The Hole In Your Heart

Visions II - Photo by Kerstina Mortensen
Visions I – Photo by Kerstina Mortensen

Photography: 

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.
 
Vacancy II - Photo by Kerstina Mortensen
Vacancy I – Photo by Kerstina Mortensen

Lullaby

– By Yaseena 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
been.

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
up later.

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.

Vacancy I - Photo by Kerstina Mortensen
Vacancy II – Photo by Kerstina Mortensen

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.

Visions I - Photo by Kerstina Mortensen
Visions II – Photo by Kerstina Mortensen

Lazarus

On the Surface - Phot by Anjumon Sahin
At the Surface – Photo by Anjumon Sahin

Photography 

Anjumon Sahin is pursuing her M.Phil degree in English literature from the University of Delhi alongside working as an Assistant Professor there. Writing and Photography are her two obsessions. She can be contacted at anjumon.sahin@gmail.com.

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Surfacing

– By Tara White

It might have been the milk she took one sobering morning with her coffee, had the cow Mona or Luna only trespassed one springtime twilight into some other clover patch spattered with crepuscular mushrooms, that first sip taken too late, too early or on time, but taken; an hour later fresh chemicals burst little lit-up Catherine wheels in her tiger’s blood. She came up from Alabama in a box car, up from snake-coils of barbed wire, impossible circles flattened into cornfields, disemboweled cattle missing jawbones. A sideways county, Tuscaloosa, where the rain fell differently on account of the acid, and dead fish bobbed in the rivers like bottletops. She came all the ways up through Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas city, up and up but never surfaced, and I- I happened. Smack bang in the middle of her wild-child years, a daughter of harvest moons and whiskey in bars with men. Wild begat child.

Fatherless and on the move, she was my rock, my seesaw, my sandpit. She smelled of cigarettes and honey and something else I would have no knowledge of until passing out in a Wichita pool-hall at sixteen. Her corn syrup voice sang me Southern lullabies about guns and heartache and the people who did you wrong. And so I thank her. I thank her for LSD at five. For dinosaurs under the bed, enormous things going BUMP. For the first-hand exhibition of how not to grow up. I owe her my sight, which would come much later. It is possible to break circuits, unravel slipped stitches. Watch bone regenerate, make itself up again. And for new things to grow from nothing, from lost time, the taste of someone else’s spit.

My earliest memory is of waking up in a basket. The room is too bright. I can’t yet speak. A man I don’t know is tickling me. His face is a composite police picture of gapped teeth, bloodshot grey-blue eyes, sideburns, and a dirty blonde quiff. And I refuse. Minutes and minutes of impregnable stone silence, point blank refusal. I remembered it then in that pool-hall washroom, salt sweat freezing on my bare back in my little blue halter-neck, my tongue fizzing against the cistern, too big for my mouth; I remembered it was too bright, and how to fight.

Mine is a fixed star, here, now; hers wanders ever brighter, as with the dying ones. The outer shell blown away, the core still intact, cooling. Last I heard she’s living out of an RV, out of Columbus, Ohio. Bussing tables and singing honky-tonk in a dress gapped of sequins, like as if she’s exotic, like King Kong or those first Siamese twins. To err is human, but not only. We are more than the sum of our earthly mistakes. We are all star stuff, plasma and gravity. Some of us just can’t see it. Look up and count the stars, but wonder if those myriad glinting things are not the silver-scaled bellies of a thousand floating fish.

Tara White is an Irish writer and English Language teacher based in Dublin. She has a BA in English Studies from Trinity College Dublin and is currently receiving an MA in Creative Writing at UCD. 

Towards the Light - Photo by Anjumon Sahin
Towards the Light – Photo by Anjumon Sahin

Cowtime

– By Micheal O’Flaherty

Afternoon

The wind came from the west, blowing up the cut of the river. It brushed by him as he stood on the riverbank, depositing on him its detritus and debris, sand and bits of fish and life and death that it had gathered on its passage from America across the ocean and in through Ballybunion.

How, how, how, he called trying to draw the cows to him.

They came slowly, taking their own sweet time, mocking his hurry. They trudged along their meandering path, its narrow line cut into the grass by their hooves, this passage that they decided was the best way to travel from field to the yard that they stuck to militarily in single, sedate, file. Eventually, he had the thirty two of them before him, headed for the yard, the whack of the plastic stick against his wellington urging them on.

There was a bit of give in the soil, the heel of his boot just breaking the surface of the grass. He imagined it releasing an aroma from somewhere, wafting up through the fissures in the ground. Maybe from below, from some hidden layer of mud, rock, mineral, laterite, saprolite, bedrock, whatever.

He looked at his watch. It was now a quarter to three and he was to meet herself at nine. It was going to be a close run thing.

Feckin Lazarus, he muttered. It’s all his fault. Holding the whole thing up. He’s no feckin help. About as much use as the real fella when it comes to dosing cattle. He was pretty sure there was no mention of Albex in Matthew or Acts or whatever.

He was always delaying his father, John, whenever he came over.

Hup, he smacked a straggler on the back. There was a satisfying sting in his hand from the impact and the cow scurried on a little, as much as a cow can scurry – inelegantly, all loose skin and swinging udder.

Feckin Lazarus. We were going grand ‘til he turned up. He never shuts that trap of his.

Earlier that morning

You’ll have a cup, Jack?

No, Mary, thanks. I just rose from the table.

Feckin Lazarus, Pat thought. You’d swear he’d been laid out.

Already, he could see his Saturday night slipping away. Possibilities, potentialities with Anne were drifting from his grasp. Admittedly, it was only a quarter to two in the afternoon and they were just finishing their dinner, but no good could come of having Lazarus help them out. The only part of that fella that ever got any exercise was his jaw.

Pat put his cup down on the table, his gavel of impatience, and looked across to his father, urging him to rise and get going for the farmyard.

Sure, Mary, I will have that cup after all. Some fuel for the job.

Feckin Lazarus.

Any news, Jack?

Pat’s heart sank.

Afternoon

They were talking, of course, when he drove the last cow into the yard.

They broke into Joan Mac’s.

They did.

Won’t have gotten much there, I’d say.

They were lucky they didn’t get the business end of a 12 gauge.

She shot at you once, didn’t she?

That she did.

What was it over, again?

The bull broke into her heifers.

Ha! That’s right. I remember now.

She gave me a fair fright.

She told you she only fired to scare the bull out of the heifers.

That’s right. She nearly scared the shite out of me, though. I was picking pellets out of my hair for a week.

Lazarus snorted with laughter while John allowed himself a rueful smile.

She always had that gun handy.

True. Poor old Tommy Mac had a tough time with her.

She’s like an oul’ silage harvester, she chewed him up and spat him out.

And he was always so well dressed.

Always wore the three piece suite.

Three year he lasted with her.

T’was an ease to him in the end.

Was he sick? Pat asked, finally joining the conversation. Despite himself he had begun to listen to the two men, his father and his friend, talking in their easy patois, hypnotising him with their leisurely delivery.

No, they answered in unison.

Drive in the cows, five at a time, into the crush. Grab head; pull up. Stick the gun into the mouth past the tongue. Depress the trigger. Albex in. Fluke, worms shrivel and die before being shat out or something. Repeat by 31. Finished by a quarter to five. Not too bad.

Despite all that the milking didn’t begin until six.

Fierce cold, Mary. The hands are froze off me.

If you had done a bit of work … Pat thought.

Have a drop of tea.

It’s the stream. The stream’s bollixed. That’s why it’s so cold.

What stream? his father asked.

The river? Pat asked, wondering what the small body of water at the end of the Boundary Field had to do with the weather.

No. The one from Mexico.

Mexico?

Yeah. The Golf Stream. It’s gotten colder. Seen it on Discovery.

Feckin Lazarus.

He now knew that it was unlikely that he would be on time for Anne. Would he even have time for a shower to scrub himself of the warm smell of cow shite or would he have to make do with a quick face and hand wash to expunge what he could of the aura of the land.

His father went into the parlour while drove the cattle into the collecting yard. There was only going to a few more seconds of peace before the dull, low whirr of the milking machine began. He breathed in the evening air, taking in the serenity, the shuffling of the cows’ hooves, the freshness of it all. Absorbing the farm. All that was at that point in time, at that moment, in that place before he joined his father in the pit.

The machine began and he began to drift away to his other world. The work was automatic. The honest labour of the good, work that did not trouble the conscience but, instead, nourished it. Fill the ration troughs, drive in the cows, wash their teats, dry them and put on the clusters. The twice-daily worship at the altar of the udder had begun once more.

They didn’t share much conversation, they didn’t have to. A look, a mutter or a movement was enough. The routine of the job was well established, like a dance they stepped about the pit, around the pipes and each other, away from the arses that dispensed shite and piss down on them. It never bothered his father, the puddle, as he used to call it. It, too, was honest and elemental. It was so dirty it was cleansing, the strong, sharp smell of the urine clearing his nose, the excrement soothing his hands. Clean dirt, he liked to call it.

The drone of the machine choreographed them, slowed down Pat’s thoughts until his hands and feet were able to work by themselves, until they slowed to the easy rhythm of the animals, the milk, the naturalness of it all.

He imagined himself in Paris, sipping a black coffee of some sort (he was more of a tea man) and smoking a cigarette, probably a Gitane. He thought of himself in Montmarte, lying on a bed in a tiny apartment with a black haired woman with a voluminous, curling bush, making love before setting out each day, canvas and brush in hand, to paint en plein air.

Time, freedom, two valuable commodities, neither of which could be bought. Time, to travel, to escape from the go round; freedom, to do just that. After finishing his masterpiece he would retire to some low-ceilinged bar and drink copious verres du vin and eat tarte au tatin until until one or the other of them made him vomit.

It was after eight when the machine was put out of its misery, the resulting silence hurting his ears after the two hours of constant assault. He was impatient to get going to Anne but the calves still had to be fed. Another half an hour, at least, plus wash-up. He banged the buckets as he got them lined up, ready for their feed, not so much in anger but frustration. He took out his phone, the white flag of surrender being unfurled, and began to hammer away on the keypad.

You go on, John said.

What?

You go on, you’re in a hurry.

The calves …

I’ll do them.

You can’t. You’ll be here all night.

Sure and so what? I’m in no rush.

The motto of his life.

He put the phone away. He bent to the rest of the buckets and completed the line, all of them ready to be filled with the mixture of milk and hot water. He listened to the stillness, felt the coolness of the night’s air blowing through the dairy. Heard the wailing of the calves in their pens, calling for their feed. He watched the methodical way his father worked, filling the buckets.

I’m in no rush.

Time. What was it? Once it was gone it could never be recovered but there was always more of it to come. He took the phone out again.

It’s all right, he said as he texted. I’ll meet her later.

Message completed they went on their way, drawing the buckets across the yard. They were greeted by a wall of cries, of babyish shouting as they opened the door of the calf shed. They didn’t talk like he did with Lazarus, they didn’t need to. This was something else, filtered through the land, the animals, the weather. Once the calves were fed and the buckets were washed they walked across the yard to the house.

You’re late, his mother said when they came in the door.

Yerra, what of it?

You’ll get as bad as your father. He’d be late for his own funeral.

They sipped at their tea in silence. The satisfaction of a good day’s work easing their tiredness.

It was an easterly breeze from Siberia, across the continent, the Irish Sea and in across the country that brought the hail. It made a hard sound as it fell on the pine box, hammering it into the ground. He stood over it, oblivious to it beating on his head, his body, the cold it carried with it. He helped the diggers shovel some of the clayey soil into the hole but left them at it after a while. It was time to go home to the cows.

Micheal O’Flaherty is a librarian and writer living in Mallow, Co. Cork. He have previously had two westerns published under the pen name Mike Deane. Yee Haw! Check out Michael’s Blog and follow him on Twitter @michealof

In the Darkness - Photo by Anjumon Sahin
From the Darkness – Photo by Anjumon Sahin

Reunion

– By Sinead O’Hart

I’ve nobody but myself to blame for all this. I’m the one who wanted to move away, to go right across the country. To go to a place where I knew nobody. I thought it would be a new start.

But of course everyone knows who I am. In what remains of my innocence, I hadn’t expected that. I really should have, though – the story was too good not to go all over. Crippled mother, dead son, absent father? It was redtop gold. Now the judgement of strangers wallpapers my life, glaring down at me from every passing eye. Every passing forehead wrinkles with cold, impersonal hatred. In every curled lip I see the message clearly: ‘I am better than you.’ I know it’s the truth.

And every photograph of Daniel’s face on the wall leers at me, like he knows too.

After his death, some of his classmates painted a mural at their school. They put him in the middle of the group. Tall and strong and smiling, he holds them all together like their cornerstone, their architect, their foundation. He looks like Christ in The Last Supper.

Realising how much he’s missed, by everyone but me, hurts worse than the razor.

He was supposed to honour me. He was supposed to protect me. He should have been my biggest fan, my best friend. The one who gave the warmest hugs and who loved in that specially protective way that only little boys grown big can possibly do.

Instead he… But I can’t say it, even now. The words just will not form.

And I couldn’t tell anyone – certainly not his dad. It wasn’t just the threats, though they did play a big part. It was the shame, too. Was it all my fault? Did I make him this way? Was it something I drank while he was in me? Something I ate?

Or maybe it boiled down to nothing more than this: one woman, incapacitated; one strong young boy, bored. Result: a scalded cancer of a family, lacerated and necrotic.

I can’t regret not calling the ambulance. I mean, I could’ve done it; my skinny arms might be too weak to fight, but they’re strong enough to pick up a phone. I still have my fine motor control, thank God. I could have done it. Instead I listened as he thrashed around on the kitchen floor, fighting for the breath that I prayed would never come. I wept as I prayed, but I prayed hard.

The world is a filthy enough place without a man in it like the one my son was becoming. The world has enough men like that.

And for all his strength, he was undone by a stray piece of food. Every Goliath has his David, I suppose. One mistimed breath over a chicken sub sandwich was all it took.

Well, that – and his mother pretending to be asleep in her wheelchair two rooms away.

Pretending not to hear.

Pretending not to be desperately, hatefully relieved.

But in a few minutes none of this will matter, anyway.

Nobody will even remember I was here. In this room. On this earth.

By the time the home help comes on her morning rounds, I’ll be gone.

I hope she won’t mind the mess.

Sinéad O’Hart likes words a lot more than they like her. The author of three (as yet unpublished) novels for young people, she is an active blogger, a regular commenter on writing.ie, and was longlisted for the Irish Writers’ Centre Novel Fair 2013. Follow Sinéad on Twitter @SJOHart

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.

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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.

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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            

What Might Have Been Lost

Anywhere Is Paradise With You – Photo by Denise O’Riordan.

The Same Old Song of Plenty

– By Matt Hutchinson

‘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.’

Paolo nodded.

‘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.

Follow Matt on Twitter @matthwrites

___________________________________________________________________

leaves

The Heir

 – By EM Reapy

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.

Follow EM Reapy and wordlegs on Twitter @emreapy, @wordlegs, @30under