Carolyn Meredith loves exploring the world through the lens of a camera and sharing her stories. She is a travel and photo opportunist and hopes to stimulate others to adventure and creativity through her work and her relentless tales of personal exploits. She grew up in England, and now lives and works in America.
– By James Claffey
Under a split infinitive sky where the frozen bodies gather dust in early mornings, there’s a strange bird doing a dance. It’s feathers ruffle and the tips of its wings rotate in opposite directions. This is not a mating dance. This is not a love song. This is not a train wreck by the side of a sinewy river of muddied water. The bird takes a short hop towards a mound of rock, only to find a waiting snake inside a discarded bag of toasted croutons. We are the snake and the bird, my love. The dance of death reminds me of the day we sat on the grass at Dolores Park, the fog slowly burning off, your sandals wet with dew, and fresh from your lips, the accusation that I’d been stringing you along. I fingered the lint in my pocket, the lump of ring in tissue paper, too. Right when I was about to ask you a serious question the brakes shifted on a child’s stroller and the mother screamed as her baby gathered speed and put some distance between them. Back to the present cold circumstance, and your accusation is only a memory, less real than the coiled snake, less painful than the frozen dead.
James Claffey hails from County Westmeath, Ireland, and lives on an avocado ranch in Carpinteria, CA with his family. He is the author of a collection of a short fiction, Blood a Cold Blue. His website is at www.jamesclaffey.com.
– By Shaunagh Jones
On a street, there’s a lamp that saturates the pavement with a hazy, gold light. The cobbled road is lined with townhouses, each with a different coloured door and an elegantly looped number. You stop under the lamp and notice the house in front of you has a burgundy door. At the window, two suited men are talking animatedly and you’re sure one was in a film you saw the other week. Leading man handsome. They’re too immersed in their conversation to notice you. Behind them, a waiter hurries from group to group with long stemmed glasses and squat crystal ones with whisky sluiced into them. A child sits in the corner of the room, rolling a toy car around the floor, largely ignored. You notice a woman who has her back to the window and her flash of red hair. You think it’s her, but when she turns around you realise your mistake. To calm your heart’s quickening thud, you focus on a group of women in dresses of onyx velvet and ruby silk who are laughing. From where you’re standing it’s like watching a silent movie.
The doorstep has a row of empty champagne bottles beside it. You remember Sarah, and how she insisted on placing a brown sugar cube in her glasses of champagne; mostly because she liked to watch it eaten up by the bubbles. You tried it because she wanted you to, and because everyone in her circle was drinking sugar-infused champagne. You said you liked it so you could be one of them, but really the sugar and cold made your teeth ache. You excused yourself from speaking to a heavily perfumed Chanel-suited woman and walked endless corridors in search of the bathroom. On the way, you noticed a porcelain vase decorated with copper red flowers and remember the newspaper reports that detailed the vase’s heritage and the vast price it fetched at auction. You opened various doors and found rooms decorated with diamond embossed rugs and rococo paintings. The low hum of conversation could be heard through the corridors so, not wanting to be caught intruding, you hurried along. Finally, you locked yourself in the bathroom before pouring the contents of the champagne glass into the toilet.
Returning, you noticed Sarah had a lopsided drunken smile and knew it was time to leave. At home, you tried to recount a joke told to you that night, but you couldn’t remember the punch line. Sarah laughed anyway and whispered ‘Oh, you,’ onto your lips.
You concentrate on the icy cold, trying to halt your thoughts. It’s eleven o’clock and it went dark hours ago. The windows of the house with the burgundy door are illuminated and none of the revellers inside pays you any attention. It must seem strange though: a man standing outside a house just watching those within. You look on the wrong side of dishevelled.
The door of the house opens and a woman stumbles out. Her dress is sequinned and her legs look too bare. Her make up is smudged; purple lipstick is plastered outside the lines of her mouth like a child’s drawing. She places a cigarette between her lips and fidgets with the clasp of her bag. She fishes for a lighter but can’t seem to find one. Then she looks up and says:
‘Hey. Got a light?’
You’re startled and Sarah’s face floats before you once again. The simplicity of the woman’s greeting and the sense she has somewhere better, more exciting, to be reminds you of Sarah. Every time there’s a jolt behind your rib cage. You say you’re sorry because you don’t have a lighter. Sarah made you quit smoking. There’s arsenic and formaldehyde in those things.
The woman in the sequinned dress nods and then points upwards. ‘That’s like an eye,’ she says and walks shakily away into the December night. You resist the urge to run after her to give her your coat or ask her name. There’s frost crystallising on the windows and the coat was a gift. Something you want to hold on to. Then you glance up to see what she was referring to and it’s the Victorian lamp post. The beam it omits is like a spotlight on you; a halo on the ground. Not quite an eye.
You aren’t even sure how you came to this street, looking in on a scene that used to be so familiar. But you’re not one of those people anymore. You can’t forget the day your manager called you into the office and hissed: ‘There’s been some indiscretions in the accounting. Could you perhaps explain them?’ Sarah was long gone by the time they announced the verdict in court, but you still looked out at the benches hoping to see her one final time, not really listening to what the judge said. Now, the whisky you drink is blended and when you swallow it down, you hear the guilty verdict clearly. You force yourself to empty the glass and then another, because it makes you sleep. The only time you can’t think about what you’ve lost.
You urge yourself to move your numb legs. So you start to walk away and after a few steps you hear the door opening again. You try not to look back, but you can’t stop yourself. You want one last glimpse into a world that’s forgotten you. Two people are standing under the lamp post. There’s a woman with bobbed black hair and she’s clutching a bouquet of winter flowers to her chest; red roses with sprigs of holly intermingled amongst them, stark against her white dress. She has a man’s tuxedo jacket draped over her shoulders. The man who owns the jacket clasps her face in his hands and says something you can’t hear, although you find yourself trying to. She laughs and flicks her hair in a move that’s both rehearsed and charming. They start to make their way up the street towards you.
The woman with the black bobbed hair stumbles slightly and grasps her companion’s arm to steady herself. He gently swings her round to face him and she brings her mouth to his. You hope the man knows he’s lucky.
The pair untangle from the warmth of each other and they walk in the direction of the city centre; towards the bars that serve cocktails consisting of exotic spirits; towards the nightclubs that need a membership to enter; towards those streets that you used to walk along in your bespoke suit while Sarah grasped your hand. There’s small part of you that thinks you will again someday. You cling to that hope like it’s a ledge of a building you’ve slipped off. Aware of the weight of your worn cashmere coat you take one final look at the house with the burgundy door, and then you too walk towards the city.
Shaunagh Jones is a short story writer. She recently completed a Creative Writing MLitt at the University of Glasgow. Follow her on Twitter @JonesShaunagh.
Dicey O’ Donnell, mother of two, lover and taker of great imagery! These images were taken at the beautiful Borgo di Tragliata, wedding venue and working organic farm in the Roman countryside. A joy to saunter around in 30 degree heat snapping vibrant colours, playful shadows and intricate details. She’s going to move there and set up camp among the sunflowers…
We Can’t Go Home
– By Jacky Ievoli
We walked up and down the strip that summer. Our heels turned black as our feet hit the road, despite our flip flops. They stayed stained that whole summer. The sand, the sea, the scrubbing in the shower. The black of the road was stubborn. It marked us. It showed the miles we had walked. The sun beat down, bringing out our freckles, lightening our hair and darkening our skin. We rolled the waistband of our shorts to expose as much of our legs as we could. We didn’t want tan lines to traverse our thighs. Our taut stomachs exposed, our breasts barely filling our bikini tops. Our hair hung in salty waves down our backs, hers brown and mine blonde. Her green eyes danced in the sunlight and gold flecks appeared when she smiled. My brown eyes were always the same color. I wished they would dance in the light like hers.
“We can’t go home until we get up to twenty.”
I nodded. She was older. She had already been kissed by a boy. I looked up to her. Twenty. Yesterday it was fifteen. Five more? In one day? I wanted to say that maybe we should shoot for seventeen. Seventeen seemed more reasonable. Two more than yesterday seemed like a reachable goal. But five more? I wondered how far we would have to walk to get five more. I longed to go to the beach, to strip off my shorts, grab my board and hit the waves. Let the salt water crash over me and the current take me where it would. But I was getting kind of old for that, she had said. The boys won’t like me if I keep that up, she had warned. My flip flops were bothering my feet. I needed to wriggle my toes in the sand.
“Don’t look down at your feet! You gotta look up!”
I lifted my head. I watched her as she twirled her hair between her fingers and sashayed her hips. How did she do that? I looked down at my own hips as I walked. They stayed stubbornly in place. I tried to watch her out of the corner of my eye, but I could only see the side of her. I slowed my pace. I walked just behind her. I was mesmerized by the swaying of her hips in time with her steps. I tried to watch her feet, her legs, her thighs to try and figure out what part of her made her hips wiggle like that. But I was perplexed. It seemed like something you should just know how to do. As a woman. How to make your hips move in the way that made boys stare. I guess that’s why boys didn’t stare at me. I was somehow deficient. They could tell by the way I walked.
I high-fived her as the car speeding by us honked its horn. We almost had as many beeps as we had yesterday. I checked the next street sign. We weren’t even as far as we were yesterday when we hit fifteen. It was a game for her. How many beeps could we get and how many blocks did we have to walk to get them. It wasn’t like she didn’t have people staring at her everywhere we went and it wasn’t like there weren’t tons of boys who would take her out for ice cream come Friday night. And it wasn’t like boys didn’t tell her how pretty she was every chance they got.
It was. Well, I don’t know what it was. I think maybe it had to do with needing something quantifiable. She could count how many boys she kissed. But then she’d be easy. So that summer, she counted the number of boys who beeped at her as they drove by her in their cars. She said us, but she meant her. I was just there for the company.
“Do you think we can get to twenty before we reach the boardwalk?”
The boardwalk was the end of town. There was another town after it, but it was the end of our town. And as far as I was concerned, it was the end. I didn’t want to walk any further than the boardwalk. If we stopped at the boardwalk, got an ice cream and turned around, it would seem less… pathetic. We weren’t counting beeps. We were going to the boardwalk for ice cream.
“Maybe.” She paused and looked me up and down. “Pull your shoulders back. Don’t slouch. Stick out your chest.”
I looked down at the triangular shaped fabric on my chest. It was flat. The fabric and my chest.
“Like this.” She pushed out her boobs and her butt and continued walking.
The next two cars honked at her. She threw back her head and laughed.
“We can definitely get twenty before the boardwalk.”
We went out every night that summer. Her breasts had come on, but mine stubbornly stayed put. I was the smart one, everyone said. I was on my way to law school and I’d find a smart, handsome boy there who would run his family’s law practice one day. I’d just smile. It wasn’t worth it to explain that I was going to school because I wanted to be a lawyer, not because I wanted to marry one.
We stayed out until last call and then we’d lay on the beach until the sun rose. I knew there was a lot of hard work ahead of me, so I relished my last chance to be carefree. Sometimes there was a boy. Sometimes it was just us. On those nights, she’d hold my hand and tell me about the boy she was going to marry. The dark circles under our eyes when we went in for our lunch shifts marked us. We had been out late. I’d lay next to her in the sand on those nights when there was no boy and I’d tell her that she’d find him soon.
“Tomorrow we can’t go home until I find him.”
I’d nod. The movement would grind the sand into my scalp, making it impossible to wash it all out, making little grains of sand fall from my hair during my shift the next day.
I still hadn’t kissed a boy. All the boys wanted to kiss her. I guess some girls would get mad, but I didn’t really see what the big deal was. I had watched her kiss plenty of boys on the beach. I didn’t see what the fuss was all about. I didn’t think I wanted a boys lips mashed up against mine, his breath smelling of rum and Cokes. That was what everyone was drinking that summer. Rum and Coke. I didn’t drink soda. And rum made my head spin. So I had cranberry juice and seltzer.
“With vodka?” The bartender would ask.
“Just a lime.” I’d say and pray that she didn’t hear me.
He’d look at me funny and shrug, dropping a lime wedge into the pink liquid.
“What do you think of that guy?”
She’d grab my arm as I was leaving the tip for the bartender. She was always forgetting things like leaving the tip, so I was always doing it for the both of us.
I never had to look at him. I knew what he looked like. Tall. Dark hair. Pretty smile. Always the same guy.
“I’m gonna go talk to him.”
“Go for it.”
I’d stand by the bar sipping on my drink, watching her mesmerize the guy. I always felt kind of sorry for the guy. He had no defences against her and even if he did, I don’t think he’d want to use them anyway. She was pretty. No. Sexy. In that Brigitte Bardot way of sexy. The full lips, the bedroom eyes, the curves. And the hair. She had Brigitte Bardot hair. I reached up and touched my own chin length, choppy bob. Definitely not Brigitte Bardot hair. I looked down at my narrow frame. Definitely not Brigitte Bardot curves.
I guess that’s why I always stood there waiting and watching. I didn’t have it. That it that made the boys want to talk to you. To kiss you. So I’d stand and sip my drink and watch her talk to the boy. Some nights she’d come over with the boy and we’d go to the beach and we’d all talk until she decided she wanted to kiss him. Sometimes she never decided she wanted to kiss him and she’d turn to me and talk until he got the hint. Sometimes she left him in the bar. Ladies room, she’d say. She’d leave him standing there holding her half-finished drink and wondering later if she were even real. But he had the drink. So she must have been real…
“Do you really think I’ll find him one day?”
I reached for her hand as we lay under the stars.
“I know you will.”
She sighed and curled up next to me, laying her head on my stomach. I ran my fingers through her hair.
“We should go home.”
I never knew what clock she used or what would compel her to go home. I never asked what magic rule she followed on those nights.
We stopped going out every night the night she met him. Or I stopped going out every night. She kept going out. But now with him. She met him on the beach.
“Hey.” He had said.
She pretended to be asleep in her chair.
“Oh sorry.” He had been embarrassed.
“It’s okay.” I tapped her arm to ‘wake her’ and pointed up at the owner of the voice.
“Sorry to wake you up. I just had to say hi.”
He just had to. Why did he just have to? I wanted to ask him what she had done to make him just have to. What sorcery was it? They made plans to meet that night after our shift ended.
“Come with me?”
I didn’t want to go with her to meet him. I didn’t see the point. Nobody likes to play the third wheel.
Whatever magic she had wasn’t just for the opposite sex. After one drink she whispered for me to go home if I wanted to. So I left her with the boy who couldn’t take his eyes off of her.
We walked down that church aisle together, arm in arm, me and her. Her parents said she was too young. Her parents didn’t approve.
“You hardly know this boy.” They had said.
“So don’t come.” She had told them.
And so they didn’t. Her parents, it seemed, were under her spell too.
“But who will walk you down the aisle?” I had asked.
I didn’t want this wedding to happen but I didn’t know how to tell her that. I thought maybe if I tripped her up…
“Well, why not?”She put her hands on her hips. “You’re my best friend. Why shouldn’t you give me away?”
When she put it like that, I couldn’t see a counterargument. She was my best friend. And I was giving her to the boy she was going to marry. It hit me then. She’d be his. She wouldn’t be mine anymore. I linked my arm in hers and walked her up to the altar that fall. Summer was just fading. We had daisies in our hair and held the last of the day lilies in our hands. Only a few friends came. Even fewer family members were there. Mostly everyone just shook their heads.
Why would such a pretty girl throw away her whole life on a boy she had only just met on the beach? Well that’s just it. She was a pretty girl. And she wasn’t much else. And the yellow specks would only dance in her eyes for so long, and she only had so much magic dust in her pouch. She had to find him before it was too late. And if he wasn’t quite right, well, he’d do. At least she wouldn’t have to go out every night. And at least she wouldn’t be alone.
After the cake and the dancing, I went back to the little bungalow we had shared. It looked empty with all of her stuff gone.
Most of my stuff was gone too. I had moved it to my small apartment by the law school. But some stuff remained. We had paid the rent through to Christmas.
I don’t know why. We both knew we wouldn’t be there come Christmas. But it was cheap. And I think we felt sorry for the landlord, who we knew would have trouble renting it in the off season when all the summer people left. So we kept it. And I escaped there on weekends when I needed solitude. It would make a great writer’s retreat. If I were a writer. I sighed and unzipped my dress. She had picked out a frothy pink silk slip dress for me.
“Pink was always your color.” She had said.
I’ve always hated pink. But she was the bride. And I’d have my revenge one day. Lime green. She’d look lovely in lime green. I chuckled as I let the dress fall to a puddle on the floor. I stepped out of it and pulled a shirt from the dresser over my head. She found him. That was all she ever wanted, was to find him and to marry him and to have a baby. I admired her conviction. That marriage and baby was all she needed in life to be happy. A part of me wished I was a bit more simple. I wanted a lot of things. A baby, yes. But so many more things before that. I moved the curtains so I could see the stars. When she’d be kissing a boy, I’d be staring at the stars thinking of all the places I wanted to see and wondering if my dreams were more numerous than the stars. I laughed. I bet she wondered if she could kiss as many boys as there were stars. She’d never kiss another boy again. I sobered at the thought. That was it for her. There’s be no more boys and no more first kisses and no more only kisses. She was so young. I was so sad for her. I had so many firsts out there waiting for me.
I had given my best friend away in marriage, but I still hadn’t kissed a boy. I could buy a drink legally, but I didn’t know how to make the boys go wild or how to press my lips up against another’s. Maybe now that she was married, she’d tell me her secrets. I let the curtains fall and pulled back the sheets on the bed. Maybe I’d say hi to that boy in my criminal law class. I could ask him for the notes for the day I missed. I was stopped from crawling into bed by a knock on the door. Who could that be? I opened the door and saw my friend’s tear-stained face. Her wedding gown was ripped, barely hanging on her body.
She collapsed on me and I closed the door behind us.
“I can’t go home!”
After studying British fiction and writing about the courtship novel, Jacky Ievoli left the romance behind and traded her Austen in for legal briefs. She currently works for a law firm, turning lawyer’s legalease into English that people can understand, not actually want to read, but at least understand. She lives in Turtle Bay and loves watching people’s faces as they try to figure out where exactly that is.
– By Tom Offland
Have you done it?
This will be the last one, thought the man and he unpacked his tools. I’m not doing this again. Green leather gloves and garden wire and plastic bags and dishwasher solution and aluminium scourers. I’m not doing this ever again. Six tins of Danish lager and a ring bound folder and a bag of nails and two steel capped boots and a cordless drill and a half gram of cocaine and blue overalls and a black satchel and a house brick. The man slapped shut the boot of his car and leant his head on the window in meditation. Come on, he said quietly to himself, come on come on come on come on come on come on. And the glass steamed a little under his breath.
What do you mean, you haven’t?
When the man reached the iron gate he turned around one last time to check on his car and then passed through the arch into the garden. Spider webs and potting string and English Ivy hung from the trellises. Crickets squatted in the grass. The man picked his feet carefully past the blind snails and broken garden tiles. The daffodils nodding furiously as he brushed past. A plastic windmill turned on a bamboo stick and a plastic woodsman waved his axe and a plastic spruce tree bristled and two plastic singing birds revolved around the breeze. God, the man said, and pulled his cap on tighter.
I don’t care if there are laws!
The man followed the flower beds and the stinging nettles and the punctured footballs and the slug pellets and the pale half oranges and he found the house. At the door he dropped his satchel behind his feet and felt around in his pockets for his identification. A paper wasp fumbled in the leaves around the door. Another dropped out from between the bricks and drifted away towards the road. This is it, he said, rubbing his nose with the back of his hand. This is the one. A note beside the door buzzer read, PLEASE KNOCK, and the man closed his eyes for a moment and then knocked his knuckles against the wooden door. This is the one, he said.
What do you mean I have to do it?
The door opened and the man bent his knees and hoisted his bag over his shoulder and tried to appear professional. Look professional, he thought, holding his identification out before him. Look professional. There was a woman in the doorway, bunching her hair back into a pony tail. I’m here about the animals, the man said, and he felt the corners of his mouth twitching and he worried about his breath. The woman looked at the man’s identification and at the man’s face and at the man’s overalls and at the man’s steel capped boots and over the man’s shoulder and she stepped aside so as to let the man inside her house. They’re upstairs, the woman said, they’re on the children’s beds. The man stood in the doorway looking up the stairs. They’re on the bunk beds, the woman said.
I can’t do it!
The woman walked ahead of the man through the house, waving her hands and making a clucking noise with her mouth and stopping occasionally to pluck stray strands of black cotton and specks of thread from the carpet and the man followed slowly in his socks and cradled his boots and his satchel against his belly and tried to look at every picture on the wall. Prize cattle and chewed pencils and scavenging crows and thatch cottages burning down. It’s a lovely house, the man said. Racehorses kicking free and galloping riderless from their stalls and dogs walking on two feet and empty office blocks and empty beaches and dried up swimming pools and family portraits taken in dark rooms. Upstairs, the woman paused beside an open bedroom door and waited for the man. They’re in here, she said, pointing through the doorway and biting her lip and itching her forehead and studying the buttons on her shirt so as not to meet the man’s eye.
The man unpacked his tools gently in the corridor. The woman watched him, crossing and uncrossing her arms and she asked him if he had done this before and he smiled in answer and he felt as if he might throw up. The man slipped on his boots and buttoned his overalls and turned off the lights and crept across the bedroom. At the bottom of the beds the man stood and held his breath and listened and could hear the animals moving on the mattresses above. This will be the last one, thought the man, and he climbed the rungs of the bunk bed ladder slowly through the darkness. Eight or nine or ten gorillas stirred on the top beds. The man struggled to count them in the gloom. They stared at him with big black eyes and they paced the beds in fear.
Have you done it, the woman said as the man emerged from the bedroom. No, the man said, and he tried to touch the woman’s hand. What do you mean, you haven’t, the woman said. There are laws, the man said. I don’t care if there are laws, the woman said. And the man took a deep breath and closed his eyes and said if the woman wanted the gorillas dead then she would have to do it herself, and that he would remove them afterwards and that he would tidy up all the mess. And the woman said, what do you mean I have to do it? And the man started crying and he said that it was the law. And the woman said, I can’t do it! I can’t! And the man lifted a beer out of his satchel and offered it to the woman and the man tried to touch the woman’s hand and the man said, we can drink a beer together before it happens. And the woman said, I can’t!
Tom Offland lives in London. He keeps a blog here.
Amy Kennelly from Kerry via Dublin quit her job earlier this year to go on an adventure. She is currently living in a shed in Sydney surrounded by hipsters.
The street art pics are all of good vibes Amy found while wandering around Melbourne on a blustery winter day. She shot the heron on a beach at sunset while drinking wine and eating fish and chips. To her left (out of shot) were a couple taking their wedding pictures.
Interview With A Campfire
– By Brian Coughlan
The photograph on the front of the paper is of a dog shaking hands with a prominent politician. I repeat a dog shaking hands with a politician. What the newspaper did next set the tone for the whole day. Sporting tight brown trousers and dainty black shoes it emitted a sound akin to upholstery being ripped apart. There was a very faint quiver but no apology – not even an acknowledgement of the fact. While I muttered with indignation a sulpher-like stench engulfed the carriage.
The photograph on the front was still of a dog shaking hands with a politician. It was standing up tall on its hind legs and looking disdainfully at the future leader of this country. It was a very unusual dog – a cross between a Labrador and a Poodle. There were names underneath. I was more interested in the dog’s name but the writing was too small to make it out.
For the remainder of the journey I was troubled by my complete lack of enthusiasm. I got off at a small deserted station and walked into the town. The morning sun cast an orange light across cars and trees and buildings. Walking past the window of a man’s outfitters I noticed a mannequin in the window. It reminded me vaguely, of someone. It was the likeness of a young man with short black hair and a piercing gaze. His head tilted at an unusual angle – it may have been incorrectly screwed on – and his hands were frozen in karate-chop positions. I could not for the life of me figure out who he reminded me of.
On arrival at the factory I found the place deserted. There were clearly people working there – the car park was full but there was nobody at the security hut and no sign of activity behind the gates. I thought I could hear a dull repetitive thudding noise off in the distance but when I stopped to listen for it –it was no longer there.
A red button, sticking out like an erect nipple needed to be pressed – so I pressed it. A woman’s plaintive voice told me to wait for the buzz and then push the gate. I waited for the buzz. Nothing happened. So I had no option but to press the red nipple again. She came over the speaker. I did not push until I heard the buzz and when I heard the buzz I pushed but the thing still wouldn’t move. So I had to press the nipple again. Eventually a woman came out of a building walked swiftly towards me and pulled the gate open.
Without so much as a glance in my general direction she turned on her heels and walked away smartly, her large behind swerving from side to side, back towards a red brick building at the end of a series of concrete paving slabs. I was admitted to an empty waiting room furnished with a row of drab plastic chairs along the walls and a low coffee table in the middle, smothered in old dog-eared magazines. My eye roved from one barren wall to the next. It was a depressing shit-hole of a place.
After a long time sitting there I very nearly fell asleep. Out of nowhere another small plump woman in a smart suit appears in the doorway with a clip-board clenched to her bosom. I am perkily instructed to follow her. We walk up two flights of stairs and down a long dimly lit corridor at the end of which I am asked to wait in a small room of just a single chair. According to her they are nearly ready for me. The clock high on the wall across from me says eight forty-nine.
I watch time go past with the jerky, continuous movement of a red plastic hand as it stops – then carries on – past each tiny gradation. After precisely six minutes and thirty eight seconds I stop watching the clock but when I close my eyes I can still picture that red hand jerking along in a steady monotonous onslaught.
She comes back and leads me into a boardroom, a long narrow room with a long narrow table down the center of the room and a number of chairs pushed in neatly all along it. It is a really nice table, dark wood, expertly polished, smooth to the touch. I hear the sound of footsteps coming down the hallway and then the door of the room opens.
I rise from my chair to exchange handshakes with a HR woman who looks like an ostrich; long neck, black beady-eyes and short cropped haircut – puffball body encased in a power suit; and with the Technical Director – dead-ringer for an Albino Gorilla; thick-set and in a grumpy mood. The ostrich does the introductions and starts waffling on about the company. There’s a large window in the space above their heads and I gaze out through it. Beyond the walls of the factory there are fields made green by that still strong morning light. I can see a small figure walking its dog and throwing a stick-like object for the dog to retrieve; probably a stick.
So tell us a little bit about yourself?
If you were to ask my ex-wife I’m a demon of some sort; a cruel and sadistic schemer who doesn’t give a damn about his children. She accuses me of walking away from my responsibilities and not giving her the credit she feels entitled to – for the great job she’s done raising the kids. If you ask my friends they will tell you that I am unreliable and absent when needed – that I cannot be depended on, that I drift away all too easily. But they don’t really know me at all. That’s the thing. I keep myself hidden from view. In reality I am the reincarnation of St. Stephen. I know it’s incredible but what do you want me to tell you – a bunch of made-up lies and make-believe? I only found out myself last month through a series of visions I experienced at my hot yoga class.
The Ostrich is very happy with my answer. She grimaces with a smile and writes a few notes on my CV. She has a hole in her tights just above one knee. What is she writing down I wonder? And why hasn’t she made reference to or even glanced at my tonsure yet?
The albino gorilla takes off his glasses and deftly wipes them with a little cloth he has conjured, most likely from his anal passage. It’s a little yellow cloth imprinted with the name and address of his optician. He slides them back on in a remarkably gentle fashion and puts the little cloth back where it belongs. He glances down at his belly and removes a few bits of fluff from his tie.
So why did you leave your last job?
Because they did not want to hear the truth – that’s why. They subjected me to a show trial in front of other executives and representatives from HR and they sentenced me to be stoned to death. I brought up the whole ‘he who hath not sinned bit’ and the stones started flying so I hid under the board room table and used the Managing Director as a human shield to get the hell out of there. But you know something it’s like I always say – was there ever a prophet that they didn’t try and execute? You know what I mean? I’m just going to take a drink of water here at this juncture.
The gorilla nods his head in agreement. I’m giving him another one of those textbook answers. They are a basic requirement – any hint of individual thought is exterminated by stock answers to stock questions. He produces a banana and peels it gently as I continue to wax lyrical about the benefits of gaining experience in a multitude of different settings. As he lovingly devours the banana his ostrich colleague buries her head in the sand of ignorance. I already know the job is mine if I want it.
What motivates you to do a good job?
Money motivates me. Not unlike every other person who gets up in the morning when they don’t want to, travels into work at a job they dislike and stays working all day with this great pretence that it’s really not that bad once you get into it. Some people even buy into the whole business and enjoy repeating the company slogans and admonishing those who ignore them. I’m here for the hard cash Ms. Ostrich. Next question please.
What are your strengths and what are your weaknesses?
My strength Mr. Gorilla is that I can’t stand other people. I hate the fucking sight of them. I hate people and I hate work and I hate clocking-in and clocking-out and pretending. More than anything I hate pretending to be interested in the field of work I find myself wandering around in. So you see by not giving a shit it actually helps because it gives me the cold dispassionate eye one needs to survive in this kind of environment. And I can tell an asshole when I see one which is what you clearly are. I can well imagine taking orders from you and never doing things up to your expected standard. How long would it take for us to fall out I wonder? A month, two months…who knows. My weaknesses are too numerous to mention but I’ll have a go; I’m lazy, I don’t listen, I hate taking orders, I am un-sociable and prone to bullying people when they bug me…that’s all I can think of right now.
Stephen why should we hire you?
For a brief moment I am inexplicably thrown by the question. My mouth opens and then closes without a word passing my lips. I stare into those two sets of expectant eyes and I do not know what to say. Nothing! There is not one word in my mind that presents itself for usage. They are shying away from the act of bravery. They seek safety in the silence of the crowd. Instead there is an excruciating stillness in the room where the ticking of the wall clock becomes deafening. I am the mannequin. I am the dummy in the shop window; it reminds me of myself. Then I hear myself vomit out the following:
I believe that I have the relevant experience to do the job. I believe that I’ve proved myself more than capable in the past. I believe I would be an excellent addition to the team here at this well-regarded company. I am excited at the prospect of learning more and growing both as an individual and as a team player within this exciting organization and who knows? I think I would make a really significant contribution to the company and bring renewed success through my hard work and results-based dynamism.
The Ostrich nods her head emphatically and locks eyes with the Gorilla who shrugs his shoulders as much as to say ‘I’ve no objections’. The Ostrich thanks me for coming in to see them and she keeps smiling at me now. Well done for answering all the questions in a way that has meant we can tick all the boxes. Well done for making our lives that little bit easier. Well done for telling us nothing that we need be concerned about. Well done.
‘How soon can you start?’ asks the gorilla in a dour voice.
I’m gazing out through the large window above their heads. Beyond the walls of the factory there are fields made green by the now grey morning light. I can see a small figure being mauled by a dog. I jump to my feet and send the chair toppling over.
‘Look what’s happening out there!’ I shout.
Brian Coughlan lives in Galway where he works as a screenwriter and part-time pharmaceutical industry employee. He also writes short stories and the occasional poem.
Summer at Maghermore
– By Alan Walsh
It was early and no one was anywhere near the shore but for an old man sat against the rock nearest the tide, draped in a long towel, who watched out for the light to break. It was still a little like night to venture out and he sipped from a flask he had brought to warm him at that hour. The first call of gannets had woken two surfers inside of their camper van and they sat, with tea, and watched the old man, wondering why he was out alone so early and on such a remote stretch of beach.
“He’s trying to kill himself,” one surfer said.
“Why do you say that?”
“No one would arrive out here so early. He’s working up courage, drinking from that flask, maybe rum. He seems unsteady.”
“Then why did he change into that swimsuit? Why the towel if not to dry off?”
“Who knows what occurs in the mind of a suicide? Maybe he wishes to seem normal, like it might look an accident.”
They crouched behind the wheel of the van with the light off so as not to be noticed in all of the silence and darkness. The only thing to move was the low branch stooped over the old man’s rock and the loose strands of seaweed in the breeze. The gannets and gulls began to circle more frequently and the light began slowly to come in. When the water was lit well enough to make out, the old man folded his towel down into the bag where he had packed his clothes and placed his flask on top of the rock beside it. He began walking out toward where the water washed the first pebbles on the shore.
“There, he’s going to do it. We can’t just allow it to happen.”
“He doesn’t look anything like drunk. He’s just testing the temperature.”
They both silently got out of the van to watch from the shade, keeping sure to remain very still. The old man stood a while with the water reaching only his ankles. He adjusted his shorts, tucked up underneath where his belly hung, and crouched down to place his hands into the foam. He brought water up to rinse through his hair and down his face, doing this a number of times. He ventured out a little deeper, knee deep and then to his waist, and allowed the tide lap his belly and upper arms while he looked out at the sky gradually changing colours.
“Where are you going?”
“I’m going down there. It’s probably even a crime to stand by and watch someone kill themselves, doing nothing.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about. He’s just taking a dip.”
The man craned his knees to have the water cover his chest and then wash over his shoulders. That early it was still cold enough to throw you off if you didn’t take enough care. He went through this motion a couple of times, then finally dunking his head the whole way under to come up again wet all over. Sure of his footing now and far enough from the shore, he pushed forward into a forearm stroke, letting the water catch his weight under the belly and kicking hard as he could manage it. It churned water high in every direction, his strokes weren’t quite timed to replace one another in the water and his kicking legs weren’t strong enough to breach the surface and push him on. He floundered sideways, unable to bring his following arm round in time to keep afloat and kicked down to touch the bottom again. He stood a minute out as far as the water reaching his shoulders and took a few heavy breaths. He washed some more of the tide through his hair. Bending his knees further, he let the tide lap up to his lips and nose and pushed off again, horizontal to the shoreline, this time with greater effort and more foam thrown up about him. His legs kicked harder and he forced his arms on through the water ahead. But he was already off course, and soon heading diagonally out from the tide to where the bottom began to slope off. The push and thrashing soon tired the old man. He quit to stand still a while again, but he had ventured a little far out of his depth. His shoulders dipped under quickly to his surprise, taking his head down under as well and he had to reach right away into another forward splash, even out of breath, to make it in close enough to shore to touch down.
“He doesn’t know about us. He thinks he’s all alone out here. He can’t even hardly keep afloat. It’s still almost dark and there’s no one for miles.”
“He’s teaching himself to swim.”
“Why would anybody do that at this hour, miles from any possible help? At that age.”
“Maybe that’s why he’s out here.”
“He’s well into his eighties easy. He was unsteady getting out there across the stones to start off with. Hazard to himself. There have to be laws against people acting out of recklessness with their own well being.”
“There aren’t any people out in the water at this time. No one to pay him any attention back on shore either, to get unduly worried. He can concentrate freely.”
The old man was back down into another stroke, this one a little sharper, tighter to the line of the tide. He seemed not to kick as much froth up around him either. A number of gulls had settled on the moving surface, content to drift and watch. He only made a couple of feet along before having to touch down again and catch his breath. He knew he was doing it all wrong, that his timing was off, he was pushing too hard and without any grace. Stood deep in the tide, he tried to figure out how to better it with his next go. He waded out a little deeper and practiced moving just his arms, each over the shoulder in turn, slowly as he could, for imagined in this lay the key. Then, remembering what he had seen others do, he began rolling his head from side to side in the water, breathing in one side and out the other. He stood in place and did this a little while. The younger surfer watched him, shaking his head. The man took another breath and lunged forward again, this time in the opposite direction. Again, he kicked up a lot of froth and began to stray diagonally outward, but it seemed a little more contained a motion than before. He couldn’t maintain it for very long and hadn’t gotten the breathing right. He lacked the strength to keep stroking any length and had to stop to again pretty soon. The younger surfer shook his head some more.
“You know he’ll be back out here tomorrow morning.”
“He looks that type.”
“And we’ve taken the place up by Maghermore. So we won’t be here.”
The light had by then come in enough that the rock, the trees and camper van and both men were clearly visible and the old man, seeing them, wet his head one final time in the foam and began to stride his way back into shore through the water. He reached the stones and collected his bag and his flask from the rock, made his way back up the shingle slope and past the camper van, saluting the surfers with a nod as he went. Both of them nodded in return.
In a little while, they had suited up and prepared the boards, they’d locked up the van and headed down to the shore themselves. It was still early but the waves were starting to come in a little harder and break with more force. They paddled out far enough and caught what they could, but the waves weren’t as lively as they had been earlier in the month. That was why the younger surfer has suggested moving on up to Maghermore, where it was said to be rougher. They had planned to pass the summer there but had left it too long. He brought his board out past the furthest rock and let the sea rise and drop him until he felt there was enough in it to try and make it back in on. Each time he did it, though, it tapered off and he was left wishing he had left it longer. A few of these and he had given up. He relaxed and watched his partner fight to drag some life out of the waves, sometimes even getting a little. He sat on the surf board, flat on the surface of the water, and thought about that old man, wondering if he’d be out there the following morning and if he’d ever succeed in teaching himself to swim. It was too dead to surf. He paddled back into shore and lit a fire back by the van. He dried himself off and began to prepare breakfast.
Alan Walsh is a 36 year old Writer and Designer who has just finished his third novel. He has been published in The Moth, Outburst and The Illustrated Ape among other magazines and has written for Magill magazine and Film Ireland. He is currently involved in a graffiti project with hurls and an unlikely illustration project with Irish superheroes. Follow Alan on twitter.
Kerstina Mortensen is an Irish-Danish graduate of History of Art and German, Trinity College Dublin. She writes, paints and photographs, and has had work published in Icarus, The Attic and the Trinity Journal of Literary Translation. Check out her blog.
– ByYaseena McKendry
You rest in my arms, peaceful, quiet.
We’ve done this before in the months since you were born, sitting together along the
edge of the sand dune, looking out to sea.
I lean down and kiss your temple. Your skin is damp from your sweat, your curly
hair matted to your head in sections. The wind gathers around us, brushing against our
bodies and teasing you from sleep. I breathe in the salty air wishing it was warm enough for
a swim. I have a feeling you’d love the water, just like me. I’ll teach you when you’re older
and we’ll sneak out here just the two of us in the summer, away from mom and dad.
You look up at me, your eyes wide and curious. Your eyes were the first sign that
something was wrong, but I didn’t understand then. The midwife, who had been with mom
through her delivery, held you in her arms, careful and tentative. She looked down at you
for a long while, anxious as if she knew something she didn’t want to say out loud.
Everyone was talking, the stillness that had come over each of us while mom was in
delivery, broken now that you were there in the room– all of a sudden as if you always had
The midwife told mom and dad your eyes were too small, pressed too flat against
your face. Your nose was the same and later, when the doctors saw you, they said that it
would be hard for you to breathe, that you might need surgery one day.
Your body moves restlessly in my arms and I look down at your face to see if you’re
about to cry. Your eyebrows, fair even though your hair is dark, scrunch together and I run
my fingertip along the slope of your nose and you stop fussing.
My lips are chapped and I feel them stretch as I smile at you, the skin cracking with
the effort. I’ve held you each day since you were born, taking you with me where ever I go.
You like the beach best though, you’re always more peaceful when we’re out of the house.
I look out towards the ocean, watch the waves as they curl, changing from navy blue
to teal and then white as they turn in on themselves. It’s getting dark out and soon we’ll
have to go back inside. I don’t want to leave this spot, to go back to the house and listen to
the pressing quiet.
Mom used to call our cottage the perfect beach home. A getaway for us all when the
city got to be too much. I remember watching dad stain the deck a bright blue to match the
ocean. The siding such a crisp white it used to hurt my eyes when the sun shone against the
slats. Now the whole place looks neglected, forgotten. It’s been years since we’ve visited
the beach but mom thought having you by the water would be peaceful. A chance for
everything to calm down is what she said to dad.
The screen door is ripped now, the frame leaning off its hinges. Our deck used to be
bold. Now the colour has dulled and the paint is worn down. I can’t walk on it in bare feet
anymore or the paints chips scrape off and catch in my skin. Our house is one of the only
ones on this side of the beach. I used to love the privacy. When I was little I could yell and
scream and run as far as I wanted without annoying the neighbours. Now at night I hear the
wind slam against the walls and the rain hit the tin roof and all I want is to look out my
window and see light. Some sign of life that says we aren’t the only ones trapped here,
marooned away from every other sign of life.
I burrow my feet in the sand and wiggle my toes. I dig them deeper, finding the cool,
sticky darkness of the beaches underworld and try not to think of the tiny bugs crawling
around underneath the surface. Your little hand, so small and fragile breaks free of the
blanket I’ve wrapped you in. Your arm swings uncontrolled, luxuriating in the freedom of its
escape. I feel your fingers graze my face and lean closer to let you pet my cheek. You want
to sit up, I can tell by the look in your eye and the way you’re craning your neck to see
more. I raise you in my arms, bending my knees, letting your head rest against them like a
pillow. I brush your hair across your forehead, smoothing it back against the softness of your head. I take care not to brush the spot that’s so sensitive, your ‘soft spot,’ mom calls it.
She worries for you. She cried when you were born. She wonders if things would
have been different if she hadn’t been so desperate for another baby. Something to hold the
pieces of our family together. She wonders what might have happened if you’d been born in
a hospital. I tell her not to think of it. She had me at home.
I watched her hold you for the first time. She sat folded on the bed. Her legs splayed
outwards, spread wide and apart like they were no longer part of her body. Her arms looked
heavy as they held you. She was silent. She looked down at you, a frown on her face. I
stood in the doorway, leaning against the chipped white frame, the paint folding itself into
the threads of my sweater as I shifted, ripping from the wall and disintegrating into bits
when I moved. I watched them fall to pieces on the ground. I knew I’d have to sweep them
Mom called to me, told me to take you. To hold you tight. She needed to rest. I took
you in my arms that first day, scared and unsure. I didn’t understand what was happening,
why everyone was so quiet, so still. I looked down at mom. I didn’t know how to hold you,
how to make you comfortable. She wouldn’t look at me though, so I turned to the midwife,
ready to give you to her. She smiled kindly. Her sunken eyes looked me over, assessing,
measuring me. She motioned with her arms for me to cradle your body. I moved and your
head swayed, like it wasn’t properly attached to your neck. You made a funny sound, a wet
hiccup, and I looked down at your face for the first time. I guess I understood then, the
quiet. My mind went still. I wasn’t worried anymore. Your eyes were closed, your tiny hands
fisted by your cheek. I could feel my hands trembling, but the rest of me felt calm. I looked
at mom, but she had turned her back to me. I nodded at the midwife and walked with you
towards the door. Turning, I watched as mom moved her head into the downy softness of
the pillow, her eyelids growing heavy as the tears pooled in her eyes, falling into the sheets.
Her pallor scared me and sickened me at the same time. I didn’t want you to see her like
that. I wished you could have known her the way she was before her and dad started
stealing bits of each other.
I found dad in the kitchen. He was leaning against the counter, sipping at a drink. His
eyes told me everything I never needed to ask him. He didn’t know if he could love you.
I liked the quiet of those first few days. It wasn’t like at home before you came
along. Doors weren’t slamming; dinner wasn’t tense with ugly words being thrown across
the table. I could eat my food without feeling like I’d be sick later. It took me a few days to
realize that the absence of noise was worse than the shouting. The silence grated on me,
made my skin tingle with everything I could hear that wasn’t being said.
They called you special. I knew you were, but not for the reasons they gave. You
weren’t a test like mom believed. You weren’t a punishment that dad couldn’t understand. I
knew their thoughts and I was determined to protect you from them.
I lie in bed tonight, like I do most nights wondering if you’re all right in the next
room. If you’re sleeping soundly or if mom’s snoring keeps you awake. I think about dad
sleeping on the couch, why he thinks I’ll believe his lie. He said it’s to give mom peace at
night when she feeds you but I know that it’s because he doesn’t want to be around her
anymore. He doesn’t want to touch her. I think he blames her for you.
Too old to have another one – I told her…she was too old. Whole things a mistake.
He didn’t know I was standing behind him.
I don’t understand how he could blame her though, when half of you is dad and half
of you is mom. I wonder about that extra part. The doctors said you weren’t supposed to be
born with it, it isn’t right, it causes problems. Like the hole in your heart and the fact that
you won’t be able to see clearly and they said your hearing isn’t so good either. You can
always hear me though. I whisper softly in your ear and you smile at me. You know exactly
what I’m saying.
Mom coughs in the next room. It’s kind of a snort, like she rolled over and had to
catch her breath from the effort. I rise, pitching the blankets off my legs. I hear you start to
cry and I move away from my bed treading carefully on the floorboards so they don’t creak
and wake anyone up. I cross the hall and push lightly against mom’s bedroom door. She’s
standing at your crib, looking down at you as you stir within your blankets. The light from
the hallway skims the ground, slicing through the floor and lighting mom’s feet as they peek
out from beneath her nightgown. I notice for the first time how bony and frail they look. She
turns and catches me staring and I shrug, moving further into the room. I reach her side
and she looks down at me for a moment. I want her to smile, to touch my hair, smooth it
back from my face like she used to. She just stares blankly.
It’s okay momma, I’ve got her.
She does smile then. It’s faint and barely recognizable, it could have been a facial
spasm really, but I want it to be a smile. She pats my arm as she turns away towards the
bed. I don’t watch as she climbs beneath the covers. I turn to you and lift you gently into
my arms. You settle immediately and I feel better. I wrap you in your blanket and then step
slowly towards the door, closing it with my free hand. I take the stairs carefully and as I get
closer to the bottom I begin to feel the ocean breeze against my legs as it seeps through
the open windows. My skin tingles, the hair on my arms rising. Dad isn’t on the couch when
we pass. I hear the fridge door slam shut and turn the other way heading for the back door.
Outside I walk along the sand, each step guided by the cold glow of the moon. It’s
full tonight, brighter than most nights. I find our spot and settle carefully with you in my
arms. You’re awake now but I know how to get you back to sleep. I start humming at first,
the words mom used to sing to me stuck at the back of my throat.
Twinkle, Twinkle little star, how I wonder what you are…
My voice cracks slightly when I finally get the words out. You smile at me though, so I keep
singing. I kiss your head and smooth your cheek. I place my lips against your ear,
whispering, and you hear me.
Yaseena McKendry has an undergradute degree from Concordia University where she majored in Creative Writing and minored in Irish Studies. She went on to pursue a masters degree in Dublin, Ireland where she recently received an MPhil in Creative Writing from Trinity College Dublin. While studying at the Oscar Wilde Center, Yaseena worked with her classmates as one of eight editors to publish an anthology of their work. An excerpt of her first novel, currently in progress, was published in the anthology, A Thoroughly Good Blue: New Writing from the Oscar Wilde Centre. Check out Yaseena’s blog.
The Irish Father
– By Daniel Connell
“That is what you are. That’s what you all are […] all of you young people who never served in the war. You are a lost generation. You who have seen nothing of great pain, nothing but l’ennui and money woes. You are a lost generation.” Me in conversation with myself this morning.
This particular morning I was sad, as was the case with most mornings at the end of last winter. It wasn’t an abrasive or sharp sadness, but a dull one that sat from my jawline to my diaphram. I always thought it was because my dog had passed away earlier that winter. That was something that hurt me deep in my chest, much like being winded constantly. Anyway, I took the chance to take the day off college, sit around in my bedroom and do nothing in particular. The nearlyspring sun settled its way through my beige curtains. It gave the room a warm glow.
As I lay around looking at the television, I grew bored and hungry, which were the only things that would have stirred me to get up that day. After about two hours of growing hunger my stomach felt as though it had bottomed out. The sun had passed over my house and my room was now in the shade. There was a wall around four feet away from my window blocking out most of the light, and that made it damp and uncomfortable outside of my duvet. The sun would be glaring into my kitchen by now.
After I had stretched and struggled and nearly blew out all the blood vessels in my head I got up. I dressed into yesterday’s dirty clothes and got dizzy from stretching more. My dad probably heard me and shouted my name and something mumbling after, as he does when he is checking to see if I’m still in.
He sat with my niece Lucia at the kitchen table and he was clearly frustrated with her as she liked to act out all the time if there wasn’t sufficient attention put on her, as fouryearolds do. He was probably too old to mind kids, as he had already had four of his own, and he was pushing fiftyfive as a manual labourer. Surely he deserved his days off when they came around and they were all too frequent these days.
He had actually been working for most of his life, it was all he knew. He told me before that he had worked since he was around 12 or 13. That was the old Ireland. A labourer, a bricklayer, a handyman where he can be. And me, an arts student that doesn’t feel the need to go to college most of the time. But still, he seemed quite proud, proud that he can offer me and my siblings a more privileged and relaxed life of college, part time jobs and a bedroom each. All of these things were unavailable to him, which always made me sad and proud at the same time.
There is never much dialogue between us; it is more of a quiet understanding of mumblings, and affirmative grunts and nods, but I could tell that he was in a better mood than normal, though he was evidently agitated with Lucia’s lack of attention.
The kettle had boiled and I poured the boiling water into the coffee granules with two sugars. It sounded like fizzing, shifting sands and stank like bad coffee does. He began to speak to Lucia as I went over to the countertop behind them and sat on it with my legs dangling, and I began rubbing my eyes orgasmically.
“Look, Lucia, here, stop, look,” he sputtered. She was quick and strong in her messing.
“Gwandad, I’m bored. Put on the telly,” she said, with her unformed R’s.
“Look, watch this.” As I looked up with blurred vision he took up a piece of plastic that was shaped like an oval. It was one of those tops of the Persil or Ariel bottles that you use to fill full of washing detergent. He began to draw its outline onto a sheet of blank paper.
“Look, it’s easy Lucia, you just draw the shape and then colour it in. Now watch.”
He took up a few of the colouring pencils and began to draw lines waving through the shape, each line a different colour. Then he drew another outline of the same shape and began colouring it in with arching lines, each line a different colour. He repeated this many times, and each one became more intricate and colourful from what I could see. It seemed as though he had really been drawn into it. Lucia just watched with her chin in her right hand, balancing on my dad’s lap and the kitchen table.
He had finally got her attention and she was enjoying it.
“Can I have a go? Gwandad, gimme the pencils.”
He let Lucia take control and she attempted to do the same. Her attempt was good, but she then began to scribble through it violently trying to colour it in. Then she proceeded to scribble off the page and onto the place mat.
I could see a glint in my dad’s eye. There was some sort of sorrow that he showed. Drawing those shapes and enjoying it so much; it was only a distraction from his everyday labours. Labours that were scarce to come around these days, to his selfish shame. He just stared at the paper as Lucia began to ruin the place mat, but it didn’t matter. She always did that and everything in our house was wrecked from her anyway.
“Ah here,” he said in his loud voice, “don’t…stop…Lucia! Stop!”
She threw down the colours in her hand and he let her go out of his lap and then ran off into the living room with a skip and jumped onto the couch where some kid’s programme was on, probably Cbeebies or whatever it was called.
As she left, so did I. As I jumped down from the counter my dad noticed me there, and half embarrassed looking he picked up the drawing and said “not bad?” or something to that effect, then laughed throwing his drawings down onto the glass table.
I went into my bedroom where it was quite cool then as the sun had reached well over my house. At that point and I began to flick through different day time tv, Jeremy Kyle, Auction Hunters, and drifted into a boring comatose. I pictured Lucia did the same as me, and my Dad was probably still sitting at the kitchen table, looking at what he had created.
Daniel Connell is a 21 year old student studying English and is in his final year. He is a Dublin-based writer, usually through the medium of poetry and prose.
There are still grains of sand left on your feet from that other beach you now walk on. Whilst sweeping them in silence, I only hope over and over that you never stop wanting to bathe in my waters. I know that it is not possible to find settlement in the constant change of my tide. It is unimaginable to find asylum in the impulsive shift from tranquility to chaos that I harbour. Many boats, tricked by my blue aquatic transparency, have sailed in comfort before knowing the agony of their slow sinking. How can it be different when even I find it hard to float? When I recurrently end up drowning in my own cold water? I guess that the embrace of my waves now imprisons you in confusion and pushes you further away and onto the warm cuddle of your new paradise. I plead you to never stop wanting to bathe in my waters.
If I slightly unfold my arm, I’ll touch your skin. If I just twist a little, your body will come into contact with mine, granting it with a spare of your warmth. The five fingers in my hand can stroke gently your hair once, twice, the amount of times needed for your eyes to meet mine. My lips know the way to yours, it is the place where they once belonged to. But my arms remain idle. My body remains cold. Each of the fingers in my right hand thread with their left pair. And my lips, pressed tight, hold in the tears of my agitated sea. And it is not pride that keeps me motionless, but the fear my prison is build upon. The terror of facing the immense distance inherent in the few centimeters that stand between you and me.
I once somewhere read that it is in the darkest skies where the brightest stars are to be found. I am unsure of the colour balance of my sky, but if there is something I am completely certain of, is that it holds the most incandescent stars of all.
There is one to whom everything might now look cloudy and unreal, but I can unquestionably foretell that your natural glow is going to be revealed. Sooner than you might think. Don’t you realise that you are no longer eclipsed? You may be small, but only in size; your soul is huge. The richness of my sky is enhanced by the smile of the star to whose days are my nights. I cannot stop admiring your capability of blooming through the days whilst having to live one step ahead of your heart. The latter being left stranded eight hours behind. You perennial perseverance will be finally rewarded, and you will be granted with the world which you are so purposely constructing. Please, reserve a small place in it for me so that I remain complete.
The exotic touch of my sky comes from the East. Not knowing half as much about her as I wished I did, she has taught the meaning of many words. One of them being achievement. The instantly perceptible attraction of her physical appearance fails to remotely portray the monumental beauty of her soul. Having thrived through innumerable battles, she is now forced to fight on two grounds.
Do not give up, let the sparkle in your eyes blind the setbacks thrown by life. My request for you is to acknowledge me in the fight and heavily rely on my constant support. The chromaticity of my sky is intensified by the light emanating from the most recent star. Having gazed over my sky by the inexplicable coincidences of life, I am daily thankful for you deciding to stay. By allowing me to be a witness in your defeat of adversity with the only weapon of your laugh, you have safeguarded my sanity. Thank you for sharing the incalculable value of the legacy that bereaved event left in your hands.
I cannot think of a better place for the strongly glowing star to leave her gem when she forever dimmed.
Without any right, but filled with hope, I ask you not to ever change. The most special component of my humble sky is reserved for the star whose blood runs through my veins. Oceans apart, you are the closest to my heart. Your infinite love unconditionally follows every one of my steps. You remain the backbone of my life. I am sorry for all the ache I have caused. I am grateful for you teaching me to fight through the toughest battles and forcing me confront rough reality. With all that you have given me, which is all you have, I am in no position to demand; but I beg for the vigor in your soul to never fade away. I once somewhere read that you are what you have. And I have the most vivid, solid, magical sky of them all.
The unused sheet of paper lays flat on the table, eyeballing me, pleading to capture words that will defeat forgetfulness and prevail through time. I feel its stare and I stare back. Even though I own this pen and the left hand that is holding it, it’s as if the brain governing the muscles has gone blank and is unable to convert the captured ink into printed letters. I am free now. Free to reinvent my life, to start over, to be who I always wanted to be and to do what I have never done before. I can choose the cast, change the plot.
Why then my head always wanders to thoughts about you? What if who I want to be is a half of you? If all I feel like doing on this rainy Sunday afternoon is to get lost in your arms. Return to your embrace, to that exact place where I once felt safe, protected against the world in which I find myself vulnerably thrown now, force to continue building my days. I blend real with idealised memories. No longer able to tell the difference. Unwilling to tell the difference. Afraid that the absent mindedness that distinguishes me takes over remembrance. Symptoms are already arising. I cannot recall the smell of your soft skin but I still sense it in random places. The other day it hid in my apartment lift. Today, in a passing stranger. I can trust my nostrils, but not much more. I don’t remember the sound of your laugh. I blame myself for not having heard it much in the last days. I am starting to forget the tickle your teasing stroke triggered on my waking lips. Or the feel of having each one of my fingers threaded in yours. What side of your body did your birthmark adorn? What brand gel couldn’t you live without? The curse of selective memory haunts me, shifting my energy into bringing these things to the present and letting go of what I should hold on to: the fact that I wasn’t happy, that your love was long gone, that I meant nothing to you any longer, that you have started to swim in seas I will never become. Time will free me, but how much time?
Born in Madrid, Spain, Mireya Semelas has been living in Dublin for nearly five years. Writing has been her language for as long as she can remember. The landscapes in Ireland are responsible for her awakened interest in photography. With “Captured Moments” Mireya aims to combine her passion in pictures with her love for words. Throughout these two-word titled passages, the reader is immersed in a sea of love, friendship, suffering, surrender, survival and many other emotions that will preserve them into the future. Check out Mireya’s blog and follow her on Twitter @semelas
‘I’ll tell you who’s to blame,’ the old man said, banging his dessert spoon on the check tablecloth, ‘that bitch who lives on Liberty Island.’
The woman sighed but didn’t let go of his free hand, which lay palm down in hers, his knuckles thick like knots in old rope.
‘You’re drunk, Paolo,’ she said. The restaurant was empty apart from a young man alone at a corner table. He looked up briefly when Paolo banged the spoon but quickly returned to his dinner.
‘She stands there and sings out across the ocean,’ Paolo continued, ‘same old song of plenty. What does she give when you get here? Nothing.’
‘We have this.‘ The woman spread her hands. ‘Food, wine, each other.’
‘Pfff,’ said Paolo, ‘we had that already.’
‘We have a home, we have a family.’
‘And she gave us those did she? No.’
The waiter – a young man, thirty at most – took a glass from the rack above the bar. He held it up to the light, polished it carefully on his apron and put it back. The woman finished the last of her dessert.
‘Delicious,’ she said, placing her spoon down. ‘Typical man, blame a woman for your own disappointment.’ She smiled and rubbed the back of his hand with her thumb.
‘Fifty-seven years,’ said Paolo. ‘Fifty-seven years in this country and still we’re living hand to mouth.’
‘Maybe so but the hand has a well-stocked cupboard to choose from these days.’ The woman wiped the corner of her mouth with a napkin. ‘You were never like this when we were young.’
‘When we were young I didn’t think this was how we’d end up,’ he said.
‘This?’ the woman replied, pushing her plate away.
‘Another birthday dinner in a cheap neighbourhood restaurant.’
‘Would you rather eat in the fancy restaurants uptown?’ she said. ‘Where they charge twelve dollars for polenta and call it rustic?’
Paolo looked at the tablecloth.
‘When were you last hungry?’ the woman continued. ‘When did we not have wine? Are our children not healthy?’
Paolo spoke more softly. ‘What about the dream? What about our life?’
‘We have a life, mio caro, we have a life.’
‘Not the one we came for.’
‘Maybe not the one you came for.’ The woman held his gaze.
‘We had a life before we came – we have a life now,’ he said. ‘No difference.’
‘We had hope, not a life. We brought that seed with us and planted it here in America. It would never have grown into anything more at home, you know that. Those hills are too old, too tired.’
‘It’s me who is too tired now,’ Paolo said.
A siren passed outside. The couple sat in silence till it faded.
‘More wine?’ the waiter asked, leaning in to clear their plates. Paolo shook his head.
‘Why mourn a dream,’ the woman said, ‘when we have a reality. Be happy with who you are now.’
Paolo waved a hand in dismissal. The waiter, misreading the gesture, returned with the bill. Paolo sighed, took out his wallet and counted out a small stack of bills.
‘The truth is,’ he said, tucking his wallet back into the inner pocket of his coat, ‘I’m to blame. I’m the one who brought us here, who believed her promise – wanted to believe it. What kind of fool does that make me, Francesca?’
‘Come now,’ the woman said, taking his hand again. ‘You’re no fool. It will feel different soon, it always does, you know that. Every year-’ she paused. ‘It passes.’
‘You can mourn for now but let tomorrow be the end of it.’ He held her coat so she could slide first one arm and then the other into the sleeves. As she smoothed the lapel of his jacket he kissed the back of her hand and they left the restaurant arm in arm.
The waiter pushed their chairs back under the table and held the door for the young man who left, turning his collar up against the wind. The waiter turned the sign from Open to Closed and locked the door. He took down a glass, poured an inch of amaretto into it and added an ice cube. He held the glass up in salute to the old couple as they disappeared into the dark beyond the streetlights.
The morning was clear but Paolo’s head was a little foggy from too much wine the night before. He would go and see her; she always made him feel better. Anyway, he needed to apologise. He made it through the security checks and onto the boat quickly; the terminal wasn’t busy yet, not as busy as it would be in a couple of hours. As the ferry moved off he stood at the railing and watched Battery Park recede. He was still watching the city skyline when a young man tapped him on the elbow.
‘Time to get off, sir. We’re here.’ Paolo nodded and set his wind-blown hat straight. He kept his eyes low as he stepped off the boat and didn’t look up until he was close enough that his shadow blended with hers.
‘I’m sorry about last night,’ he said. The woman gazed out over the docks towards the Atlantic. ‘About what I said – what I called you.’ He wasn’t here just to apologise – he had to put an end to it. Paolo watched a line form to enter her pedestal. Since the attacks you had to book in advance to go all the way to the crown. Used to be you could just show up but they were clamping down now for security reasons. Who knew how many times Paolo had made that climb and stared out towards his past.
Back in Genoa it had been the hills. Whenever he needed some time to himself, time to think, he’d head out of town and climb, look out over the old harbour towards the New World and whisper his secrets to the wind. When he came to New York he found no hills, only tall buildings with security desks and over-inquisitive doormen. This town didn’t want his secrets. Then he’d discovered the Liberty Island ferry. As often as he could Paulo would make an excuse and slip away to climb up and whisper his secrets to the statue. She would keep them safe, tell them to no-one. For a while Francesca had been convinced he was seeing another woman and, in a way, he was. Eventually though she accepted Paolo’s walks as she had in Genoa; sometimes, it was understood, he just needed to be alone. Anyway, now he was an old man it was good for him to walk.
How many secrets did his other woman hold in safekeeping for him now? In those first years it had been mostly the one he held closest and told to no-one, not even Francesca – I want to go home. After that had come others: I was fired from my job; I slept with Cecilia the night before we left Genoa; I don’t remember who I am anymore. She kept them all.
For two years in the Eighties the statue had been closed for repairs in readiness for her centennial. Her right arm, it turned out, had never been properly attached and her head had been fitted two feet off centre. Paolo had kept his secrets then, written them down. He didn’t like to think of workmen up in Liberty’s crown, poking around in the quiet detail of his unhappiness, but what choice did he have? Again, after the towers fell, he’d been forced to keep his secrets close. When the statue finally re-opened in 2009 access to the crown was restricted to 240 people a day and Paolo had to find other ways to get his secrets to her. He could book in advance and go to the top and, once, he had, whispering secret after secret as he walked amongst strangers. Other times he only came as far as the island, secrets scribbled on tiny balls of folded up paper, which he would slip into the pocket of unsuspecting tourists as they circled the pedestal, hoping they were one of the lucky ones. To be on the safe side he would slip the same one into several pockets. He couldn’t often afford the ferry though so most days he sat on a bench in Battery Park and whispered to himself as he watched Liberty from over the water, waiting for the day he could be with her.
Today was different; Paolo had booked several months ago as a birthday present to himself. He was going to the top. As he joined the nine others in the first group of the day he fingered the worn piece of paper in his coat pocket, softened by time and by touch so it more closely resembled cloth. He’d touched it so many times over the years he was sure some of his DNA – the spiral ladder that climbed to the very heart of who he was – was embedded in its grain. The statue swallowed the queue one by one; hungry, like her country, for the people of the world. To be a national in some countries you needed family dating back generations – to become an American you just had to come here. Yet Paolo had never felt like one. He was still an outsider, after all this time. It was no secret; he told Francesca that. You never felt like you belonged in Genoa, she had patiently reminded him. It’s different here, Paolo had said, although he wasn’t sure it was. When he’d booked the ticket for Liberty’s crown he hadn’t know what he’d do when the day came. He knew now. As he passed from sunlight into the pedestal, he had more than a secret – he had a plan.
Paolo headed straight for the stairs; he knew the climb by heart. Up he went, each step taking him nearer his end. He had to pause several times to get his breath back – that had never happened when he was a young man. Finally, slightly dizzy, he spiralled out into the light. Up in the crown the usual shuffle and scuffle to get the best view was taking place. It still amazed Paolo that, in the statue’s 129-year history, only one man had managed to kill himself by hurling himself from the top, glancing off the copper as he fell like a tiny human tear. He reached up and touched a fingertip to the ripples on the ceiling – the underside of Liberty’s wavy hair. A young Japanese couple moved from their spot and Paolo slid into the gap they left.
He looked out at the ocean as though he could see all the way to Genoa – to the lighthouse and, beyond it on the Apennine foothills, to a younger version of himself. But the curve of the earth hides many secrets and all he saw was water. Paolo couldn’t recall now what had so dissatisfied him with his old life – just that he’d been hungry to leave, had needed to leave. He pulled the folded paper from his pocket and stroked its soft nap a final time. The greying surface was covered in looping handwriting; years of secrets in shades from vivid blue to faded purples and greys. Paolo opened a window and took a deep breath. He took a step closer. Slowly he began to tear off bits of paper and stuff them through the open gap. One by one his secrets fluttered out into the air. There went I’m scared of becoming a father, followed closely by I don’t belong anywhere and What if she leaves me?
‘What you got there?’ A woman in her early fifties was watching with interest.
‘A ticket,’ Paolo replied.
‘Ticket for what? Don’t you need it no more?’
He dropped the final piece and watched until he couldn’t see it through his tears. He dried his eyes and descended, one slow step at a time, towards the exit, the ferry, the walk back uptown and the two flights to his front door where Francesca waited patiently (as she had for years) in their new life. On the ground he looked up and fancied he saw a secret or two floating off to settle on the waters of Upper Bay or beyond, but it was probably just old eyes playing tricks on him. As the ferry pulled away from the quay Paolo took one last look. He tipped his hat, settled it back on his head and turned to face the city, rising up to greet him like a familiar friend. As the boat drew nearer the skyline filled his vision until it was all he could see.
Matt Hutchinson was born and grew up in Lancashire. From an early age he was convinced he was going to be a rock star and learned to play a series of instruments in readiness. However, despite a degree in pop music (seriously) and a wide variety of gigs, ranging from the Salzburg Festival to Cambridge Folk Festival, and including two equally terrifying performances at the Albert Hall and Wakefield Prison, stardom forgot to knock.
In the meantime Matt kept himself busy with a variety of jobs in record shops, bookshops, music publishing, websites and – for an all too brief two weeks – as a volunteer monkey keeper.
Matt began writing in 2009 and, in 2011, attended a Faber Academy course given by MJ Hyland and Trevor Byrne. He has completed a novel and is currently working on a second as well as a collection of short stories. He lives in south-east London with his wife and a secret desire to still be a rock star.
Grandad said to Ma that I was an odd, sensitive lad because I wouldn’t even go down to the slaughterhouse. The sound of the cattle bawling at night was bad enough.
I was sitting the other side of the table from him. He never spoke to me.
Grandad said to Ma, ‘The boy’ll be a weakling. He needs protein.’
But I still couldn’t eat the meat. Not even poke it with my fork. I didn’t mind just spuds and beans for dinner. At least I wouldn’t have cows Irish dancing in my stomach and the guilt of their orphan calves on my mind after.
Grandad had ‘talks’ in Westport every Friday.
I asked Ma, ‘With who?’
‘Farmers, butchers and codgers.’
A rough fella, Donny, would go with him. Donny had black front teeth and always smelt of cowshite. I never knew what he was saying. He laughed at the end of his sentences. He’d hose down his green wellies but Ma still made him take them off before coming inside.
Ma said Donny was pure handy at slitting throats. Giving the cows a quick death. This was supposed to be a good thing. I thought of the blood spurting from the Friesians. Their big black eyes sad. Their big pink tongues dangling out their mouths. Deflating to death. Ma said it wasn’t like that at all.
Donny had an awful turn and his left side went lame. Grandad said I’d be going to the ‘talks’ with him from then on. My pulse pumped and my head went roasting hot when I thought about it.
We get the train. It sounds like a heart beating on the rails. I can only see Grandad’s hands holding the Irish Times as he sits across from me. Trimmed nails with white half moons at the bottom. His pipe fills the carriage with Sweet Afton smoke.
In Castlebar, he crunches the paper down to chat with the ticket inspector. Would Mayo bring Sam back this year?
‘Would they hell,’ says the ticket man.
My job in the ‘talks’ is to stand behind Grandad, ready to take notes, do messages or run into someone’s shop or pub or house and see who’s there and if they are trading.
I like watching Grandad with them. They are all happy to see him.
After, Grandad buys us cones with flakes. He’s his eaten before I even get to the wafer of mine. We walk to the station. The sun is crawling down.
My eyelids sink on the train. Grandad puts his suitjacket over my lap. I wake to the whistle, recognise the bridge at Claremorris station.
Ma is on the platform, waving.
‘How did ye get on?’ She kisses me wet on the forehead.
Grandad says, ‘A great little worker, so you are,’ to me.
EM Reapy is from Mayo, Ireland and has an MA in Creative Writing from Queen’s University, Belfast. She co-founded and edits wordlegs.com. She is the 2012 Tyrone Guthrie Exchange Irish Writer in Varuna Writers’ House, Australia.
Her work has been published in Ireland, the UK, Australia, France and the United States. Her short film ‘Lunching’ is in production with Barley Films Animation Studio and she has been longlisted for the 2012 RTE/Filmbase Short Film Award. Her podcast ‘Getting Better’ went to No. 1 globally in iTunes’ Literature charts, May 2012.
She was featured at NYWF in Australia, the Dromineer Literary Festival and is the Director of Shore Writers’ Festival which took place in Enniscrone at the start of November.