Unbecoming by Matt Hutchinson

I built it deep in the woods. Far enough from the road to avoid fumbling couples at night, drivers caught short by day. So far in no human eye would look on it before hunting season. By then it would be over.

To the casual eye it might have looked like a wood store, or some kind of bothy, but what I was building wasn’t for shelter, wasn’t to preserve or protect; it was to witness an ending.

I was almost done.

There was enough space inside for a grown man to stand upright, a shelf of books, a simple fold down cot for the nights. Eighty-seven of them; that’s how many I calculated it would take. Almost three months of gradual thinning, diminishing; an unbecoming.

I took a final sweep round outside, covering my tracks, laying branches and creepers. Fat drops of sweat ran down my back, between my shoulders. Others navigated the longer route over the bulge of my belly. Dick they called me at the yard. It took me almost a month to understand it wasn’t the insult I thought it was. I overheard Todd Carson calling me The Great White Whale to one of the drivers and realised what it was short for.

I wanted to kill him, kill them all, every single one of them. Take a baseball bat to their stupid skulls or lock the doors in the loading bay and pick them off with a rifle. Sometimes, during those long afternoons in the woods as I dropped stone onto stone, I imagined the slack weight of bodies hitting concrete. It felt good. But that wasn’t the answer. I’d never held a gun in my life, let alone fired one. Anyway, there was only one person I could rid myself of to end the heat of shame, the sweat of embarrassment, and I had him firmly in my sights. His time had come.

My shirt rode up as I squeezed in through the final gap, rough stone scraping my belly. I tested the battery-operated lamp and the backup torch, counted the water bottles that lined one wall, checked my tiny store of rations was dry. I couldn’t put it off any longer; there was nothing left to do.

I wiped my forehead and took a drink. Then I lifted a stone and set it on mortar. I lifted another, and another, till a thin strip of light was all that remained; a gap too narrow for me to fit through.

Yet.

I hung the tarpaulin over it to keep out the rain and took another drink.

Then, deep in the woods, I sat down and began the long wait.

Matt’s stories have appeared in The Bohemyth and Boston Literary Magazine and been shortlisted for the Doire Press International Fiction Competition.  He was once second reserve goalkeeper for Chorley and district under 11s and has a degree in Pop Music. Funny how life turns out.

Twitter: @mattwrites
Image Credit: Geran de Klerk

Still Swimming / Swimming Still by Ron Gibson, Jr.

Under a flexible lamp, in an otherwise dark living room, the shadows of Nick’s hands patiently shuffle through random images cut from magazines. The stack is slick and unruly. Every so often a flurry of scraps slips through his fingers. Even at low tide, when the foot of his damp couch is perched on barnacle-pocked boulders, waves of ocean gently roll down the bedroom hallway into the living room and lap up the snow-falling scraps below. Images shine on the oily surface like a school of bait fish. Then, one by one, dart below the water surface, never to answer why Denise had cut them out in the first place.

*

In the dark days when the internet was a lost pod of orcas squealing and whistling for help through phone modems, Denise spent many nights laying facedown in bed, flanked by drifts of paper, an inverted snow angel. Nick would watch her dirty socks kick in the air to the buzz of psychedelia through blown-out speakers as she performed chimeric transformations with a gluestick. Nick once asked why collage, and Denise said it was the way the world should look. Disjointed, ugly, ironic, truer than illusion. Nick didn’t fully understand, but appreciated the beauty of random chance, the electrical exchange, the subtle magnetism of two disparate pieces connecting to create something new, something more.

*

Denise showed up in Nick’s mailbox, mixed with dark-mustard-enveloped bills, stowed away between coupon circulars. Her small, handprinted name was Polaris within galaxies of stickers and cosmic glitter whorls on half-size manila envelope.

The world had once been lonely — an endless black canvas of potential, with skeins of television screens impersonating constellations, all shouting for attention. Culture had been commodified and tamper-proofed. Art was not made (outside of disappearing classrooms) for the great authors had lived, wrote and died already. The foundation of the canon was set. You were to tiptoe through its white marble hallways, no matter how tedious, and pay homage accordingly.

Nick spent hours living vicariously through biographers’ accounts and the correspondence exchanged between the greats. Their adventures incited wanderlust that burned incurably in his veins. Their words inspired an ache to write something memorable, yet also destroyed all creative ambition in the same instant. After reading their works, writing felt like trying to reach the heavens in a tiny helium balloon.

Then the Zine Revolution found Nick. Cured him. Art was everywhere. Most of it bad, but inspired. Rebellious, even if it didn’t know what it was rebelling against. It was exciting to ignore the past, to burn the present, to be without a future. To know that beyond the television glow, there were still stars that burned intelligently. To know that art, differing points of view and new voices were shouting out of every bored bedroom window, transcribed, rearranged and photocopied, arriving like messages in a bottle in mailboxes across the globe.

Nick’s name, which once had been a poor example of penmanship and a punchline for cooler kids’ jokes, now carried some weight. His fiction littered the Xerox highways and his reviews were frequently published in Maximum Rock n’ Roll. The latter led to some unexpected zine trades, lengthy correspondence and surprising friendships formed across the country. His mailbox was often stuffed with new goodies from new names.

Standing in the doorjamb of his apartment before entering, Nick’s fingertips ran across gluestick air bubbles like braille, as if attempting to decipher who this ‘Denise S.’ was before even opening the package.

*

David Bowie’s “The Speed of Life” doesn’t live up to its name. It’s catchy, twinkly, atmospheric, rhythmic. The actual speed of life is a Tour de France sprint win. It’s hard-charging, unbalanced, discordant, a blunt-force amnesia.

For a solitary person, whose life moved like glacial epochs, Nick couldn’t recount the exact events that led from Denise being an unknown name in his mailbox to his girlfriend and roommate. To get near the actual speed of life was disorienting; its current grabbed him by the ankles and sent him tumbling, miles away from his comfort zone, drowning, trying to keep up.

*

That’s true and it isn’t.

Nick remembered the way the man-made lake in his apartment complex was empty of life during winter, the way his face disappeared under a comforter, the way his bones longed for the warmth of one of Denise’s A’s. Her handwriting was sweet, childish and undeniably feminine. The letters in her words were tomboys that hadn’t realized (or didn’t want to call attention to) that they had developed and become women. Curves showed in the right places. Even though the prose might be formless and ordinary — a zine trade, a distro offer, an offer to maybe collab — Nick’s fingertip traced the paths of her words, a lovelorn stray following her home.

That’s also true and it isn’t.

Nick had a sometimes girlfriend and Denise had a sometimes boyfriend. Sometime sometimes wasn’t enough for either. Or at least that’s what they would tell each other. Neither wanted to admit that they’d bought their others Christmas presents, that they’d inscribed the gifts with ‘I love yous.’ Neither admited that their skin still bore fingerprints, that the musk of sex still clung to them.

From afar the view of each other was beautiful and perfect.

Nick still remembered the man-made lake in his apartment complex empty of life. Still remembered the longing, even while his sometimes girlfriend stood behind him and touched his hair as he looked at the man-made lake from his window. Still remembered how his stray thoughts followed a late season flock of geese over the horizon to Denise, while his sometimes girlfriend tried to tell him about her day.

Then time sped. Day became night, became day, night, day. The earth swiveled its hips with the seasons. Nick’s sometimes girlfriend’s voice became Denise’s. Denise’s small hands replaced his sometimes girlfriend’s hands touching his hair. Denise’s atomic reactor of a body now heated his bed.

With each cardboard box moved in and each day spent unpacking, rearranging, claiming space in Nick’s apartment, Denise slowly pasted over his sometimes girlfriend’s presence with her own. In the process, hybrid memories were formed. Disjointed, ugly, ironic, truer than illusion. They were memories Nick didn’t fully understand, but learned to accept as the unreliable nature of memory.

*

When you meet someone for the first time, after having known them from afar, there’s bound to be a period of adjustment. It’s not long before the perfect glimpses of each other are replaced by truer ones.

Nick was unprepared for the sheer velocity of Denise, and Denise was unprepared for his unpreparedness. What she felt was normal, he felt was abnormal. Confused, he looked back over her letters, thought back to their late night phone calls, and neither seemed to truly represent what he was experiencing, now, in person. He wondered if being a slow reader had caused him to miss something, that he’d had the pacing wrong all along, that maybe longing had tuned down their voices, slowed time, until they became only languid whispers in each other’s ears.

It left both sides wondering if Nick was prepared for life. He didn’t seem to be. He seemed lost, forever lagging behind.

On the flipside, though overwhelmed, Denise’s enthusiasm often led Nick to new places he never would’ve reached on his own. And Nick’s sluggishness revealed small details that Denise’s footsteps would’ve stomped on or over.

Both began to find merit in the other’s way of life, began to respect each other’s differences. Without noticing, Nick slowly accelerated and Denise slowly decelerated. Though the distance would always remain great, they never lost sight of each other.

That is until Denise disappeared.

*

Do you ever completely know someone? Even when people claim to be open, allowing access to every part of themselves, it’s oftentimes a bait and switch, a sleight of hand. While you’re staring at the revelation in their right hand, mentally placing the missing puzzle piece into the incomplete narrative, their left is burying another deeper and deeper into their pocket, never to see the light, never allowing you to see the complete picture.

For, just as Nick had grown accustomed to Denise’s forward march into life, always leading without fear, he was baffled by the sudden halt, the cessation of sound, the disappearance of Denise.

It started over coffees at a cafe when they’d decided to make a zine called “Abandon Ship!” The name was chosen because it was the rambunctious exclamation Denise made exiting a cafe booth. She’d turn sideways, hold the edge of the table and top of the booth seat, lean back, pull herself up into a leap, shout “Abandon Ship!” and land with a sneaker slap like an exclamation point.

When she set down to illustrate the cover, instead of collage, Denise picked up a pen. Below the oversized, bubble-lettered title, she began to draw passengers diving from an iron-sided ship into an ocean. Her work rate was slower. She took great care illustrating the sadness etched into each face. Even the ocean began to bear these same sad, stern faces lingering just below the surface of the waves like ghosts. Considering the fun-loving source of the zine, Nick asked why the cover was so sad. Without looking up from the drawing, Denise said, “The ocean’s a serious place. It’s where people go to contemplate things. Sometimes they stay and sometimes they come back, but always different. Nobody ever returns the same.”

As questions from zinester friends increased concerning the launch of their new zine and self-imposed deadlines kept sliding further into the future, Nick watched helplessly as sand began to accumulate at Denise’s feet, as saltwater began to seep out of her, as if from an inland sea deep inside, transforming the landscape of the apartment and guaranteeing Nick would never see his damage deposit returned.

Not knowing what to do, Nick began to bale the living room, but couldn’t keep up. As the rising water threatened to bury the memory of Denise’s smile, Nick hurried her to the bedroom and peeled off her wet clothing. Her ribs sticking out of her pale skin like the hull of a battered ship run aground, he wrapped her shivering body inside their down comforter, where their bodies once radiated with love, then waded back to the kitchen to make hot soup. But when he returned the comforter was already sopping, the floor flooded and waves crawling up the walls. Instead of waging another futile attempt to bale the room, Nick sat on the edge of the bed, freezing water rising all around, tears in his eyes, holding a spoon of hot soup to Denise’s bluing lips. Denise only looked at Nick sadly, her lips never parting, unable to communicate what she needed. He dropped the spoon, reached beneath the water’s surface and held one of her still hands for a few moments. Before the rising water swallowed her, locking her away in the silent depths of her own thoughts, Nick kissed Denise’s forehead, told her he loved her, asked her to please come back to him and swam to the bedroom door before softly clicking it shut.

*

Now, Nick spends most nights awake, beneath a flexible lamp that shines like a burning candle in a sailor wife’s window, waves softly lapping at the foot of his couch, his hands patiently piecing together the scraps of Denise that she left behind, ever hopeful that one day his work will be done. That a whole picture will appear. That one day Denise will make her way back to him through the darkness, barnacles and all, no matter who she is now or what she’s become.

 


Ron Gibson, Jr. has previously appeared in Stockholm Review of Literature, Cheap Pop, New South Journal, Jellyfish Review, Whiskeypaper, Easy Street, Noble / Gas Quarterly, Harpoon Review, The Airgonaut, Pidgeonholes, Spelk Fiction, Cease Cows, etc. & forthcoming at The Nottingham Review, Rain Party Disaster Society and apt. @sirabsurd

Image Credit:  Jason Leung

Stop Staring by Alison Frank

Home at last. Funny how these plush red carpets now seem normal. The building made such a grand impression on me when I moved here, even if the flat I rent within it is small and unremarkable. As I ascend the main staircase, I spot my neighbour, Pete.

‘Evening, Sarah.’

‘Hi Pete, how’re the stuffed animals today?’

‘Behaving themselves. If one of them starts talking back, you won’t be seeing me round here no more! I’ll check myself into the loonie bin.’

He smiles and adjusts his wire-framed glasses. I avert my gaze from his long fingernails. The muscles contract down my back whenever I see them. Women’s long nails should creep me out in the same way, but they don’t.

‘How’s the world of publishing?’

‘Same old slush pile. Actually, an unusual manuscript was delivered today – one full of pictures that might interest you. It’s from a hipster taxidermist in east London, all about the weirdest commissions she’s ever had.’

‘Oh yes, these hipsters. Tell you what, I’m happy to have the competition. Ten years ago, it looked like my trade was dying out, but what with all these goths and dandies and modern Victorians, there’s been more than enough business to go round. What’s the author called?’

‘Delilah Rose.’

‘Don’t know that name. Bet she wasn’t born with it. Maybe I should’ve come up with something a bit snazzier than Pete Hawkins. How was I to know that taxidermy would become so glamorous! You tell me when that book’s coming out. I’ll gladly read it. By the by, did you ever watch those films?’

‘Yes, they were fantastic. I’ve been meaning to knock on your door to give the DVDs back. I can go and get them now if you like.’

‘No rush. I’ll be getting on, let you enjoy your evening in peace.’

He turns away with his careful, precise steps, the keys to his flat ready in his hand.

It’s mind boggling, the things you can find out about the unassuming people that surround you. In the early 80s, Pete worked with a Polish animator on stop-motion films of rabbits. Whenever I see stuffed rabbits in natural history museums, they always looked royally pissed off: maybe it’s hard to arrange that cleft lip and buck teeth into a natural expression after death. But Pete managed it: his dead rabbits had expressions that were dignified, amused, even beatific. I’ve never been inside his shop on King’s Road: stuffed animals still creep me out, however skillfully crafted. When he lent me those DVDs, Pete said, as if reading my mind, ‘I won’t invite you in to watch them. You must wonder what a bachelor like me gets up to, with his dead animals.’ I laughed at this, maybe a bit too much. ‘I’ve a mind to show you round some time to disabuse you of your morbid fantasies. I assure you, no deceased creature has ever passed this threshold. Excluding, of course, old Mrs. Hanson, the previous tenant, 30 years ago.’

I eat my dinner at the little table next to the window as usual. Munching away, I look up at the creeping patterns of sunset clouds. My gaze falls to the jagged rooftops, and down another level to the windows. The buildings opposite are a good 25 metres away, allowing lots of light and an illusion of privacy. You can see people’s shapes but not their expressions.

The majority of us have never met, but there’s a sense of shared community. If I caught sight of a burglary or a murder, I hope I’d call the police right away, and that my neighbours would do the same for me. My gaze shifts from one window to the next. It’s like sitting in a cafe, watching strangers pass by.

As dusk falls, the windows illuminate. Loud music leaks from an open sash in the building opposite, one floor below my own. The lights in that flat blaze more brightly than in any other. Irresistibly, they draw my eyes. Young women in beautiful dresses start to jive. A young man with slicked back hair opens a bottle of champagne. Someone mimes spanking someone else’s bottom—or maybe they’re actually doing it. I avert my gaze to my plate. When I look outside again, translucent curtains have been drawn across the flat’s six windows.

A very thin woman, maybe just a teenager, peeps around the edge of the curtain and seems to look straight at me. I feel a little unnerved, but I don’t want to do anything obvious in response, like pulling my own blind. I casually move away from the window, switch off the overhead light and turn on the small lamp beside the armchair. Sitting there, I can’t see my neighbours, only the sky, still purple and pink with the sunset. After five minutes, I creep up to the window, let down the blind without showing myself, and kneel on the floor. I just have to see what’s going on down there – are they all standing around the windows now, curious about the weirdo who was watching them? I can’t see anyone. I crawl into bed with a hot cup of tea and a new comedy podcast and try to forget the uneasy feeling of that slim girl’s stare.

In the morning, I luxuriate in the thought of a weekend free from commitments. Maybe I’ll treat myself to some fresh croissants, buy the weekend paper, and peruse it for most of the morning with a hot pot of coffee at my elbow. I start setting the table, which is bathed in the mid-morning sunshine I normally miss while I’m at work. I glance outside where a square of white paper catches my eye. There’s a sign taped in the window of the flat where they had the party last night. ‘STOP STARING’.

I put on a tracksuit and a big pair of sunglasses and go out. As I walk briskly and take in big breaths of air, I start to feel less nervous. Why should I be ashamed? I have a right to look out of my window. They’re the ones drawing attention to themselves, even more so with this stupid sign. What egotists, to imagine people have nothing better to do than look at them! If you don’t want people to look, draw your curtains or don’t have such a big party. I almost start hoping my neighbours will confront me, so I can vent my outrage.

There’s a tall couple immediately ahead of me in the queue at the bakery. The man’s hair is combed smooth and the woman’s in a form-fitting dress that exposes her tanned shoulders. It looks like they’re wearing clothes from the night before; perhaps they’ve been at a party that lasted until dawn and they’re rounding it all off with breakfast. Could these be my neighbours? I back towards the door and step on the foot of a man coming in. ‘Careful!’ he cries. The couple turn around to look at me. I mutter an apology as I dash outside.

‘Excuse me!’

The man with perfect hair is loping across the street after me.

‘Do you live in this building?’ His face is eager, almost amused. His girlfriend is standing outside the bakery holding their shopping.

‘Yes, why?’ Immediately I’m on the defensive. This wasn’t at all how I imagined our confrontation.

‘This is terribly embarrassing, but my girlfriend insists on speaking to one of your neighbours. Actually, I’m probably the one who’s going to have to speak to him. She says the man in the flat opposite is staring at her all the time. She put up a sign this morning – maybe you saw it. I tried to talk her out of it; you don’t want to provoke that sort of person. I thought perhaps if I had a word with him, we could sort something out, man to man.’ He smiles ironically at his own old-fashioned turn of phrase.

His girlfriend joins us. Her towering high heels look extremely uncomfortable, but she wears them as though they aren’t.

‘Do you live here?’ she asks.

‘She does,’ says her boyfriend. ‘Sorry, how rude of me, my name’s Max and this is Chloe.’

Chloe extends a cool hand. ‘Has Max told you I’ve been having problems with a voyeur?’

‘I did,’ says Max. ‘And this lady has been listening very patiently and, I think, might be willing to let us in so I can have a word with him.’

‘Would you?’ asks Chloe, with imploring eyes. ‘I’d be so grateful. We’ll be literally five minutes.’

I lead them through the front doors and up the stairs, stopping one floor before mine. Max looks around to get his bearings. ‘I’m pretty sure it’ll be flat…8.’

‘I can easily identify him. I’ve seen his horrible face so often, I’ll never forget it.’

‘You girls stay here,’ says Max, striding down the corridor. I hide around the corner. It’s Pete’s flat.

‘I’ll be so relieved when this is all over,’ says Chloe. ‘I’ve been on the point of moving, it’s become so bad. Every time I look out of my window, there he is.

Normally I keep the blinds at the back closed, but we were having a party last night, so we wanted a cross breeze. My friends all saw him, staring at us really intently.’

‘That must be terrible.’

‘So whereabouts in the building do you live?’

I wave my hand vaguely. ‘On the next floor.’

‘I hope our party didn’t disturb you last night.’

‘No, no – this neighbourhood can be so dead. It’s nice to hear some signs of life.’

‘You should come over next time we have a party!’

A brief vision of myself framed in that window, wearing an elegant dress, fooling around with new friends in their extravagantly large flat.

Max comes striding back down the corridor, pink in the cheeks but hair still in place.

‘Did you talk to him?’

‘Complete waste of time. Denied everything.’

‘Now what? Should I start taking photos as evidence?’

‘Like I said, you don’t want to provoke that sort of person. He can guess which

flat you live in just as easily as we guessed his.’

‘But it was definitely him?’

‘I think I know a pervert when I see one!’

I follow Chloe and Max back to the front door.

‘Thanks so much. I’ll drop you a note once we’ve sorted all this out. And an invitation to our next party!’ Chloe takes my flat number and grins, flashing me a thumbs up.

I go home, grab the DVDs and creep down to the second floor. Silently I place them on the carpet outside Pete’s flat. Will they be stolen if I leave them there? I hammer on the door and disappear down the service stairwell instead of the plush front staircase. I emerge at the back of the building and take the long way round to the newsagent’s. Wandering along King’s Road, I stop to gaze at fancy dresses in the shop windows. The sales will start soon: then I can afford a new party outfit. Chloe and Max are so caught up in themselves, they won’t notice if I only have one dress.


Alison Frank studied creative writing with George Elliott Clarke at the University of Toronto. She lives in London and her published short stories include ‘Roman School Trip’ in The Literateur, ‘The Rupture’ in Hotel, and ‘Dance Lesson’ in Moving Worlds. You can follow her on Twitter @alisonfrank

Image Credit:  Jamie Street

Beth O’Rafferty

my-bed
My Bed
view-from-my-window
View From My Window
matt-and-the-shard
Matt and The Shard
hide-and-wool-exchange
Hide and Wool Exchange
Beth O’Rafferty is originally from Dublin and has been living in London for the past two years. After studying Theatre and History of Art and Architecture at university she now works in publishing, working on scholarly art books. Her interests include books, feminism, sports, cats and wine.

EXCHANGE by Chloe N. Clark

Sometimes he goes into clothing stores to buy things that he doesn’t really want. He’ll shop around, for maybe twenty or thirty minutes, looking at different t-shirts. It’s always t-shirts. He likes the ones with no graphics—just words. He thinks he might be able to find himself in those words eventually. He’ll usually pick out at least two and try them on. He wants to believe that he’s really going to keep them. The one that fits perfectly, that has the most interesting feel of fabric, and the right pairing of colors. He’ll look in the mirror and study his reflection with the shirts on: tall, lean in a not too thin and not overly muscular way, and try to find the one that hugs his flesh in just the perfect way. That’s the one that he’ll take up to the counter and purchase. He always pays in cash. It makes it easier later. He likes the bags that each clothing store will hand over to him: some are simple plastic, some are paper with the store name printed across the front, some of them go all out with brilliant colors and bold fonts. He’ll put the bag into his backpack and then get on his bike to ride home. He bikes everywhere and always smells lightly of sweat but not in an overt or unpleasant way. It just is there, lightly hovering over the smell of clean.

Once he’s at home, he’ll wait to take out the bag. He wants to have the feeling of having made a decision to last for a little while. He’ll make a cup of tea—always rooibos, always with a spoonful of honey stirred in. He’ll drink the cup of tea, while reading the paper. He reads the local section first and then the sports. He never reads the national section, because it is filled with too much of everything. When he has had the last sip, he will take out the t-shirt and stare at it.

Today’s is a simple black with “Abalone” written across the front. He already knows what will happen. He can already feel the disappointment of not having picked the right one.

The next thing that he does is wait a day. He always gives it twenty-four hours, just to make sure. Then he goes back to the store. He carries the shirt in its bag like some sort of protective barrier so that he doesn’t have to feel the fabric that has let him down in such a way. This is the part that always fascinates him. The return of the product. He likes these abbreviated exchanges with people. The simplicity of them.

He goes into the store and hands over the offending item. The clerk looks at him, smugly,

“Sir we don’t do returns.”

“What do you mean? I don’t want this. I just bought it yesterday. Certainly I can return

it.”

“Um, like, no. Store policy.” She points to a sign that he didn’t notice: No returns. No exceptions. Exchange only. He looks down at the shirt. He doesn’t want an exchange. With something that complicated, there can only lie disappointment. “Fine. I’ll just keep this one.”

“Okay. Whatever. Have a nice day.” The clerk says as he takes the shirt back.

He walks outside and stares at the T. He decides, then and there, that he’ll just have to become the person to fit these words.

Chloe N. Clark’s work appears in Banshee Lit, Drunken Boat, Flash Fiction Online, Hobart, and more. She can be found on Twitter @PintsNCupcakes


Image Credit:  Clark Street Mercantile

Fabrice B. Poussin

 

story-time

Story Time

longing

Longing

 

for-tomorrow

For Tomorrow

tempting

Tempting

the-preserve

The Preserve

trying-for-birth

Trying For Birth

Fabrice Poussin teaches French and English at Shorter University, Rome, Georgia. Author of novels and poetry, his work has appeared in Kestrel, Symposium, The Chimes, and more than two dozens of other magazines. His photography has been published in The Front Porch Review, the San Pedro River Review and more than one hundred other publications. 

Advice To My Older And/Or Younger Self by Hugh Smith

You could say it began it with the colour blue. Obviously it would be preferable to say nothing.

You could say it began with the colour green. It did: I remember the exact position of the sofa, of the table, when it began – with the colour green.

What begins with the colour green does not end with the colour green.

The middle could be greyblue: all men over fifty in stories have greyblue eyes. Why not?

He has a small Labrador puppy but really that flat isn’t big enough to accommodate it.

The line scrawled down the middle might signify a child. A child signifies an interruption.

The little alligator is smiling. Advanced story writers should not pursue that avenue unless

1. It literally happened / is happening

2. All other options have been exhausted.

The last third is a meeting of at least three of the colours.

Think of the short story as a scorpion, and yourself as the colour green – as previously described. This applies as much to amateurs as it does to children; as much to children as it does to the strange, continuous present which you feel under your feet when you take off your shoes.

Where are your shoes?

If you must use words from another language, at least put in a stone/stones for them to be found under.

If the reader doesn’t think, “this is curling,” start again, further behind yourself.

The text should sound nice. Some interesting words should be used.

Love of the reader’s boredom is central. Green or red helps with this: a rose in a field, quite far from the house where everything kicks off.

A somewhat elevated position.

As though language were the stick of a blind man: sometimes, in rage, hit the characters in the face with it.

The beginning of the story and the end of the story must make love at some point.

The painting slips down occasionally. Fear and misgivings.

Toy guns in the basement, shivering.

 

Hugh Smith is 27 year old writer and philosophy student currently based in London. More of his work can be found at the Stockholm Review, the Moth Magazine and Paris Lit Up. 

Image by Shane Vaughan

 

 

Skylarks by Chris Beausang

‘Bow’ was not the right word for it, this part of the dinghy which faced the closing shore. No part of the boat embodied the robustness that ‘bow’ might have implied. A dinghy cannot split the sea, it cannot bound upwards to loom over a wave’s whitened finger, it could only be led across the surface, be drawn into the inlets of either side. There was something inevitable about his arrival now, and he began to wait for the charge of the bay’s grounds encountering the hull, surface against surface.

wwwwssssssssshhhhhhhhhhhh…wwwssssssshhhhhcchhhhhhhhhh…wwwwsssssSSSSssssscccchhhhhh…wwwssssshhhhhhh…wwwwwssssSSSSssssscccchhhhh

The breakers revealed themselves intermittently, visible beneath liquid strings, glossy stones caught in the whitewash, before they disappeared beneath the surface as it unfurled, descending again after having caught their breath. It was difficult to tell how far out they were, but maybe you could trace their outlines, the suggestions of them, beneath the blue.

He vaulted over the edge, and pulled the lower half of himself through the water, feeling, as the cold rushed them, his shoes’ ruination; each time he set one of them down, the sole would become half-lodged in the sea-bed’s muck. Sparsely grassed dunes lay beyond the greying bed of sand, and he began to hear the first sounds of the land, beyond the hush of the waves as they were called into retreat. The birdsong’s notes were restless and nondescript, but he was sure that there was one to be heard above the others, moving in an arc, aiming for something, maybe falling just short. He had given himself to the song, and as a smile made its way across his face, his eyes did not resist. The dingy was surrendered to the caprices of the bay, and it began to turn, veering away from him again, as he made for the dunes beyond.

His bones were not ready for the solidity of the dried sands when he reached them, it felt as though their surfaces stopped too soon, like there should be more give. He did not recline in the first dune that he came to, but postponed his gratification, a first, a second time, before coming to one on which he would depend, sinking low. He had not slept in days, and his fatigue had begun to make sense to him, as if it were not something to be ceded to, as if it was to remain. And what harm? It took an effort to see things now, but when he did, he could just look and look. What he beheld required no more of him. He felt too tired to sleep anyway, unless he were to sleep here, half-
purposefully, like a doze on a train. The potentiality of it had grown around him as he had approached, and swelled as he lay.

He turned his head, and saw, thick as butter, a clutch of yellow flowers reaching out over the sand towards him.

Primrose, he thought.

Chris Beausang was born, and continues to live in, Dublin. He is currently completing a PhD thesis relating to literary modernism and its resurgence within the novels of Anne Enright, Eimear McBride and Will Self. He is currently working on his first novel.

So Far The Distance by Chloe N. Clark

We used to believe that the stars were so bright and far away that they must be gods. Later, we thought that the sky itself might be a great cloth slowly being eaten by moths and the stars were merely light let through from heaven. Once we thought we understood the sky and we said the stars we saw had been dead for years and so we shouldn’t care about them anymore.

And yet we woke most nights dreaming of them. We chose our star-travelers carefully. We sought them out in places no one had thought to check.

When he was a boy, his mother would tell him to see how far he could leap and he’d run so fast before he’d let his body leave the earth. His mother, dazzled, clapped her hands at the sight of his body arcing past the sky. She thought he’d be a dancer.

Another was a swimmer, before she knew the sky she knew the sea. They were both so endless and deep. Her sister braided her hair into plaits and said, go out and be brave. The waves would crash over her and the tide would pull her deep but she never let the water steal her breath.

We told them tales only fit for night, as the stars blinked in and out around us, and in their dreams they thought they could hear someone whispering.

And so many of them woke to find themselves afraid. Of how the stars were so far. Of how they might never swim between the darkness and the shining.

When they placed their bodies into capsules, we prayed for them to be safe, to find what they were seeking, even though we had not prayed for years. The stars were not gods, they were too far for that.

We watched them when we could. Dipped into their dreaming and tried to see what they saw.

From inside these metal houses, the sky looked black as the pools of their eyes. We saw no stars.

But still they drifted through the night. They thought of jumping, of water crashing. They thought of home and wondered what their loves were doing so far away from them.

In years and years and years, children will gaze up at the night sky to look for constellations, study the stories told by pinpricks of light. We know that our travelers will still be soaring but the children will think that those flashes are simply shooting stars.

Chloe N. Clark’s work appears in Banshee Lit, Drunken Boat, Flash Fiction Online, Hobart, and more. She can be found on Twitter @PintsNCupcakes

Image Source:  Jeremy Thomas

Ana Prundaru

ana-4

Sliding Doors

ana-5

Takeoff

ana-1

Far West

ana-6

Summer Love

ana-3

Outside the Window

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Every Summer Prayer

Bio: Ana Prundaru is a Romanian-born writer and artist, based in Zurich. Recent work is featured in Litro Magazine, Gargoyle, Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, Diagram and elsewhere. A chapbook is forthcoming from OPP. 

Bus Rides to If and When by Jay Merill

One

We get off the bus at the botanical gardens. There’s a gateway each side of the road. We look at one, go in the other. The one where we do not go shows a glimpse of wild. The one where we do is tidy, decorative. I like the wild side but my mother tells me we are going to this one because there is a cafeteria. She wants to have a sit down, asks me, would I like to have a doughnut. I say Yes.

I eat the crisp brown sugary part, suck out the jam. Leave the pudgy dough. My mother says it’s not a good thing to do; that you should eat it all together. She sips her coffee, I mop up the remaining sugar from my plate. She buys me a glass of orange-juice to wash it down. I drink a bit of it then the straw seals up.

That’s what happens when you bite the end, my mother goes. She says I’ll have to drink the rest from the glass.

I don’t much care for the feel of the glass on my lips. It is cold, hard, unyielding. I bring my teeth tight against it, there’s a clicking sound.

Be careful or the glass will break, she snaps.

If the orange were fizzy you would not need to have a straw and you could drink it straight from the can. My mother wouldn’t like me doing that because she has standards. She’d just say you could cut your mouth on the rim of the metal but her nose would twitch because she disapproved in any case.

We walk to the ornamental pond. At the centre is an upright statue of a fishlike creature with an open mouth from which water spurts. I don’t like the statue’s greenish look. As though it’s covered in scabs which have gone bad. I wonder if the water that pours out of it is poisoned but I like the swishing sound it makes as it hits the pool.

A lady is sitting on the stone edge. She talks to my mother, says her name is Ala and her husband is held prisoner in a desert-land. I imagine drifts of yellow sand which stretch on forever, the wind blowing, making wavy lines. The lady starts to cry. My mother searches for a hanky, pats the lady’s arm. In the desert your feet would sink into the sandy dryness. You’d hardly be able to move. Anyway, you’d be seen if you tried to run away because there’d be nothing for you to hide behind.

Ala has a little girl who is running up and down along the parapet.

My mother says, Mind she doesn’t fall in.

The girl’s name is Mori. She is five years younger than I am. I’m eleven now. My mother tells me to play with her. We have a race on the grass next to the flowerbeds. I experiment with being an older sister, set the rules of the game.

Before we leave the botanical gardens my mother writes down our address, says would Ala and Mori like to come to ours – to a tea party. They both say, Yes, Yes, they’d love to come. Ala presses my mother’s hand.

On Sunday I stand by the window as my mother lays out plates and knives and napkins on the table, slices up a chocolate cake. I wait and wait but there’s still no sign of them.

‘I had the feeling they wouldn’t come,’ my mother says. Her eyes look wistful, sad. Then she shrugs, says most probably they got lost. They are from another country and don’t know their way around.

I picture Ala and Mori adrift in a plain of sandy yellow, picture them going round and round in circles seeking a way out all in vain.

My mother gives me a slice of the cake – she calls it gateau.

‘Eat up,’ she says. ‘The party’s over. It’s getting late.’

The gateau has chocolate icing and two layers of dark brown sponge separated by whipped up cream. I quickly pull the two halves apart, swallow down the cream and icing which are moist and melty. Leave what my mother refers to as the best of it, which is floury dry against my tongue.

*

Two

I see myself standing in a high tower. I do not wish to descend to earth. Or to see too clearly what is occurring there. What I think back to is the tall high cliff and the tall high cafe and me on a tall high stool and me drinking from a tall high glass. This took place in Budleigh Salterton. I had gone there on the cliff bus with my mother. It was all tall and steep and high. And frightening because I felt I might topple over. But as it happens, fear kept me bobbing, kept me buoyant, never sinking. As we went along we looked down at a sea of wavy green.

This narrative is composed of facts joined together. We did this and then we did that. And so…. on. In our set location; at our set time. But what is the source of this story, what is to be its end?

A girl and her mother took a bus to Budleigh Salterton. The bus went along the coast road. The road was winding. It went higher and higher. So did the bus. When they got to the very-top they got off. Got off quickly. They were the only ones leaving the bus. Up there; up there.

It was windy. The girl’s hair blew around her head and face in a gust. The mother was wearing a hat which she had to hold tight to her head. At the summit of the cliff was a cafe. A tall high cafe. They went in the door and there was a tall high counter with tall high stools on which they sat. They were so near the door the girl who was me was afraid she might fall off the stool which had silver-shiny legs and looked as though they could tip her off easily. She had a drink in a tall ribbed glass. Her mother called it ice-cream soda. Inside the fizzy liquid was a ball of ice-cream and she dipped in the long handled spoon to try and jab at a bit of it. It was bobbing around in the fizzy liquid, never settling. She tried to capture the ice-cream with the tip of the spoon. It started to melt whitely into the fizz.

I was up there with the silver spoon and the tall glass with its fizzing contents. And next to the tall stool with the four chrome legs was the doorway. The door was open and there was the line of the cliff. And I held up the spoon above the tall glass. Saw its long silver handle and below this, the long tall glass on the narrow counter, and below this, me sitting on the tall stool on the bit of floor right next to the open door. Saw a section of the tall cliff through the narrow doorway. And then I had to get down off the stool and go out of the door with my mother to get the bus back to wherever we had come from. There came the bus up the road as we got to the bus stop and it stopped on the top of the cliff in the wind and we got on again. My hair blowing again and my mother’s hat having to be held again.

What are the bounds of this narrative? Has this experience turned the girl into someone who dreads the thought of yet longs for the presence of steep and narrow places that are so high above the earth that she can’t see clearly what is happening at lower levels? Is it an invisible chain connecting her as she was in that moment, to how she is in this? Or is this memory an arbitrary selection? Or did it never exist at all but has been made up by me to substantiate the story of now? Or of an imagined future? Or, really, do I know the answer to any of this? Or do I know but am not saying?

The bus, the high cliff, the cafe door, the cafe, the counter, the small narrowness. The stool, the glass and spoon. And my mother in her hat and me with my blowing hair. As we stepped off and onto the bus. This then and no other then. This now that is all in. All.

Jay Merill is a 2017 Pushcart Prize nominee and the winner of the Salt Prize. Her latest stories are forthcoming in Thrice Fiction, Trafika Europe and Unthology. She has two short story collections published by Salt, ‘God of the Pigeons’ and ‘Astral Bodies’ and is Writer in Residence at Women in Publishing.

A Final Goodbye

Dear readers,

2016 has been a quiet year but the time has finally come for me to say my goodbye as editor. Having been involved in The Bohemyth since the beginning I felt that, after 4 years, a break was necessary in order for me to assess where we were, where we wanted to go, and what we had to do to get there. Ultimately, I’ve realised that now is not the time for me to try to fulfil the ambitions I had for The Bohemyth. So while I do leave with a sense of regret, I also leave feeling immensely proud and privileged of everything The Bohemyth has achieved; for that I need to pay thanks to every single one of the hundreds of contributors I’ve been lucky enough to publish over the years, the thousands of submitters who made each decision difficult, and to the many readers who were generous with their time to come out and perform for us whenever we put together an event. I’d also like to thank the different assistant editors whose contributions throughout the years have been vital to maintaining the quality of work we’ve published. Finally, a massive thank you to everyone who read, liked, and shared each of our posts. The Bohemyth will return with a new editor in due course but, for me, it’s a final goodbye.

— Michael Naghten Shanks

 


Image Credit:  Jordan Wozniak

Aaron Smyth

Aaron Smyth- Blushing Innocence

Aaron Smyth- Divergence

Aaron Smyth- Fragile Adrift

Aaron Smyth- Jouissance

Aaron Smyth- Tender Symmetry

 

Aaron Smyth is a Dublin based Visual Artist and Printmaker.
He is a recent graduate of the National College of Art and Design,
Dublin receiving a first class honours degree in Fine Art Printmaking
and is the 2015 recipient of Graphic Studio’s ‘Graduate Award’.

As a member of the Gum Collective Aaron is also the recipient of an
RHA Group Studio Residency and a Black Church Printmakers
Group Residency for 2015.

Aaron has previously been awarded Black Church Printmaker’s
‘Undergraduate Award’ and has been a selected representative for
NCAD in the Apprentice/Master programme in Kuntspodium T, Tilburg.
He has been selected for the International Miniature Print Exhibition
and the European Artist Book Biennale, exhibiting in galleries from
London to Connecticut, Tilburg to Moscow.

His practice explores Relations, Difficulty, Emotion and Gender.
He investigates the dynamics and dualities of ‘lived experience’,
which often manifest as figurative interactions which are caught
between real and psychological landscapes, creating layered narratives
for the audience to explore and engage.

This body of work, ‘The Fragile Nature of Intimacy’ explores both sides of the
discord between corporeal and metaphysical understandings of ‘being’; what
Barthes describes as the division between ‘The Real’ and ‘The Lived’.

The work presents figurative interactions, textural representations and intertwined
bodies. These etherial figures act as referents to the body talking of the emotional
and transcendental nature of our tender interactions. They discuss the dissension
between socio-cultural and historical perceptions of the corporal body and the
limitations of our physical vessels in a black endless expanse devoid of time.
This tranquil abyss places emphasis upon the figures themselves, revealing their
desire for contact as a desperate attempt to understand themselves and each other;
a tender requisite for validation on their search for love and identity.

The images are studio photographs which were then manipulated together to create
layered and dynamic bodies. These offset historical perceptions of the nude figure and
incorporate art historical allusions. Through recontextualising these subconscious elements
of our visual-culture the work pushes past the boundaries of the physical world by distorting
the familiar. What at first appears ostensible subsequently reveals itself as a bricolage of
body and gesture, time and experience. This allows for a greater exploration and reflection
upon the tenderness and toughness of this temporal place, sparking thoughts of modern love,
body politics, identity and intimacy while simultaneously touching upon questions of gender,
power and relations.

More can be found at:
http://www.aaronsmythartist.com
http://www.facebook.com/aaronsmythartist
http://www.instagram.com/plasticyouth

Niall McCabe

Notes from the Archangel of Aldi

 

1. Anyway she said, there’s room for another room inside this room, a substitute for a universe painted blue. Don’t unclip your petroleum belt here. Follow the pseudopods and psychiatrists, those chemical imbalances, the fractal geometry of eleven footpaths into the teeth and dark. Perform a U-turn of inter-galactic mentality and you’ll find yourself spectacularly inside an astral and indefinable someone else. If you try to look order in the eye all you’ll find is the blind syllables of a story staring back. Sing with the signifiers who sing to the road so the road will fold herself into a bio-chromatic body (who never speaks to nobody except himself). And if you run out of blood, remember it’s better to bleach your blue spot than hide a fetish in a cut. By the way, she said, have you ever got lost in a box of chimpanzees while watching Casablanca on a colour T.V? If not, try it, because all these people don’t exist.

2. The Locus goes to sleep during sleep in conditions requiring the attention of her dreams. She watches the norepinephrine arise with clusters of dopamine stars. Her identical nuclei is active and neurotic possessing similar brain connections to a suffering New Romantic strung out by reflections in an pond. I was lying on the sofa watching the structure of a suicidal wasp swallow a window in the seclusion of a hemispheric dusk. High on gamma but lacking intuition it flew inside a minor incision in the limbic region of a temporal holiday. The Locus sings the language of Medulla Oblongata, her voices morph in Gaba rising in the cortex of a river. She scans the sway and curve of her cigarette and slowly brushes her optic nerve. Her fibres shiver briskly in her skull.

3. Yes we are bored we are all bored now and someone who is bored is asleep and someone who’s asleep will not say no. I was sitting on a gland with my eyes closed closer to the ocean than I’d ever been, a unitary shopper sinking behind the sacred screen of shopper eating myself away until there was nothing left but hunger. Hemingway’s hamburger sweated hellishly on the sand. I watched the waves until the lads came back blistered bright and brospinal. Each one of their grinning faces was either a fiction of eternity, an expression of an endorphic reality, or the work of a monetary god working twelve-hour shifts in a Birdseye factory, I couldn’t be sure. No good for work I watched the waves, pretending not to notice the poet feeding poems to the poet inside the artificial light in the night-time where everything shines as it disappears.

4. The sociopath in blue smuggles tertiary-butyl hydroquinone past the security guard on the second floor. As he swipes benignly by, his sequences and syncopations catch the muscular attention of the boys. How many sociopaths and soya beans have you had in your mouth? One shouts out. It’s like losing your uncle in a jungle, says another, or entering the nanoscale carrying blood and lemons through the emptiness. The sociopath, inert and mysterious, frames Forever on the linear surface of the saviour’s sequined dress, splashes luster and oyster on the holy wall of mitochondria, subdues the juice believers and subverts the rest who threaten to meet and never meet except in the eye of a black hole swallowing mouthfuls of incendiary bluebottles whose last words are carried into the sun.

5. Different blood same party eating itself listening to Horace Silver and the gospel according to silicon ether. Her voice teaches its own infinity as it calls out from shelf to shelf, calls out, control the artificial colours before there’s no one left to sell. Both difference and similarity are the ubiquitous enemies in this pyrophosphate low-calorie cemetery. Yesterday a girl called Meryl drowned inside the signals emanating from a nano-box of methyl. Her spirit hid inside a leaf until the logarithmic growth climbed back inside the meat. The end-user no one would believe, she was taxidermied and taken to a vault inside a tree. Two indentured seagulls lubricate the air with songs of love, longing for the great logo stretched across their lungs. Some say the logo’s subsidiary will come in the form of a bird. Others say it will be a gun buried in a gun.

6. The ontogenesis of the sensible sentient sprang up in the surface of a depth. Neo-natal and not a problem it incorporates its curves into the universe it interrogates. Its mass is measured by the operation of these curves as they accumulate and navigate the insoluble indivisibles of the negative. It has no regrets. Nor is the representations it reciprocates locked in its spatiotemporal currents when it hibernates. It doesn’t sleep for long. It seeks solitude in commerce and becomes incarnate in this solace, the only fact of its existence is yet unknown.

 


Niall McCabe is from Derry and currently lives in Dublin, Ireland. His writing has featured in various publications, including Abridged, The Attic, The Belleville Park Pages, The Columbia Review, Icarus, and Trinity Journal of Literary Translation. He reads regularly at Cave Writings and was chosen as one of the featured writers to partake in their exhibition, Cave Paintings.

Image Credit:  Héctor J. Rivas

Charlotte Heather

Beached

 

The waves crash and crawl up the beach and a dog drags itself down to the water. It tries to drink. It collapses. And now the dog is dead. Another dead dog ruins the view of my beach. I mean, our beach. The President of the United States of America looks at me because he thinks it is my turn to remove the dead dog from our vista, but he is wrong. I, El Presidente of the United States of Central America, removed said dead dog yesterday. Well, not this dead dog, another dead dog, which means I do not remove today’s dog, as it is his turn. I am not moving the dead dog.

Moving dead dogs is a tedious task because they are heavy and the sun is singeing the hairs on the back of my neck more every minute and I do not want to sweat. I am already sweating. I do not want to sweat more heaving a dead dog into the pit. I do not want to go near the dead dog pit because it is coming up to burning day and, quite frankly, it stinks. We burn the pit twice a week. Wednesdays and Saturdays. Sunday is the day of rest. It’s important to remember tradition.

Mr President soon realises his mistake. It is, of course, his turn to move the dead dog. The last dog was only yesterday so it is relatively fresh in our memory. If there isn’t a dead dog for a couple of days we sometimes forget who’s turn it is and we have to play a game we know how to play but do not know the name of. It involves counting to three. On three one chooses to make a fist, stick out two fingers or hold the hand out flat. Fist beats two fingers, naturally, and two fingers beats flat hand. Flat hand beats fist, which makes no sense to me, as a slap is not as bad as a punch.

The President of the United States of America heaves the dead dog backwards and sweat is dripping down him and I smile. I do not know how I can be El Presidente of the United States of Central America when he is President of the United States of America. Surely one is in the other?

The heat is starting to ebb. I look forward to Mr President’s return from the pit. By the time he gets back it will be dark and cool and we can hold hands and touch one another without dripping so heavily with sweat. We always wait till dark.

Tomorrow I shall be President of the United States of America and he will be El Presidente. We take turns. Tomorrow, or the next day or, if I am lucky, the day after that, I will have to remove a dead dog but at least the pit will be burned and full of ash.

 

Charlotte Heather is a displaced Yorkshire woman and graduate of the Goldsmiths MA Creative and Life Writing programme. She has worked with and written for Secret Cinema, the Wild Writers, SheRa magazine and Theatre in the Rough amongst others. Her debut novella comes out with digital serialisation publishers The Pigeonhole on December 2nd.

Twitter: @lottyyy

Kerrie O’Brien

Matisse

 

had no time for twilight
when he could no longer walk
they gave him long bamboo
to keep painting up high
his last shapes
and cut-outs
so simple
you’d think them
the marks of a madman
or child.
so joyful
they move –
his blue acrobat
leaps on my wall.
that yearning
still
that undying need
to create to
sum it all up
in one final work
screaming look look
I am done.
we are never
done
nothing linear
nothing ever over
my whole life –
fireflies
in circles.
I always remember
that first sight –
I couldn’t keep
my eyes off
I wanted
to be close
and love
fuelled through
my body
rose hot
and lit me up –
I hope the last thought
I have of you
is the same as
the first

 

Kerrie O’ Brien is a writer from Dublin. She is currently working on her debut collection of poetry Illuminate. She has been shortlisted for the Penny Dreadful Novella Prize the results of which will be announced at the end of January. Visit http://www.kerrieobrien.com  for more.

 


Image Credit:  Gem & Lauris [A Place for Creation]