I need to see my baby. I made a mistake saying I didn’t want him. Where did Christopher tell you the boy came from? The cabbage patch?” Once more the lady fell back into the chair. But this time her laughter took her to coughing until Josie went to her and banged her on her back. Then the lady looked at her strangely. “Perhaps..,” she said, “Perhaps…” Then she nodded to herself as if she was affirming an unspoken question.
Josie can’t remember how it ended that day. Maybe she’d got her gun, the one she uses for the dingos, and threatened the lady with it if she didn’t leave. Perhaps they had hugged and she’d let the lady see the baby.
Cabby had slept through it all. That much Josie does remember.
Josie lowers herself into the old chair. She strokes the soft fabric of the armrest, watches as the pile flattens this way and that. Her eyes close and the pictures come once again but she hears the words first.
Cabby’s words. Is he speaking to her again? But these words she’s heard before. They are not from today. How could she have forgotten them? They were the start of crying words, for Cabby and for Christopher.
“Mammy, Sherpie has blood on him, and he’s not moving.”
Josie had gone outside and found the little dog lying still, by the old magnolia tree. There was blood on him. Cabby was standing near him holding an axe.
“What have you done?” That was her voice.
“There was a dingo, mammy. I tried to get him. He ran over there.” She saw Cabby pointing, followed the line of his finger. Saw a tawny shape in the distance. There were two others matching it, and feathers scattered like snow, leading a trail back to the hen-runs. Then she saw the axe was clean.
Josie opens her eyes, pulls her dressing-gown around her and rises stiffly from the chair. There is something she wants to see. Outside, the moon is bright and the stars light a path that is strewn with potholes but Josie finds her way to the old magnolia tree. There, beneath its branches, blending with the fence, is a little cross. She remembers Christopher made that cross from a loose paling, and marked Sherpie on it with a burning twig. Now it’s as faded as her eyesight.
Cabby is crying. His sobs punctuate her mind in stabs. Then she hears Christopher’s voice. Josie closes her eyes to see his face. “Poor little bugger,” he says. “He really loved that dog.”
She tries to stop her answer but it comes like a flood. “Chris, why don’t you take him for a drive in the car? I’ll give him a drink of warm milk before you go. It’ll make him feel better.”
Now she hears the car doors slam. “Back soon, Josie girl, two hours, tops.”
She drops to the ground and once more the pictures come, but these have no words. Josie sees the police car with its flashing blue light, sees the policemen walking towards her. Sees herself, a young self, climbing into the car.
Then in a room full of whiteness, a man and a child lying together in death.
When Josie enters the house she walks on slow feet to the kitchen. There’s the note on the fridge. Her voice comes softly:“The cat’s name is Bobby,” she says. Then she glances at the kitchen window, the curtain is still drawn back: “Turn off the stove,” she says to her scribble, her words. Then she looks at her sleeve. Go, she reads. Go where, she wonders.
Josie finds her bedroom, sees the sheets pulled back, sees an impression of a body in the mattress. She climbs into it, being careful to match its form with hers. Then she pulls up the blanket and stares at the wall. She closes her eyes, lets the dreams come but shapes them to her memory with its photogenic lens. Even if she sleeps forever, she thinks, better asleep than this awake.And in the morning the sun will scrawl its shine, write its pictures of brighter days across her mind, lift the darkness to a paler shade of grey.
Myra King, an Australian writer, has written a number of prize winning short stories and poems. Her stories and poetry have been published in the UK, New Zealand, Australia and the US. Amongst other publications she has work in print and online, in Short Story America, The Boston Literary Magazine, Eclectic Flash, The Valley Review, Red River Review, Illya’s Honey Journal, San Pedro River Review, The Pages, and The Foundling Review.
She has a short story collection, City Paddock, published by Ginninderra Press. Her novel, Cyber Rules, was published by Certys UK in 2012. Royalties from her books have gone to help support The Creswick Light Horse Troop and Médecins Sans Frontières – Doctors Without Borders. Follow Myra on twitter.
– By Michael Phoenix
I walked into the library most days then. It was a horrid grey building of stones that had had the life sucked out. They were ugly and without sun from days drying in the desert. They didn’t reflect or withhold. They were undead, past decaying. It was worst in winter – Heavy and coated.
Inside was better. There were books. They smelt (the stones didn’t smell). And there were people. Beautiful girls. They wore denim jeans and red tops with their shoulders cutting out into that warm library air. Those bones. Like the sun through shards of glass. They walked up the stairs softly, and hung about in groups near the entrance, talking, and the words were in the distance of all their blue and green and black eyes.
I was studying Law. We were supposed to read all the books. No one did. I took one look at the names of their spines and turned away. I never looked back to that section. It was in a far corner of the place. A dead arm. The books were thick. The biggest and heaviest stones. Full of nothing. No thing. They could not rot.
I began to explore. There was a reference system. I went to the 800’s. I was listening to a lot of music at the time. I walked clicking my fingers when it was sunny. And sang when no one else was on the paths. The songs my father played on the piano – ragtime beat. I went to 811 just like that. Clicking my fingers. 11 was my lucky number. I wore it for the soccer team when we won the schools cup. Clicking my fingers. I scored twice. No one else in the row. I didn’t sing. It was too quiet in the library. I was shy. I didn’t have friends on the team.
811. 811. I looked at the names of the spines of the books there. They were different from the names of the law books. They were short and clear. And the names of the authors were bright. Some of them were written there in bold golden letters. The law books were all written by names like ‘Harris’ or ‘Barry’. Land owning english names. Though they said they were Irish. Names like ‘Roger Davis’ and ‘D.B Parsons’. None of them seemed to be women. Down near 811 it was different. That meant something. I took a book. 811 Poe. Poetry.
I kept going back to the 800’s. Every time they told us to take out some law book. It made sense to me. I walked in clicking my fingers. I looked at the girls. Sometimes I just said ‘hi’ to them as I went by even if I didn’t know them. Sometimes they said ‘hi’ back. Mostly they didn’t and I just went on clicking my fingers. When it was getting into spring I did that a lot.
The books I found led me to others. It turned out that Poe wasn’t the only poet in 811. He had friends. People he didn’t know. Other poets. They turned up all around him. It meant I got to hear about some even before I had heard of them. I never checked out beforehand which books were where. That wasn’t the point. They had to be discovered. But I remembered their names. They were hard to forget. Someone told me that they were false names. I didn’t think that could be true.
Sometimes I’d see the names of writers I had heard of. Sometimes they were great and other times they weren’t. It was amazing. I clicked my fingers as I went through the library. All those years. In the end I came to the last book. The last of the 811’s. 811 Pound. Ezra Pound. The greatest of all the names. Ezra Pound. I clicked my fingers.
By then I had started to whistle. I couldn’t sing so good but I had air in my lungs. People didn’t seem to mind the whistling. Other times when I had went down a path, here or there – singing, people heard and they didn’t seem to like it. No one said anything about the whistling. So I went on those walkways doing just that. Thinking ‘811 Pound’. Saying it over and over in my head.
By then they wouldn’t let me take books out. I had fines. I forgot to bring the books back. So I could only read them right there in the library. I carried Ezra Pound to a desk. I always chose the one’s that looked out the window. But sometimes they would all be taken. It was one of those days. The only seat was facing a pillar. I couldn’t see anything. Apart from Ezra Pound and to my left. A girl sat there. It turned out she sat there most days. She wrote on lined yellow paper and her handwriting was terrible. My teachers could never read my essays. My parents bought me a typewriter. The other’s all wrote neat and clear. I sat there with her and Ezra Pound and thought, ‘I bet they can’t read her essays neither’. She wore blue jeans. Her eyes were green. I would have sat beside here everyday from then on, but sometimes the seat was taken. Other times it was free but she wouldn’t be there. I wondered if something had happened. In the papers they wrote about people being hit by buses and people going missing. They wrote about young people leaving the country. I hoped that she was still there. I hoped that she hadn’t been hit by a bus or gone missing. Those days she wasn’t there. I couldn’t read at all. I just sat there hoping.
In the end Pound made me speak to her. Normally I didn’t speak much. Just said ‘hi’ here and there. But to her I said “Hello. My name is James” and then we went for a walk.
She didn’t know anything about the 811’s. I had to tell her all about them. She listened. Her eyes were green. She liked the sound of the things I told her. I talked a lot. It was sunny. I clicked my fingers. I couldn’t help it. She asked if I liked music. She played the piano. She wore blue jeans. Ezra Pound. I left him on the desk. The lake was full of resting gulls.
She told me it was her birthday one week from that day. I said it over and over in my head. I didn’t want to forget.
I had some money, not a lot. I decided to get her a present. I took the bus to town. It was yellow and I sat on the second floor. The bus driver had a strange mustache. The shoes of the man beside me were square. I didn’t take the bus much.
There was a bookshop on the quays. It was hidden behind the traffic. When you opened the door a bell rang. It was a high pitched kind of bell. I had been there before and looked at the books. They smelt different to the one’s in the library. There was a lady at the counter. She had round glasses and an old neck. I felt sorry for her. One day I would be old. I felt sorry for myself. She told me that she would be right back. Then she was. And Pound was with her. The book was clean. I thought that it didn’t look right. She told me that was the only copy. I bought it and walked home. I had no money left for the bus. But I didn’t mind. I clicked my fingers. I whistled. I felt strong.
There were always birds in late spring but people had exams. The library was full. I went there early that day. I wanted to be sure to get the seat beside her. When I got there I wrote inside the cover of the book. I said: no one can read my writing either. After that I didn’t know what to say. I hadn’t given many birthday presents. I bought my friend in primary school a football. We were 10. You didn’t have to write on a football. I didn’t know what to put. I wrote: love, James – happy birthday. Then I closed the book and pushed it to the far corner of the desk.
She didn’t come that day. Or the next. I kept her present in my bag. I didn’t know what to do with it. I walked around the library searching. I didn’t click my fingers the same way. Her name was Lucy. She wore blue jeans. She had green eyes. I couldn’t find her. Ezra Pound…
Michael Phoenix is a 22 year old writer from Belfast based in Dublin. He writes poetry, short stories, and has recently completed his first novel. He has been published in the 10th Anniversary Edition of the RedFez.
Knees slightly bent, head tucked in between outstretched arms, and hands clasped together. I shiver and take a breath; there’s no one else around but me in my polka dot bikini top and khaki shorts. The sun has only just glimpsed out from behind the Cuillin’s and the earth hasn’t yet warmed to the day ahead. As my toes curl round the edges of the rock I push off from my stance and inhale one last time before cool air becomes freezing water. I hear the thunder of falling streams hitting rock from further up the pools before the shape of noise changes in my ears and I hit the glassy blue of the deep well that only a moment before I looked down upon. If these hills could speak, surely they would remember me?
Cocooned within the icy spray, I kick further down into the well. Three hundred and sixteen days have passed since I was last here yet nothing about this ancient place seems to have changed. I touch the rocks as I swim around – testing to see if they’re really there – the rough edges confirm that I can’t be dreaming. Foam from the waterfall fills the surface of the water above me and I adjust my direction so I don’t break from the water directly in its path. If Cal were here he’d push me under, only to rescue me from the weight of the water a moment later.
I re-surface and catch my breath. The cool morning air descends and clings to my skin making it tingle. I hold onto the ledge beside me and get my bearings – the morning rays capture Skye, and the Glen in all their beauty. Coming back here could have been a mistake but the morning sun has lightened my head of the heavy thoughts that had washed their way in.
Following the path I’ve already made I plunge again; this time looking around, checking the ridges of the underwater rock to see if there’s something I missed the last time I made this swim. But there are no secret caves, or darkened corners to explore. The sun – climbing higher into the sky now – has made beams of light transcend the water and filter down into the well. Everything is lit anew. I don’t want to break for air but I never was as good as Cal at holding my breath and I can feel the beginnings of a burning sensation as my lungs cry out for oxygen. I rise again to the top and perch my goggles on my head. Blinking back the sunlight I am startled to see a man looking down upon me from the ridge. Cal standing, camera in hand, coaxes me as I lap around in the pool –
‘C’mon, look up at me. You never look into the camera’.
I ignore him and instead goad him to join me, ‘You won’t feel the cold once you’re in.’
‘Yeah but I’ll feel the cold the whole time I’m getting ready to go in! Do you think I’m as mental as you are?’
I laugh and splash about a bit, ‘You’re such a woose… I mean seriously, bringing me all the way up here under false pretences that you’re going to come in and have a romantic swim with me. I’m hurt.’ I do my best puppy-dog eyes and petted lip and for a second I can see on his face that I’ve got him but I ruin it by laughing again and he breaks into a smile…
‘Are you all right down there?’
The voice shakes me from the memory. I look up to see the man standing on the ledge.
‘What?’ I ask, not quite sure If I caught all he said.
‘Is everything OK? It’s a cold morning to be swimming in the Pools.’
His voice is deeper than Cal’s. I can’t quite make out his features from the way the morning sunshine is bouncing around the Glen. I adjust my position slightly to get a better look at him,
‘I’m fine thanks. It’s not cold in here.’
I can see now that he’s not very tall, probably about 5’6’’ at the most, greying slightly or is that just the light? I can’t tell if he’s carrying a little weight round the middle or if he just has multiple layers of clothing on to fend off what must be the beginning of a cold walk taking in the Cuillin’s.
‘We just caught sight of something in the water as we were passing and wondered what it was; we were a bit startled to find someone out swimming.’
He nods behind him as he says the word ‘we’ and a woman emerges from behind the bank. She smiles down at me, but her eyes tell me she’s as baffled as her husband over my morning dip. I smile back and turn my attention back to the man,
‘Oh, don’t worry about me… I always come up here for a swim.’
They look briefly at each other, assessing this new information. The man quips,
‘In November? We thought we were mad… ah well, good luck to you. You’re braver than me.’ And off they both walk, half-laughing, half-talking.
I pull myself out of the water and sit on the rocky ledge beside the heap of clothes I left minutes before. My teeth chatter as I wrap a towel around my body and squeeze the remnants of water from my hair. I stand but the platform is only high enough to see what’s immediately around me. I scoop up the clothes and slide on my flat pumps, the inside of my shoes become soaked and I squelch as I walk. I climb the shanty dirt steps that have been battered into the ground over the years. The man and woman come into view, heading towards Sgurr an Fheadain, probably just to take in the beauty of it than to climb. They are almost dots on the landscape now. Snow is scattered upon the tops of the hills and a cool wind makes its way down the valley.
I walk alongside the pools, further up the path – I know which pool I’m looking for but can never remember if it’s second or third last…
‘How far up are you going?’ Cal shouts between pictures.
‘I’m going to the deepest one, and you’re coming in too.’ I look over my shoulder and smile at him as he makes his way up the path behind me. The rush of falling water grows louder as I come to the place. The climb down is trickier here – the steps steeper, and less secure. I leave the clothes at the top and use my hands to steady me as I climb down. Just as I reach the bottom Cal is above me.
‘You’re insane’, he says as he starts making his way down too.
‘No, we’re insane.’ I correct him, ‘C’mon just jump in. You’ll regret it if you don’t.’
He takes the last step down and reaches the platform closest to the pool. The spray from the waterfall hits the back of my bare legs and makes goose pimples appear on my skin. Cal looks around, assessing the pool – it’s deeper than the others – the water is clear, the underwater arch teases as it rises just slightly above the surface of the water, it whispers as water laps against the rock.
‘God… okay. But I’m telling you if I get hypothermia I’m holding you responsible.’
‘Yes!’ I do a little dance of victory as he kicks his shoes off.
I dive first – the coolness of the water flooding my senses and making my heart surge – the archway is ancient and stunning. I swim through touching the underside of the stone as I pass. How many others have done the same and felt the unexplained connection to this natural landscape? I rise to the top and burst out from the water to wait for Cal.
‘C’mon, hurry up – we haven’t got all day!’
Cal stands, watching me.
‘What if I dive from higher up?’ he asks,
‘Why would you want to do that when you haven’t even been in yet?’ I reply, slightly confused but he’s an excited school boy now and I’m just one of the guys, egging him on in his head,
‘It’ll be fun. Look how deep it is! You do it too.’
Before I can say anything he’s darting back up the steps towards the higher ridge beside the waterfall.
‘Cal, I think that’s a stupid idea…’
But he’s not listening or he can’t hear me over the fall of water. The pool is deep but that’s a high jump. I try and work out the depth he’s likely to fall from such a height. I drop under for a second and check the bottom of the pool – it’s not smooth. Every surface is a point, a crag; rougher than the beauty of it lets you believe.
‘Cal… Just come back down and dive from here.’
‘What? I can’t hear you.’ He’s at the top now, arms folded in front of him, shoulders hunched from the cold.
‘Come. Back. Down.’ I say louder, emphasising every word.
I don’t like the angle of the rocks below him, I don’t trust what lies directly beneath the waterfall, concealed by the froth and foam as the water sprays in all directions.
It’s too late, he leaps but in his haste the dive isn’t right – he’s overshot the angle, almost somersaulting but not even managing that. Instead his head is at an odd juxtaposition with his body, his arms splayed out to the sides as if he’s trying to correct himself mid-air but can’t manage it. He hits the water and he’s gone… seconds pass. I panic. I dive under the water and kick hard in his direction. I can see the shape of his body as it slowly floats to the surface and I know instantly that something isn’t right. I reach him just as his body reaches the surface but he’s limp and unconscious. I turn him onto his back so his head is above the water and pull him away from the harshness of the waterfall that’s only centimetres from him. There’s no blood, no clue as to what I’m trying to fix.
Even with his weightlessness I can’t get enough purchase to do much except shout for him to wake up. I edge him to the side of the pool and attempt to lift us out of the water but I can’t. Minutes pass, I can’t find a pulse on his neck but I’m not even sure if I’m checking the right place. I scream for help – there’s nothing but a heavy echo from the wide open space. As time passes I grow colder, shivering from my lack of movement. My arms grow tired from the effort of keeping Cal at my side while the rush of the water around us tries to pull him away.
He doesn’t move, doesn’t flinch. I hug him to me and pray; pray for help, pray he’ll be OK, pray that I won’t die here with him – the two of us becoming entwined by the pull of the water as it cascades from one pool to the other. Eventually a man and his wife come by, snapping holiday memento’s as they go…
At last the memory has surfaced, a tear runs down my cheek and I brush it away with my hand. The water will wash away the sadness but the echo of that morning will play out in the landscape for eternity. Knees slightly bent, head tucked in between outstretched arms, and hands clasped together. I shiver and take a breath; there’s no one else around but me. The cold, crisp November morning has kept the visitors away. If only these rocks could speak, the stories they’d tell. I dive again.
Kirsty Fraser currently resides in Glasgow with her cat Buttons. She studies Media & Communications by day and by night she blogs on New Hellfire Club and Sabotage Times about all things music. She writes short stories and poetry, that in the most part, only her bin gets to read. In an attempt to change that she’s currently writing her first collection of short stories – she hasn’t figured out how it ends yet. Check out Kirsty’s music blog.
– By Cal Ashton
He drew hard on his pint. Madeline frowned. The third sigh in ten minutes left him hunched over like an inflatable leaking air.
“What is it Tom?”
The sigh was heart-rending and lasted a full twenty seconds, rising and bursting from his pursed lips. His fingers crept around the pint glass again as if to lift it…but just stayed wrapped around it, unable or just not caring enough to lift it.
Each breath left his body, but wasn’t replaced. He hadn’t breathed in now for an hour. All his air was leaving him.
His brain air left first, his mind had shut down three days ago. Neglect had left it numb and rusty. Seized up. The banality of an undemanding job, no challenge, even in conversation with his work colleagues, all too shallow to communicate and when he got to his own office he never talked to anyone anyway. Except Dave, the Doorman. But a “Hello” that had dissolved into a murmur, then a grunt, then a conciliatory nod of the head, then brief eye contact, had finally collapsed into a non-physical act whereby Tom would only react if Dave wasn’t there.
And Dave was always there.
Home was empty, a chair so long and so familiar there he couldn’t describe it to you if asked him, even if he did answer he would say it was just, y’know, a chair, kinduh greeny grey-blue red thing. Nice. There.
TV was on. Unless he fell asleep, woke up again , realized it was on, turned it off and went to sleep again.
One shop, never-changing for never-altering tinned food.
And now – a heart unused beat out the air, pushed smaller and smaller amounts of blood to the vital areas, even then, it forgot why. The heart had never raced since long ago. Not even reflexively. If Tom tripped, Tom fell. He didn’t stop himself. The adrenalin breathed out of him 3 days ago. There was only his self left. And he breathed it out now.
“Tom, what is it?”
Tom looked at Madeline through half opened eyes. 3 day stubble dotted his see-every-day-of-it lined 42 year old face. The curly hair, the thin grey lips. The hollow cheeks.
The next sigh blew out the light in his eyes.
His hands dropped to the table, still surrounding the glass of half drunk lager. The next sigh drained all the colour from his skin. He was pale to translucence, fish scale grey. He breathed out his lungs. The noise was a low rushing puncture now, like a gas ring hissing unlit. He breathed out his powdered bones and his body deflated into a skinsack, a bag, a film across the table. As his body dropped forward his face never touched the table surface. He breathed away his skin and left on the table, chair and floor were only his hair and clothes.
Tom had not-lived himself out of existence. No-one cared. He had made sure of it. Not deliberately, he just had. Death by torpor.
Cal Ashton is a redhead but accepts the term ginger. A Scot, he has wandered from Germany to Australia and is currently in Hong Kong. Cal has had work published many years ago in Shanghai Metrozine, That’s Beijing and Oxford University Student magazines and has performed in numerous plays in numerous dark basements and international schools throughout Europe and Asia. Check out Cal’s website.
Midnight Shadows, Passing
– By David McVey
Everybody hates me, thought Kyle, just because my hair sticks up in that funny way and Im shy of girls and I havent had a job since I left college.
He had snaffled a good handful of his mums stash of sleeping pills; enough to do the job, anyway. But what about the mess, the scene? He’d probably puke before dying and if it got on the carpet or bedclothes mum would be raging. And she’d hate all the hassle – police, ambulance, undertakers. How much did a funeral cost nowadays? Even if nobody came?
And then Kyle thought about Derryburn Wood. Nobody went there except dog-walkers and daft wee boys who wanted to get drunk and there would be nobody there at night. He could slip out, find a hidden spot, pop the pills and die quietly. No one would be inconvenienced, no one would mind the mess.
It was nearly twelve and there was a bright moon. Kyle pulled on a capacious hoodie, transferred the sleeping pills to a pocket and took a bottle of spring water to wash them down. He was about to leave the bedroom for the last time when he noticed that the duvet, which hed been lying on, was crinkled and untidy. Mum would go mental. He shook it smooth before creeping quietly downstairs in case he woke her, and then disappeared into the cooling night to die in Derryburn Wood.
A ship of light swept over the horizon of the dark trailing a wake of silence. Jane had missed the last bus.
It had already been a hard evening, involving what Sally from work had called a break-up date. She had arranged to meet Scott in a charmless chain pub called the Goblet and Wishbone on an edge-of-town trading estate. While Scott fetched the drinks, Jane had reflected on the meanness of her reason for ending things: Scott was just too nice.
He held doors open for her. He bought her flowers (too many some bunches went straight into the green bin). He was open about his feelings and considerate about hers. He loved children; before long thered be a marriage proposal with a view to starting a family. He was generous, sharing, thoughtful, someone who wanted to share his life fruitfully – with someone else.
Jane didn’t. Not yet, anyway. Scott was 30, which explained a lot. She was still only 24 and wanted the free, fun-loving life a bit longer. And yet, even when she told Scott the cold truth, he had managed to be gracious.
I didn’t see this coming, he said, with the puzzled facial expression of a gentle forest creature that had misplaced some nuts, but I appreciate your honesty and courage in telling me.
Get angry, Jane had thought. Why do you never get angry?
Scott left soon afterwards but Jane had remained behind, drinking. Only when the last bus was due to abandon this desolate urban periphery did she emerge, only to see it disappearing down the ring-road. Bus drivers just want to get home too, she thought. She’d drunk a lot and it moved her to be reasonable. Like Scott.
She considered phoning for a taxi, but it was a dry, breezy night in May the sun had barely gone down and while it was a long way by road to her home on the Glenturlie Estate it was just a mile or so through countryside. A footpath ran from the ring-road between fields to Derryburn Wood; soon after the path re-emerged from the wood, you saw the first houses of the estate. There was a moon riding high in the sky and surely on a Tuesday night there would be no feral fourteen-year-olds giggling round a bottle of tonic wine in some dark corner? She clicked across the ring-road in her heels and crunched onto the gravel farm track that marked the beginning of the path.
Reverend Rab Soutar needed to pray. He needed God to hear him, and to know that he had been heard. There was always something unsatisfying about praying in the manse; nothing to do with Carol or the children, just the sense of being enclosed. A ceiling wouldn’t prevent words reaching an omnipotent God but it could inhibit the person doing the praying.
Glenturlie Parish Church was a pleasing modern building of plain harling with some pinewood panels; large windows in the ceiling brought the sun into the morning service. The estate it served was large, sprawling and rich. The church was rich, too; Rab ministered to lawyers and GPs and lecturers and high-powered IT execs, their wives, husbands and children. There were always funds for repairs to the church building or crèche equipment. But Rab tried to open the congregations hearts and minds to mission, to bringing Christ to the lost, to serving the poor and despairing and hungry. There were many needy folk, locally, albeit on the other side of town. His sermons were met with nods and smiles but little else. The church was determined to keep its hands clean.
Rab craved prayer. He would go to a quiet spot in Derryburn Wood and pour out his soul to the Lord, seeking His will for Reverend Rab Soutar and for Glenturlie Parish Church. He would pray also that God would lead him, personally, to troubled souls that he could help.
The moon blinked between trees as Rab entered the wood. Away from the sodium-bathed streets, darkness embraced him and stars upon stars gleamed from the velvety sky, an infinity of tiny lights that spoke to him of the limitless, unimaginable reach of God. He decided to pray where a small patch of grass bounded the path. He took off his Craghopper cagoule, laid it on the ground, and knelt on it.
This is SHITE! yelled Jason, hurling a newly-emptied lager can into the unseen undergrowth. Its dark. We cannae see anything. What are we doing here, man?
Chill, man, I just thought it would be cool, said Connor, all spooky and that. I didnae think it would be so cold and dark.
Jason softened when Connor admitted his error. It’ll be a magic place to come when we plunk off school, though. Naebody from the council will find us here.
Connor detached the plastic carrier bag of drink from the branch on which he’d hung it and they began to pick their way along the path using the faint light from their mobiles. Then Jason stopped. Thats weird, man. Do you hear that?
Naw. No at this time of night, surely…
The path led past some pine trees to an open glade wanly lit by the moon. Just off the path they sensed a dark, stooping figure no, a kneeling figure muttering away to himself. Show me your will… lead me in your ways… soften our hearts towards the weak…
He’s mental, whispered Connor.
It’s pure scary, man, lets go.
They ignored the path and clattered off through the trees. Dimly, they saw the lights of the Glenturlie Estate and ran towards them, the branches clawing as they went. They only stopped running when they reached a scruffy field bordering the estate.
I left the bag, said Connor.
The bag with the drink. I dropped it when we saw the mad guy.
This was a great idea. Jason trudged away towards the lights of town.
This is life, Jane thought as she entered the wood. She was warm from the gentle climb through the fields but it felt good. Pity about her shoes; they were ruined. She switched on her mobile to light the path a little.
Kyle inhaled the mouldy breath of the wood. There was peace, here, quietness. And then, just ahead of him, he heard a muffled tattoo of running feet on the soft woodland floor. Two shadows fled past through sparely-filtered moonlight.
Not far along, on the same path, he saw something bright that shifted and crinkled gently in the breeze; a plastic bag. He picked it up and peered inside; a half-full bottle of Buckfast and a few cans of multipack lager. Well, they’ll help, Kyle thought, they’ll deaden the pain.
More footsteps, behind him this time. They stopped.
He turned to see a young woman, wearing a light raincoat over a short dress, and smart, high-heeled shoes. He edged closer to get a clearer view.
Don’t hurt me, said Jane.
It’s all right, said Kyle, I wont. He nodded at the plastic bag. This isn’t mine. I found it.
He sounded nice, thought Jane, well-spoken. What a shame he was out on his own, drinking. Id better be getting along, she said.
Yes. Midnight walk?
Yes. Just going home.
He watched as she disappeared into the gloom. Even struggling with those heels, there was a grace about her. If she was the last person he’d ever see, he hadn’t chosen badly.
He crawled into the midst of a cluster of rhododendrons and felt in his pockets for the tablets. He sat on a dry stump of wood, remembering that mum always said you could catch something from sitting on something damp. He reached into the carrier bag for a can and wished he hadn’t brought the water. It seemed a waste, now.
Rab stood up and retrieved his cagoule. A night of victorious prayer. Now and then he had heard voices, whisperings, the sound of passing feet. Distractions sent by the Enemy? If so, they had failed. Rab glanced at his watch; quarter to one. The night would soon be compromised by the first dirty grey light. He set off for the manse.
Connor followed Jason into the Glenturlie estate, where all the poshies lived, but then turned towards the path that led back into Derryburn Wood. He couldn’t leave that drink behind.
Just as he entered the wood he met an attractive young woman who was coming the other way. Ignoring his Hi, doll! she continued speaking into her mobile; I’m sorry to phone so late, Scott, and I’m sorry about tonight. Can I see you tomorrow? Lucky Scott, whoever he was; she had nice legs and that, though she shouldnae have walked through the wood in those heels.
He hadn’t gone much further when he met a middle-aged man wearing a cagoule and a tweed bunnet. They both stopped.
Can I help you, young man? Im Reverend Soutar of Glenturlie Parish Church.
Aye. Have ye seen a plastic bag somebody might have dropped?
Kyle lay down; the damp didn’t worry him, now. He just felt warmth and peace and silence as the faint smell of rhododendron blossom fought with the mouldiness. He was hidden from sight in this lonely woodland place. Would anyone ever find him?
The minister guy had tried to convert Connor so he had pulled away and scampered into the wood. When he got back to the place there was no sign of the carry-out but at least the mad guy had gone. A strong gust of wind blew in from somewhere, penetrating even the sheltered places, the kind of wind you got at scary bits in horror films. Behind those big bushes, something rustled. A plastic bag?
There were steely bars of light in the sky now but it was still deep-dark among the bushes. There was his carry-out, though. Someone had definitely been at it, just two cans left and no sign of the Buckie.
Connor turned and saw something dark and still on the ground. He looked at the silent shape for a long time and wondered what it was. The light seemed a long way away.
David McVey worked for many years at the University of Paisley, but he has also been a grouse beater, a tax officer and spent one miserable Saturday night stocktaking at a B&Q. He has published nearly 100 short stories and hundreds of non-fiction articles. David enjoys hillwalking, visiting historic sites, reading, telly, and watching football, especially his hometown team, Kirkintilloch Rob Roy FC and the Scotland national side. Check out David’s website.
In Alice’s infinite wisdom, and after the success of our Beat Writers’ Issue, she allowed me to take the reins for a special issue of my own. So here it is, The Bohemyth’s special issue dedicated to and inspired by the work and life of Samuel Beckett.
I would like to thank each and every person who submitted their work. The standard and variation was incredibly high – a testament in itself to the influence of Beckett – and the decisions on what to select for publication was harder than I would have imagined. I believe the pieces we have chosen are a fitting tribute to the memory of Beckett and I hope you feel the same after you have read and reread each one.
In Jan Wilm’s flash fiction, Colm O’Shea’s short story, Eamon Mc Guinness’ personal essay, Kenneth Hickey’s short drama, Denis O’Callaghan’s painting, and Claire Tracey’s photography, I hope you will find something that stays with you and gets you talking.
I would like to thank everyone who helped to spread the word about this issue and I hope that you continue to do so.
Finally, I would like to thank The Bohemyth’s amazing editor Alice Walsh. Her passion and enthusiasm for encouraging new writers is only surpassed by her own distinctive writing. Her ability to do both continues to inspire me.
I hope you enjoy the issue. And remember: BECKETT IS THE WORD.
Photography – Claire Tracey lives and works in Dublin. She has previously lived in France, Italy and Singapore. She has also travelled throughout Asia, America, Canada and Europe. Claire is currently working on her first screenplay.
Snow. Why. Repeat. Why. One. Three. Two. Four. Five. Why. One draws the blinds and fills the room with moth light of morning. Heaviness in the bones. Five. Why. One lifts the hands to touch the lakecold plain of the snow window. The white sinking hourglass sand. One is suddenly old, too old for life over again, all of life an old memory, forever redrawn in a puppeteering mind, one is old overnight, one with oldness. Why.
One recalls the moments of old, like crystal stars in darkness, snow petals on the windowpane, blooming, dying. The hand, her starfish hand spread out against the windowpane, tiny little thing, and the white sinking hourglass sand. Mercury, like dust, like mould, forms cold, but soft, around the hand. The greying warmth enfolding her fingers, a giggle, her head turning from frozen memory, a lily blossoming from the darkness, the mercury print of fingers left against the windowpane. One breathes against the lakecold windowpane. Blooming, dying. Too much remains of too little.
Why. Snow. Five. One has been to the room, the last room, her smell on the air, tender as pastry scent on the wind on a day of hunger. The blanket, which safeguards her shape against time, some day it will have to be straightened. The mine field of playthings on the floor, thinly arrayed, the mind field ploughed out already by the impossible mornings to come. Alone with age. Nothing to be done. No more marrying, no more having of children, no more hearing the lull of the voice, tiny little voice, when she turned herself into voices, so as to be together in solitude. One looked quietly from the kitchen to the rectangle of sunlight on the floor in the hall, dust flakes floating, the hourglass sand settling on your daughter. One day you step into the rectangled light and see the cut that it makes in the floor as what it was, open grave of time, tiny little thing.
You have returned to the living room with the memory of her scent, flying into the void of memory altered, pure silence in the walls, in the clocks, in the dawning sky. You, sequestered in the void, hold still to memory devoid of words, devoid of time, falling from the night of your mind, like moth dust through the hourglass, and you hold death in your eyes, in your eyes behind your eyes, vast rooms of death, streamed with light glaring in your eyes as on a stage, a full moon of expectation, and you keep still. You touch her hair somewhere in that room, you take her hand somewhere on that stage, her hand moves with your hand onto the windowpane. A tiny cracked moon of a hand eclipsing an older sun, the lake cold windowpane against your palm. Your hand is alone, an image puppeteered in the mind, of the hand, the tiny little hand of dimpled knuckles on the windowpane. Blooming, dying. Repeat.
Why. Five years too late for returning, barren tides, holding hands in memory. You remember the call made together. Can you dial the last digits. A giggle. The number, dear. One. Three. Two. Four. Five. The giant receiver on the small sea shell ear. The waiting, the ancient waiting. Daddy. I dialled the dadgets. Breathe. Repeat. Alone, the number escapes you, you look it up, you dial, the last five digits like stabs, you wait, the receiver restored as of old. His voice, a question as from the wintry void itself. You exhale against the windowpane, his voice unknowing still, waiting in another world, against another light for news that is, already, ageing and eternal. Mercury evaporates. You answer. No. It’s just me.
Jan Wilm (*1983) teaches English literature at Goethe University Frankfurt. He lives in Frankfurt.
– By Colm O’Shea
The wait, the long wait. Longer than before, not as long as it will be but longer than before. Here, now, here, rain again, as before, softer than but rain all the same. Waiting here, in the dark, waiting. Waiting for the door to open and waiting for him to come out. Waiting here, not standing, tried that, seen, chased away. Not sitting, tried that, seen, stones thrown at me. Crouching now, here, waiting, crouching. Behind the bins, crouching, ready, waiting but ready. Ready for the door to open and for him to come out. Waiting for someone to see me and I can be off, gone, run, away. Waiting. Waiting for the door to open and I, me, here, waiting. He knows, when he comes, he knows now, he knew then, he knows what he did, when he did it, before he did it maybe but he knows what he did then, and he knows it now. He knows and that’s why. He knows and that’s why I wait. He knows what he did and he knows he must expect it, not expect me, he doesn’t know me, well he does, but he doesn’t know me well, well he does. He does know me. He doesn’t know me now. He’ll be expecting it all the same. The same thing maybe, maybe not, maybe not expecting it at all, got away with it so far so why not. No, he’ll be, he is, he’ll be expecting something. Deserves something. Stupid that, fucking stupid that. Deserve, deserve, deserve means nothing anymore, never meant anything. Used to tell each other, used to be taught, used to be told that deserve, deserve meant something, meant we earned it, whatever it was, good, bad or indifferent, we deserved it. Meaningless word now, I mean look at it, when you look at it, when you think about it, deserve, really, deserve, means nothing. No one, not me, not him, no one keeping track, keeping score, keeping a tally on it all, on us all, no one. No one to decide who deserves what, good, bad or indifferent, no one. But say it all the same, think it all the same. Why I’m here, deserve, he deserves and I’m here. I did, I allocated, I tallied, I kept score and I decided. No better than anyone else, my own flaws, my own faults, my own, all my own, mine own and no one else’s. But I kept score and I decided, oh yes I did, I decided that he deserved, that he deserved this, that he deserved this now, here. He deserved this then, when I waited, the time I waited, all the time, all the times I waited, he deserved this then too, all of these times or just once. He deserves this once and that will be the end of it, no more deserving for him, never, all gone. He’ll deserve and I’ll give, I’ll dole out, I’ll serve, I’ll. Me, does it count, does it deserve the name, that word again. Should be banned, deserve, like that old nun, that old nun that taught us the words, taught us the words and the rhythms and the rhymes, the alliteration and the assonance, taught us the metre, not the metres, that was someone else, gone, funny that, their faces gone, her’s still here. I’ll ask him if I have the chance, I’d ask him if I thought I had the time. Others, there had to be others, there were others, she, that old nun, no, not a nun, that former nun, she only taught us the words, nothing more, not that we needed more, not that I remember any of the rest of it. I remember the words though, I remember them, funny that all the same. At the time we hated them, we hated her, always going on, always nosing and pointing, hated the sight of her, dreaded her, dreaded the words. And yet, and yet now, all that remains, all that I can recall. Ask him if I get a chance. Who were the others. Think on that, think on that later when it’s finished, when it’s done. What was that anyway, why that, why her, why that old nun, that old former nun. Deserve, yes, that was it, deserve, hate that word, ban that word. Words she banned, no, only one word she banned, never cursed, never swore in front of her, swore plenty behind her back but never in front of her. One word she banned, one word, only word. Nice, only word she banned, only word she never let us use, never let us say. Silly then, stupid then, I mean, nice, nothing wrong with it, we thought, nothing. Nice, good word, does what it says on the tin word, nice, has its place and use it word, nice. See it now, nice. Hateful word, nice, understand it now. He was never the nice one, no, he was, the bad one, no, not exactly, not at the time, no, didn’t know that, weren’t aware of that at the time. If I knew then, if we knew then, no, no point, would have happened anyway, no. Think what I want, couldn’t have stopped it. No, I was the nice one, yes, cursed with being the nice one, ruined by being the nice one, yes, ruined everything, ruined it all by being the nice one. Could have been much more, could have had much more. Could have deserved, no, not that word. Much more, anything more, anything. Could have anything if I wasn’t the nice one. Ruined it all for me. Ruined it all for myself. Should have been worse, should have been a cunt, no, maybe. If I’d been a cunt I would have had more, I would have been more. No, had to be, was, no point in discussing it, debating it, was, is, am, will be, nice. Ignored, nice, always is, always will be. Looked at, passed over, considered for a little while, yes, it’s nice, isn’t that what they all say, what we all say, it’s nice I suppose, it’s nice and all that. Maybe it will do for, maybe it will do for someone else. Oh yes, it’s nice, I mean it’s harmless and invisible, it won’t cause any problems, but it’s just, it’s just. Oh, I don’t know. I mean it’s not good enough for me, you say, I say, we say. I mean it’s not good enough for me but may be someone else will look at it, I say, you say, we all say. Knew what she was on about, have to give her that, admit it now. Have to give it to her now, knew what she was on about. Ban that word like the other, means worse than meaning nothing. Ban it, ban them. Knew what she was on about that old nun, that former nun. When you think about it, I mean when you really think about it. No, no, not too much. Miss it all if I think about it too much. No, forget, put it aside, ask him if I get a chance. Won’t get a chance, never ask him. Still, think on it again, sometime, somewhere, forget. Just now, just here, now. Think, yes, know what I have to do, know what I had to do, do it now, do it here. Wait for, wait here for the door to open and, yes, wait, yes. Know it, have it. Have it in my hand. Cudgel, yes, have it in my hand, the cudgel. Waiting here for him now with the cudgel. Knows why, he knows why. Thought of more before. Thought of more, maybe the stick, maybe the knife, maybe the Hurley, no. Thought about the knife, no, can’t do that. Thought about the gun, no, can’t do that. Get a gun, me, no. No, nothing left except the cudgel. Has to be the cudgel. The sound, the name, says it all, no words but it says it all. Wait here, stand here, no, crouch here with the cudgel, yes. Deserves, no, merits, no, just being stupid now, pretending it’s not one thing or the other. Earned, maybe, maybe earned. Either way, anyway. The cudgel, me and the cudgel waiting here, waiting here in the alley for the door to open, waiting here and then. And then what, yes I know, yes I know, I know what will happen then, he knows what will happen then, should know, might ease the pain, no don’t be stupid. Just wait, wait. Listen for anything, listen for anyone. No one here, no one here except him. No him, not the him. The other him, the other him here now, looking over, standing over. On the wire, a crow now, a crow, he’s a crow now. Know it’s him, of course, has to be. Look, even now in the dark, look. The black eyes, the black cold eyes and the long beak. Looking down on me with the black cold eyes and the long narrow beak. Looking down on me and saying no, always saying no. He doesn’t know, of course he does, then why does he say no. Has to know the truth, why does he say no. Looking at me, looking at me crouching here with the cudgel and he says no. Not listening to him anymore. Used to listen to every word he said, we all did, every word. Not anymore. Words mean nothing now. His words mean nothing now. Ask him about it, if there is any time. Ask him, he should know. Thick as thieves, him, me. Were, best of friends if that means anything, if the words mean anything, not banned, allowable words, still, mean very little now, almost nothing. Still, yet. True, was, were, him, me. Yes, best of friends. Once. Now, no. Now, here, now I wait, crouching in the alley with the cudgel and the door will open and he’ll get what he. Should have told him, for old time’s sake, should have sent a message. Let him realise the truth, let him realise he can’t, no, he won’t, yes, he won’t get away with it. Let him know he can’t get away with it. He knows what he did, knows it, has to know that others know too. Has to know that I know it too. Has to know that he can’t get away with it. Don’t tell him all, shouldn’t have told him all if anything, no, no point. Wouldn’t have told him about the alley and me and the crow and the cudgel. No, wouldn’t have told him that. Surprise, like the old days, jumping out and shouting surprise. Like that time, that time in Wicklow, walking, him and me, in the dark. Walking ahead of the girls, young, much younger then, we all were. Walking in front of them in the dark, along the road going down to the village, yes. Knew, we knew, barely had to say a word about it, both knew. Hid behind the trees, me on one side of the road and him on the other. The road, the narrow dark road, trees overhanging, darker than dark hiding behind the trees until the girls walked by then jumping out and yelling, yelling something anyway, forget what it was. Ask him if I get the chance. Good times, thinking now, good times. Knew it then sure he did, sure I did, knew they were good times. Cudgel could have come from one of those trees, old enough, knotted enough, maybe, maybe not but maybe. Still, quiet, still. Crow given up on me, once more says no and leaves, flies, gone. Crow given up and gone, more pickings elsewhere. Maybe it doesn’t know, maybe it really doesn’t. Might have had rich pickings, man and a cudgel, good for crows, cracking open the shell and letting the meat out, letting it all out onto the alley. Crow might have liked that, no chance to ask him. Crouching here, waiting, yes the crow might have enjoyed it, me, the cudgel and him, yes. Light now, door opening, yes me and the cudgel, swinging, knows what he did, body coming out, light dimmed for a moment, light from inside blocked from coming out into the alley, held back, blocked. A body. A body stepping out into the alley, the alley, me and the cudgel, yes thing about it, swinging, looping, a looping arc, bringing it, bringing the cudgel crashing down. The body moving in the alley, the face on the body. Know the face, have seen the face, the cudgel swinging through the air, one long arcing swing. The face on the body, recognise it, know it. Ask it, could ask it all the questions I have, could do all that. Just think about the cudgel, just think. The body, the face, doesn’t see me. Say something, call out, ask it the questions, ask him the questions. No, just think, the cudgel, the swing, the crash, breaking the shell and the meat coming out. The face and the body passing by, walking away. Could ask, don’t ask. Could ask the man everything I wanted to know. He knows, he knows, he knows all, he knows what he did and if I ask he’ll know why I’m waiting here in the alley, standing, no, crouching in the alley with the cudgel. The body and the face are gone. He’s gone. The light returns, the dim light returns, the darkness returns, if it was ever anywhere else. The crow hasn’t returned but the darkness has. Waiting, crouching in the alley. Waiting in the alley with the cudgel because the door will open and he will step out into the alley. He will step out into the alley and he will know, and he knows what he did.
Colm O’Shea is originally from Leixlip, County Kildare. He currently lives in Dublin City where he works as a Civil Engineer. He was one of the winners, in 2012, of the inaugural Irish Writers’ Centre Novel Fair Competition. Check out his blog.
´I can´t write about him´ – Writing in the Silences: Beckett, Grief and Art
– By Eamon Mc Guinness
It started with reading the letter Beckett wrote to his friend and poet Thomas Mc Greevy in Paris after his father died. It opened up things for me and gave me the strength to start expressing myself in new ways. It was 2010 and I was doing an M.A in Anglo-Irish Literature and Drama in U.C.D. One of the modules was ´Beckett and Contemporary Irish Drama´. My father had died earlier in the year. I was teaching English in Spain when it happened, came back in June when the academic year had finished and threw myself into the masters in September. I read every book and article recommended. I spent hours in the library and would often be there when it opened. I didn´t know what else to do. If I stopped I didn´t know what would happen. I didn´t allow myself to properly think or write about what had happened to me and my family.
Beckett was 27 when his father William Beckett died aged 61 on 26th of June 1933. Beckett wrote to McGreevy in Paris on the second of July. That act itself was comforting; the writing of the letter was an important gesture for me. Putting pen to paper was a conserving act. When I returned to Spain after the funeral I gave myself daily writing tasks. I wrote long letters and e-mails to friends and family. Communication was vital. There is, I believe, an honesty and space to letters and I sought that out. Whenever I´d been away before my father and I exchanged letters and my time in Spain was no different and we wrote to each other regularly. In reality, I wrote anything just to keep myself busy. Quotes, shopping lists, dreams, memories, plans, regrets, books I wanted to read, song and film titles, places I wanted to go, to-do lists; anything.
Beckett´s letter to McGreevy is concise and direct. It also contains more overt emotion than I´d up to that point encountered in his work.
It opens with:
“Father died last Monday afternoon after an illness lasting just under a week, and was buried the following Wednesday morning in a little cemetery on the Greystones side of Bray Head, between the mountains and the sea.”
He then goes on to briefly describe his father´s death and the practical matters that needed to be taken care of. One of his main duties was to help his mother and respond to the “endless letters on her behalf”. His own uncertain future is alluded to: “My position of course is vaguer than ever”.
In the final paragraph he mentions some memories he has of his father´s final days, “joking and swearing at the doctors”, “in bed with sweet pea all over his face” and most poignantly his father´s assertion that “when he got better he would never do a stroke of work. He would drive to the top of Howth and lie in the bracken and fart”. I could relate to all of this. In the weeks preceding his death I would speak to my father regularly on the phone. I was living in Santiago de Compostela and would constantly see the relieved and joyous faces of pilgrims who had finished El Camino de Santiago. I told him that many people who had been sick would walk the Camino when they had recovered. We planned to do this together when the treatment was finished and he was better. He too promised that he´d never go back to work.
Beckett says that his last words were “Fight fight fight” and “What a morning”. I´ve racked my brain for three years but still can´t remember our last conversation or his final words to me. In a strange way that makes me happy, there was no ´final ‘conversation over the phone, no ‘goodbye’ moment. Our last chat was I´m sure filled with trivial matters; the weather, family, news from home and work. One thing that sticks out though and that I wrote down in a journal at the time was something he said to me. We were talking about friendship and falling out with people and he said “Eamon, there is no time to make enemies”. I don´t know why I wrote it down but I did. Beckett finishes the paragraph with the beautiful sentence: “All the little things come back – memoire de l´escalier.” The French phrase refers to, according to the footnotes, “an inspired afterthought that comes to one only after leaving, that is, on the stairs”. It was and is true; all the little things do come back, at unexpected and surprising moments.
This letter was read out at the start of class by Prof. Anthony Roche and needless to say it numbed me. Beckett was 27 when his father died, I was 24. His father was also 61. I´d been in a haze, working hard, and trying to avoid the pitfalls that accompany grief. I wasn´t drinking or going out much. My girlfriend and I were living in my family home and we were all supporting one another. Beckett´s letter brought me back to my own letters and writing in the weeks and months after my father´s passing. I tried writing poems and stories about him but they all ended in failure. I was, perhaps, too close to the incident. In his signing off Beckett heartbreakingly states: “I can´t write about him, I can only walk the fields and climb the ditches after him”. In a letter to a friend afterwards I remember writing about my dad: “I am always in his shadow”. I think of that line often and try to figure out what I meant by it but writing it made me feel better. The letter floored me and gave me the most intimate reading of Beckett´s work I could hope for and I began looking at his work from the perspective of ´not writing´.
That final line has stayed with me the longest and I return to it often. The next day I went to Prof. Roche´s office and he photocopied the letter for me. We then began speaking about death and expression, how or when a writer can begin to express certain topics. When does the grief settle and the expression become clearer, more objective and less filled with raw emotion? There was and is no concrete answer. For some, that expression comes quickly and clearly, for others more slowly and for some it never comes.
The final line is telling. Beckett has just written three paragraphs “about him” before telling McGreevy he “can´t write about him”. However, we know what he means, “write about him”, in poetry, prose or drama. Beckett´s work is full of allusions, glimpses, memories that linger, small incidences that remain in the unconscious and will not go away, the little things that “come back”. In Krapp´s Last Tape Krapp speaks of a lost love and wonders “What remains of all that misery? A girl in a shabby green coat, on a railway-station platform? No?” and later on “I lay down across her with my face in her breasts and my hand on her. We lay there without moving. But under us all moved, and moved us, gently, up and down, and from side to side.” Krapp is haunted by these images and returns to them constantly. The death of Beckett´s mother in 1950 is alluded to in both Rockaby and Krapp´s Last Tape.
In Rockaby we hear v reliving old memories:
“at her window
let up the blind and sat
quiet at her window”
Later, we hear:
“in the end went down
into the old rocker
where mother rocked”
Similarly, in Krapp´s Last Tape death and blinds are again referred to:
“I was there when the blind went down, one of those dirty brown roller affairs…I happened to look up and there it was. All over and done with, at last.”
The letter to McGreevy allowed me to write about things at my own pace, if at all. There was no pressure but simultaneously a reminder that these feelings would remain and would re-emerge again and again. It was the willingness and bravery of Beckett and other writers to mine, investigate and confront these memories and emotions from different artistic perspectives that was and is the most inspiring to me.
In my shock and sadness I saw grief everywhere in art. I returned to albums and songs that dealt with loss, most notably Bob Dylan´s ´Blood on the Tracks´, Beck´s ´Sea Change´ and The Streets´ ´Never Went to Church´. I actively sought them out. Czeslaw Milosz says: “When it hurts we return to the banks of certain rivers.” Everything was re-shaped and sounded different, as if seeing or hearing things for the first time. I saw Stephen Dedalus in Ulysses not as the portentous arts graduate with literary aspirations but as a lost child whose mother had recently passed away, who is wandering the city, going from one de-energising group of men to another. A case in point being his friendship with Buck Mulligan who dismisses Stephen´s grief in the ´Telemachus´ episode: “You saw only your mother die. I see them pop off every day in the Mater and Richmond and cut up into tripes in the dissecting room. It’s a beastly thing. It simply doesn’t matter”.
Bloom has himself suffered great loss. The suicide of his father, the death of his mother and the tragic early death of his son Rudy. Throughout the day he is constantly reminded of his suffering: “Something to hand on. If little Rudy had lived. See him grow up. Hear his voice in the house”. Soon after, in ´Lestrygonians´ Bloom says of Rudy: “Can’t bring back time. Like holding water in your hand”. Bloom has the wherewithal to walk away from groups (the newspapermen in ´Aeolus´ and the drinkers in ´Lestrygonians´) and his ability to keep his own company marks him out from Stephen. It is little wonder that it is Bloom who saves Stephen during his drunken escapades and brings him home to 7 Eccles St for a cup of cocoa.
What intrigued me most was the idea of mining and confronting one´s past. There are certain incidences and memories we constantly fall back on and remember, certain people we can´t quite forget. I became intrigued by artists who not simply revisited their pasts but allowed these references to reappear in their work again and again. To some it may appear futile or even easy to go over the same ground but I see it as an act of bravery. In John Mc Gahern´s work there is a constant re-examining of his childhood in which his mother died at a young age and he was brought up by his aggressive and domineering father. We see this theme in both his short stories and novels throughout his career and again in Memoir.
As we see with Krapp´s Last Tape and Waiting for Godot, there are different versions of the self constantly at play. Our old selves die, we improve in some ways and dis-improve in other ways but the key point is that certain memories remain. There is a willingness and an acceptance on the writer´s part to return to the moments that define us as humans and tackle them again with fresh perspective amidst new experience and more objectivity. What differentiates this mining from simple repetition is that the standards are high and never frivolous. Stephen Fry, speaking about music, said: “Listening to music may inspire an extraordinary emotional response, but extraordinary emotions are not enough to make music”. Essentially, when Beckett or McGahern re-examine a moment from their past it is not simply through emotional laziness but more so a desire to view that moment again through a prism of change and new experience, from a more mature vantage point. It is not enough to simply have these experiences and write about them, a poem about a dead father is no more valid than a poem about a lamp, it depends on the execution and this is what characterizes the great from the good in my opinion, that determination to return again to the defining moments that shape us and attempt to create great art from this.
For example, knowing that there is biographical detail in the works of Beckett, Joyce or McGahern doesn´t improve the work. It has to stand alone on its own terms. Being aware that Bruce Springsteen´s ´My Father´s House´ is a personal story doesn´t make it a better song. Similarly, in Guy Clark´s ´Randall Knife´ he sings honestly and directly about his father´s passing, using the knife as a metaphor for his loss. Knowing that Clark´s father owned a Randall knife doesn’t artistically advance the song but strangely adds even more pressure on Clark to write universally. There is an impetus with the great writers to take their experiences to the next level, where it becomes useful not just for the writer but for the reader or listener too. We see this also in Patrick Kavanagh´s ´Memory of My Father´, Raymond Carver´s ´Photograph of My Father in His Twenty-Second Year´ and with Seamus Heaney´s ´Digging´ and ´Dangerous Pavements´. They are not simply diary entries but nuanced and crafted poems that work on both a subjective and objective level.
It was Beckett´s letter which gave me the mental space to express myself. It allowed me to face things at my own pace. I have written many bad poems about my father´s passing but have also written some lines that I am extremely proud of. By simply writing and examining the silence I feel I have made some progress. Where will it end? Will it end? Everyday there are reminders, “all the little things come back”. For me it´s about remaining open to the experiences and feelings, being aware that something will re-emerge that will throw you off course, get you down and open up old wounds. Grief gets quieter and becomes consumed by life and daily routine. It´s rarely as loud as it was at first but the desire to express and examine those feelings is still as valid as ever. The oft quoted Beckett phrase from his 1983 novella Westward Ho: “Ever Tried? Ever Failed? No Matter. Try Again. Fail Again. Fail Better” encourages us to persevere both mentally and artistically.
People have different ways of dealing with grief but for me it is returning to the page, to the clichéd notion that art saves. I even question this at times. Does it save or merely distract us? Either way, I still see the desire to write in the silences everywhere. Dermot Bolger´s recent collection The Venice Suite was a masterly collection of poems he wrote following the sudden death of his wife Bernie in 2010. He said he didn´t remember writing them but wrote them in a daze on “multiple scraps of paper” and “barely legible lines scribbled on envelopes”. Bolger says: “Reshaping them into poems allowed me to confront that initial grieving process and try to imagine myself into the different life I now lead”.
The bravery to return to these memories inspires me. In my view, the great writers write in the spaces, tackle the silences and go to the dark places. Speaking about his life Beckett said “Nothing matters but the writing. There has been nothing else worthwhile…a stain upon the silence”. It was this silence that I wanted to explore, the ´not writing´ and emptiness that consumes us all. It´s seeing it as a part of the human condition and once that space is accepted it is like having the end of the story, the in-between is there to be filled, to be written in, walked in and loved in. There is a pervasive loss that everyone feels, that everyone will go through, a search for meaning, for stability in the world. Filling it up as best you can becomes not only a means of survival but also a duty.
Eamon is 27 and from Dublin. He has had poetry published in wordlegs and Bare Hands Poetry. He has been writing for the last few years and is currently working on a series of short stories and poems.
Observations on a Funeral (After Beckett)
A Short Dramatic Piece
– By Kenneth Hickey
DUM – A Man
DEE – A Woman
VOICE – An Unseen Male Voice
[The stage lights slowly come up on DUM sitting on a small wooden box, like an orange crate, slightly to the left of centre. He is dressed in pinstriped trousers and dark cardigan over a dull grey shirt. All his clothes are threadbare. His boots are worn and broken. He has a wooden bowl of gruel and a spoon in his hand. He stares straight ahead. DEE stands slightly to the right of centre in front of a small wooden box similar to DUM’s. She is dressed in a dark cardigan over a grey dress. Her clothes are equally threadbare. There are ladders in her tights. Her boots are worn and broken. Her bowl of gruel and spoon are at her feet. She stares straight ahead. On the floor in the space between them is an old fashioned black phone. From darkness to the stage lights being bright DEE begins to speak in a single rapid monotone delivery. Her speech is about three quarters the volume of normal delivery.]
DEE: Watching them walking, the shape, the curve, the movement of one step in front of the other down the streets, the eyes hidden behind cascading hair, the smile, the look, the not look, ignoring, pretending to ignore, the watching, all that’s hidden and not hidden, the lies, the make believe, the sun pushing through their fingers, the curve, the curve beneath, the curve beneath garment and coat, hidden, why hidden, hidden from watching, the futile attempt not to care, they all care, watching, nails painted, eyes painted, lips painted, nails, eyes, lips, the lips, oh the lips, the bounce, the twist, the turn, the half turn, glancing into windows to glance back, smiling half smiles, hidden, watching from the corner of eyes, wanted to be ignored so they can watch back, they lie, I lie, we lie, together lying, too clever, too clever for our own good, twirling the world on the tips of their fingers, impaling, pulling, dragging, catching me and dragging me after them around dark corners, gone, gone now, and me with them, the smell, oh the smell of them on the air after, after they have left me, perfume, the perfume they possess, left with me, the small crack, the crack of dark tongue darting, behind small teeth, too white, too white, darting, the darkness behind, inside, inside those glittering lips, glittering with the glitter they put there, the glitter I watch for, the glitter I want, inside there, and underneath, my imagination, the small, the tight, pink and red and black, holding back, taking back, all I want to see, these eyes no good for underneath, I think, I dream, I invent the underneath, where I cannot see, underneath, and there it lies, and the skin sucks me in, imagination gone again, the heels, the hair, the lips, oh the lips, closer, closer till the kiss, only the kiss, imagination, every one of them as they walk by, skin on skin, finger on skin, them, me, them, it all, all of it, and then the blink, the blink till it is gone, and then another one, the skin again, and the lips, and back again, underneath, inside, the lips, and I am gone, again, the heat, the touch, they move, touch them as they move, want, wanting to move closer, the touching…
[Taking up her bowl and spoon DEE sits on her wooden box. Long Pause. DUM and DEE both remain motionless for several moments and continue to stare straight forward as they speak.]
DUM: You start.
DEE: No it’s you.
DUM: How long have we been here ?
DEE: Too long.
DUM: Has the world fallen yet ?
DEE: To which world are you referring?
DUM: [Confused.] Which world ?
DEE: The world here or the world beyond ?
DUM: Oh… The world beyond of course.
DEE: I don’t know about that. I’d have to check.
DUM: Well would you ?
[DEE puts down the bowl of gruel and spoon, gets up and without looking at DUM takes her box and moves to stage right. Pause.]
DEE: Isn’t there a ladder? I think I remember a ladder.
DUM: There usually is.
DEE: Was there one last time?
DUM: I can’t remember.
[DEE steps up on the box and peers off into the audience. Pause.]
[DEE continues to strain to see into the audience.]
DEE: Well what ?
DUM: Has it fallen then ?
DEE: Hard to say.
DUM: But if you had to say ?
[DEE continues to stare out.]
DEE: There’s not much out there.
DUM: If you had to guess.
DEE: Then I’d guess it’s still falling.
[DEE climbs down from her box and crosses with it to her original position.]
DUM: Not quiet finished then.
DEE: Not quiet done.
[DEE sits down on the box, picking up the bowl and spoon before staring forward again.]
DUM: Time still remaining yet.
DEE: Time still left.
[Long pause as they continue to stare directly ahead and eat from their gruel.]
DUM: Have you begun the preparations ?
DEE: For what ?
DUM: The party.
DEE: The party ?
DUM: The weekly celebration.
DEE: It’s not a birthday party?
DUM: No definitely not.
DEE: [Animated.] Is that you, Petey? [Pause.] Petey is that you?
DEE: Let me go back. [Looking up into the rafters.] Is it okay to go back? Just a little bit?
[Pause. No response.]
DEE: The party ?
DUM: The weekly celebration.
DEE: It‘s not a birthday party?
DUM: No definitely not.
[Long pause as they continue to stare directly ahead and eat from their gruel.]
DEE: And who will come ?
DUM: Too what ?
DEE: The party.
DUM: Those which remain.
DEE: But who remains ?
[Long pause as they continue to stare directly ahead and eat from their gruel.]
DUM: My mother remains.
DEE: She left when you killed the dog.
DUM: His barking kept me awake at night.
DEE: You were right then…
DUM: …To kill the dog.
DEE: …If it’s what you wanted to do.
DUM: Have you washed the plates for the party ?
DEE: You threw them from the window.
DUM: After I killed the dog.
[Long pause as they continue to stare directly ahead and eat from their gruel.]
My father will come.
DEE: He left when you killed your mother.
DUM: Her complaining about the dog kept me awake at night.
DEE: You were right then…
DUM: …To kill my mother.
DEE: …If it’s what you wanted to do.
DUM: Have you polished the cutlery for the party ?
DEE: You threw them from the window too.
DUM: After I killed my mother.
[Long pause as they continue to stare directly ahead and eat from their gruel.]
DUM: My sister will come.
DEE: She left when you killed your father.
DUM: His complaining about my mother kept me awake at night.
DEE: You were right then…
DUM: …To kill my father.
DEE: …If it’s what you wanted to do.
DUM: Have you counted the chairs for the party ?
DEE: The chairs?
DUM: Hurry up dear and close the window.
DUM: Let me go back. [Looking up into the rafters.] Is it okay to go back? Just a little way?
[Pause. No response.]
Have you counted the chairs for the party?
DEE: You threw them…
[DUM turns to stare at the window, the point where DEE was looking form earlier. He is confused.]
DUM: [Unsure.] …from the window !
DEE: After you killed your father.
[Long pause as they continue to stare directly ahead and eat from their gruel.]
DUM: My wife will come.
DEE: She left when she found you in bed with your sister.
DUM: She was lonely after my father.
DEE: You were right then…
DUM: …To sleep with my sister.
DEE: …If it’s what you wanted to do.
DUM: Have you cleared the table for the party ?
DEE: [Confused.] You threw it…
[DEE stands and crosses to position at left where she stood on the box earlier and stares up at it confused.]
DUM: [Unsure.] …from the window.
DEE: After you slept with your sister.
[Long pause as DUM continue to stare directly ahead. DEE continues to stand and stare.]
DUM: Then my sister must come.
DEE: She left when you got the dog.
DUM: I’ve always wanted one.
DEE: Since you were a boy.
DUM: So I was right then…
DEE: …To get a dog.
DUM: …If it’s what I wanted to do.
DUM: Have you placed out the caviar for the party ?
DEE: You threw it from the window.
DUM: After I got the dog.
DEE: And so we eat gruel.
[DEE returns to sitting as before. Long pause as they continue to stare directly ahead and eat from their gruel.]
DUM: We’re the only true nihilists left then.
DEE: With our hollow cell…
DUM: Our dull defence…
DEE: …To guard us.
[Pause before the stage lights slowly fade to blackout. Pause before dim stage lights come up again on DUM sitting as before. DEE is standing as before. From darkness to the stage lights being less bright than before DEE begins to speak in a single rapid monotone delivery. Her speech is about three quarters the volume of normal delivery.]
DEE: Rooted, rooted to the spot, can’t move, can’t touch, they walk on with eyes, hair, lips, the curve, the slip, the slide, the slide, then the badness, it comes, comes inside, the anger, twitching, itching, eating, that badness, that jealousy as they walk, not looking, why don’t they look, the hardness of me, inside me, with me, too long, too long, take it away from me, take it, take them away, leave me alone with my inside words, inside thoughts, thoughts, inside, without them, without them, then gone, it is gone, thank god, thank them, and I am back, back to my watching, then the two of them, the him and the her, him, leave him, the her, him with her, testing the badness, the darkness just left me, testing, the him and the her, the laughing, the joking, the joking I can’t hear, don’t want to hear, but straining, straining to hear, I don’t want to, hear, the him and her joking, the him and her, the look, the glance, the touch of them, the children unborn between them, ignored now, more ignored than before, more ignored than completely, the him, the her, hands held, hands holding, together, the small dead leaves crushed beneath their feet, still testing, still holding, holding the badness back, the bitterness to spit into theirs, wanting what they have, wanting theirs, the him and the hers, wanting, pushing my eyes across the street, away from the him and her, back to them walking, the hers, the hers, with the walk, and the curve, the inside, the underneath, my imagination back, the badness gone for now, now, for now just the watching, the leather, the lace, the small things, the small things they wear, their colours…
[Taking up her bowl and spoon DEE sits on her wooden box. Long Pause. DUM and DEE both remain motionless for several moments and continue to stare straight forward as they speak.]
DUM: You first.
DEE: No it’s you.
DUM: And how long have we been here ?
DEE: As I said before, too long.
DUM: And have you checked ?
DEE: If the world beyond has fallen ?
DEE: I checked before so you’ll have to check this time.
DUM: You think I should ?
DEE: It is your turn.
[DUM puts down his bowl of gruel and spoon, gets up and without looking at DEE takes his box and moves towards thewindow at stage left.]
DUM: It would be better if there was a ladder.
DEE: It’s usually provided.
DUM: But not this time?
DEE: It would appear not.
[DUM steps up on the box and peers off into the audience. Pause.]
DEE: Well ?
[DUM continues to strain to see into the audience.]
DUM: Well what ?
DEE: Has it fallen then ?
DUM: Hard to say.
DEE: But if you had to say ?
[DUM continues to stare out into the audience.]
DUM: It’s a pretty grim view all round.
DEE: Try to get past it.
DUM: Then I’d say it’s fallen.
[DUM gets down from the box and crosses to his original position.]
DEE: Quite finished then.
DUM: Quite done.
[DUM sits down on the box and picks up his bowl of gruel again.]
DEE: No time remaining.
DUM: No time left.
[Long pause as they continue to stare directly ahead and eat from their gruel.]
DEE: No point in me beginning the preparations then ?
DUM: For what ?
DEE: The party of course.
DUM: The party ?
DEE: Our weekly celebration.
DUM: Oh that.
DEE: Yes that.
[Long pause as they continue to stare directly ahead and eat from their gruel.]
DEE: Because there’s no one left to come is there ?
DUM: No, no one left to come.
[DUM and DEE continue to stare out directly ahead and eat from their gruel as the stage lights slowly fade to blackout. Pause before dim stage lights come up again on DUM alone on stage standing before his wooden box. His bowl of gruel and spoon is at his feet. The other orange box is in the same position as before. From darkness to the stage lights being less bright than before DUM begins to speak in a single rapid monotone delivery. His speech is about three quarters the volume of normal delivery.]
DUM: The fall, the feel, the move as they move, it all, all on top of me, the boots, the boots that make them walk so tall, so small to me, the detail, but the boots that have me, trample all over me, all over me, trample me, longing to be stepped upon, squashed, made nothing by them, by those boots and their walking, nothing, the light cotton and the little Vs, all their little Vs, and back to the underneath, the unseen, there my mind rests, rests and pants, and pants and moans and rests, the underneath, the small dresses and the pale thighs, pale thighs leading to the underneath, the line, the move, the curve, forbidden but calling, forbidden calling me, calling, and little bags of tricks on their arms, little bags of tricks, and there is no talking, no words, just the watching, the silence, the unsaid, unsaid and silence, no talking, no need for words, they don’t look, pretending, not noticing my watching, my watching, loving the silence between us, between me and them, me and the hers, the hers with their movement and curves, the me and the hers and the watching, then she looks, catching my breath, she looks, the smile, the flick, the smile, the look, rooted, rooted as before I watch her watching, the smile, the flick, the curves, the lips, oh the lips, the inside, the underneath, the inside and underneath are smiling, imagination smiling, I shift, I twist, I turn, the her watching from across, across the street, stopped now, stopped, smiling, watching, I turn, ignore, am moving, moving, all bravery gone, washed into the darkness, but the underneath, the underneath, I cough, another appointment calls me.
[Pause. DUM sits down on the wooden box, picking up his bowl and spoon. Pause.]
[Long pause with DUM staring out at the audience before the stage lights slowly fade to blackout.]
Kenneth Hickey was born in 1975 in Cobh, Co. Cork Ireland. He poetry and prose has been published in Ireland, the UK and the United States. His writing for theatre has been performed in Ireland, the UK, New York and Paris. He has won the Eamon Keane Full Length Play Award as well as being shortlisted for The PJ O’Connor Award and the Tony Doyle Bursary. He is currently completing an MA diseratation on the late plays of Samuel Beckett, 1975-1983: Footfalls to What Where, at University College Cork. Follow him on twitter @kennethjhickey
Anjumon Sahin is pursuing her M.Phil degree in English literature from the University of Delhi alongside working as an Assistant Professor there. Writing and Photography are her two obsessions. She can be contacted at email@example.com.
It might have been the milk she took one sobering morning with her coffee, had the cow Mona or Luna only trespassed one springtime twilight into some other clover patch spattered with crepuscular mushrooms, that first sip taken too late, too early or on time, but taken; an hour later fresh chemicals burst little lit-up Catherine wheels in her tiger’s blood. She came up from Alabama in a box car, up from snake-coils of barbed wire, impossible circles flattened into cornfields, disemboweled cattle missing jawbones. A sideways county, Tuscaloosa, where the rain fell differently on account of the acid, and dead fish bobbed in the rivers like bottletops. She came all the ways up through Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas city, up and up but never surfaced, and I- I happened. Smack bang in the middle of her wild-child years, a daughter of harvest moons and whiskey in bars with men. Wild begat child.
Fatherless and on the move, she was my rock, my seesaw, my sandpit. She smelled of cigarettes and honey and something else I would have no knowledge of until passing out in a Wichita pool-hall at sixteen. Her corn syrup voice sang me Southern lullabies about guns and heartache and the people who did you wrong. And so I thank her. I thank her for LSD at five. For dinosaurs under the bed, enormous things going BUMP. For the first-hand exhibition of how not to grow up. I owe her my sight, which would come much later. It is possible to break circuits, unravel slipped stitches. Watch bone regenerate, make itself up again. And for new things to grow from nothing, from lost time, the taste of someone else’s spit.
My earliest memory is of waking up in a basket. The room is too bright. I can’t yet speak. A man I don’t know is tickling me. His face is a composite police picture of gapped teeth, bloodshot grey-blue eyes, sideburns, and a dirty blonde quiff. And I refuse. Minutes and minutes of impregnable stone silence, point blank refusal. I remembered it then in that pool-hall washroom, salt sweat freezing on my bare back in my little blue halter-neck, my tongue fizzing against the cistern, too big for my mouth; I remembered it was too bright, and how to fight.
Mine is a fixed star, here, now; hers wanders ever brighter, as with the dying ones. The outer shell blown away, the core still intact, cooling. Last I heard she’s living out of an RV, out of Columbus, Ohio. Bussing tables and singing honky-tonk in a dress gapped of sequins, like as if she’s exotic, like King Kong or those first Siamese twins. To err is human, but not only. We are more than the sum of our earthly mistakes. We are all star stuff, plasma and gravity. Some of us just can’t see it. Look up and count the stars, but wonder if those myriad glinting things are not the silver-scaled bellies of a thousand floating fish.
Tara White is an Irish writer and English Language teacher based in Dublin. She has a BA in English Studies from Trinity College Dublin and is currently receiving an MA in Creative Writing at UCD.
– By Micheal O’Flaherty
The wind came from the west, blowing up the cut of the river. It brushed by him as he stood on the riverbank, depositing on him its detritus and debris, sand and bits of fish and life and death that it had gathered on its passage from America across the ocean and in through Ballybunion.
How, how, how, he called trying to draw the cows to him.
They came slowly, taking their own sweet time, mocking his hurry. They trudged along their meandering path, its narrow line cut into the grass by their hooves, this passage that they decided was the best way to travel from field to the yard that they stuck to militarily in single, sedate, file. Eventually, he had the thirty two of them before him, headed for the yard, the whack of the plastic stick against his wellington urging them on.
There was a bit of give in the soil, the heel of his boot just breaking the surface of the grass. He imagined it releasing an aroma from somewhere, wafting up through the fissures in the ground. Maybe from below, from some hidden layer of mud, rock, mineral, laterite, saprolite, bedrock, whatever.
He looked at his watch. It was now a quarter to three and he was to meet herself at nine. It was going to be a close run thing.
Feckin Lazarus, he muttered. It’s all his fault. Holding the whole thing up. He’s no feckin help. About as much use as the real fella when it comes to dosing cattle. He was pretty sure there was no mention of Albex in Matthew or Acts or whatever.
He was always delaying his father, John, whenever he came over.
Hup, he smacked a straggler on the back. There was a satisfying sting in his hand from the impact and the cow scurried on a little, as much as a cow can scurry – inelegantly, all loose skin and swinging udder.
Feckin Lazarus. We were going grand ‘til he turned up. He never shuts that trap of his.
Earlier that morning
You’ll have a cup, Jack?
No, Mary, thanks. I just rose from the table.
Feckin Lazarus, Pat thought. You’d swear he’d been laid out.
Already, he could see his Saturday night slipping away. Possibilities, potentialities with Anne were drifting from his grasp. Admittedly, it was only a quarter to two in the afternoon and they were just finishing their dinner, but no good could come of having Lazarus help them out. The only part of that fella that ever got any exercise was his jaw.
Pat put his cup down on the table, his gavel of impatience, and looked across to his father, urging him to rise and get going for the farmyard.
Sure, Mary, I will have that cup after all. Some fuel for the job.
Any news, Jack?
Pat’s heart sank.
They were talking, of course, when he drove the last cow into the yard.
They broke into Joan Mac’s.
Won’t have gotten much there, I’d say.
They were lucky they didn’t get the business end of a 12 gauge.
She shot at you once, didn’t she?
That she did.
What was it over, again?
The bull broke into her heifers.
Ha! That’s right. I remember now.
She gave me a fair fright.
She told you she only fired to scare the bull out of the heifers.
That’s right. She nearly scared the shite out of me, though. I was picking pellets out of my hair for a week.
Lazarus snorted with laughter while John allowed himself a rueful smile.
She always had that gun handy.
True. Poor old Tommy Mac had a tough time with her.
She’s like an oul’ silage harvester, she chewed him up and spat him out.
And he was always so well dressed.
Always wore the three piece suite.
Three year he lasted with her.
T’was an ease to him in the end.
Was he sick? Pat asked, finally joining the conversation. Despite himself he had begun to listen to the two men, his father and his friend, talking in their easy patois, hypnotising him with their leisurely delivery.
No, they answered in unison.
Drive in the cows, five at a time, into the crush. Grab head; pull up. Stick the gun into the mouth past the tongue. Depress the trigger. Albex in. Fluke, worms shrivel and die before being shat out or something. Repeat by 31. Finished by a quarter to five. Not too bad.
Despite all that the milking didn’t begin until six.
Fierce cold, Mary. The hands are froze off me.
If you had done a bit of work … Pat thought.
Have a drop of tea.
It’s the stream. The stream’s bollixed. That’s why it’s so cold.
What stream? his father asked.
The river? Pat asked, wondering what the small body of water at the end of the Boundary Field had to do with the weather.
No. The one from Mexico.
Yeah. The Golf Stream. It’s gotten colder. Seen it on Discovery.
He now knew that it was unlikely that he would be on time for Anne. Would he even have time for a shower to scrub himself of the warm smell of cow shite or would he have to make do with a quick face and hand wash to expunge what he could of the aura of the land.
His father went into the parlour while drove the cattle into the collecting yard. There was only going to a few more seconds of peace before the dull, low whirr of the milking machine began. He breathed in the evening air, taking in the serenity, the shuffling of the cows’ hooves, the freshness of it all. Absorbing the farm. All that was at that point in time, at that moment, in that place before he joined his father in the pit.
The machine began and he began to drift away to his other world. The work was automatic. The honest labour of the good, work that did not trouble the conscience but, instead, nourished it. Fill the ration troughs, drive in the cows, wash their teats, dry them and put on the clusters. The twice-daily worship at the altar of the udder had begun once more.
They didn’t share much conversation, they didn’t have to. A look, a mutter or a movement was enough. The routine of the job was well established, like a dance they stepped about the pit, around the pipes and each other, away from the arses that dispensed shite and piss down on them. It never bothered his father, the puddle, as he used to call it. It, too, was honest and elemental. It was so dirty it was cleansing, the strong, sharp smell of the urine clearing his nose, the excrement soothing his hands. Clean dirt, he liked to call it.
The drone of the machine choreographed them, slowed down Pat’s thoughts until his hands and feet were able to work by themselves, until they slowed to the easy rhythm of the animals, the milk, the naturalness of it all.
He imagined himself in Paris, sipping a black coffee of some sort (he was more of a tea man) and smoking a cigarette, probably a Gitane. He thought of himself in Montmarte, lying on a bed in a tiny apartment with a black haired woman with a voluminous, curling bush, making love before setting out each day, canvas and brush in hand, to paint en plein air.
Time, freedom, two valuable commodities, neither of which could be bought. Time, to travel, to escape from the go round; freedom, to do just that. After finishing his masterpiece he would retire to some low-ceilinged bar and drink copious verres du vin and eat tarte au tatin until until one or the other of them made him vomit.
It was after eight when the machine was put out of its misery, the resulting silence hurting his ears after the two hours of constant assault. He was impatient to get going to Anne but the calves still had to be fed. Another half an hour, at least, plus wash-up. He banged the buckets as he got them lined up, ready for their feed, not so much in anger but frustration. He took out his phone, the white flag of surrender being unfurled, and began to hammer away on the keypad.
You go on, John said.
You go on, you’re in a hurry.
The calves …
I’ll do them.
You can’t. You’ll be here all night.
Sure and so what? I’m in no rush.
The motto of his life.
He put the phone away. He bent to the rest of the buckets and completed the line, all of them ready to be filled with the mixture of milk and hot water. He listened to the stillness, felt the coolness of the night’s air blowing through the dairy. Heard the wailing of the calves in their pens, calling for their feed. He watched the methodical way his father worked, filling the buckets.
I’m in no rush.
Time. What was it? Once it was gone it could never be recovered but there was always more of it to come. He took the phone out again.
It’s all right, he said as he texted. I’ll meet her later.
Message completed they went on their way, drawing the buckets across the yard. They were greeted by a wall of cries, of babyish shouting as they opened the door of the calf shed. They didn’t talk like he did with Lazarus, they didn’t need to. This was something else, filtered through the land, the animals, the weather. Once the calves were fed and the buckets were washed they walked across the yard to the house.
You’re late, his mother said when they came in the door.
Yerra, what of it?
You’ll get as bad as your father. He’d be late for his own funeral.
They sipped at their tea in silence. The satisfaction of a good day’s work easing their tiredness.
It was an easterly breeze from Siberia, across the continent, the Irish Sea and in across the country that brought the hail. It made a hard sound as it fell on the pine box, hammering it into the ground. He stood over it, oblivious to it beating on his head, his body, the cold it carried with it. He helped the diggers shovel some of the clayey soil into the hole but left them at it after a while. It was time to go home to the cows.
Micheal O’Flaherty is a librarian and writer living in Mallow, Co. Cork. He have previously had two westerns published under the pen name Mike Deane. Yee Haw! Check out Michael’s Blog and follow him on Twitter @michealof
– By Sinead O’Hart
I’ve nobody but myself to blame for all this. I’m the one who wanted to move away, to go right across the country. To go to a place where I knew nobody. I thought it would be a new start.
But of course everyone knows who I am. In what remains of my innocence, I hadn’t expected that. I really should have, though – the story was too good not to go all over. Crippled mother, dead son, absent father? It was redtop gold. Now the judgement of strangers wallpapers my life, glaring down at me from every passing eye. Every passing forehead wrinkles with cold, impersonal hatred. In every curled lip I see the message clearly: ‘I am better than you.’ I know it’s the truth.
And every photograph of Daniel’s face on the wall leers at me, like he knows too.
After his death, some of his classmates painted a mural at their school. They put him in the middle of the group. Tall and strong and smiling, he holds them all together like their cornerstone, their architect, their foundation. He looks like Christ in The Last Supper.
Realising how much he’s missed, by everyone but me, hurts worse than the razor.
He was supposed to honour me. He was supposed to protect me. He should have been my biggest fan, my best friend. The one who gave the warmest hugs and who loved in that specially protective way that only little boys grown big can possibly do.
Instead he… But I can’t say it, even now. The words just will not form.
And I couldn’t tell anyone – certainly not his dad. It wasn’t just the threats, though they did play a big part. It was the shame, too. Was it all my fault? Did I make him this way? Was it something I drank while he was in me? Something I ate?
Or maybe it boiled down to nothing more than this: one woman, incapacitated; one strong young boy, bored. Result: a scalded cancer of a family, lacerated and necrotic.
I can’t regret not calling the ambulance. I mean, I could’ve done it; my skinny arms might be too weak to fight, but they’re strong enough to pick up a phone. I still have my fine motor control, thank God. I could have done it. Instead I listened as he thrashed around on the kitchen floor, fighting for the breath that I prayed would never come. I wept as I prayed, but I prayed hard.
The world is a filthy enough place without a man in it like the one my son was becoming. The world has enough men like that.
And for all his strength, he was undone by a stray piece of food. Every Goliath has his David, I suppose. One mistimed breath over a chicken sub sandwich was all it took.
Well, that – and his mother pretending to be asleep in her wheelchair two rooms away.
Pretending not to hear.
Pretending not to be desperately, hatefully relieved.
But in a few minutes none of this will matter, anyway.
Nobody will even remember I was here. In this room. On this earth.
By the time the home help comes on her morning rounds, I’ll be gone.
I hope she won’t mind the mess.
Sinéad O’Hart likes words a lot more than they like her. The author of three (as yet unpublished) novels for young people, she is an active blogger, a regular commenter on writing.ie, and was longlisted for the Irish Writers’ Centre Novel Fair 2013. Follow Sinéad on Twitter @SJOHart
Dominic Corrigan lives in Sligo, Ireland. He holds an honours degree in Fine Art. His art has been exhibited throughout Ireland and also in New York at the Lockhart gallery. His next Solo exhibition is in The Model, Niland gallery, Sligo October . His work has been published or is forthcoming in, The Monkey Puzzle Press, Yemassee Journal and Out of Our Journal. Orio Headless, Bare Hands and Cerise Press spring 2013. Check out his website.
The secret of the universe is adrenalin. You can live without its rush for a while, but when it comes something ignites, flows. A rhythm hooks you out of your seat and onto the dance floor. Someone says I love you or let’s kill him.
Danny hadn’t felt anything much for a good while. Bought a house in the suburbs. Made money. Married Anna. But one night, one drizzly autumn night, he was driving back from his city centre office when something happened. My words aren’t good enough, for the something is not the kind of thing that might be conveyed by words like autumn and drizzly. I can only tell you that he’d pressed the search button on his car radio and it had flicked to the last minute of a song he loved. It hit him. The sly, sweet chemical of nostalgia (was it that, exactly?) swirled through his blood, welled up behind his eyes. People with frostbite only begin to hurt when they thaw out. No. That’s not it. Danny felt a cloying, acute, incurable wound that made him nostalgic for the last time he had felt such a feeling. That’s nearer. Would it help if I told you about how Danny felt before this night, this drizzly autumn night? He’d had such minor epiphanies before. The smell of toffee apples. His mother’s letters. Old photos But it had never lasted, had always quickly faded so that he might remember remembering, but wouldn’t feel anything much. But this one, this one on this drizzly night remained, getting stronger and stronger. Like heartburn. Like a hard-on.
As soon as he arrived home he rushed indoors and called to Anna. Without waiting for a reply he looked out the old box under the stairs where he’d shoved his vinyl albums. As soon as he found the record he put it on his old turntable. The scratch and hiss of sapphire on vinyl was exciting. It both put him at a distance and focused his attention. That’s not good enough. It made him painfully conscious of the past but only through his awareness of this moment. That’s too pompous. The words and music when they trickled through intensified everything. He listened to himself listening. He loved knowing that he had felt like this before. He forgot the last twenty years. Perhaps he had always felt like this, underneath it all. It was like wearing his older brother’s coat and walking the streets smoking his cigarettes. It was like getting off a train alone in a strange city, sharing someone’s bed for the first time. Life was all potential. Adrenalin. I cannot find a better word.
Anna, combing her unfashionably curly hair in the bedroom, heard the familiar music and felt something like a doom mixed up with panic. Why was he playing this record, now awakening things? It would end in tears. Perhaps he was drunk. I’m not doing Anna so well, am I? She did not really think about him in such clichés. But I am certain that she went down stairs, nonetheless, and planned to say something sensitive and touching and connected to their past. Instead she stubbed her toe on the door of the cupboard under the stairs.
‘Why have you left the cubby door open? I nearly killed my bloody self!’
‘Sorry. Just settling a bet. Steve said the words were ‘Acid, boots and tarts’ but I say it’s ‘Acid, booze and arse.’’
‘Acid, booze and arse, needles, guns and grass. Lots of laughs.’ That’s how it goes. You know it does. Why do men have to bet on everything?’
She went into the kitchen.
She went into the kitchen but she kept the door open and listened as intently as he did. He was going to shout something after her about women always picking on men, but the contrast between such banter and the delicacy of his feelings just then was too great. Anyway, he’d lied, you see, about making a bet (but you know that), lied simply to cover his exposure. Why should he defend men from her accusation when there were no men involved to defend? There wasn’t even a Steve in his office (but she knew that).
As he listened, he remembered them listening together, for the first time. She had said how beautiful (that was the exact bloody Laura Ashley word), how beautiful it was. Wow! All of it! He hadn’t agreed, had maintained a certain necessary masculine critical distance, even then. He’d said something about it being dated in its outlook. She needs to move on, needs more commitment (that was the exact radical bullshit word, commitment). He cringed. He remembered his words precisely and remembered that he had not believed them, even as he spoke them. Why hadn’t he echoed her words, created a shared moment with her? Why had he not given himself that delicious moment then so that they could share it now? He was thinking about calling through to her ‘I really loved this stuff’ when she shouted from the kitchen ‘You never liked this record anyway.’
‘No you didn’t. You said it was dated.’
‘Did.’ She knew that both of them would remember his exact words.
He was remembering how they had resolved it then by going for a couple of drinks in a funny little pub where the landlady had been all breathy and sweet with them and had kept smiling at them. They’d caught her mood. She had a funny little dog. Later on they’d giggled about her and her dog as they sprawled on the sofa in front of his Mum’s TV. He looked over towards the kitchen door. Was Anna also remembering that scene just now? He hoped not.
Needles, guns and grass. He had forgotten that line. As he heard it again, he couldn’t help shouting out ‘Hey, I never knew she’d been to Manchester!’ Why was he making cheap jokes when he was being thrilled, unbearably sensitised by the music? Just because it was unbearable. Unexpectedly, she replied with a loud laugh when he had been expecting a politically correct rebuke and another attack on what men always did. For her it was unbearable too? Perhaps.
He kept putting the stylus down on different tracks, parts of tracks. He loved the movement, the noise, the feel of it. He was trying to make it sounds as if he was writing down the words and had to keep repeating bits, but he liked the delicate weight of the pickup arm in his hand. Like a bird.
The scene on his Mum’s sofa had not ended it. Each week of their courtship they had become more intimate, had exposed more of their vulnerability or rather their pretended vulnerability. This is, after all, what lovers do, have to do, even when there is so little to expose. He felt a little sickly now and tried not to remember how they had used those tender confessions in rows, years later. It’ what couples do. But he could not forget how he had accused her of flirting with someone, ‘just like you always did with my brother.’ She could not help but retaliate by saying how often she’d noticed him looking at other women, how he’d even fantasised about women on album covers. Were they both now thinking of how those tender confessions had been betrayed?
I am on a lonely road and I am travelling. Yes, that was it. That was how he’d been. All his life. Even now in this cul-de-sac. Always travelling. Anna also heard the words. What piquant nuances they awoke. No, that’s not how she thought about it. She’s so hard to get right. Let’s see. She thought how comforting was the restlessness that those words evoked now and that she had felt then. That’s nearer. And she thought how comfortless was the peace that she had arrived at now. All this trash, she thought. Yes, all this trash (I’m getting her now) from the egg-rack in the shape of a cheerful chicken, the herbs and spices of the world set sitting on the kitchen shelf, the tea-cosy in the form of a twee country cottage. She picked it up and turned it inside out, preferring the tea-stained, grey interior. All this trash was a travesty of her ideas, her life’s significance. She could hire a skip and dump everything in it. She had a desire to run into the front room and hug her husband. She wondered if there were some words left to say that would make him want to take her off somewhere. Somewhere still to go.
He came into the kitchen, trying to hide his face as if this something that animated him was visible. And she did catch sight of something different about him but it made her recoil. Was it because the music had also changed her? Was this what she had waited for for so long? But then the urge to hug him returned, to bridge the years. She rushed her arms around him and made of her two hands a tight, girlish ball at the back of his neck, standing forward on her toes.
Danny squashed the side of his face against the side of her face and she could tell that he had ached for that hug. They rocked from side to side a little. But how long should they stay like this? Who breaks? What will end it? He pressed himself harder against her, lifted the back of her long skirt and slid his palms along her thighs. Could he really think that this was what it was about? So little imagination? She imagined him dragging her down to the kitchen floor and pushed him away. His body yielded to her shoving, but he kept his face buried in the side of hers, holding her head between his large hands like a football.
There was a metallic click in the front room and Danny turned towards it. ‘That’ll be the tape finishing. I’m recording it, you know, for Steve, to prove I’m right, I mean, about the words.’ More lies. He left the kitchen without ever having looked directly at her. He took the tape out of the machine and threw it on the coffee table. He would play it alone when he wanted to feel something. She wasn’t in it. Anna brought through his tea on a little tin tray that had ducks printed on it. He switched on the television with the remote, his tea on his lap. Maybe there would be some football on. Or a good film. A war film would be good, anything to shake off this unnecessary refinement of feeling, this presence of things that had so little to do with their lives, here, now. Really it was not so bad. He was coming down, back to banality. Where we all like to be. But then a crazy thought hit him. He called out before he had time to think about it. He called out ‘Hey Anna, why don’t we go dancing like we used to do?’
He heard the front door click and saw, through the bay window, Anna get into the car and drive away. He noticed that the tape he’d made was missing from the table. He ran to the garden gate, but could not see where she had gone.
She puts the tape into the car cassette player and turns it up loud. We don’t need no piece of paper from the City Hall keeping us tried and true. Love is the secret of the universe. She heads for the motorway, puts her foot down. Closes her eyes.
Stephen Devereux grew up near the Suffolk coast, its landscape figuring in much of his work. Most of his adult life has been spent in the North-West and the people and cityscapes of the north also loom large in his poetry. He write both traditional and contemporary poetry. He has contributed to many magazines, including: Acumen, Agenda, Ambit, Brittle Star, Borderlines, The Cannon’s Mouth, Carillon, Chimera, Coffee House Poetry, the Delinquent, Envoi, Iota, The Interpreter’s House, Other Poetry, Poetry Salzburg, Raindog, The SHOp, Seventh Quarry, Smiths Knoll, The Stinging Fly, Turbulence, The White Review. He has read at events and festivals, including supporting Felix Dennis on his Did I mention the Free Wine?tour. He has several poems on the Poetry Library, South Bank archive and has made recordings for them. He has been placed in several competitions including short listed for the Arvon Foundation Northern Short Story Competition, most recently, winner of the Slipstream Poetry Prize and runner-up for the Elmet Foundation’s Ted Hughes Prize (judge Liz Lochhead).
Just Another Day
– By Alvy Carragher
Silence is all she wants. There they are again, seagulls. They woke her at six with the shriek of birds trapped inland. It resonates. She knows how they feel, but that doesn’t make her anymore forgiving.
He sleeps through it all. Slurps, gurgles in his lumpish dreams. Always she lies staring at the back of him, the covers broken up in the folds of his legs as he curls away from her. She will never understand why he doesn’t hear the screaming of her mind.
“Did you sleep well?”
“Not really,” she replies.
“Look, I won’t be home, I’ve stuff to do this evening. Did you not post these yet?”
She sits scraping the fungus off the top of the yoghurt tub as he rumbles about. Perhaps he will eat it later. Maybe she can sandwich it somehow into the evening’s menu. She wipes the granite counter it looks like specks of stardust trapped beneath her cloth.
There is a constant stream of questions and he never waits for answers. Rifling through their post and then he hands her the paper.
“They’re looking for a cleaner down the road?”
“Do I look like a cleaner?” she asks.
“Bar-tending too, sure you’ve experience for that?”
“I hated it,” it sounds pathetic, whimpering.
He is gone. Out into the day, into his office where he taps answers to other people’s questions. Takes time to filter through answers. He has left his dishes gritty with cold porridge on the table.
She counts seconds. Checks Facebook and “likes” the lives of others. It’s been two hours. There is a dull ache in her lower back from sitting stooped over the screen. Time to apply for something she thinks, anything.
There they are again. Seagulls breaking the silence and their squawks strum through her. She googles places far from the coast, far from city-living. Her mind is in a desert, riding hissing camels across dunes with sand-storms for company.
The door slams and he is home.
“You didn’t post these?”
Those are his first words she thinks. That is the first thing on his mind.
“Is dinner not ready?”
That is his second thought she thinks.
“What did you do all day?” he asks.
She wipes the internet history. Google Images will not be constructive enough for him.
“The seagulls, they wouldn’t shut up,” she says.
“So what’s for dinner, did you do the shop?” he asks.
“I didn’t have time.” She wants to say. There is never any time.
Alvy Carragher is a Tipperary based 23 year old writer. An enthusiastic member of Dublin Writers Forum, she spends a lot of her free time attending poetry events and performing spoken word. She hopes to do a Masters in Creative writing and to someday be a published novelist, poet and short story writer. Check out her Blog and follow Alvy on Twitter.