Crack! Crack! Crack!

Geraniums - Photo by James K Flanagan
Geraniums – Photo by James K Flanagan

Photography

During the last decade James has been fortunate to have his life on a pretty even keel and enjoy some very interesting and varied contract work. He has been able to do a fair amount of travelling while  indulging in other things that interest him, such as photography and writing for business magazines. Check out more of his work here.

Arches and Doors - Photo by James K Flanagan
Arches and Doors – Photo by James K Flanagan

Last Year’s Child

– By Kenneth Duffy

Even with his mother’s sunglasses, the light becomes so excruciating that it drives him from the salon. The noise of the hairdryers drives him from the salon. The pink neon sign drives him from the salon. The stink of dry rot from the flat upstairs drives him from the salon. The condensation on the windows, the absence of his father, the burping of the water cooler, the twitching of Mrs.Greevy’s mismatched nostrils as his mother hoses the suds from her hair, his thoughts, his thoughts and his thoughts; all of these things drive him from the salon.

He runs. The church, the post office, the bus stop, the empty cinema, Harlow’s, Dempsey’s, Pinewood Lawns, the Garda station, the old handball alley, the FÁS office, Cherrylane Heights, Lidl, Maja Konopnicka pushing a buggy, the tinkers, the red bullock, the windy road, Tim Gallagher’s farm- their old farm; he runs and runs until the miles begin to stretch and overflow their banks. He runs until even the ridiculous energy of his stringy body begins to fail. Breath burns. Sinews burn. Muscles burn. Thoughts burn and burn until all that remains are ashes and Stephen can rest a while. His head aches but his head is a constant ache these days as his brain swells and pushes against the roughness of his skull. Writing, reading, sums, dates; all have begun to lose their wildness. All have begun to grow tame. Tuna. Magic tuna. Tuna. Someday soon. Tuna. Tuna. Tuna the magic food that makes you smarter. If only he had known sooner. Crack! Remedial classes. It had not taken long for the nickname to stick. In another hour the sun will touch the Earth and burn a hole right through Hannon’s bog and he will no longer need the oversized sunglasses which make him look like a gigantic ant. Retard. Crack!

He leans against the old washing machine that someone has dumped in the ditch. He fumbles one of the cans from his pocket. A white car with Dublin plates and a cracked windscreen appears from nowhere. It slows as it passes him. He hides the can behind his back. He waves but the driver does not see him. Soon the car is gone. He empties the can in two swallows and throws it into the brambles. Christ, his head! He pinches his arm just to distract himself from the pain. He bends double and forces himself to swallow the bitter spurt of vomit which fills his mouth. The tuna stays down with difficulty. His head aches but his head is a constant ache these days as his brain swells and pushes against the roughness of his skull. What is an element? An element. Come on, you know this one. An element? A perfect number, then? Or secondary industry? Or the French word for a strawberry. Why can’t he remember? Crack!

Retard. Crack! Soon he will remember. Soon all things will be made new. His T-shirt is too small for him but it is his favourite piece of clothing. Bee cool. It has a faded picture of a cartoon bee sitting in an igloo with a squint eyed Eskimo. It’s funny because the words mean something else. It was a gift from Adrian for his eighth birthday. Crack! He raises the T- shirt and winces. The rash is worse than ever. A blister ruptures beneath his probing and releases a tear which trickles down his belly and soaks into the elastic band of his underwear. A piece of skin comes away in his fingers. It is thick and rubbery, almost opaque. He pops it into his mouth. It tastes like tuna. He sees something in the raw skin that has been exposed, something metallic. He frowns. He can’t be sure. His head hurts. When he looks again, the metal has vanished. The light! Everything is so bright these days. He is grateful for his mother’s sunglasses.

The memory comes unbidden as it always does. Why does his brain do this to him? Is he not the one in charge? Once again, he is a toddler. His father is in the slurry pit. Oh, this is such a bad thought! Mercifully, Stephen has learned how to drive the bad thoughts away. He begins to crack his knuckles. Crack! The look of surprise as his father realises that he has begun to sink. Crack! His father growing frantic as he searches with his feet to find the bottom of the tank. Crack! His father’s mouth filling with slurry. Crack! Crack! Crack! His hands are numb by the time his brain agrees to leave the thought alone. He is no longer a toddler. He is not a child. He is not yet a man. His mother says that he is last year’s child. Next year’s man. Tim Gallagher still uses the tank in which his father drowned. It took two days to dredge the tank. Two days. The coffin was closed. Crack! Crack! Crack! Obedient brain. His head hurts.

He kicks at the dock leaves. His head hurts. He kicks and kicks again until the leaves are a pulpy mess.

After a minute his anger subsides. Patience! The change will take time. He must be patient while the tuna works its magic. He must be patient like that time when Adrian had brought him to the hide and they waited half the morning just to see the Harrier. Stephen had never really seen the bird, just a patch of lightness among the trembling leaves. He had lied when Adrian had asked him. His uncle had seemed so happy. Stephen still misses his Uncle Adrian. Maybe his father’s family was cursed.

He spies the empty can of tuna among the weeds. Tuna. Spitting a gob of salty phlegm, he straightens and looks towards the battered sky. Somewhere a blackbird is singing and somewhere else a bonfire is blazing. At first, Stephen thinks that the Fish is a hot air balloon, a stray from out of the castle at Cathnaspera. Rich Knobs with more money than sense sometimes drive down from the city and hire a balloon for the afternoon and then get wasted as they float over the lakes. Getting high, getting high; that’s what they call it. Oh, to be a Knob. Last summer, Stephen had spied on a crowd of them through the gap in the orchard wall. The cars! Man, the cars! Mercs, Beemers even an old E type with a bonnet the size of a pool table. And the women! Knobs can afford the very best women. Then again, Knobs are not retards. Crack!

As it moves closer, Stephen can see that the Fish is not a balloon; the fish is a fish. With one kick of its enormous tail, the great Tuna descends. The low sun makes the edges of each scale burn as bright as tungsten but then a cloud moves and the shadows deepen and the scales cool as quickly as if they have been doused with water. At first, Stephen is afraid. Then he is not.

The Tuna God is a mountain, an island, a continent, an entire world which hangs in the midge filled sky above Stephen Rooney. Tree sized gill flaps open with a sucking sound to expose a variegated pinkness which ripples obscenely and then falls still. Waxy fins twitch minutely and ceaselessly; the drafts created by their movement quickly dries the sweat on Stephen’s brow until it is no more a gritty crust. The Fish’s eyes are as tall as two Stephens standing one on top of the other. The unfathomable depths of the vast pupils are ringed by an iris of violent silver. Galaxies have ended as those unblinking eyes looked on.

For a full minute they do not move but merely look at one another, the Tuna God and the Retard.

“Who are you?” It is Stephen who speaks first.

“I am the Tuna God,” says the Tuna God. The Tuna God’s voice is that of Stephen’s father, or the voice with which Stephen imagines his father spoke. The blackbird falls silent and all of the many pains and shames and sorrows in Stephen’s body vanish.

Stephen nods. He considers kneeling before the Tuna God but instead he thrusts his hands into his pockets. His fingers close on another can of tuna.

The Tuna God does not move. Another Minute passes like this. From the main road come the tormented notes of some boy racer’s engine.

“Who am I?” Stephen removes his mother’s glasses and winces in the twilight.

The Tuna God shrugs in the way in which all fish shrug. “You are my son. Through you will all things be made new.”

“When?” Stephen vomits. The puddle of tuna steams gently among the weeds.

The Tuna God seems not to notice. “Soon, my son. All that is needed is the courage to swim.”

The great Fish cannot smile but Stephen knows that if He could, He would.

“Remember, my son.” The Tuna God allows Himself to be turned by the breeze. “Bee cool.”

Stephen drinks the juice from the new can as the Tuna God swims into the setting sun. He laughs out loud. It’s funny because the words mean something else.

*

“Did you get far?” Even though her mouth moves, Stephen can tell that his mother has already left for the day, that she is lost somewhere in the bottle of cheap vodka which she is trying to hide by the side of the couch. “There’s some dinner left in the oven. Pizza. It got a little burnt but sure you don’t mind, love. Do you?” His mother takes a slow motion swallow from her glass. Retard. Crack! Stephen can feel himself growing angry at the empty space beside his mother. Crack! His head has begun to pound again. Slurry. Crack! Tuna. The Tuna God. His father is the Tuna God. All things will be made new.

In the kitchen, Stephen checks to see if the cat has been fed. The cat is his responsibility. The bowl is empty. He roots in the cupboard beneath the sink. The cat food contains real tuna chunks. Stephen would have thought chunks was spelled with an x. Retard! Crack! He helps himself to a spoonful of the cat food as the cat looks on. Even though he doesn’t mean to, he eats half the can. His head hurts. He starts to cry. There will not be enough food for the cat’s breakfast. Oblivious to the pain it causes him, he scratches his belly. A strip of flesh as large as a saucer comes off in his hand. This one is too large to eat. He throws it into the bin and mops at the scorching constellation of bloody pinpricks left behind with some kitchen roll. The kitchen roll has pictures of palm trees on it. There is definitely something in the new skin, something hard, yet soft. Scales! Stephen is growing scales! Stephen is becoming a tuna. Stephen is becoming smarter. Stephen is not a retard. Stephen is…In the living room, Stephen’s mother knocks over her bottle. The cat winces. The time has come to swim. Stephen can hear his mother’s cursing. No matter. Soon she will be asleep and he will… For now he must bee cool. It’s funny because the words mean something else.

*

Tim Gallagher pretends not to listen as the doctor talks to Cathy Rooney about hallucinations and rashes and liver damage and kidney damage and mercury poisoning and tuna. Christ! How much tuna had the poor lad eaten? At least the guards have left. Stephen’s mother is drunk. She’s been drunk since the funeral. Tim can see that her hands have been scarred and scarred again by the frequent slip of scissors. The woman herself is just one big scar. Everyone knows that she’s in trouble with the bottle. The salon won’t last much longer. The other lady must be her sister. Hard to know if she is younger or older. She made good time coming down from the city. Then again, there’d be nothing on the roads at this hour of the night. It’s a good road too. The doctor looks sad and tired. The nurses look tired and sad. The family is cursed. Though they mightn’t believe it, everyone knows it. First the father. That slurry tank has always given Tim the chills. He should have filled it in when he first bought the place. Then there was the brother. Adrian was a lovely fella. Hard to believe that accident was four years ago now. The lorry dragged him for six miles before they flagged the driver down. Tim closes his eyes. And now the boy. Thank Christ for Queenie! Tim’s eyes jerk open. He reaches for a magazine with some young one in a bikini on the cover. Christ! His mind begins the loop once more. Queenie’s barking, the fumbling for trousers and boots, his wife’s whispers, how light the shotgun had seemed, the circle of torchlight bouncing off the walls of the sheds, the nakedness of the poor child; arms and legs like broom handles. Christ ! The look of rapture in Stephen’s eyes as he had lowered himself into the slurry tank. Tim had been to Lourdes when the auld one had started to lose her mind. He had never seen such ecstasy on those withered faces.

Kenneth Duffy is a science teacher in an Irish language school in Dublin. He lives in Wicklow with his wife.He restricts himself to no more than two cans of tuna per week.

Red Hot Favourite - Photo by Jams K Flanagan
Red Hot Favourite – Photo by James K Flanagan

The Elementorians

– By Duffie

A long time ago on a far away planet there was a race of people called the Elementorians, the planet thrived for millions of years until two fell in love, the imbalance of their species led to chaos, they were opposites and were told to either separate or be banished from their planet, but their love was so strong they decided to leave together. The rulers of their planet were enraged by their choice and so imprisoned them in a far off galaxy to encircle each other until they died.

The two could only be with each other once every so many years, but the time was unbearable so they decided to create their own race which was allowed to love whoever they wished, here was born Earth, at first it was a dried up rock but eventually as they circled they formed it into a sphere but the planet was bear so the next time they were together they created from themselves 4 new Elementorians; Earth, Air, Fire and Water. In time the planet grew beautiful and life began to form, the Elemento’s combined themselves in many different ways to create even more of their race; Metal, Sand, Cloud and Rock, in time they created mountains and seas, deserts and forests. Soon creatures were born roaming the planets, but there was no passion in there mating and too much violence, so the original Elementorians combined their power to bring about the Humankind, they were to have no powers and to be all equal yet perfectly individual, each with their own mind and free will and to live short life spans.

Over time, the Humans got smarter, the Elementorians were all given names; the originals were called Sun and Moon. The planet had many vulnerabilities and the Humans suffered from them, some painful, deadly, some weren’t even noticeable but had long term effects. Over thousands of years their ability to adapt was proven and technology was getting more and more helpful. Medicine, housing, facilities, languages, education and transport were invented and progressively getting better.

The Humans had created several Religions, all which were mostly made from wishful thinking, there was only small parts that rung true in each theory. At the next Eclipse the Sun and Moon conferred with the first four Elemento’s and came up with an idea to grant one human a special ability every year. As they put this to action they noticed that the chosen humans didn’t even realise they had these abilities.

All seemed lost as the Humans didn’t believe such a thing existed, the Elemento’s were slowly dying out and were now desperate for Humans to take their place and used the stars to determine what magic was given; people born under the Zodiac signs for Air had power over air, people born under Earth signs had power of earth etc. Another problem arose; whenever a human claimed to have used their power they were shut away and called crazy by those who were afraid of what they didn’t yet understand.

With the Elemento’s slowly dying they lost control of their Elements. Tornados, Volcanoes, Tsunami’s, Tidal waves, Earth Quakes, Floods, animals becoming extinct or endangered, plants dying out, Avalanches and so on, the world was falling apart. So finally the Elemento’s got so desperate they came together in a Human form to prove to other Humans that this “magic” existed. Many people were frightened and ran away, others were curious and watched. Their authorities could do nothing watching as they bent their assigned Elements, explaining to them they could also do it.

Now, another Century later the world is thriving again, the Sun and Moon are worshipped as should and people freely use their abilities for good, sometimes evil but with their passion and strong will they overcome any obstacles that want to imbalance them. The Sun and Moon themselves used the still could not be with each other but smiled upon the Earth knowing that the other was doing so to, and watching them made time fly so it never seemed like an eternity before meeting anymore.

Danielle Duff, preferred name Duffie. 20 years old lives in the North West of England, aspiring novelist currently studying Creative Writing. Hobbies include everything. Very dry sense of humour, sarcastic most of the time. Unemployed by choice, to begin a career just for the money is a very unhappy career, living in poverty is preferred however currently living with Grandparents. Further plans until long term goal is achieved would be to keep learning new things, discover and see what is available and just live, laugh and love.

The Trinity - Photo by James K Flanagan
The Trinity – Photo by James K Flanagan

The Last Place To Lose Its Snow

Dawn Galway Bay Susan Prediger
The Prom in Salthill, Galway – Photo by Susan Prediger

Susan Prediger was born and raised in the USA, and has lived in Berlin, Germany, and, for the last 14 years,  Galway, Ireland. Her award-winning photography has been exhibited by the Galway Arts Service, at the Botanical Gardens, and other venues around Ireland.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________

Short Story: Black Snow

– By Michael Crossan

Ruth breathed on her bedroom window. Scratched boo with a fingertip.

‘Keep us,’ she whispered, scanning the Jericho Centre’s gardens. Snow dusted the bare oak. Gravel paths led to the gate. Eastward, far streetlamps twinkled. A fairy troop, thought Ruth. To the north, amber lights on high bridge cables blinked in a dull sky.

Grace joined her at the window. Fidgeted with her zipper collar. ‘I had a bad dream.’

Ruth studied the bridge. Stark iron like a goliath mantis over the river. ‘Tell me.’

‘It was spooky.’ Arms folded, Grace rested her cheek on Ruth’s shoulder. ‘You were in hospital. I wanted to visit. A stairway led up to the building. I was stuck on the steps. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t move. People stared from the windows. They looked scared. Like they knew I could never reach them. Then I saw it was you and me. Every window. I woke crying.’

‘Dreams suck.’

‘It creeped me.’

‘Poor babes.’ Ruth cuddled her friend. ‘Let’s go. While it’s quiet.’

A portal cabin at the gate, a bald watchman opened the door. ‘Jackets, ladies.’

‘Hat, mister’ said Grace.

‘My head is immune to the cold.’

‘Doubt it. Looks like mince,’ said Ruth.

‘Cheeky witch.’

‘We’re ok.’ Grace stamped a heel. ‘Booted up.’

‘Cars are buried in Kent,’ said the watchman. ‘Six foot drifts.’

‘Grandpa said a snowdrift is Satan’s cloak,’ said Grace.

The watchman pointed at a field. ‘There’s His pup.’ A fox bounded stubborn, robust fur deep in snow, a zigzag channel up a slope. ‘Vermin,’ he said, and shut the door.

Saturday nights, boy racers parked near the gate revving souped Fords. Funland cabs. Prize seats for hug famished girls. Tonight was Tuesday. The road was white and mute and barren. Ruth and Grace linked arms and headed toward the river.

‘Enjoy your shopping trip?’ asked Grace.

‘It was good to be out. Shops were mobbed. There were two Santas in John Lewis.’

‘How was aunt Flo?’

‘Quiet.’

‘Did she invite you to Christmas dinner?’

‘No. Dad’s going. But aunt Flo said she has a surprise for me in the New Year.’

‘Maybe planning a party for your sixteenth.’

‘Do you know something I don’t?’

‘Guessing.’

‘I had a party once,’ said Ruth, sniffing.

‘Nice.’

‘I was four or five. Cousins were there. I had balloons.’

‘Nutter doesn’t remember my birthdays. Not one.’

‘She’s sick. Schizophrenia is a disease. I think.’

‘She’s the disease.’

‘At least you met her.’

‘Wish I hadn’t.’ Grace blew into cupped hands. ‘I liked the thought of her.’

‘You needed to meet.’

‘She didn’t know me. Her own daughter. I don’t belong to anyone.’

Town centre, an empty car park, four juvenile boys, hooded in tracksuits, played hockey with a cola can. The girls passed and play stalled. A lank hoodie sat on a graffiti carved bench.

‘They’re from the home,’ he said.

‘Taking your fleas for a walk?’ bawled a beak face.

Ruth squeezed Grace and hurried. ‘Ignore him, babes.’

A chin scarred beanpole stalked them. ‘Brollies, crawlies. It might rain. You’ll get a wash.’ He high fived the beak.

‘Remember soap?’ Beak bent, choked in hilarity. ‘Muck necks.’

The girls jogged, slipping. ‘Inbreeds,’ shouted Grace, vapour breath, shiny hair wild in a gust.

Up a cobble lane they halted outside a kebab shop. Pungent aromas hurt thin bellies. Ruth foraged a cigarette from her zipper pocket. Flicked a Bic lighter. She inhaled; face flared orange, smoke drizzling thin from her nose.

‘Last one?’ asked Grace.

Ruth nodded. ‘Share it.’

They smoked in turns. Keen drags, passing the fag. Grace took a last pull and tossed the butt. ‘Wish we had money for a kebab,’ she said, stomping, December devouring worn soles.

‘A large donner.’ Ruth smacked her lips. ‘Tons of onions.’

‘Mushroom pakora.’

‘Chicken wings.’

‘Stop it, Ruth.’

A man exited the shop carrying a family meal box. Gloved and parka’d like an Inuit. He dragged his eyes and loped to a sleek four by four. The fat wheeled guzzler pulled away, Eskimo man, bloat with revulsion.

Steamy flue heat had thawed a clearing. Grace sat on the warm cobbles. ‘He’s a stink.’

‘Pigs arse shite.’ Ruth kicked the slush curb. ‘Fuck hole.’

‘Wonder if he has a daughter?’

‘Daddy’s girl.’

‘I was a baby once,’ said Grace, hands cosy under her bum. ‘Funny that.’

On the main road a church service had ended, congregation flooding the square. The girls fused in the flock, pink and lime zippers loud in a beige and brown spill.

‘Excuse me, lass.’ The old lady poked Ruth’s arm. ‘Have you seen my Malcolm?’ she asked, her eyes wet and glad.

‘I don’t know him.’

Pencilled eyebrows rose to her woollen hat. Plum cheeks puffed. ‘He’s an inspector.’

‘Sorry.’ Ruth shrugged. ‘Maybe he’s in the church.’

‘Don’t be a fruit. Malcolm hates church.’

‘Are you all right, Mrs?’ asked Grace. ‘Shall I get the priest?’

‘Mother.’ A neat man, coat and scarf, cut between the girls. ‘Can’t leave you for a second.’

‘She’s looking for Malcolm,’ said Ruth.

‘Hmm.’

‘They’re angels, Malcolm.’

The man led his mother to a car. He turned and saluted the girls, a stiff middle finger.’

Elbows looped, they weaved out of the crowd. ‘Merry fucking Christmas,’ said Ruth.

‘His mum was nice.’

‘Ditty.’

‘Ditty sweet.’

‘He reeked.’

‘Turd.’

‘Pigs arse shite.’

Shivery, Grace nestled into Ruth. A road sign read half a mile to the dual carriageway. Traffic picked up. Cars, vans, trucks moaned past. Exhausts spewed black breath, rising sour and noxious in the dusk. On the embankment, Ruth squat and retched.

‘Holy pish.’ Grace spanked her spine. ‘You should have eaten something.’

Folded on her knees, Ruth vomited bile.

Grace massaged her neck. ‘Dump it up, babes.’

She heaved and puked a fizzy pool.

‘Chuck it out.’

Another sore retch, yellow slime strings swung from her mouth.

‘All up?’

Ruth spat on the snow. ‘I’m done.’ She rested sucking and blowing.

‘Take your time.’

‘That was grotty.’

Grace touched her hair. ‘Feel better.’

‘Much.’ Ruth rose and sleeved her chin. ‘I nearly fainted.’

‘Maybe we should wait.’

‘It’s nothing to do with that. You were right. We should have had lunch.’

‘I couldn’t. I felt weird all day. Hungry now though.’

‘Me too. I’d kiss dog shit for a fish supper.’

‘Freak. You spew your guts, now you could eat a whale.’

‘Mental, isn’t it.’

Zippers shut at the throat; fisted pockets, they walked on, teary cold. Sleet hit and died. A crow squealed. They glanced at each other. Shied away. Fixed on the path. A mutual trance.

Close to the bridge a van slowed and parked on a bank. The girls saw a gloved hand adjust the side mirror. ‘Here we go.’ Ruth nudged and tugged. ‘Paedo patrol.’

The door window rolled down. ‘You hitching?’ asked a man, silver beard, glasses.

‘No thanks,’ said Grace.

‘Anywhere you want.’

‘We’re out for a walk on the bridge,’ said Ruth.

‘I can run you.’

‘It’s right there.’ Grace pointed, blueish face crunched.

‘I can run you.’

Arms locked, they mushed up the embankment, boots slippy sliding. Ruth glanced back. ‘Wonder if it has a daughter.’

Gritted stairs led to the bridge’s paved walkway. ‘Last one up is a fart.’ Grace ran the steps nimble as a foal. ‘I can taste the sea,’ she yelled.

A truck grumped past. Ruth wagged a red numb hand at her red numb ear. ‘What?’

‘The sea. Taste it.’

‘I love that.’

They dallied along the footpath. Leaned on the chest high railing. Below, broad waters lifted and fell and clapped. ‘Choppy isn’t it?’ Ruth gobbed a frothy blob. ‘It’s not the sea. It’s a river.’

‘Smells like shells.’

‘Maybe it is the sea.’ Ruth watched purple hills. ‘Grace.’

‘What.’

‘Do you really believe aunt Flo is planning a party?’

‘Probably sorted it weeks ago.’

‘Thanks, babes.’ Ruth climbed the rail.

Grace scrambled over and stood beside her, boots sunk in a snow shelved girder. Vehicles’ horns blared. The girls held hands and stared down at the syrupy blackness.

‘Do you think God is real?’ asked Grace, chilled and lost.

‘There’s a Devil. We know that.’

‘Mr stink.’

‘Old turdster.’

‘Pigs arse shite.’

They stepped off the bridge, into slappy icy air, and Ruth shouted, ‘So there must be a God.’

Michael Crossan was shortlisted for the Bridport Short Story Prize 2011. And shortlisted for the Scottish Book Trust New Writers Award 2011. In January 2012, the Atlantic Wire published an interview piece about his Cormac McCarthy Twitter parody. His novel – Morningplace – is written. Three years work. The story combines naturalism – the way people talk and behave – and big unnatural, dehumanising situations. Think esoteric Twin Peaks. London editor, Gillian Stern, said Michael is her next big novelist. He is researching agents. Born in Scotland to Irish parents, he plans to settle in his forefathers Donegal and write a dozen novels. Check out Michael’s Blog and follow him on Twitter @MichaelCrossan

Olafia10-turning circle by old fish factory (1)
Turning Circle By The Old Fish Factory – Photo by Ólafía Lárusdóttir

Ólafía Lárusdóttir was born and raised in Iceland. She is an Arctic Biologist. Her interest in photography first started when she lived in Venezuela. Turning Circle By The Old Fish Factory was taken in Skagaströnd, in north Iceland.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________

Short Story: Petrol Horizons

– By Lane Ashfeldt

You drive into the village, make a right by the church, and you come to the beach. No one is swimming. The beach is the end of the road. You drive along it to the turning circle where the fish factory used to be, and you circle back again on the same road.

Ahead of you is the one shop and the bank that doubles as a post office. You pull up at the petrol station. Here is where you work. You keep the older folks’ cars ticking over, and you sell sweets, soft drinks, and cigarettes to schoolchildren whose lives are just like yours used to be a few years ago.

The children who come by the petrol station are never alone. They walk in small groups to school and home again, always surrounded by friends. When they reach school they pull off their boots and leave them in the cloakroom to dry along with the herds of other shoes and boots, then pad around the corridors in knitted socks, as comfy as if still at home. Many walk further to school than the short way you drive every day from your parents’ house to the petrol station, but you never walk it, not even in high summer. It’s safer to drive, easier to pull a car round you than it is to pull on a coat and gloves. In the car you can just press play, and the music surrounds you and keeps you warm.

The village is not far off the Arctic Circle and it can snow here even in May, although nothing like the snow in winter. Then it’s so cold your face hurts, so dark that if it blizzards as you switch off the petrol station lights all sense of direction goes, everything shrinks to dark points of ice that needle your face. Once you were so lost you fell into the sea while trying to find your car. That night the water was colder than snow, although scientifically you know that’s impossible. The sea was not properly frozen, only caked in a layer of ice that crunched as your foot sank into the inky liquid below. Lucky for you it was only knee deep.

Some winter mornings – but this happens less often now than it did when you were a child – you wake to that special thick silence that comes when the town is awash with snowdrifts. On those mornings you don’t open the petrol station. It doesn’t matter. Nobody is going far, those days. You and your uncle take out the diggers and work to clear the town of drifts. This might take one day or three, all depends on the whim of the skies. Until you’re done, people hole up indoors and eat dried food, waiting for the freeze to end. Waiting for the light that can seem as if it will never return. Your brother disappeared one of those dark hushed nights, any clue that might have led to him blanketed in pure fresh snow. The police have a word for this, you heard them say it when they stood outside your house. ‘Snowdrop’. They saw you watching, and they hushed and turned away. But the word echoed silently.

Snowdrop. A body hidden under fresh snow. And the killer chose their snowstorm well. It was months before they found your brother. Twelve weeks, three days and three nights. Short days and long nights that stretched pointlessly, each like the last. All that time your mother stayed in her bedroom alone. Neighbours brought hot meals for the family and sat with her. My son, you heard her cry out to them, when is my son coming home? No one had an answer. You were her son too, but she never spoke about you.

You examined old family photos, convinced she had always loved him more than you, ever since he was born. Just one photograph showed all seven of you together, in height order. Your mother stood next to him; he was the only child taller than her. So alike. Blond, happy, smiling at your father who took the picture. In the next photo he and your mother were singing. They often sang together. Old songs, from the island long ago. Campfire songs.

The church was crowded out for the service, and part of you wondered if the killer had chosen the wrong son: he could so easily have taken one who would have been missed less. One who was less alive. He could have taken you.

Your father was quiet as always, and strong. A month after the funeral he cleared your brother’s bedroom and began to sleep there. You found your brother’s hi-fi and record collection in the garage, and his guitar. One day you put on a record in a half-hearted effort to teach yourself to play. After maybe an hour, your mother stormed out of her bedroom and raked the needle hard across the record, scratching a deep line in the vinyl. You stared at her. Then she hugged you to her and shook with tears. Afterwards she began to cook dinners again for you and the other children. This made you think of how, in winter when there are just a few hours of slanted sunlight to see by, a fishermen will make do with moonlight to get some fishing done. Yes your mother cooked hot meals for you and your siblings, yes she cleaned the house, but you never again heard her sing.

Winter is long and dark, that’s true. Each time it comes and sits on the mountains, it seems as if it will never leave. But when finally the sun swings up over the mountains and melts the snow, everything burns brighter and for two or three months the whole village lives twice as much. Lawns outside bright-painted houses are crowded with bicycles, boats and trampolines. Children bounce skywards in slow motion, freed for once of their heavy coats, wearing fleeces or hand-knitted jumpers. And everyone has things to do – summer feasts to sing at, hills to climb, fish they must hang out to dry.

You sell a lot of petrol those months. Sweets, too. And high-energy drinks. People nod and greet you by name yet you seldom find two words to say back. Locked out of their sped-up world, you take their money and watch them leave.

The hours of your shift pass slowly. You wonder sometimes – rarely now, but still it happens – if the polite neighbour you just served was the one who killed your brother. How they met. Were they friends, or not? It never came out in the end who killed him and the police put the death down to a passing stranger, but you don’t believe this. It had to have been a local. Only a local would have timed it so well. His walk home after singing practice, alone because he’d stayed behind to rehearse his solo part for the Christmas midnight mass. Was it a grown-up, a teacher maybe? Or one of the kids from school? Many of them went away to study and never came back. You wonder, did your brother’s killer run away to forget, and keep on running until he was off the edge of the map? Far beyond this island and this language, to other islands and languages that you do not know.

As you finish at the petrol station tonight, the light is strong. It pulls you. Instead of going home you fill the tank and drive. Past your parents’ house, past the school, past the disused farmhouse on the edge of town where even now streaks of brown snowmelt cling to the barren hill. Here is where they found your brother: it’s always the last place to lose its’ snow. Only a local would have known that. You speed on. Past the farmhouse and its snowmelt, and over this mountain to the next town and the one after that. It’s late, and the road is empty save for an occasional silver truck all lit up like a fishing boat luring squid. You turn up the sound and sing along to the radio: these are new songs, songs that have a fast insistent beat. If one of the old songs comes on that he and your mother once sang, you punch the dash and change stations. It’s not that you don’t care. But… His time is over now. And you need the kind of music that keeps you warm and alive.

On this bright bright night the light slants endlessly so that you feel the world spin under you, the sun a crazy ball bouncing on this round horizon, a ping-pong tied to a bat with elastic string. The clouds deepen in colour until they’re like petrol floating on dark oily puddles of sky, then lighten again as the sunset segues into dawn.

You know then that your chance to sleep is gone. But why waste a sunny night sleeping? You can sleep when you’re dead.

Lane Ashfeldt grew up in Dublin. Her stories have won the Fish Short Histories prize and the Global Short Stories prize. You can read more stories by Lane in her début collection of short fiction, SaltWater

 

The World Turned Inside Out

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

Short Story: Cut You Down Like An Old Oak Tree

– By Alice Walsh

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

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

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

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

‘Yeah I have’.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Night love, don’t stay up too late’.

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

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

‘Okay night Mam’.

‘Night love’.

***

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

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

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

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

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

‘Heart attack’.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flash Fiction: Purge

– By Clodagh O’Brien

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

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

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

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

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

Flash Fiction: The Call of the Sea

– By Christina Murphy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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