The World Turned Inside Out

Bare Boned Tree - Photo By Emily O'Sullivan
Like An OId Oak Tree – Photo by Emily O’Sullivan

Short Story: Cut You Down Like An Old Oak Tree

– By Alice Walsh

The smell of sulphur tickled my nose. The match died again before it got to lick the cigarette.

‘Here you can’t even light the thing you dozy bastard, I thought you said you’d smoked before, I’ll fucking light it’.

Spiggy ripped the Silk Cut Purple and with it part of my lip from my gob. He lit a match and cupped it around the cigarette with one eye shut like he thought he was a hot shot cowboy or something. He thought he was so fucking cool because of all his big brothers but everyone knew Spiggy was the runt of the litter and they didn’t give a fuck about him. He knew it too – the night they kicked him about the place on the green after they’d drank a bottle of vodka over in the church field. Yeah he knew it when he lay face down in the gravel with a mouth full of blood. But he’d forgotten about that now that they weren’t around, he thought he was the shit again, he really did.

He handed me his lit cigarette in a way you could tell he’d practised to death. He grabbed it from his mouth so the hot part was nearly sticking in the palm of his hand and then he sort of flicked it over like a magician pulling a rabbit out of his arse.

‘Yeah I have’.

I ground the have down to dust and took the cigarette like it was a weapon. I put it in my mouth but some of the smoke drifted up past my nose stinging my eye and making it water. I swallowed the grey air. The top of my skull came off like a hat and all of me was rising up in steam escaping out of the top of my head. The fag was my grandfather who’d died of lung cancer all rolled up and I was smoking him, smoking the cancer out of him while he turned to ash. The yard started spinning, my head started sweating and Spiggy was laughing saying I was gone green and that I was the first ever cunt to pull a whitey on a cigarette.

And when he caught sight of my eye watering he really went for it.

‘Wait a second are you crying ya daft cunt? You fucking are and all! Brilliant just fucking brilliant! Pussy Power really living up to his name. That’s just perfect that is. Oh wait until I tell the boys in school about this, piss themselves so they will’. He rubbed his hands together like he’d just scored the winning point in the All Ireland.

The invisible hand of a boxer’s coach gently tilted my chin back making me look upwards at the window and that was when I saw him standing there statue still, hands in his pockets. I tried to focus because I couldn’t read what his face wrote. He just stared beyond the yard like he couldn’t see me. I was a ghost his eyes had no way of ever falling on. I looked behind me but there was nothing there. I turned back and he was gone. I dropped the fag. It swallowed the wet ground. I vomited in the drain. Spiggy the little shit pissed himself laughing again. I wiped the sick away from the corner of my mouth with the sleeve of my school jumper, all the while looking up to where he had been.

Spiggy said something I didn’t hear. Then he said ‘Fuck this for a game of soldiers I’m off home, see ya later Pussy’. I slammed the door on him. It was bad enough being called it by anyone but I just couldn’t take it from Spiggy the miserable little prick. I could hear him shouting, ‘Ooh ooh ooh someone’s in a bad mooohood’, like one of the stupid bitchy girls in our class. Arsehole.

I went up to my room and lay on the bed shaking trying to smell the clean of the bed sheets. When I sat up the mirror said my face was all white and my hair was wet from sweat. I brushed my teeth three times and still felt yellow ill inside. I wondered if I had cancer now. I felt like it. I spat thick splats of dirty cigarette tar phlegm into the wicker waste paper basket. It landed on a rotten apple core that mildewed at the bottom of the bin, growing sporey fur on the half snapped broken wicker latticed pieces. I stood stooped over like a question mark with my hands on the front of my hips and my head bent over filling up with my cancer swimming blood. A string of spit hung from my mouth to the dead apple. Rotten brown apple core cancer growing inside of me, spreading into the half snapped broken wicker latticed pieces of my lungs.

I kissed my hot cold head against the glass and I watched the world grow navy while people and leaves blew down the hill and I thought about how Spiggy had been acting the prick for months now. Ever since I’d gotten tall. He had always called me Paddy but since I’d gotten the height he started calling me Pussy like everyone else. When the world was more black than navy Mam called me for dinner. I sprayed myself in the deodorant she’d bought me last Christmas then ran downstairs.

‘Sit down love you look tired I made your favourite, Shepherd’s Pie’. She smiled. Her eyes looked tired.

Joe was parked with his nose just about touching the table. He had dirt on his face and was playing with his peas. He threw one at me and said ‘Shepherd’s Poo’ putting his hands to his mouth like it might stop him from saying the bold words that had already come out. I gasped pretending to be shocked and my mother said ‘Stop that Joseph’. I wished Joe could stay like a little pea forever and not become a shit smoking lying guilty fuck up of a son like me.

He came in and said nothing. He melted butter on his spuds and listened to the news on the radio. He didn’t look up. Maybe he was in a bad mood because he hated mince and she had made my favourite. After dinner she said she was going to the library with Joe and to pick Annie up from Irish Dancing and would I mind washing up. I kissed her on the cheek and told her not at all. She smelt like powder make up made of flowers. I thought he’ll say something when she’s gone. When it’s just the two of us. He read yesterday’s paper and drank his black tea like I wasn’t even there. He never looked up even when I took the dirty dinner plates from the table. I watched my hundred selves looking up at me from all the little suds bubbles in the sink. Why didn’t he say anything?

I drank a cup of sweet milky tea and watched Home and Away. Mam came back with Joe and Annie, they had gotten me red lace liquorice in the shop. After she put them to bed she made herself a hot water bottle.

‘Night love, don’t stay up too late’.

‘I won’t I’ll just watch The X-Files. Mam is everything okay with Dad? He seemed to be in bad form earlier’.

‘Your father is just under a lot of pressure at the moment Patrick, things are tight. We just need to be a bit understanding of his moods’.

‘Okay night Mam’.

‘Night love’.

***

When I woke up the next morning the taste of cancer on my tongue was gone. I went to meet Spiggy at the bollards to walk to school in the rain. Through the circle of my parka I could see his marble dead hands covered in cuts and scrapes. He never had a coat. When I looked up I saw he had a black eye. He wasn’t cocky anymore. He was quiet and I felt bad for him so I gave him my last piece of liquorice and we walked to school together saying nothing.

We were doing history. It was the only good thing we ever did because sometimes it was about battles and chieftains and high kings. Mrs O’Boyle was telling us how you can tell how old a tree is by counting its rings when Mr O’Neill walked in and went over to her desk. He held his clip board up so they could talk behind it in whispers. There was no need though because they were talking in Irish and no one understood them anyway. It seemed like it might have been serious. I wasn’t really interested but you could tell some of the girls were. I just looked about the ground of dark carpet and school bags and saw that some of their legs dangled from their chairs but mine didn’t.

Then Mrs O’Boyle said ‘Patrick will you go with Mr O’Neill please?’ When she said Patrick it jolted inside me and made my face hot because I was the only Patrick in the class. I knew I must have been in trouble. Fuck maybe they knew about the smoking. Fucking Spiggy must have been shooting his mouth off.

Mr O’Neill did small talk as we walked down the corridor asking me what Mrs O’Boyle was teaching us. I told him about the tree but fucked up the explaining of it. He smiled at me which made me wonder if I was in trouble at all. When we got to his office he said ‘Patrick have a seat’. He sat behind his desk with his hands clasped together like he was praying and tipped the steeple of his fingers against his bum chin a couple of times sighed uncomfortably and said ‘There is no easy way to say this Patrick I’m afraid it’s not good news, your father, he eh… he passed away this morning’. He glanced down at the stapler on his desk solemnly.

I wondered if Mr O’Neill had any top teeth at all, you only ever saw the bottom ones.

‘Heart attack’.

He just sat looking at me from beneath his eyebrows that were bunched together like the elastic part of an old worn sock.

I didn’t know what Mr O’Neill wanted me to say. I looked down at the stapler on his desk solemnly.

‘I can run you home I’m sure you just want to be with your mother.’

I backed away and edged for the door. I didn’t like the thought of going in Mr O’Neill’s car – there’d be more small talk and some horrible smelling air freshener and somebody might see me or he might try to hug me.

‘Ah no it’s okay Mr O’Neill, really sure it’s just around the corner I’d be quicker walking’.

‘Patrick it’s no trouble at all I’d really be much happier if you’d just let me run you home I know this must be an awful shock’.

‘No no I’m just going to walk thanks’.

I bolted for the front door of the school that was meant only for the teachers. I put my head down and my hands in my pockets and didn’t look back in case he was following me.

The rain had stopped and the sun had broken through in the time since I had gone to school and he had died. It was a different day. Old women with scarves wrapped around their old heads rolled their old women trolleys down the Main Street. How normal the world seemed. The world he was no longer a part of. Could he see me? Why hadn’t he said anything? Did it feel like a stitch like you’d get in PE when they make you do laps of the field until your lungs and throat hurt or was it like a knife in the heart and how long did it last for? My lunch was still in my lunchbox in school, it’d go all moldy and shite. I went into the shop. I thought about the word lolly pop then walked out with one in my hand. Then I thought that maybe it’s only real sometimes. It was like it was probably real in Mr O’Neill’s office when he was being all grey faced and it’d definitely be like it was real if I went home and saw Mam, but so long as I just stayed out wandering about it’d be like I was only on the mitch. But Annie, Joe, Mam. My milk at school, would someone drink it or would it be left on the counter after lunch to sour over the weekend? I better go home in case he was looking down. Jesus was he always going to be watching me now?

The front door was open, there were people standing about talking. I brushed past them. I didn’t know who they were. They looked at me, their mouths all open and nothing coming out. A woman that looked like my mother was sitting on the couch, my aunt Margaret’s hands were wrapped around her hands that were wrapped around a mug. She stared at the ground without looking at it. Smoke streamed up in ribbons from the wick of her head. She moved her gaze slowly up to meet mine. Tears of wax tumbled out of her hopeless red eyes. The lead of what was left of my heart fell down cementing my feet to the ground because I knew then that she was gone too.

My aunt Margaret said ‘Come and sit with your mother Paddy we’ve all had a terrible shock’.

I didn’t want to go and sit with her because she wasn’t like my Mam anymore she was a broken egg shell. This wasn’t like our home anymore. It was all wrong. I just wanted to run down through the church field and off over the cliffs or down the beach or someplace wide open and empty and not dark and huddled, filled with people whispering sniffling death. Fuck him for dying on us. Fuck all of this. But I didn’t run. I stayed in case he was watching.

The afternoon drifted on, I made ten thousand cups of tea for nosy people who all knew my name and were sorry for my trouble. My uncles, who we never saw, came and told me I was the man of the house now. It wasn’t so bad until Annie lay sobbing on his dead chest like a baby elephant. Joe just looked down at the Velcro on his shoes and never said a word. I sat up all night doing the wake staring at his pissed off white face.

I wished I was small and weedy like Spiggy then they wouldn’t have asked me to do it. It wasn’t him. It was the trunk of an old oak tree that was resting on our shoulders between my uncle and me. Out in front of us I could see the roots all dangling down with muck and clay on them. It looked like the time Annie got her dinner all in her hair. No I couldn’t think of Annie now. We were just carrying the tree to put it back in the ground someplace else. That’s why it still had its roots. It wasn’t cut so we couldn’t tell the age of it. You can only tell the age of a dead tree. It was fine when I thought it was a tree. I had the right rhythm of walking with uncle Sean and the others at the back. But when I told myself that it wasn’t him and that it wasn’t a coffin – that was when it started because that was how I knew it was him.

I didn’t want that little prick Spiggy or any of the others to see me crying.

Later in the day after the tea and sandwiches and strangers were gone the doorbell rang for a little too long. When I went to the door there was Spiggy bouncing a football.

‘Alright Pussy sorry to hear about your Dad, I know he was a bit of a bollocks but I guess he was still your Dad and all, fancy a game of ball?’

I grabbed him by the scruff of his runt neck and pinned him to the flagstones. I pounded on him, kicked him until he was just snot and blood and spit. I just kept going at him.

‘You’re just a boy Spiggy, a stupid and weak boy! I’m a man now Spiggy, a fucking man, so no I don’t want to play ball!’

I kicked him when I said the words boy, stupid, weak, boy, man, man, no, play and ball.

I did it because Spiggy was weak. I did it because I knew it wasn’t an old oak tree and because I was a ghost his eyes had no way of ever falling on.

Cut You Down Like An Old Oak Tree was short listed for the Fish International Publishing Short Story Prize 2011/2012 and long listed for the Over The Edge New Writer of The Year Award 2011. Alice Walsh is the Editor of The Bohemyth. 

It All Depends On How You Look At It - Photo By Emily O'Sullivan
It All Depends On How You Look At It – Photo by Emily O’Sullivan

Flash Fiction: Purge

– By Clodagh O’Brien

I always knew where things stood. Then suddenly I didn’t. The world turned inside out. There was now more land than sea, horizons of dust that held no comfort. Life was wearing me.

There were no screams. Instead it was a violent silence too heavy to shrug off. His admission stranded me, carried me out past myself to an unrecognisable place that belonged to nowhere I had been. He apologised with finality. A sorry not seeking anything but release. He dismissed all we owned. It was a purge, everything we had built thrown away. Its very existence tainted by bearing my fingerprints.

Someone waited; a shadow in the car. The engine hummed like bees. He wished me luck, a goodbye thick with relief. My cheek burnt from where his lips had been. He left with less than he came, handed all trace of me back. Long after they had gone I stood, each breath a dewy patch on glass. Day bled into night, the sky a bruised canopy.

Clodagh O’Brien writes short stories, poetry and is working on the rickety bones of a novel and screenplay. Her work has appeared in Wordlegs, thefirstcut, ‘The Blue Staircase and Other Short Stories’ anthology, Best Poems of the Phizzfest, Bare Hands Poetry and ‘Gods & Monsters of Tomorrow’ anthology. You can follow her work and musings on her blog and follow her on Twitter @wordcurio.

Towers of Porto - Photo By Emily O'Sullivan
Towers of Porto – Photo by Emily O’Sullivan

Flash Fiction: The Call of the Sea

– By Christina Murphy

Maybe she will come search for you, here in the cold. But maybe she is not real, only a dream, someone to cherish in the isolation that feels like drowning. You used to swim long distances once and were afraid of drowning—of what might come from the waves and drag you to the bottom, your lungs giving out, no more air and the horrible darkness descending. The undertow met your fears and carried you out in a panic more physical than you ever imagined fear could be.

She saved you, lifted you into her boat, the Seraphim, and drew your fears from you like a fever breaking. That was real, wasn’t it? Here in this barbaric cold that has damaged your hands and split open your frozen lips, does it even matter if she was real? The cold is real—you know that. With your one eye that remains, you see blood coming from your hands, frostbitten in purple and mangled red. Only one eye focuses; the other is like a glacier blurred with ice lines and small blue veins. You feel your frozen eye throbbing with each heartbeat.

Where is she? Where are you that she cannot find you? If your tongue could move, you would call out for her. You must believe she is coming. You try to pry your tongue loose with your fingers but the taste of blood is pooling in your mouth. You cannot speak as ice crystals form about your lips, making each breath even more painful.

The snow has almost covered you now. It falls in such soft patterns gently against your skin. When the wind blows, the snow feels like waves from the sea, and you sense the rushing tides.

You hear her calling to you. So close. So close!

You stretch out your arms and begin swimming toward her, your freezing heart filling with bitterness and regret.

Christina Murphy’s stories have appeared in a range of journals and anthologies, including A cappella Zoo, PANK, Word Riot, and LITnIMAGE. Her fiction has twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and was the winner of the 2011 Andre Dubus Award for Short Fiction.  Follow Christina on Twitter @Christinamurph1            

L’ètrange

Cuisine de France – Photo By Connie Walsh

Short Story: Gold

– By Sharlene Teo

Buzzing July lunchtime. It is getting so hot the back of my thighs stick to the seat. I miss pause-glacial winter, I miss slap-nasty rain, I miss whatever doesn’t make the insects come out and cause my brain to feel like it will melt and sidle down my neck, catching on my ribs and making me forget whole periods of my life and the names of common zoo animals.

I am sitting in a Pret with my new colleague Lisa. Lisa is maybe two or three years younger than me. She is slight and wiry, a mousy atom of a person. She has a sharp, pretty face and bitten-down nails. She has chosen a three-storey calorific blockbuster of a BLT and I have opted for a “seasonal selection” sandwich. Two bites in and I regret my choice. It is the middle of the week and I am sweating and I have food envy and I am a novelty-cuckold. A dribble of wasabi mayo escapes onto my body con skirt. Now I have a suspicious stain on my body con skirt.

I’m worried about my health, says Lisa.

Woah there sister, I don’t care and I hardly know you, I think, but on my face I affix a concerned expression.

Why is that, I ask.

I know we are eating, says Lisa, but.

But?

She leans in.

Lately, when I urinate, my pee is, my pee is golden.

Uh, everyone’s pee is golden.

No, it is gold. It glitters and everything.

You’re kidding.

No, I’m not kidding, Lisa demurs. She tells me that when she looks in the toilet bowl there is a liquid in it the colour of fine spun manuka honey, of overpriced salon blonde (Lisa and I are brunette and dyed auburn respectively)- Academy Award hued, iridescent, glimmering piss.

With gold flecks and everything, says Lisa.

That is so weird.

I know.

Have you seen a doctor?

I have. I sent in a sample. The doctor said the test results were all normal, and by the time I had sent the sample in it looked dull and ordinary, just like normal urine, but trust me, it looks amazing when it is fresh. Really beautiful.

This is a really odd conversation.

I know. I’m sorry. I just had to tell someone.

Why did you have to tell me, I think. I consider Lisa. I consider her brown eyes, her gray nail polish, her chiffon blouse, and the crumbs strewn before her on the table.

I have only known, or barely known, this small, strange person for two weeks. Before that she folded neatly into the ether of unimaginable existence, living and breathing and drinking and crankily commuting around this harebrained, labyrinthine, people-choked city.

For at least eight hours a day, we sit opposite each other in an open-plan office. We online window-shop and read the Daily Mail website in minimized windows, we nod along in team meetings, and daydream separately by the kettle. But for the most part we drain our energy over desks of cheerful fake wood using in-house operating systems to analyze Risk.

I have seen Lisa more than I have seen my dying father. I have seen Lisa more than I have seen my friends. I have seen Lisa more than I have seen my boyfriend, who seems increasingly bored and disinterested, drifting away on an i-Calendar of overlapping schedules and chronic fatigue, terse texts and football matches.

I wonder if Lisa’s life is a bare shelf bereft of boyfriends or otherwise, people closer to her and/or more suitably appropriate to discuss her urine with. I feel sorry for her and wonder if she has several screws loose. I remember Tim, my colleague who interviewed her, saying she was totally impressive, switched on, on the ball, on the money, that one, he said. I wonder if he said all that because he didn’t really know what he was talking about/ never knows what he is talking about, and he was tired of interviewing people near the end of the day, and she was attractive.

I feel spiky and tired, and like I will wilt. Lisa is looking at me with a concerned expression.

There’s a bit of mayo on your skirt, she says. She puts some water on a napkin and hands it to me.  I dab at the stain but it only makes it worse.

I’m sorry if I made you feel uncomfortable, Lisa says. I just really wanted to tell someone.

That’s okay, I reply. Maybe you pee gold because you are a really good person.

Lisa doesn’t seem to understand it is a joke and looks so stricken that she might cry if you gave her ten minutes, and froze that moment.

I took a picture, as evidence, Lisa says, glowing with encouragement, with cloying earnestness. I put down my sandwich. It is disgusting anyway, £4.50 of cosmopolitan disgustingness. Lisa fiddles around with the screen, scrolls through and hands me her phone.

I look at the screen, a high-res Android screen. I tilt my head sideways, this way and that, like a caricature of someone in a French gallery, the Louvre perhaps. The Mona Lisa! Behold! Ancient oil paints, and gilded frames. Halogen glow, no-glare, pixels and pixels.

It is a clear shot of a toilet bowl, white ceramic, containing a pale yellowish liquid. Nothing out of the ordinary; nothing too revolting. I could have seen worse, I have seen worse. I look at Lisa. Her small face is a cryptic, hopeful moon. In ten minutes we will need to cross the green, scan our cards in, take the elevator up to the fifth-storey office.

You’re right, I say, smiling slightly, holding on to her phone. That’s really something.

Sharlene Teo is a Singaporean writer whose poetry and prose has appeared in various literary magazines across the UK, US and Singapore. She is currently undertaking the MA in Prose Fiction at the University of East Anglia.

Follow Sharlene on Twitter and check out her Blog.

Fleurs de France – Photo By Connie Walsh

Personal Essay: Hurricane

– By Laura Hayley Kavanagh

The last month my mind has been wrought with an ever expanding and conflicting plethora of feelings. I have been pottering around Dublin city as it slowly ekes its way into winter; Christmas lights have been going up and the chill in the air is getting so much in the mornings that I feel like I will suffer from severe arthritis in my fingers very, very shortly. Basically, I am home and certainly not in New York.

These emotional inconsistencies have exploded recently and the major reason, I have come to realise, is Hurricane Sandy. A year previous I battened down the hatches and wondered about what would unfurl when Irene arrived. So subsequently, as time ticked on and reports of Sandy’s possible wrath became increasingly substantive and threatening, my confusion peaked. Aside from the engulfing pit of nervous tension in my stomach for my friends in the Big City, I felt jealous. As if being part of this new drama that was beginning to play out would allow me to reshape the imprint Irene had left behind.

For New York’s last hurricane crisis, I was there. That summer I had travelled over with my best friend on a J1 and as soon as reports began to disseminate on news channels, my relatives and friends at home hounded me for information. Were things as bad as the terrifying images the weather men and women had shown? Was I ok, had I enough to eat and ultimately, was it all a bit of a joke? Most of my responses were undetermined for the many questions that were heaped upon me but as the time drew closer I anticipated disaster. It only seemed appropriate because despite my living across the Atlantic, basking in the beautiful instagram glowing goodness of the sun, entrenched in a new and exciting city brimming with possibilities, I felt really alone. When I left for New York the excitement was palpable. My friend and I were giddy with the want of adventure but as the weeks passed after I arrived it seemed our paths were set to diverge.

In the midst of impending doom, normally one would find solace from those they hold dear but since arriving in the land of the free, my closest friend had become the most distant. The week Irene hit was the week I become conscious that life was in flux; I was no longer a frivolous girl, I was a woman, glaring at the crumbling gable walls of an old friendship that was ripped from its foundations when nature instigated an unplanned course of action. Signs of tumult were everywhere; the media was in total panic and the girl who had transcended the walls of friendship to become a surrogate sister was fast becoming a stranger. The end of the world had to be nigh. Right?

Attitudes towards Irene differed in most boroughs depending on whichever land zone you fell into. I still wasn’t totally sure how to take it all in myself, hurricanes not being a player at all on the Irish meteorological landscape. So, I decided to be cautious, to stock up on water and food so I could watch television all weekend (assuming the power wasn’t cut), brazenly laughing in the face of danger. That Friday evening I was in on it, immersed in the shared structure of feeling that had been erected to deal with Irene. I was with the rest of my neighbourhood who weren’t totally sure what to do but could feel something unnerving growing stronger. The reason the media were scaremongering was because no one really knew what Irene would bring. As a result, I was half expecting all the dreaded possibilities; hunger, no power, flooding, fires, roofs being torn off Wizard of Oz Kansas style.

As Sunday came to a close and Irene had torn up an enormous old tree beside my apartment block and stopped pounding the pavements with torrential rain, she calmed down – the sky turned blue and life regained normalcy. Yes, many people were devastated by her but ultimately, she was a much gentler giant than we were led to believe. On Monday I ventured into Manhattan to meet a group of friends. We exchanged melodramatic stories of the event and mocked the wholly outlandish hysteria of it all. I bought a camera and let New York take my breath away again but I observed the one I had travelled with as an acquaintance, wondering if the storm had uprooted us for good. I travelled home a month later and she is still in New York.

Two weeks ago my sister returned to me, disembodied but still able to enrapture me with her tales of adventure and droll idiosyncrasies. Her scent was intangible but her spirit called to our history through the throat of a megaphone. She rekindled my love like a favourite teenage band playing on a cd you found in the clutter of a drawer aged 29, when you are an adult in the throes of the world and only the ghost of those years remain. We discussed our anxieties about whether we would only ever be flooded with the prospect of unpaid internships finding ourselves incapable of having enough to eat and there she was, every aspect of her just hurling her thoughts against the wall of me. The bricks were being re-laid because the site was still strong. I didn’t ask about Sandy knowing she would only laugh remembering the frenzy of Irene.

We are different now but our roots are still entwined at the tips. We can be blown across continents searching for the job of our dreams but we’re still the same silly undergrads who gossiped about boys in the bathroom during library breaks. Sometimes life throws a lot at you and it can be so difficult to claw back everything you hold dear. Sandy was cruel, tearing through houses and submerging streets with her fury. Although afterwards, images proliferated on television screens of people rallying together to help neighbours repair their lives, homes and cities. Now I realise that sometimes it takes a disaster to examine the true strength of your foundations.

Laura Hayley Kavanagh is a graduate of English, Media and Cultural Studies in DLIADT. She is currently writing lots and trying to figure some things out so she can become a real grown up.

Jardin du Luxembourg – Photo by Connie Walsh

Flash Facebook Status: 14 hours ago, Near Dublin. 

– By Eims O’Reilly

The following is a summary of my brief, but harrowing, twenty four hours of Facebook deactivation.

Realise that my Facebook usage has recently started to escalate to alarming levels.

Decide to be proactive. Yeah! New day! Productivity bitch! Etc.

Now, how do I disable this thing…

Find sneaky, hidden buttons in account settings.

Facebook informs me just how much all my “424 friends will miss me.”

Ha Facebook, you emotionally manipulative bastard, you.

Screenshot.

Think of witty remark.

Update photo onto timeline.

Right, now, how do I disable this thing?

Realise that if I disable my account now I won’t see who likes my aforementioned witty repertoire.

Stream latest episode of Home and Away and hover over Facebook notifications in the meantime.

Realise this is possibly not the beginning of the new found productivity that I had imagined.

Dammit, I don’t need your validation: deactivate!

Refresh captchas until I can find one that I can actually read.

Ha, this is ridiculous, I should totally comment about this under my photo.

Wait, no, get a grip. Deactivate.

Spend the next couple of hours realising that every minute in front of a computer screen triggers a particular muscle memory; CMD+T facebo…

I guess I haven’t updated my Tumblr in a while, that’s not really procrastination, I mean it’s teaching me about contemporary art…

Remember that Tumblr is a dark, dark abyss of teenage ‘thinspo’ bullshit.

Creep on it anyway.

Feel wholly inadequate.

Swear obscenities.

Exit Tumblr. Google microwave cake recipe.

Cry into empty bowl of mulch.

Oh! New episode of Boardwalk!

Ok, right yeah, down to business, CVs…

Field worried texts; “grand yeah, just trying to avoid procrastination.”

BUZZFEED!

Kittens. Harharhar, I know who would love this… Share… Wait, no.

Actually I really should buy that John Talabot ticket before it’s sold out.

Checkout. Done. Now to tell people how cool I am having purchased said ticket. Yeah I’m so, like, with it, I should round up a crew.

Um… But how…

Right, ok I’m serious now, job websites, lets be having ya.

Wow, that job is PERFECT.

For someone I know.

But I’m not using Facebook so how do I…

I know, TWITTER.

Bit ly. Share.

Man, I’m such a nice person.

Oh this place looks interesting, I wonder what working there would be like. Right, yeah, links to a Facebook page.

Swear obscenities.

Repeat last three steps. Over and over.

Shit, these Tweets are so old and I never replied.

Feel Twitter guilt setting in. I really should Tweet more, for my career like.

Oh look, all these people reblogged my Tumblr posts. These people must really appreciate my aesthetic. That’s nice.

But I don’t know these people,

I wonder what my friends are up to. Or my ex. Or that random girl I met at a party once…

Realise that my problem is probably access to the internet in general.

Accept defeat.

CMD+T, Facebook.com…

Admit defeat.

Overshare and spam up newsfeed with ridiculously long status update.

Eims O’Reilly is a sometime writer who works in and around the arts in Dublin. You can follow her here

Hades

Abandoned House – Photo by Áine Lonergan

Áine Lonergan is a final year history student at Trinity College Dublin. 

‘Abandoned House’ was taken in Samara, Russia in June 2012.

Follow Áine on Twitter @alonerga

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Good Way

– By Lucy Montague-Moffatt

Their bodies mushed into one another like butter oozing into a carpet; legs entwined, hands everywhere. He whispered “I love you” into her ear. Kate shrieked in ecstasy and they rolled off each other, clammy and flushed.

He went to the kitchen to fix tea, he always did after. He was able to do it naked now that her mother had passed. It still felt odd standing in the middle of a room he didn’t feel was his, in the nip. He always had an eerie sensation that someone might walk in at any moment even though there was no one for miles. He made sure to keep a ‘dignity’ dish cloth near, just in case.

She was already watching TV in bed when he returned with two full cups, the creamy liquid sloshing over the sides as he lowered them on to the bedside table. He sat with her and half watched the blurred screen for a few minutes then, realising the time, jumped up to get ready to go to the shop.

“Get us a takeaway when you’re coming home, Pad” she called from the bedroom when she heard car keys jangling in the hall. He walked back to the doorway, a clean polo shirt tightening around his arms as he moved. There were still speckles of sweat lingering on her glowing cheeks and her hair was sticking up, framing her face, the way he remembered loving, once.

“But we got takeaway last night.”

“Well I want it again.” She didn’t look up from the TV but a tiny frown line appeared between her eyebrows.

“Couldn’t you…maybe…you’re here all day…and” he hesitated, wary of the agitated face of hers he knew so well.

“Cook for you? Like some sad housewife who has nothing better to do but cook and clean for her darling man?” She said it in a joking way, flailing her arms about overdramatically, but he knew there was no way she was going to cook now.

“Chinese?”

“Chipper.”

Paddy’s shoulders sagged inwards as he returned to the front door. He hated chipper. He didn’t mind it when he was actually in the process of eating it, chewing the soggy mass to a pulp and washing it down with thick black coke. No, it was the oily regret after. The horrible layer of grease that was left in his mouth like slugs had been dancing around his gums. But he knew he would be eating chipper tonight. That was a fact.

His car was just a small red thing. It was reliable, good for the narrow country roads and if he admitted it, which he never did, he kind of loved it. Or her. Her name was Sheila- complete with an ancient tape deck and a 2 cent coin that could never be yanked out from where it was wedged between the seat and the gear stick.

He arrived at work a few minutes late and rushed to open the shutters on the shop front and unlock the two dark toilets around the back of the building. It was a small white building with bright yellow gas canisters lined in front like miniature footmen. The shop had no name but locals fondly called it ‘Oil Stop’ because of two faded signs that hung on the outside wall. One said ‘Oil!’ in big black font with an illustration of a smiling oil can. The other one displayed lots of writing but now, after years of weathering and rust, the only word you could make out was ‘Stop’. Paddy knew that it was only a matter of time before it would be called Centra or Spar or similar. He didn’t want to still be there when that happened.

Inside it was dim and grotty or, as most tourists liked to call it, cute. There were two tiny aisles with tins and packages and cartons stacked with no thought of order or reason. Sometimes, on really slow days, Paddy would take the time to organise everything, making sure the cat food wasn’t beside the baby food or putting the tins of tuna away from the washing powder. Half way through this job he would usually get bored and leave it unfinished. The owner Mr. Connor, or Tom to everyone who knew him, would undo all this work the next time there was a delivery anyway, so it was pointless. Tom was a great boss and Paddy was grateful of that. He had worked in a few places since he left school, a restaurant, a couple of pubs, delivering pizza, but this was his favourite job because Tom was so fair. He treated him like an adult, unlike so many of his bosses before. He was turning twenty six at the end of the month but didn’t look a day over twenty, he had spent most of his grown up life being treated like a youngster.

“If it wasn’t for you I would have moved away a long time ago.” Paddy would often joke when Tom called in during his shift.

“You’ll move away when you really want to, nothing to do with me” Tom would answer back, flashing him a winning smile before handing over a wagon wheel biscuit. Tom paid Paddy well, especially for how easy the job was, but his real currency was wagon wheels. He’d pass them over through a handshake, as though they were sealing the deal on a big business agreement. Tom would always follow the transaction with a wink, as if to say “keep that a secret.” Paddy would sit on the bench outside the shop front, dust from inside still clinging thickly to his nostrils, and devour his chocolaty prize. It was always a little bit melted and he often wondered how many biscuits Tom carried on him during the day and whether his wife was used to the regular chore of washing out crusty brown stains from his pockets.

The first customers were a bus full of tourists, mainly Germans and Americans, on their way to Galway’s Gaeltach, or as they put it excitedly “your Gaelic region.” The tiny space was quickly swarmed with Trinity college hoodies and backwards baseball caps. An old woman with enormous glasses knocked over a stack of Pot Noodles, which Paddy admitted had been inevitable. He told her not to worry as he hurriedly stacked them back up before returning to the queue at the cash register. They used to same cash register that had been put into the shop when it first opened in the 20s. After every transaction the cash drawer would shoot open and a little bell would ding loudly, throwing most tourists into a wild fit of giddy clapping and hooting.

“Alright Pad, how’s it going?” the coach driver pushed a packed of chewing gum across the desk and leaned one elbow casually on the shabby wood.

“Good, Harry, I’m good. It’s not raining so I have nothing to complain about.” Paddy took a crumpled fiver from the man and rung it through the till.

“I thought you were leaving.” He laughed and Paddy grinned back. This happened nearly everyday.

“I am, I’m telling you, I am.”

“I won’t believe it till you’re gone.” He stood up and waved the packed of chewing gum at him as he strolled out the door. The Americans had slowly filed back on to the navy coach and it eased gently back on to the road before disappearing into the distance.

Paddy went to sit on the bench outside the shop, letting his head rest back against the glass window behind him. Sometimes sitting there, the silence only being cut by the rare vroom of a hurrying vehicle, he played with the idea of just leaving, right at that moment. He’d walk, no run, straight to his car. He’d let Sheila take him wherever she wanted to go, possibly a ferry or to an airport. And then he would be gone forever.

It was a busy morning with three more coachfulls of people stopping to buy food and trinkets before noon. Paddy was run off his feet, which he was happy about as that made time fly. He was mopping up 7up that a child had spilled in one of the aisles when a little old woman hunched in to the shop. She was almost completely vertical, with a large bump protruding out of her back, stretching her purple coat.

“Ah Paddy, what have you got for me?” This is what was called to him every visit, as though she was pretending she hadn’t phoned in with her grocery order and Paddy was actually going to give her a lucky bag full of surprises.

Paddy looked up from his mopping and gave the old woman a nod.

“Mary, my favourite customer. I’ve the bag ready for you.” He went to a hook behind the counter, took a half full canvas shopping bag from it, and brought it to her.

“You’re a great lad. My Tony will be in tomorrow to pay, you know yourself.”

“No problem, Mary.” He placed it in her wheeled shopping bag, carefully as it contained eggs.

“So how are you? How’s Kate?” Her face turned serious as she looked up at Paddy, letting her eyes do most of the work as her neck couldn’t reach very far.

“Oh she’s alright, much better actually.” Paddy leaned a hand on the front of the milk fridge, resting the other on top of the mop.

“She took it hard, she really did. But losing your mother is always hard. Oh it was sad.” She sighed wistfully and Paddy nodded.

“But you have the house now, that’s good. That’s one less thing to worry about. My grand kids now, they are killing themselves trying to afford homes. You’re all set.”

“Yes, it’s good. It’s…” He trailed away trying to think of another word but Mary had stopped listening. She had said her piece and was tipping her shopping trolley on to its wheels getting ready to leave.

“Listen, look after yourself Paddy, you’re a great lad.” And she squeaked out the door at a snail’s pace.

The rest of the day crawled by, as Wednesdays usually do, with the clock on the wall seeming to tick slower than usual. Finally night began to ooze hazily into the sunlight and Paddy dragged the briquette stand into the shop before pulling the shutters down and locking up the two toilets. The trees rustled in the newly made shadows, as though whispering to eachother the events of the day. He drove slowly to the chipper in the village; passing fields just as the sky was turning into a golden hue, making the shaking crops almost shimmer.

“Two singles with extra vinegar and one large cod to share.” said the woman behind the counter brightly as Paddy pushed his way into the warm shop.

“Hi Janet, yea…” he said, a little taken back, “that’s right.”

“Don’t look so worried Pad. I’m not going to charge you extra for remembering your order.” she chuckled, wiping her hands across a greasy apron covering her expansive stomach, “it’s hard not to remember when you order the same thing every day!”

“Not every day.” Paddy frowned. He never liked Janet, even when they were in school together. She loved to know everyone’s business. He hated her even knowing his order.

“Most days.”

She winked playfully at another customer in the shop and Paddy left to get a six pack of Miller from the off licence next door. When he got back his food was waiting for him on the counter and he left quickly, mumbling a goodbye as he went.

“See you tomorrow!” Janet called as he pulled the heavy glass door open. He frowned back at her before letting the door swing shut soundlessly.

He rested the dripping bag hesitantly on the front seat, almost apologising to Sheila, and turned up the radio as he drove back to Kate.

He turned on to the thin winding road that led to the house. The slanting trees shadowed the tarmac and the hedgerow either side grew darker by the minute. He knew that when he got back, after they had devoured their salty feast and maybe after a beer or two, for courage, he was going to break up with her. He had said the same thing to himself the evening before, and the one before that, but this time he was almost sure he was going to do it.

He rolled down the window letting the wind rush into the car and over his face. The smell of fresh leaves mixed with manure and he smiled sadly, thinking about how much he would miss it, but in a good way.

Lucy Montague-Moffatt is a 23 year old writer, comedian and student from Dublin. She has a poem and short story featured on the ebook Wordlegs Presents: 30 under 30 available on Amazon and a short story in the recently published collection 30 Under 30. She was one of the winners of the Fishamble: Tiny Plays competition and her piece will be performed in The Project Arts Centre in March 2013. She was commissioned to write the first year play for Inchicore College of Further Education last year, which was performed in March 2012 and has been commission to write the play this year too, which will be performed in March 2013. She was a Funny Woman Competition 2012 finalist. She wrote and performed two comedy shows as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2011. Lucy is currently a columnist for the UCD Observer. You can read her column here. Follow Lucy on Twitter @LuSay

Insomniac – Photo by Fabio Sassi

Fabio Sassi has had several experiences in music, photography and writing. He has been a visual artist since 1990 making acrylics using the stenciling technique on canvas, board, old vinyl records and other media. Fabio makes his acrylics mixing up homemade stencils, found tiny objects and discarded stuff. His work can be viewed on his website.

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A Little Dante

– By M.V. Montgomery

I was in Hades, not Hell: that much was clear. As I drove along, I saw the place packed with all the dead.

Clusters of souls generated their own force fields. A coterie of tightly packed bodies on one hill chatted and gossiped endlessly; gamers pursued their passions without relent; Internet scammers and spammers on another rise spouted off in their bubbles.

The operative principle appeared to be magnetic attraction rather than gravity. Souls were bound together by their own sticky, deeply rooted obsessions. And the further they attempted to part from the like-minded, the more resistance they encountered.

The selfish drifted like Greek seers in blind circles, and the isolates bumped into each other like mummers and then darted away, occasionally straying into the road.

It was no use honking: they were impervious to sound.

While I braked for one lonely soul and waited for it to drift by, a group of teen ghouls jumped into my car. They were vandals, scoundrels, and thieves, seeking to travel somewhere new to wreak their destruction. Resistance was impossible—they growled like the monsters they were.

And this place was full of frights: former devotees of bodybuilding, or plastic surgery, or of junk food and drink, who, stripped of all mortal constraint, now pursued their pet loves with infinite license. I shall not attempt to describe their grotesquely exaggerated forms.

The gruesome passengers in my car ogled and grrred aggressively at the others as we cruised by. Then they could no longer resist the temptation to get out to kick and torment a perfectly round, gluttonous soul.

I stopped the car, making an empty promise to wait. I sensed they would be oblivious to my departure while they pursued their quarry.

I then saw souls of the greatest earthly exercise-fiends nearing a suspension bridge over a vast bay. Call it the Ocean Styx, if you like. A light was just beyond, though it could never reach this enclave of shadow people. The souls crawled on hands and knees toward it, nearing the completion of a triathlon of triathlons.

One seemed just about to break through the penumbra of darkness but faltered near the finish, the force of resistance becoming so overwhelming that his limbs broke apart.

As I watched, others piled up on the beach near him. It was a noble defeat, worthy of Thermopylae.

I was filled with pity, yet drove on.

The long bridge ahead would have comprised still another marathon for these runners, had any of them reached it and sought to melt into the light beyond. But it was empty.

Halfway across, I felt warmed to the bone to feel the dawn break, and fortunate to wake up again out of darkness.

M.V. Montgomery is a professor at Life University in Atlanta.  His most recent work includes What We Did With Old Moons (2012), a collection of poetry, and Beyond the Pale, a forthcoming collection of stories, both from Winter Goose Publishing.  Check out his website.

The Dark Bird of the Midway

The Dark Bird of the Midway – Photo by Christopher Woods.

Christopher Woods is a writer, teacher and photographer who lives in Texas.

http://christopherwoods.zenfolio.com/

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Buying and Selling

– By John MacKenna 

Was that precisely what he’d said, Thaddeus wondered? He’d said so many things over the years they’d travelled together, that much of it was becoming a confusion.

Sometimes, Thaddeus read the books that had been written about those years and the man and the philosophy and he wondered where the journalists and biographers and critics were coming from, where they’d unearthed their so-called information, how they’d reached the conclusions they had. Very little of what he read bore any resemblance to the things he remembered. He didn’t remember there ever being a philosophy as such. Ways of doing things had emerged over the weeks and months; they had learned from experience and often the suggestions had come from one or other of the group members but, by no stretch of the imagination, would Thaddeus call it a philosophy.

Could two and a half decades have bewildered his memory to that extent? He doubted it. He didn’t forget important things. He could walk into his office now and lay his hand on the exact key to any of the forty cars in the sales yard without even checking the registration numbers on the plastic ties. And he still had an eagle eye for the occasional opportunity, but the opportunities were becoming fewer and farther between. That’s why there were forty cars in the yard. He’d never had this many before, even in the eighties, never been caught carrying so much immovable stock,

It’s not what you achieve but what you believe.

Yes, that was what he’d said. Not at one of the rallies but over a meal on a summer night. Afterwards, Thaddeus and Al had stayed on for a last, late drink. Al was flying off somewhere the next morning, off in search of another story that might make a book. Those were the days before any of Al’s books had seen the light of day. Thaddeus had admired the younger man’s energy but doubted his story chasing would ever amount to anything. Ideas were one thing but opportunities were the real thing.

“Sounds like he’s getting us ready for a change,” Al had said.

“In what way?”

“Don’t know. Just does. He talked about belief not achievement. There’s a difference.”

“Believe to achieve,” Thaddeus laughed. “It’s a good motto.”

“Is it? Seems to me it’s just a motto and, anyway, that’s not what he’s saying.”

Thaddeus remembered shrugging.

“You’re over-analysing, man. You read too much. Stay rooted.”

“Maybe.”

“For sure. We’re on the right track here. You should stick around.”

“I’ll be back in a couple of weeks.”

“The books can wait.”

“I don’t know if they can,” Al had said. “But I’ll get there, wherever there is. Maybe that’s the problem with me: I don’t really know where there is.”

Looking back, Thaddeus remembers his young friend as a man waiting for magic to find him, believing in the sunlight, filled with a genuine expectation that someone would come, a white witch, a wizard casting a spell, bringing him the gifts of joy and certainty, offerings in which he hardly dared believe.

And then he looks at himself. A man standing on a garage forecourt, stock list in hand, amid all the shining, unsold second-hand cars. Not that they’re advertised as such. They’re pre-owned now, as though Thaddeus has been keeping them warm, running them in for whichever lucky punter it is who may walk through the gate on this spring afternoon.

His dog ambles from behind one of the cars and comes to him. Together they sit on the office step, the soft sunlight painting their bodies. Thaddeus leaves the stock list on the concrete tread and rubs the dog’s warm coat and then his ears until the animal moans softly, singing a song of pleasure and companionship.

“We all have stories and reasons not to tell them,” Thaddeus says out loud and the dog looks up at him, listening for familiar words like walk or dinner, but they don’t come.

Thaddeus rubs the dog’s ears again and lowers his own head, sinking his face into the dog’s coat, breathing the smell of animal life and freedom, each deeply drawn breath a point of recollection and reconciliation. He is aware of two hearts beating, his own and the dog’s. He listens, trying to match the rhythms to each other but the patterns are not the same. One is uncertain, more an erratic throb than a beat, the other is calm and measured, loyal and trusting.

He especially loves the smell of the dog’s coat, drying in the sunshine after rain. That deep, dark smell drawn from a thousand scents unknown to humans, that smell which catches some inkling of the sniffing that dogs do when they become aware of the depths of senses we will never know.

A shadow falls across his face and he looks up.

A young woman is standing in front of him, her features masked by the aura of sunlight about her.

“You sell cars?” she asks.

“Yes. I certainly do.”

“I’d like to look at one or two.”

“Of course.”

He stands up, shielding his eyes.

“I like your dog,” the young woman says.

“He’s not for sale,” Thaddeus laughs.

“I should hope not.”

They walk across the sales yard.

“What did you have in mind? Cheap and cheerful or something more solid.”

“I’m not sure. Let’s look.”

He walks and talks her through the lines of cars. He’s in no rush; there’s no one else about, he has all afternoon and so, it seems, does she. He explains the benefits of one above another, checking prices against his stock list as if he didn’t already know the cost of every car and the amount by which he is prepared to reduce it. And, each time he mentions a lower figure, she moves to the next vehicle and asks about colours or upholstery or wheel trims.

“You’re not here to buy a car, are you?” Thaddeus asks finally.

“No.” Her reply is definite.

“Just passing an afternoon?”

“No. I wanted to talk to you.”

“About?”

“Him. Then. About what really happened.”

“I don’t talk about him or then. And everybody knows what happened.”

“Bullshit,” the young woman laughs. “Those who don’t really care assume they know; those who care realise they don’t know.”

“And you care?”

“That’s why I’m here.”

“Oh come on,” Thaddeus barks a sharp cackle. “You’re here for a story. You’re a journalist. You smell a story, an old one but a story nevertheless.”

“Is that a crime?”

“Not at all and I wish you well with it. It’s just that the story isn’t here.”

“I’d write it sympathetically.”

“I have no doubt but that you would,” he says sarcastically.

“You don’t believe me?”

“Belief doesn’t come into it. There is no story here. Trust me. Not the one you’re looking for; I don’t think it exists. It’s a figment of your editor’s imagination. Let me guess. He’s in his fifties, one-time student activist, imagines himself a freethinker. He’s a conservative dressed in liberal clothing, trying to get you to recreate some element of the dream he thinks he missed out on. You do realise that sending you here is that middle-aged man’s surrogate fantasy.”

“You’ve thought about all this.”

“You’re not the first journalist to come around here. Some of them bring money, some come in short skirts, some are aggressive, some have that extra button open on their blouses – I’ve seen all the tacks they take. Sorry, that you take, trust me.”

“Trust doesn’t come into it,” the young woman smiles. “Believe me. There is a story.”

“Well, if there is, it’s not here,” Thaddeus says again.

“How’s business?”

“Fantastic! You’re the millionth customer we’ve had this month. That’s something about which I’ll happily give you a story – cars that won’t sell, I can ladle out heartbreaking stuff about a staff of four reduced to one. I can even give you an idea for a headline. The soundless silence. And the first line, if you want. Forty gleaming, driverless cars form a silent traffic jam, an image of the new republic. See, I’ve done half the work for you already. Or I can give you an angle. Look, down there, seven four-wheel drives, not one of them more than two years old, each of them an aspiration that crashed in metaphorical flames. Actually, maybe that’s not a good analogy. Each a dream that withered on the vine of illusory success.”

The young woman laughs.

“You’re impressed, I can see,” Thaddeus smiles. “In return for your listening, you get a free key ring.”

Rummaging in his jacket pocket, he produces a fob and hands it to the woman.

“Thank you,” she says. “But you don’t like me, do you?”

“Actually I do.”

She seems surprised.

“I don’t like what you’re doing or how you tried to do it but I do like you. Something you said.”

“What did I say?”

“You said ‘I should hope not’ about my dog not being for sale.”

She nods.

“You can have a cup of coffee if you want,” Thaddeus says. “But no story.”

The woman nods again and they walk towards the office. Thaddeus draws up a chair and motions her to sit down. The dog settles at her feet. Thaddeus pours two coffees, clears a space on his desk, pushes sachets of milk and sugar towards the young woman, takes a packet of biscuits from a drawer and sits opposite her.

The woman sips her coffee.

“What was he like?” she asks, as nonchalantly as though she were asking about a set of seat covers.

Thaddeus allows himself a smile and a raised eyebrow but says nothing.

“It’s just a story at this stage,” the woman says.

“Then you could make it up, give your imagined version. Others have.”

“That’s not how I work.”

“Good for you.”

Thaddeus stares through the plate glass window that frames five miles of countryside. Across the distant fields, the haze gives way to memory. He looks back through the mists of spring to a remembered evening and sees his father in a garden.

“I’ll tell you a story,” he says.

The woman looks up but doesn’t reach for her recorder.

“It had been raining all that afternoon,” Thaddeus says quietly. “But the late light and the evening breeze were sucking the dampness out of the raised drills. My father bent and dug out one last sod near the headland of the garden. ‘Now,’ he called. Called to me. ‘Bring him out.’ I was a young boy then, ten or eleven, used to doing as I was told, but I hesitated. ‘Bring him on,’ my father said again. ‘The sooner we get this done, the better; you’re only prolonging his misery.’

“I turned and opened a shed door. From the darkness, an old dog hobbled into the garden. It seemed to me that it was suddenly twilight and that the warmth had gone out of the sun.

“Bring him over,’ my father called. ‘It’ll save us carrying him.’

“I put my hand on the dog’s shoulder and he looked up at me.

“Come on,’ I said quietly. I was hoping the animal wouldn’t hear or would disobey but, instead, he wagged his tired tail, his eyes brightened momentarily and he struggled in my wake, along the narrow path to where my father stood, crowbar in hand.

“‘See,’ my father said. ‘He can hardly walk. We’re doing him the best turn anyone ever done him.’

“The dog didn’t look up to the place from which my father’s voice had come. Instead he held my gaze, I know it was because he trusted me. The breeze was lifting his long coat and then it seemed to me that his head exploded. My father had brought the crowbar down heavily, the point crashed through the dog’s skull. For a moment, the animal went on embracing me with that unquestioning look and his eyes filled up with blood and slowly they begin to drip, then gush. Blood was bulging from his sockets and suddenly it spouted out. And, just as abruptly, the dog’s legs buckled and he fell on his side, away from the open grave. There was no sound. I had heard nothing, no splitting skull, no breaking bone, no whimper, no bark.

“My father put his boot on the animal’s side, jerking the crowbar from his skull.

“‘Never felt it,’ he said.

“I was mesmerised by the tears of blood drip, drip, dripping on the evening clay. My father heaved the dog’s carcass with the toe of his boot and rolled it awkwardly into the hole he had dug. There was nothing left only the dark blots of drying blood on the clay.”

The young woman is silent.

“There’s your story,” Thaddeus says quietly.

“Thank you.”

For a long time they sit in silence. Finally, the young woman takes her bag from the floor and stands up.

“Thank you again.”

Thaddeus drains his coffee cup and walks her to the door.

“I hope I didn’t waste your afternoon,” she says.

“Millionth customer, glad to see you,” he smiles. “You’ve got your free key ring?”

She opens her palm; the key ring rests in it.

“You should have been a writer,” she says.

“No, that was someone else’s job, but we won’t go there. And now it’s your job. Good luck with it.”

Bending, the young woman pats the dog, then walks towards the road.

“If you know of anyone looking for a good car, tell them about us,” Thaddeus calls after her.

The woman waves without turning and disappears around the yard gate. Thaddeus sits again on the office step and buries his face in the warm hair of this dog, the dog whose smell reminds him of the smell of that other dog on long ago, far away shining days. And he thinks of a summer evening after rain in another garden, not the one in which the dog was killed and not the overgrown patch at the back of this car showroom. He’s there with a girl, dark-haired, like the young woman who has just left. The girl is saying, “It’s the most beautiful evening of my life.” They’re standing in the shadow of a tree and an hour has passed since she agreed to marry him.

As they watch, a dunnock flies into the paws of a skulking cat and from there into the cat’s jaws. He wonders what the dunnock was thinking to be so easily caught. Was it thinking only of food or was it not thinking at all? Was it celebrating the summer day that was ending, yet another summer day on top of all the other summer days stretching back across the weeks?

“It seemed to be filled with joy when it flew into the cat’s paws, the cat’s claws, the cat’s jaws,” Thaddeus says. “It was singing.”

“Birds are addicted to singing,” she says. “It’s not a conscious choice. It truly is an addiction.”

And he knows, in that instant, that they will never marry.

Even now, thirty-five years later, sitting on the sunlit step of this failing second-hand car business, he has no idea how or why he knew, intuitively, that what had just been agreed would never happen. He has never been able to fathom why, suddenly, they were losing one another, why something in her tone, rather than what she had said, told him everything he didn’t want to know.

“Gardens are not always good places,” Thaddeus says.

The dog looks up at him, then rolls on its back, wanting its belly rubbed.

Thaddeus obliges, laughing as he does so.

John MacKenna is the author of fifteen books – novels, short-stories, memoir, biography and most recently, a collection of poems Where Sadness Begins (Salmon Poetry). He is a winner of the Irish Times Fiction Award; the Hennessy Award and the Cecil Day Lewis Award. Email John at ub15@eircom.net

House In Shadows – Photo by Christopher Woods.

The Chrysalis

 – By Wes Henricksen

There was an ant. The ant was running along one day, nimbly dodging around pebbles and sticks, when he caught sight of a chrysalis hanging from the side of a log. He’d never seen a chrysalis before. It looked like some kind of strange upside down mushroom. Or maybe a fungus. Whatever it was, it was funny-looking.

The ant, uninterested in the strange-looking thing, ran along, foraging for bits and pieces of this and that to carry back to its nest.

The next day, the ant saw the chrysalis there again. He looked a little closer, wondering what in the world it was. It didn’t look like part of the tree, exactly. But it didn’t move either. He went up to it and bit it. Nothing. A droplet of clear liquid seeped from the puncture he’d made but the thing stayed rigid. He ran along.

A couple days later the chrysalis caught his attention in a big way. It was moving! He ran up to it as it swung back and forth. Back and forth, back and forth. It was the saddest thing he’d ever seen. The damned thing was alive! He couldn’t believe it. What a miserable way to live, he thought. It’s stuck in place—it can’t go anywhere! He watched it a little while, feeling sorry for it.

Then he got bored and went on foraging.

The next morning the ant hurried to the chrysalis, anxious to see the pitiful, squirming thing. Maybe bite it again. But it wasn’t there. All he found was an empty shell. He walked very close to it and looked inside. Nothing. He bit the shell but it was hard and crusty. A small flake fell from it.

The thing was gone.

He imagined that finger-shaped bug bouncing and squirming along somewhere close by. No legs. No wings. No eyes or ears or antennae. It would be the easiest prey ever, and it would be a prize if he brought it back to the nest. It would be a feast. But he didn’t have time to go looking for it. He had foraging to do.

Wes Henricksen is a former ice hockey player who now practices law.  When he can, he writes.  His writing has appeared in various media, including the New York Times and the Chicken Soup for the Soul book series, and he is the author of the popular law student guidebook Making Law Review.  He is currently working on his first novel. His Twitter handle is @henricksen.

 

What Might Have Been Lost

Anywhere Is Paradise With You – Photo by Denise O’Riordan.

The Same Old Song of Plenty

– By Matt Hutchinson

‘I’ll tell you who’s to blame,’ the old man said, banging his dessert spoon on the check tablecloth, ‘that bitch who lives on Liberty Island.’

The woman sighed but didn’t let go of his free hand, which lay palm down in hers, his knuckles thick like knots in old rope.

‘You’re drunk, Paolo,’ she said. The restaurant was empty apart from a young man alone at a corner table. He looked up briefly when Paolo banged the spoon but quickly returned to his dinner.

‘She stands there and sings out across the ocean,’ Paolo continued, ‘same old song of plenty. What does she give when you get here? Nothing.’

‘We have this.‘ The woman spread her hands. ‘Food, wine, each other.’

‘Pfff,’ said Paolo, ‘we had that already.’

‘We have a home, we have a family.’

‘And she gave us those did she? No.’

The waiter – a young man, thirty at most – took a glass from the rack above the bar. He held it up to the light, polished it carefully on his apron and put it back. The woman finished the last of her dessert.

‘Delicious,’ she said, placing her spoon down. ‘Typical man, blame a woman for your own disappointment.’ She smiled and rubbed the back of his hand with her thumb.

‘Fifty-seven years,’ said Paolo. ‘Fifty-seven years in this country and still we’re living hand to mouth.’

‘Maybe so but the hand has a well-stocked cupboard to choose from these days.’ The woman wiped the corner of her mouth with a napkin. ‘You were never like this when we were young.’

‘When we were young I didn’t think this was how we’d end up,’ he said.

‘This?’ the woman replied, pushing her plate away.

‘Another birthday dinner in a cheap neighbourhood restaurant.’

‘Would you rather eat in the fancy restaurants uptown?’ she said. ‘Where they charge twelve dollars for polenta and call it rustic?’

Paolo looked at the tablecloth.

‘When were you last hungry?’ the woman continued. ‘When did we not have wine? Are our children not healthy?’

Paolo spoke more softly. ‘What about the dream? What about our life?’

‘We have a life, mio caro, we have a life.’

‘Not the one we came for.’

‘Maybe not the one you came for.’ The woman held his gaze.

‘We had a life before we came – we have a life now,’ he said. ‘No difference.’

‘We had hope, not a life. We brought that seed with us and planted it here in America. It would never have grown into anything more at home, you know that. Those hills are too old, too tired.’

‘It’s me who is too tired now,’ Paolo said.

A siren passed outside. The couple sat in silence till it faded.

‘More wine?’ the waiter asked, leaning in to clear their plates. Paolo shook his head.

‘Why mourn a dream,’ the woman said, ‘when we have a reality. Be happy with who you are now.’

Paolo waved a hand in dismissal. The waiter, misreading the gesture, returned with the bill. Paolo sighed, took out his wallet and counted out a small stack of bills.

‘The truth is,’ he said, tucking his wallet back into the inner pocket of his coat, ‘I’m to blame. I’m the one who brought us here, who believed her promise – wanted to believe it. What kind of fool does that make me, Francesca?’

‘Come now,’ the woman said, taking his hand again. ‘You’re no fool. It will feel different soon, it always does, you know that. Every year-’ she paused. ‘It passes.’

Paolo nodded.

‘You can mourn for now but let tomorrow be the end of it.’ He held her coat so she could slide first one arm and then the other into the sleeves. As she smoothed the lapel of his jacket he kissed the back of her hand and they left the restaurant arm in arm.

The waiter pushed their chairs back under the table and held the door for the young man who left, turning his collar up against the wind. The waiter turned the sign from Open to Closed and locked the door. He took down a glass, poured an inch of amaretto into it and added an ice cube. He held the glass up in salute to the old couple as they disappeared into the dark beyond the streetlights.

***

The morning was clear but Paolo’s head was a little foggy from too much wine the night before. He would go and see her; she always made him feel better. Anyway, he needed to apologise. He made it through the security checks and onto the boat quickly; the terminal wasn’t busy yet, not as busy as it would be in a couple of hours. As the ferry moved off he stood at the railing and watched Battery Park recede. He was still watching the city skyline when a young man tapped him on the elbow.

‘Time to get off, sir. We’re here.’ Paolo nodded and set his wind-blown hat straight. He kept his eyes low as he stepped off the boat and didn’t look up until he was close enough that his shadow blended with hers.

‘I’m sorry about last night,’ he said. The woman gazed out over the docks towards the Atlantic. ‘About what I said – what I called you.’ He wasn’t here just to apologise – he had to put an end to it. Paolo watched a line form to enter her pedestal. Since the attacks you had to book in advance to go all the way to the crown. Used to be you could just show up but they were clamping down now for security reasons. Who knew how many times Paolo had made that climb and stared out towards his past.

Back in Genoa it had been the hills. Whenever he needed some time to himself, time to think, he’d head out of town and climb, look out over the old harbour towards the New World and whisper his secrets to the wind. When he came to New York he found no hills, only tall buildings with security desks and over-inquisitive doormen. This town didn’t want his secrets. Then he’d discovered the Liberty Island ferry. As often as he could Paulo would make an excuse and slip away to climb up and whisper his secrets to the statue. She would keep them safe, tell them to no-one. For a while Francesca had been convinced he was seeing another woman and, in a way, he was. Eventually though she accepted Paolo’s walks as she had in Genoa; sometimes, it was understood, he just needed to be alone. Anyway, now he was an old man it was good for him to walk.

How many secrets did his other woman hold in safekeeping for him now? In those first years it had been mostly the one he held closest and told to no-one, not even Francesca – I want to go home. After that had come others: I was fired from my job; I slept with Cecilia the night before we left Genoa; I don’t remember who I am anymore. She kept them all.

For two years in the Eighties the statue had been closed for repairs in readiness for her centennial. Her right arm, it turned out, had never been properly attached and her head had been fitted two feet off centre. Paolo had kept his secrets then, written them down. He didn’t like to think of workmen up in Liberty’s crown, poking around in the quiet detail of his unhappiness, but what choice did he have? Again, after the towers fell, he’d been forced to keep his secrets close. When the statue finally re-opened in 2009 access to the crown was restricted to 240 people a day and Paolo had to find other ways to get his secrets to her. He could book in advance and go to the top and, once, he had, whispering secret after secret as he walked amongst strangers. Other times he only came as far as the island, secrets scribbled on tiny balls of folded up paper, which he would slip into the pocket of unsuspecting tourists as they circled the pedestal, hoping they were one of the lucky ones. To be on the safe side he would slip the same one into several pockets. He couldn’t often afford the ferry though so most days he sat on a bench in Battery Park and whispered to himself as he watched Liberty from over the water, waiting for the day he could be with her.

Today was different; Paolo had booked several months ago as a birthday present to himself. He was going to the top. As he joined the nine others in the first group of the day he fingered the worn piece of paper in his coat pocket, softened by time and by touch so it more closely resembled cloth. He’d touched it so many times over the years he was sure some of his DNA – the spiral ladder that climbed to the very heart of who he was – was embedded in its grain. The statue swallowed the queue one by one; hungry, like her country, for the people of the world. To be a national in some countries you needed family dating back generations – to become an American you just had to come here. Yet Paolo had never felt like one. He was still an outsider, after all this time. It was no secret; he told Francesca that. You never felt like you belonged in Genoa, she had patiently reminded him. It’s different here, Paolo had said, although he wasn’t sure it was. When he’d booked the ticket for Liberty’s crown he hadn’t know what he’d do when the day came. He knew now. As he passed from sunlight into the pedestal, he had more than a secret – he had a plan.

Paolo headed straight for the stairs; he knew the climb by heart. Up he went, each step taking him nearer his end. He had to pause several times to get his breath back – that had never happened when he was a young man. Finally, slightly dizzy, he spiralled out into the light. Up in the crown the usual shuffle and scuffle to get the best view was taking place. It still amazed Paolo that, in the statue’s 129-year history, only one man had managed to kill himself by hurling himself from the top, glancing off the copper as he fell like a tiny human tear. He reached up and touched a fingertip to the ripples on the ceiling – the underside of Liberty’s wavy hair. A young Japanese couple moved from their spot and Paolo slid into the gap they left.

He looked out at the ocean as though he could see all the way to Genoa – to the lighthouse and, beyond it on the Apennine foothills, to a younger version of himself. But the curve of the earth hides many secrets and all he saw was water. Paolo couldn’t recall now what had so dissatisfied him with his old life – just that he’d been hungry to leave, had needed to leave. He pulled the folded paper from his pocket and stroked its soft nap a final time. The greying surface was covered in looping handwriting; years of secrets in shades from vivid blue to faded purples and greys. Paolo opened a window and took a deep breath. He took a step closer. Slowly he began to tear off bits of paper and stuff them through the open gap. One by one his secrets fluttered out into the air. There went I’m scared of becoming a father, followed closely by I don’t belong anywhere and What if she leaves me?

‘What you got there?’ A woman in her early fifties was watching with interest.

‘A ticket,’ Paolo replied.

‘Ticket for what? Don’t you need it no more?’

He dropped the final piece and watched until he couldn’t see it through his tears. He dried his eyes and descended, one slow step at a time, towards the exit, the ferry, the walk back uptown and the two flights to his front door where Francesca waited patiently (as she had for years) in their new life. On the ground he looked up and fancied he saw a secret or two floating off to settle on the waters of Upper Bay or beyond, but it was probably just old eyes playing tricks on him. As the ferry pulled away from the quay Paolo took one last look. He tipped his hat, settled it back on his head and turned to face the city, rising up to greet him like a familiar friend. As the boat drew nearer the skyline filled his vision until it was all he could see.

Matt Hutchinson was born and grew up in Lancashire. From an early age he was convinced he was going to be a rock star and learned to play a series of instruments in readiness. However, despite a degree in pop music (seriously) and a wide variety of gigs, ranging from the Salzburg Festival to Cambridge Folk Festival, and including two equally terrifying performances at the Albert Hall and Wakefield Prison, stardom forgot to knock.

In the meantime Matt kept himself busy with a variety of jobs in record shops, bookshops, music publishing, websites and – for an all too brief two weeks – as a volunteer monkey keeper.

Matt began writing in 2009 and, in 2011, attended a Faber Academy course given by MJ Hyland and Trevor Byrne. He has completed a novel and is currently working on a second as well as a collection of short stories. He lives in south-east London with his wife and a secret desire to still be a rock star.

Follow Matt on Twitter @matthwrites

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leaves

The Heir

 – By EM Reapy

Grandad said to Ma that I was an odd, sensitive lad because I wouldn’t even go down to the slaughterhouse. The sound of the cattle bawling at night was bad enough.

I was sitting the other side of the table from him. He never spoke to me.

Grandad said to Ma, ‘The boy’ll be a weakling. He needs protein.’

But I still couldn’t eat the meat. Not even poke it with my fork. I didn’t mind just spuds and beans for dinner. At least I wouldn’t have cows Irish dancing in my stomach and the guilt of their orphan calves on my mind after.

Grandad had ‘talks’ in Westport every Friday.

I asked Ma, ‘With who?’

‘Farmers, butchers and codgers.’

A rough fella, Donny, would go with him. Donny had black front teeth and always smelt of cowshite. I never knew what he was saying. He laughed at the end of his sentences. He’d hose down his green wellies but Ma still made him take them off before coming inside.

Ma said Donny was pure handy at slitting throats. Giving the cows a quick death. This was supposed to be a good thing. I thought of the blood spurting from the Friesians. Their big black eyes sad. Their big pink tongues dangling out their mouths. Deflating to death. Ma said it wasn’t like that at all.

Donny had an awful turn and his left side went lame. Grandad said I’d be going to the ‘talks’ with him from then on. My pulse pumped and my head went roasting hot when I thought about it.

*

We get the train. It sounds like a heart beating on the rails. I can only see Grandad’s hands holding the Irish Times as he sits across from me. Trimmed nails with white half moons at the bottom. His pipe fills the carriage with Sweet Afton smoke.

In Castlebar, he crunches the paper down to chat with the ticket inspector. Would Mayo bring Sam back this year?

‘Would they hell,’ says the ticket man.

My job in the ‘talks’ is to stand behind Grandad, ready to take notes, do messages or run into someone’s shop or pub or house and see who’s there and if they are trading.

I like watching Grandad with them. They are all happy to see him.

After, Grandad buys us cones with flakes. He’s his eaten before I even get to the wafer of mine. We walk to the station. The sun is crawling down.

My eyelids sink on the train. Grandad puts his suitjacket over my lap. I wake to the whistle, recognise the bridge at Claremorris station.

Ma is on the platform, waving.

‘How did ye get on?’ She kisses me wet on the forehead.

Grandad says, ‘A great little worker, so you are,’ to me.

EM Reapy is from Mayo, Ireland and has an MA in Creative Writing from Queen’s University, Belfast. She co-founded and edits wordlegs.com. She is the 2012 Tyrone Guthrie Exchange Irish Writer in Varuna Writers’ House, Australia.

Her work has been published in Ireland, the UK, Australia, France and the United States. Her short film ‘Lunching’ is in production with Barley Films Animation Studio and she has been longlisted for the 2012 RTE/Filmbase Short Film Award. Her podcast ‘Getting Better’ went to No. 1 globally in iTunes’ Literature charts, May 2012.

She was featured at NYWF in Australia, the Dromineer Literary Festival and is the Director of Shore Writers’ Festival which took place in Enniscrone at the start of November.

Follow EM Reapy and wordlegs on Twitter @emreapy, @wordlegs, @30under

How The Light Got In

How The Light Got In – Photo By Unicorn.

The Only Tree In The Field

– By Michael Naghten Shanks

Amber light from the low rising sun beams between milky clouds that spill across the sky. Its warm tone brightens the rain soaked bark of the only tree in the field.

I am kneeling in the long grass beside the brook: the khakis she bought me are drenched in the morning dew.

I hold her heart in my soil-speckled hands. It is the last piece of her that I will bury.

This was where we first met. I was climbing the tree when she appeared, like a bud bursting up through the soil.

“Bet you won’t jump in from there?” she said.

From my angle all I could see was her curly ginger hair, freckled forehead, and chestnut brown eyes.

The stream was only over a foot deep, but I wanted to impress her. I broke my ankle and she and I became inseparable.

We had our first kiss behind the tree. We carved our love into it before we knew it was a cliché. We got married when I inherited the house. We never had children, but we did go through our fair share of cats and dogs over the years. We built a nice little garden and grew everything we could to sustain ourselves.

I found her here the first time she had a stroke, and the second. Last night was the final time. Since then I’ve been planting pieces of her, hoping she would grow again.

Michael Naghten Shanks is a writer from Dublin. 

Follow him on Twitter @MichaelNShanks

_____________________________________________________________

Eternally Yours

– By Emily Cross

It is often said that when you are about to die, your life flashes before your eyes. In my case however, it was more of a question of many lives than one in particular.

I have existed for a hundred lifetimes but for only a hundred brief moments have I been able to reach out to him, across the divide between the end of that life and the beginning of the next. For this is our eternal punishment – my never ending cycle of ignorant life and his never ending lack of it with only a brief crossover between, allowing time for only a touch and maybe a kiss before the next life begins.

It is snowing today, although it is spring. The white blue slant of light cuts through the dark shadows of the room, illuminating the rough plaster of my bedroom ceiling. For fifty years, I have laid in this bed, every single night staring at this same ceiling, my husband beside me snoring as I listened to a painful silence which resided deep inside of me that I never understood – until now.

It is always in my final moments of life, that the curtain is drawn back on my memories and I finally remember him – love and pain intertwined tying our souls forever together.

It will be today, that this life will end and that we will meet again.

Tilting my head to one side, resting my cheek against the smooth pillow, I can see the soft clumps of snow falling through the gap of my curtains. The world is coated in a pure white, with hints of green and bark peeking from beneath.

Closing my eyes, my mind is full of white. There was much more of it back then in the wilderness – more beautiful and deadly . . .

I remember that night sky – a cascade of colours as the aurora lights shimmered above the black forest. I tightened my grip on my father’s gun; its weight was a comfort in my hands although I could barely feel it.

It was so cold.

It was then I remember that I heard the wolves singing. Their death song seemed to make even the trees sway and dance.

I tried to quicken my pace but it felt like every limb was weighted – I stumbled then fell.

I knew I had to move. ‘Get up and go’ my mind screamed, but my body said ‘no’ and that voice grew quiet and still.

I thought of my parents. I thought of Anya. I even thought of Sasha – and wondered would he feel guilt or relief when they found me?

I didn’t feel as cold now. My breathing, once panicked now grew more calm and slow and my mind drifted away from the present, my world beginning to slip away. . .

I lay on my back now, I must have moved at some point but I don’t remember how – all I remember is that night sky going on forever. . .

It was then that I remembered.

He is coming.

It was there on that bed of snow, between the slowing of my heartbeat and freezing of my body that I finally know myself again. I am no longer the young man, tricked into the woods, soon to become prey – I am only his. I feel the life seep from my bones, as I watch the heavens colour the sky.

He is here.

His lips gently press against my frozen lips, parting them slightly. He steals my breath away with the smooth feel of his kiss. Gently he pulls away, and I open my eyes to meet his – obsidian black of eternity, they peer into my soul and I know I am his in this life and the next . . .

I feel my chest restrict, and the pull of the next life as my final breath escapes in a whispered farewell.

Quickly he leans in again, stealing a final kiss before I am truly gone. . .

My cheeks are wet with tears.

I am no longer with him. I am still here, lying on a soft bed of covers and pillows watching the snow fall. I can hear the hushed whispers of the doctor speaking to my daughter in the hall. She worries that I am in pain, if only she knew the cause of my pain – an eternity of stolen moments and separations.

I can hear her move toward my bedroom, away from the doctor, her footsteps rapping against the hard oak floor. I wish I had the energy to wipe my cheeks dry, but my hands remain still – resting uselessly on the decorative duvet.

“Oh Mama”

I hear the pain in her voice, as she plucks a tissue from the box by my bed and gently wipes my tears. The tissue trembles against my skin – she tries to still her shaking hands. I continue to look out the window, pretending not to know her grief. She leans in and presses a brief peck against my cheek before whispering an excuse to leave the room.

Even after she has left, I can smell her perfume . . .

I remember that smell of perfume, lingering in the air. Our bed was unmade and messed. He didn’t even have the consideration to make it. I leaned against the wall for support. He didn’t care if I knew about her or not. He didn’t care at all.

I ripped his necklace from my neck and threw it on our bed. It was a birthday present. The party was still in full swing downstairs – everyone getting splendidly drunk in spite of prohibition. He didn’t think I noticed when he slipped away, only a moment after her. It wasn’t the first time but it was the most painful. I don’t know why.

Without realising it, I had crossed the room and had reached out and touched the sheets of the bed. It was too much – all too much.

All too much.

I went to the bathroom, locking the door and began to fill the bath. I lit some candles and watched them sway, as I stripped off the dress he had bought me.

I remember now it was so easy to let go then – much easier than times before. I let the taps run and the water rise as I let myself sink below the surface. It is here encased in the warm scented water, that I finally remember myself.

He is coming.

I am no longer her – that young woman, betrayed by her husband – I am only his. I feel myself struggle as I begin to choke on the water and make sure to press against the sides of the bath to keep under the surface. I wanted this to end. My vision begins to dim and fade. The struggle leaves my body and my mind finally feels ease.

He is here.

I feel his gentle touch as he traces my cheek. I close my eyes, savouring it. Time is running out.

There is no water now, there is only us.

I feel my chest restrict, and the pull of the next life as my final moment escapes into this watery grave. I cannot whisper, yet I know he hears me.

“I love you”

Then I am again truly gone. . .

I think it has stopped snowing now. I can hear the grandchildren laughing in happy ignorance outside, as their mother bangs around in the kitchen – trying to remain busy while she waits for me to leave.

It is all about the waiting now.

She will wait in dread, while I will wait in anticipation – not for this life to end but for him to finally come.

I feel small in this bed now, engulfed by its size. Its vast space almost feels suffocating and hot, although for more than ten years, one side of this bed has been empty and cold. The bed is too much, too big for someone so little, too big for me . . .

I am lying in a cot, cramped between two still warm bodies. The sisters do not know yet that I will soon follow my brother and sister from this hellish place.

Even here, I can still hear the constant bustle of the Calcutta streets – it had been our family’s home since I could remember. I was the only one left and soon I would be gone too.

The agonised moans coughs of the neighbouring beds which were constant in our time here finally quieten, everything growing silent. My time is ending and he is coming.

I am no longer the young boy, begging on the streets, starving to death and suffocated with disease – I am only his. I feel the breathe leave my heavy lungs, as my hearing grows more silent and my coughing stills.

He is here.

I watch as he approaches me, the shadows pulling into his existence. He leans down and I feel his cool breath on my cheeks and lips. There is no more hurt or agony now, there is only us.

His hand touches my forehead, stroking my fevered mind into calmness, then he kisses me on the lips. It is gentle and soft, like when I felt my mother’s silk.

I know I am his in this life and the next forever.

There is the pull again of the next life as with a shuttering cough, my final breathe escapes into the heat of this never ending season. I cannot say farewell. . .

Everything is distant now.

I know that my family is here with me, but I am no longer with them.

Whispers are fading, growing quieter.

From my window I see the snow is beginning to melt and disappear.

The small space of my bedroom is full now, – people holding my useless hands and stroking thin hair.

My life is fading brightly as the body begins to die and my soul prepares.

The familiar is becoming strange and everything begins to depart.

He is coming.

It is here on my plush bed, that I am no longer an old woman, looking at the snow, waiting to die – I am now only his. I begin to feel the life seep from my useless body, as I watch the snow melt from the world outside.

He is here.

I feel his gentle touch as he traces my wrinkled cheek. It was only us now.

His lips gently press against mine, before the next farewell begins.

We are eternally bound to live this cycle of love and separation till the heavens cease.

Closing my eyes, I feel my heart has stopped beating and my lungs have stilled.

Yet, I am not afraid, I know he is here with me.

He will never leave me.

Neither in this life nor in the next.

For truly, my lover is most eternally constant.

Death always is.

Emily Cross is a pseudonym aspiring to be a published and (hopefully well) paid author. By day, she is an unnamed mild-mannered if not neurotic PhD student. By night, she is Emily Cross, a blog hopping chocoholic with delusions of literary grandeur, who procrastinates her time  through tweeting, blogging and posting random thoughts across the blogosphere. You can find her most recent ramblings on her blog.

Genesis

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