Old Habits and New Arrivals By Alun Evans

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What I mean to say is that there was a slightly contagious form of madness spreading its way through the house. It was one of those subtle forms of insanity, the kind not to be picked up in its early formative stages. From what the narrator could gather, the madness’ early manifestations had come with the arrival of Peter, a sculptor/house cleaner born and bred in Beeston. Peter’s newly-acquired room had recently been vacated by the post-punk, straight-edge vegan Birdy, who had stopped paying rent three months before in what he called ‘a political protest against the corporate capitalist scum’, but which in reality meant Birdy had been kicked off his housing allowance for refusing to leave Beezlebub – his demented Pitbull-Alsation hybrid thing – outside of the Housing Benefits office. This subsequently left his three other housemates – Alexandria, Phillip and August – footing the bill instead and they’d had to find a replacement quick-sharpish. This was accomplished through Gumtree. Et voilà: Peter.

 

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When Peter arrived with his bag of belongings, the room smelled of tangy lemon marijuana and still-thriving BO. Flyers for hardcore gigs were sellotaped up on every available wall space, hiding the damp.

‘Feel free to just rip all that shit down,’ Alexandria had informed Peter, not seeming to notice the smell, the physical presence of it lingering in the room’s corners like an all too substantial poltergeist. Neither did Alexandria notice Peter’s own reaction to the room, which was, however, minimal to the point of negligible. Alexandria was looking elsewhere, inwards, and she knew that her Twitter and her Tinder and her Linked In and her Facebook and her Instagram simply weren’t going to police themselves. No sir they weren’t.

 

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And so Peter had set about refurbing the room in accordance with his own needs and tastes. To the rest of the tenants, these needs and tastes appeared ascetic to the extreme, bordering on total aesthetic and emotional neglect.

‘He’s living like a total monk,’ is how August phrased it, talking in subdued tones from the kitchen area to Phillip, laid out in the living-room’s Oakley (other brands are probably available) leather recliner, hopelessly addicted to Bethesda Game Studios’ RPG shooter, Fallout 4.

‘At least he’s quiet,’ replied Phillip, working on his Power Armour so that he might stand a better chance against the Super Mutants currently besieging Sanctuary Hill’s shack walls. Phillip was hoping that August would soon leave the room and stop disrupting the immersive, post-apocalyptic ambience he had, for the past eight months now, being building his life upon.

August nodded, spreading Lurpak Spreadable across a suspect-looking piece of blue bread. He was thinking about the alternative, the previous occupant: Birdy’s late-night ravings against the Conservatives, the Liberals, Labour, the Greens; he was thinking about the hours he stood there in front of Birdy’s weed-focused polemical fury, nodding politely and being unable to detach himself from the ranting and go to bed, or else go to Alexandria’s bed, where there would be a 50/50 chance that something might happen, something that might, inevitably, lead to something else. Because that is what had been happening recently.

 

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In other words, the household was not as harmonious as it had never been and, focusing on this new disharmony that was not the same as the old disharmony the original inhabitants had grown used to (it was, after all, at least exciting when the police got called after Birdy threatened to punch the landlord because he was acting like a total Nazi), said original inhabitants decided a house meeting should be called in order to discuss this newly distinguishable disharmony as exacerbated by their recently acquired Gumtree tenant.

They called the house meeting – the first of its kind – via WhatsApp and Snapchat. When everyone responded except for Peter, who was in his room and very quiet, they sat down together in the living room (meaning: Alexandria, August and Phillip did), turned off the X-box One and closed the lids of their humming trio of Macbook Pros. When all was relatively uncomfortably quiet they picked straws to see who would approach Peter’s room and ask if he might like to take part in proceedings. Unfortunately, due to lack of straws (because who actually buys straws in this day and age anyway?), the reality-bound threesome had to rely on picking coins out of an opaque tea mug instead, with the hierarchy of the value of the coins being based, obviously, on their respective monetary value. Which really didn’t quite work out too well, given that coins are all different sizes and weights and are easily distinguishable from touch alone. But none of the housemates seemed to care enough to consider this flaw in the decision-making process, and Alexandria lost because she was the last to pick her coin.

‘I really don’t want to do this,’ Alexandria said, to which August replied that he’d put himself in her place for a blowjob (‘I’m totally kidding dude’, he quickly added, but he wasn’t, not at all) and Phillip said something that could have been ‘fuck that shit’ but maybe wasn’t.

 

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Clutching the offending two-pence piece in her hand, Alexandria trotted reluctantly up the stairs to once-Birdy’s room as Phillip and August gave each other secret and silent high-fives in the living-room; August then opening his Macbook to Skype his girlfriend Megan, who was currently travelling around the US and kept posting Instagram photos of her selfie-decapitated and sunbaked legs at the Grand Canyon, at Venice beach, at some show in Las Vegas etc. and who didn’t really know about August’s sporadic nocturnal activities with his housemate i.e. the now-ascending Alexandria; Phillip turning back on his X-box and once again hoping that August might leave the room and take his scattered, lagging Skype conversation (that would occasionally – and obscenely, grossly – take a dangerous public turn into sweating innuendo) into the privacy of his own bastard bedroom.

 

//

 

When Alexandria knocked on Peter’s room, it took him a long moment to answer. It was the kind of long moment that might make you think someone’s either not at home, or, if you know they are definitely at home, then they are either in a very deep sleep or are just dead. When Peter did finally answer (he wasn’t dead), he said this: ‘I’m just, um, pretty busy.’

‘It’s kinda important Peter,’ Alexandria replied, staring at the blank door and imagining all kinds of nefarious situations Peter might be involved with in there, behind that plank of blank wood. Although his voice did sound nice and soft, politely gentle. ‘It’s… well, we’re thinking of having a house meeting kind of thing.’

‘Yeah?’ came Peter’s uncertain reply. ‘What were you thinking about having a house meeting about?’ A pause. ‘Have we got rats?’

‘What!?!’ Alexandria scanned the hallway subconsciously for vermin. ‘No, of course not. It’s not about… Wait a minute, have yougot rats?’

Another long pause, before: ‘No, I was just guessing. It seems like the kind of issue that a house meeting would be called for. Like to talk about how much an exterminator costs, or about buying one of those, um, subsonic devices that are humane and just, irritate them until they leave?’

‘Yeah right, that’s true. But I mean, there could be other issues too, aside from rodents.’ Alexandria had no idea about what these subsonic devices were, but Peter’s voice was relaxing, and led her to believe that these devices definitely existed and would probably be a great call if they did ever happen to have a rat problem in the near future.

‘I guess you’re right’ – shuffling noise behind the door, and Alexandria imagining one giant rat edging around the bare room of ex-housemate Birdy, and then Alexandria also realising that she couldn’t quite remember what this new housemate, Peter, actually looked like. Did he look a bit like Christian Bale in that film where he chops off his arm? Was he amputated like Megan was in her selfie-trip across America, but this time actually? Or was that what Birdy had looked like, before he flew the coop?

‘Should I’ – Peter said, very hesitantly now – ‘come and join the meeting then?’

‘Yeah, well that’s why I was coming up, here. To ask if you’d like to join in and discuss… any issues we might need to get off our chests?’

‘But not rats?’

‘God no! No rats period. Forget the rats. Just… other things on our chests, on our minds.’

‘Okay, cool.’

Alexandria stood staring at the door, kind of touching the cool metallic handle, expecting it to open. When it didn’t, she said, ‘So I’ll see you downstairs in five?’

‘Totally,’ responded the door.

 

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After two hours of waiting (no one venturing back on up to Peter’s room because it just seemed, well, rude), Phillip is fine, because he’s back on track with Fallout 4 and his EXP rating is going through the roof and ain’t no way any laser damage is getting on through his Power Armour right now, shit. As is August, who’s broken up (via Skype) with the image of tanned legs in various touristy places that constitutes Megan (some lagged weeping ensued), and is, quietly but less quietly than when he still had a girlfriend, trying to persuade Alexandria to experience all that a sojourn to his bedroom might entail. Alexandria, meanwhile, is successfully rebuffing all August’s repetitive attempts, and is not even opening her Macbook, is looking back up at the stairs where the soft voice of what probably wasn’t a human-sized rat had spoken through the two, three inches of wood and promised it would come and join in with the meeting that, unbeknownst to the rat, would seek at victimising it because it just ‘didn’t fit neatly here, really, and it was probably time to be looking at more, like, better options that would be mutually, y’know, beneficial for everyone involved’, and Alexandria is staring at the bottom step of shitty-coloured carpet, and even though she can’t remember exactly what their new housemate looks like, she is wondering (and in a very wonderful and surprising manner that makes her feel like she’s back in that world of childhood that had all seemed so tangible once upon a time) if she might not be, accidentally, disgustingly, totally out-of-the-blue as it were, in love. And this, she mulls over in a distracted way, would be the first time ever. A new experience. Something to possibly tell someone at some point in the near future. Something to post about. But then, how would the strange subtlety of such an event be accurately conveyed? How would she display her heart to the rest of her followers? How?

 

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Alun Evans is an English writer with an MA in Creative Writing from the Centre of New Writing, Manchester University. Since graduating, he has been published in VICEThe Lampeter ReviewLitro MagazineStructoOpen PenÉclat Fiction and the Saatchi Gallery Magazine. He has also been shortlisted three times for Glimmer Train‘s Short Story Award for New Writers.
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Image by Robert Chilton. More of Robert’s work can be viewed here: http://robertchilton.co.uk

Tropicana (Those Important Places) by Alicia Byrne Keane

The bus creaks into the stop beside the river. The big blue warehouse buildings. Lemon sky to the left over Patrick Street. No matter what season I go here Cork City always feels hazy and lazy, like some seaside holiday place. Some humidity in the air that’s not there in Dublin. Further South I guess although I can’t see that affecting climate at such a level.

It reminds me of nauseous car journeys when I was a kid, the long brown shape of Dunnes Stores on the river out the window. Visiting Margaret and Billy and getting the spare room, the one that was Margaret’s office with all the chiropractor stuff in it. The glass jar of green liquid with the pointy crystal top, the heavy textbooks, the chair in it with the hole for your face. Me and my Mam and my Dad all had to sleep in the same room and I’d wake up much earlier than them, counting to five hundred because I was so excited and bored. I loved sleeping on the floor on the airbed with its sudden funny movements, its farty noises.

I’m meeting Ana at the bus stop over the bridge, outside Brown Thomas. I ate all six of my rice cakes on the bus even though I don’t really think I was hungry. I’m just exhausted. I slept badly. I have that indiscriminate feeling of run-down wanting that I’m never sure is hunger or thirst.

I’m early. I walk up and down Patrick Street for a while, looking in glossy shop fronts. Weirdly like a French street or something in this kind of brittle sun. It hits me that I feel really ill. My eyes doing this funny thing, like everything’s too bright. The pavement is made of these light grey flagstones that look impossibly smooth and clean like we’re indoors. I’m halfway down Patrick Street and I suddenly feel like I can’t get a handle on the depth of anything around me, like the ground is coming up to meet me even though I’m still standing up.

I sit back down at the bus stop where I’m meant to wait for Ana. The feeling is starting to subside a bit but now I’m just anxious trying to monitor it, looking around me and seeing whether the world is doing that swelling thing again. That’s what it was. Like the ground was swelling.

I have anxiety but I’ve never properly had panic attacks. I had something close to one once, after I’d seen some movie that had scared me when I was about nine. I was in the back of my Mam’s car and I suddenly felt like everything was going too fast around me. Looking out the windows was making me sick so I had to squish myself between the two front seats and look at the road head-on as it hurtled towards us. I got that for years on and off, that feeling when you’re in a car and you suddenly realize how fast you’re going, everything blurring as it melts past you outside.

I realize there are some Facebook messages from you that I haven’t seen yet.

 

So you’re just going there for like a day

                            Yeah just for this festival yoke with Ana

Long way to go to hang out with a friend

                           Ah yeah haven’t seen her in ages though

Well let me know when you’re back

                           Yup! Will do

Because I thought we’d arranged to meet tomorrow

                           Yeah I’ll be back tomorrow! Still on for that if you are

Yeah I’ll be free 2pm or so

                           Oh sorry, is evening okay? I thought we’d said evening!

No I don’t think we said evening

                           Oh ok. Probs won’t be back until evening because buses

 Right. Let me know

                           Will do! I should be home 5 or so! Can meet you in town?

Well that’s a lot later than we’d said but ok

                           Aw I’m really sorry, v all over the place at the moment!

Yeah. Don’t you have something to go to

                           Nope just waiting for Ana to arrive!

Right

                           Are you ok? Sorry again ❤

Yes, why

                  Nothing you just seem upset! Bad at telling in messages though

I’m not upset        

                  Good! I am glad. How’s your day going?

Okay I guess why

                  Idk no real reason just chattin : )

Why are you still messaging me on here

                  Ok I can stop if you want? I just thought you were upset or something.

I’ve said I’m not

                  Okay, sorry!

Go meet your friend

 

The only thing I have in my bag, food or beverage wise, is some dark chocolate. I break off a square and eat it. It doesn’t make me feel any better.                    

I’m so relieved to be around Ana and her sister. Their muddy hiking boots and fleeces. Arguing gently about what groceries they should buy and bring, who’ll carry the bread and who’ll carry the houmous. I feel awkward intervening in anything as a guest, so I’m getting to drift around smiling gratefully. I guess I’m also glad her sister’s there because it means we don’t have to talk about private stuff.

The festival hasn’t really started yet. It’s only afternoon, and I get the impression that even when it’s going full swing it will be pretty chill. There are families with kids in their baggy pantaloons, the West Cork lot. The girls have gone to find loo’s and I’m there underneath a music tent where a band are tuning up, quiet fizzles of noise from the amps. The ground is muddy and pockmarked with footsteps here. The walls of the tent navy blue and the feeling again that my eyes are having trouble adjusting. It’s dark inside the tent and the flashes of drizzly sky visible at the sides too white. The ground stretches out around me too close to my face even though I’m standing it’s horrible.

‘Hey.’ Ana claps me between the shoulder blades and I jump. ‘We’re going to go for a walk since nothing’s started.’

The road plunges into damp woods. It’s the kind of country road with deep trenches of mud on either side of it, tire-sized, and a strip of grass down the middle like a widow’s-peak tuft on a bald guy’s head. Fairy lights strung up in between the telegraph poles. It’s still too bright – the sky that overcast searing white – so the fairy lights are only faint. Spots of colour that pulsate and fade, the hearts of tiny ghosts.

The woods peter out and we’re in a valley, grassy slopes either side. There are some hikers pottering around in their slick damp anoraks with their ski poles. I hear German spoken. There is a slab of stone in the middle of the valley, coffin-shaped. A disheveled man comes up to us. Eyes piercing blue.

‘This place,’ he says, unprompted. ‘This is one of those important places.’

 We look at each other nervously, and he goes on, although we haven’t asked.

‘All the energy gathers here,’ he says. ‘You become aware, and you become aware you’re aware.’

 Ana and her sister sort of smile politely at him. Some tourists – rosy cheeked girls with skiens of flaxen hair coming loose from their hoods – are taking selfies with the stone. The thing seems to be to lie down on it. Some sort of meditation thing.

We take turns. I sit down on it after the others have had their go. It’s narrow, like an ironing board, and I’m worried I’ll roll off the side. Damp and I’m not wearing anything waterproof. It hurts my shoulder blades when I lie down, the sharp, the cold. I focus on what I can see, like it’s the opening shot of a film. The sky blank white, the grass verges of the valley on either side if I tilt my head. I lie there for a while, trying to feel something, not feeling anything. Just bits of drizzle as they spiral and stick to my cheeks, and the agitated feeling that I want to look at my phone.

Last Wednesday, my friend Craig was coming up from Belfast. We were going to go to the Pav that evening. I hadn’t seen him in months, so this was a big deal. I told you on the phone that I was going to meet a friend, since you and I had had also planned to meet up at some point that day. You got weird. I can’t really remember what you said that made me think you were annoyed, but I definitely felt like you were annoyed. I’m not sure why. He’s gay, and you know he’s gay, so it wasn’t that kind of thing. But it was something.

I only ended up meeting him for an hour in the end. I got worried about you thinking I was flaky, felt mean, wanted to do both things. I drank a pint too quickly, Devil’s Bit cider with syrupy blackcurrant pooling down the bottom. Sitting there indoors in the Pav because of the sun showers, light streaming in across the wooden floorboards. The place empty enough, everyone in there crowded around the screen in the top corner shouting at the rugby. Too loud for Craig and I to hear each other. We hadn’t talked much in ages, so we didn’t really get down to the discussions. Almost too much to update each other on.

Walking out into the sun across the cricket pitch, slightly sleepy now from the drink, shake myself, shaky vision. Out across the cobblestones to meet you at Front Arch. I saw you when I was still in the shadows coming out, you were sitting on the railings outside. Neck craned brow furrowed looking for me from the other direction looking annoyed and I suddenly wanted to walk backwards and hide. You saying I was ten minutes late. It was okay in the end, we went to the park and sat by the waterfall, wasn’t that bad.

When you left there was something about the blueness of everything in Dublin as all the light left the city and I just shuddered a bit. For some reason into a corner shop for a shoulder of Huzzar. On that ambiguous stretch of road near Busáras when I realized I’d forgotten the juice. I never spend that much time inside Busáras really. The bright expanse of floor. The glow of the vending machines lit up in the window. I bought a bottle of Tropicana and poured the vodka in when I got to Connolly station, got on a dart out to my parents house and drank it on the way. Gentle sway of the dart. You are getting sleepier and sleepier.

There’s a note in my phone that says tell Ana everything. I can date it to somewhere between Raheny and Kilbarrack when my belly was getting warm and I was starting to feel pleasant and expansive about the world. That first blush of drink going through you when all the solutions seem simple. In future I’m going to just. Why do I never just. Seems stupid the next day when you remember all your reasons for keeping the peace.

When I got in that evening my Mam slagged me for seeming tipsy, said my pint with Craig must have turned into a good few altogether. I’d practically forgotten I’d met up with him earlier, seemed like ages ago. I realized I could pretend that was what happened. Finally back after a long catch-up. I microwaved some food and sat at the table, turned happy-drunk.

‘Aware yet?’

They’re waggling hands in front of my face. I sit up, wipe the drizzle off my glasses, twisting them against a corner of my t-shirt.

‘What? Oh yeah. Learnt all the secrets of the universe. Totally enlightened.’

Alicia Byrne Keane is a spoken word poet from Dublin. She features regularly at poetry nights around Ireland and the UK, performing at festivals such as Body & Soul, Castlepalooza and Electric Picnic. Her poetry has been published in journals such as Headstuff, Bare Hands, Increature, and FLARE 03. She has one collection of poems, titled ‘We Could Be In The Sky.

Be Kind, Rewind by Dermot O’Sullivan

I stare at the scuffed lino of the corridor, listening to the fading rustle of his jacket as he makes his way downstairs. When he pulls the main door open an icy draught gropes into the building and snatches the last trace of his warmth from my chest. Lost and alone once more, I turn to go inside. But suddenly I freeze, alert. His footsteps I realise are not diminishing but growing louder and louder now, and I look around and in rewind I see him reversing back up the corridor towards me and in an instant he is in my arms again, and I am hugging him again at the door of my apartment, deeply and warmly, with all the strength of my frail arms, trying to tell him that I really like him, begging him to understand that it would kill me if this were the last time. But his face is far far away, blank and constricted by the same decisive stiffness that I feel in his chest. He is impatient to be gone. We break apart and back first, with the wary, stilted gait of two people who are afraid of bumping into each other, we enter the kitchen and he slips off his jacket and drops it on a chair, and then we reverse up the narrow staircase to my bedroom and begin to strip in silence. I watch as he unties his shoelaces and then removes his shoes and socks. He pulls off his jeans, his t-shirt and finally his boxers at the same instant as I drag mine down to my ankles. We flop down on the bed with a bounce and I flinch when I caress his bare chest because when I look into his eyes they seem distant and colder now, like they do not know me anymore. We lie motionless side by side but not touching as our breathing grows heavier and deeper. Our gulped pants are coming thick and fast now and we are wiping up with scrunched wads of toilet paper. I drag him to me and hold him and press my cock into the tufted pucker of his ass and we both come instantly and then I start fucking him, the rhythmic slaps of my thighs against his butt cheeks ringing in our ears. When I pull out he whispers urgently, “Fuck me now!” and so I begin to suck his cock and massage his asshole and kiss him deeply, ravenously, on the mouth, on the nose, on the neck as we slowly, garment by garment, dress ourselves in the bed and then leap off it and wedge our shoes on without bothering with the laces and rush downstairs through the kitchen where he grabs his jacket from the chair and then out onto the street. And we are practically running through the midnight streets now, hands gripped together, streaking past wobbling drunks and rubbish blowing in the freezing winds, laughing, telling silly jokes, smiling when we catch each other’s eyes, impatience and desire burning a hole in us, though not enough to stop us pausing on the bridge above the glittering black back of the waters for a deep and fierce, teeth-clashing kiss. We blaze through the final streets, burst into the nightclub and race straight to the dance floor where we hold each other and kiss. And when our two famished mouths meet and lock, and our four hands clutch and begin to sing, and when we bury ourselves in each other and the loudness all around us dwindles to a speck, in this moment I know that this is all I’ve ever wanted, not happiness, but just this. This. And now he is leading me with a nervous, pleading hand down the stairs towards the smoking area, barging through knots of dancers, twisting his head around with each step as if he is terrified that I may suddenly disappear. When we reach the far end of the smoking terrace we halt and he asks me with a gentle quaver in his voice, “Do you want to dance?” and then we lean in for our very first kiss. His huge grey eyes loom like two moons before me, his tobacco-curdled breath hits my face, and then softly our chapped lips collide. My heart strikes once, a solid punch behind my ribs, and then falters, and for an instant the whole world is silent and still. As we pull apart the roar of revelry plunges back into my ears, and now we are chatting for dear life. My tongue pushes out word after meaningless word as if a steady stream of noise is my only possible hope. I do not know what I am talking about and all I am thinking is that I do not understand why he didn’t just tell me to leave him alone when I came over to him he is so beautiful. And he keeps relighting his cigarette even though it has never once gone out, and he looks down at the ground and then into my eyes and smiles, and then up at the sky, and my bones and sinews and every inch of my flesh is yearning to clasp him to me he is so beautiful, so cute, so tender, so kind. And I’m so lucky to be here, right here, and for once in my life I know how lucky I am. Eventually I work up the courage to ask him his name, then how his night is going, and finally I manage to wrench from my mouth the word “Hey!” and walk away from him, retreating in rewind across the smoking area back to the entrance of the bar with my heart pounding like a sweet illness in my chest. And I am by the door now watching through the crowd a lone boy lost in thought dragging from a new-lit cigarette. I backstep through the doorway, the murky heave of the dance floor rumbling behind me, a cold lick of winter creeping down my chest, and a blast of joy swells inside me as my eyes fall like hammers on a gorgeous young man, one of those brutal incarnations of my most cherished dreams. And I watch, the stench of success already filling the air, though I cannot sense this yet, as he raises a blackened match before his lips and with one sharp breath sets it to flame.


Dermot O’Sullivan is from Dublin, Ireland. He studied English Literature in Trinity College, Dublin. His work has been published in journals including Causeway/Cabhsair and Fence. He currently lives in Brazil.

Image Credit: Dominik Martin

Log Jam by Shannon Noel Brady

I stare at the row of rails below, waiting for the familiar rumble to come through the tunnel, the sound of another hollow day beginning. The pin on my nametag has worn loose, causing the badge to lie askew on my chest with my photo at a slant, as if perpetually asking a question. Only now do I realize my name is misspelled. I want to ask myself, indignantly, how none of my coworkers could have noticed, but the truth is no one has spoken to me long enough to notice.

The Metro arrives. Impatient passengers thrust onto the train the moment the doors open, shouldering through those getting off like they’re stalks in a cornfield. Those departing push just as forcefully, banging bags into elbows and suitcases into knees. I wait, letting them sift around me. It’s exactly like the rest of my life. I am a colander. People run through me.

All the seats are taken when I squeeze on. I grab a pole and the Metro tunnels through the earth the same as ever. Some occupants read newspapers, or books, or their laptops, the same as they always do. Some stare blankly at feet. A few talk, but most are quiet.

Everything is the same as it is every day.

That is until a woman, younger than me, in a baggy coat with oily hair, sitting a few chairs diagonally across, begins to cry.

I notice it just as it’s about to happen. Her lip does its first subtle quiver. Then her chin scrunches, as if a giant sculptor had thumbed the soft clay of her features. Now the sculptor balls up her entire face. She lets out a small sound. Then she is full-blown weeping right here on the Metro in front of everyone.

We ignore it.

The elderly man on her left clears his throat and stands. No hurry, like he wanted to all along. He shuffles over to a map on the wall. The teenaged girl on her right wanders over to a pole, hooks an arm around it without looking up as she jabs at her phone. No one else reacts to the incident occurring diagonally across from me. They squirm a little, cough, but otherwise continue with their iPods and paperbacks.

I don’t blame them. It’s embarrassing, watching her twist up her face like that, cry those fat tears like that. What a scene she’s making, as if I don’t have problems too. Doesn’t she know where she is? Doesn’t she know everyone can see? Doesn’t she care?

She doesn’t, and I hate her for it.

Over the years I have lost this ability to cry, like one loses baby teeth or the color of their hair or the density of their bones. Osteoporosis of the soul.

It’s not like I haven’t tried. When my mother finally succumbed to that long, hard sickness, I sat in the front pew at the funeral and knew I was supposed to do it. Show some kind of feeling. I had it, but the tears wouldn’t come. I pushed and pushed like trying to turn myself inside out, but the tears wouldn’t come.

This woman’s tears flood out of her effortlessly while my fists tighten at the ends of my too-short sleeves. I hate her for this shameless display. I hate her for this lack of self-consciousness. I hate her for this freedom.

One time I watched a movie about a dog. The owner had hit the dog with his car by mistake. Was hugging its neck and sobbing. I watched that part again, captivated by the actor’s face. All the contortions, like a worm shriveling in the sun. I watched it several times and then went to the bathroom mirror to copy the actor. Maybe if I got the procedure right, then everything I had pent up inside me would find its way out. But all that happened was I looked like I was taking a big shit.

Constipation. That’s what it feels like. Jammed up like logs on a river. I watched a documentary about that once—those early days of transporting lumber via waterways. How when the logs jammed up, the workers would pull this or that log, and when they pulled just the right one, the whole mess would explode in a torrent of wood and water. That’s what I need. My just-right log.

The woman on the Metro carries on, until something startling happens. Another woman, with spiraling curls like a curtain of moss, walks over to the crying one. She sits beside her, wraps her arms around her. Just like that. The crying one lets out a sob, covers half of her crushed-clay face. Her body tenses at first, but soon it gives up her weight to the other, gives up and gives in. The second woman doesn’t speak, doesn’t ask what’s wrong, doesn’t say shhh or don’t cry or it’s okay. Doesn’t make any sound at all. Just holds her.

Just lets her.

She doesn’t pry for reasons. She doesn’t soothe it away, hush it down. She doesn’t try to fix it, to stop it, to judge it, to hide it. She just lets it. Lets it. Lets it.

Maybe she knows it’s not about the reason. Sometimes there is no reason. Sometimes you’re walking to the train stop or the post office or the store on the corner, and it hits you. You stumble, your balance thrown off just a bit. Your mind is pulled to it by the centripetal force like this speeding Metro. Your insides hang askew like your faulty name badge. Off-center, off-kilter, just off.

Sometimes it makes sense. It comes when you’ve caught too long a glimpse at the photo of your mother when she still had all her hair. It comes when you realize the people you work with every day still don’t talk to you long enough to notice the misspelling right there on your chest.

But other times it doesn’t make sense. It hits you when you’re laughing. When you’re having fun, or supposed to be. It hits you when you’re watching your niece on the carousel. It hits you when you’re blowing out the candles on the cake your sister made for your birthday. She and her husband and your niece are all smiling, wondering what you’ve wished for.

Maybe you tell them. I don’t. It would hurt them too much.

So no, there isn’t always a reason. But they expect one. I wish I could explain it. Please tell us, they say. Why are you sad?

I don’t know. I just am.

For the first time in my life, I am watching someone besides myself have this uncontrollable, illogical feeling, and also for the first time in my life, I am watching someone not ask why.

Maybe all this time it was okay I didn’t have an answer.

I watch the woman crying, and the other woman letting her, and I don’t hate them anymore. I am thankful for them. For her honesty. For her acceptance.

Surrendering to the motion beneath my feet, I approach the two. The crying one looks up first, cheeks wet and shiny. The other turns her head, meets my gaze through her mossy curls. I want to say something. That I understand.  That I’m grateful. But what was jammed behind my eyes is now jammed inside my throat. The words do not come. Yet the curly-haired woman seems to know. She looks at me in a way that feels deeper, vaster, more seeing than I have felt in years.

She reaches out a hand.

Just then the Metro stops, throwing me off balance. I hit a pole with my shoulder. The doors open, and in an instant I’m swept away by the mass of departing travelers. Their bulk pushes me onto the station platform. The train doors shut. I lose them.

But it’s okay.

Because today, something has happened.

My just-right log has begun to budge.

Shannon Noel Brady writes because one day she sprung a leak and stories poured out. Her work has been published in Gingerbread House Literary Magazine, Kaaterskill Basin Literary Journal, Jersey Devil Press, Vandercave Quarterly, and more. She can be found at snbradywriter.wordpress.com, on Twitter @snbradywriter, or up in a tree.

Image Credit:  Corey Agopian

Lauren Suchenski

Yes, but can you fly?

she said to be a feminist; that’s what she told me to do. i told her my femininity was a pair of old crows tied to my appendages/i told her my mouth would flood rivers with fantasy/ i told her princessmermaid ariel was strapped to my head in a series of painfully acquired hair-extensions and i told her i was already woman enough to know my womanhood. i wrapped this hood (little red’s or robin’s, or something on the spectrum between femininity and what you want me to be) around my face – i wrapped it – i wrapped it close. i felt this rapture, the wrapping-paper still paper-mached to my mother’s fingertips. i felt all the paper, the plastic, the riptide lipstick lacquered onto my lungs (by now, I’m sure, like tar from cigarettes – doesn’t makeup stick to ribcages too?).

i made up my mind to matter. i willed my matter to mistake myself for a woman. i willed my womanhood to hold close to my own hood (childhood being at least one reason why). i went, hooded and clutching, hansel and gretel-ing and groveling and ingratiating my way all the way to that hut in the woods (goldilocks was there, but baba yaga too). i told baba yaga of the words that keep wrapping around my head like a hood (is it a scarf, or a rapture?). she told me courage was a monument; i was a firebird; love was a causation; the divine feminine was a lake. i told her i had lost the ability to interpret fairy tales (childhood being at least one reason why), (and that furthermore, they were encouraging me not to). she said to be a woman; that’s what she told me to do. i told her my femininity was a pair of old crows tied to my appendages.

This is the way the story started

This is the way the story started. The story might have had chapters or thoughts or moments or stanzas, but they all bled together and they all looked like one another and so in truth…the story dug its swallowing hands out of the deep belly of its own fertilizer and ran around collecting its own raindrops until it was thick enough to be drunk. To be felt rolling down the throat. To leave a formidable taste in the mouth. At least the aftertaste could be described, if not seen.

Well, the story was about a girl. Or a girl was the story, or her story was the way she was all the parts of herself. At any given moment in her life she looked like a flash of light or a bolt of color nameless amongst the star region she claimed as her name. There was an alchemy to the world that had made her face pulse together out of a certain collection of elements…and that little bundle of genes had at last found its footing inside the realm of a daffodil that had turned fleshy and round at the edges.

Her dreams were made of all things she could find – old paper longings, new tides of reminiscences, soft lingering kiss intentions, and folded up wads of duct tape. Her dreams came in waves, in derivatives and in dollops. Her dreams scattered wounds across her fickle, freckled face and sewed patches on old-ragged-lawnchair-hand-me-down-hearts. She had a spherical soul and she dreamt her life away.

This was the story of the girl I wrote over and over. Her story kept beginning and kept ending and I kept finding myself in the middle trying to see if I could see her in any place other than the side of my mind. It began like this a thousand times and one…or at least, the moments when it began to begin wanted to convince themselves they were beautiful enough to be a beginning.


Lauren Suchenski is a fragment sentence-dependent, ellipsis-loving writer and lives somewhere where the trees change color. Lauren believes in the inherent creative capability within all people. You can find more of her poetry at @lauren_suchenski on Instagram and @laurensuchenski on Twitter.

Image Source: 

Jan Phoenix

Adam Steiner

Sphinxed

Follow Mirrorsour reflections caught hoping they might find us out

Caged/Tamed/Feral/Rage

Girl Through A Glass Half-Empty

Bowling Thunder

Double Murder

Adam Steiner’s poetry and fiction appear in The Arsonist, Rockland Lit, Proletarian Poetry, The Next Review. Adam is currently running the Disappear Here project to produce a series of poetry films about Coventry ringroad. Photography featured in Crap Towns (Funeaton), Foxhole magazine and Paper and Ink zine. He tweets @BurndtOutWard

Catch Up by DM Lyons

“What’s with the sudden shyness?”

I was trying to dress with my back to her, standing in just my skirt and wondering about how to get the rest of my clothes on as quickly as possible. The living room was almost completely dark: small hollows illuminated by the blinking standby features of various electronics, the digital clock of the tv box reading 4am.

My left arm was covering my chest as I bent down to retrieve my top from the floor with my right: rising I felt her standing behind me, not touching but close.

Now that I’d removed myself from the couch where I had been lying beside her, now that I’d looked away the prospect of looking back was unthinkable, the thought of eye contact unbearable. So I just stood there with my back to her, cheeks burning in the darkness.

From somewhere in my heart, a tugging sensation, something between despair and desire. Shame.

Standing very close behind me she placed her hands on my hips, rested lips on shoulder blade. Still I couldn’t bring myself to turn around. There was nothing to be done therefore but to stand helplessly and try to focus on what lay straight ahead, on anything other than where I was, who I was with and what I had just done.

In this frozen state, I could hardly believe that hours earlier we had been two old college friends catching up in a bar….drinking wine and sticking safely to those topics of conversation which emphasised how similar we remained, rather than how different we’d become. Families, celebrities, inevitable diet talk… our boyfriends. Open enough but still careful to conceal from each other the gently or not-so- gently accumulated disappointments of our 20s.

“Hmmmm?,” she asked again, “why the sudden shyness?”

I concentrated on the cracks of streetlight through the curtains, on the last vibration of my phone as the battery finally died, on the photos on the mantle where you could almost see faces. I stood there in the dim margins between night and day, in that strange uneasy place between drunk and sober, and I didn’t know, honestly, if I felt good or bad, high or low, changed or unchanged completely.

Random thoughts struggled to make impressions.

Anything but turn around.

I couldn’t tell then if it was me that leaned backward or her that leaned forward but suddenly of these competing impressions the only impression I had was of skin touching skin in darkness, and everything else became background.

The fraction by fraction inching forward and upwards of her fingertips, the millimetre by millimetre movement of her lips as they claimed further territory – in high definition and in slow motion, all impression was reduced to this.

I turned around.

 


DM Lyons lives near the Phoenix Park, but often gives the impression of living in the Park, due to her habit of wandering around there for hours, staring at the deer. Her work has never appeared in print, and she struggled with whether to put inverted commas around “work” at the start of this sentence.  You’ll note she omitted them in the end, perhaps attempting to convey an air of artistic confidence to the reader. She works as a business consultant to various start-ups, mainly because she loves hoodies and events with free pizza.

Image Credit:
Brooke Cagle

Requiem for a Nokia by Amy Kennelly

My mate Eddie has a great sense of direction. Hop on a drive with him and there’s no GPS, no maps. Occasionally on a new journey he might have scribbled down a couple of instructions on a hastily drawn map on the back of an envelope. He put his great sense of direction down to his Nokia 1110, which he had owned for 7 years. Unlike us smartphone users, Eddie has not learned to rely on Google maps forcing him to develop and retain his cognitive navigational skills. Unfortunately on April 1st, 2017 Australian phone network Optus shut down the 2G network and Eddie’s Nokia 1110, though it was in perfect working order, after 7 years of service, was no longer able to communicate with a world of telecommunications that had moved on. On the day of decommissioning a few friends gathered to celebrate the life of a red phone with beige scratches which had been through many batteries, but never gave up. Bec lovingly crafted a coffin, adorned with flowers and tealights, and a portrait she drew of the decomissioned network. Maddie, in an outfit channelling Sarah Michelle Gellar’s funeral garb in Cruel Intentions, led the eulogy. And together we led the coffin out to the garden, dug a hole in the flower bed and buried it amongst native Australian shubbery and in real life snakes. The next day when Eddie thought he had better exhume the body to remove the battery so any leakage wouldn’t harm the plants, digging through the freshly turned up soil he found the phone had disappeared…

Amy Kennelly is a very tall former librarian and Oprah fan living in Sydney.

A Shed Is No Place For Boys by David O’Neill

Sometimes you wake and the world is a very different place to the one you fell asleep to. The whispered calm of night has been broken by rain and the metronomic tap of feet and cars, the hum of voices, have filled in those long stretches of quiet. Other times, the change is not as noticeable and you slip unaware into a day that you do not belong to. Your heart might still tick over and your clothes still swipe at your skin as though they were bought for somebody else, but every face you see is a mask and you, a chess piece.

His mother’s face, slapped with the yellow shadow of a night without sleep, opened the door. ‘Out the back’ she said with a slow flick of her neck, smoke hopping from her mouth with each word as her lips wrestled a cigarette.

That was the first day we spent in the shed.

Over three bruised hours we cleared a space inside for garden chairs and a table to play cards around. His Dad was a builder so the concrete box had electricity. We didn’t care much about the aesthetics of the place though; it was a cocoon, our own world. We plugged in a fridge and set up a cd player and, surrounded by rusting golf clubs, toolboxes and hose piping, that was the only connection to any peripheral idea we held of an outside. That world of tactile interaction and raw, clean experience was left behind for now anyway. Arguments and concessions later, posters were hung and screwdrivers were used to carve names into the red plastic of the table top. Had the concrete been wet we would no doubt have fumbled with sticks to leave our mark on the floor and walls too. We had always been close but here, I could almost feel the stifling breath of his movement and with no windows to dilute the air, the clunking weight of the door needed to be shouldered open every hour or earlier if our eyes began to sting from the smoke cloud that never dissipated to anything less than a blanket.

‘What do you want me to do with these?’ I said, kicking a box of magazines. The faces of television personalities that smiled from the yellow, curling covers seemed grotesque, dust and gravel sprinkled over their teeth and eyes. They looked as though they were being buried alive.

‘Throw them out on the grass, my Da will have to get rid of them’ said Ciaran. Affable and as charismatic as it is possible for a sixteen year old to be, being his friend had generally been a good thing. Sometimes though, when he spoke, the comedy of his words seemed to lean uncomfortably towards menace and a fear of being in the crosshairs meant you occasionally had to bite down on your pride and watch on with instinct crumpled and buried hard into your stomach, as some unfortunate stood at the centre of pointed fingers and sneers. Forcing yourself to ignore their discomfort, squashing it down somewhere dark and quiet, hung over you like a shadow but the counter-balancing elements of self-preservation and relief were usually enough to untie any brittle teenage shame. At least it wasn’t you, that time.

The shed became our map, our timetable and our prescription. Over a summer of twelve hours days and musky hormonal tension, various people passed through to play tunes or sometimes drink cans if we could sneak them past the glare of his mother. I didn’t think it at the time, but her skin, withering and puffy, with every hour etched onto her like a tattoo; she wore those days for us, she paid whatever we neglected to.

Girls would come by, possibly to brush against the earthy grip of our grubby world, but really to feel as though they were disobeying something. He would kiss them sometimes and I would make some mumbled excuse to go and smoke in the garden, kicking dew soaked weeds until they had finished. Outside, I would sit on a wall and count the headlights of cars that passed, letting those numbers pile up was a good way of pushing the absurdity of those nights out of my mind but it had a firm grip and when the air was silent like that I couldn’t drown out the creeping pinch of a summer being lost. An hour or a weekend later, the girls would get bored and leave, seeing our real world for the cardboard effigy it was, taking my doubts away with them in their pockets. No matter how many came and went though, we were omnipresent. We were the foundation.

We never spoke about the decision to stay inside that shabby fortress, friendship forced me to accept it without question. My walk to his house, past rows of identikit houses and through a laneway that was constantly flooded with the tang of last night, always meant passing faces that seemed to twist with questions and anger. I could see someone ahead, sitting on an electricity box, a pool forming between his feet from an hour, at a guess, of dedicated spitting.

‘Off up to your mate, are you?’ He squeezed every syllable from the word mate.

I kept my eyes low, concentrated on the sweep of my shoes, pleading silently that I would pass without anything else being said.

‘That prick won’t see it coming you know? You can tell him that, alright?’

I took those hits wordlessly, letting them soak into my skin and sink down to bone where they would take root with the rest.

Playing cards; switch, poker, canasta, they usually tugged the cloud of night from my mind but that morning I couldn’t shake those words, their cadence, the bristle of their threat, it all bounced between my ears.

‘What’s up with you?’ he said, irritated by my distance.

‘Do you ever get bored? Here, I mean. Don’t you ever want to go somewhere, instead of wasting hours in this shed?’ Bluntness spilled from me and, shaken and tired, I was desperate for air. I shuffled the deck, staring at the cards as they tumbled over my fingers, instantly wishing I could scoop those words up and hide them away.

‘If it’s such a waste then what are you doing here, then?’ He pushed the tip of his cap high and out of his eye line, watching me for a reaction; daring me.

‘Look, I didn’t mean anything by it, but, we spend every day in here and…’

‘and what? Not good enough for you, is it?’ A hot, angry glow had replaced my stomach. I wanted to stand up, to be anywhere but this stupid, shabby cage, but I couldn’t trust my legs to keep me upright.

‘You know that I’m here as your friend, from day one that was never an issue, you know that, don’t you? I’ve stuck with you, getting looks and snidey comments and it didn’t bother me’ I said. ‘But…’ I pieced together the angles and curves of sounds, formed the words, hoping they would stick long enough for him to hear them.

I closed my eyes.

‘You stabbed him.’

All his anger, every bubbling drop that had threatened and barked, it disappeared straight away. He wouldn’t meet my eyes.

‘You know I didn’t mean to. You know what they put me through. Months of shit. Hidings on the way home, slashing tyres, a fucking brick through the car window. You know about all of it,’ he said. ‘That night, I don’t know, something broke.’

He spoke with the voice of a child. It quivered, naked and alone, and then he wasn’t trying to explain anything, he was asking, just like he had asked the only other boy in that classroom, while parents and older siblings had crowded around taking photographs and sighing contently, to join him, to be afraid and alone together. I had been the only other boy with no kind of safety net. Even then, not a decade combined, we recognised the need to be less than lonely so we sat together and we weren’t.

A feint, empty blue was painted across the sky the next morning and I wondered if today too, I had woken to a different world. I walked slowly past the identikit houses and, like every other morning, I searched each one for a change, something new that separated them from each other, from yesterday, from themselves. They remained; stoic and beige. The lane was empty so I stopped to smoke, my jacket scratching the wall as I slid down to sit. There was nothing, here, behind me, or in that shed, so after a few minutes spent grabbing fistfuls of grass, sprinkling each wisp over my torn and scuffed shoes, I stood and walked. I walked past his house, my head kept level and straight in case I saw the casually expectant faces of his mother or sister through a window. I was afraid to see him watching for me, to see the confusion he would have felt when I didn’t arrive as usual. I walked for hours that day until my legs burned dry and my back arched. I walked through lunch and almost walked through dinner too. As I ate, my legs danced beneath the table, urging me onto the path again.

The walking stopped after about a week. My muscles, now twisted and angry, had started to keep me awake at night so I called to other friends, tried to gather something communal and stitch together things that were long frayed. Being outside this tribal huddle felt isolating at first, I had to keep knocking, some initiation to test my loyalty but slowly, things grew and I felt the panic of a sprint finish towards the end of the summer. Hours had been wasted and the sun was not hanging over us for as long as it had weeks before, swinging across the sky that little bit quicker, but that didn’t matter all that much now. Whatever light it could give me, I would drink it down.

I passed my mother at the telephone seat; an archaic beast of a thing, lacquered heavily and gaudily dressed with satin and lace placemats, the phone was still in her hand and the whistle of the dial tone buzzed softly, making me stop.

‘Is everything okay?’ I said, pulling my jacket on, my hand on the door handle.

‘He didn’t take enough’ she said, her cheek sucked in on one side, her teeth clamped down hard on the inside of her mouth.

‘Enough what? Who are you talking about?’

‘They think that he didn’t take enough of them. He might be alright, no way of knowing yet though. Too soon,’ she said.  ‘Too soon.’

‘Who?’ I said, but I didn’t need an answer. My bones fell away and I was empty. I felt a kick, brutal, pulling the air from my chest and steadied myself against the wall.

‘His brother found him; said that he had his head on the table, his cap was over his eyes and he thought he was asleep, until he saw the mess.’ Trailing off, she dabbed at silent tears and walked to the kitchen where the pot, long boiled, was chugging noisily and turning the window to mist. I followed her, watching her light a cigarette and lean heavily on the back of a chair.

I bit down on my lip to silence the questions. Then guilt, darts of it, screaming in my ears, some frequency that nestled far away but instant too, not wanting to be understood, just screaming.
I asked where had he been found but I already knew.

David O’Neill is a writer, poet and musician from Dublin. He has been published widely in journals including The Incubator Journal, The Lonely Crowd, Spontaneity Magazine, The Useless Degree Magazine and Elbow Room. He tweets @cartoonmoonirl
Image Credit: 

Alexander Shustov

Alicia Hayes

No amount of darkness can hide a spark of light

Time is precious, waste it wisely

In the shadows

There is light in everything

Lighthearted

Alicia Hayes – Atticus Finch by day. Scout by night. 

The Narcissist by Tara Sparling

“Miss Bay says I’m a narcissist.” Leah picks at a quick on her left thumb, which is still wrapped around her phone. “Like it’s a bad thing.”

I look at her, my first-born, my life-changer: she’s troubled, and inches away from another selfie. As though a picture could take away the trouble, packing it behind a honeycomb of pixels.

Leah’s highlights need re-doing. I’ve said it several times, but she’s waiting for me to make the appointment. I know I will make the appointment. I will also drive her to the salon and give her money to go shopping afterwards with Petra and Ellen. I will not tell her father what it costs.

“Do you know what the word means?” I turn my back and look out the window over the kitchen sink. My Japanese Maple bathes in the honey of an Indian summer, the sun behind sinking slowly as though begging for ten minutes more, just like Leah used to resist bedtime when she was small. The water has gone cold and I coat my hands with soap suds, rolling them through the water for a moment like surfacing whales, before I extract the last few teaspoons hiding underneath.

She’s back tapping on her phone. The faint clink-ping-whoosh! of messages and updates and pronouncements catapulted to and from her phone at lightning speed, to the far corners of Dublin, where she wants them to go, and the world at large, which she does not think about. “Sure. Miss Bay doesn’t know me. She probably thinks makeup makes you a narcissist. She’s always giving us these mad communist lectures about how much our bags cost.”

I don’t have a designer handbag, but my sixteen-year-old daughter does. The Michael Kors was a present, when she finished her exams in June. I didn’t tell Kevin how much it was.

When I was her age I was so afraid people would say I was up myself. I put handbags and make-up in the same category as matchy-matchy outfits and high heels: outward signs of high maintenance that would mark me out as ‘other’. Not one of the lads I so desperately wanted to be. I had decided to be down-to-earth. As much of a construct as my poor Leah’s profiles online.

“Do you know anyone you’d say is a narcissist?” I pull the chain for the stopper and let the water run down the plughole. There are too many suds. It’ll take an hour for them to disappear on their own, and they’ll leave a scum in the sink which will look dirty.

“There’s a few Fourth Years who are always putting up pictures in bikinis and stuff? And Jessa Conway told everyone she was scouted in Dundrum for a London agency. But there’s no way that happened, because she’s got, like, an underbite.”

Jessa’s mother and I once shared tea duty at a parents’ evening in the local primary when the secondary schools came to set out their stalls. She seemed fairly set on St. Blaise’s, as was I, and I wondered if our girls would be friends. Apparently not.

“Do you worry about how you look, love?” I keep my voice light. By the time I reached sixteen I had already decided that I was never going to be pretty, so there was no point in trying. Jane Shaw and Niamh Haydon would attract all the attention, but when they were done, I would be waiting in the background, being sound. Being down-to-earth. A friend with boobs.

“Why, should I?”

I turn to face my daughter and her eyes have narrowed, staring down the barrel of suspicion, her ravaged thumbs poised in mid-air, arrested in their strategic operations.

“Of course not. But too many girls do worry, that’s why I’m asking you.”

The thumbs descend once again, emitting clicks and whistles and zips to the world outside my kitchen. “No. I know what I look like.”

I’m not sure what this means. From my daughter’s dark roots down to her eighty-euro-pedicured toes, she’s doing far better than I ever did. Even I haven’t seen her without mascara in months. It’s the last thing to come off at night, the first to go on in the morning, together with the full coverage anti-bacterial foundation we spent two days trawling through cosmetic counters for, running outside to check each sample in daylight. Two exhausting, fraught, blissful days.

“Good,” I hear myself say. “Because you’ve no need to worry. You’re a beautiful girl.”

She rolls her eyes and swipes furiously at the screen of her phone, but doesn’t leave the kitchen. I tell myself that this is what counts as I take out the chopping board. Other parents tell me their daughters spend every hour they’re at home locked in their bedrooms, talking to God knows whom and doing God knows what on their tablets and laptops and phones. My Leah tends to hang around downstairs quite a bit.

I’ve met Miss Bay, Leah’s soft-spoken but severe Economics teacher. Her wardrobe rolled off the production line at some point in 1987, full of hard-wearing, starchy fabrics. I imagined her taking each item off every night and diligently sponging it down before hoisting onto padded hangers, gaps left between garments for airing. Miss Bay would rather die than take a selfie. So would I, but I think I understand better than she does what it is to be a teenager in this new high visibility world.

“Oh yeah. Petra’s coming over. We have a project thing to do. Okay?”

“Sure. I can do some extra veg.”

“Oh, Mom,” says my firstborn – and without looking, I can feel the bored resignation – “she’s not going to have dinner with us. Petra eats at lunch.”

And Petra has an eating disorder, I think, but I say nothing as I chop the carrots into batons because Kevin doesn’t like rounds and I cut florets of broccoli into equal sizes for steaming because Sam says when it’s boiled it tastes wrong and I roll the grass-fed organic diced beef in seasoned flour and place it gingerly into the casserole dish to brown. My mother could lay her fingers right into the pan and feel nothing; she’d say I’d gone soft.

***

When Petra walks in the door I have to stop myself from groaning, because she’s wearing the tracksuit top Leah wants. There’s no point in hoping that will put Leah off. Petra is too poised to care who copies her. I can also tell by the way Petra is modelling it that it will not suit my flat-chested daughter, but that doesn’t change the fact that I will have to find another ninety quid before Saturday to undo the damage.

I clear away the dinner plates as Leah makes coffee. Petra lounges against the counter with ease. She has never been afraid to be in this house.

“Casserole.” Her button nose turns up, not unattractively. I know she’s not being rude: not intentionally, anyway. Petra turned vegetarian when she was eleven. I put my foot down with Leah. Nobody in my house may deprive themselves of anything, not least protein.

“Yes indeed,” I say. “Lovely hunks of moo-cow in silky stew sauce.” I laugh. I’m not afraid of Petra either. “Leah says you have a school project?”

The bunny nose twitches again. “Social media awareness. Really random.”

“I would have thought you girls were extremely aware of social media,” I say. I take the milk from the fridge and hand it to Leah. Neither girl takes sugar. “Unless you’re inventing a new one.”

“Mom.” Leah warns me with a glance. I shouldn’t be talking about this stuff, not after what Miss Bay said. But I’ve seen their profiles. That picture in the bathroom of Hungry Pete’s. The look in Ellen’s eyes which didn’t match the smile on her lips. I always said as long as I saw more face than cleavage I wouldn’t worry. But wherever one girl goes, the others follow. Isn’t that what they say?

Kevin passes back through the kitchen in his shirtsleeves on his way to the study. “Hi, Petra. How’s life?”

“Oh, you know. Due to start any minute now.”

Kevin laughs, and it’s a new laugh. He never used to feel the need to try with their friends. He was just a dad, an older man in an older shirt, perfectly acceptable in an affable sort of way. I’m still waiting for that stopping of time, be it with Petra or Ellen or anybody else, the meaningless glance which isn’t glancing at all. And it disgusts me that I’m waiting for it. Like I’m staging a selfie of my soul I’ll later regret.

“You need a hand, love?” he asks me, followed a split second later by, “No? Excellent. I’ll be in my cupboard.”

Leah hands Petra her coffee and they make for the stairs, leaving me to it. Petra’s leggings are skin-tight and leave nothing to the imagination. Leah doesn’t wear them and I worry that she doesn’t like her legs. She takes all her selfies from a point above her head, looking down from some magically flattering, leg-obscuring angle. I marvel at how she gets around these things. They are ingenious, these girls, in so many ways.

I squirt washing up liquid into the enamel casserole dish and run the hot water tap. Decades of Sunday dinners have aged it black, but I remember my mother cutting chunks of dripping into it when it was still a sky-blue colour. On one day of roast beef and mashed turnip, just after I met Kevin, I asked her what her pregnancies had been like. First she said she didn’t remember. Then she laughed, saying she thought I was too selfish to want children. I remember looking at the beef sizzling wildly as she browned it in the red-hot pan, fat spitting out in every direction like a Catherine wheel. The soft underside of her wrist and forearm caught the worst of it as she pressed the beef down into the dish, but she didn’t even flinch.

Before she died I used to bake my mother queen cakes. Plain sponge, devoid of raisins or sultanas or chocolate chips. She liked the way the uniformly wan flesh disappeared in a mouthful of tea. I baked them the way I was taught. Flour and eggs, soft margarine and sugar. Not overbeaten. Baked until just golden but never ever crisp. Each time she said, “Oh, you shouldn’t have gone to any trouble.” As if the queen cakes were the trouble.

​A familiar tom cat stalks across the decking, tail pointing cockily at the sky. He looks up at me, disdain dripping from each gleaming whisker, then turns sharply without breaking eye contact and walks away towards the back fence. He’ll come back in the middle of the night, when I can’t see him. Too late to tell Leah, I think: cats are the true narcissists. They don’t even care if anyone’s around to watch them being fabulous.

“Mo-OM!” Leah roars at me from halfway down the stairs. “Where’s your Chanel lipstick?”

Somewhere online there is a mother who grins wryly at this. The social media project must be going well, she thinks, laughing as she bakes another batch of perfect buns, because teenagers are so predictable, especially when they think they’re not.

That mother is not in my kitchen. The mother in my kitchen is thinking that her daughter and her daughter’s friend are in her private en-suite, rooting through physical evidence that parents are people too, adult partners who wash and pee and bleed and have sex. She does not want them there. Her en-suite and her marriage are not a social media project.

“Try the red vanity case!” I shout back. I stare stonily at my reflection in the darkening window. My mother’s shadow gazes back at me and I blink, scrubbing hard at new stains branding the old enamel.


Tara Sparling writes fiction and satire. Her blog www.tarasparlingwrites.com looks at book humour, bestselling book trends, the realities of traditional and self-publishing, writing follies, character and genre stereotypes, marketing, author success stories and spectacular failures. She can also be found lurking @TaraSparling on Twitter.

Image Source:  rawpixel.com

Shane Vaughan

Study in Colour 1

Study in Colour 2

Study in Colour 3

Study in Colour 4

Study in Colour 5

Shane Vaughan is a writer of poetry, prose and plays. His work has been published in Silhouette Press, Poetry NI, The Pickled Body, Unbroken Journal, Honest Ulsterman, Silver Apples and elsewhere. In April his play, Puck & The Lovers, will be performed in the Cork School of Music. He co-runs Stanzas: an Evening of Words, where he publishes a chapbook of new writing every month and is a board member of The Limerick Fringe which debuts March 2017.

Full House by David Myers

Eric arrived early to the reading, wearing a new pair of tennis shoes he had bought for the occasion. He read some poems, and then a short chapter from a novel he had given up on earlier in the month. Kiki, his agent, was in the audience, sitting in a corner. There were a fair number of people in the room, but Kiki had picked a spot surrounded by empty folding chairs. It was like a patch of barren land or a force field she was in command of. She waved at him after he finished reading. People were still filing in. By the time the store-owner was done setting up the projector, Eric’s anxiousness had grown to the point where he could feel it in his teeth. He wished he were somehow in the audience, or else instantly, improbably, at the center of a small iron ball. Then the ball would take some of the heat off of him, and by the time the fire people showed up with the jaws of life, all of the attention directed his way would have gradually diffused and centered on the ball and its sudden materialization. When he crawled out through an opening that had been bored through it, he would shrug, smile, and take a taxi back to his apartment. The fact that none of this happened was either merciful or not: this would depend entirely on what happened next. Eric sat down at the laptop, and began to type. His words were projected onto the wall.

Michael wrote for a living. He was not unpopular, and sometimes felt like he had to restrain himself from googling his own name. This temptation was strongest in the morning. Most of Michael’s success depended on a gimmick, wherein he would do public readings, then write a story spontaneously in front of an audience. Later, people at home would buy his e-books on Amazon to read the stories they had seen him write in person. It was, “like a concert t-shirt or something,” he told his sister once, while they were at the gym. The stories were always pre-written, though. And while he would emphatically delete sentences and change syntax while doing these events, this all took place in preconstructed patterns known only to himself. It was something he actually practiced.

Eric turned around to look for someone in the audience, but he didn’t see them. He blew on his glasses and wiped at them with a small cloth. A woman in the second row laughed, having just now gotten to the last sentence of Eric’s first paragraph. Eric changed “in the morning” to “on the subway”.

As he executed these patterns, Michael’s mind would invariably wander, like it did when he used to play the clarinet in his high school wind ensemble. At that time he would always pay attention when first learning a song, but after the third or fourth time through, would begin to fall back into himself. He’d play strange little games, ghosting most of the notes while he concieved of the sheet music as nuclear armament codes or else flavor text for an alien vitamin complex that would give him sexual omnipotence. No one could tell. There were so many god damned clarinets.

Michael first got the idea to pretend to make up stories in front of people for money when he was hanging out with his cousin, Tony. Tony was really into rap music, and he didn’t care that Michael wasn’t. Whenever Michael would hang out with him, his cousin would talk about it nonstop, going back and forth as if comparing notes with himself. One day Tony started listing rappers who were good at freestyling. Then he started listing ones who weren’t.

“This sounds not too bad,” said Michael.

“It isn’t. That’s because he already wrote this.”

“What?”

“Look. See the way the radio guy is mean mugging him? Like he knows they both know what’s up, you know? Like, ‘how could he come into my studio and drop this fake ass marble on me’. You know?” Tony pressed pause on the youtube video, and pointed at the jockey’s face.

“Oh,” said Michael.

Eric italicized the “oh”, then quickly unitalicized it. He turned around again to look at the audience. It wasn’t a bad turn out. He couldn’t really get a read on them though. It was a complex thing he was looking for in them; not part of a binary set. Not something like if someone was wearing a wire or had a full house, that could be scavenged in one quick glance. He felt a sudden pang of envy towards comedians or magicians, other performers who could know in the moment how something was going. Instead Eric had to contend with polite people, introverts, everyone recieving the information at a distance, inside their own little head-computers. Kiki gave Eric the thumbs-up, then took a sip from her water-bottle. Eric deleted all of the dialogue and the stuff about Tony.

“Hm,” said a person to another person.

Although Michael didn’t really worry about being a fraud, he did worry sometimes about the truth. The truth was very simple: in the beginning he had just written about things that happened to him, but since he had began sitting down full time to write about them, things had stopped happening, and so he was very nearly out of things to write. It was a situation which was generating a great amount of anxiety in him, but whenever he attempted to communicate this, especially to his sister, it was always misinterpreted as being more about whether or not he was a fraud.

“People don’t believe you’re making it up on the spot anyways,” she said, “they just want room to believe you might be.”

“Sure, I think,” said Michael, “I just think. It’s beginning to seem unsustainable.” He paused, and then said: “cash flow” and nothing else. Pam, Michael’s sister, sold traveler’s insurance.

“Just be who you are,” she said, “it’s easy for someone like you.”

Michael often thought about doing something stupid, like writing a novel with only exposition, or else switching to fantasy, since maybe he didn’t have anything to say about contemporary life. Michael didn’t know any fantasy authors, except for one who was trying to transition into literary fiction. They had met at a writers convention in Carbon Creek, Pennsylvania. Michael thought about what it would be like emailing her and asking her what the money was like. Or maybe emailing one of his professors from college, who had been preparing him for a life of ascetic craftsmanship and the definite likelihood of no monetary reward. In the subject line for both emails he would put “What’s the Deal?”.

The main problem was that Michael had run out of journals. For years he had been taking notes on everything that happened to him in red composition notebooks and stashing them in his bureau. The details always changed when he was writing anyway, but still, without source material, he couldn’t work. He had a very bad memory. The last story he had written in public had been the final part of his last journal. Somehow he had finessed the material so it made sense that the story just kind of stopped in the middle. But now he was done. He had used up every last word. Every last way that the train station had seemed that foggy morning on the way to his father’s funeral.  

Eric took a bottle of iced coffee from out of his backpack. He highlighted everything he had written up to this point and began to play with the fonts while drinking from it. He noticed that his paragraphs had been getting shorter and shorter, and he was having trouble believing that there was anyone behind him when he looked at the computer screen. For a while he kept on, but felt increasingly that he was boxing himself into a corner. He took out his phone to check the time, and then thought about writing a scene in which Michael sat down to give a reading in a book store and then started himself writing about someone with a  similarly anglo-saxon name in a similar situation. Eric quickly turned away from this line of thinking. He could sense no tension in the room, and could sense barely anything at all. He was sure Kiki would wink at him if he looked in her direction. What a crock. Eric felt stupid for thinking anyone would care about this. Like it would be some big dramatic moment.

When he saw the Fed-Ex guy come in, he quickly deleted the sentence he had been writing, and put three asterisks at the bottom of the page. He signed for the envelope, and then began to type, looking back and forth between the printout and his laptop.

***

I remember in some creative writing class they told me not to second guess the audience. Or pander to them or think yourself above them in any way. That this was something a hack did. What I’m asking for then, I guess, is a fresh start. A story is not a democracy, and it’s almost never improvised, except by criminals. That’s why it’s a story. Truth be told, I don’t have anything special, really, like a dessert cart full of words, or a tin can with a time-travelling string. Sorry. What I mean to say is that maybe this relationship has run its course. But here is a story. Here is the last one I’ve got.

We’ve been in the caves forever. It feels like forever, but probably it’s not been not more than a day. In our bag is a trowell, a few toothbrushes, some rope. I’m holding the bag, and you’re holding the priceless artifact. Under the torch-light it shimmers, casting its eyes upon us like shit, I can’t believe they finally got me. At last we can see daylight. We walk easily to the exit, emerging into the pit we dug to lower ourselves down here. But now the ladder is gone, and at the top of the pit stands a smiling man in a white suit. He has on a red fez and is clutching a pistol. Loosely. He knows no one is going to take it away. He says:

“Well, well, well. What have we here?”

 


David Myers is an Ithaca College graduate with a B.A. in Writing. 

Image Credit: Glenn Carstens-Peters

Federico Cittaro

stumbling

stumbling, 2014

with-slow-steps-along-the-gleaming

with slow steps along the gleaming, 2014

in-the-streets-of-the-wind

in the streets of the wind, 2014

vibrations

vibrations, 2011

in-the-senses-universe

the senses universe, 2014

 

bluenight, a painter,

1992, the Academy of Fine Arts in Bologna.

the thesis “CLIPBOARD OF A PICTORIAL RESEARCH IN BECOMING”.

2014,  Resident studio Artist,  the Cube Creative Hub, The Donnelly Centre, Cork Street, Dublin 8

2016,  D’CLINIC : SHOVEL (Zalaegerszeg, Hungary ) Selected Artist Exhibition & 4-Week Residency

Federico

L.XIV

inartbluenight

Night Watch by Davina Allison

 

– 1993

 

Did the night-birds call

as they starred

you with white myrtle flowers

and did you number

your loves

to the dark that closed your green,

green eyes –

reach to touch

a blank sky

or the wild lantana scrub

and barbed wire

that wreathed you that night –

and did they keep

their watch – my love –

hold you

against the long boned-silk

of their wings.

 


Davina’s work has been published in numerous literary and online journals including The Lampeter Review, Poetry Scotland, The Glasgow Review of Books, The Galway Review, Eremos, Dappled Things, Writ Poetry Review, The Australian Poetry Journal, The Literateur, Poem and Dish, and Eureka Street. She has a degree in Classics, a Masters in Applied Linguistics (Honours), and a PhD in Text Linguistics. 

Image Source:  Jordan Whitfield

The Efficiency Apartment by Jessica Bonder

Having lost all faith in humanity, having dated a daisy chain of douchebags that if lined up – nuts to butts – would circle the world twicely and still wind up on her doorstep, hungover, saying some shit like they forgot their hoodies/lost their keys/can they sleep on the futon (well okay, but no touching clause in effect!), having tough-loved herself – suck it up, bitch! – into believing she was worth more than that – quitting – and that giving herself more time (even!) and another chance (yet!) was the best/most self-caring- est thing – haven’t you learned by now, silly goose? – when trying on a new man, like a squeaky pair of discounted “designer” shoes that salesperson Mango attested – attested verily! – would break-in overtime, meld to a custom-fit – like magic! – get comfy and cozy with all your ingrowns and bunions, learn to love you with all your faults, i.e. just the way you are [and btw, that wedge heel? makes your calves look sooo amazing, gurl! (can I put these in a bag for you, or are you wearing them out of here, Miss Sassy Lady?)], having repeat-cycled through all the obligatory motions of cis womanhood, the yin/yang whiplash of self-improvement credos/morning-after-walks-of-shame (rollercoaster ride a back massage in comparison), on the eve of her 37th birthday, hair grease-knotted, unshaved legs yoga-pantsed, face stuffed with cheap chuck taco – actual taco, not a euphemism, you sickos! – Beth decided, goddammit and for chrissakes, if she can’t get what she wants out of life, i.e. happiness, welp, she might as well clean this motherfucking apartment.

Where’s the Febreze?

Pine Acres, the garden apartment community where Beth rents, welcomes inmates residents with an emerald green sign out front, mock-carved out of “wood”: PINE ACRES A GREAT PLACE TO LIVE! Grammatical microaggression #1: no comma after ACRES. What a lying liar, that sign – it’s not a great place to live, not from what Beth can see, in her toaster reflection or in the immediate surround: unit after unit of unemployed beer bellies, tramp-stamped single moms, short-bused special kids, game-show-gripped cottonheads, tripedal dogs, glaucoma cats, undocumented reptilia, etc. No one’s life is great here – no one’s, Beth! – so grow some empathy/a pair of ovaries, wouldja please? Say it aloud, thricely, shiny appliance facing, like you mean it: I’m not alone. Go on – say it, Beth. Beth? Hello? Ms. Elizabeth M. Brock, hello hello, are you there? This is your therapist-embedded-conscience speaking! Fine: I’m not alone. I’m not alone. I’m not alone. There. Happy now/feel better? No. Absofuckinlutely not. FWIW: rye’s burnt.

Is this it?

**crawls out from under kitchen cabinet**

**fluorescence aided, reads aerosol can**

Nope! a/o Gah!

Wasp spray.

It’s PLEEZ-NO-BEEZ, a rust-bottomed souvenir from late last August (that romantical dead zone between Josh II and spelled-with-an-h Thom), when the A/C blew out, and Rick the Dick Super’s spinning-arrow office sign pointed to Not On Premises, and Beth, problem-solving, opened a window for air – pointless! – and in exploded a colony of pent-up stingers, happy to meet Beth, face-first. Severe reaction: pink gumballs for eyes, ten days to re-open. Beth’s third reason for hospitalization, year last. The second being a broken leg, the first being a suicide attempt. The second and first things, they were a 2-for-1/same-day kinda deal, just reverse order. January 15th, MLK Day. I have a dream.

Do I, like, not own cleaning supplies?

What the literal fuck.

With an (online) Master’s in Library Science, but currently making (split) ends meet as a tip-reliant hair washer at Curl Up & Dye (out on Route 22), Beth, these days, she dreams of corrections. For starters, rage-painting a comma – the world’s fucking-est hugest comma! – after the ACRES on the PINE ACRES sign. A Costco-sized can of white matte, cartoonishly oversized brush, huge sweeping strokes, just for show, is how Beth would get ‘er done, this DIY fantasy born of adjusted expectations (see: impending 37th birthday). Not that Beth would ever vandalize, no, Beth would never. In the way Beth’s mom rejects accepts that Beth’s just not the marrying kind, is how Beth has come round to that painful self-realization: she’s just not hoodlum material.

PINE ACRES {COMMA} A GREAT PLACE TO LIVE!

Oh Nance! how could Nance even begin to understand Beth’s predicament? Nance grew up in a different generation, didn’t she now, a different era, altogether! An era of such a thing as going steady. Of such a thing as holding hands. Of such a thing as naming your firstborn after your great-grandmother (see: Elizabeth), and not, like celebrities tools parents these days, a piece of fruit (see: Mango).

Is that it, the problem? Her name? Does “Beth” just scream “unlovable”?

Like.

If Beth were named Mango, like Mango’s named Mango, would she be happier?

Like.

Were she a Mango/Pineapple/Kumquat, say, and not a Beth/Karen/Rachel (sad!), how could her life, like, NOT be a party, 24/7?

Like.

How could her every waking moment, like, NOT be lit AF?

Beth considers this, what’s in a name, anyways, as she hoofs it to the Curl Up, arms swinging, pits chafing, crossbody lunch tote bouncing off her butt, new “Steve Maddens” digging into her left heel/right big toe, blisters weeping anew. She overslept – crap! – Dee’s gonna be pissed! Squeak squeak squeak squeak. Passing it now, the sign she’ll never correct/vandalize, pretends she doesn’t see it, does. Squeak squeak squeak squeak. Eight more months of this Court-imposed ambulation before her license un-suspends and Beth can drive again. Ho boy! Squeak squeak squeak squeak. Not that Beth owns a car, anymore, nor, with all the psychotropics and anticonvulsants trip-wiring her CNS, should Beth be anywhere near a manually-operated vehicle. Squeak squeak squeak squeak. The plastic amber bottle of Beth’s Life, its WARNING label should read: May cause dizziness, nausea, impaired thinking, depression, suicidal ideation, compulsive behavior, substance abuse, body dysmorphia, crushing loneliness, fallen arches, mommy issues. Talk to your doctor if any of these symptoms persist. Or adopt cat. Name cat Ruggles. Tell Ruggles problems. (Ha! like Ruggles care!) Filled on: 4/2/1978 Refills: 0

Wait wait, ok, here we go! What’s this?

100% Pure Ammonia.

That’s good for polishing highly porous and untreated woodwork, right?

**unscrews cap, gets whiff**

Christ on a cross, that’s harsh!

Words create your world, your best self, is a sine vino veritas of psycholinguist and addiction expert Dr. Barbara Mathers (Suite 3A in the Hamilton building, Rt. 9 Korporate Kampus). Barb’s job is convincing Beth not to kill herself. Or at least refrain from negative/unhelpful verbiage when discussing year last’s Incident, i.e. Beth’s calling it a “shit attempt” or a “fucked up jump”, characterizing her right tibia as “snapping like Britney Spears”. (See what you did just there?) Next time, goes Barb, why not say something kinder, more compassionate, i.e. “I tried my best”? or “I’ll do better next time!” Can we try for that, Beth? Can we aim for an Easy Achievable™?

I don’t know, Barb.

Please stop calling me Barb, Beth.

You said I could call you Barb, Barb.

When did I say that? And why would I?

You know, for a psycholinguist…

Small steps leading to big steps! is the beauty of the Dr. Mathers Step Chart to Doing Life™. Basically it looks like a ziggurat: Easy Achievables™ the terrace stairs gradually building, ramp-like, to the soundly supported top tier/temple of your Realistic Life Goal™. Beth’s Realistic Life Goal™, the top tier/temple of her personally customized ziggurat, being something like “Have a Life/Goal.”

Always a ziggurat, never a pyramid.

Isn’t that what the lovelorn say?

Well fuck the ziggurat! It’s Beth’s motherfucking birthday – well almost, goddammit – and if birthday girl wants to drunk-clean her efficiency apartment – hahaha, efficiency! – then birthday girl’s going to motherfucking drunk-clean her efficiency apartment! Hey Barb? Sobriety? You can shove it up your Sphinx! **swigs Wild Turkey** I mean, just what exactly, do and pray tell, is so goddamn efficient about this so-called efficiency apartment? What about, exactly, its rusty two-burner electric stove, its leaky frost-ridden half-fridge, its deafening compact dishwasher, its kitchenette is the living room is the bedroom, its murphy bed is the bed is the sofa is the ironing board, its 500 sq. ft. of everything in the openness, its you on the toilet-ness, from all points, visible? Had it made Beth more efficient, life-wise, i.e. maximally productive a/o minimally wasteful vis-a- vis effort? No. No it had not. Nay if anything, since moving into this affordable housing dump, Beth had become less efficient, life-wise, i.e. minimally productive a/o maximally wasteful vis-a- vis no effort. She had fallen behind, her life’s After shot worse than its Before, the Before being that magical ten-year-ago-time ~ Before Beth’s First DUI ~ when Elizabeth M. Brock had her shit together (see: a major-related job), and was making good decisions (ignore: an unfortunate Pepe the Frog tat), and yeah sure, things hadn’t been perfect in the past-past either (think: raped in undergrad), but for all intensive purposes, hey, at least she didn’t have a record! Sides, Elizabeth was on the good side of 30, then. Time aplenty for Nance to become a grandma!

[Pretend friends enter, laughing.]

Did you just say intensive purposes? / Isn’t it intents and purposes?

Omg, hahaha, that’s so Beth! / We’re, like, calling you that from now on.

Fucking genius hilarious! / HAHAHA! / We love you Beth!

Time: two hours later.

Efficiency Apartment: still filthy

Beth: fetal on lino

Who is Beth kidding! **sobbing into Swiffer** She’ll never be a Temple of Uruk, or, or, an Etemenanki dedicated to Marduk in Ancient Babylon! Best Beth can hope for – Elizabeth M. Block, that loser! – is putting on a bra and leaving the house, and not even a High Effort bra, either, we’re talking the having-a-fat-day kind that pulls over your head, stretches sweatshirt-style, no judgment? Remember, back in Nance’s Day, when a sports bra meant you played (lady) sports? jogged? Jazzercized? stayed active and watched your figure – 34-25-36 – because that’s how you found yourself a find, caught yourself a catch? Remember, back in Nance’s Day, when an Efficiency Apartment was called a Bachelor Pad, because that’s who lived in a place like this, a stubborn failure of a man, society’s joke, the type of Low Value XY Nance’s daughter would never date – no, never! – because your Elizabeth, she has standards, deserves the best, plus it’s not like she’s ugly? Remember when, and Nance does, if you weren’t exceedingly fat or wart-ridden, if you remembered to smile and play dumb and douche your vagina – daisy fresh! – that the opposite of a Bachelor arrived on time, just as you expected, gainfully employed and ring in hand, a ready-to-ship Husband?

Yeah no. Beth can’t either.

Times have changed.

Givens that were givens, they’re not givens, anymore.

Even Efficiency Apartments, now they’re calling them Studios.

To make it sound cool to be poor.

And maybe it’s for the best.

Because who needs things that dig at you, like ill-fitting underwires and shitty exes, when you’ve got fantastic elastic, the polymer that loves you back?

And Ruggles, can’t forget Ruggles!

Ruggles have ridges!

Who loves ya, Rugs!

Rugs?

**checks cell phone**

11:59 PM -> 12:00 AM

Officially Beth’s birthday.

No texts. No messages.

(Nance, she’ll call in the morning.)

Happy birthday to me.

Beth.

That’s me.

I’m Beth.

Jessica Bonder is an American fiction writer and actor. She has previously published works in London-based STORGY Magazine. Her short story “Not Today” won first place in STORGY’s 2015 Short Story Contest, judged by author Paul McVeigh. She has stories forthcoming in Split Lip Magazine and Vending Machine Press (2017). She holds a BA in English and Art History from the University of Pennsylvania. She lives in New Jersey. www.jessicabonder.com Twitter handle: @jessbonder

Photo by Kerstina Mortensen

Kerstina Mortensen is an Irish-Danish graduate of History of Art and German, Trinity College Dublin. She writes, paints and photographs, and has had work published in IcarusThe Attic and the Trinity Journal of Literary Translation