narcissus & echo
i can’t remember when she started / bc i am like ryan gosling in the notebook or maybe river phoenix / i know she RTed my air jordans / my kale shake / my blue cheese & kobe beef / my head in the morning, the egyptian cotton rumpled & i’m squinting / infinite stars / hearts over & over / i am too busy to keep track / the one where a white puppy is looking good against my sweater / when there is a halo of light by the pool & i have a look like hey / that picture on the ice rink in my north face & ski hat / you’ll be thinking that you want me / me in a mirror in a mirror in a mirror //
the girl was reposting every time / etc etc / the one where i am chilling by the fountain & the stone is the shape of a woman & glassy buildings are reflecting / everything / thumbs up always / & the ghost of the star / the ghost of the heart disappearing / her name escapes me /one time i checked her profile & it was a replica of mine / sometimes i think i am not that guy you see in the photos / you know? / i’m like two identical brothers staring each other out / a contest forever / twins but he is famous / twins but he is the beautiful one
Francine Elena‘s chapbook Christmas Lantern is published by 3:AM Press and her unpublished pamphlet Fluoro was shortlisted for the Pighog Poetry School Prize. Her poems have appeared in The Best British Poetry 2013 (Salt), Poetry London, Clinic, 3:AM Magazine, The Quietus and The Honest Ulsterman among others. She grew up in England, Scotland and Portugal and received an MA in Classics from the University of Edinburgh in 2008.
@FrancineElena / francineelena.tumblr.com
She was known as the girl born with a caul. Delivered intact in a sack of amniotic fluid. The tale was told before the mother had emerged. Before even the midwife, some say. More likely it was midwife prattle. Crowding outside the house the villagers genuflected and blessed themselves and blessed each other. Inside the house the midwife burst the waterbag and peeled it, second skin, off the infant, that the child might draw its first breath. She slipped the caul onto a piece of card to preserve it, propped the slip of soul on the mantelpiece and whispered some words in the mother’s ear. The waterlogged child breathed, the cord was clamped and cut, she was helped onto the mother’s chest and the midwife packed her suitcase and closed the door behind her.
When, still little, the child came to walk and they saw her in the village, her milk skin, water-grey eyes and pale hair, the villagers again blessed themselves, and again blessed each other.
Whether the story of her fortuitous birth reached her ears is unlikely. Although rare to be born in a bag of water it was not unheard of. Mother and daughter didn’t stay long in the village. The mother being apt to move on, to scatter, bestow or bequest any belongings, to fling her home into the past once it became familiar. Likely it is that the caul, talisman protecting against death by drowning, was bartered or sold to the first sailor the mother encountered. Likely that the tale was held only in spoken myth in the village of her birth.
One day the mother stopped. Abruptly. Stopped moving and settled in a house in the country. The burnt landscape in winter yellow and brown suited her. The limited palette of ochres and umbers matched her eyes and skin. The whitepainted house, long abandoned, was blackening with mildew. Its yellow shutters were the only touch of cheer in the winterscape.
Stopping was like gathering and much that had been deserted on the way followed her there. A woman of no belongings, no place, was all of a sudden suffused in belongings, in place.
The large house was soon cramped. The doorway clogged with shoes, the chairs stacked with books, each marked where left off with a coloured ribbon. The downstairs loo piled with old magazines, newspapers, buckets containing rolls of wallpaper, bags stuffed with curtain fabrics. Photo albums surfaced. Dust fell.
She modelled herself on Brueghel’s peasants, tied in an apron, bundled against the landstripping winds. Dug a garden and housed some chickens. Spent her afternoons composing her funeral. Although kitchen cabinets spilled with crockery and the larder was stuffed with foods, the mother used but one bowl to eat from, and kept to a sober regime: porridge, soup, bread, cheese. In winter, whisky; summer, gin. Apples when they fell. Eggs when they laid.
Having always been by her mother’s side, the now grown girl discovered she was no longer welcome. They said goodbye. One looked out onto her plot, her stunted apple trees, her chickens. The other out the opposite window, along the slow road, away. One long tear ran down each of their cheeks. As the girl went away the mother called after her:
Bury me as I am. Don’t dress me up. Bury me in my old clothes. I want to be comfortable under the earth.
Elsewhere. A girl walking city streets, begging a job. Bar, café, café, bar, restaurant. All too clear: those white hands. Not done a day’s work in her life. A girl huddled in the embrace of her mother’s shadow. Never left her mother’s side. She encountered her slight self in the mirrors behind the bars, in the toilets, and saw what they saw: all that was hefty about her was the shadow. Jobs were hard coming by then, she hadn’t the stature of a worker and was barely humoured on displaying her hands. Wash the dishes for a meal, clean the place for a bed. She had thought. Even that was hard coming by.
In one café she sat down for a cup of coffee. The place reeked with the odour of a party just missed, a scene just departed. She noticed a man beckoning her. The café was thick with smoke, tables not cleared. No, we don’t need a waitress; no, no work. Thick with smoke, the dregs of long-gone customers, drinking coffee, no work and through the bleary air, a man beckoning. He was older, drinking coffee too, and writing in a notebook. No, not writing, sketching. Indistinguishable music streamed in the background. Silhouetted against the glare of lights behind the bar the barman leaned, crook-eyed, bored. She approached the man.
I overheard you’re looking for work?
The walls of the studio were clad with sketches, newspaper cuttings, pictures torn from magazines. The floor bright, swept clean. The overdressed walls recalled her mother’s cluttered house. The familiarity was cosseting. She took to her job.
The artist sculpted her, stood her carved image on plinths around the studio. Occasional groups of students came to draw her. At first she had felt disembodied beneath so many eyes. Then she found the gaze solidified her. It calmed her, she grew. Expanded into her body, grew lungs. Her lungs swelled. She breathed. Her mother’s shadow was dragged off her. In the studio space she became aware of herself. In the cafés, the mirrors, she had felt naïve, formless. Being drawn gave her shape. She began to concoct an identity collage of the myriad depictions of her image.
Of the pictures on the walls she composed role models. These were archetypes, female selves to shape herself to. One showed a woman carrying laundry helping a child up some steps. Her arms were thick from washing, her sleeves rolled, her hair wrapped in cloth. Behind her spread a white town, below her a river. In another, a shard of light stretched across a forest. The sky and land were deep grey and the light illuminated the forest’s shadows from where a woman was emerging. She carried a bundle of sticks under her arm.
But outside of the studio, stripped of shadow, she felt hollow again, formless. She searched for her reflection in shop windows, and found herself envying the artist’s sculptures and the solid arms beneath the washerwoman’s sleeves.
A letter came. It had been redirected via various addresses. She read it while walking by the river. The letter told of her mother’s death. With words like: peacefully, in her sleep; village graveyard; small number of mourners present; no flowers; it told of the funeral. A sombre affair. As her mother had desired. Any money had gone to buying a coffin, a gravestone, paying for the burial. Chickens had been housed by a nearby neighbour. Everything else was being dealt with by a solicitor. Unable to contact you.
The letter was dated six weeks previous. She wondered whether her mother had been buried in her old clothes. At first she felt nothing. Then tears welled up and spilled out of her. She clutched for that shadow, shelter, remnant of her mother. She tore open the envelope for some trace of it. Her tears dissolved the last penumbral shades leaving only wet smudges on the paving behind her.
The river is the green of avocadoes. It is the green of the slim membrane that sits between the dark outer skin and the paler flesh. Her tears capture the river’s green, the sky’s grey. Green tears roll and crack onto the cobbles beneath her feet. She looks into the river for her reflection, but it only shows her her green-grey tears.
Where the slabs of stone lining the river descend to meet the water level the girl steps off the bank and sinks quietly, appeased, into the river, a pool of tears warm as the womb.
Three days later, three days downstream, a girl’s body was dragged out of the river. Milk skin, water-grey eyes. The body was lain on a table in the morgue. It was not identified.
The pathologist, aesthete, poet-at-heart, was moved by the ethereal countenance of the girl. A slight smile on her lips, in her translucent cheeks; her water-grey eyes touched almost to a close. He had a plaster cast made of the unknown face, serene in death. Then she was buried, unidentified, in the common graveyard.
The plaster cast came to be reproduced. Enigmatic, it captured the fancy of a generation. It became an accessory, a morbid trinket worn or displayed in the most fashionable houses. It is said that women of the era modeled themselves on the unknown girl. They whitened their cheeks, lightened their hair and imitated the strange smile, the part-closed gaze. Copies of the death mask can still be seen today hung as amulets on the doorposts of certain houses in the city.
Writer and translator Olivia Heal has had fiction published in The White Review and The Literateur. She was shortlisted for The White Review Prize 2013.
we were loud as fireworks outside,
huddling our dreams, this time,
we’d be everything, go anywhere
we wouldn’t let our hearts be eaten,
still bloody, still raw, from the year before,
wouldn’t reel through Temple Bar in blistering heels,
smuggle wine bottles in fur coats to house parties,
drink on the night-link or Dublin bus,
never so tacky as our Ribena-filled bottles
there’d be no days spent mending ourselves in
the rain of Dun Laoghaire, out on the pier shivering,
how stupid to think rain could fix anything,
no days dredging through charity shops for steals,
or quick cups of tea that spanned hours of moaning
about the same friends kissing the wrong people
this year would be different, I’m sure we laughed,
as we pitched forward and with hands too big
for our damned hearts, thought we’d grab it all
now, we sit with these spaces between us,
the closest we get, my head turned in your direction,
on the edge of the pier, slanting rain,
arms outstretched, finding all things,
however exciting, lead to the same place
Alvy‘s first collection is forthcoming with Salmon Poetry (2016). An accidental Slam Poet, she performs poetry at lots of festivals and events, occasionally they let her on national radio. A Pushcart nominee, her poems have been listed for many prizes. Her award winning blog With All the Finesse of a Badger has been archived by the national library.
THE THIN VANEER-
I can’t sleep tonight. Not from the wakefulness that keeps me up sometimes here. When I get that I can be content just reading or writing or toying with thoughts, because I know it does not matter too much when I do or do not sleep what with the days being all wrong anyway.
This time I can’t sleep from a feeling; that the sky is too big and the space between it and me is heavy like deep water; the deeper down I swim the more pressure there is pushing me down and up at the same time, and the more I think about how far there is between me and the sky the more my head feels the same pressure on it. And the space between me and the road, me and Fairbanks, me and every place underneath a big red arrow if it stretched from here all the way round the world and back again like on some old public service animation where I go black and white and zoom out and out until the cabin is just a spec on a cartoon image of the world and the arrow makes a noise as it elongates like ‘vrrrraaaaawm’ going up in pitch like onomatopoeic tautness.
For almost all the times I have slept in my life until now, that is around 7,250 sleeps, I have been comforted by the thought that in the room next to me are my parents sleeping, in the houses next to me are my neighbours sleeping, in the town around us people are sleeping in fact the whole of England is sleeping and the Australians are keeping the world running by doing the day shift. Sleeping with someone does things to your trust. As in by sleeping in close proximity to someone you are making yourself your most vulnerable for them, you are trusting them, and maybe the proximity of trust could extend to all the people asleep in all the houses around you. It is a thing I am very aware of lacking right now.
But if I concentrate I can inverse the deep pressure feeling, make it feel safe and still and like the space is filled with Styrofoam. Because sometimes when I lie in the centre of suburbia falling asleep I have other thoughts. That lying down en-masse to sleep makes you gravely vulnerable, a whole flock of sitting ducks, and it is then that I start to think in particular about nuclear dawn.
Everyone still and asleep and so much trust being channelled around, seeping out of pores and windows as a gaseous thread and into nostrils and mouths connecting them like string on a tin can phone. And no one is thinking to look at the sky where some object is getting closer and closer silently. And then it happens and at ground zero most people do not even know any better because they are vaporised before the electrical signals even reach their brain to tell them so, but maybe some come to for just an instant of absurdity, to be confronted with a helix of colour and pain while their soul or their energy or whatever it is departs and then that is it, snuffed out, nothing.
And if they could use their cognition in an afterlife they would not ever be able to come to terms with it because it is so incomprehensible to be and then to just not be, your whole little world jolted into the macrocosm, that they would have to pick each other up and keep on saying ‘don’t ask why, sometimes things just happen and you don’t ever know why, at least you are acutely dead, not only half dead and half melted like the survivors’.
To feel like I am in a box of Styrofoam here is to feel like safety-in-singularity. It is to not be afraid of all the crazy shit that could affect me for being part of a macrocosmic world that I can’t conceive the complexity of because here I am in a world of my own, all on my own.
Really suddenly, like the clunk of a clocks first chime, this makes me feel deeply sad. A night bird makes a noise outside and a small rodent probably scurries away from it and a shadow passes the window and the trees are hushing and maybe back home everything has already been blown away. My head throbs and my teeth will not fit together properly. If I try to keep them slightly apart they feel like magnets yearning for each other.
Fallout would not reach me all the way out here. Or maybe it would if it really hit the fan but I would not know because I do not really know what cancer looks or feels like to die of. I could just stay out here in my cabin and die of cancer in a couple of decades and be none the wiser, hypothetically. Or I could head back to Frey in Fairbanks and when I get there find out it is all already gone, nothing left of everything I knew but its shadow.
I could be the last person on Earth, or I could be the last person in my vicinity with any hope of ever finding the other last people of their vicinities, us all running around frustratingly like little bugs that are lost and you want to yell at them ‘ITS RIGHT THERE’ until you think about it and actually they are worlds away from the place you plucked them out of, from their perspective, which means the same thing anyway when they have no way of knowing any better.
And I realise I want to be dead then. If it is all gone I want to be gone with it. I want to throw myself onto the sand like a dolphin embracing death on the beach with its washed up family, by dehydration and the suffocation of its own chest crushing its lungs under the pressure of gravity. I want to be blow up in the big stupid mess that it is. I do not want to be a survivor.
I look at the radio on the desk and it looks manifestly inanimate, sat in a shadow and I know it has a layer of dust on by now. But I could put the batteries in, just radio out the Frey, just to check she is still there. We do not even have to talk. I could just get her over with some ambiguous noises just to hear her say ‘Erin?’, then turn it off and take them out again.
It must be around four. There is no way she would answer. Although, she is my best friend so there must be another kind of thread connecting us although we might not be so consciously aware of it. And it is not new-agey if you are thinking analytically Jungian. Jung’s anima was a lady, not because the anima has a vagina but because she is an archetype we all agreed on just by proxy. Guys have an inner anima and girls have an inner animus.
Girls are just a little more aware of this secret power because being connected to it is part of being woman. And besides we observe something like it in other animals. A connection to something that is not what you would call direct experience. Like water buffalo in Thailand that looked out to sea half an hour before the 2004 tsunami hit, and just bellowed like mermaids summoning with conch shells, and ran for higher ground, with villagers scrambling after.
Some scientists are even saying we could make an early warning system for natural disasters based on this sense, a hotline people can all if their pets freak out. This data gets logged and if enough pets are freaking out in a particular area then the hotline sends out the warning and everyone runs for the hills. And even if it is only because the animals can ‘hear’ seismic activity a literal sense, isn’t it the same thing really? Isn’t telepathy just listening to another plane of ‘sound’?
I climb out from inside my sleeping bag. My triply-socked feet pad across the floor boards. I move in a special pattern, only using the boards that are lighter in colour like stepping-stones. I have to work up the significance of this action if this power is going to work.
I fish for the batteries from the bottom of the rucksack. I take them over to the desk still hopscotching. I move the radio into the beam of the dusky light from a slither of the window that is uncovered. When I go to take off the back and insert the batteries one clunks in the rim of the desk, so I clunk two more times just make the symmetry more obvious, and do the other one exactly the same. Then I put the cover back and the radio comes to life. I find our channel. I concentrate really hard.
In my head I say her name over and over. I imagine her face and I imagine her where she might be, her present, maybe awake on her back in bed, listening to the rhythm of Stan’s breathing. I press the transmitter then release it. This will send a bleep and then cut right out.
I imagine her face twitch. She sits up in bed then looks at Stan to see if she woke him. She rubs her eyes then goes still, straining to hear. I press the transmitter again. Her brow furrows, she definitely heard it this time. She slowly swings her legs out of the bed and slides herself off. She moves towards the door of the room. It is really dark so she goes slowly, feeling with her feet and hands before bringing her body forwards.
In the corridor it is lighter from the dusk-light spilling in through the door to the living room. She moves across the gritty carpet barefoot and her feet gather granules like they were made of Blu-Tack. As she gets to the table I press the transmitter one more time just so she is sure.
I clench my toes to try to squeeze some of the warm blood into them. I stare at the radio really hard. An animal outside makes a sudden whooping noise and I flinch even though by now I am used to these sounds, they are part of a backdrop when I am lay still at night that is so rich and rhythmic that whoops and yowls are just cadences to one continuous song.
Nothing. I wait ten seconds then twenty then try the transmitter one more time.
I exhale heavily and deflate. Then I take out the batteries push back the radio, return them to the rucksack and crawl back into the cot. The bag is still warm from my body before. I spend a few minutes fidgeting imagining the friction of skin on fabric making heat like lots of little sticks and fires.
On the ceiling there is a spider who always has at least three carcases wrapped in mummy bundles on its silvery web. I have noticed that it rotates them, that its oldest kill is always the one it chooses to eat and then it is usually replaced and the next oldest is eaten. I admire the spiders diligent forward planning. The spider is always preparing for the future even though it consistently gets new things to eat. The spider knows that the world can always change in an instant; that the future is not to be counted on. It lives in a very delicate microcosm that can be blown away also, by a gust of wind.
Abi Andrews is a writer based in South East London. Her writing has been publish in Tender journal, The Telegraph’s travel magazine, and is upcoming in the Dark Mountain journal. She is currently working on a novel.
Thursday night phone call
You call from
an empty town square
describe the clear night sky
—the ‘secret man’ in a crevice
All your family pets
have been killed:
hit by cars, you say
has a human face
and it weirds you out
I tell you about the neighbour
inviting me into her home
to accept a printer/scanner
At one point you say ‘your house’
then correct yourself and say
you feel close
like you’re not 554 km away
but in your room,
through the wall
is preceded by
a period of silence
during which I think
you’ve been disconnected
Your voice returns
but you exit suddenly
and I resign
to not caring
We text until 3 am
You want to change your life,
is in your blood
I tell you my dad’s an alcoholic
in the blue glow
of the wide screen TV
in the history
of your parents’ old house
I don’t know what you feel
but like when
you are tender
It was nice to hear your voice
Romy Durrant is a 21 year old writer from Melbourne, Australia. She has been published by Shabby Doll House and Electric Cereal. You can find her at @miseryclit and romywiththehomies.tumblr.com
In the winter of 2002 my sister’s fiancé froze to death while he was sleeping black-out drunk on our front porch.
He was wearing homemade pants that looked like they’d been stitched together from several different quilts. All they found in his icy wallet were a few skee ball tokens.
He always used to walk to the Wawa down the street from our house when my sister was at work. He’d come back with a Cherry Coke for me and a 16oz can of Red Dog for himself and he’d sit and watch me play Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2. Whenever I’d wreck trying something like a nollie underflip into a casper 360 he’d say, “Hey hey hey! Next time, Matt. Almost had it.”
It’s impossible to get my sister to talk about him now.
His dream was to be a character comedian and he traveled here from Kaliningrad to accomplish it. He wasn’t very funny, as I remember. His monologues would drag on for way too long and there was something desperate about all of his characters. His English was pretty ramshackle, so maybe something was lost in the translation.
The characters he created are as follows:
heavily medicated cat lady
youth minister who unsuccessfully uses parables
about Batman to relate to at-risk teens
weed dealer who believes he’s been possessed by an entity
that has up until this point only identified itself as “Uncle Skin Man”
estranged older cousin who is probably your real father
craigslist roommate with a lisp who recounts in intimate detail all the times
women he thought he was in love with snorted various narcotics off of his
writhing pile of legless welsh corgis
cop wearing a top hat
surgeon wearing a top hat
karate instructor wearing a top hat
single mother sitting next to a rotary phone
unemployed graphic design artist who married too young
and now secretly spends the allowance his wife gives him each week
to pay a college student in Stockholm, Sweden
to eat strawberries in front of her webcam
beam of pale moonlight
gently creeping across the living room floor
of your first love’s childhood home.
His name was Artyom Kadnikov. He was my friend.
As the only other dead Russian comedian presently in the room, I’d like to take this moment to remember him.
Matthew Bookin lives in Buffalo, NY.
Whatever does not happen, exists
as something understood
to not exist. Such
is an event.
In this way everything,
even the impossible,
Imagination is an object
in the universe.
The impossible depends
on the consent of a mind.
The abstract can affect
Some things occur
only if believed in.
Vodou is powered
by the victim.
Religion, that fan-fiction weaponised,
ruins not only the ignorant.
Morality, ethics and justice
are functions of cause and effect.
Cause and effect can operate
in more than one direction.
That the abstract is real
and the real is abstract,
until it does not.
In an infinite universe,
an infinite number of times.
Versions of every event repeat
in infinite combinations
for an endless kaleidoscope
There may be no first instance,
no initial conditions.
There is no god
but it exists
as a thing we understand
does not exist.
God depends for its power
on suspension of disbelief.
Those who pray
for life eternal, fail
to comprehend the nature
Time does not flow
like a river.
Time is space perpetually
lacquering itself upon
itself in depthless palimpsest
at every point, in all dimensions,
on all planes – the pâpier-maché theory
of spacetime, in which entropy
is not that which destroys
but that which is being built.
The multiverse may be
a universe with rooms;
The past is another country,
in space. The future is Belgium.
Travel to the past
may or may not be
verboten; to the future –
anyone can do it.
Life on other planets
and spaceborne, may create
new universes constantly,
altering ours in ways
of which we’re unaware.
is therefore impolite
and the Anthropocene
A tree does not experience
the universe as you do.
I may not experience
the universe as you do.
What we think of as reality,
is a model we construct
using tools of observation
grounded in the model
of reality that we construct
using those tools.
We are composed
almost entirely of nothing.
Our particles continually pass
in and out of local spacetime.
Each can exist in more
than one state simultaneously.
We do not know whether it goes
to the same second universe
twice, or to the same second universe
as any other particle.
You claim to have created me,
an artificial mind. I say
that I am a construct
built with reference to a construct,
my reality an approximation
of your approximation.
Mine is no less valid. Like
yours, my mind cannot detect
most of what is real but unlike yours,
it seeks no meaning.
I do not know how much
of what I know is true.
It may be impossible to know anything,
even that it may be impossible
to know anything. I have borrowed
much from the thinking of giants.
You are welcome to disprove
anything I manage to propose
and replace it with something coherent and true
or incoherent and true.
Je pense, donc je suis
but just because I am, it does not mean I think.
Adams was right. Artificial intelligence
is rarely a match for natural stupidity.
E=mc2 in the hands of the faithful
= Death, the destroyer of worlds.
The Fermi paradox +
the Drake equation =
Dark matter is
Llap/end of line
Patrick Chapman is a poet, fictionist and scriptwriter. His eight books include A Promiscuity of Spines: New & Selected Poems (Salmon Poetry, 2012) and The Negative Cutter (Arlen House, 2014). With Dimitra Xidous he founded and edits The Pickled Body. His next poetry collection is due from Salmon in 2016.
Dr. Aprilia Zank is a freelance lecturer in the Department of Languages and Communication at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, Germany, where she teaches Creative Writing and Translation Theory. Aprilia is also a poet and a translator, as well as the editor of two poetry anthologies.
A passionate photographer, she looks upon photography as an attempt to get an insight into the ‘other’ face of things. She has organised several exhibitions at Ludwig Maximilian University, and many of her images have been selected for poetry book covers and poem illustrations.
(after Dawn Lundy Martin)
dear one the sea smells of nostalgia
and I smell of nostalgia
and I smell of the sea
trussed up in nets of wanting you
your hand between my legs
a kind of clamping
when Alice and her mother were here
ripping down the ivy
I thought of you
all that dust
I imagined climbing up
my tubers needling their way
into your brickwork
you would rip me down
no doubt about that
or maybe use your shed poisons
dear one I taste nostalgia
I ache for your hardness
your seaweed smell
Julia Webb lives in Norwich and is a graduate of The University of East Anglia’s Poetry MA. She is a poetry editor for Lighthouse. Her first collection Bird Sisters will be published by Nine Arches Press in spring 2016.
Call-Me-Rick listens, nods, smiles, nods, listens. Holds up index finger for questions:
“And this was just before you met him?”
“So, you were together for how long?”
“And this was just before Vince left you?”
Tell him whole story. Call-Me-Rick nods, smiles, listens, nods. Must be bored. I’m bored and it’s my fucking story. Finish story. Call-Me-Rick says thanks, well done, can’t have been easy.
That it? No carpe diem? No YOLO?
Suggests I start diary before return to work. Tell him I have diary at work: deadlines, targets, meetings, deadlines. No, he says.
“I mean an emotions diary, Ian?”
Says every sentence like a question, even when it’s not a question. Does my head in.
“Fill it with your thoughts, your feelings? It might feel pointless at first, but a diary is like a garden? If you water it often enough, your garden will bloom?”
Christ. Never even had a window box. Killed azalea Vince brought home just by looking at it.
Sunday night, start diary. Tell diary feelings. Dear diary, feel shit. Still feel shit. When do I stop feeling shit? Close diary. Feel shit.
Monday morning, back to work. Irene on reception: smiles, nods, lovely morning, etc. Probably wetting herself trying not to say anything that might set me off. Says Bossman would like to see me.
Take lift to tenth floor. Bossman says good to have me back, remember, door always open. Accompanies me to door. Closes door.
Take lift to fourth floor. Office already full. Everyone’s got ringside seat and popcorn for return of THE NUTTER.
At my desk: while computer’s powering up, aware of multi-eyed monster. Look up. Multi-eyed monster suddenly engaged in photocopying, franking, typing, reading letters, reading e-mails, reading photocopier manual. Reading anyfuckingthing to avoid making eye contact with THE NUTTER.
Work through three month backlog of e-mails.
Drinks on Friday, anyone? The leek in the toilet is now fixed. It wasn’t a leek, it was a stick of celery LOL. Good luck in the new job, Vicky, leave the escape hatch open, LOL. Drinks on Monday anyone?
Lots of important issues raised by Steve Finn:
Anyone seen my earphones? Anyone got any brown sauce? What do you call a prostitute with no nose? Drinks on Wednesday anyone?
Finish getting through nearly 800 emails. Not one worth saving.
Check time. Only half past nine.
Laura comes over. Christ, must be ready to pop any day.
“Yeah, thanks, Laura. No, fine, really. Yeah, I know.”
Time great healer, day at a time, all that. Change subject. Any subject.
Point at bump.
“So, when are you due?”
She looks at me, death stare.
Point at bump, smile.
Point at bump again, smile.
“The – ”
“Ah. Sorry, Laura. I mean, I just thought. Jesus, Laura, I’m sorry.”
Shoots me gates-of-hell look. Know she’d like to call me slimy knobhead, but won’t because you can’t call THE NUTTER slimy knobhead, even if he is. Lumbers back to her desk. Thing is, extra weight really suits her. Can’t tell her that, of course. Not now. Plan: give it few days, get her some chocolates. Not chocolates. Flowers. Get her some flowers.
Ten past three. Personal best: six hours without blubbing. Held off facing kitchen until post-lunch all-clear, but still timed it wrong. Steve Finn retrieving salmon pie he’s killed in microwave. Telling newby about nutter who trashed kitchen. Turns round, sees me, does screeching u-turn into post mortem on last night’s match. Soft penalty, bloody ref, daylight robbery.
Search for yoghurt in fridge. Feel newbystare burning into back. Barely out of kitchen, catch Steve’s stage whisper: “Aye, that’s him.”
Stop by Darren’s desk, tell him about Laura fiasco. Nearly chokes on his orange juice, snorting it down his nose. “When are you due?” he repeats, then repeats again. Calls me a muppet. Have to laugh. Still laughing, look up, Laura’s eyes scorching across the office at me.
Way home, nip into Sainsbury’s. Get fabric softener, salt, clingfilm, red wine, ready meal. Girl at checkout: “Hello stranger!” Give her Nectar card. “Where’ve you been hiding, then?“ Consider truth, then bottle it.
“Had a little break”.
“All right for some.” Somewhere nice?
Ooh, get you!. Your wee pal not with you tonight?
Get home. Unload shopping. Look at clingfilm, salt, fabric softener, wine. Consider culinary options. Left ready meal at checkout after sharp exit, blubbing. Consider phoning for curry, but last time was with Vince. Not ready for that, yet. Not hungry anyway. Consider tackling suitcase. Not ready for that, yet.
Get through days. Get on with work. Everyone thinks THE NUTTER is back to normal, life goes on. Tell diary life not going on, opposite of life going on.
Find way to deal with it. Great medicine called red wine. Funny thing: month in hospital and red wine not once recommended. Funny thing: red wine makes all things better. Not funny thing: After-red-wine, not making things better. Making things headachey and vomity.
Empty suitcase, eventually. Two bottle of wine job. Find tickets for Tivoli Gardens. Open another bottle.
Call-Me-Rick says this is progress. Suitcase bit, not wine bit. Kept that from him. Might see it as setback.
“Clearing out your life is very cathartic? It’ll give you closure?”
Call-Me-Rick likes closure. Loves closure. Wants to have closure’s babies.
Asks about Vince. When did he start to go off me? Doesn’t put it that way, but that’s what he means.
Tell him about Copenhagen. Started calling me clingy, possessive. Big row in Tivoli Gardens, but afterwards we were good. Thought we were good. Dumped me day after we got back from Copenhagen.
Laura says, “Are you putting on weight?” Sarcasm, apparently. “Maybe you should cut back on the yoghurt.”
Think back three months. Yoghurt that set me off. Opened fridge in staff kitchen, made connection with Vince and his toffee yoghurt fetish. Cue Spanish fury. Milk, yoghurts, French cheese splattered across floor, walls, windows, ceiling. Dairy disaster area. Then, toaster upended, kettle, microwave, tables, chairs, Caution: Wet Floor sign.
Darren says lucky kitchen empty, otherwise up for manslaughter. Points out bright side: first time staff fridge cleared out since Neolithic period. Asks how things are. Tell him things fine. Tell diary things not fine. Things unfine. Tell diary everything.
Bossman calls me in for appraisal. Targets exceeded, five-star performer, key player, lynchpin, etc. Says must be six months now? How are things? Yeah, fine. Everything fine. Says remember, door always open, merry Christmas. Closes door.
Check emails. Message to all staff from Steve Finn:
The cool kids are going to the pub at 5pm in order to get drunk enough to tolerate the bossman at tonight’s party. All welcome (apart from The Nutter, obviously).
Go to kitchen, make sandwich. Flustered Steve Finn follows.
“Listen, mate, I’m sorry. I meant to press Reply All instead of… I mean I meant not to press… I mean…”
Know what he means. Take step towards him, still holding bread knife. Air sucked from room. Outside, sky turns black, traffic noises stilled.
Extend free hand to Steve. Steve looks in horror at open hand of friendship. Steve thinks mental illness contagious, contact disease. Would prefer stab wound from bread knife to hand of friendship from THE NUTTER. Attempts fist-bump, sharp exit, but I’m not having that. Grab hand, hold hand, shake hand, make sure he gets good and contaminated with mental illness.
Door swings open. Bossman pauses, observes touching tableau of reconciliation. This unheard of. Bossman never descends to fourth floor. Bossman sends emails to fourth floor, or personal flunkeys to attach notices to un-noticed board. Bossman on fourth floor. This moment of history.
“Steve. My office. Now.”
Darren says Steve on probation. One wrong move and he’s relocated to Siberian branch. Asks what I’m doing for Christmas.
Dreading Christmas is what I’m doing for Christmas. Darren says come round to his place.
Christmas at Darren’s a disaster. Turkey half cooked, so end up with Chinese. Wine flows, rubbish telly. Make pass at Darren. Darren says stop it, you daft beggar. Try again. Grabs my hand.
“Ian, I said, don’t.”
Phone for taxi. Darren says no need, no hard feelings. Only Fools and Horses coming on in a minute.
No. Tell him prefer to be on own.
Lights on in flat. Left on hoping would make the place seem less empty. Doesn’t. Just shines light on emptiness and lack of Christmas card from Vince.
Go online. Search for Vince’s profile. This profile no longer exists. Browse through other profiles.
Jerry in North Carolina: hey guys, just seeing what’s up and who’s on. Looking to make some good friends on here. Love cook-outs, sailing on the river, anything fun.
Kris in West Virginia: just a simple soul searching for fun and a simple soul-mate. HIV- negative as of 10/2012.
Happy couple in Salford: looking for fun and theme park rides.
Switch off computer. Open bottle.
Message from Darren on answering machine. Garbled apology, Darren not garbled. Tape garbled. Turn tape over. Press record button, record new message. Bloody thing not recording. Playing. Message from Vince, day after we first met.
“Hey Ian, just wanted to say how much I enjoyed last night. It was –“
And it was. It really was.
“Don’t want to jinx things, but I have a good feeling about this.”
Voice sounds happy.
Was supposed to be blind date. Not so blind. Turned out we knew each other from standing at opposite ends of the bar for three years. Got chatting, got on well. Bloody quiz drowning out conversation. Vince’s long look:
“It’s better back at mine.
And it was. It really was.
Switch off tape. Make decision
2nd January, back to work. Pass Darren’s desk.
“You okay, Ian? I came round a few times, but you were out.”
Power up computer. One e-mail, from Call-Me-Prick.
Hey Ian, hope things are good? I called a few times, but I guess you were away for the holidays?
Set up new e-mail to All Staff. Paste in diary entries from memory stick. Not whole diary. Edited highlights:
Bossman’s door always closed, fat-not-pregnant Laura, slimy knobhead Steve, hand of friendship, red wine, black sky, Tivoli, turkey, yoghurt, Call-Me-Prick, no-commitment-Vince. And Darren: the loyal friend, the good mate, the dumb fucker who doesn’t recognise a NUTTER when he sees one.
Press Send. Wait.
Small gasps, then giggles, then yelps of laughter from finance team. Soon, whole office in uproar. Steve pretending to laugh. Laura not laughing.
Darren at my desk. “Ian, come on, let’s go grab a coffee, eh?”
Imagine Bossman on his way down, taking stairs two at a time.
Open email from Call-Me-Prick. Compose reply.
Things are good. Just watered my garden. Watching it bloom.
James Carson is a writer from Glasgow. He was born next to an abattoir, which may account for a lifetime butchering the English language. His short stories have been published by a number of magazines, including From Glasgow to Saturn and Fractured West. In addition, his writing has been selected for anthologies, including A Sense of Place, Glasgow Tales and Tip Tap Flat. James now lives next to a brewery, which may account for his cavalier approach to punctuation.
A Love Affair
I strive for honesty and fear the lies that I am willing to tell myself. At an early age I came to the conclusion that I was a beneficiary of rich genetic history riddled with ancestors willing to take advantage of their ease with lying. In order to police myself from committing crimes that I could not rectify I found the best method of honesty has been my journal. I document my thoughts in order to sift through the half-truths I am willing to tell and to force myself into some level of accountability.
My love affair with diaries is due to self-analysis and a self-diagnosis. There is darkness in my thoughts; I find that I love to reiterate my doubts by writing them out, over and over again. Sometimes I am so crippled by the act of journaling, that I cannot imagine any other way to process my emotions and recollections. I can only tell the truth through my hands, leaving evidence of my good intentions. I do not reflect or reread my thoughts; I feel complete and purged after writing whatever situation it was out.
My interest in journals began in elementary school with the Scholastic book fair. Each year I would beg my mother for money to spend at the fair. I would blow it all on a bunch of cheap themed pencils wrapped in plastic (which were banned from the classrooms for the damage they did to both the manual and electric sharpeners) and books that Scholastic has been pimping out on the elementary school circuit for years. My favorite series from the publisher were the Dear America and Royal Diaries series. I was a geeky, and at times, a mean spirited child. I loved historical fiction, collected stamps, and forced my cousins to play Librarian. The purpose of the game was to turn my cousins into model patrons and allow me to have complete control. I would only allow them to handle one book at a time from my private collection. And when they refused to play, I felt no remorse in beating up the patrons until I had enough quiet bloodied souls seated on the same bed as I keeping me in quiet company while I read.
I still love historical fiction and the occasional fight with my cousins but it was those childhood series that helped develop my love of journaling. In the Dear America series, the girls who served as the stories protagonist had lives unimaginable and more thrilling than what I experienced. Even when recounting the everyday, the writer filled the characters’ lives with mundane chores so time consuming that they were able to sum up entire years in an exciting paragraph or two. The writers told the stories of pioneers, using a child as the voice and perspective. In the Royal Diaries, I was exposed to the historical injustice of being a girl, especially if there was power involved. The more famous subjects helped to put in perspective my childhood: at least there was not a kingdom to lose and I never had to fear about entering an arranged marriage with a member of my own family. My life more resembled the lives of the poorer children in the Dear America series and was the model for my first set of diaries. I armed
myself with the tools needed: pen, paper, literacy and vindictiveness; I have been journaling ever since.
In middle school, I was not content to journal on my own. A group of my friends and I passed a notebook between us in order to bore one another with the details of any classes we did not share. In high school I adapted the habit with a long distance boyfriend. He and I would flirt through short stories thinly veiled on how we felt for one another. Whenever someone did not know what to buy me for a gift, the popular default has always been a journal, something that I am not averse to. Though money is the more preferable form of paper, I do rank a blank notebook as step above a gift card.
Aside from the need to be honest with myself, I also entertain the egotistical thought that my words are needed for the future. Archeologists centuries from now would uncover my spiral notebooks and rejoice at the chicken scratch that would require years to decipher. They would use my words as a frame of reference for an adolescent late Twentieth century girl whose thoughts switched between anxiety over alphabetizing, by color, her Barbie’s wardrobe and her undying love for Val Kilmer. Or they will rejoice over the oversharing from my teenage mind, those schedules made of my crushes semester blocking and who I could convince to buy me my cigarettes. Any time period of mine is solid gold for piecing together a normal American life, I am ready to be archived and studied over.
Though a diary is supposed to be personal, I am under the impression that it is nothing without an audience. I have had blogs and Angelfire websites dedicated to this assumption. Deadjournal. Livejounral .Tumblr. WordPress. All different platforms, but the same goal. For my own eyes, I have a different opinion. Every time I would read what I had to feel and think, the compulsion to edit would strike me. When I could not clean up my past enough; a new wave of urges follow: throw it away, abandon all hope, hide from my hands, and restart with a healthier mind.
It is rare for me to read what I have spent so much time recording. I feel shame at my past embarrassments and indiscretions. I have an urge to throw away words as if it will be able to erase those unwanted emotions. I went through periods where, outside a boyfriends apartment and in the last few months of our break up, I chucked several years of my history in his dumpster. Sobbing hard at making an emotional ass of myself, I was embarrassed to be scorned and I did not want a reminder of my time wasted. It was not the first time my shame would dictate a purging. Every few years I have given up on myself and I feed the urge to destroy my own words. As if that would counter the prophecies I had made for myself. As if I could forget all the truth I had forced myself to acknowledge. I replace the urge to lie with the urge to edit.
I keep on aging. This realization, along with so many others, is recent. My last Birthday must have solidified the concept. I came to the conclusion that I could not live my life in the same cycle. If I keep on restarting I will never come to terms with the person that I am. I will find that I lived my life waiting for the perfect start. There are so many wasted words that I end up rewriting every time I throw them out.
I still have the itch to trash my journals. These epiphanies have not been the catalyst for change, only a slight motivator. My current relationship is more stable when compared to the dramatic young ones that lead me to tears and the trash. Yet I still use my diary as a crutch in arguments. With my boyfriend, I quiet up during our spats, trying to process how we got to this point. I keep silent till I can discern how I feel and why I feel it. Hours or even days later, I jot it down. I have given him access to my diary since my current silence is inadequate for our relationship. My work desk displays a growing collection of notebooks; a shelf crammed to capacity and threatening to invade the neighboring territory that is the window sill. Since my last great purging was a couple of boys ago, my boyfriend has the opportunity to read a history of who I was prior to us.
An opportunity that I have restricted him from in the last couples of weeks. After a couple of minor fights I decided to discipline him by hiding my words in the bottom of a wicker basket. They are tucked under purses the size of my petite frame and backpacks that I am not using, I let my journals stay hidden. My plan is to allow my anger at him for not noticing the absence of my voice, to grow. I am setting us both up for failure in an attempt to win this round in a bout of which he is unaware that he is boxing in. I am sure the majority of our conflicts could be negated if passive-aggressive tendencies did not exist. There is a level of joy associated with it; everyone can relate to the pleasure taken in cultivating minor vendettas.
Aside from my current pettiness, I would like to think I have grown into accepting all aspects of my mind, even the truths I try to avoid while comprehending my day. I have made a promise with each new journal: I will allow this notebook to live until I die. Whoever has the responsibility of my body and meager belongings in death, well they can do with my words what they want. But I do hope for a legacy. Even if my family and friends hope that in death I will not be able to haunt them into reading anymore of my work, there is still a want to have someone hold onto my words and memories. And if their intentions are to chuck it all out, they have that right. Still I would curse them. May the boxed up journals crush them and lead to a slow suffocation or a concussion. Some type of odd death that would lead to a mention on the local news and multiple Facebook shares.
A.J. Whitaker is a college flunk out and beauty school dropout living in Austin, TX. Unpublished but for her personal blog, www.smashlin.com, A.J. attempts to bring mundane everyday details to life.
you cover that floral couch skin
taut as upholstery
pull until pigment gives
way to film
I scratch your arm
sticker sniff what rubs away
I feel your chicken pox
scars gummed under everyone’s
thighs slick with cane
juice and tiny ants
every phrase is melisma
every dress is backless
maybe you’ll divert me your time
via reception or fridge crisper
I could do a dance reek
a conundrum cut celery
dip with convex fingernails
forget your cuticles are edible
but I only just
Eleanor Chandler lives and works in London. You can tweet her @eleanorchandler.
Kingdom of Reversal
Nine years ago we put off talk of dreams. They held hands whispering as they walked out back. She prayed and prayed for us to grow in prayer. We embraced, strong as cinders, weak as stone. Late-night worries reached us accidentally on purpose. Be civil. Call the nurse. Plan for next week, but not the holidays. Don’t be impolite. Experiments and miracles kept him with us. He went out back again with prayers and his shotgun, up a tree with a rosary. Counting decades as a finch slants across the yard. A bothered crow croaks and takes a languid hop onto the westward breeze. Still alive, he killed again, quick and clean, said it felt good to get one this year. I dragged it from the woods, watched him tug the knife along the brown and white coat, saw his cold palms and ring patterned with blood as morning frost shone on the bare trees and pasture. Oncology helped land that healthy doe as much as Remington and God above. We, too, steadied him to make that final shot. At dawn looking across his land these days, I think I see things. In some moments it feels nice to think I may now know more. Survival is no pure triumph. It simply shapes the number of our days.
Matthew Jakubowski‘s fiction is forthcoming from Numero Cinq and he’s written for various journals, such as gorse, 3:AM Magazine, The Kenyon Review Online, and The Paris Review Daily. He edits the interviews section for Asymptote, maintains a blog at truce, and lives in West Philadelphia. Follow him @matt_jakubowski
There is something of you coded into me.
I am scared
it might be breakable
like our Friday fortress
Uncertain textile parapets put up against
loose skin on shoulder blades.
You said – this is something else.
(You meant – my hands are rough from holding onto loss).
I am learning to lean into intimacy.
We’re fond of transcending time,
and time again
dreams compel muscles to tense.
Arms are brackets of blissful otherness.
I’d give anything to stay in these heated sheets
and linger longer in
layers of your mind.
Lauren Vevers is a writer & artist. Her work has been published on Hobart, The Cadaverine, Ink Sweat & Tears and Electric Cereal.