During the last decade James has been fortunate to have his life on a pretty even keel and enjoy some very interesting and varied contract work. Hehas been able to do a fair amount of travelling while indulging in other things that interest him, such as photography and writing for business magazines. Check out more of his work here.
Last Year’s Child
– By Kenneth Duffy
Even with his mother’s sunglasses, the light becomes so excruciating that it drives him from the salon. The noise of the hairdryers drives him from the salon. The pink neon sign drives him from the salon. The stink of dry rot from the flat upstairs drives him from the salon. The condensation on the windows, the absence of his father, the burping of the water cooler, the twitching of Mrs.Greevy’s mismatched nostrils as his mother hoses the suds from her hair, his thoughts, his thoughts and his thoughts; all of these things drive him from the salon.
He runs. The church, the post office, the bus stop, the empty cinema, Harlow’s, Dempsey’s, Pinewood Lawns, the Garda station, the old handball alley, the FÁS office, Cherrylane Heights, Lidl, Maja Konopnicka pushing a buggy, the tinkers, the red bullock, the windy road, Tim Gallagher’s farm- their old farm; he runs and runs until the miles begin to stretch and overflow their banks. He runs until even the ridiculous energy of his stringy body begins to fail. Breath burns. Sinews burn. Muscles burn. Thoughts burn and burn until all that remains are ashes and Stephen can rest a while. His head aches but his head is a constant ache these days as his brain swells and pushes against the roughness of his skull. Writing, reading, sums, dates; all have begun to lose their wildness. All have begun to grow tame. Tuna. Magic tuna. Tuna. Someday soon. Tuna. Tuna. Tuna the magic food that makes you smarter. If only he had known sooner. Crack! Remedial classes. It had not taken long for the nickname to stick. In another hour the sun will touch the Earth and burn a hole right through Hannon’s bog and he will no longer need the oversized sunglasses which make him look like a gigantic ant. Retard. Crack!
He leans against the old washing machine that someone has dumped in the ditch. He fumbles one of the cans from his pocket. A white car with Dublin plates and a cracked windscreen appears from nowhere. It slows as it passes him. He hides the can behind his back. He waves but the driver does not see him. Soon the car is gone. He empties the can in two swallows and throws it into the brambles. Christ, his head! He pinches his arm just to distract himself from the pain. He bends double and forces himself to swallow the bitter spurt of vomit which fills his mouth. The tuna stays down with difficulty. His head aches but his head is a constant ache these days as his brain swells and pushes against the roughness of his skull. What is an element? An element. Come on, you know this one. An element? A perfect number, then? Or secondary industry? Or the French word for a strawberry. Why can’t he remember? Crack!
Retard. Crack! Soon he will remember. Soon all things will be made new. His T-shirt is too small for him but it is his favourite piece of clothing. Bee cool. It has a faded picture of a cartoon bee sitting in an igloo with a squint eyed Eskimo. It’s funny because the words mean something else. It was a gift from Adrian for his eighth birthday. Crack! He raises the T- shirt and winces. The rash is worse than ever. A blister ruptures beneath his probing and releases a tear which trickles down his belly and soaks into the elastic band of his underwear. A piece of skin comes away in his fingers. It is thick and rubbery, almost opaque. He pops it into his mouth. It tastes like tuna. He sees something in the raw skin that has been exposed, something metallic. He frowns. He can’t be sure. His head hurts. When he looks again, the metal has vanished. The light! Everything is so bright these days. He is grateful for his mother’s sunglasses.
The memory comes unbidden as it always does. Why does his brain do this to him? Is he not the one in charge? Once again, he is a toddler. His father is in the slurry pit. Oh, this is such a bad thought! Mercifully, Stephen has learned how to drive the bad thoughts away. He begins to crack his knuckles. Crack! The look of surprise as his father realises that he has begun to sink. Crack! His father growing frantic as he searches with his feet to find the bottom of the tank. Crack! His father’s mouth filling with slurry. Crack! Crack! Crack! His hands are numb by the time his brain agrees to leave the thought alone. He is no longer a toddler. He is not a child. He is not yet a man. His mother says that he is last year’s child. Next year’s man. Tim Gallagher still uses the tank in which his father drowned. It took two days to dredge the tank. Two days. The coffin was closed. Crack! Crack! Crack! Obedient brain. His head hurts.
He kicks at the dock leaves. His head hurts. He kicks and kicks again until the leaves are a pulpy mess.
After a minute his anger subsides. Patience! The change will take time. He must be patient while the tuna works its magic. He must be patient like that time when Adrian had brought him to the hide and they waited half the morning just to see the Harrier. Stephen had never really seen the bird, just a patch of lightness among the trembling leaves. He had lied when Adrian had asked him. His uncle had seemed so happy. Stephen still misses his Uncle Adrian. Maybe his father’s family was cursed.
He spies the empty can of tuna among the weeds. Tuna. Spitting a gob of salty phlegm, he straightens and looks towards the battered sky. Somewhere a blackbird is singing and somewhere else a bonfire is blazing. At first, Stephen thinks that the Fish is a hot air balloon, a stray from out of the castle at Cathnaspera. Rich Knobs with more money than sense sometimes drive down from the city and hire a balloon for the afternoon and then get wasted as they float over the lakes. Getting high, getting high; that’s what they call it. Oh, to be a Knob. Last summer, Stephen had spied on a crowd of them through the gap in the orchard wall. The cars! Man, the cars! Mercs, Beemers even an old E type with a bonnet the size of a pool table. And the women! Knobs can afford the very best women. Then again, Knobs are not retards. Crack!
As it moves closer, Stephen can see that the Fish is not a balloon; the fish is a fish. With one kick of its enormous tail, the great Tuna descends. The low sun makes the edges of each scale burn as bright as tungsten but then a cloud moves and the shadows deepen and the scales cool as quickly as if they have been doused with water. At first, Stephen is afraid. Then he is not.
The Tuna God is a mountain, an island, a continent, an entire world which hangs in the midge filled sky above Stephen Rooney. Tree sized gill flaps open with a sucking sound to expose a variegated pinkness which ripples obscenely and then falls still. Waxy fins twitch minutely and ceaselessly; the drafts created by their movement quickly dries the sweat on Stephen’s brow until it is no more a gritty crust. The Fish’s eyes are as tall as two Stephens standing one on top of the other. The unfathomable depths of the vast pupils are ringed by an iris of violent silver. Galaxies have ended as those unblinking eyes looked on.
For a full minute they do not move but merely look at one another, the Tuna God and the Retard.
“Who are you?” It is Stephen who speaks first.
“I am the Tuna God,” says the Tuna God. The Tuna God’s voice is that of Stephen’s father, or the voice with which Stephen imagines his father spoke. The blackbird falls silent and all of the many pains and shames and sorrows in Stephen’s body vanish.
Stephen nods. He considers kneeling before the Tuna God but instead he thrusts his hands into his pockets. His fingers close on another can of tuna.
The Tuna God does not move. Another Minute passes like this. From the main road come the tormented notes of some boy racer’s engine.
“Who am I?” Stephen removes his mother’s glasses and winces in the twilight.
The Tuna God shrugs in the way in which all fish shrug. “You are my son. Through you will all things be made new.”
“When?” Stephen vomits. The puddle of tuna steams gently among the weeds.
The Tuna God seems not to notice. “Soon, my son. All that is needed is the courage to swim.”
The great Fish cannot smile but Stephen knows that if He could, He would.
“Remember, my son.” The Tuna God allows Himself to be turned by the breeze. “Bee cool.”
Stephen drinks the juice from the new can as the Tuna God swims into the setting sun. He laughs out loud. It’s funny because the words mean something else.
“Did you get far?” Even though her mouth moves, Stephen can tell that his mother has already left for the day, that she is lost somewhere in the bottle of cheap vodka which she is trying to hide by the side of the couch. “There’s some dinner left in the oven. Pizza. It got a little burnt but sure you don’t mind, love. Do you?” His mother takes a slow motion swallow from her glass. Retard. Crack! Stephen can feel himself growing angry at the empty space beside his mother. Crack! His head has begun to pound again. Slurry. Crack! Tuna. The Tuna God. His father is the Tuna God. All things will be made new.
In the kitchen, Stephen checks to see if the cat has been fed. The cat is his responsibility. The bowl is empty. He roots in the cupboard beneath the sink. The cat food contains real tuna chunks. Stephen would have thought chunks was spelled with an x. Retard! Crack! He helps himself to a spoonful of the cat food as the cat looks on. Even though he doesn’t mean to, he eats half the can. His head hurts. He starts to cry. There will not be enough food for the cat’s breakfast. Oblivious to the pain it causes him, he scratches his belly. A strip of flesh as large as a saucer comes off in his hand. This one is too large to eat. He throws it into the bin and mops at the scorching constellation of bloody pinpricks left behind with some kitchen roll. The kitchen roll has pictures of palm trees on it. There is definitely something in the new skin, something hard, yet soft. Scales! Stephen is growing scales! Stephen is becoming a tuna. Stephen is becoming smarter. Stephen is not a retard. Stephen is…In the living room, Stephen’s mother knocks over her bottle. The cat winces. The time has come to swim. Stephen can hear his mother’s cursing. No matter. Soon she will be asleep and he will… For now he must bee cool. It’s funny because the words mean something else.
Tim Gallagher pretends not to listen as the doctor talks to Cathy Rooney about hallucinations and rashes and liver damage and kidney damage and mercury poisoning and tuna. Christ! How much tuna had the poor lad eaten? At least the guards have left. Stephen’s mother is drunk. She’s been drunk since the funeral. Tim can see that her hands have been scarred and scarred again by the frequent slip of scissors. The woman herself is just one big scar. Everyone knows that she’s in trouble with the bottle. The salon won’t last much longer. The other lady must be her sister. Hard to know if she is younger or older. She made good time coming down from the city. Then again, there’d be nothing on the roads at this hour of the night. It’s a good road too. The doctor looks sad and tired. The nurses look tired and sad. The family is cursed. Though they mightn’t believe it, everyone knows it. First the father. That slurry tank has always given Tim the chills. He should have filled it in when he first bought the place. Then there was the brother. Adrian was a lovely fella. Hard to believe that accident was four years ago now. The lorry dragged him for six miles before they flagged the driver down. Tim closes his eyes. And now the boy. Thank Christ for Queenie! Tim’s eyes jerk open. He reaches for a magazine with some young one in a bikini on the cover. Christ! His mind begins the loop once more. Queenie’s barking, the fumbling for trousers and boots, his wife’s whispers, how light the shotgun had seemed, the circle of torchlight bouncing off the walls of the sheds, the nakedness of the poor child; arms and legs like broom handles. Christ ! The look of rapture in Stephen’s eyes as he had lowered himself into the slurry tank. Tim had been to Lourdes when the auld one had started to lose her mind. He had never seen such ecstasy on those withered faces.
Kenneth Duffy is a science teacher in an Irish language school in Dublin. He lives in Wicklow with his wife.He restricts himself to no more than two cans of tuna per week.
– By Duffie
A long time ago on a far away planet there was a race of people called the Elementorians, the planet thrived for millions of years until two fell in love, the imbalance of their species led to chaos, they were opposites and were told to either separate or be banished from their planet, but their love was so strong they decided to leave together. The rulers of their planet were enraged by their choice and so imprisoned them in a far off galaxy to encircle each other until they died.
The two could only be with each other once every so many years, but the time was unbearable so they decided to create their own race which was allowed to love whoever they wished, here was born Earth, at first it was a dried up rock but eventually as they circled they formed it into a sphere but the planet was bear so the next time they were together they created from themselves 4 new Elementorians; Earth, Air, Fire and Water. In time the planet grew beautiful and life began to form, the Elemento’s combined themselves in many different ways to create even more of their race; Metal, Sand, Cloud and Rock, in time they created mountains and seas, deserts and forests. Soon creatures were born roaming the planets, but there was no passion in there mating and too much violence, so the original Elementorians combined their power to bring about the Humankind, they were to have no powers and to be all equal yet perfectly individual, each with their own mind and free will and to live short life spans.
Over time, the Humans got smarter, the Elementorians were all given names; the originals were called Sun and Moon. The planet had many vulnerabilities and the Humans suffered from them, some painful, deadly, some weren’t even noticeable but had long term effects. Over thousands of years their ability to adapt was proven and technology was getting more and more helpful. Medicine, housing, facilities, languages, education and transport were invented and progressively getting better.
The Humans had created several Religions, all which were mostly made from wishful thinking, there was only small parts that rung true in each theory. At the next Eclipse the Sun and Moon conferred with the first four Elemento’s and came up with an idea to grant one human a special ability every year. As they put this to action they noticed that the chosen humans didn’t even realise they had these abilities.
All seemed lost as the Humans didn’t believe such a thing existed, the Elemento’s were slowly dying out and were now desperate for Humans to take their place and used the stars to determine what magic was given; people born under the Zodiac signs for Air had power over air, people born under Earth signs had power of earth etc. Another problem arose; whenever a human claimed to have used their power they were shut away and called crazy by those who were afraid of what they didn’t yet understand.
With the Elemento’s slowly dying they lost control of their Elements. Tornados, Volcanoes, Tsunami’s, Tidal waves, Earth Quakes, Floods, animals becoming extinct or endangered, plants dying out, Avalanches and so on, the world was falling apart. So finally the Elemento’s got so desperate they came together in a Human form to prove to other Humans that this “magic” existed. Many people were frightened and ran away, others were curious and watched. Their authorities could do nothing watching as they bent their assigned Elements, explaining to them they could also do it.
Now, another Century later the world is thriving again, the Sun and Moon are worshipped as should and people freely use their abilities for good, sometimes evil but with their passion and strong will they overcome any obstacles that want to imbalance them. The Sun and Moon themselves used the still could not be with each other but smiled upon the Earth knowing that the other was doing so to, and watching them made time fly so it never seemed like an eternity before meeting anymore.
Danielle Duff, preferred name Duffie. 20 years old lives in the North West of England, aspiring novelist currently studying Creative Writing. Hobbies include everything. Very dry sense of humour, sarcastic most of the time. Unemployed by choice, to begin a career just for the money is a very unhappy career, living in poverty is preferred however currently living with Grandparents. Further plans until long term goal is achieved would be to keep learning new things, discover and see what is available and just live, laugh and love.
I don’t usually include an editor’s note but I decided to make an exception on this occasion. Thank you to everyone who submitted for The Beat Writers’ Issue to celebrate the birthday of Jack Kerouac, it has been a real labour of love. We are delighted to feature the work of Eddie Hearne, Caroline Healy, John P Brady, Andrew McEneff and David Levingstone.
As the title suggests to fully experience Eddie Hearne’s To Be Accompanied By Highway 61 Revisited this story should be read while listening to Bob Dylan’s fantastic sixth studio album. The story within a story aspect to Eddie’s piece works really well, he draws on the self-reflective nature of writing and the huge role real life experiences have to play in the writing process.
Caroline Healy’s work Omni(m)potent is a master class in originality, it is a very beautiful and thoughtful piece exploring relationships, subjectivity and internal dialogue. No Beat Issue could be complete without a strong female voice!
John P Brady’s Streets of San Francisco takes us right into the heart of Beat country where his narrator like a young Jack Kerouac goes in search of the elusive pearl, looking for the heart of Saturday night – you’ll have to read it to see if he finds what he’s looking for.
Andrew McEneff’s enthusiastic and inspiring essay The Lost Beat Generations of Ireland takes a look at what Irish literature has lacked to date and more importantly how that is changing!
David Levingstone’s wonderful photography provides the perfect visual accompaniment to these writings!
The Bohemyth has been up and running for nearly 5 months now – I want to take this opportunity to thank any one who has liked or shared a facebook post, followed us on twitter, favourited a tweet or retweeted a tweet – your support means everything.
To all of our writers, contributors and readers thank you for letting me be a part of this – without you there would no Bohemyth. I am constantly amazed and humbled by the talent and loveliness that shores up in The Bohemyth’s Inbox. You are all Cool Happy Genius Heroes!
xxx Bon Anniversaire Ti Jean xxx
Photography: David Levingstone is a photographer, art director and bearded man from Tipperary living in Dublin, more of his work can be found on Flickr. David currently works for Getty Images.
John Catskill was dozing in a Las Vegas hotel room. When he awoke, one eye first, tentatively, a blurred vision of two empty bottles of Corona, one half-full bottle of water, and a near to empty litre bottle of vodka on the bedside locker, unfurled the first memory in his mothball brain. It was a scene that was not lost on him. It would be framed like a snapshot in his mind. And it was these snapshots that he liked to ponder over, and airbrush, and adjust ever so slightly so that they’d resemble a sombre middle-America movie. His phone lay beside him on the pillow. He needed a soundtrack. Who better than Bob Dylan? To the opening bars of Like a Rolling Stone he pulled himself into a sitting position, reached for a hotel notepad, and a hotel pen, and began to write…
My stomach was doing pirouettes but the air-con felt good. My back was sunburnt. The very thought of how hot it was outside was draining the last drops of vapour from my already dangerously dehydrated body. How hot was it? Hot enough to bake bread maybe.
Which reminded me; Brown bread, with two hands removed in a desert grave. Or so I’d read in a newspaper yesterday. The story concerned a young Irish student who had gotten into trouble with the wrong people. They’d sawn off his hands for good measure.
The thought of it, I was half dead myself. I’d been travelling around for the past two weeks. I’d flown into San Diego from JFK, and then caught a bus to LA. After that I’d continued on to San Fran before renting a car and driving to Vegas. My clothes needed washing. I could have done with a shave but didn’t have the money for razors, not after last night, when I’d bet on black and it turned up green!
Thankfully I was going back to New York the next day.
John looked at the playlist. The next song was Tombstone Blues. He’d gotten his soundtrack right anyway. He sipped his water to stay on the right side of alive…
But last night, yes, last night. What a blast that was. It flew by like a rocket ship orbiting a strange neon planet. And when the little thing landed – the rocket ship that is – I found myself standing at the casino bar in the Flamingo. It was late, or to be more precise it was early; maybe hitting five in the morning. And there I was looking into the eyes of the sweetest little gal in all of Vegas.
We talked for a while about who knows what. I felt like I was fifteen years old again; tripping over those precious words that don’t come easy when you’re pursuing a girl like none you’ve seen before. Then to my surprise we stumbled onto books. It was my doing I suppose.
We began with Kerouac. We agreed on Kerouac. Everyone does though, don’t they? It isn’t cool not to. She was young, I thought innocent too, but she knew books. Who knew books at her age?
‘I’m reading Junot Diaz,’ she said.
‘You look a little Spanish,’ I said.
But for me it was the perfect way of getting around to it; after I’d typed Bukowski into her phone. What a name to spell when you’re sizzled. It must have taken me four attempts.
But yes, getting around to it.
‘I’ve written a book y’know,’ I said.
Her neat little fingers were locking her phone at the time. Fingers of an angel I might say if it wasn’t such a cliché. Ah to hell with it. They were the fingers of an angel. I was falling in love with those fingers. They could march up my chest in an early morning summer bed and tap me on the chin to say hello. At which point I’d smile and remind her about the time we met in a badly-carpeted casino in the melting heart of the Nevada desert.
That would be ten years from now. She’d be thirty-two and I’d be five years her senior. We’d have conducted a cross-country affair, married in a Colorado chapel, and be ready to bring a second beautiful child into the world – the beauty donated from her gene pool.
‘You wrote a book?’ she replied, swaying gently in front of me.
It was a question that I still wasn’t used to answering. It was my book, my beloved first self-publication, the inpouring of my soul, the outpouring of my grieving, written beneath a down-pouring of rain. And I remember her mouth when she said it, and her teeth too, such white teeth, smiling teeth, tipsy teeth, protecting her slender tongue, from which she rolled syllables so delicately I wanted to catch them and wrap them and sell them in a gift shop for things of such finesse.
‘Yeah,’ I laughed, seeing the funny side of it.
She was making me giddier than a sugar-fuelled little-leaguer. Where had she been for the last two nights? I thought. When I’d stumbled up and down the strip, half-blind from the neon lights and the free vodka they ply you with at the roulette tables. Where had she come from? She was the work of a love-struck artist. She was moulded from the clay of sacred soil and coated in the pairings of a golden harp.
Bob knew what John was talking about. Now he was singing about Queen Jane. She was his Queen Jane. John would have worshiped the ground she walked upon. He continued writing…
‘You really wrote a book?’ she said, her thin legs, wrapped in skinny jeans, planted now.
‘Yeah. Come ‘ere. Type this into your phone,’ I said.
She typed. I watched. They were definitely the prettiest fingers I’d ever seen. We waited. I knocked back another Washington apple skin. We were both beyond drunk. Her finer details were fading in my brain. Her face was still there but not in its entirety.
As John scribbled his stomach rumbled. His liver felt like a cleaner’s cloth being wrung dry of a barroom floors deposits. He tore off another page and continued to write…
‘That’s it?’ she said, leaning into me.
I nodded, and crossed my arms. I was as smug as a rosy-faced fat kid who’d just won at hop scotch.
She zoomed in. She enlarged the screen with two perfect fingers.
‘Can you see it?’ I asked.
With eyes squinted she read, ‘Diary of a Fallen Man.’
Just like that she said it, and upon hearing those words presented to me with such splendour I believed my life path to be altered forever. I felt like writing a new book. Something so full of romance they’d stack it with the chic-lit and erotica. She was inspiring me to go somewhere beyond pessimism, to a land filled with happy-clapping positivity.
On my travels I’d seen an old Cadillac deserted on a California desert road. That’s how I felt at the time. But not now, no, now I was re-energised, now we were zooming down the Pacific coast, polished and sleek, with the top down, a full tank of gas and my leather seats moulded to her slim frame and… what?
Cars, he thought. Track four; From a Buick 6. It was planted in his subconscious by Bob.
John was now feeding grapes into his mouth with one hand. He’d bought them in a general store in Death Valley. It was before he’d passed the Shady Lady Ranch whorehouse and laughed so hard he made grape juice in his nose.
He ripped another page from the pad…
‘I’ll read it in the morning,’ she said.
I could tell she was impressed. I mean who writes books anymore? I had a new shirt, Banana Republic jeans, and eighty dollar shoes. It wasn’t as if I looked like a writer. After all it was only part-time. By day I worked in a legal firm. Money came in and money went out. But there I was writing stories on Bally’s Hotel note paper.
Nothing about me made sense. I was living a double life. John Catskill didn’t even know who John Catskill was. But maybe he would, ten years from now.
Yes, ten years from now, drinking coffee in bed with Crystal. She told me her name was Crystal in an email she’d sent the previous night. I’d forgotten her name. I often did. I was a low life at times – But only when I was drunk.
Where was I? Oh yes, drinking coffee, in that same summer bed, with white bed sheets, and outside the Colorado crickets asleep.
Her fingers would march south then, to where my naked body is halved by a patchwork quilt. She’d give me those eyes. We’d make love twice. We’d come twice. It’s easy when you’re in love. There’s electricity. Then I’d tell her that in a different life we were high school sweethearts and that we kissed beneath the portable stand in the football field at the exact same time that Bob Dylan was writing Ballad of a Thin Man.
‘I think you’re really pretty,’ I told her.
She laughed. I was being too obvious.
‘You’re being too obvious,’ she said.
‘Am I?’ I replied.
Then she laughed some more and rocked towards me. I caught her before she fell.
‘What are you laughing at?’ I said, and accompanied her with a smirk of my own.
‘I don’t know,’ she said.
We both laughed. Washington apple skins will do that.
When she finally managed to say it she said, ‘I dunno, it takes a lot to laugh, it takes a train to cry.’
‘Are you quoting Bob Dylan?’ I asked.
‘Yes. But I don’t know why,’ she replied, her nose scrunched up from laughing.
I noticed it then, the crystal stud in her nose. If I’d remembered her name I would have made a smart remark about it. Instead, when we’d finished laughing, I asked her where her ancestors were from. They were Spanish she told me – which explained Junot Diaz – and she was some part Irish, some part Native Indian and a little Italian.
I told her she looked mostly Spanish and Native Indian. Her face was small and round and tanned. Her eye’s spun, but when they stopped they landed on mine, and lingered, and she smiled, and I ran my fingers along her arm, while her older sister who was soon to be married, and who was sitting on a stool at the bar, looked on disapprovingly.
But I didn’t care. They could all stare. Her hairdresser friend who said my hair was fine could stare. The girl with a nurse’s gait who wanted everyone to guess her age could stare. My travelling companions Sal Paradise and Nick Belane could stare. They were fictional of course. I travelled alone.
The barman who I tipped for putting an extra shot of alcohol in my Washington apple skin could stare.
I touched her arm and looked into her brown eyes and felt her skin smooth and warm. She did the same. She ran the back of her hand against mine, and for that split second we both knew. We were both in on it. The story was already been written by a young writer in a lonely Vegas sick bed.
John felt like he was ready to give up. There was no sense to it. If he couldn’t find a publisher then he thought he would just quit. But he continued to write. He might have been the first person ever to wake up with a hangover in Vegas and write a story about a Colorado beauty.
But the music lifted him. Highway 61 Revisited. It was upbeat and reminded him of a box of fire-crackers exploding.
The cleaner would most likely need to replace the note pad…
I had ideas about running away with her. I wondered if her parents would disapprove. Not that I’d give them reason too. I’d work the land, and drive a harvester, and every evening we’d sit down for dinner after I’d scrubbed my nails clean with the hard bristles of a nailbrush, and talk of how each other’s day went.
‘Are you here tomorrow?’ she asked.
I told her I would be.
She took her phone out of her pocket and I spelled out my email address.
‘Maybe we can meet up tomorrow?’ I said.
‘Definitely,’ she replied.
But it was Vegas. Anything could happen before that. I could wake up with the blues. Just like Tom Thumb.
John felt awful. It was a struggle but he moved the pen across the page. And on those small sheets of paper each memory was entrapped in ink and each moment engraved, like that moment when her friends stood to leave and she said had to go, and he went to kiss her cheek but she turned and gave him her lips.
And as Bob blew the last note on Desolation Row John Catskill did the only thing he could when he knew he’d never see her again.
He immortalised her in words.
Eddie Hearne, originally from Waterford lives and works in Dublin, Ireland. His short story In Dreams won the Irish Writers Centre Lonely Voice short story competition in August 2011. He is currently working on his debut novel entitled The Play (which can be read on authonomy.com) A lover of the short story form he has also put together a collection of short stories entitled Irish, American tales. When not writing he enjoys watching 1950’s movies, paying for his sins in the gym, frequenting Dublin’s many pubs and travelling. His favourite authors include Jack Kerouac, Hunter S. Thompson, Hubert Selby Jr. and Jim Thompson.
– By Caroline Healy
I am omnipotent.
I see everything. I hear everything. I know everything.
At times it can be quite a d
Take Shirley for instance.
The things I know about her; you wouldn’t believe.
You might assume that we are friends.
When you know everything about everything and
everyone, you would be surprised how hard it is to make friends.
It doesn’t bother me anymore, though. You get used to
Anyway, Shirley. Yes. Shirley, Shirley, Shirley.
I know she hates herself.
Wonders periodically why she even exists.
She hates herself with complete commitment.
The passionate dislike she feels for herself is in direct contrast to
the passion she feels for Dave.
Dave, Oh Dave, the love of her life, the light of her life,
the one person who makes her feel like getting out of bed in the
morning. Her reason for being. Dave. Dave. Dave.
Dave: who beats her, night after night, in their one
bedroom apartment, with a prosperous view overlooking the
Nobody else knows about this, of course.
Apart from Dave and Shirley.
Nobody but me, that is.
Knowing everything is loud sometimes and sometimes
I’m not sure which I prefer more.
Dave hits Shirley, Shirley loves Dave, Shirley hates
It’s simple really.
See in the corner there, the corner of the room, where
the walls meet at an almost perfect right angle, there is a beetle,
under the floor boards, pushing a crumb. It’s impossible to see
him, as he is sheltered beneath the timber, it’s impossible to hear
him as he is so tiny, but I know he is there.
It’s not only people and their loud pulsating that I know
about. It’s the colour of the couch, the exact feel of the leather,
the exact number of spoons in the drawer in the kitchen, the
make and model of the car in the front yard.
It’s all in the details….and sometimes detail is all.
At the docks a ship has come in, its cargo of fish reeks. Five
dockers work long hours to unload this catch. Kev, Timmy Small,
Peter, Big Johno and Frank; they chat amicably about the football, the
page three model in the Sun and the cuts to their wages. Then, when
their shift is over, three walk aimlessly to the pub to spend their pay
and two more go the long way home, along the train track. When they
are sure that no body is looking, they hold hands, whispering sweet
nothings to each other. I see you.
Whispers, stolen moments, beatings and beetles pushing crumbs.
sitting in the
at the fertility
clinic, her partner
afraid to tell
her that he
wants to leave
her. Afraid that
out his mouth.
he is, waiting to
see a black man
about making a
baby. A black
man; a fertility
specialist. It does
not sit right with
but me that
Jimmy is a little
racist. He is
like the sparing
skim of fresh
butter he puts on
his toast every
about the black
doctor, the skim of
butter or Jimmy‘s
reluctance to have
a baby. She is
what Jimmy said,
about the possibility of
having a defective
wrinkles her brow,
what does that
even mean? In he
heart of hearts she
knows what it
means, it means
that she is to
blame. A defect
from her; she is at
She is the one
who may not be
able to reproduce
and all she wants,
the only thing she
wants, is to be like
She hates Jimmy sometimes. He is normal, like
everyone else. But Miriam is too weak to stand up and tell
them what she really thinks. Tell them to leaver her alone.
It’s what she wants to do, I know because I can hear the
words reverberating around in her head.
Fuck off, fuck off, fuck off…all of you just fuck off!
I like Hannah the best.
If I chose to have a friend, it would probably be her.
She tells people exactly what she thinks.
She likes boys and girls, it’s not a matter of sex, it’s a
matter of SEX. She is not fussy and doesn’t discriminate. She
simply wants to fuck and when this happens, she chooses
whoever is most convenient. People might say she is afraid of
emotional commitment, I would argue that she is just honest.
She has a small flat on the ground floor of an old
She likes tea pots and mismatched crockery.
She has had a few steady boyfriends, none of them good
enough, each one a little more impotent at life than the next.
She wonders sometimes how she manages to gather such
a mish-mash of walking eunuchs around her.
She has recently started dating women but finds them
the same, needy, self-conscious, forever looking to input into her
I know quite a bit about Hannah, I spend a lot of time
Hannah has made spaghetti carbonara for tea, she thinks it
might be the type of thing that Dwane eats on a regular basis;
large bowls of carbohydrates. She doesn’t really have any
deeper interest in Dwane other than the fact that she thinks he
has a hot body. Everyone needs sex, right? And Hannah is no
I’m just an OBSERVER.
Dwane reaches for her.
I’m just an OMnI(m)potent OBSERVER.
I see everything.
I hear everything.
I know everything.
Except what’s going to happen next…..asdfjkl;asdfjkl;asdfjkl;a
Caroline Healy is a writer and community arts facilitator. She has recently completed her M.A. in Creative Writing at the Seamus Heaney Centre, Queen’s University, Belfast. She published her first collection of short stories, entitled A Stitch in Time in August 2012, having won Doire Press’s International Chapbook Short Story Competition. Her work has been featured in publications such as Wordlegs, Prole and the Irish Writers’ Centre Lonely Voice. Caroline is completing the edits to her second short story collection, The House of Water and is working on her second young adult novel entitled The Wolf Mirror. You can follow Caroline on Twitter @charliehealy8 and check out her wonderful website: www.carolinehealy.com
Streets of San Francisco
– By John P Brady
I turned and mounted the steep hill on Taylor Street. I was in San Francisco at last. I didn’t look back as the car disappeared behind me; we had spent every moment of the last 3 days together travelling from San Diego. They were good people but now our paths diverged. My road was another and I had to follow it.
I entered Amsterdam Hotel and proceeded to pay for my accommodation. The goth girl on the desk put on Stone Temple Pilots as I waited to check in. A French guy in a floral shirt scrambled around in the office behind her.
“Is that Soundgarden?” I asked her.
“No, it’s STP,” she responded.
“Same band,” I commented trying to rise her.
“Excuse me, you’re talking to a fan,” she defended.
And quite a lady she was – just my type, with an edge to her. I imagined her dancing seductively in a dark rock club. Her punk/rock/chick look persuaded me to ask her for some local knowledge.
“So where does a guy go to have fun in this town?” I asked in an unapologetically thick Irish accent.
She immediately scribbled on a map the location of all her favourite rock hangouts, describing each one to make sure my decision would be an informed one. Grateful, I thanked her and grabbing my guitar and bag, headed for the second floor.
I needed to wash so looking in the bathroom I found a bathtub with a shower. The bath was blocked and almost full of the vilest liquid I could have imagined. It wouldn’t have been wise to get in, so I showered standing on the edges, slipping as I went. Water overflowed from the bath and covered the floor.
Soon afterwards there was a knock at my door. The French guy from reception rushed into the room saying there was a problem in the kitchen. We looked into the bathroom to see the several inches of water that had collected on the floor ripple gently.
“Okay, we have a problem,” the he asserted.
Soon I was helping him attack the bath with a large plunger.
“Ah, is no good,” he sighed. ‘I worry for the kitchen.’
It was clearly a job for him. It was time to get out and see the city so I prepared to leave. The French guy wore an impressive 70’s shirt which I had to comment on.
“That shirt you’re wearing is superb,” I mentioned.
“Ah thees one! Somebody leave it behind and I just wear it!”
Well, as the Yanks say: “That’s how I roll!”
It was time to find these dungeons of rock that San Francisco proudly hid amidst its great hills and corners.
After a quick step down by Union Square I grabbed a quick slice of pizza and moved towards the party streets. Bums were everywhere. Some I thought had arrived into the city just like me with a little money and just fell on hard times. America really forgets its poor.
I saw a suitably underground bar and went in. It was packed with stoned punters who wore mostly black. Neil Young sang out proudly on the jukebox. “Be on my side/I’ll be on your side…”
The barman poured me ale and I searched for a seat. I saw room in a seedy corner by a pool table. I gestured to the guy sitting there to ask if it was okay to sit. He looked deep into space and completely ignored me. I sipped deep into my first beer in San Fran.
The guy next to me raised a hand suddenly and held it there, almost touching my head. I stole a glance to see what variety of maniac he was. He gestured to an unscrupulous character at the other side of the pool table that looked back menacingly. Obviously my choice of seat was not popular with everybody. He approached and stood over me staring fixedly with empty eyes. I decided it was time to move.
I passed the legions of “cool kids” who each wore more unusual clothing that the last. The bar appeared to be divided in two, stoned rockers one side, coked-up hipsters the other. I left for another bar.
I went out into the fresh San Francisco night and noticed the chill from the mist which descended over the bay each evening. I saw the Edinburgh Castle on my right. Outside to the left of the bar, sat six or seven teenagers. They were puffing on joints and taking photos of each other
“Hi Mom, I’m high,” said one girl while posing for her hairy friend’s camera.
To my right a circle of older punters was forming. One tall guy with grey hair stood fidgeting in his pocket.
“Are you on stage now, man?” one of the others asked him.
The grey haired man produced a dope pipe, and began puffing hurriedly. He grumbled to the affirmative.
The group of guys puffed on American style joints and miniature pipes on the main street as a homeless black crack-head looked on. His eyes screamed for a hit. The grey haired guy reached into his pocket and parted with a roach to cheer him up. The crack-head grasped it frantically and putting it in his mouth, tried to puff.
“No you have to light it first…wait a minute…there you go,” said the grey haired man.
A moment later they went inside the bar, leaving the crack-head swaying alone, puffing relentlessly. I followed along inside, intrigued.
The grey haired man walked to the stage and picked up a bass guitar with the authority of a true musician.
The music began and I leaned against a post drinking ale, totally captivated by what I saw. It was progressive and delicate, soft and strong. Hippies of all ages swayed to the music, others watched with reverence.
The music ended and I snapped out of my haze and went outside. During the road trip from the Mexican border, I had not been on my own even for a moment for 4 days and now the feeling was strange. I went back to where I was standing before watching an endless stream of hobos passing. A mixed group of fashionable mid-twenties in front of me looked to be deciding on their next move.
I used my shamelessly lost Irishman line once again.
“So where does a guy go to have fun in this town?”
“You have an accent!” a girl responded as the five of them turned around in unison.
“Where are you from?” another asked.
They were eager to show me the city.
“Come with us we’re goin’ out now!”
Moments later I was in the back of a Chrysler careering through the streets of San Francisco with Lia, a beautiful Persian-American girl, on my lap. This is it!
We arrived at a club and I soon realised that Lia, clearly the single girl of the group, knew everybody there. I was introduced to super good-looking girls who smiled broadly and snobby gay people who would barely talk to me.
This mass introduction lasted a few minutes before I lost everybody and stood alone again. I began to wander around what I realised was just another soulless R’n’B club which held only negative pretentious vibes.
I listened as the DJ played 40 seconds of a classic song before applying tasteless alterations then changing the track and repeating the process. I walked around and wanted to leave.
Lia was from Iran originally and she was a dynamic representation of Persian beauty. She was the only person from the group that I had made any connection with. She wasn’t exactly easy to talk to as she was fond of affecting a persona which she felt she needed for whatever reason. Crucially, I hadn’t seen her for the last 20 minutes. I walked around alone.
I had firmly decided to leave when suddenly she returned. She looked into my eyes and held my gaze. I felt compelled to get close to her.
She drank more and more and sensing that I was still sober she urged me to drink up. The temptation of Eve. We began to dance and any barriers that we had were now gone. When I moved to kiss her she resisted saying that she didn’t kiss guys that were leaving in two days.
The time passed and now it was just Lia, her friend, Karen and a guy she knew.
We went outside. Karen and the guy began making out with vigour. Lia kicked me in the leg in a playful, drunken fashion.
“You’re just here ‘cos you want a piece of American ass!” she shouted.
“I don’t want American ass,” I announced, “I want Persian ass.”
This promoted another installment of girly violence.
A few bruises later and we were in a taxi, Lia and I along with Karen and her guy.
We pulled up at an upmarket apartment block and I reminded myself that you never really know who you’re talking to outside a bar. It turned out that she owned her apartment, a well decorated, plush place within walking distance of the centre. Inside there was considerable comfort, soft tones and designer furniture, making her abode a pleasure to be in.
We sat on the couch. Still no love and it was getting late. Karen and the guy were dry-humping like animals right next to us. She reached into his pants and rummaged around. A few minutes later they got up and said they were leaving, going to her place apparently.
Lia put on the latest sensation, a Scottish group that had made a name in the US. We sat on the sofa as Lia continued casual conversation and gradually we began to make out.
She had a sofa bed which seemed less pressurised than going to her room, also it was nearer.
A peaceful night later and it was morning. We hit the make or break moment. If the conversation died here I was going for the door. But things went smoothly and soon we were heading out for morning coffee.
The day ran with huge momentum as Lia took me over to Haight-Ashbury the site of the great flower-power revolution. We shopped in the vintage stores, ate Mexican food in a noisy restaurant and became very fond of each other. When we arrived at the Downtown bus stop she lay back on the grass verge and lying over her, I kissed her tenderly.
During the crowded bus journey we barely took our eyes off each other. We then walked silently through the streets towards her apartment each moment uncertain. When we arrived she threw the door open without really offering an invitation. She didn’t need to. Then we were in the elevator, going up.
John P Brady is an Irish writer, journalist and teacher. He has had stories published in Roadside Fiction, The Galway Review and others More of his writing can be found at JohnPBrady.com. Originally from Ireland, he now lives in Sicily, Italy, where he teaches English and writes a blog about expat life. Follow John on Twitter @JohnPBradyIRL
The New Irish Beat – Photo by David Levingstone
The Lost Beat Generations of Ireland
– By Andrew McEneff
Ireland never produced a Beat Generation and it is for this reason alone literature in our country is still struggling to find its contemporary ecstatic groove. As America was giving birth to On the Roadin 1957 and the Beats were yo-yoing from coast to coast, from New York to San Francisco and back again, vastly rolling out freedom, individuality, polyamory, sex-parties, drugs, bebop and rock n’ roll – and spreading the Word of a new literature that deemed “The world is holy! The soul is holy! The skin is holy! The nose is holy! The tongue and cock and hand and asshole holy!” – we were sat at home by the fire, bog-sodden and Church-heavy, guilt-bound to the family and the sad green land, intoning very different prayers, isolated from each other and utterly terrified of ourselves.
As sun-kissed American minds surged forward, joyously and recklessly exploring the promises and challenges of their liberating adventures, our imaginations were being sadistically and systematically repressed, our very emotions and desires beaten out of us. Instead of producing proud, free-thinking, confident and wildly assertive men and women capable of giving voice to their profane beatific sensual desires, we produced a generation of insecure and fearful subjects who were emotionally, morally and artistically retarded. One critic looking back over this bleak time in our cultural history even felt justified in making the following comparison, “If Stalin and Zdhanov crippled a generation of Soviet writers with injunctions to map out a scenario of ‘Girl meets Tractor’, then DeValera and Corkery had their own subtler but no less rigid prescriptions for Irish writers.” The second Irish name that you mightn’t recognize is in reference to Daniel Corkery (1878-1964), an Irish Language revivalist, politician, writer and teacher. Corkery had three such prescriptions, “No writer could truly claim to be Irish unless his work contained three specific notes (i) Nationality, ( ii) Religion (Catholic, of course) and ( iii) and the Land.”
In Ireland Church-State time stood still. Life stood still. And in the shadows of a dominant rural Revivalism change in literature was slow, incredibly and painfully slow. Our tortured colonial history is in part to blame for this. We know that. We were humiliated and controlled and told we weren’t yet ready for the modern world, and we obeyed. There was the added complication that there was a need to find something essentially Irish to celebrate first, being only a newly free Republic, before the destructive up-rooting of a vertiginously Godless American Capitalism invaded us and damned our souls eternally. But because of this complex historical and cultural subjection there is an absence and a terrible silence in our literature of the gloriously alternative underground voice. We never got a whiff of the freedoms or a chance to fully embody for ourselves that great revolutionary spirit that was sweeping across other nations at that time. But maybe now is the time for life and literature here to be inspired by some of the Beat’s wild exuberance: to self-explore and experiment, on all fronts, in all areas. Watermark by Sean O Reilly and Notes from a Turkish Whorehouse by Philip O Ceallaigh were certainly steps in the right direction as is the best of Kevin Barry, but we need more! More! We need to go further! And yet some of the same insidious problems are reoccurring. In the fifties “Ireland as a society was imploding on a central vacuity. Economic stagnation and emigration which amounted to a ‘human haemorrhage’ of 500,000 persons between 1945 and 1961…” A young generation abandoned ship and they are doing so again. So it is deeply troubling to think that something similar might happen and that we are going to be similarly disinherited. But I really don’t want to be writing about another missed opportunity in ten or twenty years’ time.
And yet, there is cause for optimism in the present as even from our Dark-Aged past there have been one or two angelic exceptions that soared up against the odds. The total suppression of desire is an impossibility and if that is so it can only ever be thanks to the courage of individuals, necessarily isolated individuals: outsiders. The only novel that comes anywhere near to having a Beat flavour in Ireland is of course The Ginger Man by J.P. Donleavy. Written by an American and published in Paris by Grove Press in 1955, that horny and hilarious and critical book was banned in Ireland and the U.S.A. But after Donleavy there is only one writer that stands out in my mind that has carried something of the Beat ethos into an Irish context and it is to our greatest shame that his work is still being so unjustifiably ignored. If you’re reading this and the name Desmond Hogan doesn’t mean anything to you then you should get acquainted with his work, especially his short stories, immediately. Desmond Hogan has travelled. He has been on the road a very long time. He is our very own courageous solitary Beat itinerant visionary. Larks Eggs: New and Selected Stories and Old Swords will give you some idea of his beauty, value and worth. His work is rare and singular, exuberant and extraordinary, there’s the high modernist attention to formal innovation and linguistic brilliance coupled to a content obsessive in its detailing and documentation of nature, art, youth, popular-culture, sexuality, Beatific travels and the wild and free, dangerous and damaged characters that are encountered along the way. From his travel writings entitled The Edge of the City he writes, “In autumn of 1976 when I went to San Francisco from Dublin…By a Victorian house with an owlish face I found a diagram illustrating the horrors of Hell. I never really returned to Dublin after San Francisco. In a sense I wandered.” Two names from sixty years of ‘writing’ from this country? We need to start adding to the list. But we also need to read and to love and cherish and celebrate what has gone before us. And we need more! Our literature is still not the feast it promises to be. So maybe being belatedly Beat in this country has been a blessing in disguise because it is now, quite simply, up to us.
So the question is what would a Beat writing in Ireland look like? How would it sound? What utterances, both critical and affirmative, would it be capable of making about our culture and the way we choose to live in it? And what demands will it make of our youth and generation? In order to live differently, to think differently, to feeling differently, to live marginally and most importantly, to live energetically against the staggeringly life-denying and murderous prescripts of the moral majority, we have to become what Jack Kerouac sought in his friends, we have to become our own ‘courage-teachers’ and to find others out there who are trying to live the same mad crazy dreams. I mean my friends, your friends and all those other searchers and fellow seekers and travellers who we haven’t met yet, I mean seeing and listening and giving expression to the eternal recurrence in Dublin and throughout the world of “…the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars…” Now is the exciting time. And perhaps for the trip we could keep in mind some of Jack Kerouac’s own ideas on what you need and how-to-do-it from his significantly titled ‘Belief & Technique for Modern Prose’, “…Number 4. Be in love with yr life…6. Be crazy dumbsaint of the mind…9. The unspeakable visions of the individual…14. Like Proust be an old teahead of time…15. Telling the true story of the world in interior monolog…17. Write in recollection and amazement for yourself…19. Accept loss forever…24. No fear or shame in the dignity of yr experience, language and knowledge…28. Composing wild, undisciplined, pure, coming in from under, crazier the better…30. Writer-Director of Earthly movies Sponsored & Angeled in Heaven…”
Number 24 is something we could all really do with pausing on and feeling how deep it goes. No fear or shame in the dignity of our experience, no fear our shame about the language we use, and no fear or shame about our knowledge. The alcohol and drugs, the music and the parties don’t daunt us, not in the least, but sex and self-confidence and the terror and ecstasy of true individuality keeps us strangely at odds with ourselves and yet those are the original and most gratifying of all intoxicants. The beauty of our dirty angels in the street, our wild mad lives, our crazy mad stories and all the mad shit we get up to, the enthusiasm to live it creatively, to share girlfriends, swap boyfriends, the break-ups break-downs and break-throughs, the bleary eyes at five in the morning still hooked and reading life-changing lines and page after page of all those radically genius and mind-blowing books, the places we’ve been to and fallen in love with here and around the world, the heroes and heroines of the past and the present, and everything that presents the true promises of innocence and youth and experience, not as palliative diversions, but as real and alternative challenges to the pathology of normalcy that always has the power to corrupt us and wear us down, to break our fucking hearts. We can’t let ourselves be beaten again by circumstance or lack of self-confidence. But we have to be cautious, potential capture and traps are all about. As the angel-headed and exuberantly experimental militant philosopher Felix Guattari writes:
The way to have a lust for life, to maintain commitments, to forget
oneself is not simple or obvious. “What for?! has incredible power…
Is it worth trying to keep everything up, taking up the heritage of generations,
keeping the machine running… making Literature or art? Why not break
down, burst and leave it all in the lurch? That’s the question. Giving
way to it is always only so far away…
The answer of course is at the same time both personal and
collective. In life, one can only hold on to momentum. Subjectivity
needs movement, directional vectors, ritournelles, rhythms and refrains
that beat time to carry it along. The most singular and personal factors
have to do with social and collective dimensions.
I bought Felix Guattari’s book Chaosophy in City Light Books in North Beach San Francisco, my friend bought a copy of Desert Islands by Gilles Deleuze and we went into Vesuvios and read bits of them and drank and the words and being there made us ecstatic and happy. Afterwards we went wandering through Chinatown and then through the fast streets in a yellow taxi we rode all the way up to Haight Asbury as the city and bay turned to dusk. Up there were the remnants, the broken wreaks of the hippy-movement, the sad crazy insane ones who never broke out, who never got free, who got stuck and spun in the void. Origins change and weaken and become something else once they have been explosively discharged, but it’s only in retaining the best from the past and looking to the future that hope and optimism is continually regained. I took that book I bought there and those feelings with me back to Dublin and I do believe that something Beat, something philosophic, something explosively youthful and real is out there bubbling under our horizon: writers are out there cooking-up things that will add to the feast. It’s the Beat ethos and the inspirational energy and creativity of the Beats that we need here, to force us, to fuel the expressions of our desires, to start our own origins for different universes of reference, better and more precious than the ones that are being bought and sold in our faces and behind our backs. With self-generating momentum and with the help of different sources and encounters outside of ourselves we might inject some desperately needed newness and freshness into the content of Irish literature so that it no longer bears false witness to the contemporary problems that are specific to our time.
In his essay “Remember Jack Kerouac” William S. Burroughs says something that reminds us about something that perhaps we already know but are still too fearful to admit to ourselves, “What are writers, and I will confine the use of this term to writers of novels, trying to do? They are trying to create a universe in which they have lived or where they would like to live…Sometimes, as in the case of Fitzgerald and Kerouac, the effect produced by a writer is immediate, as if a generation were waiting to be written. In other cases, there may be a time lag…In any case, by writing a universe, the writer makes such a universe possible…Writers are, in a way, very powerful indeed. They write the script for the reality film…Now if writers could get together into a real tight union, we’d have the world right by the words. We could write our own universes…Writers could take over the reality studio. So they must not be allowed to find out that they can make this happen. Kerouac understood this long before I did. Life is a dream, he said.” Man, can’t you dig it? What dizzying joy those words should bring. I hope those words and what it all means makes you emotional and gives you courage and something of a feeling artistic responsibility. Imbue your creations with the feelings of growing forward into life and not backwards into death.
Irish fiction in the twentieth century has been quite conventional
in subject matter and technique, despite Joyce and Beckett and in
spite of what has been going on elsewhere in the world. Too much
is about Ireland, the sow that eats her farrow, about a priest-ridden
God-forsaken race…Too much is in the mould of a cosy realism. The
exceptions are too few and far between.
So the content of our literature has to change, and change utterly. It is still broadly speaking in a shameful state, and the great stuff seems to be little known or ignored. But it’s going to take great writers and great writing to give us what we so sorely need in this country. I know a lot of very good writers and soon some of them will be great, so I have hope. In The Stinging Fly, on wordlegs,The Bohemyth, Bare Hands Poetry, The South Circular and in the recently arrived Penny Dreadful to name but a few platforms there’s a new generation of writers coming to the surface and finding their voice. In our cultural imaginary there’s an on-going struggle for dominance for what will be the primary contents and expressions of our Post-Christian souls or for souls, read, our ethical substance. Some people will become the avatars of reactionary ideals; some will have the look and words of casual nihilism; some will be fashionably vacuous and so on and so on…they’ll all gravitate and find each other and their self-levelling groups and effect the world accordingly. My hope is that some of us are still revolutionary in spirit, that some of us are already saying and doing very un-commonplace things, creating a new gallery of beatific characters of the here and now that are being driven and given momentum by new precepts, affects and ideals about sex love poetry philosophy and freedom and the place at these have in our lives. There’s a crazy trip ahead of us and I’m already looking forward to meeting some of you on the road.
Andrew McEneff is a short story writer, essayist and film-maker living and working in Dublin. His short stories have been published in Commotions: New Writing from the Oscar Wilde Centre, ‘College Green’, Icarus: 50th Anniversary Edition and on wordlegs.com. He is working on a collection of short stories and two novels. This is his first published piece of non-fiction.
The Bohemyth will be publishing a special Samuel Beckett Issue in April to celebrate the birthday of the man himself – we are looking for photography submissions, short fiction and essays inspired by, referencing, associated with or somehow connected to the writings of Samuel Beckett.
To be considered for this issue please submit by the end of March. If you’re unsure of the suitability of your work for this issue, submit it anyway and let us decide.
We had the idea we’d play house. Make believe our happiness. I baked banana bread and you caught summer swallows that flew through the open kitchen window. I’d remark that it was early for swallows, pretending to know about the rhythms of such things.
When you got home the house stank of sweetness drifting from the kitchen and I’d listen to all the boy bravado. I made myself meek and mild and all the pleasing things that big men need. When the trees grew too close to the front windows you’d cut their branches, while I sat watching, making domestic declarations about the lovely cut I’d gotten from the butchers. In the pantry, I put a fuss of food and salted meats and washed your clothes by hand in the basin because there was more honour in it. In return you’d give me gifts of half-baked promises and wild notions.
We made savage messes, every way, in every room of that place. When you laid your hands on me, to lust, or rage, regardless, my body bucked, a lump lodging in my neck, another slowly swelling.
But you saw me those days, docile, beached in some forgotten, lonesome corner, counting kindnesses. The words fell blankly from me, shifting shape in empty air, and behind it all, I raged against every tender smallness.
You had built me a plywood front, painted pleasant enough, but soon the wood would warp, the paint peeled. If I could have worn you then, like we slept, gripping and crawling across each other, swallowing big blocks of square air. Those times you shuddered and we forgot the bad match, the bitter taste.
But those days were long days and thoughts turn to softer men. Men put together from bits of remembrances fleeting, flown. And from these, grew notions of grander things, of things said once by others sheathed in the blue night. While you sat fat, making sport of princely pomp, walking a tree-lined procession as our paper palace yellowed in the sun.
So starved the smallness of it. That smallness once curled and pressed softly against the inside of my breast, that choking and spitting then drowned in my gut. The petitions, hoarse, quivered in our throats, and though we longed and longed, we lost. And even then, when the light bled saffron along the line of your back, you took my hand in yours and I heard the bones break.
I went back to the house a few times but saw no sign you had been there. The pane glass was broken and I found bits of us scattered. But you left in a hurry, I think, not long after I did.
Patrick H. Fitzgerald is originally from North Co. Kerry. A Fine Art graduate of Limerick School of Art & Design, he has come to writing, through his visual arts background, experimenting with flash fiction and poetry. He has previously collaborated with artists writing work for performance art pieces. He is currently living in Australia, working on a collection of short stories.
– By Graham Conners
David was sat with his back against the wall, in the middle of telling Aisling and Emer some story that had happened years ago when I noticed Laura and how she held herself. She nodded along as he spoke, her lips curled into a soft, almost hesitant smile, her arms folded across her lap. She studied David’s face, watching him with a distracted, almost melancholic, attention and I was certain that it picked at the corner stone that held her together. As I watched her in the snug I knew that she hadn’t looked forward to this night. It seemed that she almost didn’t want to be here at all, as being here made things real. She turned away, catching my attention accidentally and looked at me for a moment, studying my face. I’d known Laura a long time and I saw a sadness she was trying to disguise. She smiled wanly, reaching out and slapping the back of my hand playfully, like I was a bold child. In that moment I felt that, for her, time was moving all too quick and she was afraid of wasting whatever little was left. I returned the smile and leaned in to her.
“I’ll give you a million quid for a smile.” And she did, her eyes flashing in the dim light. “Can I owe ya?” I asked and she nodded. I leaned in a little closer and she leaned in to me. “It’s going to be okay, you know.”
“Yup,” she said, winking at me softly before turning away, trying to slip seamlessly into the conversation. I watched her and knew that she was trying to avoid the reality that David would not be here tomorrow. And David would never be coming back.
I met David, through Laura, from coffee’s shared in the student centre, study days in the library and eventually nights out and weekends at festivals and such. At first I wasn’t sure of him, this fella with an accent that seemed to say all the right things. To the best of my knowledge he never offended anyone. No one ever said that David was a prick, or that he kept bad company. He held open doors, carried heavy things for the girls, remembered birthdays and always seemed to give the best advice going. He read books like they were going out of style and found it very hard to keep hold of them, always giving away his second hand paperbacks if you expressed so much as a passing interest in reading it. Jesus, he was so hard not to like that Laura and I fell out for a short time when I decided that I wasn’t going to like him, just to be different. Most of it was jealousy as he had, did and was everything I wanted or wanted to be. I left the room when he entered or poked fun at his opinions when he offered them. I soon learned that all I was doing was making an arsehole out of myself. Laura told me to cop on and stop being a prick, cornering me in Doyle’s one night out. She started to cry. Laura only ever cried over people she cared about. In that moment I wasn’t sure which one of us she cared about more, David or me, but seeing her cry was enough. Things changed after that.
I came back from the bar with the last round of drinks we’d ever have together. David had moved across into my seat and Aisling into David’s so I found myself sitting opposite them, on my own. David and Laura were sitting beside each other, talking between themselves. She was laughing and it seemed, though I couldn’t hear what they were saying, as if they were talking about things they would do tomorrow, or next week. They had found someway to enjoy whatever time was left and I could not begrudge them that. There’s a song that I use to sing at parties with the lyric ‘the heart is a package tangled up in knots someone else tied.’ I couldn’t help but smile at the two of them together and suddenly I found a new meaning in those words, it made a lot more sense. In that instant part of me wished I were David, even just for these last few minutes, as he seemed to fill her world. I remembered the days before he came along and I knew that things would never again be like that. I would never be able to fill that David-shaped hole in her life. No matter what I did, I’d never be David.
David had his bags packed and sitting in a tidy little knot at the foot of the stairs. He had donated the bigger things he owned to people he felt would use them best. I got a collection of books. The taxi was waiting, parked up on the street outside. Instinctively we all knew that the others in our group needed space. Emer sat in the sitting room, having said her goodbye already, vacantly watching something she had recorded during the week. Aisling and David shared their goodbyes in the kitchen. Laura and I waited in the hallway. I could hear them, Aisling warning him not to forget about us and to hurry back. What else do you say to someone that’s leaving?
I stood by the radiator, warming myself, Laura sitting on the lowest step of the stairs. She fidgeted with the tags on David’s bags, reading the stickers and the patches he’d sewn on over the years, tracing some roadmap of his time in Ireland. The kitchen door opened. David stepped into the shadows of the dim hallway. I straightened up and offered my hand. He took it and shook it, his deep brown eyes boring into mine and we said our goodbyes. Laura was listening, standing to face David as we had finished. She took two hesitant steps down the hallway, she was crying and he began to cry too. She could say nothing, could not say goodbye, her face red with tears as she tucked herself in under his arm and he held her and rocked her slowly forward and back, like a parent with a restless child. I looked away and I stepped up the hallway to the door, turning slightly to view them out of the corner of my eye. His big hands cupped her face, his thumbs wiping away her tears.
“You will see me again,” he said, his heavy voice coming like a whisper, tender and loving. He held her once more and they shook with sobs, David wrapping his great big arms around her little frame tighter, as if folding himself over her, protecting her. “You will see me again,” he said once more and released her, making for the doorway, towards me. “Goodbye Barry,” he said, pausing but a moment as he picked his bags from the floor. I offered to help but he declined it, saying he could manage. He did, taking the three bags with him out into the darkness. We watched him load up the taxi and climb in. He did not look back, or wave, and the taxi slowly pulled away and around the corner.
“Bye David,” I said to myself and to no one in particular as the taillights faded away into the darkness. And then he was gone, flitted away into the night.
She cried more that night as we sat in the kitchen, letting cups of tea go cold on the countertop, letting long drawn out pauses blossom between us. I held her, trying to reassure her that the world was still turning, that things weren’t over. She apologised to me, saying how she was acting like a child. I told her everything was fine and that I understood; it’s hard to lose someone you love. I wish my motives had been less selfish, but they weren’t. I needed to know, needed to know that she loved him. Laura looked up, taking her head off my chest, nodding so smoothly that it was almost invisible, but totally inevitable. She patted my chest and smiled, wiping at the tears on her cheeks and at the damp patches on my shirt. She apologised and broke away from me, taking her cup of cold tea and pouring it down the sink.
“Good night Bar,” she said and half smiled, squeezing my hand as she passed me. She closed the kitchen door over and I listened to the soft thud of her steps on the stairs until they faded away. Standing in the silence of the early hours I felt the ground shifting beneath me. I remembered what David had said to her; you will see me again. And I know she will, I know she will. I hope she does.
The Morning (Hers)
She was gone before 7.30am, leaving early for work. We passed on the landing as she was going and I asked her how she was. She said she was fine but I knew she was lying.
David had lived with us for nearly a year, a great silent hulk moving quietly about, talking about music or movies or about his confusion at an Irish person’s happy disposition in such as sunless country. David was from Trinidad and had followed some crazy idea of coming to Ireland in search of adventure. We laughed about that many times, telling him that if he wanted adventure to try walk through Temple Bar unmolested around 2am of a Saturday night. He never did, to the best of my knowledge. One night, years ago, with the rain sluicing down the windows in great torrents, he told me about home, about ‘his’ island as he called it. He had been home only once in four years, for his sisters wedding. In that moment I felt that David was running from something, as if he had let some gap develop and he regretted it. He rarely spoke of his family and when he did it was always of his mother. I once asked about his father, had he passed away? David replied with a simple, soft ‘no.’ Though I wanted to, I never pressed him on this, I never went fishing for more information. That evening he told me that he had been away for a long time and he felt maybe he was ready to go home.
Home, I always found it strange how he spoke of it. Home never seemed to be thousands of miles away but somewhere you could walk to, somewhere just around the corner that he could visit whenever he wanted. To me David held a little of his home inside him, stored in some jar or cubbie hole in his soul. He carried the sun and warmth with him and, though it was a kind of precious energy that kept him going, he was not afraid to share it with you. That was David and that was why people loved him.
The Morning (Mine)
Usually being the last to leave the house, I checked all the windows and doors were locked and secure. As I gathered my coat to leave I noticed the door to David’s room was open just a crack. He had not pulled it after himself, not sealed it shut with the finality of his leaving. I don’t know why but I looked in. The mat he had was gone, donated to someone or other. It was just that little bit too thick and often jammed the door in some strange position that was neither open nor closed. Now it opened freely and I peeped in, taking a moment, as if waiting for permission, before I entered.
I stood in the doorway and looked about me. The room was virtually bare, all the little bits and pieces that made David, David, were gone. His bed spread, his photographs, his magazines, his rosary beads; all packed away and vanished. And though the room was quite small, and David quite a big man, this empty space now seemed cavernous, hollow and absolutely different. It seemed like he had never been here at all and that is when I felt it, I felt this twinge in my chest that spoke to me of the brittle nature of people, of hearts and life and love. Here I was in a room in a house I’d lived in for four years and I felt like a stranger. I could claim no ownership over it; I felt an alien in this space as, no matter what this room became now David was no longer here, a study room or an office, this will always be known as David’s room. Where’s the old lamp for the sitting room? Try David’s room. Have you seen the suitcase? It’s probably in the wardrobe in David’s room. This will always be his room and now that he is gone it feels so wrong, like it shouldn’t be a room at all. It wasn’t just his room for a while, it was his room for life and as I turned away I felt that maybe it was the heart of the house if only for a short time.
As I left I spied something hanging on a hook just behind the door. It was a small tag from an old Christmas present, a smiling happy Santa looking out at me. It lifted my spirits and for some reason I reached to turn it over.
I read the words over twice and set the tag back in its place. This little piece of card had been too important to throw away, it said too much but still was too heavy to take with him, too rich in memories and emotions. I found myself crying and dried my eyes. I left the room, closing the door over. I stopped and listened to the wind outside running against the side of the house and heard his words in my mind, a smile catching the corners of my mouth.
You will see me again. You will see me again.
Graham Connors is thirty years old and has previously been published in wordlegs magazine, 30 Under 30 (both e-book and paperback editions), Allegory magazine, Under Thirty magazine, The Lit Garden, Link magazine and long-listed for the Doire Press International Chapbook competition. He is the founder and editor of Number Eleven Magazine as well as contributing editor for the Dublin Informer newspaper. He successfully staged his first play, ‘The Mortal Pitch’, in both Wexford and Dublin. He is from Gorey, in Co. Wexford but has lived in Dublin for the last ten years. Someday he’ll find his way back home.
There are still grains of sand left on your feet from that other beach you now walk on. Whilst sweeping them in silence, I only hope over and over that you never stop wanting to bathe in my waters. I know that it is not possible to find settlement in the constant change of my tide. It is unimaginable to find asylum in the impulsive shift from tranquility to chaos that I harbour. Many boats, tricked by my blue aquatic transparency, have sailed in comfort before knowing the agony of their slow sinking. How can it be different when even I find it hard to float? When I recurrently end up drowning in my own cold water? I guess that the embrace of my waves now imprisons you in confusion and pushes you further away and onto the warm cuddle of your new paradise. I plead you to never stop wanting to bathe in my waters.
If I slightly unfold my arm, I’ll touch your skin. If I just twist a little, your body will come into contact with mine, granting it with a spare of your warmth. The five fingers in my hand can stroke gently your hair once, twice, the amount of times needed for your eyes to meet mine. My lips know the way to yours, it is the place where they once belonged to. But my arms remain idle. My body remains cold. Each of the fingers in my right hand thread with their left pair. And my lips, pressed tight, hold in the tears of my agitated sea. And it is not pride that keeps me motionless, but the fear my prison is build upon. The terror of facing the immense distance inherent in the few centimeters that stand between you and me.
I once somewhere read that it is in the darkest skies where the brightest stars are to be found. I am unsure of the colour balance of my sky, but if there is something I am completely certain of, is that it holds the most incandescent stars of all.
There is one to whom everything might now look cloudy and unreal, but I can unquestionably foretell that your natural glow is going to be revealed. Sooner than you might think. Don’t you realise that you are no longer eclipsed? You may be small, but only in size; your soul is huge. The richness of my sky is enhanced by the smile of the star to whose days are my nights. I cannot stop admiring your capability of blooming through the days whilst having to live one step ahead of your heart. The latter being left stranded eight hours behind. You perennial perseverance will be finally rewarded, and you will be granted with the world which you are so purposely constructing. Please, reserve a small place in it for me so that I remain complete.
The exotic touch of my sky comes from the East. Not knowing half as much about her as I wished I did, she has taught the meaning of many words. One of them being achievement. The instantly perceptible attraction of her physical appearance fails to remotely portray the monumental beauty of her soul. Having thrived through innumerable battles, she is now forced to fight on two grounds.
Do not give up, let the sparkle in your eyes blind the setbacks thrown by life. My request for you is to acknowledge me in the fight and heavily rely on my constant support. The chromaticity of my sky is intensified by the light emanating from the most recent star. Having gazed over my sky by the inexplicable coincidences of life, I am daily thankful for you deciding to stay. By allowing me to be a witness in your defeat of adversity with the only weapon of your laugh, you have safeguarded my sanity. Thank you for sharing the incalculable value of the legacy that bereaved event left in your hands.
I cannot think of a better place for the strongly glowing star to leave her gem when she forever dimmed.
Without any right, but filled with hope, I ask you not to ever change. The most special component of my humble sky is reserved for the star whose blood runs through my veins. Oceans apart, you are the closest to my heart. Your infinite love unconditionally follows every one of my steps. You remain the backbone of my life. I am sorry for all the ache I have caused. I am grateful for you teaching me to fight through the toughest battles and forcing me confront rough reality. With all that you have given me, which is all you have, I am in no position to demand; but I beg for the vigor in your soul to never fade away. I once somewhere read that you are what you have. And I have the most vivid, solid, magical sky of them all.
The unused sheet of paper lays flat on the table, eyeballing me, pleading to capture words that will defeat forgetfulness and prevail through time. I feel its stare and I stare back. Even though I own this pen and the left hand that is holding it, it’s as if the brain governing the muscles has gone blank and is unable to convert the captured ink into printed letters. I am free now. Free to reinvent my life, to start over, to be who I always wanted to be and to do what I have never done before. I can choose the cast, change the plot.
Why then my head always wanders to thoughts about you? What if who I want to be is a half of you? If all I feel like doing on this rainy Sunday afternoon is to get lost in your arms. Return to your embrace, to that exact place where I once felt safe, protected against the world in which I find myself vulnerably thrown now, force to continue building my days. I blend real with idealised memories. No longer able to tell the difference. Unwilling to tell the difference. Afraid that the absent mindedness that distinguishes me takes over remembrance. Symptoms are already arising. I cannot recall the smell of your soft skin but I still sense it in random places. The other day it hid in my apartment lift. Today, in a passing stranger. I can trust my nostrils, but not much more. I don’t remember the sound of your laugh. I blame myself for not having heard it much in the last days. I am starting to forget the tickle your teasing stroke triggered on my waking lips. Or the feel of having each one of my fingers threaded in yours. What side of your body did your birthmark adorn? What brand gel couldn’t you live without? The curse of selective memory haunts me, shifting my energy into bringing these things to the present and letting go of what I should hold on to: the fact that I wasn’t happy, that your love was long gone, that I meant nothing to you any longer, that you have started to swim in seas I will never become. Time will free me, but how much time?
Born in Madrid, Spain, Mireya Semelas has been living in Dublin for nearly five years. Writing has been her language for as long as she can remember. The landscapes in Ireland are responsible for her awakened interest in photography. With “Captured Moments” Mireya aims to combine her passion in pictures with her love for words. Throughout these two-word titled passages, the reader is immersed in a sea of love, friendship, suffering, surrender, survival and many other emotions that will preserve them into the future. Check out Mireya’s blog and follow her on Twitter @semelas
The sea is brown at my back, the autumn breeze urging it against the rocks on which I sit. In front of me the rippling tide is black, then blue. The water looks gentle with the evening light tip-toeing on its surface. But I know beneath is strong, dark and cold.
I will not resist.
I will go willingly.
Lapping of the sea echoes pleasingly from under the rocks. Pleasing is the sound, soft on the ear. Pleasing too that my body will soon be down there. With the rats. And the worms.
A wretched business for whoever identifies me. They’d have to ask someone, wouldn’t they, to be sure? Would they ask Alan? I wonder, would they?
Alan. Great big block head on thick shoulders. A sour face. A landlord of the old school.
It’ll shake him up a bit alright, having to identify my body laid out on a slab. All blue and bloated. Recognisable yet unrecognisable. Alan, forced to have a good long look with eyes wide open before whispering, “Yes, that’s him.”
I can see his sickened face. The same face he has the rare time he does the dirty work and cleans sick from the stairs or lifts someone’s shit off the floor in the jacks.
His disgusted face makes me shiver with glee.
Stiffness claws at my back so I shift a bit but that starts my hip off, waking the untouchable dull pain that is never far away. So I just sit and wait for a little of the pain to go and a little more of the evening to pass.
A cargo ship with containers stacked tidy row upon row leaves Dublin Port for the mouth of the Liffey, one green light flashing her slow heartbeat.
An old pair nearing me now. With tanned skin, beige trousers, and plastic water bottles. Not paying me any attention at all so they’re not.
“How are yez? Nice evening!”
Nearly run, they do. Christ.
Ah, the tourists, where would this country be without them but?
Céad Mile Fáilte.
A father and son come cycling. The old feller nods. I nod back. The boy trails behind bumping on the uneven stones, forehead furrowed in concentration. “You’re playing a stormer, kid,” I tell him. “You’re flying.”
The Da smiles.
Alan has kids too. And a nice home, no doubt, with a comfy warm scratcher. But soon all he’ll see when he goes to sleep is me and my rotten face. There will be a stench. God, will there be a stench. It will give him nerves alright.
My gut suddenly lurches and my head is light. Pinpricks of heat circle my neck and rise in a fizzy rush to my face. Sure wouldn’t Alan be glad to see me dead? Aren’t I a problem to him? What would he care if I was out of the way? Unemployed barmen are two a penny these days.
I cover the sight of the world with my fingers, angered and embarrassed at my own stupidity. Because the only person they could ask to identify me body will be glad to see it.
Is there someone else they could ask?
No, not Sarah. It won’t be Sarah.
The cargo ship inches level with me. The Andromeda.
It’s not quite time. At the far end of the Wall I see blurry silhouettes fishing. But when they go it’ll be just me.
It could never be Sarah. You’d be a fool to think otherwise. And I never did. Not really. There’s the age, for starters. Sarah. Twenty-three years old.
The one time I’d lost the run of myself at her birthday drinks. If it hadn’t been a Sunday I wouldn’t have gone. But it was. On a Sunday, my day off, wearing my good clothes, not the usual faded trousers and old polo shirt. Sunday means Terry, all dressed up and with places to go, drowning in thirst.
I was only messing. Tried to give her a birthday kiss, is all. And that was all. We were mates.
The kiss was just banter. I know it was. But everyone else said otherwise, and when everyone else looks at you different to how you look at yourself, well, it clouds your thinking.
I know what they say.
I stand, unsteadily. The breeze cools my head and carries salt to my eyes and lips.
I walk to the edge.
The red-and-white towers of Poolbeg hide the steel and glass of the Docklands. In the low-rise houses of Clontarf opposite I see old Dublin, my Dublin.
New Dublin is everywhere. It even sparkles in the dark sky. Kite-surfers on Bull Island. At this time of evening. At this time of year. When I was young it was just fishing. Fishing and football.
Fifteen years I’ve been pulling pints for Alan. Five months Sarah has been behind the bar. Part-time. But she fills the place. As every other pub in town loses trade. The punters go for her like flies to shite. It’s the oldest trick in the publican’s book.
While me, after years of feeding and watering them – I’m just sick of people. I have the craic as always. Chat about the weather. Pass on racing tips. Compliment the women. But it’s all a lie. And maybe it shows. Maybe that’s it after all, just that and nothing more.
Maybe that’s why Alan put me on split-shifts. Open the bar at ten in the morning, work till four. Come back at nine for the few hours to close the night.
Leave Sarah alone.
Just ignore the others.
There’s not a lot you can do in five hours. By the time I walk home to the room in Finglas and catch my breath it’s nearly time to go back to the pub again.
I walk because I hate giving my money away to the buses or taxis and because I need to lose weight. I do be needing to lose weight. Now and then I’ll get into the hardness of having a salad sandwich instead of the usual fried pub lunch. Now and then I won’t lash six or seven pints into me while cashing up. Now and then I won’t drink on the job.
But it’s not easy. You go behind that bar with the worst hangover of your life and vowing to never drink again but after five minutes of pouring pints left right and centre, breathing sweat and farts, men and women stepping in off the street and shrugging the day off themselves so strongly that you can hear it hit the floor… after five minutes, you’ll be gagging for a pint, and the first chance you get, you’ll horse the drink into you.
Horse it into you.
An excuse, of course. Always an excuse. The good habits never last. It’s not Alan. It’s not Sarah. I wish them the best. I really do. It’s me. Failing the false dawns. Letting myself down. Struggling, fighting against my nature, my thoughts, my self. Always trying again. Always failing. Always excuses. I’m sick of nothing in this world like I’m sick of me.
I step forward –
“Fucking shite in the end, wasn’t it mister?”
The voice sprung from darkness sends my heart to my throat. I spin around. A boy of eleven or twelve, fishing rod in hand, stands there.
“Pure bollocks it was,” he says, his blue eyes piercing through the gloom. Then I notice the green and white football shirt.
“Rovers?” I say, tentatively.
“Yeah. I see you there every game mister, standing at the back. We were pure muck on Friday, weren’t we? Another missed penno in the car park end.”
It’s just me and him and the wind.
“You must be freezing in just that top,” I say.
“But I don’t feel it, mister,” he shrugs and walks away. “Don’t feel it.”
He leaves me alone on the edge.
Shamrock Rovers Football Club.
The cry of the seagulls above.
Passing the All American Laundrette on South Great George’s Street in winter and inhaling the hot soapy steam blowing from its air vents.
The smooth stone of Jim Larkin’s statue against my fingers.
Is that all there is? These solitary and fleeting touchstones of happiness in my city?
What more do you want?
Well then. It’s settled.
I take a careful step back and turn my back on the dark void of the sea.
Far behind me the green light of The Andromeda continues to strike its heartbeat, faint against the black canvas of the night.
Niall Foley has been harnessed as a barman, labourer, clerk, lecturer and journalist – and several other functions. He currently lives in Edinburgh, and is happiest when unshackled and alone in a room with a desk, some paper, and a pencil. Check out Niall’s website.
Pop Goes The Gun
– By Vikki Gemmell
Flecks of gold circle his irises, like blasts of sun in a blue sky; a detail I’m only just noticing. After three years of working together he’s still a mystery. He clinks his beer glass against mine.
“Cheers,” he says.
“This is good, you agreeing to come out for a drink with me. We can have a proper chat before you come over tomorrow. I think you get me; it’ll be perfect.”
I nod. “I’ve never done any… modelling… like this before.”
“All you need to do is stand there. I’ll have my paints and gun ready.”
“Gun?” I laugh nervously.
He laughs too and I smile, not exactly sure what’s so funny. His is a proper belly laugh.
He pinches my cheek. “You look pretty cute when you giggle.”
I look away, heat creeping up my throat. “How long have you been painting?” I divert attention back to him.
“As soon as I could pick up a brush,” he says. “It’s tough getting anyone to give a shit about it all. You know, Van Gogh didn’t sell a single painting until he died. I think he was onto something there.”
I survey him curiously. “I’m sure he would’ve preferred to have been around to see his success, don’t you think?”
“Sammy, Sam,” he winks at me. “It doesn’t always work like that. You’ll see…tomorrow, my dear.”
His flat smells of turpentine and ashtrays and something sweet… the odours concoct a potent mixture in my nostrils and shoot to my head. My head spins and I feel it’s slowly breaking away from the rest of my body; my neck is the string of a helium balloon and someone just untied it. I can almost feel my hair brushing against the ceiling… static electricity.
Static electricity is the real reason why I’m here and we both know it. I’m bored with my boyfriend. He’s bored with his girlfriend. He wants me to pose nude because it’s the fastest and easiest way he can think of getting my clothes off and it saves us having to make excuses to our consciences.
“In here,” He pushes a door open and I follow him inside.
My eyes don’t know which wall to focus on first. I blink then take a deep breath and focus on the one facing me. My face burns as I am confronted with wall-to-wall coverage of nude women posing like they are in pre-edited James Bond credits. No silhouettes here.
“D’you like them?” He sees me looking and I open and close my mouth, not sure what he wants me to say.
“Took me fucking ages. I used a different kind of paint for those ones so it was hard doing much detail.”
“Oh,”’ My throat collapses into my stomach. Not much detail? I can practically see the goose bumps along their inner thighs… I begin to feel panicky and stupid. Maybe he really does want to paint me naked. Like seriously. In detail… to add to his wall. Shit, shit, shit.
I turn to look at his other wall and see Andy Warhol prints, movie posters… a Trainspotting poster with him and his friends in place of the actors. He’s Renton. I look at another poster for Pulp Fiction and realise it’s his girlfriend, donned in a black wig, pouting. I try to decide if this is cool or just…weird.
“Sit down,” he says, motioning to his bed.
I perch on the end of his bed. I watch as he starts to sift through his CD collection.
“What kind of music you into?” he asks.
I shrug. “Rock. Alternative.” Did alternative exist anymore? It seemed everything alternative had gone mainstream. Even the kids hanging around town were confused; their eclectic wardrobes borrowing a piece of everyone in an attempt to look different, only to turn up and see fifty other people had had the same idea.
Nirvana blasts out from his stereo and I laugh.
“What’s so funny?” he yells in my face, as he dances around, an unlit fag between his fingers, his jeans slouching half way down his arse.
“I haven’t heard this in ages,” I say.
“What?” He cups his ear with his hand and smiles. I can still see his dimples even though he clearly hasn’t shaved for a while.
I smile back; my body begins to relax.
“Have you ever thought about dying?” He appears in my face again and I jerk back, unnerved by his abrupt question.
“Well, not exactly. I mean I’ve thought about death, but not, like, the actual act of how I’ll go…”
“Sammy, Sammy, Sammy,” he tuts, shaking his head. “All the interesting people are dead. I can’t wait to meet them all and party with them.” He lights his cigarette and laughs as he blows circles into the air.
“You could always hold a séance,” I shrug.
He ponders this seriously. We really don’t share the same sense of humour. I begin to wonder if he is so crazy that he is beyond a sense of humour…
“I don’t really believe in all that shit.” He waves a hand dismissively at me. He pulls out a bottle of whisky from his cupboard. “Ah, there you are my sweet baby.”
He takes an over enthusiastic swig and the liquid glides over his chin, dripping on to his t-shirt. He keeps drinking. I hold my breath along with him. How much whisky can you down in one go?
“Ahhh,” he gasps, pulling the bottle back down level. He burps loudly. “Here, have some.”
I take the bottle. Peer into the half empty gold pool. I take a swig. The roof of my mouth roars in protest. I feel every drop sail down the back of my throat, down, down, down, exploding in my stomach.
“You’re so cute,” he says. He sits down beside me and pinches my cheek.
“Thanks.” His eyes analyse every line and pore on my face.
“And sexy.” He brushes my hair back from my shoulder and his finger traces a circle around the delicate skin on my neck. Every inch of my body begins to pulsate, my lips are screaming Kiss me, kiss me.
“Just perfect. Hmmm…” He snaps his fingers and I blink. He jumps up and rushes over to his easel.
I swig some more whisky. Oh my God. Just kiss me for Christ’s sake… His jumping around is beginning to make me dizzy.
“Okay. Cool,” He begins to squeeze tubes of paint and colours squirt out onto a palette, like a melting rainbow. “Take your clothes off, Sam. Let’s get started.”
I swallow the whisky slowly. Uh oh. That doesn’t sound like the ‘Ooh baby. I want you,’ that I was expecting. He really wants to look at my body. Objectively. Fuck. I have cellulite. My boobs are too small…I look at the Bond Girls dancing across his wall. Their boobs are fantastic; their bodies acquaintances of the local gym.
“Uh, Scott…” I sit up; feel the nausea grip my tongue.
“Mmm?” He is mixing frantically, chewing on a paintbrush.
I am on the verge of saying I feel sick and want to go home. No lie there. But I seem to have lost the ability to speak.
“Come on beautiful. Smile for the camera.” He peers at me through the square he has constructed with his fingers.
I stand up. My hands are shaking so much I can’t unbutton my shirt properly.
“Would it help if I got naked too?”
“Umm…” He’s already thrown his t-shirt over his head, is climbing out of his jeans…
I laugh and quickly unbutton my shirt, slip off my denim skirt. Then the underwear… quick and painless, like ripping off a plaster. I glance over at him. He hasn’t taken off his boxers.
“Hey…” I protest, crossing my legs, hugging my chest.
“Don’t get all coy, Sammy!”
He bends down to open a box underneath his easel and I notice how smooth his skin looks, the slight muscles in his arms ripples on a flawless canvas.
I stand awkwardly, waiting.
He holds up a gun.
“What is that?” Asking the obvious. I think back to his comment in the pub last night.
“A gun,” He hands it to me and I forget about my nakedness. I hold the weight in my hand nervously.
I want to ask if it’s real. But I don’t want to know. “Why d’you have a gun?”
“For my art darling,” he says, nodding towards the Bond Girls. “All part of the little picture I’m painting.”
Of course. How stupid of me to think that he wouldn’t just add in some fake guns afterwards.
“Okay, strike a pose,” He lunges forward, pointing his fingers in an upside down v.
I hesitate, then point the gun; mimic his pose.
“Hmm…” He scratches his chin, scanning my body.
Don’t look at my bum. Don’t look at my bum.
“Bit more to the left.”
“Perfect!” He claps his hands and bounces back to his easel.
Twelve songs spin past. I’m getting a cramp in my shoulder. The gun’s getting heavier.
He lays down his palette. “Sam, do you know why I really asked you here today?”
“What d’you mean?” Hallelujah. I hadn’t read the signals wrong. He did want my body for a different kind of creativity. My thigh twitches.
“Take a break, sweetie. Sit down.” He walks over to me, motions for me to sit on the bed.
I sit down, laying the gun beside me. He crouches, facing me. I’m slightly disappointed that he holds my gaze. I try to stop my eyes from devouring his whole body.
“I think we get each other. I can see the same desire inside of you that’s inside of me.”
Waves of panic and anticipation wash over me as I follow his gaze to the ‘bond girls’ on the wall.
“Those other girls – they weren’t quite ready…”
He grabs my hand, grinning. A spark runs up my arm.
“Come on, it’ll be more dramatic and memorable in the living room. My best paintings are in there.”
I let him pull me up, my head spinning. He reaches behind me to pick up the gun.
“Are you going to paint me in the living room?” I ask, following him out the door.
“No, we’re moving on to the main event now,” he stops and touches me gently on the cheek. “The timing had to be just right. I feel ready now.”
A shiver tickles my spine. I’ve been ready for so long…
We walk down the hall and he turns to smile at me as he leads me into a large, sun filled room.
He shuts the door and he hands me the gun.
Biography: Vikki Gemmell lives in Scotland and has fiction published in Spilling Ink Review, Flashflood Journal and recently won third prize in the Multi-Story flash fiction competition. She is currently working on a Young Adult novel. Her observations about life can be found on her blog. Follow Vikki on Twitter @VikkiGemmell
‘Come on Ellen, down we go.’ Claire ushered the child forward into the underpass. The storm glowered and threw down slabs of rain, which slapped off the concrete with a sodden fury. Ellen, dressed in her ladybird-spotted mac and fox hat, jumped down the steps, feet together, pink wellies shooting up spray as she cackled in glee. ‘Hold onto the rail, sweetie,’ Claire said, more in hope than expectation.
‘Fox, mummy,’ Ellen said.
‘Yes, love, that’s right.’ Ellen wore the hat everywhere. It was shaped like a real fox’s head, complete with furry ears and snout.
Claire struggled down the steps with the shopping and the scooter Ellen had insisted they bring but hadn’t ridden. She felt a tug and looked back in time to see the thin plastic bag snag and tear. Out tumbled the aubergines she’d come all this way to get. Can’t have a vegetable curry without sticking a couple of aubergines in, Phil had said, wouldn’t be right. She’d wanted to tell him where she’d rather he stuck his aubergines but, as usual, had just nodded and written aubergines on her list. They bounced down the steps and landed in a puddle at the bottom. Ellen picked one up and held it out.
‘What’s it called, mummy?’
‘Aubergine, love. Remember?’
‘Ogre bean,’ said Ellen and turned away satisfied. Claire crouched to pick up the rest of her shopping, stuffing it in pockets as best she could. The air was thicker in the underpass and she felt dizzy as she stood up. After taking a moment to let her head clear she took off her damp hat and used it as a makeshift bag for the final few bits. Something shuffled at the far end of the tunnel. She half expected to see a homeless person, surrounded by old sleeping bags and cardboard; or maybe a couple of teenagers bunking off, Damn hoodies, Claire – ruining this town for the likes of us. It was neither.
‘Fox,’ she said in surprise.
People had warned Claire about the trials of parenthood. The sleeplessness, the heart-stopping terror of having a newborn snuffling (or, worse still, not snuffling) at the foot of your bed; she’d even coped with the indignity of leaking breasts. What nobody had told her was that, as a parent, she’d be unable to say the name of an animal without immediately imitating its noise. Look, Ellen, doggy – woof woof!; it had become second nature. The thing was, she wasn’t entirely sure what noise a fox made.
Claire noticed it was holding one paw curled up off the concrete. Was it lame? She knew enough to understand a wounded animal was a dangerous one. It had never occurred to her that foxes were something you could be scared of though. Lions, tigers and crocodiles – they were scary, of course, but she was unlikely to encounter any of these on a day to day basis. Cows too; that dumb-eyed solemnity wasn’t fooling her. She wouldn’t set foot in any field containing cows, much to Phil’s amusement – Silly mummy, scared of a dozy old cow. Geese even – all that hissing and flapping about you like footballers surrounding a referee. Faced with a real live fox, however, Claire felt on edge. She drew Ellen closer. They were wild animals after all and this one was injured. Did you know, Phil had said over porridge last week, a leopard escaped recently from the zoo in Durban. They set eleven traps for it round the city and caught eleven leopards. Not one was the escapee! Live like foxes in the suburbs over there they do, nicking stuff from bins, eating pets and so on.
Yes, dear, she’d said, half listening as she packed Ellen’s lunchbox for nursery and began thinking about dinner.
‘Hello, Mr. Fox,’ Ellen said. ‘Want some raisins?’ She dipped into a spotted pocket and brought out a few of the shrivelled things, scattering them on the floor where they lay like rabbit droppings.
‘Ellen, no!’ Claire pulled her hand away but it was too late – the fox had begun his approach. He was definitely limping. She backed away with Ellen towards the mouth of the underpass. Water cascaded over the edge in sheets, forming a rising pool round the exit. It was wet feet and a soaking or the fox. Claire felt the beginnings of a headache.
‘Can we take it home, mummy? Pleeeease?’
‘No, sweetie, we can’t. You’ve got a hamster already.’
‘Hampsters are boring.’ Ellen said. ‘I wanna fox.’
‘Well you can’t have one.’ Claire expected waterworks to rival the downpour outside but Ellen just shrugged.
‘Can we live here then?’ The fox gave the raisins one last sniff and turned a lazy circle before settling down on the concrete, rather closer than Claire would have liked, wrapping his tail around his feet.
‘Mummy, mummy, mummy – can we?’
That was the other thing about being a mother – somehow along the way she’d stopped being anything else. She used to have a career, a social life, a name – even Phil called her mummy now. Christ, even her own mother called her mummy in front of Ellen. Of course she loved being a mum but was that all she was? Claire could remember her grandmother receiving letters addressed to Mrs. John Eldridge; women used to get swallowed up by their husbands, she’d been consumed by motherhood. A slow ache spread from the back of her skull, passing over her scalp like a shadow. If only she could sit down for a minute. She leaned against the wall and slid down it into a half crouch. Patting the concrete floor to check it was dry she lowered herself onto it. Ellen skipped over and plonked herself in her lap.
‘Can we, mummy? Can we live here?’
‘How would we live here, sweetie?’ The pain settled behind her eyes. Ellen thought for a minute, face screwed into something like one of the forgotten raisins.
‘We got water to drink an’ wash in,’ she began, counting the benefits off on tiny fingers. ‘We got ogre beans.’
‘They won’t last long,’ Claire said. ‘What would we do then?’
‘We’d make frens with the fox an’ he’d go out an’ catch us things to eat.’ Ellen paused to consider. ‘Sausages an’ stuff.’
Claire smiled. ‘What about daddy?’
‘Daddy can’t catch sausages – he’s busy at work…or grumpy.’
‘Wouldn’t daddy be grumpier without us?’
Ellen thought for a moment. ‘Prolly not.’
‘Poor old daddy!’
‘We’d learn to be foxes an’ run an’ roll about in leafs.’
Claire stroked Ellen’s furry ears. Such a small head, so many jumbled thoughts. When was the last time she’d had such fanciful ideas herself? Ellen picked a dry leaf from the floor and began to pick at the crackly brown skin, stripping it away bit by bit.
‘Wrap your tail round me,’ she said.
‘Your tail – like Mr. Fox.’
Claire curled an arm around Ellen’s ribcage and felt the beating of her little heart through the thin mac.
Claire rested her cheek on Ellen’s head, sinking into the soft, damp fur. Ellen nuzzled into the hollow of her mother’s neck. It was as though they were one and the same, no line to show where Claire stopped and Ellen began. The thought gave Claire a warmth beyond the reality of the cold, damp concrete and she closed her eyes for a second and let tiredness overtake her. Ellen poked a hand into the crook of her arm. Except…that couldn’t be Ellen, she was still picking at her leaf. Claire looked down. The fox had thrust his snout between her elbow and body. She stiffened and moved to get up but her legs ignored her. She tried to clear her head. The fox closed its eyes and was breathing gently.
‘Ellen,’ Claire said. ‘I need you to get up – slowly.’ She expected Ellen to jump and squeal when she saw the fox but she just grinned.
‘Fox,’ she whispered.
‘Fox,’ Claire murmured back. She should be moving, taking her child away from this wild creature but the air was so thick and everything moved like porridge. Besides, there was something comforting about the fox. She wondered what it would be like to be Mrs. Fox, rather than Mrs. Philip Abbot (or just mummy). She didn’t suppose it was much different – it probably involved less aubergine shopping but just as much staying at home while daddy went out and did the interesting stuff. She closed her eyes and let the sound of rain echoing down the tunnel fill her head. She pictured herself walking out of the underpass with Ellen into a bright new world, one of fields and sunshine but also of long winters curled up in a snug den, waiting for spring. They’d poke their snouts out into crisp, clean air, full of new possibilities and stretch themselves on the grass in the strengthening sun.
‘Yip,’ said Ellen the fox cub.
‘Yap,’ said Claire.
Did you know there’s a type of fish that eats the tongues of bigger fish, then takes their place as a means of getting food, said Phil, half a world away. The sound of a stream soon drowned his noise.
Ellen got up and trotted off into a hedgerow, yipping in excitement. Birds filled the spring fields with song and a cool breeze cleansed Claire’s winter-fogged soul. She followed Ellen to the edge of a stream where they both stopped to drink. The water was icy and they drank in short, fast gulps then lay down and turned their faces to the sun. Claire closed her eyes. The warmth slowly sank through to her bones, driving out the last ghosts of winter. Ellen padded over and curled up in the hollow of her side.
A weight settled on her hip. She opened her eyes and saw Mr. Fox. He rubbed his cheek on her flank, then yawned and took a lazy bite out of her flesh. It didn’t hurt – if anything the sensation was strangely familiar – but there was suddenly less of Claire than there had been. Mr. Fox grinned at her, blood matting the white fur under his chin. He took another mouthful. Ellen yapped and took a bite herself, leaving a tiny jagged hole in her mother’s side. Claire tried to kick them off but her legs wouldn’t move. Blood seeped from her wounds taking precious warmth with it. She closed her eyes as they grabbed at her flesh, first one side then the other. She twisted her body but whichever way she went there were teeth. A shadow passed across the sun and the chill returned. Claire shivered. She felt a gentler tug on her paw then a hand on her cheek. She opened her eyes and looked up into the face of an old woman, headscarf wrapped tight under her chin. The patter and spatter of the stream had faded.
‘Are you alright?’
‘I said are you alright.’
Claire looked down. Ellen was curled up against her side – she yipped softly in her sleep. The fox was nowhere to be seen.
The girl came to groggily and Claire shuffled them both to their feet.
‘Everything’s quite alright, thank you.’ She picked up her hat full of shopping and grabbed Ellen’s scooter. An aubergine fell from her coat pocket and rolled away into a drift of leaves. Claire ignored it. One foot had gone to sleep where it had been curled beneath her and she limped for the first few steps. Ellen followed behind in silence. Claire turned to look at the woman, who waved at them. On the concrete by her feet was a small pile of raisins. The rain appeared to have stopped and sunlight filled the end of the tunnel. They walked on.
‘Come on Ellen, up we go.’ Claire ushered the child forward.
Matt Hutchinson is 41 and lives in south-east London. He was recently long listed for the Doire Press International Short Fiction Competition and his story ‘The Same Old Song of Plenty’ appeared in The Bohemyth in November 2012. Follow Matt on twitter – @matthwrites
– By Karen Quinn
I wondered if it was possible to fry an egg on the bonnet of a car. Morris was bathing on the driveway, his green frame steaming under the sun. I watched him for about five minutes. It was Ireland; the sun didn’t usually visit us. This was a one-time experiment, it was now or never. I turned to my younger brother, who was playing Boggle in spite of its missing letters.
‘Wanna fry an egg on Morris?’
We went to the kitchen. I remember Mammy sitting on the sway chair sleeping. We were expecting a new sister or brother that summer. Daddy told us boys to stop laughing at the way Mammy walked. To us, she looked like a penguin. We tip-toed past her and opened the fridge. My brother was too small to reach, but I got the egg because I had long legs. We then got two plates and a slice of bread before going outside.
According to Daddy, it was the shock of seeing an eggy Morris that caused Mammy to go into labour. With both our parents heading to hospital, me and my brother were told to ‘sit and pray to God that everything would work out alright’. The door slammed shut, keys were shuffled and Morris tooted and hummed lightly as he drove away. We were left alone to reflect. This was our prayer:
‘Dear God, look after Mammy and please let it be a boy. Also, could you please make sure that Daddy doesn’t have us for messing up Morris’ green paint with an egg? Thank you.’
One half of our prayer came true. Baby Anna saved us from the slap that night. According to Daddy she was a big girl who weighed in at about three bags of sugar. I climbed into the attic and took out my brother’s old baby sling, wrapping three bags of sugar inside the dusty fabric. I told Daddy to leave me be, this was me preparing to be the big brother, the family helper. Two of the bags fell to the floor and for some strange reason the top bag (representing my sisters head) ripped and the sugar poured out. Daddy laughed, saying he’d never forget my face. I brushed up the sugar and decided I was too young to carry around such a heavy baby. I probably could’ve handled two bags, but she was three.
A few days after Mammy and Anna came home. My younger brother was still mad at the fact Anna was a girl. I knew that because he looked at her like he looked at garden peas. He hated garden peas. Scowling with his arms crossed, he asked Mammy why she took the baby home. Mammy had this way about her when she smiled, you could see the happiness in her eyes. She knelt down to him, sparkling.
‘What would you like for dinner tonight?’ She said to him. ‘Your choice.’
‘Really? Can we have chicken curry?’
My brother had good taste in dinners.
That night was the best night of my life. Mammy made a tasty chicken curry and Daddy even brought us back a cone of sweets from the market. Anna was quiet, so Daddy turned the radio down low. Together he and Mammy danced in their bare feet on the tiles. We then watched Danger Mouse before going to bed, later than usual. Anna stirred once or twice in the night, I heard her whimper, but she was quiet otherwise. She was a very quiet baby.
For weeks afterwards our house was just as happy. Morris still wasn’t looking the best, but I heard that Daddy was planning to buy matching paint and tidy him up himself. Anna was now the weight of three and a half bags of sugar, and my brother had now accepted her as one of his own, including her in his games.
‘Anna! I, Dr Who, thought you were my friend. But you are a Dalek in disguise aren’t you?’
‘Exterminate you say? I was right. There’s only one thing left to do then…’
He pointed his finger at her bouncy chair.
She would then kick her feet. The bouncy chair would rock backwards and forwards with such a force that Daddy believed she would be a mighty footballer. I was looking forward to her being old enough to kick a ball. I told Mammy this and she said that at the rate Anna was growing she would be in the premiership by the end of the month. Mammy was very proud of Anna. She was proud of us boys too, but Anna was special. She would dance bare footed with her on the tiles, she would sing to her, she would blow raspberries on her cheeks. That night Mammy caught me watching her, so she placed a sleeping Anna into her bouncy chair and took my hand. I took off my shoes, but not my socks because the tiles were cold. I stood on her feet and together we circled the floor, dancing to the music on the radio. I went to bed then and Mammy put Anna into her cot. I fell asleep but woke up within a few hours with a fever. Mammy and Daddy took turns when tending to me, so Anna didn’t get the full attention that she would usually get at night. I heard her whimper, but Mammy hushed her from the doorway and didn’t actually go into her room.
That morning Daddy took my brother to school. I was sitting in the kitchen with a plate of dry toast that I couldn’t eat. I had seen Mammy check the baby monitor before she poured me a glass of milk. She kissed my burning head and then went upstairs to check on Anna.
She wasn’t up there for long.
Daddy would warn us about running down the stairs, so I remember wondering what he would’ve said to Mammy when she took three stairs at a time. Anna was in her arms, being very still and very quiet. Mammy paced the tiles, muttering words that I couldn’t understand. She then put Anna on the kitchen table in front of my toast. She grabbed the phone and began to dial, but her hands were shaking so she was missing the correct buttons. I could make out a few words then.
‘Baby. Hold on. Okay baby.’
She looked out the window.
‘Baby. I can see his house.’
I looked out of the window. The only house I could see was Dr. Foster’s and that was two fields away. She scooped Anna into her arms and ran outside. I noticed she forgot her shoes. I grabbed them and followed. She reached the end of our garden. The Farmer had put wire around his field to prevent his sheep from wandering. Mammy moaned and rocked from side to side before turning to me.
‘Take your sister.’
‘I can’t Mammy, I’ll drop her.’
She became even more desperate.
‘Take your sister now!’
I had read in the Boy’s Scouts Magazine that when you find yourself in a threatening situation, your body can become stronger. I didn’t really understand how that worked, if it was magic given to you by an angel, or God, or Superman. All I knew was, I had it. For that moment I was strong enough to carry Anna. I took her into my arms for the first time as her big brother. She didn’t feel right. Mammy climbed over the metal thread. I saw her blood rest on the wires like raindrops. She stretched over the fence.
‘Give me her’.
I did. Mammy ran. I discarded the shoes and climbed over the fence. I always thought I was faster than Mammy, but I found it very hard to catch up with her. The field was large and empty. We were running for a long time before we reached its end, and by then we were only half way there. I looked down at Mammy’s feet that danced on the kitchen tiles, they were torn. I cried when she mounted the wire fence again, but I managed to hand Anna over the barrier safely. This field was bigger than the last and I could see Mammy’s feet beginning to fail her. She fell to her knees, Anna slipping out of her arms onto the grass.
I saw red on a jagged stone as I passed. I stopped to get sick. When I looked up I couldn’t see Mammy anymore, so I bolted in the direction of Dr. Foster’s house. There she was at the end of the field, shrieking and cradling Anna. A woman was outside the house, hanging fresh linen on a washing line. Immediately she called inside for Dr. Foster, who emerged within seconds and jumped over the wire. I stopped running. The last thing I saw was the woman taking Anna inside the house. I remember feeling afraid for her, I didn’t know this woman. I didn’t know if she was able to carry Anna. After all, Anna was a big baby – she was the weight of three and a half bags of sugar.
I remember falling to my knees.
Mammy had this ability to smile with her eyes, but after Anna she seemed to forget how to do that. My brother didn’t understand, and cried a lot. One night Mammy made extra peas for dinner. My brother began to whine, telling everyone in the room about how much he hated peas. Without warning, Mammy stood up. The table went silent. She looked at all of us and smiled. For weeks afterwards, that smile gave me nightmares. It wasn’t friendly, or warm. It wasn’t how my Mammy smiled. She began to pile peas onto my brother’s plate, slamming the ladle onto the china harder with each spoonful. Daddy stood up to meet her eyes. Both of them said nothing, but Mammy retreated, her walk like an injured penguin, not one that us boys could laugh at anymore. She closed the door. We listened to the creak of the floorboards, then another door closed. She screamed upstairs.
‘Daddy’, I said.
‘No, stay here. You boys need to behave.’
Daddy left. My brother looked at me.
‘Eat your peas.’
Without any objection, he picked up his fork. I watched him eat. Mammy was sobbing and we could hear the hum of Daddy’s words to her echoing in the hallway. I stood up, told my brother to finish his dinner and went outside. A sorry looking Morris was lying idle on the driveway, the weather further chipping away at the offending egg stain. Daddy had brought home a tin of paint from work, but it had been forgotten about. The tin was sitting by the doorstep, so I picked it up along with a brush that had been tossed into the grass. I began to paint over the marks on Morris, to put an end to the trouble that I had started.
Karen Quinn is a playwright and prose writer. She completed her masters in Creative Writing at Queen’s University and is currently writing her first novel. Her play, “The Bull” toured from Belfast to Donegal after favourable reviews. She lives in Donegal (by the beach) with her dogs. Follow Karen on twitter @Monsoonstorm19
The Bohemyth will be publishing a special Beat Writers’ Issue this March to celebrate Jack Kerouac’s birthday – we are looking for short stories, flash fiction, personal essays and photography inspired by, referencing, associated with or somehow connected to the writings of the Beat Generation.
Because ‘the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars…’
To be considered for this issue please submit by the 28th of February.
35 years? No, don’t be ridiculous! It couldn’t be. It simply couldn’t. Er, actually, hold on a cotton-pickin’ minute, I do believe it is 35 years to the season that I first saw not only my first life-changing gig, but the event that kickstarted a cultural revolution in my head. It was Iggy Pop, in London, at a venue that was then called the Rainbow Theatre but which is now a building belonging to the Brazilian Pentacostalist Universal Church of the Kingdom of God. Not to worry – a religious experience is a religious experience whatever the venue.
Back then, I had short hair, wore straight-legged jeans and Doc Marten boots. NME was my weekly bible of cultural reference points – anything that Charles Shaar Murray, Nick Kent, Tony Parsons or Julie Burchill recommended to read/see/hear I’d do just that. London is a mind-expanding city at any time, of course, but in 1977/78? Well, wasn’t that was a time and a place for a young lad to live in, his head spinning from the amount of music to experience and the sights to see.
Punk rock hadn’t yet leveled out to become a caricature of itself; there were no ostrich-coiffured punks strolling along King’s Road or Camden High Street tapping tourists for money. The music was the thing, and from my experience, at least, it was as close to the real deal anyone from a provincial Irish town could imagine. Seeing Iggy Pop headline in a major London venue at around the time when punk rock was at its most influential seemed just that little bit more exciting. And besides, what wasn’t to love about milling into the tube station at Finsbury Park with several hundred Stooges fans singing Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell?
Fact is, I recall that gig as if it were last night: from the early 70s, Iggy Pop had been given a new lease of life via his friendship with David Bowie, and Pop’s proto-punk band The Stooges had attained an enviable high regard from London’s leading punk rock acts. But it was as much Iggy as the music that the audience was into: I’ve never seen anyone before or since utilise their body as if it were pliable work of art. Bowie’s lyric from the Ziggy Stardust album track, Hang On To Yourself, about moving “like tigers on Vaseline” could have been written about Pop, for he slithered around, prowled, on that stage, barracking and beckoning the crowd to do things that, collectively, an audience really shouldn’t. There is something incredibly compelling about a performer that seems to care little about their physical well being; it’s a car-crash scenario that sucks you in, and when the performer is as fearless as Pop an element of genuine danger gets dragged kicking and screaming into a heady mix that includes potent rock music, stimulants of varying kinds and the sense that all of the audience are misfits or miscreants just like you.
I remember leaving the venue and walking towards the tube station, jostling my way past other fans, and thinking not only how invincible was my belief in the power of brilliant music, but also how invulnerable that belief made me feel. 35 years later I still feel the same (performing pop clowns notwithstanding), but I have often asked myself why is that the case? What is it about the live music experience that continues to scratch at what is clearly a severe itch?
Some might think that a person of my age (I’m over 50 and barely give it a moment’s thought, believe me) would be more suited to worrying about the watering of his indoor tomato plants than the scheduling on his wall chart as to whether he’ll go to Norwegian punks Honningen or Sea Sessions one night, or Plan B or Body & Soul the next. Frankly, I’m unsure why music can make a body seem as if it can withstand torture (no doubt neurological scientists and academics would know), but there is one thing I am absolutely certain of: try telling that to the vast majority of people my age or younger, and they’ll look at you as if you have two heads.
It’s as if once you reach a particular age, then certain pursuits you once held on to for dear life should automatically fade into the distance. And so when I’m asked about what I did at the weekend or last week I inhibit myself from expressing my true feelings. “I went to see a band,” I say. “Oh, which one?” they query. “Well, you might not have heard of them – they’re called [for example] Spook of the 13th Lock”.
You can immediately see their interest diminish as the lack of recognition registers. “Were they any good?”, they ask. Here is when I hold back, replying with a brief, “Yea, they weren’t too bad…”, when what I really want to say is something along the lines of how the band fuse post.rock, prog rock and psych rock with traditional folk idioms, occasionally enveloping songs with shrieks of feedback and Krautrock wig-outs. But I don’t. Instead I ask, “How’s the family?”
It’s a curse, unfortunately, that many people of a certain age/era think live music is the preserve of those so much younger; the amount of times I have heard people younger than me saying they’re too old for rock and pop music is something that causes me concern. Don’t they know what they’re missing? Clearly, the cut and thrust of a live gig experience that isn’t sitting down on chairs on a crisp lawn to watch Leonard Cohen (great though the man is) is something they should experience but don’t for fear of being discomforted. But, one supposes, in the same way that ardent gig goers to open-air festivals gradually transfer their bones from sleeping in tents to hotel rooms, so the live music experience mutates from one of excitement to indifference.
I don’t necessarily see it that way, and that’s not just because most gigs I go to I write about and get paid for my time and effort. No, the reason is because the live music experience – like theatre and other areas of performance art – is a vital component of contact with a sense of what’s real. In small spaces you can see it in the faces of the musicians and the audience – and there is no better sense of communion than with a crowd that, en masse, understands the music as well as the band. If the space is large, and if the band is good enough, then the size of the venue and the audience adds to the atmosphere. Whether it’s Whelan’s or Vicar Street or Croke Park don’t dare try to deny that a collective fit isn’t a sight that makes your eyes water and your mouth smile.
Like bands, however, the gig experience differs every time. Occasionally, gigs are awful and ordinary; other gigs, however, oscillate between good, great and out-of-this-world, and touch a part of the human system and spirit that creates what can safely be described as an eargasm.
Inevitably, it’s the latter that mean the most to me, and probably the least to those who have little or no interest in live music. And here’s the rub: there are, quite likely, people who are untouched by the effect that live music can provide or provoke. I understand that open-air festivals functioning under constant showers of rain, rivulets of mud and the promise of too many people under the influence have few benefits; I appreciate that people talking loudly behind your head, standing firmly in front of you, or shoving their way past you as they spill their beer over your footwear is not good for the notion of karma. Yet the blend of voice, music and words (truth, humour and some manner of sexuality and charisma, too) can be intoxicating. I don’t necessarily yearn to be impressed, or even thrilled skinny or driven delirious every time I venture into a small venue or an open-air barn, but I won’t say no to these if they happen.
I’ll be seeing you at the next few gigs, then? Bruce Springsteen, you say? Followed by Rihanna? Followed by a lower profile act you possibly haven’t heard of? Yep, I’ll probably be at those. You can’t miss me – I’ll be the compact 50-something guy with short hair, straight-legged jeans and Doc Marten boots. With memories of Iggy Pop in the back of my head and expectations of whoever’s on stage in front of my face.
Oh – and would you mind not stepping on my toes? Thanks.
Tony Clayton-Lea is an award-winning freelance journalist who writes on pop culture, movies and travel for a variety of publications, notably The Irish Times and Cara (Aer Lingus in-flight magazine). He lives in County Meath, Ireland. Check out more of Tony’s work at tonyclaytonlea.com ; follow him on Twitter @TonyClaytonLea
By Any Other Name
– By Jane Williams
On the night the man asks the woman to move in with him and she says yes – sweating curry, Lambrusco and dope; they exchange impossible vows. He promises never to leave her. She promises not to drive him crazy or tie him down. They joke about sex on tap. They make a pact to speak only the truth.
The kitchen blackboard is fixed to one wall. A window of permanent night. Tiny white shapes appear and disappear like stars that have nothing and everything to do with the man and the woman. They chalk their to do lists, phone numbers, quotable quotes. And once, after a discussion about not listening, about talking too much – the word embellishment. Scrawled in his handwriting, underlined twice. Who suggested a woman ruins her chances by talking too much? That a man is at his strongest when silent?
When, ten years later he uncharacteristically starts telling her how beautiful she is, she knows he has fallen in love. With someone else. No, this isn’t true. She knows nothing of this. Believes in everything to the contrary. Is this her problem? An irrational, unshakable belief that anything is possible? That will and wishing can make it so? Even in the face of rumour and recurring dreams – the woman tells herself they are meant for each other.
She asks him once. Just once. She’s heard other people ask. Namely actors in day time soap operas (what is it about daylight that makes the watching of soap opera so much less forgivable? As if we are only free to choose under cover of dark …).
What are they doing when she asks? What do they wear? Is it the beginning or the end of another day? Or does her question stop play somewhere in the middle? Perhaps they are in the kitchen. Heart of their home. Where they comfort eat, drink and smoke and call it decadence, hedonism, and sometimes, when they are feeling more hopeful – living the good life. Where they ponder the big questions. The big picture questions that take them away from themselves and each other a little further each time. Deep and meaningfuls in which they talk about respecting the rights of the individual. About love as a romantic construct. About timeout and space and the odd weekend away. From each other.
Perhaps he is standing in front of the old combustion stove at the end of the Blackwood table with the Rubenesque legs. The table he made with honest hands at technical college, years and relationships and so many conflicting truths ago. Maybe she is sitting, legs curled, on the velveteen couch she has learnt to stroke as if it were the family pet.
Are you having an affair? she asks. And he answers No, noI’m not having an affair – adding her name onto the end of the sentence like a full stop. Like the Monopoly card that reads: Do not pass go. And she doesn’t. If he flinches she cannot see it – but love as they say …
When she tries to leave, the word trust appears on the blackboard in both their hands. He stops kissing her on the mouth when they make love. They stop making love and start having occasional sad sex. She masters the art of crying soundlessly.
Sometimes, she half stirs from sleep in the middle of the night to sense him whispering in her ear. When she tells herself these whispers are declarations of love he has not yet found the courage for in naked light of day, she dreams of a much older woman telling her it is time she shed her fairytale skin.
Mostly she dreams of lesser men who try to woo her only with chocolates and flowers and of him walking toward her with the fuzzy smile of a middle aged hippy, taking her hand, leading her away toward a purer light. But sometimes she sits up suddenly in bed, still asleep, and starts screaming until he wakes and says her name and tells her to stop. Night Terrors, the doctors tell her. Pavor Nocturnus. Usually the sufferer has no memory of the episodes. But she remembers once, holding up by the roots of its thick and untamed hair, his decapitated head. Like a spoil of war.
Each day becomes a new part to try out for. A desperate misrepresentation of self. He tells her he does not like these inconsistencies. He is waiting for her many faces to fuse into the one he can call Beloved.
She tells him she has always been here. Waiting.
Hear me he begs. See me she counters.
The kiss as a symbol of all that is missing in their relationship, weighs heavily and draws the fatefully perfect memory of her first real kiss, at the electric age of thirteen. She’d heard all the first time stories. About a clashing of noses and teeth, slobbering tongues and always a hand bruising a new breast. About shallow depths and shelf life. But this is not how it is. The boy kisses her first on the cheek, a tender questing. When their mouths join and open together she is aware only of the seamless fluidity of the movement. The strangely validating familiarity of it. And how like coming home this falling together seems.
As a woman in bed she reads about sex as an industry. She learns that some prostitutes prefer to leave kissing, that most intimate of gestures, out of their working lives. Protecting sex acts from being mistaken for anything more personal by either client or worker. They say they are saving their kisses for their lovers. She tells the man this but he cannot see past the implied insult and they do not speak of it again.
The woman learns to kiss the man with her eyes when he comes home, with her hands as she waves him goodbye. She walks on her toes but makes fists of her hands.
Once, after throwing something heavy and hard at the wall behind his head, she learns that acts of self defence can lie dormant then break through out of context.
He retreats behind the invisible shield of his silence. She looks to the blackboard until its black eye stares her down and she knows their days are numbered.
A fog settles between them. It barely allows for the illusion that this a rough patch. That there is a clearing up ahead into which they can build a different life. The one they imagined before the drugs wore off and their bodies grew wary.
One day after a weekend away he comes to her in the garden and unexpectedly drops at her feet, burying his face in her belly, as if she is carrying their child. Holding him this way she wonders, not for the first time, how they will survive each other.
The end is not marked by any of the usual clichéd, tell tale signs: A lipsticked shirt collar. An earring caught under the back seat of the car – the glint of it alluring and misleading as fools gold. The expectant then disappointed breath (not her own) when she answers the phone.
In this new millennium it is the shared laptop that cannot hold its tongue. Emails slip through the deletion process revealing true love has another name, negating all that went before. In this way their worlds end and begin again. In an agony of truth: memories implode, hearts tick over, stars appear and disappear
Jane Williams is an Australian poet and short story writer living in Tasmania. Check out her blog.
Intro and Outrospection of a Latecomer to Narcissism
– By Ewan C. Forbes
Who is this man who stares out at me from these photos? He looks perennially happy, though sometimes this looks forced. His friends are my friends. And what friends they are. He looks comfortable in their company.
He is familiar yet distant. He is someone I could be said to have known my whole life, yet his face is as unfamiliar to me as those of my similarly introspective inner-city neighbours. I don’t know what it is but there is something I don’t like about him. He fills spaces I thought I inhabited, and he does so as a mirror inversion of those relatively few interactions with my own form I have committed to memory. Those encounters were the lie: this is the truth as the rest of the world sees it.
The man in the mirror was never me, and I would not recognise my symmetrically-challenged face in an uninverted form were I to pass myself on the street. I know this. From the photos.
” ” I sleep
” ” we be friends
” ” I get a job
” ” I lose weight
The drop-down options of despair compiled from the searches of those who we think of when we say everyone. Is this a mirror, an inversion of truth, or a photo? More optimism maybe. Lets explore the realms of possibility, together.
” ” make a star on earth
” ” live on mars
” ” still be friends
” ” trust the police
More exact maybe, more practical.
” ” I lose weight
” ” I make money fast
” ” she slap
” ” I stop eating
No! Rubbish! The whole world’s worth of information at our fingertips… and this? Again!
” ” you describe yourself
” ” I look bald
” ” you identify oxygen
” ” I look with a fringe
I push the laptop away. I don’t think a search engine is a mirror or a photo. Metaphors can only take us so far, and if either were apt I would be terrified.
` But the unfamiliar man in the photos was jarring too…
One more attempt.
” ” I know lyrics
” ” the world end
” ” I die
” ” I know
Ewan C. Forbes lives and writes in Aberdeen, Scotland. His work has previously appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Sand Journal (as Ewan Forbes), and in Digital Science Fiction’s Visions Imprint (as E. C. Forbes). Recent Google searches of Ewan Forbes and E. C. Forbes bring up Sir Ewan Forbes of Craigievar (who started life as Elizabeth Forbes-Sempill) in the former case, and a ‘California corporation engaged in the manufacture and sales of high-end erotic electrostimulation products’ in the latter. Ewan C. Forbes said to say hello and to wish you well.
Photography – Jane Riddell is a writer of contemporary fiction and an enthusiastic blogger, including penning letters from a Russian cat. In addition, she loves travel and photography. She is the proprietor of an editing service, Choice Words Editing. Jane holds a Masters in Creative Writing and her first novel, Water’s Edge, will be e-published by ThornBerry Publishing in Spring 2013. Check out Jane’s website. Follow Jane on Twitter @JaneRiddell
I learn through Facebook that Julia is dead. This from some guy I have never actually met. I stare at his profile picture for ages, communing with his image and the momentous message. Soon my newsfeed is buzzing with death, and we all form a group: Julia’s funeral arrangements. Although they are not calling it a funeral, but a valediction. I stop myself from posting something sarcastic.
It’s not going to be a religious ceremony, thank God. All that comfort of the litany makes me want to turn a blind eye to the gaping void; believe me, I know first hand just how terrifying that dark mouth is.
Julia’s dead, and I have stopped existing in a shared past, in our communal memory. There is now only my crappy recollections, and whatever is left in Julia’s extinct hippocampus — perhaps the memory of me like a hippo at campus (I was on the large side then), who the hell knows. She’s going into the ground in a cardboard box. Most of us won’t have a clue what to do. With the usual, at least you know to stand around looking sombre and repeat words after someone, and stand up and sit down in a clean room with a polished box. This alternative thing sounds totally like Julia (although it’s not an alternative to actually being dead, so I don’t see the point).
I never caught up with her again; she was never on Facebook. She had a profile, but no picture, she was inactive. She’s bloody inactive now anyway. Ha! I am not laughing. I’m driving, feeling the lumps grow all over me, from my stomach to my throat, to the aching cold sore that broke out last night. I wish I was going to see her. Even to see her body in death — her corpse, let’s not dress it up — would be something. The old traditions have it right: sit around the body and laugh and sing and talk, and make it have happened over and over, and then put the body in the ground. My phone bleeps and glancing down at the empty passenger seat, I read that Caroline has just checked in at Julia’s valediction.
Julia would not have believed how connected I am to the lives of others; the words ‘social’ and ‘networking’ are the last I would use about myself. I openly express my emotions and my whereabouts (my opinions always came for free): in other words, I update my status. It’s amazing the freedom that little box gives you (no offence, Julia). I never had this kind of help at college. I struggled with Julia, her openness, her romanticism, her offensive sentimentality. I felt more comfortable with Caroline, her sensuality not asking for declarations. I think Julia was waiting for the tortured creature inside me to crawl out and be known, a slick of repressed emotion oozing its way onto our sheets. She was waiting for me to learn emotional articulacy. Poor girl.
I remember us one evening side by side on the sofa. Julia sighed, turning towards me,
“You’re not talking to me.”
“I have been talking to you.”
“No, you haven’t. All you said was ‘how many metres square do you think that living room is?’ That is the best you can come up with.”
“Julia, we’re watching a home improvement programme. What do you want me to ask? What would a woman ask – ‘how do you feel about this living room extension?’”
She looked at me, a world of exasperation.
“You never, ever tell me how you feel.”
I didn’t know what to say, I truly didn’t. I expect she was thinking about her past romance, with Percy fucking Shelley.
I remember this conversation (poorly no doubt, there is no digital record), partly because this was the day that I slept with Caroline, and the day before Julia and I split up for good.
Caroline had been there later that evening looking absolutely gorgeous. She was drunk, so I imagine she had some excuse for betraying her best friend (although to be honest I’ve slept with quite a few best friends over the years, and none have seemed overly plagued by conscience). I was sober and had no excuse, and although I wasn’t eaten up by guilt afterwards, Julia spotted straight away that something was wrong, so I told her. Not a smart move it turned out.
I arrive and it’s very awkward as there is nowhere particular to go. Me and a few others are just standing around on this hill overlooking the sea. If Julia were here she would describe it beautifully. The sun is low, long beams of light, it’s cold. There are quite a few people here, all looking like they’ve arrived at a party with nowhere to put their coats. I’m sure there must be a few pairs of eyes on me, just like I’m scanning the crowd, trying to recognise some faces. Some stand out, instantly, from their digital selves. There’s Shane, knew him at college, one of Julia’s old mates. He’s a Facebook friend. He is married and his last holiday was in Mozambique (‘cool pics, hope you enjoyed’). He has liked a picture of me at a birthday party, and was sorry that I had the flu last month. No one has clocked me yet, or not enough to come up and say hello. And then I catch someone’s eye, some middle aged woman in one of those expensive proper coats; I look and see flickering underneath that it’s Caroline. She walks over, smiling.
Everyone fancied Caroline, she was stunning and clever and funny. I can see her profile picture hovering above her, off to the left, and it distracts me as I look at her physical self – lines, blotches, the roughness of anxiety when I shake her hand.
We don’t have the usual awkwardness as all that was broken when she friended me online. First my stomach turned over reading her full name, then unabashed curiosity, comparing how we’ve aged, and finally she became demythologised, an ordinary face posting on my newsfeed. The opening small talk is easier too, as I know that last week she had some dental work done, and she must know that I got pissed and embarrassed myself last Saturday night, she’s probably seen the clip of me Greek dancing with Dave. I know she works part time, is a strict vegetarian and likes sci-fi and apocalyptic movies. So we cut to the chase.
“It’s unbelievable, isn’t it?”
“She’s the first one of us ––”
“Makes you think ––”
“It does, I know. You’ve gotta just, like, make each moment ––”
I feel oddly comforted. I don’t have to ask how she’s been for twenty five years. The burden of communication is light. She leans in towards me,
“She’s the first real friend — you know what I mean — to die of it.”
This fact somehow unites us, like an amicable conspiracy.
“You know, statistically there’s bound to be another one of us here today who’s on the way to meet their maker soon.”
“Or meet oblivion.”
“Indeed, or meat oblivion,” she giggles, we both giggle, we guffaw. It is not at all funny.
I find I’m having too good a time and remember that I’m at Julia’s funeral and I should be a little more tactful. I try to say something deep.
“Julia was –– well, Julia was Julia.”
“Did you get over her?”
I change the subject.
“Did you guys stay best mates?”
“Nope. Didn’t see her after college. Didn’t hear from her for years until Facebook.”
“Yeah, me neither.”
“But she was inactive.”
We look at each other, the joke gaping at us from the proceedings at the front, and guffaw again.
Someone is signalling for us to gather round, and soon a quietness breaks out. I notice Gregoria standing beside the box, tall, pale. She is Julia’s daughter which comes as a surprise, she must be in her early twenties. She is about to read something. I hope and pray that it is not Stop all the Clocks (she would have to change all the pronouns anyway, it wouldn’t work). I have had enough weddings butcher great poetry, now this whole civil burial thing is opening another can of worms. Everyone waits, and Gregoria begins.
“It’s lovely to see so many old faces here, Julia would be pleased that you all came – although of course it doesn’t really matter to her now…” — a damp laugh rises in condensation — “but it matters very much to John.”
If my name weren’t so common I’d draw some conclusions about her marrying a John, but then, I’m most definitely a Johnny. John nods. Gregoria talks about Julia and suddenly she is there in front of me, fresh faced and gooey with love, laughing into my up close face.
I am back in our old rooms, smoking, the radio blaring, the sun hot on the windowpanes, years sprawled out in front of us. Julia is lying on the bed inhaling a cough, Caroline is sitting cross legged on the chair, posing. I see John beside her, his hand on her shoulder, possessive. We live in our own drama, of flirtation and deception and the full on depth of the future, aswim in all the mucky loveliness of twenty something angst and sex and fierceness.
I was healthy then. I didn’t have pills, medical bills, estimated remaining time.
I look at Gregoria (for god’s sake, Gregoria?) and I can clearly see Julia’s eyes, her dark brows. But as she turns to the side, the hand she lifts to her face, her profile, they are unmistakably mine.
Too late. It’s too late.
I have stopped listening to Gregoria, I have been watching her in slow motion, something like fear and happiness at my throat. But it’s time now to put the box in the ground. The small huddle of people gather more closely around the hole and I see they are going to play some music, and then I realise with a shock it’s going to have to be that song, one we listened to all that summer, and Julia is gone, gone, sloping ungraciously into the earth, and now the music plays and I don’t snigger and joke with Caroline because now I can’t ignore what’s happened to her, what’s happening to me. So I sing a song of love,
Ruth McKee has been shortlisted for RTE’s Francis MacManus Short Story Competition. She is working on her first historical novel. She is a PhD graduate in literature from Trinity College Dublin and lives in Skerries with her two small children and three cats. Follow Ruth on Twitter @RuthMcKee
Short Story: Seamus Gavara and the Fat Capitalist Pig
– By Patrick O’Flaherty
‘Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me.’
‘Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me.’
The class fell silent and bowed their heads like chastised pups. This only encouraged the two boys to sing louder, ‘Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me.’
The jaw of Mrs O’Brien – the religion teacher – now touched the floor. She tried to speak, then shook her head, burst into tears and ran out of the room. Seamus Gavara and his comrade Fiachra ‘The Beard’ Cassidy – les enfants terribles – had to find themselves a new school, but the events of that day forged a bond which would change the course of Irish history.
Seamus and Fiachra had been friends since the age of fourteen. Magnetically drawn to each other by John Player Blue cigarettes and their Rage Against the MachineT-shirts.
Together they would fight the machine to the death.
Throughout their teenage years they waged war against capitalism. They refused to wear watches, to recognise Greenwich Mean Time, buy Nike trainers or to eat in McDonalds. They were small but tenacious thorns in the arse of the multinational cartels. They demanded a new Ireland – a socialist republic – a proletarian utopia. Such was their anarchic reputations that even Joseph Higginsbottom – the Godfather of Irish Socialism – wouldn’t take their calls. He distanced himself from their seditious agitation.
Fiachra first came to international prominence as a member of a far-left Marxist revolutionary ornithological observation group in the Columbian jungle. Fiachra’s research led him into close contact with the terrible poverty of that continent and the massive gulf between rich and poor. Seamus joined Fiachra in South America on a J7 Visa from college. They bought a Honda 50 motorcycle and for twelve weeks rode around the beaches of Cancun and Rio de Janeiro observing the tremendous destitution of the indigenous people and the breath-taking beauty of the local bikini-clad women.
Seamus kept a diary of this historic trip, which later became internationally famous; it contained amongst other things a list of his many sexual conquests. He was known as ‘The Ginger Conquistador’ and the ladies found his freckled charms irresistible.
The adventure wasn’t without its struggles however as both Seamus and Fiachra suffered severe sunburn on their pale Irish skin and also fell victim to the scourge of intoxication in their undying efforts to help the South American people. This epic journey crystallised their egalitarian beliefs.
The Ireland of the Celtic Tiger years was a playground for the corporate mafia of the giant American multinationals. Like 1950s Havana, it was mired in corruption. It was Havana with potatoes and rain. A safe haven for the faceless conglomerates to wash their profits – a developer’s paradise, a brown envelope Shangri La.
Seamus and Fiachra wanted to rid Ireland of the cancer of greed, of the culture that spawned the fat Hibernian capitalist pig – Hiberno Vulgarianism. That pig had grown grotesquely plump during the now extinct Celtic Tiger. It had its snout in the filthy trough of property speculation; its ostentatious displays of wealth were vulgar in the extreme. It was time to put the pig on the spit.
Being nouveau riche hadn’t suited the Irish psyche. The Irish were used to centuries of famine, forced emigration, evictions, and good old-fashioned misery. The newfound affluence drove the natives instantly mad, which was only to be expected of an island of perennially oppressed peasants, some of whom were still living in mud huts until the late 1800s. But the mood of the people had darkened. The Teflon Taoiseach – the Irish Batista – Gertie O’Hern had been dethroned. The Emperor had no clothes.
The arse had fallen out of the country. The world was in turmoil, the bankers and the developers had fucked the people – big style – and the government had let it happen. The socio-political landscape was transformed. The people wanted change – they wanted blood. Now, twenty years after first standing up to the machine in the form of Mrs O’Brien, Seamus and Fiachra and their newly formed party – The People’s Party of the People (PPP) were ready to seize that opportunity.
Seamus Gavara had revolution on his mind but his ideological thirst was yet again quenched by a crippling weakness for the drink. He awoke with his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth. His body shook violently. A black beret nestled on his wild mane of ginger hair. His world was upside down.
‘Seamus, are you dead or alive in there? Do you know the time? Tis three o’clock, the day’ll be gone. You’re sleeping your life away,’ said Betty Gavara. Betty was Seamus’ long suffering mother, locally famous for her superlative scones, an open mind and an acerbic wit often sprinkled with sexual euphemisms of an adolescent nature. It kept her young at heart, and with a thirty-four year old ideologue son in the house, she needed to be.
‘Ya, ya, Jesus Christ I’m awake. Will you leave me alone woman?’
‘My heart is broke with that young fella,’ Betty said, throwing her eyes up to heaven.
Seamus jumped up out of the bed, staggered around looking for the clothes that he had on before tentatively venturing out of the burrow that was his room. He met Betty in the hallway. She was upside down and speaking in tongues. He looked down upon her undulating double chin and attempted to decipher her utterances. Betty shook her head and wondered where did it all go wrong for her. She wondered what the fuck was she after rearing? She went back into the refuge of her kitchen to the soothing sounds of RTE Radio One to make a fresh batch of scones.
Seamus, now terror stricken by his fragmenting mind galloped towards the front door, past the reflection of his head high red Doc Marten boots in the hall mirror.
‘I’m headin mam, good luck, talk later,’ he shouted, as he ran out the door.
He emerged to a sky of lush green fields, populated by black and white Friesian cattle that were upside down happily chewing the cud. They were surrounded by lines of grey stonewalls. An ethereal lawn of white cumulus cloud covered the ground in front of him. Brambles, whitethorn and blackthorn hedges, horse chestnut and tall slender ash trees hung perilously from the sky in complete disregard to Isaac Newton’s theory of gravitation. The Fire Brigade rescued a meowing dog from an ash tree. Crows and finches glided over little fluffy clouds to the sound of barking horses at 30,000ft. A line of chattering neighbours passed the house walking on their hands. The road moved beneath stationary cars like a travelator in an airport departure gate.
To Seamus, this had all the hallmarks of a CIA operation – sensory manipulation – a classic mindfuck. They must have spiked him with hallucinogenic drugs. Seamus had seen the film The Men Who Stare at Goats. He knew what those fuckers were capable of. He wasn’t going to crack. The Bay of fucking Pigs he thought. Maybe they got to Fiachra? Fiachra and the CIA? Seamus ran over the various scenarios in his head. Nobody could be trusted. He needed to pull himself together. He took a deep breath and tried to reassure himself – just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.
America – the cheerleader of free market capitalism had been the sole superpower since the demise of the Soviet Union but the capitalist system was on its knees. China was a monolith and America was crippled by its debt due to its ill-fated Middle Eastern campaigns of imperialist aggression in the aftermath of 9/11. The Western civilization was in decline, soft centred and bloated. Seamus and Fiachra studied the great Roman, Mayan and Aztec empires, all of which imploded and crumbled making way for new and hungrier powers to emerge. Powers like India and China.
The PPP were ready to exploit this new reality.
Ireland was a key battleground because of its proximity to Europe and its importance as a corporate centre. The extreme austerity measures imposed by the troika of the EU, IMF, and the ECB had led to the disillusionment of the people.
The PPP made their move with a campaign of Blitzkrieg electioneering. Their posters were omnipresent, quoting Mao underneath the letters PPP, ‘A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first few steps.’ The people had turned to the People’s Party of the People and the revolution would be televised on TG4 as a party political broadcast after Sergio Leone’s classic western Once Upon a Time in The West.
Seamus made contact with the Chinese secret service under the cover of a takeaway restaurant ‘The Dragons Belly,’ in Rathkeale, Co Limerick. He walked up the red neon-lit curried steps of the entrance, opened the door and walked towards the counter. A young girl sat watching a Chinese game show on a television mounted on the wall.
‘I’ve an order in for a Mr Kung Po.’
‘Gavara, Seamus Gavara.’
‘Ah Mr Gavara, we’ve been expecting you. Welcome to the belly of the dragon. Pleeze come with me.’
Seamus lifted the countertop, walked underneath the television to the sound of a clapping Chinese audience into a back room where he met the man known only as, Chang.
The PPP used their burgeoning political power base to make representations to the Minster for Offense about the building of a Chinese missile defence base at Shannon Airport. In return the Chinese promised significant inward investment – a major project in Tipperary involving the construction of a satellite city as a European base for the Chinese companies. This project would create thousands of jobs and would forge a co-operative bond between Ireland and China. The local TD Mickey Maowry had played a pivotal role in the development due to his extensive contacts in the Asian business community.
Mickey Maowry was known as a man to get things done and was wildly popular amongst his constituents despite high profile scandals involving the awarding of lucrative licenses for massage parlours and the illegal importation of Rhino horns into the greater Tipperary area. Officially announcing the project, Mickey Maowry told the Tipperary Enquirer:
‘After several years of hard work and personal sacrifice I have delivered
this project for the good people of Tipperary who have stood by me during this campaign of vilification by the national media. I would also like to thank my long suffering wife Pamela, my sons John, Johnny, Pa, Patrick and Paddy, Mickey and Mickey Junior, my daughters Bridie and Bride and our Labrador Blacky. They are my rock and without them I would be just a lonely hardworking bachelor politician without a family or a dog. Thank you.’
The Chinese had extensive interests in Africa and in the mineral rich Australian outback. Their hunger for resources was insatiable. Their tentacles were truly global and Ireland was next for Chinafication.
It was during these turbulent times that Seamus met Saoirse. A sultry brunette, tall and elegant with a smouldering sexual allure. She was a force of nature for which Seamus had no resistance. He melted beneath the scorching flame of her ferocious eroticism.
Saoirse had travelled the world after college working casually in bars and restaurants. She liked to dance and drink in a narcotic haze. She exploited her erotic capital. Saoirse was wild as the wind but still found time for her volunteering and charity work, including a month long spell at an orphanage in New Delhi. Her father Sean had a top job in Googlesoft, Ireland and he bankrolled her decadent lifestyle in between her ephemeral periods of gainful employment.
Seamus fell helplessly under Saoirse’s spell. They hit the bars and nightclubs. They feasted on each other in an alcohol-drenched banquet of depravity. The world around them blurred into an inconsequential mass.
Meanwhile, the Chinese had begun construction of the base at Shannon and the satellite city outside Thurles.In the July electionsFiachra and the PPP’s newest apparatchik, Mickey Maowry, were elected on the first count helping to win the party an overall majority.
At a White House press conference the American President and the leader of the Tea Party administration Mitt Palin spoke about the Chinese presence in Shannon, ‘The Irish and the American people always had a special relationship, a shared history of struggle and endurance. We will stand by our friends in Ireland. This is an act of aggression, a threat to democracy and to the free world.’
There were high-level leaks about a covert invasion and CIA funding for the far-right anti-immigration party – The III ‘Irish Ireland for the Irish.’
Seamus had become increasingly paranoid. He saw CIA agents at every corner – old women pushing trolleys in supermarket car parks, street cleaners sweeping the roads, parked taxi drivers. They were everywhere, always seeming to avert their gaze whenever he tried to look them in the eye. Falling silent when he walked into a room. He moved into a new apartment with Saoirse and checked it daily for bugs and cameras. He checked light fittings, ashtrays, picture frames, clock faces. Even the fruit bowl, ticking them off a list as he went.
Saoirse was worried. He was distant and had a glazed look in his eyes. She decided to confront him.
‘Seamus are you alright? Is there something on your mind?’
‘You’re not yourself. You’re very quiet with me. Did I…do something?’
‘I’m sorry Saoirse, it’s just with the PPP and the negotiations with the Chinese, things are mad lately. That’s all. I’m just…a bit stressed out. I’m grand.’
‘You don’t look grand. You look off your fuckin game.’
‘It’s those CIA fuckers…fuckin with my head.’
‘What…are you talking about Seamus?’
‘Mind control, sensory manipulation, Project MK-ULTRA, the Men That Stare At Fuckin Goats. At my mothers house…the bastards. She’s nothing to do with this.’
‘Calm down hunny…it’s ok. Breathe…talk slowly.’
‘They must have spiked me the fuckers. After the Rage Against the Machine concert I woke up and everything was upside down. I was trippin out. You saw what the Russians did to Litvinenko. Poisoned the cunt. With his tea. His fuckin tea. Polonium-210. They’ll get me too.’
‘Don’t you remember Seamus? The acid? We took the acid after the gig. Remember? Got it from Tim O’Leary in town. Larry in the Sky with Dinosaurs? Seamus calmed down a little after their talk. He still thought that the CIA were somehow involved but he kept it to himself. The less she knew the better, for her own sake.
The PPP were monitoring Seamus’ erratic behaviour. Nobody could jeopardise the Party. Fiachra distanced himself from Seamus and had taken to smoking big Cuban cigars. He was elected president of the PPP.
Seamus was now only a peripheral figure in the Party he built but he didn’t care. All he wanted was Saoirse. He loved her so much he took a manufacturing job in Googlesoft to help pay the rent of their apartment. Saoirse’s father Sean pulled a few strings and got him the gig. They settled into a quiet life of debauched domesticity.
Saoirse took up ballet after watching the film Black Swan. Seamus purchased his first watch to observe GMT because his overlords at Googlesoft demanded strict adherence to the clock. Betty would drop over fresh scones to supplement their Big Mac meals.
‘Mrs Gavara, is it yourself?’
‘Saoirse, how many times have I told you? Call me Betty.’
‘Sorry…Betty. Come in.’
‘I’ve some fresh scones for ye. Where is he, where’s my boy?’
‘He’s working overtime. He’ll be home at seven.’
‘I don’t know what you’re doing to him. I’ve never seen him so happy. You even got him working. I thought he was still one of those antichrists, marching and protesting and that. We’ll have to keep you Saoirse.’
‘They’re anarchists Betty.’
‘Sure, they’re all the one, aren’t they?’
‘ I’m going nowhere Betty. I love him. He’s a heart of gold. He’s idealistic and…vigorous.’
And with that, both women laughed heartily.
Life was blissful, well; it was until Saoirse choked on that chicken bone.
If there were any lessons to be learned from this inglorious expiration it would be to avoid dancing while eating a chicken leg. In a Swan Lake finale Saoirse choked while practicing after the day’s ballet class as Seamus dozed in front of the T.V after a feed of drumsticks. Saoirse never could sit still. Seamus hit the bottle.
The Chinese intent on world domination bought Googlesoft. A drunken Seamus was at his evening Mandarin course when he heard that Sean and the entire board had been sacked and the Union shut down. Overnight wages were quartered and working conditions deteriorated. A heartbroken Sean jumped from a tenth floor window of the Googlesoft HQ killing himself and a RTE News reporter in the process.
The PPP had consolidated its power through emergency constitutional reform. Everything changed overnight. Ireland became a one Party State with Fiachra as its figurehead but everybody knew the man known only as Chang really ran the country. Ireland was now closer to Beijing than Boston.
Seamus was drinking three bottles of whiskey a day. He lost his job. He wouldn’t open the door to Betty. He was skin and bone.
Some months later an American journalist interviewed him about his history in the PPP. Seamus criticised Fiachra and the betrayal of the PPP’s original ideals. He was immediately arrested and sent to the Curragh internment camp. Witnesses claim he mounted one final protest outside the office of the camps commanding officer, comrade Zhan, where he shouted pro-American, pro-democracy slogans. He was promptly executed by firing squad.
But Seamus lives on. His organs were harvested and it’s rumoured that a Shanghai millionaire has one of his kidneys and is doing well.
Patrick O’Flaherty is from Limerick, Ireland. He has previously been published in The Moth magazine and in theNewerYork. His writing is an involuntary response to the chaos of his mind, to the insanity, absurdity and the beguiling beauty of the world around him. Folow Patrick on Twitter @PaddyofNazareth
Photography: Brian Bennett is an actor and theatre-maker from Dublin, Ireland. He is currently working on his first novel and a feature script to be filmed next year. He is also working on a photography exhibition entitled ‘Blue’. Follow Brian on Twitter @brianbennett84
I’m red-wine drinking, mirror checking, window stalking, waiting for Oli to arrive and its driving me insane. I arrived home from work in the city less than an hour ago but I’ve taken a shower, shaved my legs – just in case anything happens- ironed my white see-through (but not too see-through) shirt, caught the six o’clock headlines, hoovered the living room carpet and because I simply did not have time to do them, I’ve thrown all the dirty dishes into the basin and hidden it in a cupboard. Well, I don’t want him to think I’m a slob.
And now I’m waiting. I’m listening to Oasis. Loud. Oli likes them too which is great news. I pad up to the window, adjust my stockings a little higher, smooth my skirt back into position. Great, you look great. Slowly peep between slatted verticals hoping to spy his Golf GTI pull onto my driveway. It’s a lovely car, sporty. His other car is back home in Iceland. I can’t remember what it is, must have been too tuned in on his husky accent to catch that part. He doesn’t drive too fast. I like that.
Where is he? I said anytime; he said seven. It’s already half past and I swear I can hear the tick tock of an oversized grandfather clock I don’t own in my head, chiming out the minutes, the seconds until he is here and I’m pulling open my front door, a flushed, generous smile on my face. My tummy growls. I should have snacked I knew it. My head feels slightly woozy and I know I’m going to be drunk if I have another glass. We are going to this chic Icelandic restaurant in town. It’s beside the graveyard. I’ve been but Oli hasn’t. It was my idea; he didn’t even know it existed. You get to cook your own meal if you want to, they bring you these square slabs like miniature tombstones, but unlike cold dead stone, these have been deep-oven heated. You choose fish, fowl, game from the menu – I’m going to have duck, I think then cook it at your own table, by candle-light. An up-market in-door barbeque. I love it. The chef is married to Bjork’s sister, I’m not kidding.
When his frown turned to a smile, I could tell Oli was happy I’d suggested that. A taste of home. He frowns quite often and I’m never sure quite what he’s thinking. I think I talk too fast for him to keep up. Or sometimes he doesn’t believe what I’m telling him.
What if he’s not coming? What if he comes and he doesn’t bring a condom? What if he comes and he does bring a condom? I’ve never been nervous like this before. But that’s Oli, for you. He’s different. Sincere. Respectful.
We only met two weeks ago. Is that all? It seems so much longer. He calls every night and we laugh and chat effortlessly. I remember it took me all my time to say his name correctly: Olafur Jonsson. The Jonsson part was alright, clearly, but Ola-fur? Ol-a-fur. When he says it for me in his deep accent, it sounds normal and I turn pink and flick my hair off my neck. So now I just call him Oli and he doesn’t seem to mind.
What he seems to mind about a lot is how we met in a gay club. I really can’t understand what the fuss is all about. It’s hardly the 1970s. He wanted to know what I was doing in there.
“Never mind me,” I scoffed, “what were you doing in there?” It transpired that we had both gone with a gay friend, the club was open later and we could have more drinks and a little dancing too. I am not suspicious of him in the least; after the way he kissed me so thoroughly in a quiet booth, I do not think he is gay. I’m not so sure exactly what he thinks about me.
Two days later, he took me out to lunch and we munched foccacia and soberly discussed jobs and music and I asked him all about Iceland. A cheek-peck kiss goodbye. There were night-time dates; we wanted to see more of one another. After a week, an amazing prawn croissant and several well-creamed frapucinnos, Oli made his move. I had wondered where the arduous man of our first encounter had been hiding, replaced by such a gracious gentleman. Second thoughts about me? Not quite what he ordered?
But then it happened. Okay, it almost happened. He took me to his immaculate flat.
“My neighbour runs an interesting business. It’s the burial for dogs,” he told me. “She makes a lot of money. It’s based on an old Viking tradition.’
When Oli removed most of our clothes, I noticed his hairy chest. He would have made a fine Viking, not only was he blonde and hairy chested but his strange silences and intensive stares seemed to define what I imagined a real Viking to be like. I half expected him to grunt, hauling me down until I fitted into him: having his wicked way with me. Burning villages. Preparing for battle. Taking women forcefully.
I’m getting turned on again. I wish he’d hurry up.
We’d kissed and rolled around the floor of his everything-its-place living room. Then we’d stumbled down the hallway and kissed and rolled around his pristine-clean double bed. Flushed, and perspiration drenched, I felt tropical fever hot. Panting for breath. Gasping in anticipation.
And then a sudden flattening heart-rate, a cease-fire of action, a change of mood when he said “Do you mind if I ask you a personal question?” into the clammy darkness.
‘Go ahead,’ I squeezed out, my voice small and tight.
“Have you had many one-night stands?”
“Do you carry a condom?” An unexpected giggle escaped me.
“No,” I said, fighting to disguise my amusement. It wasn’t that I found his question so absurd; it was the weight of his tone, his school teacher sterility.
“Do you?” I ventured.
“Usually,” there was an uncommon emphasis on the ‘s’, his accent sounding more foreign somehow. “I didn’t think I’d need one tonight.”
I liked his answer. A surge of respect swept through me. I nestled closer; chest hair tickled my side. He must like me, more than just another girl, another conquest.
“Do you use condoms?” An interrogation; a flicker of irritation ignited. I felt his clean shaven face pressed into my arm, spied the shape of his clothes in the dusky half light, not scattered randomly but folded, sensibly on a chair. I disliked the implication of my being unclean, somehow.
“It depends,” I said, carefully, “different if you’re in a relationship, isn’t it?’ I waited for his reply.
“Yes, you’re right.’ I imagined sighing out loud, relieved and feeling pleased as if I’d passed some kind of test. Oli squeezed me against him. “Let’s go to sleep now.”
The next time we were alone, the same thing happened. But I couldn’t stop laughing when he asked, “Have you got any plastic bags tonight?” in that sincere, foreign voice of his. He laughed with me when I told him, “No?”
As I drifted off into frustrated sleep, I wondered if he felt intimidated by me or if he had some kind of problem, surely not at his youthful age……why go so far and stop…did he simply want to be sure of me? Were all Icelandic men cautious and willful? Could I be learning a lesson here?
I’m red-wine drinking, waiting for Oli to arrive and it’s driving me insane.
Scots-born Alison U Miller writes poetry and prose. She studied English Literature at the University of Aberdeen. In 1996 she won the Alan Spence Creative Writing award and prizes in Lanarkshire Writer of the Year. Her poetry and articles have been published in The Scotia Bar Poetry Anthology, The Evening Times, Gloss Magazine and Orlando Sentinel. She completed her first novel Jaded Genes whilst living in Florida and is searching for a publisher. It’s a gritty, character driven story about identity and family turmoil. Curtis Brown called her writing ‘mature and well written’. Alison considers it not a bad starting place. Follow Alison on Twitter @MillerMatters
Short Story: The Autumn of Youth Summer Camp
– By Paddy Doherty
Seville; Spring 2012.
The sun sheepishly slips away to another part of the world. We’re drinking on Helen’s terrace. She’s just moved into a new apartment with a German girl, an English guy and a Danish guy. The Dane is geeky looking, and seems disconcerted by our presence as he lurks from cupboard to cupboard in the kitchen. He strikes me as the type of guy who hates living with other people, someone deeply frustrated with his house-mates’ lack of respect for the house. He probably just wants to cook and clean and go to sleep, and maybe get up early at the weekends to take pictures of churches and castles and whatever other shite has been left lying around from years ago.
The German girl and English guy, who none of us have met before, are quite sociable. They pitch in with their opinions every now and then, especially when the subject turns to travelling. The English guy is getting on my nerves a little because he keeps going on about Hong Kong and New Zealand and a million other places that he’s been and attempted various different extreme sports.
Travel broadens the mind, and lengthens the anecdote.
‘I did a sky dive in Mexico, I never thought I’d have the balls, but I did it! I nearly shit myself though!’
Oh yeah? Well I went canoeing in Galway once, and I did shit myself! Beat that, dickhead!
The German girl is sitting in a nice blue dress, cradling her legs from the breeze. We’re all sprawled across the terrace on blankets laid out by Helen. She always prepares for company in this way; providing crisps and crackers and other unnecessary nibbles. She’s made some tortilla omelette for us as well, and is telling our friend Anthony that it’s not that difficult to make. Anthony’s either genuinely interested in this or doing a very good job of feigning it.
Helen’s also wearing a dress, but hers is red, and she’s wearing navy tights to go with it. I sense she’s a little put off by the presence of her new German housemate, because even though there’s not much between them, the German is definitely prettier. Helen’s still very cordial though.
Ken and Linda have come along for the first time in a while as well, but it’s not long before they slip back into couple mode, kissing and fondling like we’re not even in the room. It always annoys me when couples act like this. It’s not just because I’ve never had a boyfriend, or a proper one at least, it’s because it looks pathetic and childish the way they just hang out of each other like monkeys from a tree. Whenever anyone speaks to Ken, Linda immediately starts stroking his hand defensively or cuddling up to him like she’s marking her territory, and I’m thinking it’s only a matter of time before she squats over him and takes a piss.
Anthony has a funny story to tell about one of his students saying the alphabet but I can’t be bothered to listen to it. I’m hungry and wondering when we’re going to leave, or whether Helen is going to rustle up something else for us to eat. I go out into the kitchen to get another litre of beer from the fridge. Helen follows me and starts saying how nice it is that we’re all together again and that we’ve been really bad for meeting up recently. I nod and agree, but as we’re talking, I’m making snide internal remarks about her – calling her a cunt and the like. She’s talking about how this is the type of night she’s been needing for the past few weeks; just a few close friends and a few beers and a few bottles of wine and a chance to find out what’s been happening with everyone. This annoys me because she’s always going on about this in one way or another, everything revolves around the group. She seems to want this idyllic social life like something from a coffee ad or some American sitcom. I reckon she’s one of those girls who grew up wanting to be in the cast of Friends; to waste away in the Central Perk Cafe retelling the same old stories again and again until there’s no life or truth left in them whatsoever.
We go back outside and I put on my hoodie and take my warmer shoes out of my bag to put them on. Anthony has a story about a guy from home that did something once and we’re all listening to that. I get bored and start watching Ken and Linda fidgeting with each other and I’m wondering whether they’re just counting down the clock until it’s reached a respectable time to leave. Helen has waited for Anthony to finish his story so that she can talk about one of the first drunken nights we had together. We listen and count the embellishments, but no one says anything or refutes her claims except for Anthony – who claims not to remember any of it. She is prepared for this, however, and quickly rebukes his challenge by reminding him of ‘the state he was in that night!’
The German girl has stopped listening, and I’m staring at her now, wondering what she really thinks of us. But I remember at the same time that most people probably aren’t as judgemental or as cynical as me, and I’m reminded that this is something my mother once said about me when she’d thought I wasn’t listening.
Drab conversations float from person to person but they always make their way back to Helen or Anthony. Helen’s trying to make plans for us all for the following weekend; month; summer; year; and has a few ideas for things to do after that as well. I nod along half-heartedly at her proposals and make vague commitments that I have no intention of honouring. I look over at her English housemate again and wonder if I’ll be drunk enough to fuck him later, or whether he’ll be drunk enough to try it on with me. I can’t decide if I’ll bother my arse with him and think about how it might just be easier to pick up a horny Spaniard in whatever club we end up in.
Helen tries to get everyone to agree to a festival in June before our contracts finish. Anthony says he’s definitely going to go, but Linda reckons that her and Ken have other plans and aren’t that into festivals anyway, because of all the mud and rain and music. They drift out of the conversation again and Ken starts kissing her neck. Helen’s housemate says he doesn’t think he’ll be able to go and reminds us that he’ll be home by then and that he’s not actually a TEFL teacher. His company have just sent him here for six months because his job is really exciting and allows him travel around the world whilst making shit loads of money. And he’s fucking amazing at it but still down to earth enough to hang around with a couple of native-speaking English-teaching imbeciles.
Eventually it’s twelve o’clock and there’s talk of the neighbours complaining and that it might be time to leave. Then Anthony mentions that Harry is in town and that he might meet up with him. The others all say something to the tune of: Harry! I haven’t seen him in ages, what’s he up to? But the truth is we haven’t seen Harry for a long time because Harry has found a better group of people to hang out with and hasn’t wanted to see us. He had only hung out with us out of necessity, when we were all at that hostel together where we first met.
Anthony might be the only one holding onto the notion that they’re still friends, because Helen certainly knows, and is unenthusiastic about meeting up with him for precisely that reason. Nothing depresses her more than the thought that our little fuckwit posse might not necessarily be thecool gang.
That’s what expat life is like in a nutshell, a fucking summer camp.
Ken and Linda couldn’t care less. They only hang out with us so that they can tell their workmates that they met up with friends at the weekend and didn’t just walk around the city holding hands like a pair of love-struck idiots. The two newbies have nothing to say about Harry, and I suspect they might be forming a similar impression of us and soon joining him at the fringe of our little group. I cringe when I think of the word group and how it sounds so much like Helen and the way she obsesses over our social life.
Helen mentions that a few Spanish guys she met one night are going to Malandar, and that we should go there because the music is always good: ‘you can have a dance and a cheap drink; plus some of Pablo’s mates are fucking fit!’
When we get there it’s the same old story; la misma mierda. Helen goes off with one of them and Anthony has gone to meet friends at a gay bar, which he never invites anyone to, because, for some reason, he’s not quite come to terms with his sexuality, and probably hasn’t even come out of the closet back home. Ken and Linda abandon ship and I’m stuck with the German girl and Helen’s house mate, and they’re stuck with me.
The music is really loud and rocky and people keep bumping into me, but none of the guys that do are interested in talking. I down my third whiskey and coke before realising I’ve got no more money, so I start dancing with Helen’s housemate in the hope he’ll buy the next one. He tells me his name again and I try to memorise it: Alan, Alan, Alan; but I just end up calling him Dave instead. He is polite and dances with me a little, but I soon realise that he’s actually into the German girl. He keeps looking past me at her while we’re dancing. I move in closer to him and flash a hand over his cock, but just as I’m about to try to kiss him, I admit to myself that he’s not really interested, so I fuck off outside for a cigarette even though I don’t smoke.
The first guy I ask says he doesn’t have any, but then a fat friend of his offers and so I start talking to him. He puts his arm on the small of my back as he crouches to listen. This is all the encouragement I need. The second time he does it, I pull him over to the wall and start groping and kissing him with enough tongue to ensure that he knows he’s getting laid tonight if he just comes back with me, which he does.
When I get him home he doesn’t want to waste much time with foreplay. He pushes my head down to his cock for a blow job. I deliberately apply too much tooth so that he will want to have sex instead, which he does.
He’s too heavy when he’s on top so I manoeuvre out from underneath and mount him, grinding and grinding until I feel him inside me. I ask him if he’s cum already, but he says nothing. I get off and he starts touching himself to harden up, but then I discover that he just wants to masturbate over me, so I let him cum on my chest and try to remember exactly when guys stopped wanting to have sex and started wanting to just ejaculate on things instead. Then he falls asleep and I take out my vibrator and give myself an orgasm with that, all the while thinking about how it’s funny that the orgasms are quicker and vastly more reliable with it, but there is still something about having that weight on top of you. When I’m finished I check the time on my phone and see a message from Helen which says:
Where are you?
Paddy Doherty, 25, is a native of Longford currently living in Seville. His stories have appeared in the Irish Independent, Boyne Berries, The South Circular and Writing4all Anthology. Check out Paddy’s Blog.
I’m worried sick about the ice age. I’ve marked it on my calendar. They say that aeroplanes will fall into frozen seas and that all the oak trees will go extinct and that humans will scavenge in the blinding snow to survive. We will freeze, they say, but I’m not worried about that. About freezing. I’m not the type. When I was a little girl, when there was still rape seed in the fields and frogspawn in the ponds and white teeth in most people’s faces, I found a lady dead on the street. Killed by the cold. Curled up still like a heap of clothes. No, I’m not worried about that.
There are less buses every day. There was a time when London rolled on a red set of wheels, when one could step from bus to bus without ever touching the ground. A time when buses rode nose to tail all across London. So close you’d swear they were red carriages on a single, tangled, city wide train. Nowadays you have to wait in the cold for the buses. Yesterday I waited an hour. There will be more waiting during the ice age. Mark my words.
I haven’t slept in a bed for twenty years. The very suggestion of it seems absurd to me now. I sleep sitting up. I dream as much as anybody. I fidget and I flicker and I wake up as confused as everyone else. We build bathrooms and decorate them with steel and glass and clean them with bleach and water and think it something civilised but really we’re just animals shitting in a corner. There are women in the tabernacles who can sleep with their eyes open. Some who can sleep hanging upside down. I can only sleep on the number 171 bus.
The 171 is the oldest running bus service in the nation. It runs between Holborn station and Bellingham Catford bus garage. It was here when Saint Pauls still stood. When the Thames flowed. I try to imagine the 171 back then and I wonder if I would’ve recognised it, running on petrol, being ridden by people who drank tap water and ate animals and passed saliva to one another with their mouths. They should cut this bus in half and have it dragged by dogs. They should do it if it helps. I would work my fair shift dragging it if it helps.
Sometimes the buses die in the road. Their engines give out and their lights blink out and all the passengers look to one another in the darkness. In the ice age the dead buses will form glaciers and crawl along their routes driven by the ice. In the ice age people will have to learn to walk again. God knows they will have to try.
There are bus graveyards out there in the country. No one goes to the country. Only criminals and murder victims and bus drivers towing dead buses along the narrow roads. It is dark in the country at night. Real darkness. The light has abandoned the country like everything else, it crowds in glowing tenements and squats in squalid lamp posts. The light has moved to the city.
Sometimes I dream that the 171 picks me up from my home, that I open my curtains and it is there outside waiting, turning its wheels nervously, shrieking its horn like a baby bird. Sometimes I dream that the 171 is my home, not one particular 171 but all of them, a fleet of homes all hung with the same wall paper and rattling with identical antiques. Sometimes I don’t dream at all and eight hours of living escapes me in blackness and droning, eight hours lost as though it were shaken loose out of my pockets.
I’m worried sick about the ice age. I can think of little else. They say that the whole world will lose its fingers and that men and women will walk on stumps for feet and that we will shiver for the rest of our lives. But I’m not worried about that. There was a time when people could touch one another without fear of infection, a time before gloves and gas masks when strangers would brush their lips across each other’s faces and lovers exchanged fluids without vaccination. No I’m not worried about that.
There are less buses every day. Eventually there will be none. The last bus will have a route that takes in most of London, it will stop at every house and pick up everybody and it will be the only moving thing on the road, steering through untouched snow and navigating the traffic jams of dead and dark and frozen buses. When the last bus dies all the bus lanes and bus timetables and bus shelters will die too. When the last bus dies it will leave a nation standing in the cold, checking their watches, hailing their arms at the approaching ice age.
I haven’t slept in a bed for twenty years. When the last 171 has gone I won’t sleep at all. I will wander the bus lanes awake. I will try to sleep on other buses, whichever there are left but it won’t do any good. There will be a pair of headlights on in my head. A horn sounding indefinitely. Before the sickness people used to sleep in the same beds. Children. Couples. I can’t imagine it. They kept fish alive in glass containers and they buried each other whole in boxes in the ground and they slept in one another’s beds. Sometimes when I wake up on the 171 there are other passengers sitting nearby. They look at me as though I might be dead. I’m not. I’m not dead.
The 171 is the oldest running bus service in the nation. There is a plaque in Holborn and in Bellingham Catford bus garage commemorating its longevity. It was here when the buses had aisles of two seats side by side and people would sit next to each other with their legs touching. It was here when people still tried to talk to god. When people meant it when they said god forsaken, god damned or god only knows. It was here back then. If I was made of bus parts I would donate my body to keep the 171 running. I would donate it without question.
Sometimes the buses die in the road. It’s happened to me before. To a bus I was riding. Once it happened when I was asleep. I woke up in the darkness. I tried to open the doors and when I found that I couldn’t I went back to my seat and tried to sleep. I wasn’t sure but I think there was someone else on the bus too. I think there was something breathing. I couldn’t be sure. In the ice age we will make the dead buses our homes. We will forget they ever moved.
There are bus graveyards out there in the country. No one goes to the country. There is only snow and bones and foot prints in the country. It is where things go to die. I should like to find a bus graveyard. God knows I should like that. Somewhere a dead fleet of 171 stands rusting. I could make a home there in the rust. I could learn to see in the darkness. Learn to live in the bitter cold. I could.
Sometimes I dream that the 171 is alive, that it is old and kind and that it is dying. I know that if the 171 could give promises it would never break them. I know that I could trust it with my life. Sometimes I dream that I am riding the 171 years and years and years ago, when there were still swimming pools and dragonflies and before all the birds were culled and when the ice age was just a joke people told over dinner. Sometimes I dream of that and the light in those dreams is always thin and pale and the air in those dreams always smells of orange trees and the time in those dreams always passes so quickly but nobody is worried. Nobody is worried about anything.
Tom Offland lives in London. He is twenty four and a half years old. He writes on the bus to and from work. His favourite bus is the 171. He blogs at http://happyhealthynormal.tumblr.com/
By Brian Bennett
As a young boy I moved to a house
by the sea
by the trees
and by the shadow of myself far out in the water.
In the lands
in the trees
and reflected upon myself through passing tides
there was a shadow.
I watched a reflection of myself on the water
as it danced under moonlight on the surface.
A thousand years went by and nothing.
One thousand years more then something.
It changed and glowed while the water ebbed and flowed.
Then one night by twilight
after shouting to the sky with all my might
I realised I was the same as him, as her, as them and
as the silent breeze that flowed over the water which I swim.
I was not dead nor did I die another death for
my soul sat comfortably in me as he did, she did, or they did.
Except I was the one with breath.
It’s a hard thing to love oneself.
To be forgiven for that which was taken as easily as you gave it.
But it’s not impossible.
And the people who came and stayed in that house by the sea all left after a time. Then more came. And more left after a time. All in all it was always me. By the sea, by the trees, with the tide taking me, day to day for what seemed an eternity. But not to me.
And when I had forgotten how to swim someone showed me. And when I had forgotten how to climb someone showed me. And when I had forgotten how to sit and be still, I showed myself. And with that act the last of him, of her, of them finally left and what did I find? Myself – shadowed upon the water. And a river and trees and a house by the sea where the people who stayed are still staying right with me.
And on the very last day I’ll be there
watching the coming light with an engulfing stare.
And the lands before me formed by the lands behind
will be shaped by the place in which I did reside.
And I’ll have no mask behind which to hide
for my face will be bare and my eyes close to blind.
And my home, here, at this very time will be close to bursting with the coming sight of a man made God shown up by the light.
And it reaches us, this impasse in the day, when orange turns yellow and black turns grey. People fall where they come, if they come and they may, with silence all laughed for the joke as they say.
These city’s streets are young and they are old with whimpering souls scared from stories that were told.
This is not a statement of intent nor an observation regarding my youths lament but a thought or question or dialogue or hope for myself and mine and you and yours and whomever may be watching while they listen, while they read.
In the farm lands
in the lakes
in the lanes
off tenement squares
in the playgrounds
in the parks
in the fields
off country roads
old men are dying.
Young girls can’t stand
their own thoughts and
young men seem to have forgotten.
We still swing from tree to tree as if it’s not us, oh it’s you but not me. As if we were never here in the times before time. As if we’ve never seen the time before now. Here. Where we are. Where we come from. Where we’e going.
Old women still sit and knit and talk of it.
A little buttercup cradled in arms, from star to star swung gently as if in all the endless reaches, in all the spiraling arms, it’s the only thing that matters. The only reason for myself and mine and you and yours and all of ours to walk these streets. Which we own. Which were built for us. By us.
We are living and we have lived and we are held up for what we will live.
Not by ourselves but by that what we wish to see, by that which we wish to feel, to kneel, to kiss, to caress and to bless. To make a holy of nothing as if it’s the most desired of all homely truths. Mine and yours and ours and theirs.
This is life. This is how it is. How dare you ask? How dare you live?
I have lived. I am living.
My soles are burnt from kicking burning bridges. From bitches and fiends and friends and dicks ripping at seems for late night flicks. And I flicked. And in return I was flicked. And I wanted to do it. And I wanted it. And I’m here. Living. And that’s there. It has lived. And I’m here, living. While that’s there, living.
And I’ll fuck you all as I’ve fucked you all for the Earth is very big and the universe very small and our streets are buckling under the weight of nostalgia. These streets are buckling under the weight of nostalgia and I’m here living unbeknown to you all. Watch me. Watch what I do. I mimic the rest of us as they mimic us too. The Earth is unbeknown so they’ll never catch us. They can’t and they won’t. I swear to you all that they don’t know. No one knows. It’s unknown. But that is OK. The unknown. It’s unknown so why fear it? Why demolish and sink that which is much higher than you and me and this and that and the knowledge of this and the knowledge of that doesn’t make me any happier. It doesn’t put a smile on my face. Are the things you pray to smiling on their face?
And as we fall there will be no catch, no lock on the door that was always there before, no safety net to save us from what we fret, or hand with a slap for our trousers stained wet.
Bone dry. When we fall we will be bone dry. There is nothing to fear for us when we die.
When I thought of him, and her, and they way before I had stood on a porch as the sun went down. With friends, and family, and you in surround, it could not compare or know what was in my heart except me, myself, and I. And with that the sun and the sky, the green grass growing and the later night lie, I had slept. Content in myself for what I truthfully felt. I slept a sound sleep. Content in myself as the one that I seek.
And it reaches us, this impasse in the day, with thoughts of ourselves and what they find who’s to say.
I am not the day, neither are you. Nor the night either, green grass sky blue. They are of another thing, of another dream that will take care of itself and we’ll see as we’ve seen.
It’ll be aright. It’ll be alright. When love finds the love it was supposed to find. When I’m not looking for my sacrosanct sin. When different colour flags are held by different colour skin. When I see all too clearly that which some can’t see. When I give myself over to such uncertainty. For certainty is holding us up, this buttercup and me.
A buttercup. That’s all you pray too. A thing of beauty. And it is beautiful I know and the buttercup is still there but if the buttercup was brought down to the base of man, would I dare say that it’s not?
It all doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things but a pebble in an ocean in a land made of time. But for some the pebble’s all and for them that’s the find.
Why do you build up the buttercup? When all you have to do is think it down? It messes you around and then worst of all it never answers when you say it will. What I’m saying is; the thing you’ve named as buttercup doesn’t answer you nor should it because that would be ridiculous no? For a plant to talk but we know they do talk. They do sing and react to our vibrations exact. To the tone of our tongue and the singing song sung. And that’s enough. It should be enough.
That should be the starting point.
On the very last day on Earth
as the sun sets and becomes
nothing but brilliant light.
I will walk North. Head first into it.
And be fine. And be OK.
Because I’m not in my knees
for the light kneels to me.
In this city and others beyond, around kitchen sinks, chatter that chitters in the time hereafter will destroy young girls, young men, for how much and how long cannot be echoed and viewed along the lines that we know for we view them all wrong.
I am not my father nor my mothers woes. I am a man unto myself with many made foes. The hardest of all when uttering a call is for myself to answer. Is for myself to answer myself. And find what I find. And hear what I hear and see what I see and with that comes the knowledge of you unto me.
I’m sick of fearing that which is unknown. The beauty is in the seems, in the joy, how it’s sown. I’m sick of adhering to you and myself, to the glory of it and the glory of wealth.
Is this what I am? The sum of a man is how much he works, how much he can earn, what can he buy not what can he learn? If you could control your death, and live a long life, in the final moments what would you answer when asked, “What are you here for?”. If you think that thought and really think that thought then the questions that arise can emancipate closed eyes. The light once dim now begins with a flicker. But if, with that light you’re driven away, then turn back around and get on your knees quicker.
On the very last day on Earth
as the sun sets and becomes
nothing but brilliant light.
I will walk North. Naked and free.
Exposed to this world that’s for you and for me.
And what my skin endures will change how I walk, how I see and I feel, and that is our burden but I certainly won’t kneel. I will spread my arms open for the engulfing light, a shimmer cascaded and I’ll know I was right. But this certainty is uncertain and with that, the question is wrong, for none of us know and that was right all along.
Brian Bennett is an actor and theatre-maker from Dublin, Ireland. He is currently working on his first novel and a feature script to be filmed next year. He is also working on a photography exhibition entitled ‘Blue’. Follow Brian on Twitter @brianbennett84
Photography: Miss Pearl grew up in Dublin and has strong connections to Wicklow and the West of Ireland, via Sydney. Miss Pearl has been an imaging professional in various guises for the past eight years and loves making pictures.
‘During periods of high stress the patient has been known to reduce his activity to its basic level of functioning. Last month after his treatment he rendered himself silent, he slept, ate, defecated, you could set your watch off his schedule but trust me, it’s nothing to worry about’
‘You’re just not listening doctor, this time is different, he’s…’
‘Practically recovered, the medication has been upped to 40mg, he’s stable, average functioning but this is normal post-treatment’
The doctor was taken aback with varying levels of disbelief. He had performed a thorough examination less than 24 hours previously, resulting in his decision to release the patient following improvement within 48.
‘The nurse went to check on him at 2 am, found him that way, frozen, a line of drool seeping its way down the left side of his chin. I have the audio transcript of his last session’
Transcript Audio File: Session #7
It’s that question, it gets me every single time. ‘Is something wrong?’ I try to tell them, about the confusion in terms, you know? Some thing. Thoughts just need externalization at times, inside the indescribable parameters of your consciousness they mean something wonderful, full of clarity and purity and then somewhere along the lines between mouth and mind and mind there’s a scrambler, that’s what I call the internal processor that pulverizes prior to vocal expulsion: taking a fully fledged idea and readjusting the structure, phrase, content and meaning of your beautiful intention. You know what I mean don’t you? Maybe you don’t and that’s fine. Most people fail to notice it because they feel the scrambler is their mind, when really it’s a minor player, a rusty cog in a well oiled machine. It starts early, but not as early as it would like to. I know how this might sound, but it’s not a separate entity I’m talking about here, it’s internal, just observable, like everyone can hear their own thoughts, you know, but they don’t come out as they should sound, as they do inside, that’s the scrambler. Remember the first time you tried to talk to someone you had your eye on, not adolescent fancies, real connection, someone you were inescapably drawn to. The monologue starts prior to execution. Just walk over, say something, a witty observation, nothing too whimsical or cheesy. Try ‘I saw you from across the room, you look beautiful, I’d like to talk to you, if that’s ok, and if it goes well I’d like to buy you a drink’. That way you don’t come on too strong, or seem like you’re trying to get her drunk and sleep with her, right? Wrong. Enter the scrambler: ‘You’re a ride love, tequila?’ Needless to say, I’m still single. The scrambler recognizes that the world would shred the open-book quality ‘you’ to pieces. Are you still with me?
Good. Sometimes I worry that I don’t come across good or well. What was I saying? Oh the girl in the nightclub? A seven, I like to think I can hold my own with a woman that beautiful. Very knowledgeable about Mexico and border relations. Interested in post-colonial literature of the Americas. Takes all sorts to make a world. We tend to fall for images you see, that distance that was initially between us, the chasm of disparity, was not traversed by my knowledge of her personal interests, no sir. And of course her abrupt rebuttal reflected that. Very strong individual. It’s dreadfully overcast isn’t it? I try not to think of the sky as a metaphor, with the exception of days like this, that v-shaped slice looks like the outward ripples of a boat crossing, Charon’s raft, floating across this pulsation of shapes. Don’t mistake me for a poet.
Well it isn’t exactly like that, the digressions are important you see they’re all part and parcel. I apologise for equating her attractiveness in obtuse numerical; that was particularly base of me. I didn’t see a data spreadsheet, I saw a beautiful woman, not quantifiable. So I walk right up to her and I notice that her dress fastens in the front, which I hadn’t seen before but I could see the practicality of it, I mean, for her that is. I’m not saying she’s a whore. We get to talking and she’s quite intelligent, from her interests as I’ve mentioned, so by now I’m intimidated, insecure. She’s way hotter and smarter than I’d consider myself.
No not really. Well you may have a point. You see my mother was a housewife. But that’s somehow relevant in your eyes I can see, some kind of bat-shit Freudian binary trap. I say my mother was an underachiever, by no fault of her own, circumstantial you see, comes with the times. And at this point I can hear the gears grinding into place. Click click click. So she was a waitress, and you get to thinking that I’m intimidated because my initial relationship, the blueprint for how I’m going to engage with the rest of the world is built off that, my mother, a woman, a housewife, not living up to her full capacity.
In everybody’s eyes, it’s not enough now to be just a housewife post second-wave feminism. Anyway, say I disagree. I say that I’m NOTintimidated by or attracted to this woman because she’s the polar opposite of my mother. Then, in all your analytic wisdom you say that she has the similar qual….
Well we ended up heading back to mine.
I got past it, we hit it off. Where there’s a will…But anyway we’re sitting there, cheap wine, cracked glasses and telltale limbs, signal fires lit and I’m taking aim. So I’m there and I can’t believe it and then I recall the book I read most when I was, like, 15. It’s about the pursuit of the unattainable, the narrator was a metaphor for you know, social outcasts and stuff.
Yeah that’s it. And you know the opening line? So she’s getting undressed. And I fall to my knees, raise my hands in the air and scream it, you know, ‘CALL ME ISHMAEL’. And it’s like I’m above seeing myself doing it, but I had dropped a few ‘shrooms. Needless to say the first thing you think isn’t the pursuit of desire, the manic obsession, that for that moment she comprised the entirety of my world, she’s thinking, ‘did that prick just call me a whale?’ Then everything goes quiet, still. She’s screaming and I’m on my knees, she’s leaning over me and I see each contortion of her anger, I’m getting spray from the screaming. And I start to roll backward, like I’m being consumed by a wave. Just like this [Note: Patient re-enacts at this point in time] I mean is that fucked up or…
Colm Delaney spends a lot of his time balancing the delicate equation of ‘how much he reads’ vs ‘how much he writes’ (and seeing as how he wishes to be honest: how much he procrastinates). He has a B.A. in English and Philosophy and is roughly midway through researching and writing up his M.Litt thesis. He has a pet Rubik’s Cube which requires very little in the line of maintenance or care as it is an inanimate object. Follow Colm on Twitter @colmjdelaney and check out his Blog.
Flash Fiction: Jack
– By Anthony Ward
Jack awoke with a bout of coughing that would have knocked him out if he were awake. He lay there taking in the ceiling while recapturing his breath, before looking down at his feet. Jack momentarily questioned his eyes, as, instead of the usual sight of stub like toes, they appeared elongated—like fingers wiggling.
Jack lifted his torso in order to get a closer look and saw what he thought must have been his reflection rising up towards him. He rubbed his fists into his eyes, clearing any dreams from clouding his vision, only to find his actions mimicked from the other side of the bed. He looked closer, squinting to get a better look, and was flabbergasted to find his own face looking back at him with the same expression of bemusement.
He looked down to his torso and followed it to his abdomen. Here he paused, since, instead of his eyes continuing down to a pelvis, they began to rise up an abdomen, and continued to rise, until he found himself looking into his eyes—as if he was looking at his reflection, with the axis of symmetry just above his waistline.
“This isn’t happening,” they said simultaneously trying to laugh it off, and closed their eyes in an attempt to go back to sleep. But they couldn’t sleep. They felt wide awake.
They tried pulling away from each other. But it was no use. They then tried rocking back and forth in an attempt to roll off the bed, only to end up resembling an old fairground seesaw.
They struggled and struggled; but it was all in vain.
“I must be dreaming,” they said at once. “This can’t be real?”
Minutes went on for hours. The passing of time made the outside world appear more exaggerated, with people thronging to and thro in all directions.
Their frustration grew and grew until they started throwing punches at each other, landing their fists as many times as they missed in their buoyancy. Before long they were at each other’s throats—squeezing tightly. The sensation of them disintegrating rose like water in an enclosed vessel, until they lost consciousness.
When Jack came to, he found himself looking at the ceiling. He sighed with a sense of relief that circulated his body as feeling filtered through him from head to toe. He stretched his limbs to shake out the rigidity and wriggled his toes.
Suddenly, Jack jerked forward and looked down at his feet, and saw what looked like fingers…
Anthony tends to fidget with his thoughts in the hope of laying them to rest. He has managed to lay them in a number of literary magazines including Enhance, Drunk Monkeys, Speech Therapy, Turbulence, Underground, The Autumn Sound, Torrid Literature Journal and The Rusty Nail, amongst others.
Flash Fiction: The Flood
– By Shane Ward
The stones had been hitting the house on/off for weeks now. Children. Children of approving adults.
The rain was the heaviest anyone could remember. The river at the back of the estate had washed away a hundred-year old wall and the water was cascading down the tarmac paths, along the patios and into the houses. It was coming in underneath the door and bursting up in a fountain from the toilet. He sank back into the sofa, letting his feet soak in the dark, rising waters and switched on the telly. The weather forecast was on.
The room was filling up quickly. The surface of the water was dotted with bits and pieces from about the house, the Sunday papers, an upturned welly, an empty box of fags.
They’ll let me drown the bastards, he thought. A good ridding. They’ll be herding pairs of cats, ducks and beetles onto a big boat before they thought of him.
“Bad luck to yous! I’ll sit here and that’ll be the end of the bother.”
He could hear the room strain and slap about. It’d been a fair enough place to live. You couldn’t blame the house.
Then, behind the sofa, a huge pike rose briefly out of the water and smashed back down over the coffee table. A bastard pike? He’d been fishing pike his entire life. He’d once caught a twenty-five pounder that took him an hour to land. He’d opened up its stomach and found a child’s shoe in there.
A landing net hung by the front door. He waded through the room, the water rising up and soaking through to his unmentionables. He took the net in his hands and set off towards the splash.
He found it drifting, quite still, next to the fireplace. It was hard to move now, as the water was up to his chest.
The pike let him come right next to it. It thought it was camouflaged against the maroon carpet. He dropped the net behind its tail then drew the net forward along its body and whipped the net up, lifting the handle right above his head to bring the pike out of the water. It hung there, tangled and thrashing in the net. After a few seconds it came to a rest. The water was at his chin now and he stared into the black of the pike’s eye.
It was simple, violent and remorseless.
Shane Ward is from Ballybay, Co. Monaghan. He has had work published in Wordlegs:30under30, The Irish Times, Minus Nine Squared and on wordlegs.com. As well as writing, he works in theatre and is currently studying for an MRes in playwriting from the University of Birmingham.
Susan Prediger was born and raised in the USA, and has lived in Berlin, Germany, and, for the last 14 years, Galway, Ireland. Her award-winning photography has been exhibited by the Galway Arts Service, at the Botanical Gardens, and other venues around Ireland.
Ruth breathed on her bedroom window. Scratched boo with a fingertip.
‘Keep us,’ she whispered, scanning the Jericho Centre’s gardens. Snow dusted the bare oak. Gravel paths led to the gate. Eastward, far streetlamps twinkled. A fairy troop, thought Ruth. To the north, amber lights on high bridge cables blinked in a dull sky.
Grace joined her at the window. Fidgeted with her zipper collar. ‘I had a bad dream.’
Ruth studied the bridge. Stark iron like a goliath mantis over the river. ‘Tell me.’
‘It was spooky.’ Arms folded, Grace rested her cheek on Ruth’s shoulder. ‘You were in hospital. I wanted to visit. A stairway led up to the building. I was stuck on the steps. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t move. People stared from the windows. They looked scared. Like they knew I could never reach them. Then I saw it was you and me. Every window. I woke crying.’
‘It creeped me.’
‘Poor babes.’ Ruth cuddled her friend. ‘Let’s go. While it’s quiet.’
A portal cabin at the gate, a bald watchman opened the door. ‘Jackets, ladies.’
‘Hat, mister’ said Grace.
‘My head is immune to the cold.’
‘Doubt it. Looks like mince,’ said Ruth.
‘We’re ok.’ Grace stamped a heel. ‘Booted up.’
‘Cars are buried in Kent,’ said the watchman. ‘Six foot drifts.’
‘Grandpa said a snowdrift is Satan’s cloak,’ said Grace.
The watchman pointed at a field. ‘There’s His pup.’ A fox bounded stubborn, robust fur deep in snow, a zigzag channel up a slope. ‘Vermin,’ he said, and shut the door.
Saturday nights, boy racers parked near the gate revving souped Fords. Funland cabs. Prize seats for hug famished girls. Tonight was Tuesday. The road was white and mute and barren. Ruth and Grace linked arms and headed toward the river.
‘Enjoy your shopping trip?’ asked Grace.
‘It was good to be out. Shops were mobbed. There were two Santas in John Lewis.’
‘How was aunt Flo?’
‘Did she invite you to Christmas dinner?’
‘No. Dad’s going. But aunt Flo said she has a surprise for me in the New Year.’
‘Maybe planning a party for your sixteenth.’
‘Do you know something I don’t?’
‘I had a party once,’ said Ruth, sniffing.
‘I was four or five. Cousins were there. I had balloons.’
‘Nutter doesn’t remember my birthdays. Not one.’
‘She’s sick. Schizophrenia is a disease. I think.’
‘She’s the disease.’
‘At least you met her.’
‘Wish I hadn’t.’ Grace blew into cupped hands. ‘I liked the thought of her.’
‘You needed to meet.’
‘She didn’t know me. Her own daughter. I don’t belong to anyone.’
Town centre, an empty car park, four juvenile boys, hooded in tracksuits, played hockey with a cola can. The girls passed and play stalled. A lank hoodie sat on a graffiti carved bench.
‘They’re from the home,’ he said.
‘Taking your fleas for a walk?’ bawled a beak face.
Ruth squeezed Grace and hurried. ‘Ignore him, babes.’
A chin scarred beanpole stalked them. ‘Brollies, crawlies. It might rain. You’ll get a wash.’ He high fived the beak.
‘Remember soap?’ Beak bent, choked in hilarity. ‘Muck necks.’
The girls jogged, slipping. ‘Inbreeds,’ shouted Grace, vapour breath, shiny hair wild in a gust.
Up a cobble lane they halted outside a kebab shop. Pungent aromas hurt thin bellies. Ruth foraged a cigarette from her zipper pocket. Flicked a Bic lighter. She inhaled; face flared orange, smoke drizzling thin from her nose.
‘Last one?’ asked Grace.
Ruth nodded. ‘Share it.’
They smoked in turns. Keen drags, passing the fag. Grace took a last pull and tossed the butt. ‘Wish we had money for a kebab,’ she said, stomping, December devouring worn soles.
‘A large donner.’ Ruth smacked her lips. ‘Tons of onions.’
‘Stop it, Ruth.’
A man exited the shop carrying a family meal box. Gloved and parka’d like an Inuit. He dragged his eyes and loped to a sleek four by four. The fat wheeled guzzler pulled away, Eskimo man, bloat with revulsion.
Steamy flue heat had thawed a clearing. Grace sat on the warm cobbles. ‘He’s a stink.’
‘Pigs arse shite.’ Ruth kicked the slush curb. ‘Fuck hole.’
‘Wonder if he has a daughter?’
‘I was a baby once,’ said Grace, hands cosy under her bum. ‘Funny that.’
On the main road a church service had ended, congregation flooding the square. The girls fused in the flock, pink and lime zippers loud in a beige and brown spill.
‘Excuse me, lass.’ The old lady poked Ruth’s arm. ‘Have you seen my Malcolm?’ she asked, her eyes wet and glad.
‘I don’t know him.’
Pencilled eyebrows rose to her woollen hat. Plum cheeks puffed. ‘He’s an inspector.’
‘Sorry.’ Ruth shrugged. ‘Maybe he’s in the church.’
‘Don’t be a fruit. Malcolm hates church.’
‘Are you all right, Mrs?’ asked Grace. ‘Shall I get the priest?’
‘Mother.’ A neat man, coat and scarf, cut between the girls. ‘Can’t leave you for a second.’
‘She’s looking for Malcolm,’ said Ruth.
‘They’re angels, Malcolm.’
The man led his mother to a car. He turned and saluted the girls, a stiff middle finger.’
Elbows looped, they weaved out of the crowd. ‘Merry fucking Christmas,’ said Ruth.
‘His mum was nice.’
‘Pigs arse shite.’
Shivery, Grace nestled into Ruth. A road sign read half a mile to the dual carriageway. Traffic picked up. Cars, vans, trucks moaned past. Exhausts spewed black breath, rising sour and noxious in the dusk. On the embankment, Ruth squat and retched.
‘Holy pish.’ Grace spanked her spine. ‘You should have eaten something.’
Folded on her knees, Ruth vomited bile.
Grace massaged her neck. ‘Dump it up, babes.’
She heaved and puked a fizzy pool.
‘Chuck it out.’
Another sore retch, yellow slime strings swung from her mouth.
Ruth spat on the snow. ‘I’m done.’ She rested sucking and blowing.
‘Take your time.’
‘That was grotty.’
Grace touched her hair. ‘Feel better.’
‘Much.’ Ruth rose and sleeved her chin. ‘I nearly fainted.’
‘Maybe we should wait.’
‘It’s nothing to do with that. You were right. We should have had lunch.’
‘I couldn’t. I felt weird all day. Hungry now though.’
‘Me too. I’d kiss dog shit for a fish supper.’
‘Freak. You spew your guts, now you could eat a whale.’
‘Mental, isn’t it.’
Zippers shut at the throat; fisted pockets, they walked on, teary cold. Sleet hit and died. A crow squealed. They glanced at each other. Shied away. Fixed on the path. A mutual trance.
Close to the bridge a van slowed and parked on a bank. The girls saw a gloved hand adjust the side mirror. ‘Here we go.’ Ruth nudged and tugged. ‘Paedo patrol.’
The door window rolled down. ‘You hitching?’ asked a man, silver beard, glasses.
‘No thanks,’ said Grace.
‘Anywhere you want.’
‘We’re out for a walk on the bridge,’ said Ruth.
‘I can run you.’
‘It’s right there.’ Grace pointed, blueish face crunched.
‘I can run you.’
Arms locked, they mushed up the embankment, boots slippy sliding. Ruth glanced back. ‘Wonder if it has a daughter.’
Gritted stairs led to the bridge’s paved walkway. ‘Last one up is a fart.’ Grace ran the steps nimble as a foal. ‘I can taste the sea,’ she yelled.
A truck grumped past. Ruth wagged a red numb hand at her red numb ear. ‘What?’
‘The sea. Taste it.’
‘I love that.’
They dallied along the footpath. Leaned on the chest high railing. Below, broad waters lifted and fell and clapped. ‘Choppy isn’t it?’ Ruth gobbed a frothy blob. ‘It’s not the sea. It’s a river.’
‘Smells like shells.’
‘Maybe it is the sea.’ Ruth watched purple hills. ‘Grace.’
‘Do you really believe aunt Flo is planning a party?’
‘Probably sorted it weeks ago.’
‘Thanks, babes.’ Ruth climbed the rail.
Grace scrambled over and stood beside her, boots sunk in a snow shelved girder. Vehicles’ horns blared. The girls held hands and stared down at the syrupy blackness.
‘Do you think God is real?’ asked Grace, chilled and lost.
‘There’s a Devil. We know that.’
‘Pigs arse shite.’
They stepped off the bridge, into slappy icy air, and Ruth shouted, ‘So there must be a God.’
Michael Crossan was shortlisted for the Bridport Short Story Prize 2011. And shortlisted for the Scottish Book Trust New Writers Award 2011. In January 2012, the Atlantic Wire published an interview piece about his Cormac McCarthy Twitter parody. His novel – Morningplace – is written. Three years work. The story combines naturalism – the way people talk and behave – and big unnatural, dehumanising situations. Think esoteric Twin Peaks. London editor, Gillian Stern, said Michael is her next big novelist. He is researching agents. Born in Scotland to Irish parents, he plans to settle in his forefathers Donegal and write a dozen novels. Check out Michael’s Blog and follow him on Twitter @MichaelCrossan
Ólafía Lárusdóttir was born and raised in Iceland. She is an Arctic Biologist. Her interest in photography first started when she lived in Venezuela. Turning Circle By The Old Fish Factory was taken in Skagaströnd, in north Iceland.
You drive into the village, make a right by the church, and you come to the beach. No one is swimming. The beach is the end of the road. You drive along it to the turning circle where the fish factory used to be, and you circle back again on the same road.
Ahead of you is the one shop and the bank that doubles as a post office. You pull up at the petrol station. Here is where you work. You keep the older folks’ cars ticking over, and you sell sweets, soft drinks, and cigarettes to schoolchildren whose lives are just like yours used to be a few years ago.
The children who come by the petrol station are never alone. They walk in small groups to school and home again, always surrounded by friends. When they reach school they pull off their boots and leave them in the cloakroom to dry along with the herds of other shoes and boots, then pad around the corridors in knitted socks, as comfy as if still at home. Many walk further to school than the short way you drive every day from your parents’ house to the petrol station, but you never walk it, not even in high summer. It’s safer to drive, easier to pull a car round you than it is to pull on a coat and gloves. In the car you can just press play, and the music surrounds you and keeps you warm.
The village is not far off the Arctic Circle and it can snow here even in May, although nothing like the snow in winter. Then it’s so cold your face hurts, so dark that if it blizzards as you switch off the petrol station lights all sense of direction goes, everything shrinks to dark points of ice that needle your face. Once you were so lost you fell into the sea while trying to find your car. That night the water was colder than snow, although scientifically you know that’s impossible. The sea was not properly frozen, only caked in a layer of ice that crunched as your foot sank into the inky liquid below. Lucky for you it was only knee deep.
Some winter mornings – but this happens less often now than it did when you were a child – you wake to that special thick silence that comes when the town is awash with snowdrifts. On those mornings you don’t open the petrol station. It doesn’t matter. Nobody is going far, those days. You and your uncle take out the diggers and work to clear the town of drifts. This might take one day or three, all depends on the whim of the skies. Until you’re done, people hole up indoors and eat dried food, waiting for the freeze to end. Waiting for the light that can seem as if it will never return. Your brother disappeared one of those dark hushed nights, any clue that might have led to him blanketed in pure fresh snow. The police have a word for this, you heard them say it when they stood outside your house. ‘Snowdrop’. They saw you watching, and they hushed and turned away. But the word echoed silently.
Snowdrop. A body hidden under fresh snow. And the killer chose their snowstorm well. It was months before they found your brother. Twelve weeks, three days and three nights. Short days and long nights that stretched pointlessly, each like the last. All that time your mother stayed in her bedroom alone. Neighbours brought hot meals for the family and sat with her. My son, you heard her cry out to them, when is my son coming home? No one had an answer. You were her son too, but she never spoke about you.
You examined old family photos, convinced she had always loved him more than you, ever since he was born. Just one photograph showed all seven of you together, in height order. Your mother stood next to him; he was the only child taller than her. So alike. Blond, happy, smiling at your father who took the picture. In the next photo he and your mother were singing. They often sang together. Old songs, from the island long ago. Campfire songs.
The church was crowded out for the service, and part of you wondered if the killer had chosen the wrong son: he could so easily have taken one who would have been missed less. One who was less alive. He could have taken you.
Your father was quiet as always, and strong. A month after the funeral he cleared your brother’s bedroom and began to sleep there. You found your brother’s hi-fi and record collection in the garage, and his guitar. One day you put on a record in a half-hearted effort to teach yourself to play. After maybe an hour, your mother stormed out of her bedroom and raked the needle hard across the record, scratching a deep line in the vinyl. You stared at her. Then she hugged you to her and shook with tears. Afterwards she began to cook dinners again for you and the other children. This made you think of how, in winter when there are just a few hours of slanted sunlight to see by, a fishermen will make do with moonlight to get some fishing done. Yes your mother cooked hot meals for you and your siblings, yes she cleaned the house, but you never again heard her sing.
Winter is long and dark, that’s true. Each time it comes and sits on the mountains, it seems as if it will never leave. But when finally the sun swings up over the mountains and melts the snow, everything burns brighter and for two or three months the whole village lives twice as much. Lawns outside bright-painted houses are crowded with bicycles, boats and trampolines. Children bounce skywards in slow motion, freed for once of their heavy coats, wearing fleeces or hand-knitted jumpers. And everyone has things to do – summer feasts to sing at, hills to climb, fish they must hang out to dry.
You sell a lot of petrol those months. Sweets, too. And high-energy drinks. People nod and greet you by name yet you seldom find two words to say back. Locked out of their sped-up world, you take their money and watch them leave.
The hours of your shift pass slowly. You wonder sometimes – rarely now, but still it happens – if the polite neighbour you just served was the one who killed your brother. How they met. Were they friends, or not? It never came out in the end who killed him and the police put the death down to a passing stranger, but you don’t believe this. It had to have been a local. Only a local would have timed it so well. His walk home after singing practice, alone because he’d stayed behind to rehearse his solo part for the Christmas midnight mass. Was it a grown-up, a teacher maybe? Or one of the kids from school? Many of them went away to study and never came back. You wonder, did your brother’s killer run away to forget, and keep on running until he was off the edge of the map? Far beyond this island and this language, to other islands and languages that you do not know.
As you finish at the petrol station tonight, the light is strong. It pulls you. Instead of going home you fill the tank and drive. Past your parents’ house, past the school, past the disused farmhouse on the edge of town where even now streaks of brown snowmelt cling to the barren hill. Here is where they found your brother: it’s always the last place to lose its’ snow. Only a local would have known that. You speed on. Past the farmhouse and its snowmelt, and over this mountain to the next town and the one after that. It’s late, and the road is empty save for an occasional silver truck all lit up like a fishing boat luring squid. You turn up the sound and sing along to the radio: these are new songs, songs that have a fast insistent beat. If one of the old songs comes on that he and your mother once sang, you punch the dash and change stations. It’s not that you don’t care. But… His time is over now. And you need the kind of music that keeps you warm and alive.
On this bright bright night the light slants endlessly so that you feel the world spin under you, the sun a crazy ball bouncing on this round horizon, a ping-pong tied to a bat with elastic string. The clouds deepen in colour until they’re like petrol floating on dark oily puddles of sky, then lighten again as the sunset segues into dawn.
You know then that your chance to sleep is gone. But why waste a sunny night sleeping? You can sleep when you’re dead.
Lane Ashfeldt grew up in Dublin. Her stories have won the Fish Short Histories prize and the Global Short Stories prize. You can read more stories by Lane in her début collection of short fiction, SaltWater.
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.
We walked down Harcourt Street, ding-ding of a tram, past the Unitarian Church “Love is the doctrine of this church”, bla, bla, bla, onto Grafton Street, flowers love, I grab a bunch of chrysanthemums and hand her a crumpled tenner.
– These are for you.
– Beautiful, she said.
We ducked into Neary’s, the barmen in dickey bows, and slunk into the back corner.
– What will you have?
– A glass of Guinness, she said.
– A pint and a glass please.
– The wife not with you today?
– She’s dead.
I have been married for two years but it’s a sorry, dull affair. Two weeks ago I caught my wife masturbating over a copy of Men’s Health. I watched her fumble the pages, trying to build a rhythm, a wave. I thought it pathetic. She visits the gym every day. She takes classes such as krav-maga and pre-pregnancy pilates. It was the first time I’d ever seen her masturbate. I didn’t even know she did. She seemed awkward and apprehensive about it, like it was her first time. I don’t know where she got the copy of Men’s Health, it seemed old, from the dentist’s waiting room perhaps.
I went to the toilet, always just enough time to do so before it settles.
– Fine bit of stuff you have out there, the man beside me said.
– Found her in the Iveagh Gardens. She said Edvard Munch visited her in a dream and told her to pursue me.
– Hmmm…who you shouting for in the match later?
– I’ve no interest.
I picked up the two drinks and sat down beside her, the chrysanthemums were spread out on the stool across from us, like a bunch of little, white fists.
– Are you French?
– How did you end up in Dublin?
– What do you think about this Parnell business, the barman asked an elderly man at the bar.
– It was his family’s wishes, bloody De Valera’s fault.
On the one o’clock news protestors could be seen outside Glasnevin cemetery. The locals from the Gravediggers watched through the gate, hands greasy from toasted sandwiches.
– I tracked a flock of starlings to Ireland and lost them. Then I stayed, she said.
She sipped her glass of Guinness, her fleshy lips under the head. She half closed her eyes as she drank. I took a cool mouthful. Always pleasant to be reacquainted, nothing worse than a bad one, chocolate, coffee, mother’s milk.
In Dundrum a woman – nude but for two Tipperary bottles strapped to her back, filled with nitroglycerin – ran around the shopping centre. She shouted “I’m gonna blow the fuck out of this place”. The last sighting of her was in Boots. Boots had been evacuated.
– My Mary lives out in Dundrum, said the man from the toilet.
No one replied. I thought of my mother and her distaste for Christmas and my father face down on the kitchen floor, half way through a lamb sandwich. The cat licked the butter off the tiles beside him while customers shouted in the bar for more porter.
– What would you like to do today? I asked.
– Whatever you would like to do.
She was a nice size, smaller than me in all areas but fleshy with taut, sallow skin, European, classy. I attended French classes and the more verbs I conjugated and conversations about booking hotel rooms in Marseille I had, the more I aspired to a brief affair with a Francophile.
– Another pint and a glass there please.
I have fumbled through the last 6 years, bounced from indecision to regret to self loathing, repeated rotten lies about the future to myself and listened to everyone but myself.
The Belgian picked them up and paid for them. I gulped the second back. I tapped the side of my glass. She looked at the walls and the thick green carpet and took gentle sips from her glass. I could smell dry roasted peanuts, earthy.
– Some fella’s swimming around the pond in the Green, a broad man said as he walked in the door.
– Will you bring me to a gallery? she asked.
We finished our drinks and made for the new gallery, down Grafton Street, crowds gathered around a man standing still on the street, people wait on buses on Nassau Street, Romanian gypsies outside the car park on Andrew’s Lane, rain, Dame Street, more people, more buses, Christ Church bells, vinegar soaked chips, junkies climb over the fence of St. Auden’s church, children calling us “cunts” on Thomas Street, toilet rolls for sale on Meath Street, the heavy air around Guinness’s, smells like Weetabix tastes, the top of the hill, down the hill and up the hill to the new gallery, colonial and white.
When I wake up beside my wife all I want to do is get up.
There was a special exhibition on dedicated to new Irish artists. The first floor featured pictures of a fat woman in the nude. One of the outside galleries featured a room full of hand sized stones with miniature name badges like big stone, funny stone, moody stone, flirty stone, diligent stone, accountant stone. The information on the sidewall indicated that visitors were free to walk among the stones, as if you were at a party. The Belgian mingled. She stood in a section of the room where the artistic stones seemed to congregate, between actor stone and interpretative dancer stone and delighted in their pleasure.
She laid her hand on my upper back as we walked and rubbed the part where my spine becomes my neck.
In the basement café we ate carrot and fennel soup with a cardamom seed bread.
– Why didn’t you get the ham? she asked.
– I have a pork aversion.
In Paris I ate andouillette sausage. I later read that “The faeces-like aroma of hot andouillette can be attributed to the common use of the pig’s colon (chitterlings) in this sausage, and stems from the same compounds that give faeces some of its odours.”
I had to buy cigarettes afterwards to remove the taste from my mouth. It was a taste that mints could not remove. In L’Olympia that night the music was rhythmic and jazzy and the lights looked like fireflies but I burped throughout with each one tasting of faeces.
She slurped her soup. We drank two quarter bottles of red wine. Lyric FM played in the background. I always loved Variation d’Apollan, she remained silent while it was on.
In general, Paris is not as clean as I would like. In Spring there are rats everywhere, undeterred by the rain, bigger than those in Dublin.
She stroked the side of my face and smiled at me. It was an uncomfortable situation. I didn’t know if Belgian’s were by nature affectionate. I got a bit of an erection but it may have been because I was warm, comfortable and tipsy. She smiled at me. I looked back at her. We left.
A breeze blew down the quays and the Belgian clung to me. She was warm and I could feel her breasts through her coat press against the side of my arm. She ran her hand down my spine on the inside of my jacket, on the outside of my sweater. The Liffey was a strange colour, a rich maroon, like thick carpet from the 80s. My erection piped up again. A pack of stray dogs walked out of St. James’ Gate.
I asked her to wait outside my apartment block on Wood Quay as I had to return home. I opened the letterbox outside my apartment. There was a letter from Martha, she is penniless in Costa Rica and wants me to follow her there. I wonder is your face still round and pretty. People used to ask me was there any Asian in you as your eyes were ever so slanted, a mother from Hong Kong perhaps or a father from Singapore? They were both from Crumlin. I put the letter into my pocket and ran up the steps to my apartment. I brought Maria a lump of coral from the mantelpiece, which she appreciated.
– Where did you get it?
– The Perhentian islands.
I went there on my honeymoon, my wife brought lacy underwear, it was sexy the first night but became repetitive and tiresome after a while, as things often do unless you’re a dog or a parakeet.
Four birds flew by and hit the widows of the hotel on Fishamble Street, all within seconds of each other. They slid down the panes, their little skulls cracked, two writhed on the ground, the Belgian looked at me. I stood on their necks.
– It’s what your meant to do, I seen it on a wildlife program before.
She wept a little.
– I know, she said.
We swung through the small bar door of the Lord Edward and perched on two high stools beside the long mirror and facing the frosted glass windows.
– Two Jamesons please, drop of water.
She wiped her tears with the cuff of her coat. I thought of the Origin of the World, thick and hairy, warm and odorous. Corbet was wasted on animals. We sipped our Jamesons and I listened in to other people’s conversations.
– First Parnell then your one in Dundrum, then the young fella in the Green.
– It’s the drugs Colm.
How much would a ticket to Costa Rica be? I could fly there and help Martha and she would come back in tears, vulnerable, weak and pliable.
The Belgian invited me back to her apartment. It is in the basement of a Georgian house along the canal. She pays no rent in exchange for doing the housework for an elderly woman. The old woman was still up, she stared blankly at me, her catheter bag reflected specks of light around the tastefully decorated room. Maria made coffee in a percolator. On TV women and children fought outside Glasnevin cemetery, she kissed my neck, the coffee bubbled and the lid tapped, the police were called in, she kissed under my ear, the percolator tipped over and I could hear the coffee being burned on the hotplates of the small cooker, the women beat the children but the authorities moved in to support them, the airforce commenced flour bag drops to disorientate the women and the children scampered around them. They bit their thighs.
In the evening the old woman likes a taste of honey. The Belgian took a small pot from the press and dunked the bulbous head of the honey spoon in, she turned it in the pot, the old woman held her head back and the Belgian drizzled honey in a long thin stream into the woman’s mouth, some of it fell on the side of her mouth.
– Would you like some? the Belgian asked.
The old woman turned her head to me. There was honey on her chin. She disapproved.
– Sure, I said.
I held back my head and the Belgian spun the honey into my mouth. I heard a gurgling noise from the wheelchair beside me as the old woman protested. I lapped at the honey as it fell into my mouth in a long, endless, golden brown line.
It is six in the morning. The Belgian is lying naked on her back with the sheets only covering her feet. I look into her black knickers on the ground. They have that small stain that all women’s knickers seem to have that looks a bit like ear wax and outside the window thousands of starlings fly aimlessly in nauseating black waves.
Ross Weldon lives in Dublin and has participated in courses with Some Blind Alleys. He has previously had work published on Some Blind Alleys – the online journal and in Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine.
Modern Version of Molly Bloom’s Soliloquy: Mrs Penelope B
– By Eithne Reynolds
Yes because he never did a thing like that before as to say he doesnt love me yes I know in my heart he loves me so why cant he admit he made a mistake O yes because what about the twelve red roses he bought me just last month I was so surprised getting flowers out of the blue because hes never done anything like that before either and it was Thursday and he waltzed into the kitchen with this enormous bouquet of red roses and he kissed me ever so gently on the lips just brushed my lips with his and there I was in the middle of preparing dinner with my hands smelling of onions and my hair everywhere and he handed me the roses and I felt a rush of passion I hadnt felt since our first days together and he said that they were just because he loved me and I felt like an awkward teenager and I was trying to clean the onion off my hands and I wanted to laugh and cry at the same time because the time wasnt right and place wasnt right O I want roses over a romantic dinner but he thought I was crying because I was happy and I was happy but well does that matter anymore because two weeks later he dropped the bombshell
O yes it was Friday night and I had cooked him his favourite dinner because we had the night alone together and I had set the table in the dining room with the fire lighting and I kept going in and out to check that everything was perfect and it was perfect until seven o clock came and he wasnt even home and then eight and I hate ringing him on his mobile because it looks like Im being needy or checking up or naggy so I left it and I sat by the fire watching the candles burn down and I didnt even get up to wipe the candle grease that had fallen on the good tablecloth that his mother had given us and then he arrived at nine and the two candles were burnt out and I didnt say anything even though I could have said so much and he didnt notice my hair or anything God even Mike in the vegetable shop noticed it when I went to get the stuff for the dinner yes what can I get you Mrs B he said nice hair cut Mrs B must be something important going on in your house tonight Mrs B and I said yes the kids are away so Im having a bit of a party fair play to you Mrs B he said and he didnt ask me how many were invited to the party and I didn’t say that it was just for the two of us but he noticed my hair anyway and Im disappointed that himself didnt notice it but I didnt say anything because I didnt want to spoil the moment although in actual fact it was spoilt anyway and I thought God he doesnt even seem to be hungry because he never lifted the lid off the pot to peek inside like he usually does when he comes in hungry
O I was starving anyway and it was actually nearly ten by the time we sat down and he played with the food for a few minutes and he kept staring at the grease marks from the candles on the table cloth and I suppose it was annoying him but I didnt care at that stage and I knew he had something on his mind and I thought to myself that maybe he had lost his job or something with the recession and the way things are in the bank and I kept saying to myself that werent we lucky we hadnt invested in that apartment on the Costa del Sol after he got the promotion last year yes you know how things go round in your head but he hadnt lost his job and then wait for it he said this in his matter of fact sort of way that he wanted to move out and that he had no where to live yet but he was still looking No he didnt love me anymore and he was sure I could see that and we were both young and he thought we should allow each other space to be free and then the room began to spin and I could hear my voice somewhere in the distance high pitched the way he hates it calling him a liar but I was suddenly scared O what are you saying I asked this foolish question and he put his fork down and left the dinner untouched the lovely dinner I had spent hours preparing but I continued to swallow each mouthful without even tasting what I was eating
God dont let him see that youre upset I kept telling myself to smile and to keep eating and dont let him see any tears and if he thinks hes free hell come back like they all do because they are all the same men are and so I kept eating and he looked at me and I felt he was saying to himself God no wonder shes as fat as she is she should just stop eating for a few minutes and listen to me but I was eating desert before he spoke again and his voice was softer now and I hated that pitying tone and he said you know I really am so sorry he whispered it like he was mortified and then he said the most stupid thing like he really didnt want to hurt me but he had to go and live his life and I just kept smiling afraid to look up in case his eyes were cold and then Id know he was right when he said he didnt love me and that there was no mistake about it so I poured him his coffee and continued to smile and he asked me if I had nothing to say me who has an opinion on everything and I told him no I didnt have anything to say except that he was a liar and he said he wouldnt have the coffee
yes because Saturday was our girls morning out in Bewleys and it wasnt until I met the girls that I finally broke down when I went to tell them what happened and how could he say that I asked the girls repeating it over and over and how could he be so wrong and what about the red roses Yes red roses are for passion and love so he must love me and it was a real puzzler for us all and then Marjorie says what everyone is thinking and I knew Marjorie would be the one to say it because shes a real bitch that maybe he has another woman and maybe he felt guilty thats how she tried to explain it away and maybe it was one last effort to see if and O I cant let Marjorie finish Yes Marjorie is mistaken just as he was wrong when he said we should split up
O and he says hes going in three weeks yes but its such a pity because everyone says we always look so happy together and that we are the best fun and I wish they were right and I hope he gets someone who will dance attendance on him the way I do but I close my eyes every night while lying beside him and I wish on the stars to make him stay and that maybe he really does love me and I often wonder why he has decided to go O yes I often wonder in these lonely nights how we could share babies and children and teenagers and even parents dying yet we cant talk through a problem before it destroys everything and I wonder maybe if I tell him that Ill never curse again then maybe he will stay or maybe if I tell him he is the best husband ever and if I say that he was right about all the little things I said he was wrong about or maybe if I say he was right about some little things like that then maybe he will admit that he was wrong when he said he didnt love me O yes and then maybe when I ask him if he will ever be able to love me again he will take me in his arms and he will draw me towards him and he will hear my heart beat wildly and then yes he will say yes he will Yes.
Eithne Reynolds is a writer living in Dublin. She is a graduate of Trinity College Dublin where she studied English Literature. In 1994 she obtained a scholarship to The James Joyce Summer School which gave her a great love of Joyce’s work. She has just completed her debut novel White Roses. Check out Eithne’s blog.
Language of the Birds is an art installation of 23 waterproof books suspended above the street near the famous Jack Kerouac Alley. The Jazz mural was painted to represent the presence of Jazz in San Francisco before the Beat movement and Jack Kerouac.
The first thing I think of most mornings is that I am still alive. I haven’t died from the cold, been beaten up or robbed as I try to sleep in this doorway. I can’t remember how many weeks I have been sitting and sleeping here. Most people hurry past and ignore me. Averting their eyes, looking ahead, clasping their car-keys, gripping their Skinny Lattes, their shopping bags or their mobile phones. Mostly, I feel invisible.
My sleeping place is the entrance to a video-store, long since closed down. Inside, a pile of letters, flyers and free newspapers lie scattered on the carpet-tiled floor. All of the shelves are empty, save for a shattered DVD box or two. Scarlett Johansson gazes wistfully from a yellowing sun faded poster on the wall. The walls inside are pock-marked with balls of Blue-Tack.
The road is busy. On warm days the smells of exhausts and melting tar transports me to a London street. I never beg. I did not have a breakdown. Nor was I a professor of Old English who could speak seven languages. I try to keep clean and presentable. I wash myself in the toilet of the ESSO petrol station nearby. The Estonian workers there are very kind and never refuse when I ask for the key. Sometimes, they will hand me a bag of food that has passed its sell by date. We don’t speak to each other much, but there is a sort of camaraderie all the same.
When you sit in a doorway all day, one of the first things you notice are people’s ankles. Fat ankles, skinny ankles, white ankles, swollen ankles, varicous-veined ankles. Don’t talk to me about socks or scuffed shoes. Middle-aged men wearing flesh coloured socks with sandals. Women with vermillion painted toe-nails and fissured heels. I always notice scuffed shoes. They always remind me of Saturdays when I was younger. Our shoes would be lined-up sentry-like on the kitchen table. We all wore black shoes. Two brushes – one for the polish and one for shining. My father would say “Spit costs nothing. I want to be able to see my face in them” and we would energetically shine our shoes, making sure to cover the table with sheets of Friday’s Irish Press.
Nighttime brings a different rhythm. I turn into the door, away from the traffic’s searching lights. I check my few possessions. My transistor radio, books and family photographs. The photographs are creased and cracked. I say ‘Goodnight’ to my parents – both now long dead. I don’t know where my sisters are. I put my paper money in my shoes. I zip up my sleeping bag. I wear my radio headphones to block out the noise. I say ‘Goodnight Scarlett’ and shut my eyes to be lulled to sleep by the static in-between stations.
Eoin Devereux is from Limerick. He teaches at University of Limerick. Eoin is the author of a number of best-selling academic books including Understanding The Media published by Sage (London) in 2007. He is the co-editor of the book Morrissey: Fandom, Representations and Identities. ‘Goodnight Scarlett’ is his first flash fiction story.
Did I ever tell you about the time I stayed up till dawn in the company of six transvestites in Singapore? Or the time I almost slipped overboard in a Force Nine storm while we were gamely sailing through the Bay of Biscay? What about, perhaps, the time I missed getting back to my ship in Hong Kong because I failed to hear orders above the din of music blaring away in a topless bar? Or, while on leave and back home in Drogheda, someone in a pub said to me that if certain friends of his knew I was in the British armed forces I’d get a bullet through my head? No, I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned these before. Perhaps it was all a dream? Or maybe they happened to a different person? Sometimes, other lives have a knack of making you feel like that.
I was a month shy of my 16th birthday in 1972 when I joined the Royal Navy. Seeing me off at Dun Laoghaire were my mother (who had, on receiving my news that I didn’t want to stay at school, and that I wanted instead to leave home, promptly walked into Dunnes Stores on Drogheda’s West Street and bought me a cherry red suitcase) and my brother (who had himself returned from two years in Australia). Looking back, I get a sense that I had absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into; I simply knew that I didn’t want to finish secondary school, and I didn’t want to stay in a dreary provincial town. The fact that my mother had left Drogheda in her early 20s for a life far more interesting in England could have been the impetus; my father wasn’t around (they had separated in the ‘60s), yet he too had travelled extensively in Africa prior to settling in London, where he and my mother married. That my brother had also left school early to live and work in Australia may well also have contributed to the family aesthetic of travel broadening the mind.
The only thing I am certain of now is that joining the Royal Navy changed my life utterly; I dread to think what I would have been like as a person if I had continued to live in Drogheda. Maybe I’d have passed the Leaving Cert and – then what? – went to college or got a job. The notion of this teenager back then was to spread my wings, not to have them clipped. Thankfully, my mother realised this, gave me her blessing, and signed the necessary papers. I remember that on the morning I was leaving, she helped me pack my red suitcase, and that when I opened it on the ferry over to Holyhead I found underneath a few vests a sex education book that she had slipped in when I wasn’t looking. Such foresight, such pragmatism, such love…
Of course, women were quite likely one of the more subliminal reasons for joining the Royal Navy – didn’t sailors have girlfriends in every port? It would be quite some time, however, before any female would find a six stone weakling with no discernible social graces in any way interesting. Besides, easygoing humiliation and lack of charm were core to the six weeks basic training I received at the ‘concrete ship’, HMS Raleigh, at Torpoint, close to Plymouth. Here, we were put through the hobnailed boot camp drill: raw recruits were subjected to what I vividly recall an unbending adherence to discipline, a hierarchical display of authority and a dismissive attitude towards any sign of sensitivity. If you sniveled you were sneered at; if you cried – well, you just didn’t cry.
It wasn’t juvenile detention – not any of us were remotely close to borstal boy troublemakers – but neither was it Hogwarts. Rather, it was the instilling of a militaristic belief system that traded facets of individuality for deference to authority. As well as learning basic procedural information about life Royal Navy-style, I was instructed how to polish shoes, march around a parade ground with a kit bag on my shoulders, shoot self-loading rifles, sew, iron, tie knots, peel vegetables, cope with varying intense levels of peer pressure, and how to avoid having my six-stone body being beaten up (clue: having a sense of humour really helped). I also learned, quite crucially, how to interact with, and strategically avoid, people in very compact spaces. Which was just as well because within several months (following further training at a specialist shore training base, HMS Collingwood, at Fareham, near Portsmouth) I joined the 230-plus crew of the frigate HMS Torquay.
At HMS Collingwood, I trained as a Control Electrical Mechanic, which meant that I (as part of a team) was responsible for the maintenance and repair of various types of communications, sonar and missile equipment. Within weeks of joining, the ship sailed for the Caribbean, and while I put up with what I’d experienced on shore with varying levels of forbearance, commitment and stubbornness, my experiences of being at sea on such a large vessel turned from wary to wondrous. A wet-behind-the-ears teenager from Drogheda sailing across the Atlantic on the way to the Virgin Islands? Pinch me until I wake up, Sub-Lieutenant! From a distance of over thirty years, it isn’t easy to pinpoint why I loved being at sea so much. The sense of genuine excitement at not knowing what the next day would bring?
Over the next five years (which included a two-year stay on HMS Rothesay, the highlight of which was a nine month around-the-world trip that saw us dock and join the dots pretty much everywhere between Gibraltar and Panama), I experienced things that to this day remain dramatic touchstones in my working and personal life. It is, for instance, both a blessing (hopefully, to those I work with) and a curse (to my wife, I’m quite certain) that I have an inbuilt sense of what constitutes a deadline. Perhaps it’s a basic fear of being ordered to run around a parade ground with a kit bag on my shoulders that has instilled such immutable time-efficiency in me? As for ironing shirts and trousers – well, if you want a crease you could cut cheddar with, call me.
You may well ask that if I loved it so much (and I did, I really, really did), why leave after five years? The truth is that I was getting tired of being told what to do – I was over the age of 20, and still being told to get my hair cut, polish my boots, be back on board by midnight. And then there was the claustrophobic, sweat-heavy proximity of people that, even now, I clearly recall with varying levels of fondness, dislike, amusement and unease. Enough!
And, besides, I was getting to love music more and more. Each week from when I joined up, my mother diligently posted two papers – the NME and The Drogheda Independent. In the former I read strange, interesting things about glam rock and punk rock, as well as first becoming aware of writers such as Raymond Chandler, Evelyn Waugh, JG Ballard, Albert Camus, F Scott Fitzgerald, Harlan Ellison, Hermann Hesse, Graham Greene and Franz Kafka, all of whose works I devoured. Through the Drogheda Indo, I made my sailor mates laugh by shouting out at totally inappropriate times townland names such as Termonfeckin, Annagassan and – their all-time favourite – Nobber.
I look back on those days of my life as undoubtedly – as the Defence Forces ads would have it – a life less ordinary, as well as a life that very few would, or could, fully understand. Curiously, I have no yearning to sail again – I have had the wind knocked out of me, you might say, by having done it before so brilliantly, and under such professional, disciplined care and control.
But, you know, there are times when I look out to sea and remember random, extraordinary things that I thought I’d long forgotten – a beautiful woman in Fiji, sailing through the Suez Canal, a dive bar in Hawaii, the human noise of Bombay, the calm of Antigua, the degrading poverty in Djibouti, and how a boy from the provinces transformed, quite literally, into a man of the world… Whenever these and other memories come back, I know my other life wasn’t a dream at all. And I thank God and my mother for that.
Tony Clayton-Lea is an award-winning freelance journalist who writes on pop culture, movies and travel for a variety of publications, notably The Irish Times and Cara (Aer Lingus in-flight magazine). He lives in County Meath, Ireland. Check out more of Tony’s work at tonyclaytonlea.com ; follow him on Twitter @TonyClaytonLea
Flash Fiction: Brain in a Vat
Fragment from the Obituary of Donald H Moore published in The Journal of Contemporary Metaphysics, Spring 2010
– By Rob Doyle
After decades immersed in the arcane intricacies of academic philosophy, it seems that, on reaching his seventies, Professor Moore came to hold the remarkable and bizarre belief that he actually was a brain in a vat. Embarrasedly, and with respect for Professor Moore’s position and reputation at the university, but suspecting that their colleague was sliding rapidly into senile dementia, certain faculty members sought to remind Moore that the famous ‘brain in a vat’ was, of course, merely a rhetorical cypher, a thought experiment, a conventional dramatisation of the human incapacity (according to some) to possess certain knowledge, much like Descartes’ ‘malicious daemon.’ No philosopher, they reminded him – not Descartes, not Hume, not Russell – ever for a moment claimed, nor indeed believed, that they really were a brain in a vat, nor that the sense one has of being an embodied entity abroad in a substantial external world, really was the illusion produced by such a disembodied brain.
Undeterred and defiant, Moore retreated to his study and set to work on what was to be his penultimate, and now notorious, philosophical paper. In the paper, Moore sought to prove, beyond all warranted doubt, that he, Donald H Moore, was, literally, a brain in a vat – and that, by extension, the entire visible universe existed only as the projection of this brain.
It was only by the force of Moore’s long-established reputation as a philosopher of great dialectical perspicacity, together with his editorial role at the university’s philosophical journal, Thought, that the resulting article, A Refutation of the External World, With Four Proofs that I Am a Brain in a Vat, was permitted to see print. Dismayed by what they saw as the collapse of their once-great colleague into senility and incoherence, and realising that swift, ruthless action was needed to protect both their journal and their university from greater and fatal ridicule, various members of the philosophy faculty sharpened their pencils and set to work demolishing Moore’s (deeply and variously fallacious) thesis.
The first of the rebuttals had just reached the office of Thought when Moore’s shattered body was found in front of his campus residence. Witnesses confirmed that the professor had hurled himself from the fourth floor window. On Moore’s desk (which he had left as immaculately tidy as ever) was found a printed two-page document, marked as an addendum to A Refutation of the External World. Scrupulously annotated and tightly argued (albeit from wildly unsound premises), the addendum reiterated and fortified Moore’s claim that the essential, in contradistinction to the corporeal, Donald H Moore, was wholly indestructible by any action taken in the so-called external world. It was deeply uncomfortable for Moore’s loved ones and colleagues to regard such a calm, considered document as being Moore’s suicide note. Yet that is undoubtedly what it was.
Born in Dublin in 1982, Rob Doyle holds a First Class Honours degree in Philosophy and an MPhil in Psychoanalysis from Trinity College Dublin. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in The Stinging Fly, The Dublin Review, The Battered Suitcase, ESC, and Penduline. He is the author of a novel, Here are the Young Men, currently being considered for publication. Since university, he has lived abroad: in Asia, South America, Sicily, San Francisco, and London. He teaches philosophy and English. Follow Rob on Twitter @RobDoyle1
Flash Fiction: Gone
– By Joe Jeninngs
“I think I need to sit down.”
“Oh yeah … do.”
“Well, you know … considering what just … you know.”
“Of course. I understand.”
He rested on the stairwell. I remember his shoes squeaked on the grey rubber floor. What went through his head next, well, I don’t know. I don’t want to know. It’s never something that I’ve wanted to ask anyone. I just stood beside him, not moving and became strangely aware of my breathing in the silence.
Then the tears came. It didn’t start slow. No, it poured out of him. Pure sobbing, he was out of control, his head fell into his hands and his arms collapsed on his lap. I swallowed hard. But I stood there, conscious of the brilliant white walls and the black mould growing on the corner of the window. He wailed in pain, unbridled emotional pain.
“Let it out man, let it out.” I said.
He ceased making noise but kept weeping. His body shook like he couldn’t control it. It jolted and bounced. Again I stood rooted to the floor; although this time I patted him on his shoulder. He looked at me. His eyes were red raw. Burnt with tears. Completely fucked. I nodded my head towards him. Thinking that would help. He nodded back. It’s always difficult with them, it never gets easier.
“How am I supposed to get though this?”
“Well, you aren’t.” I replied.
I didn’t want to say anything more. It was hard enough already. I moved towards the far wall and I saw the red stains leading up the stairs. In fact, it seemed the whole stairwell was smothered in blood. I hadn’t noticed it before. It surrounded my brown shoes, quite thick and sticky stuff.
There were no more tears after that. He knew it was over. There was no going back. So he removed his coat. His wrists were gashed quite viciously. A dirty job. Not like ones I’d seen before. He stood up too. Almost empty of sorrow and guilt, he displayed his arms for me. So pale, so fucking pale, his skin colour dropped and dropped into a colourless material. His pupils went black. That was it. It was over.
“What now?” He asked.
“Nothing.” I answered. “That’s it. You’re done.”
He sat again and half smiled. But I knew there was something else in his face. Some regret perhaps. It was hard to tell. He stopped bleeding and the blood had washed away from the floor. Back to the generic grey rubber. So lifeless. So incomplete.
“Will I get another chance?”
Joe Jennings was born in Galway in 1987. He graduated from NUIG with an MA in Writing in 2010. His work has appeared online in Wordlegs and in the anthology “Wordlegs:30 under 30”.