We grew to one side in millimetres, not miles. The house, a hollow squat, purred amid our quiet. Your stomach drained nightly into our mattress. Vinegar breaths melted frost on the windows.
Our voices drilled the walls, vibrating molecules, as the sound passed through, but didn’t mark, the paint and plaster. My voice prodded you for warmth. Its weight curved your spine. You replied in hacks and sniffles that spread germs and caused colds. Your breakneck sneezes broke the windows.
Quiet kisses blew away down the hill, searching for someone new. Their sounds travelled underground, to echo and haunt us.
Gerard McKeown is an Irish writer living in London. His work has been featured in The Moth, 3:AM, and Litro, among others. In 2017, he was shortlisted for The Bridport Prize. More work can be viewed at www.gerardmckeown.co.uk
Alex stood against the wall in what is known as the gay bar on Sunday night, Oldies Night. The screen displayed a parade of audiovisual snippets of nostalgia designed to elicit smiles and memories, a kind of escape. But the gay bar itself was a kind of escape from a world where someone felt out of place, marginalized or just plain fucked-up. Alex was supposed to be among his own kind, although even here there was a hierarchy of haves and have-nots. Alex watched the grainy images of Petula Clark and Tom Jones and inhaled slowly on the Du Maurier Ultra-Light cigarettes he knew were turning his fingertips a grotty shade of gold. Yet he did it anyway because the hits of nicotine compensated for lacklustre serotonin levels. If it hadn’t been nicotine, it would’ve been chocolate. And too much chocolate would’ve cause more unsightly damage than a few ochre fingertips.
He didn’t normally drink booze-not even on his twenty-first birthday eighteen months earlier, but he wanted to feel something special, something different. He forwent his Diet Coke and ordered an Absolut blackcurrant slushie. The smiling, tanned bartender, muscles bulging, cheerily handed the slender, overpriced glass to Alex. The bartender smiled at everyone. That’s how he stayed employed. Alex sucked down the sweetness; it reminded him of blackcurrant pastilles he crunched as a lonely suburban child. Then the vodka slammed into his head with a not unpleasant rush. He fellated the straw with more gusto and slurped again. He was now watching the Beatles while simultaneously eyeing the parade of fellas marching, stumbling and sashaying past. Queens, leathermen, bears, twinks, businessmen, pimple-dotted students. Pensive types, sluts, gigglers, the stray fag-hag escorted by her loyal attendants.
He lit yet another Du Maurier. He also lit a Du Maurier for the dude in the blue cowboy shirt next to him who had asked for one, flashing a flirty smile with a hint of somehow genuine warmth surrounded by thick whiskers. ‘Thanks, cutie.’ Sharing the wealth. Building up karma, Alex guessed. The smoky, dim room reeked of liquor. Reeked of sweat. Reeked of masculinity. And cologne sold at a variety of price points. And desperation. Alex wondered who came here on New Year’s. And Christmas.
Alex politely-since his Mennonite parents had once instilled courtesy practically into his corpuscles- edged away from drunken conversation from a skinny, drowsy-eyed twenty-something with stereotypically Polish cheekbones who was floundering in a river of consonants punctuated by a few token vowels. He might have been be trying to pick up Alex. Or sell him cocaine. Or discuss quantum physics. Alex couldn’t understand him due to his slurring and the noise levels. And Alex didn’t want to understand him because he wanted to be left alone. Aloof. Just among people. But detached. Or did he?
The Guy fascinated Alex. Not the drunk, but this other Guy. Unpretentious, blokey, but not cartoonishly so, boxy-shaped, like a pit bull, accessible, low-key, clad in a white t-shirt (or a singlet? It was hard to tell.), black leather biker jacket, blue jeans, trainers. A receding hairline. Fortyish. Or fiftyish. That was honestly hard to tell, too, especially since Alex was bad with ages. And directions, for that matter. The Guy was sipping something piss-coloured, likely a beer. He was studying the Searchers performing on a Ready Steady Go clip. With sad eyes-The Guy, not the Searchers. So The Guy liked ‘Sweets For My Sweet’, an innocent song from a supposedly more innocent era, at least on the surface. Alex didn’t know how to read into that. The Guy had sad eyes too, sad espresso-coloured eyes capable of arresting Alex’s attention. And nice, pulpy lips-but in a butch, Harley-Davidson-riding way. And ebony caterpiller-like eyebrows. And broad shoulders. Boxy, again. Alex wondered who The Guy was.
The Searchers ended their performance to thunderous, decades-old applause on screen, and The Guy slid off his stool, turned and headed out into the street. It was about time. It was getting late. So Alex followed, snaking his way through the dense, throbbing crowd and out the bouncer-guarded door. The mid-May air at 1:00 a.m. was refreshingly cool. Sweeter than the slushie, even in the bowels of the city. Alex followed The Guy as he took a leafy side street. It was on Alex’s way home, after all. The long way home, but still. A few dark blocks down, The Guy crossed the road. Alex had thought he’d caught The Guy peering over his shoulder at him a couple of times. But now the Guy stopped and brazenly stared. Alex followed suit. It was like a hunter face-to-face with his prey, but whether Alex was the hunter or the prey was uncertain. Even he didn’t know. There was only stopping and staring. And silence. Something had to happen. Sometime.
Adrian Slonaker works as a copywriter and copy editor in St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada. Adrian’s work has appeared in Always Dodging the Rain, Aberration Labyrinth, Nixes Mate Review, Red Weather, Red Fez and others.
If a bar is not kept at all times moist to the touch it will grow feral, dangerous.
Think of it as a type of sessile organism, a compact colony surviving only on the odd sobs of stout and the dead skin of patrons.
This particular bar has pulled the fibres from the knit of my jumper and planted them upright in the mahogany so that they sway like sea creatures. Poor thing must have been starving.
It’s St Stephen’s day morning and I’m consulting the paper. First meet is 11.
I use an inch-long pencil to circle names. My first pick is a tip from the radio, 6/1.
Neil returns from the bathroom preening with dull satisfaction. His paper wagging beneath his arm like the tail of one of those strange fish that sticks to the bellies and backs of sharks.
I can see his picks, circled with red pen so that his choices cannot not be easily erased or forgotten.
He pays for his drink and while he does I catch the contents of his wallet – a loyalty card for the only barber in town and a balance of cash for the day, all big notes. His bank cards are at home. He knows better.
We leave and walk to the bookmakers, two doors down, last year it was five.
Neil is shorter than I am and going bald in the most unfortunate of ways, thinning in strips instead of patches. This doesn’t seem to bother him. He lets it grow until it’s unbearably mossy.
He has pale pocked skin and a sturdy crest of a nose. Sometimes when you call to the house for him, his brother will answer and tell you that Neil is out the back breaking blocks with it.
Right now he has the look about him of someone confident, canny.
The bookies is packed and has the visual palette of a stuffed ashtray. It smells of insoles and devastated carpet.
The only female here is the cashier, Joanna. She has the kind of calm in her eyes that you see in nurses and first responders.
Once on the carpet Neil doesn’t respond to verbal signals. He will not discuss picks or winnings. Men are invisible in this place.
At 2 o clock I tell him that I’m hungry. He seems agreeable. This must mean he’s up.
We go back to the pub and eat vegetable soup, crumble in soda bread that’s thick as scones. We have a carvery lunch and a pint of free cordial each. There is discussion of Ibiza.
He tells me that he’s going to get a job in the new year, that he’d like to come with us on the holiday. Says though, that it’s hard with the Mother the way she is. I sympathize, but secretly I know that if it wasn’t this it would be something else. Neil has the sort of mind that subconsciously seeks labyrinths. It’s not broken, it just does what it does with a ruthlessly efficiency.
He’s never been out of the country. He’s never eaten pasta or drank barista coffee. To my knowledge he has only ever been to the cinema that one time with school. He likes football and playing poker online, thinks he’s better at both than he is.
We step outside for a smoke. I rub my belly and tell him what the Father told us over Christmas dinner.
He told us that when he was thirteen years old his Dad organized a job for him in a plant nursery somewhere between Aherlow and Lisvernane. They supplied food and accommodation for the summer and a couple of quid would go back home.
The meals weren’t much, spuds and bacon, mustard from a tube if they had it. Breakfast was porridge and tea without milk or sugar.
He told us that he would be so hungry that by lunchtime he would start to eat chips of wood from the handle of his shovel and in bed at night he would sometimes chew the feathers from inside his pillow.
The story has Neil shaking his head, ”Different times.” he says.
Back in the ashtray the smell has evolved to include the bizarre body odours of farmers fresh from the field.
It’s not wholly unpleasant. It has a spicy quality to it, something cheap splashed against a hairy throat on the way into town.
Later myself and Neil huddle in the doorway as a heavy shower leathers the blanked out windows. Threads of rainwater drop from a clogged-up gutter and clap against the pavement. Even the smoke we’re blowing wants nothing to do with the weather, it circles our faces, seeks shelter in our pores.
Neil is about as happy as Neil gets. Tells me he’ll put the deposit down on Ibiza tomorrow, maybe he’ll even get a deal in the sales.
When the bookies close we make our ways back to the pub. Neil keeps walking.
I pat his back dutifully, offer to buy him a drink, curried chips if he’s hungry. He doesn’t answer me, just carries on down the street, trans-illuminated by a connect-the-dot forest of birches wrapped in fairy lights.
Once inside, I go to the bar, run my hand across its skin. It feels dewy, fed. I knock it once to see if it answers, thumb the vinyl-like groves in the wood. A voice comes; I order a stout.
I think of Neil, walking alone in the country dark. I bet he’s starving.
Paul Whyte is an emerging Irish writer. Originally from Tipperary, he currently lives in Dublin with his wife and two children, where he is working on his first short story collection – Brazen Head. Paul has been writing for about 10 years. He works mostly on speculative literary fiction.
Driving at night beside you you ask me to drive with your eyes over the people at the party I say yes back with my eyes because that’s what love is driving you home when you are tired from working all week and want to have another whiskey Fiona has just poured me a third glass of wine and has been telling me all about the particular grape that this wine is made from she has said fabulous about ten times I don’t know if she knows any other descriptive words I pour my glass down the sink when she isn’t looking and the sink gurgles fabulous back to me and Fiona shrieks that I have drank that very fast I flush and shrug and go to the bathroom and use my earring to remove a piece of spinach from my teeth I wish you had also told me across the room with your eyes about the piece of spinach I don’t know how long it has been there or if everyone has been talking about it behind my back I saw a group of Fiona’s archaeologist friends laughing loudly beside a bookshelf howling they must have been laughing at the spinach because what else do archeologists have to laugh about you hate museums and whisper crap crap crap under your breath as we walk around the glass cases of pottery and although I am fascinated I giggle because that’s what you do to me and love is coming to a museum with me even when you prefer to read an Ian Rankin under a beach umbrella you talk to a woman for a long time I watch across the room but can’t get away from Fiona’s conversation because she is right in the middle of a story about buying brie and there’s never a point where it would be polite to step away as she is doing hand gestures and accents and it is taking a lot of effort so I watch the woman from a distance as she touches your shoulder she pours you another whiskey your fourth and you throw your head back in joy and adulation of this moment when an attractive woman is touching you and feeding you alcohol and telling you things that make your eyes wrinkle at the sides with pure happiness when the brie story is over I don’t go over and disturb you I let you keep talking into the night because that’s what love is I watch your eyes wrinkle from how wide your smile is driving at night beside you as you doze and no matter what happens I can bring you anywhere and you would come because that’s what love is
Lucy Montague-Moffatt is a writer from Dublin currently based in Manchester. Her radio drama ‘In His Kiss’ aired on BBC Radio 4 in July. She is currently the Writer-In-Residence for The Gaiety School of Acting, writing their grad play which will be in Smock Alley Theatre in 2018. She graduated with a Masters in Scriptwriting from the University of Salford last year. Her website is lucymm.co.uk
You’re sitting in a corner booth of the bakery café when the man with a face like a dehydrated frog storms in and starts to yell about how, just this morning, this building housed a bookshop.
Do you? A) respond,
or B) ignore him and continue to eat your slice of apple pie, accompanied by black coffee that tastes just a little too bitter because they’ve only recently started doing coffee here and the staff haven’t mastered the art as yet. Clearly none of them have ever worked as a proper barista before. Probably everybody learns to make coffee in Starbucks now. You begin to suppose that what this raving derelict is saying may be really true after all, that as recently as this morning this place was a bookshop. You’ve walked past here but never been inside before, have you ever really noticed, are there any clues to the place, apart from the sign that reads: we now serve coffee––
If you choose A), and stand up to tap him on the shoulder and inform him that this was – for the last 24 hours at least – always a bakery, he’ll get violent and start to throw things, and the police, whom the bakery staff have even now dialled for, will arrive and find him making a scene, leaving them little recourse but to take him on with pepper spray and nightsticks (did you see the way his hand shot into his pocket, they’ll say. Nine out of ten times it’s a concealed weapon, they’ll say).
If however you choose option B), and everyone else does too, and goes right on about their day, the frog-faced man will get a bit discouraged after a while, will become suddenly crippled with an embarrassing clarity – a sudden doubt of what he has been claiming married with an equally sudden realisation of how stupid he looks. His froggy face will fall and he’ll start to look pathetically old as his shrivelling features sag into an acceptance of his own utterly pathetic nature. If you choose option B), there will be no scene here when the police arrive, and who knows what they might do if they lack such an easy target.
Bernard O’Rourke is a writer & filmmaker. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in The Penny Dreadful, The Tangerine, The Incubator, Queen Mob’s Teahouse, The Honest Ulsterman, TheEEEL, The Bohemyth, and Wordlegs. In 2017, his short film Impression, Canal was shortlisted for the Ó Bhéal Poetry Film Prize at the IndieCork Film Festival. His Twitter account is @guyserious. He lives in Dublin.
He examined the plant as the sun set over the skyline. A day out of the glasshouse had not improved the colour of the tomatoes as hoped, but the vines had wilted. The rusty screech of the back-door hinge announced her arrival to this quiet space at the back of the terraced house.
“I must oil that later. Are you at your flowers?”
“I don’t do flowers, only edible stuff,” he barked. “Organic. It’ll be good for you.”
She was peering into the ramshackle glasshouse, imbibing the chlorophyll. He watched, willing her not to touch anything. A flicker of movement at the back-bedroom window next door caught his eye. Someone had noticed him raise his voice to her, again. Dusk was looming.
“You’ve a lovely crop of gherkins lovey,” she said. Her voice was tinny since that last surgery.
“Cucumbers,” he snapped.
“They’re not gherkins ‘til you bloody pickle um, Mam. Cucumbers”
She sighed and stood before him, smiling. He wondered why she persisted with these inane conversations. Tensing, he shifted his gaze to the window next door again. No movement to be seen. When he glanced at his mother again, she had focussed her attention on his barrel of collected rainwater.
“Oh Jesus,” she said.
“There’s a dead bird in there. Don’t look now love.”
He edged toward her and eyed the oily sheen of the water, interrupted by the greasy feathers of a swallow.
“He won’t get back to Africa now anyway,” she said, fishing it out with her right hand.
“God, Mam! There’s germs an all sorts. You have to be careful of bugs.”
“Don’t you worry, pet, I’ll get rid of it.”
She lifted the lid of the steel bin in the corner and replaced it with a clang, wiping her hand on her apron afterwards. He imagined bacteria flourishing all over it, creeping all over the eroded Kiss TheCook embellishment. The pathogens would garnish whatever awful meal she was preparing indoors too. Endotoxin stew.
She paused then, hovering along the fencing that separated his garden from that crowd next door. The shrieks of seemingly happy children permeated the air of the estate on either side of him. Glancing at his mother he was struck by how thin she seemed. Though the evening was fine, and the coral sky beautiful in its way, this close-proximity living was not something a true country woman like her would ever get used to. The August wind picked up, whipping the scant remains of her hair into her eyes and she jumped. She would need a scarf for her head soon, or a wig, he thought.
“Must go back to the dinner love, come in after me now won’t you.”
When he was sure he had heard her close out the back door, he entered the glasshouse, and tore down the last of the nests.
Anna Foley lives in her native East Cork. She completed an MA in Creative Writing in UCC in 2016. She has had several pieces published in various journals including The Lonely Crowd, The Incubator, The Quarryman and the Honest Ulsterman.
Carolyn Meredith loves exploring the world through the lens of a camera and sharing her stories. She is a travel and photo opportunist and hopes to stimulate others to adventure and creativity through her work and her relentless tales of personal exploits. She grew up in England, and now lives and works in America.
– By James Claffey
Under a split infinitive sky where the frozen bodies gather dust in early mornings, there’s a strange bird doing a dance. It’s feathers ruffle and the tips of its wings rotate in opposite directions. This is not a mating dance. This is not a love song. This is not a train wreck by the side of a sinewy river of muddied water. The bird takes a short hop towards a mound of rock, only to find a waiting snake inside a discarded bag of toasted croutons. We are the snake and the bird, my love. The dance of death reminds me of the day we sat on the grass at Dolores Park, the fog slowly burning off, your sandals wet with dew, and fresh from your lips, the accusation that I’d been stringing you along. I fingered the lint in my pocket, the lump of ring in tissue paper, too. Right when I was about to ask you a serious question the brakes shifted on a child’s stroller and the mother screamed as her baby gathered speed and put some distance between them. Back to the present cold circumstance, and your accusation is only a memory, less real than the coiled snake, less painful than the frozen dead.
James Claffey hails from County Westmeath, Ireland, and lives on an avocado ranch in Carpinteria, CA with his family. He is the author of a collection of a short fiction, Blood a Cold Blue. His website is at www.jamesclaffey.com.
– By Shaunagh Jones
On a street, there’s a lamp that saturates the pavement with a hazy, gold light. The cobbled road is lined with townhouses, each with a different coloured door and an elegantly looped number. You stop under the lamp and notice the house in front of you has a burgundy door. At the window, two suited men are talking animatedly and you’re sure one was in a film you saw the other week. Leading man handsome. They’re too immersed in their conversation to notice you. Behind them, a waiter hurries from group to group with long stemmed glasses and squat crystal ones with whisky sluiced into them. A child sits in the corner of the room, rolling a toy car around the floor, largely ignored. You notice a woman who has her back to the window and her flash of red hair. You think it’s her, but when she turns around you realise your mistake. To calm your heart’s quickening thud, you focus on a group of women in dresses of onyx velvet and ruby silk who are laughing. From where you’re standing it’s like watching a silent movie.
The doorstep has a row of empty champagne bottles beside it. You remember Sarah, and how she insisted on placing a brown sugar cube in her glasses of champagne; mostly because she liked to watch it eaten up by the bubbles. You tried it because she wanted you to, and because everyone in her circle was drinking sugar-infused champagne. You said you liked it so you could be one of them, but really the sugar and cold made your teeth ache. You excused yourself from speaking to a heavily perfumed Chanel-suited woman and walked endless corridors in search of the bathroom. On the way, you noticed a porcelain vase decorated with copper red flowers and remember the newspaper reports that detailed the vase’s heritage and the vast price it fetched at auction. You opened various doors and found rooms decorated with diamond embossed rugs and rococo paintings. The low hum of conversation could be heard through the corridors so, not wanting to be caught intruding, you hurried along. Finally, you locked yourself in the bathroom before pouring the contents of the champagne glass into the toilet.
Returning, you noticed Sarah had a lopsided drunken smile and knew it was time to leave. At home, you tried to recount a joke told to you that night, but you couldn’t remember the punch line. Sarah laughed anyway and whispered ‘Oh, you,’ onto your lips.
You concentrate on the icy cold, trying to halt your thoughts. It’s eleven o’clock and it went dark hours ago. The windows of the house with the burgundy door are illuminated and none of the revellers inside pays you any attention. It must seem strange though: a man standing outside a house just watching those within. You look on the wrong side of dishevelled.
The door of the house opens and a woman stumbles out. Her dress is sequinned and her legs look too bare. Her make up is smudged; purple lipstick is plastered outside the lines of her mouth like a child’s drawing. She places a cigarette between her lips and fidgets with the clasp of her bag. She fishes for a lighter but can’t seem to find one. Then she looks up and says:
‘Hey. Got a light?’
You’re startled and Sarah’s face floats before you once again. The simplicity of the woman’s greeting and the sense she has somewhere better, more exciting, to be reminds you of Sarah. Every time there’s a jolt behind your rib cage. You say you’re sorry because you don’t have a lighter. Sarah made you quit smoking. There’s arsenic and formaldehyde in those things.
The woman in the sequinned dress nods and then points upwards. ‘That’s like an eye,’ she says and walks shakily away into the December night. You resist the urge to run after her to give her your coat or ask her name. There’s frost crystallising on the windows and the coat was a gift. Something you want to hold on to. Then you glance up to see what she was referring to and it’s the Victorian lamp post. The beam it omits is like a spotlight on you; a halo on the ground. Not quite an eye.
You aren’t even sure how you came to this street, looking in on a scene that used to be so familiar. But you’re not one of those people anymore. You can’t forget the day your manager called you into the office and hissed: ‘There’s been some indiscretions in the accounting. Could you perhaps explain them?’ Sarah was long gone by the time they announced the verdict in court, but you still looked out at the benches hoping to see her one final time, not really listening to what the judge said. Now, the whisky you drink is blended and when you swallow it down, you hear the guilty verdict clearly. You force yourself to empty the glass and then another, because it makes you sleep. The only time you can’t think about what you’ve lost.
You urge yourself to move your numb legs. So you start to walk away and after a few steps you hear the door opening again. You try not to look back, but you can’t stop yourself. You want one last glimpse into a world that’s forgotten you. Two people are standing under the lamp post. There’s a woman with bobbed black hair and she’s clutching a bouquet of winter flowers to her chest; red roses with sprigs of holly intermingled amongst them, stark against her white dress. She has a man’s tuxedo jacket draped over her shoulders. The man who owns the jacket clasps her face in his hands and says something you can’t hear, although you find yourself trying to. She laughs and flicks her hair in a move that’s both rehearsed and charming. They start to make their way up the street towards you.
The woman with the black bobbed hair stumbles slightly and grasps her companion’s arm to steady herself. He gently swings her round to face him and she brings her mouth to his. You hope the man knows he’s lucky.
The pair untangle from the warmth of each other and they walk in the direction of the city centre; towards the bars that serve cocktails consisting of exotic spirits; towards the nightclubs that need a membership to enter; towards those streets that you used to walk along in your bespoke suit while Sarah grasped your hand. There’s small part of you that thinks you will again someday. You cling to that hope like it’s a ledge of a building you’ve slipped off. Aware of the weight of your worn cashmere coat you take one final look at the house with the burgundy door, and then you too walk towards the city.
Shaunagh Jones is a short story writer. She recently completed a Creative Writing MLitt at the University of Glasgow. Follow her on Twitter @JonesShaunagh.
Jenny Hauser is from Berlin and stumbled into Dublin via Kuwait, London and Cork but is impressed with where aimless wandering can get you. She is a journalist and PhD student of media studies at DIT. Photography has been her consistent sidekick since she was a teenager and she studied film and photography in London after leaving school but before she knew what she wanted to be when she grew up. More photos can be seen on her criminally neglected blog and she can be found on Twitter @jenny_hauser.
– By E.M. Reapy
Our youngest child, Patti, came bawling through the door, her plump face red, dribble bubbling from her mouth.
My instinct seized my gut as I rushed over to her and asked, ‘What is it, honey?’ trying to keep the alarm from my voice. My husband Bill stayed in his chair but watched us intently.
‘Cooper- And – Justin Beiber,’ she said, struggling to get the words out. ‘Cooper and Justin Beiber, they- they-‘ And then she broke down.
‘Where are they?’ I asked.
She pointed to the wall behind me and I knew she meant the garden. I scooped her up in my arms and kissed her fair curls a couple of times, shushing and cooing her. I walked out to through the sliding doors in the kitchen. The day was marshy, grey clouded but dry for the moment.
Cooper was to the left of a crow, his paw clawing the fat, awkward looking bird, Justin Beiber was to the right and took swipes from that side. The cats wailed like pained babies and the disorientated crow cawed deep and mournful.
‘Oh Jesus,’ I said and shielded Patti’s head. I took her back inside. ‘Daddy, come out here for a minute,’ I said and Bill paused his TV show.
‘She alright?’ he asked me as he rose.
‘Yeah. But we have a situation.’
I gave Patti my phone to play around with and promised we’d be back to her in a minute.
I took Bill’s hand and ushered him to the garden. The cats had grown bored. Cooper leapt onto the wall and patrolled around. Justin Beiber skulked on the grass while the crow, like he was headless, rather than half headless, flapped and cocked erratically, blood making his breast shiny and reddening the dewy grass around him.
‘It’s awful,’ I said.
Bill nodded at me and gave my palm a gentle squeeze.
‘The bird, it’s not fair is it? We need to stop the misery.’
I could feel emotion threaten up my chest to my throat. I didn’t like crows, little pricks that woke me up most mornings, even before Patti did with her hopping and cuddling and playing. They squawked demented as early as 5am sometimes, before the night had even lifted. But this little one had been destroyed by our pets, by the creatures that we fed and allowed roam our house and snuggle up beside us on the couch.
Bill inspected the bird but didn’t touch it. ‘How will I do it?’ he asked and I shrugged.
‘Just do something, hit it with a stick or something?’
‘Ah no, I can’t do that. What if Patti caught me? No,’ he said. He took a deep breath and bunched the bird into his hands. I was shivery.
The cats eyed us from different angles of the garden.
He went to one of Patti’s sand buckets. It was filled with Irish summer rainwater.
‘Sorry birdy,’ he said and plunged it into the bucket. The crow didn’t put up too much of a fight but then again Bill had strong worker’s hands. I dread to think of me trying to drown it, its wings flittering and protesting, me screaming, flittering and protesting.
Bill put the dead bird beside the bucket and said, ‘I’ll get a shovel, will I?’ and went to get a shovel.
Cooper and Justin Beiber sprang over to sniff at the bird.
The choke in me changed shape.
Cooper strutted towards me and purred against my leg. I recoiled and nudged him away with my shin, ‘Go away,’ I said but he rubbed, clinged, his furry heat on my skin.
I tried again to shoo him away before using my foot,
and into his face.
EM Reapy is from Mayo, has an MA in Writing from Queen’s University, Belfast. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee and edits wordlegs.com . In 2013, she was awarded an Arts Council Literature Bursary for her debut collection. She is the Irish representative for PEN International’s New Voices Award and directs Shore Writers’ Festival in Enniscrone. Follow her @emreapy
The Mask of Ophelia
– By K.S. Moore
The stage is closed up but dressed up in loud gold curtains. The only figures visible are marble formed, lazy operators, leaning against pillars. Behind the scenes are murmurs, sideways looks and put downs. All is a flurry of preparation, hair scraped, make up on. Nobody has time.
Martha has less than most; the fear has stolen it all. She sits, tense and shivering at her dressing table, a mug of steaming black coffee beside her. She hasn’t even begun to apply her make up. Her hands are too clammy.
Leonardo hovers, offering comfort or condemnation. He is sly, ever watchful and yet she is addicted to his company. They first met at the auditions for ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream‘. He was the obvious choice for Puck with his diminutive stature and wicked edge.
She had harboured dreams of playing Titania but was eventually cast as Mustardseed. The role was better than it appeared. The production was a blend of drama and ballet and she was given extra dialogue and a solo dance. She had hated the colour of her costume though; a shade of yellow that fell somewhere between bile and peanut butter. She had felt ugly and not good enough.
Looking back, she had been blessed, cast in a role that did not place her under too much pressure but still up there on the main cast list. Everyone told her she had stolen the show. The critics called her and Leonardo ‘the stars of tomorrow’, whereas the actress playing Titania was labelled ‘frigid’ and ‘disconnected’.
When Martha had been chosen to play Ophelia in ‘Hamlet‘ she had felt beyond ecstatic. But the madness and despair of the role must be catching. She can almost feel the water closing over her head. It had taken hold in the dress rehearsal as Hamlet struggled to remember even one line of his soliloquy. His fragility was unnerving, as were his heavy lidded eyes.
When he asked her to ‘get thee to a nunnery’ she felt like racing straight there. But she is imprisoned in this role.
Steering her senses back to the present, she sees Leonardo advance towards her, a hip flask in his hand.
“This will take the edge off.”
But she is too afraid the alcohol will rob the shine from her performance, make her sluggish and inclined to slur. Jerkily, she shoots out a hand to stop Leonardo. She catches him mid-pour and the liquid trickles out onto the carpet. It smells like her Father’s going out jacket, slightly chemical, with a hint of the outdoors.
She listens, detached as Leonardo curses and leaves to find a rag. She is usually distraught when he is angry with her but tonight she is untouchable. She is still immobile when he returns to furiously scrub at the carpet.
“I’m not giving up on you!”
A few members of the chorus, butterfly in. They feign concern, giving themselves an excuse to be present. Both Martha and Leonardo know they care for nothing but their own aspirations. Leonardo glowers until they all drift away, leaving only the sickly union of their perfumes.
The word signals the start of the rescue operation. Leonardo swoops on the foundation, measuring out the exact amount required for each cheek and for Martha’s high forehead. He dots, blends and expands, taking the reddish hue from her skin, replacing it with a pale sheen: the mask of Ophelia.
His next task is to darken Martha’s eyes. They are green and watery but by the time he is finished they are vibrant, enormous. He has swirled black and silver eyeshadow, given her eyes shape with incisive dark eyeliner and finished the look by attacking her eyelashes with mascara. She now resembles a doll. All her features are exaggerated and there is no life in her eyes. She has still not woken up.
“The dress Martha, where is the dress?”
Leonardo’s words have become a hiss and Martha feels no compulsion to answer him. She is lost in memories of triumphant moments, spontaneous outbursts of applause, encores and cheers. If only she could take back the control from these memories. She has been that person. She can be her again. But before she can complete the transformation, she is drowning in cloth.
Leonardo has found the dress and is forcing it over her head. For the first time since sitting down at the dressing table she moves, feels slippery, like the first catch of the day. She doesn’t know whether she is complying or fighting but she cannot sit there like a dummy. Halfway through the struggle, she realises it is Ophelia she is resisting.
When it is over, she looks at herself in the mirror. She resembles a bride from the Romantic Gothic era, doomed to be wedded to a monster. The parallels are accurate. The stage has become her enemy and she is an innocent all over again. She understands now, that the dress has become her catalyst. It is terribly significant, symbolic of Ophelia’s purity and trust.
Leonardo attempts to remove her from the chair. He has long sharp fingernails like a girl. She winces but stays put. Her bare shoulders are fraught with red and she feels like the sacrifice has already begun.
Leonardo is stronger than he looks. He hauls her up, out of the chair and her eyes take in the dull colours of his costume, a peep of cream shirt, a laced brown topcoat and black felt hat. He is like a drab garden bird, nothing like his flamboyant appearance in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. She wonders if tonight will be a step down for him.
At last, she is standing, although swaying slightly. She is glad she didn’t take the drink. She feels otherworldly enough. She opens her mouth to say she will not go out there, but Leonardo speaks first.
“You are going out on that stage. Do you hear me? This is your big chance!”
The moment she realises he is serious, she hears the gong of her own heart, gathering speed until it is battering her from the inside. She has no idea how to quiet it, so moves forward in its pounding company. Leonardo is not touching her, yet she can feel his presence at her back and knows he will not allow her to turn.
She finds herself in the wings, regarding the action on stage, wondering how it can ever include her. She is incapable of speech, has no fight left and cannot even run away.
“Martha, it’s you, it’s Ophelia!”
Leonardo nudges her out from behind the curtain. Her heart is wilder than ever. At least she cannot see the audience. The lighting is so acute, all their faces blend into a silver mush. She finds herself wandering towards it as the floor tilts up.
She’s going down.
K. S. Moore was one of the FlashMob 2013 finalists, with her story: ‘Old and Free’. She also had a piece called ‘Bones’ selected for publication in National Flash Fiction Day’s FlashFlood Journal. A poem of hers will appear in the Winter issue of Welsh literary magazine: The Seventh Quarry. She has a background in publishing and ran a company called ‘Young Welsh and Poetic’ between 2005 and 2008. During this time she published pamphlets and full collections by young writers and produced four poetry collections of her own. She blogs at: ksmoore.com and has had articles published at Irish magazine site: Writing.ie. Recent achievements include performing her poetry at Waterford Writers’ Weekend, and being awarded a place on Artlinks Clinic Mentoring with Grace Wells. She is also the Clonea & Rathgormack Correspondent for The Munster Express.
‘We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.’
– Oscar Wilde
And what beauty do you find there in the stars? What is it that sustains your soul when all around you crumbles to ruin? What is the magic that makes it all worthwhile? We at The Bohemyth want to know!
We will be publishing a special Oscar Wilde Issue on the 16th of October (Oscar’s birthday!). We are looking for photography submissions, short stories, flash fiction and one act plays inspired by, referencing, associated with or somehow connected to the writings of Oscar Wilde.
To be considered for this issue please submit by the end of September. If you’re unsure of the suitability of your work for this issue, submit anyway.
Amy Kennelly from Kerry via Dublin quit her job earlier this year to go on an adventure. She is currently living in a shed in Sydney surrounded by hipsters.
The street art pics are all of good vibes Amy found while wandering around Melbourne on a blustery winter day. She shot the heron on a beach at sunset while drinking wine and eating fish and chips. To her left (out of shot) were a couple taking their wedding pictures.
Interview With A Campfire
– By Brian Coughlan
The photograph on the front of the paper is of a dog shaking hands with a prominent politician. I repeat a dog shaking hands with a politician. What the newspaper did next set the tone for the whole day. Sporting tight brown trousers and dainty black shoes it emitted a sound akin to upholstery being ripped apart. There was a very faint quiver but no apology – not even an acknowledgement of the fact. While I muttered with indignation a sulpher-like stench engulfed the carriage.
The photograph on the front was still of a dog shaking hands with a politician. It was standing up tall on its hind legs and looking disdainfully at the future leader of this country. It was a very unusual dog – a cross between a Labrador and a Poodle. There were names underneath. I was more interested in the dog’s name but the writing was too small to make it out.
For the remainder of the journey I was troubled by my complete lack of enthusiasm. I got off at a small deserted station and walked into the town. The morning sun cast an orange light across cars and trees and buildings. Walking past the window of a man’s outfitters I noticed a mannequin in the window. It reminded me vaguely, of someone. It was the likeness of a young man with short black hair and a piercing gaze. His head tilted at an unusual angle – it may have been incorrectly screwed on – and his hands were frozen in karate-chop positions. I could not for the life of me figure out who he reminded me of.
On arrival at the factory I found the place deserted. There were clearly people working there – the car park was full but there was nobody at the security hut and no sign of activity behind the gates. I thought I could hear a dull repetitive thudding noise off in the distance but when I stopped to listen for it –it was no longer there.
A red button, sticking out like an erect nipple needed to be pressed – so I pressed it. A woman’s plaintive voice told me to wait for the buzz and then push the gate. I waited for the buzz. Nothing happened. So I had no option but to press the red nipple again. She came over the speaker. I did not push until I heard the buzz and when I heard the buzz I pushed but the thing still wouldn’t move. So I had to press the nipple again. Eventually a woman came out of a building walked swiftly towards me and pulled the gate open.
Without so much as a glance in my general direction she turned on her heels and walked away smartly, her large behind swerving from side to side, back towards a red brick building at the end of a series of concrete paving slabs. I was admitted to an empty waiting room furnished with a row of drab plastic chairs along the walls and a low coffee table in the middle, smothered in old dog-eared magazines. My eye roved from one barren wall to the next. It was a depressing shit-hole of a place.
After a long time sitting there I very nearly fell asleep. Out of nowhere another small plump woman in a smart suit appears in the doorway with a clip-board clenched to her bosom. I am perkily instructed to follow her. We walk up two flights of stairs and down a long dimly lit corridor at the end of which I am asked to wait in a small room of just a single chair. According to her they are nearly ready for me. The clock high on the wall across from me says eight forty-nine.
I watch time go past with the jerky, continuous movement of a red plastic hand as it stops – then carries on – past each tiny gradation. After precisely six minutes and thirty eight seconds I stop watching the clock but when I close my eyes I can still picture that red hand jerking along in a steady monotonous onslaught.
She comes back and leads me into a boardroom, a long narrow room with a long narrow table down the center of the room and a number of chairs pushed in neatly all along it. It is a really nice table, dark wood, expertly polished, smooth to the touch. I hear the sound of footsteps coming down the hallway and then the door of the room opens.
I rise from my chair to exchange handshakes with a HR woman who looks like an ostrich; long neck, black beady-eyes and short cropped haircut – puffball body encased in a power suit; and with the Technical Director – dead-ringer for an Albino Gorilla; thick-set and in a grumpy mood. The ostrich does the introductions and starts waffling on about the company. There’s a large window in the space above their heads and I gaze out through it. Beyond the walls of the factory there are fields made green by that still strong morning light. I can see a small figure walking its dog and throwing a stick-like object for the dog to retrieve; probably a stick.
So tell us a little bit about yourself?
If you were to ask my ex-wife I’m a demon of some sort; a cruel and sadistic schemer who doesn’t give a damn about his children. She accuses me of walking away from my responsibilities and not giving her the credit she feels entitled to – for the great job she’s done raising the kids. If you ask my friends they will tell you that I am unreliable and absent when needed – that I cannot be depended on, that I drift away all too easily. But they don’t really know me at all. That’s the thing. I keep myself hidden from view. In reality I am the reincarnation of St. Stephen. I know it’s incredible but what do you want me to tell you – a bunch of made-up lies and make-believe? I only found out myself last month through a series of visions I experienced at my hot yoga class.
The Ostrich is very happy with my answer. She grimaces with a smile and writes a few notes on my CV. She has a hole in her tights just above one knee. What is she writing down I wonder? And why hasn’t she made reference to or even glanced at my tonsure yet?
The albino gorilla takes off his glasses and deftly wipes them with a little cloth he has conjured, most likely from his anal passage. It’s a little yellow cloth imprinted with the name and address of his optician. He slides them back on in a remarkably gentle fashion and puts the little cloth back where it belongs. He glances down at his belly and removes a few bits of fluff from his tie.
So why did you leave your last job?
Because they did not want to hear the truth – that’s why. They subjected me to a show trial in front of other executives and representatives from HR and they sentenced me to be stoned to death. I brought up the whole ‘he who hath not sinned bit’ and the stones started flying so I hid under the board room table and used the Managing Director as a human shield to get the hell out of there. But you know something it’s like I always say – was there ever a prophet that they didn’t try and execute? You know what I mean? I’m just going to take a drink of water here at this juncture.
The gorilla nods his head in agreement. I’m giving him another one of those textbook answers. They are a basic requirement – any hint of individual thought is exterminated by stock answers to stock questions. He produces a banana and peels it gently as I continue to wax lyrical about the benefits of gaining experience in a multitude of different settings. As he lovingly devours the banana his ostrich colleague buries her head in the sand of ignorance. I already know the job is mine if I want it.
What motivates you to do a good job?
Money motivates me. Not unlike every other person who gets up in the morning when they don’t want to, travels into work at a job they dislike and stays working all day with this great pretence that it’s really not that bad once you get into it. Some people even buy into the whole business and enjoy repeating the company slogans and admonishing those who ignore them. I’m here for the hard cash Ms. Ostrich. Next question please.
What are your strengths and what are your weaknesses?
My strength Mr. Gorilla is that I can’t stand other people. I hate the fucking sight of them. I hate people and I hate work and I hate clocking-in and clocking-out and pretending. More than anything I hate pretending to be interested in the field of work I find myself wandering around in. So you see by not giving a shit it actually helps because it gives me the cold dispassionate eye one needs to survive in this kind of environment. And I can tell an asshole when I see one which is what you clearly are. I can well imagine taking orders from you and never doing things up to your expected standard. How long would it take for us to fall out I wonder? A month, two months…who knows. My weaknesses are too numerous to mention but I’ll have a go; I’m lazy, I don’t listen, I hate taking orders, I am un-sociable and prone to bullying people when they bug me…that’s all I can think of right now.
Stephen why should we hire you?
For a brief moment I am inexplicably thrown by the question. My mouth opens and then closes without a word passing my lips. I stare into those two sets of expectant eyes and I do not know what to say. Nothing! There is not one word in my mind that presents itself for usage. They are shying away from the act of bravery. They seek safety in the silence of the crowd. Instead there is an excruciating stillness in the room where the ticking of the wall clock becomes deafening. I am the mannequin. I am the dummy in the shop window; it reminds me of myself. Then I hear myself vomit out the following:
I believe that I have the relevant experience to do the job. I believe that I’ve proved myself more than capable in the past. I believe I would be an excellent addition to the team here at this well-regarded company. I am excited at the prospect of learning more and growing both as an individual and as a team player within this exciting organization and who knows? I think I would make a really significant contribution to the company and bring renewed success through my hard work and results-based dynamism.
The Ostrich nods her head emphatically and locks eyes with the Gorilla who shrugs his shoulders as much as to say ‘I’ve no objections’. The Ostrich thanks me for coming in to see them and she keeps smiling at me now. Well done for answering all the questions in a way that has meant we can tick all the boxes. Well done for making our lives that little bit easier. Well done for telling us nothing that we need be concerned about. Well done.
‘How soon can you start?’ asks the gorilla in a dour voice.
I’m gazing out through the large window above their heads. Beyond the walls of the factory there are fields made green by the now grey morning light. I can see a small figure being mauled by a dog. I jump to my feet and send the chair toppling over.
‘Look what’s happening out there!’ I shout.
Brian Coughlan lives in Galway where he works as a screenwriter and part-time pharmaceutical industry employee. He also writes short stories and the occasional poem.
Summer at Maghermore
– By Alan Walsh
It was early and no one was anywhere near the shore but for an old man sat against the rock nearest the tide, draped in a long towel, who watched out for the light to break. It was still a little like night to venture out and he sipped from a flask he had brought to warm him at that hour. The first call of gannets had woken two surfers inside of their camper van and they sat, with tea, and watched the old man, wondering why he was out alone so early and on such a remote stretch of beach.
“He’s trying to kill himself,” one surfer said.
“Why do you say that?”
“No one would arrive out here so early. He’s working up courage, drinking from that flask, maybe rum. He seems unsteady.”
“Then why did he change into that swimsuit? Why the towel if not to dry off?”
“Who knows what occurs in the mind of a suicide? Maybe he wishes to seem normal, like it might look an accident.”
They crouched behind the wheel of the van with the light off so as not to be noticed in all of the silence and darkness. The only thing to move was the low branch stooped over the old man’s rock and the loose strands of seaweed in the breeze. The gannets and gulls began to circle more frequently and the light began slowly to come in. When the water was lit well enough to make out, the old man folded his towel down into the bag where he had packed his clothes and placed his flask on top of the rock beside it. He began walking out toward where the water washed the first pebbles on the shore.
“There, he’s going to do it. We can’t just allow it to happen.”
“He doesn’t look anything like drunk. He’s just testing the temperature.”
They both silently got out of the van to watch from the shade, keeping sure to remain very still. The old man stood a while with the water reaching only his ankles. He adjusted his shorts, tucked up underneath where his belly hung, and crouched down to place his hands into the foam. He brought water up to rinse through his hair and down his face, doing this a number of times. He ventured out a little deeper, knee deep and then to his waist, and allowed the tide lap his belly and upper arms while he looked out at the sky gradually changing colours.
“Where are you going?”
“I’m going down there. It’s probably even a crime to stand by and watch someone kill themselves, doing nothing.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about. He’s just taking a dip.”
The man craned his knees to have the water cover his chest and then wash over his shoulders. That early it was still cold enough to throw you off if you didn’t take enough care. He went through this motion a couple of times, then finally dunking his head the whole way under to come up again wet all over. Sure of his footing now and far enough from the shore, he pushed forward into a forearm stroke, letting the water catch his weight under the belly and kicking hard as he could manage it. It churned water high in every direction, his strokes weren’t quite timed to replace one another in the water and his kicking legs weren’t strong enough to breach the surface and push him on. He floundered sideways, unable to bring his following arm round in time to keep afloat and kicked down to touch the bottom again. He stood a minute out as far as the water reaching his shoulders and took a few heavy breaths. He washed some more of the tide through his hair. Bending his knees further, he let the tide lap up to his lips and nose and pushed off again, horizontal to the shoreline, this time with greater effort and more foam thrown up about him. His legs kicked harder and he forced his arms on through the water ahead. But he was already off course, and soon heading diagonally out from the tide to where the bottom began to slope off. The push and thrashing soon tired the old man. He quit to stand still a while again, but he had ventured a little far out of his depth. His shoulders dipped under quickly to his surprise, taking his head down under as well and he had to reach right away into another forward splash, even out of breath, to make it in close enough to shore to touch down.
“He doesn’t know about us. He thinks he’s all alone out here. He can’t even hardly keep afloat. It’s still almost dark and there’s no one for miles.”
“He’s teaching himself to swim.”
“Why would anybody do that at this hour, miles from any possible help? At that age.”
“Maybe that’s why he’s out here.”
“He’s well into his eighties easy. He was unsteady getting out there across the stones to start off with. Hazard to himself. There have to be laws against people acting out of recklessness with their own well being.”
“There aren’t any people out in the water at this time. No one to pay him any attention back on shore either, to get unduly worried. He can concentrate freely.”
The old man was back down into another stroke, this one a little sharper, tighter to the line of the tide. He seemed not to kick as much froth up around him either. A number of gulls had settled on the moving surface, content to drift and watch. He only made a couple of feet along before having to touch down again and catch his breath. He knew he was doing it all wrong, that his timing was off, he was pushing too hard and without any grace. Stood deep in the tide, he tried to figure out how to better it with his next go. He waded out a little deeper and practiced moving just his arms, each over the shoulder in turn, slowly as he could, for imagined in this lay the key. Then, remembering what he had seen others do, he began rolling his head from side to side in the water, breathing in one side and out the other. He stood in place and did this a little while. The younger surfer watched him, shaking his head. The man took another breath and lunged forward again, this time in the opposite direction. Again, he kicked up a lot of froth and began to stray diagonally outward, but it seemed a little more contained a motion than before. He couldn’t maintain it for very long and hadn’t gotten the breathing right. He lacked the strength to keep stroking any length and had to stop to again pretty soon. The younger surfer shook his head some more.
“You know he’ll be back out here tomorrow morning.”
“He looks that type.”
“And we’ve taken the place up by Maghermore. So we won’t be here.”
The light had by then come in enough that the rock, the trees and camper van and both men were clearly visible and the old man, seeing them, wet his head one final time in the foam and began to stride his way back into shore through the water. He reached the stones and collected his bag and his flask from the rock, made his way back up the shingle slope and past the camper van, saluting the surfers with a nod as he went. Both of them nodded in return.
In a little while, they had suited up and prepared the boards, they’d locked up the van and headed down to the shore themselves. It was still early but the waves were starting to come in a little harder and break with more force. They paddled out far enough and caught what they could, but the waves weren’t as lively as they had been earlier in the month. That was why the younger surfer has suggested moving on up to Maghermore, where it was said to be rougher. They had planned to pass the summer there but had left it too long. He brought his board out past the furthest rock and let the sea rise and drop him until he felt there was enough in it to try and make it back in on. Each time he did it, though, it tapered off and he was left wishing he had left it longer. A few of these and he had given up. He relaxed and watched his partner fight to drag some life out of the waves, sometimes even getting a little. He sat on the surf board, flat on the surface of the water, and thought about that old man, wondering if he’d be out there the following morning and if he’d ever succeed in teaching himself to swim. It was too dead to surf. He paddled back into shore and lit a fire back by the van. He dried himself off and began to prepare breakfast.
Alan Walsh is a 36 year old Writer and Designer who has just finished his third novel. He has been published in The Moth, Outburst and The Illustrated Ape among other magazines and has written for Magill magazine and Film Ireland. He is currently involved in a graffiti project with hurls and an unlikely illustration project with Irish superheroes. Follow Alan on twitter.
The intention of The Bohemyth’s Bloomsday issue is to celebrate Ulysses, James Joyce and the strange and wonderful city of Dublin. For the streets of Dublin are paved with something finer than gold, they are paved with the stories of the ones who walk them. James Joyce knew this better than anyone.
We whisper our stories to the trees in Stephen’s Green. We tell them to ourselves as we ramble along our way. We shout them at each other over pints in the pub. We cry them into the river. We scream them at the sea. We bury them where we can. We set them free where we can’t.
Once upon a time all of the stories of Dublin were gathered together and popped inside an empty old bottle of Guinness. It bobbed off down the Liffey. Inside were stories of love lost as soon as won, salvation and hope, moments lost and memories gained, some stories were made of songs and some were made with tears, but all were made with the heart. Then the bottle broke apart and all the stories fell out. Most were washed away, downstream and out into Dublin Bay.
We went fishing off Dun Laoghaire pier and caught a few that were still swimming about there.
Here are some of the stories we were lucky enough to catch. We hope you like them as much as we do.
We hope you love Dublin as much as we do!
– Alice Walsh
Photography: David Levingstone is a Photographer, Art Director and bearded man from Tipperary living in Dublin, more of his work can be found here. David currently works for Getty Images.
– By Laura Cleary
Last night I dreamt.
Dreamt I was found.
Love found me. There.
In that dream.
In a doorway.
Maybe nine was too early.
But I’d been awake since six. The sun had been shining in through my bedroom window. The birds had started hours before, they were in full chorus by then. I had lain there, playing the dream back over and over. By half past seven I was fully dressed and ready to go. The house was still as a tomb.
Ten to nine and there are three of us at the bus stop. A young Romanian woman, her buggy, me.
There’s a baby in the buggy. I’m sure that there is. I just can’t quite tell. All the puffed pink vinyl, femur-thick frame. It’s like a grounded spaceship next to her Romany skirt. I wonder whether the velvet is uncomfortable. If it itches. If it soaks up the damp, rain, piss, swinging as it does so close to the ground. I hope she doesn’t see me staring at her buggy. Or at her hemline.
The bus arrives late.
The woman boards first. Well, her buggy, the baby, then her.
I stand alone in the doorway. The driver is the old man that used to drive the bus to DCU. Years ago, back when I’d been in college. The driver that had asked to see my student ID every time he punched my ten journey ticket. The same one I’d bought from him the Monday before.
I stood in the doorway.
Then paid the fare.
Nine was too early. But it meant an empty seat in every direction.
The dark side of the bus in Naas is the bright side on the way to Dublin. And it’s bright this morning. We’re having a June for a change.
The bus follows the slip road’s curl out of Naas. Holds my window to the sun. I open the case and put them on. The case is much sturdier than the glasses. Two skulls safe inside a motorcycle helmet. I bought them back when I still worked in the shop. A spree on store discount. Two Calvin Klein bras and a pair of Chanel sunglasses.
The bus twists into Johnstown. Swans through and out. Past Kill. Rathcoole. Over the spot Veronica Guerin was shot. Under the speed cameras Da had us watch. Arches round the Red Cow and on to the Long Mile. Through Bluebell. Inchicore. Bless myself past the statue of Our Lady and wait for the first breath of air born of concrete.
Drink in the length of the Liffey. Wave to the sunlight buoyed between ripples.
Bridge after mismatched bridge.
A man in a blue Puffa jacket raises his fist in the air. A woman in worn runners and a rain jacket shuffles over to him. They stand very close together, crossing and uncrossing palms.
Nine was too early.
We stop at O’Connell Bridge.
I offer to unload the Romanian lady’s buggy but she hands me the baby instead. She smiles at me. The baby. Smiles and winds her little fingers in my hair. The lady says thank you and takes the baby back. Straps her into the spaceship. Tiptoes away.
All of the doors on Bachelor’s Walk are closed.
O’Connell Street isn’t a pleasant walk but I love to make it anyway. I love all of it. Bulletholes in statues’ breasts. Weather burned faces beneath them. Piss pooled on the streets. The layer of old Dublin laid on top of store fronts.
The Hugh Lane is open. I’m sure of it. It’s quiet in there. Restful. Nice coffee shop. I round the corner, pass the Writers’ Centre. I must have walked too fast. Its door is closed too.
I stand there, still for a few minutes. Turn around. Walk back the way I came.
It isn’t warm enough to sit in the Garden of Remembrance. I walk around it anyway. Remember taking my sister to see it years ago. She didn’t know the story of the Children of Lir. She took pictures of the sculpture while I told her what I could remember. Which wasn’t much. It’s even less now. Really just that the girl’s name was Fionnuala. That she looked after everyone else. Well, that and they were swans. For ages. It’s one of the Sorrows. I forget how many there are.
I leave the garden and turn down onto Parnell Street, through the birdshit and sunshine. Cross over onto Moore Street. Fresh flowers, fresh fruit, fresh fish, y’alrigh’ luv? Two for a tenner, lovely arndey? Isn’ir only glowrious ou’? Der yar luv Goblesha. Enjoydesun t’day luv shure itcouldbe raynin t’mara, wha?
I wave and walk on. Shop shutters are beginning to rise.
Weave through flocks of young girls on Henry Street. Making sure not to look right at them. They’re wearing tights they think are leggings. I know by the raised gusset outlining each twelve year old pubis. I don’t look. I can’t. They’d stride up to me just like they’re striding now, shouting about how I’m some fuckin’ sick lezzer ye bleedin’ queer paedo my da’s just ourathe bleedin’ Joy an’ he’ll fuckin’ come down here a bather ya watchin’ my arse ya sick queerass lezzbeen.
Duck into Arnotts. The piped music and designer handbags are soothing. Wander through aware that it’s only half one. There’s a bagel stand at the back, wedged between Menswear and Abbey Street. A turkey bagel for every day I worked here. The seat beside the far door is empty. Drape my coat there while I order.
The windows have been washed. The passers by can see and the door opens out. Perhaps Love will pass. Maybe this is the doorway.
They bring my order too quick.
Green tea, plain bagel, toasted, butter, jam. Just me and Huck Finn.
This is my third time through. It’s like going home. It’s more home than Naas. Like here. Maybe that’s it. A viscous Mississippi, the greasy Liffey beyond. Jim on the run, my cousin’s five years. Snakeskins, NAMA. Sivilization.
A second green tea.
I usedn’t feel able to get up and order seconds. Then one day, here, on my break I saw a mother send her eight-year-old son to the counter. He almost turned purple waiting at the register. But then he turned around and came back with hot chocolate.
A third green tea. The pen is for marking out passages but the Grangerford’s feuding doesn’t keep my napkin bare.
lOVe loVe LovE
I leave.The chair opposite me is bare. I need it to work. Need love to find me. Want love to find me. Sitting by the doorway. Want love to. Want to be found. Wantwantwant—
There’s a bar across the street. I used to go there often back when I worked here. It’s still bright out. There’s no football today, so it should be quiet. No washed out T-shirts. Bookies’ slips. Deep swallows. Roaring at the screen.
An empty seat in every direction. I sit in view of the door. Just in case.
Liffey street is just beyond the glass. It’s fluid, Liffey street. Moves at a constant pace. If it stops, it smells. It’s gorgeous to watch. Even abandoned shopping trolleys caught up in the current.
Soda water and a chicken stir fry. Too salty and over far to quick. A gin and tonic. A man in white pants walks past on his way to the bathroom. Huck won’t tell me about Buck Grangerford’s murder. I’m glad Jim’s okay. Another gin. It’s still bright out. I’m sure it’s getting later. Liffey Street flows strong. Another gin.
Huck and Jim begin to swell, then sink. They soak into the river and pull apart like tissue paper. I mark the page and fumble for my jacket.
“You can’t be leaving?”
The man in white pants stands beside me, smiling. He is short, grey haired, shirt collar unbuttoned to the order of wealth. Not that common these days. This side. Anymore.
Uninvited, he sits down. He strikes me as the type of man to put his voice into a sneeze. The type of man to decide when companions cross the street. The type of man to explain things.
I tell him I have to leave soon. That there’s a bus in ten minutes. He hands a green banknote to the waitress holding my bill.
“Wait for the next one?”
I hold my breath. Ten seconds pass. I take off my coat.
Two more gins.
He tells me he’s a businessman. CEO of a web design firm that specialises in translation software. You know when you enter a website for any big cosmetics brand a stack of different flags unfurl across the screen? You click on your own nationality to understand what to buy.
They deal with that. Dior, Clinique, Chanel. I run my fingers along my sunglasses case.
He asks about me. Maybe I’m hopeful. Or maybe it’s the gin. But I tell him. Everything. Mammy. Home. The Baby. Why not?
It doesn’t matter at this stage.
I don’t matter at this stage.
He listens. Says I’m remarkable. Surviving alone in a home like that. He tells me that living in a place where no one believes in you makes for remarkable people. Most of the time.
I think I’m supposed to ask about him.
I ask does he have children. He admits to a grown up son. Attending Rutkers in New Jersey. Was eager to leave home (Colorado) after his mother died. Car accident, 2010. Drunk driver. Killed instantly. Very tragic. Very tragic indeed.
I ask him is he enjoying Dublin. He says he hasn’t had the chance yet, looking at me from under his eyebrows. He reaches across under the table. Hooks a fingertip into my waistband. Grunts softly, just loud enough for me to hear.
There’s a bus in ten minutes. It’s still bright outside. He insists on walking me. I notice on standing that he’s shorter than me. A green note to the waitress. His hand on my waist.
We join Liffey Street, are carried over the Ha’Penny Bridge. I tell him about the time I ran, drunk, across it. That I didn’t notice the change from long steps to short ones. That I skidded the whole way down and didn’t fall.
He tells me I’m remarkable. I tell him he already said that.
I point down a laneway into Temple Bar. Tell him there’s a Lebanese restaurant he should visit there. A great gallery right beside it. He asks me to show him. I say it’s just a couple of steps on, but he insists. We turn down the laneway and he pulls me aside. Against a metal door. The rust nips at my shoulders.
Morning came with yellow light filling the room. A taste of dried wine on the tongue. Strips of plastic window shutters giggling in the breeze. The song of city cars playing on a distant street. A beautiful bleached blonde with a face full of nordic edges lying nude on the bed, sheets hanging from her and the boy. Him smelling orange and sweat and rubber, sitting up to look on the ground, and seeing a carpet awash with books, clothes and scribbled paper. The girl is smiling at him now. He wants to say a silly thing, but he just kisses her and keeps the ideas in his throat. What would you do? The boy is shy baby Cormac (me).
“Here,” two Camels ready between her fingers “Your roll-my-owns make me sad.”
I try to explain I’m a student and too socialist to bother working, and all the rest.
“You are such veal. Light the fugging cigarette and appreciate good things.”
I do. We puff. We tip ash into an empty cider can. I’m lying there dumbfounded.
“This room smells like poison.” she says. That’s her thing. When a word is clear in a sentence she swaps it for poison. Example: Motherly poison. I poison books. Late at night a man and woman can make poison. And so on.
“Cormac,” she says. “I couldn’t remember it for a second.”
Someone knocks on the door.
“Go away!” she pulls the sheets over us. “And my name really is Alice.”
Alice, lying in to me. Her face beneath my neck. Her voice coming up muffled from the pillow.
“Tell me a story.”
“Any story. Just tell me anything.”
“Once upon a time there were two alcoholics in a bar. A boy and a girl alcoholic. Dublin. The town he was born in. They could have been in any other place, but they were both in this one bar. The boy was there by pure chance, with his friend Barry, who left to work in America this morning.
(the girl hasn’t yet told me how life got her to The Globe Bar)
The boy was outside smoking his rollies when she appeared, and she stood crooked in the door. A man was in her way. A big man with a big beard who told a story about some war and the way it made you feel after so broken and sorry and everybody was listening to him because he had a hard voice and a big jaw. It’s a wonder she didn’t take him home instead!”
“People don’t hmmprff in fiction, Alice. Unless they hmmprff in real life. Unless women really do sigh and roll their eyes sometimes. But anyway, forget that old bore. The boy pointed at the crooked girl and said that the man’s stories turned women into statues. And that was enough to get her chatting. Boy and girl went inside and danced, her lost her, but he found her again. Outside, smoking her Camels. He saw the burns on her arms from the café and made a joke about razor blades. She said she got her marks playing Fight Club.
‘I’ll play with you,’ he said ‘Give me a punch and then I’ll give you one.’
They couldn’t in front of the doorman. They walked to the unlit corner of the street. She hit him on the left cheek.
‘And now it’s your turn’ she said. So he took her and kissed her. When they walked back Barry laughed at the red stains on his mouth. But he didn’t mind.”
She lifts her head from the pillow, her blond hair falling down and resting on my face. I’m in a hair cocoon. I feel lips.
“I’d read that. The tale of Alice and Veal.”
“I’d call it Alice at the Globe if I ever wrote it. Doesn’t that sound like Fitzgerald? Alice at the Globe?”
“It’d make a fine short story.”
“Well,” I pause for just one moment “Maybe it could be a novel”
Cormac Buchmann is a 22 year old writer of fiction living in Howth, Dublin. He drinks Karpackie and rolls cigarettes from rejection letter paper. He can also fold them into little hats.
Sitting With A Stranger In A Busy Café
– By Sophie Meehan
The vegetable moussaka is nice but vegetable moussaka is just what people on Come Dine With Me make when there’s a vegetarian over. He keeps hrrmphing behind his paper, so that’s what a hrrmph sounds like, I’d only seen it written down. RAIN TO EASE TODAY BUT WILL BE BACK and a fireman carries a small pink girl through a puddle. There’s a smudge of soup under the headline, the bowl is as big as his head. He has one of those professions that make grown men look like they’re wearing a school uniform, I think it’s the navy jumper. Go ahead plenty of room he says but the face buried means he doesn’t want to talk. The mashed potato has cheese in it which I don’t understand.
There’s a dingle at the doorbell, it must be a mother and a daughter, because she’s translating Shoes! Yes your shoes are lovely, they sparkle just like you do. Lunch! Yes we’re going to get you some food now, it’s closer to dinnertime though. I wonder if he’ll check what I’ve written when I go to get some cake, he probably wants me to go away. Everyone here is very trusting with their Marks and Spencers shoppers, but he’ll probably feel crippled with responsibility, coat-minding wasn’t part of the agreement and now he’ll have to stay put in the 3-7 minutes between chocolate and cheesecake. Doesn’t look like he’s going any time soon though, he’s getting his money’s worth out of that soup, all the way to the sports section.
He has a ring on his finger but it doesn’t look like a wedding ring. I bet he can feel me reading the back of his paper, he probably regrets his openness but it would be rude to move now. Elsewhere, this sponge is so spongey is feels like I’m cleaning raspberry sauce off the bathroom floor. I wonder if people think we’re a father and daughter who through comfort or discomfort are beyond communication. I wonder if he has a daughter. Maybe he had a childless marriage which divorced because they’re both financially independent, and now he lives in the Docklands which has changed a lot since his day but most of the old gang are still around, snooker on Wednesdays, no, Thursdays, and he’s planning his first trip to Thailand because he wants to get some warmth in his bones.
Sophie Meehan studies English and Spanish in Trinity. She wants to be a writer when she grows up, she also wants to have a dog and live in Sandycove. Sophie writes poetry, prose and theatre, she has been published in Icarus and THE SHOp and wrote and directed Does Anybody Ever as part of ABSOLUT Fringe Festival 2011. Follow her on twitter @someehan
At least I Have Her Love The City She Loves Me
– By Angela Finn
Yeah because after a night of no sleep we walk north to Clontarf past Pigeon house towers rising sun-glow platinum yellow flushes of first love making my heart pound into Saint Annes Park by the milky green pond Italian pavilion not like Dublin at all we lie on the cold stone steps morning bird song you singing your new lyrics then Janes Addicition Im done with Sergio treats me like a ragdoll you unbutton my blouse softly singing Red Hot Chilli Peppers the city like my only friend is the city I live in city of Angels smell of night leaving earth glistening green pond water frothy white scum sound of early tide lapping notsofaraway feel my stomach ribs breasts take me to the place I love take me all the way tweeting birds sky haze dissolving at least I have her love the city she loves me lick my face lips kiss me sparkly sun on olive green water under the bridge downtown is where I drew some blood eat breakfast through the cafe window glittering periwinkle sea eggs benedict oozing yolk starry eyes silver leaking teapot tea tastes of chlorine milk brown sugar crystals feet entwined fluttering belly take me to Cowper Road Victorian house brick red facade santaupe steps hot June midday drifting in and out of sleep squashed in single bed speakers amplifiers bass guitars posters waking fucking smoking end of spliff from your shirt pocket take me to the place I love take me all the way yeah yeah yeah in twilight we surface one drink at Bruxelles snoggers everywhere Pygmalion smells of sewage Long Hall mirrors reflect starry eyes sing try again tomorrow Im gonna kick tomorrow kick tomorrow summer city noise shrinks to quiet almost midnight drunken howls opposite University Church pinned against rusting iron railings dusty branches scratch my neck my bare shoulders Jane says Ive never been in love lonely as I am together we cry Yeah.
Angela Finn lives in Dublin. In 2012 she was shortlisted for Francis MacManus story award and was runner up in the RTE Penguin short story competition. This year she came third in the Fish Publishing short memoir contest and had two pieces of short fiction broadcast as part of RTE Arena’s New Planet Cabaret creative writing course.
One Good Eye
– By James Conor Patterson
At some indeterminate point in the day, when Dylan Ruddy could hear nothing at all, he opened his eyes with a slow scratch against the light in the room and felt it fade from above and around him with unnatural quickness. He couldn’t remember being asleep.
There was the sound of a clock ticking and it sent echoes through the wooden boards and coursing cell-like across the entire infrastructure of where he lay so that he imagined lying in a colony of locusts. He was aware of a single red candle dripping in the hearth.
The slightest manipulation of light from a glimmer of the wick, or even rising and falling with the fluctuations of a shallow breath kept the room moving in a constant swim of changing dark and as he adjusted further, he noticed alterations in the room’s fragrance between black coffee and burning wood.
Dylan lifted himself carefully onto one elbow and looked quietly around him. Barely daring to cough or stretch a tendon for fear of disturbing the atmosphere, he could see that what little light there was seemed to come almost entirely from the candle burning in the fireplace. Any remaining light was filtered sparingly through the black window on the side furthest from the hearth. He could also make the shape of a black plinth on the opposite side about a dozen feet from where he lay. Something which, when he squinted hard against the scant amber of the low flame, revealed a wooden bar with brass taps and a gaudy footrest. He had no idea how he had got there.
‘That was an awful fall you took’ someone said to him, ‘you’re lucky the wife and the two boys were here to help me get you up the stairs.’
Dylan didn’t move. He had presumed, up to then, that he was merely alone and that the room would reveal itself over time; or by deciding what may or may not have happened in order that he might end up on this strange floor at this strange hour; in a dark and strange and empty city pub with no boots or hat or coat on.
The floor itself was black and white and two-tone marble in a pattern that slithered quite everywhere and drew attention to the bright red velvet on the walls. It had done its best to make him uneasy before any voice had revealed itself beneath the dark, but now he was shocked completely into stunned silence. He didn’t know where he was.
The immediate fear he felt was that he hadn’t located a door and he had the strange urge that any access to where he was seemed at once both impossible and perfectly natural. He tried to locate the voice and looked to the corner nearest the window. A man leaned out from the dark in a wooden chair with a ladder of pipe-smoke climbing about him into the yellowing roofspace. He was wearing a greatcoat over some long-johns and spoke with an accent that Dylan couldn’t account for. Perhaps he was foreign.
‘Where am I?’
‘On the floor of a public house asking a strange man with a pipe where you are.’
‘Not to worry. I’ll tell you in a moment when you’re feeling a bit better.’
The man’s words seemed to come from the inside shell of a shared lung and Dylan could see that, underneath a peaked cap with silver badges that shone bright like teeth against the window and the moon, he had only one eye. The socket rang out against the featureless wax-bent drip of his skin and he could feel it watching him the same as if it were the eye of any number of gamblers he knew. Or the men he’d see with unnatural movement in the ring, who lurched hawk-eyed into the path of an oncoming throw without ever being hit and the hands of their opponents all the time by their sides as they slumped onto the mattress and the bell rang Time.
‘I had a fall?’
‘Where was that?’
‘On the street’ replied the man, getting up and pointing. ‘Down there.’
‘Did you see it happen?’
Dylan paused. ‘I wasn’t in here was I?’
The man shook his head, ‘No.’
He came over to Dylan and sat down heavily on the floor beside him. He carried a round cushion taken from somewhere in the dark and his bare feet were stretched out, twitching like dog-eared hares snuffing at a vegetable patch in spring. His back was against the wall where the fireplace lay and he motioned to a black plastic and glass pot that stood out on the hearth with two empty cups on either side of it.
‘You should have some.’ He said, ‘Black preferably. I can’t think of anything more suited to a fall and rescue mission.’ He smiled and shook his head as he poured out twice, ‘And quite a fall it was.’
‘I’d say you met more than your match today with a move like that.’
The man looked at him from behind one clear, blue eye and lifted a hot cup off the floor. ‘Not like that.’
‘I suppose not.’
‘Tell me though… would you never think about stopping?’
‘I have’ said Dylan. ‘Sometimes I have, but I don’t have much in the way of income, and there’s not a whole lot for me to go back to, you understand.’
‘Why do you ask?’
‘No reason. I just thought you could use a bit of sage advice from a man who’s seen this sort of thing before.’
He pointed up to his empty socket and winked with his one good eye.
He laughed ‘No, not me. Someone else. I’d just seen it so many times that I got tired of it and plucked my one good eye out with a teaspoon.’
‘Only codding’ he said, ‘Some people took it a number of years back in a bit of a tiff… I was trying to help them out of a jam…’
‘I’m sorry to hear that.’
He waved his hand. ‘Not to worry…’ he smiled, ‘it happens.’
Somewhere out the window Dylan could hear the grumble of a motorcycle, low and still and spreading across the warmth of the room like a sleepless man. He imagined it calling out over the dark dormant lawn of a suburban back-spread and the dogs speaking in monosyllables through the nooks of trees and up the sides of houses. There was a white rectangle rising sharp against a nameless black void, and an open garage revealing itself; a garage that would receive the shuddering bike and close back up into nothing once again. All was silent.
‘Listen’ the man said, ‘do you have somewhere you can go?’
‘And a wife and kids in the same bargain I presume? A bit like myself…’
‘Well then…’ he said, standing up, ‘put on your coat there. Get your boots and hat, shake my hand and make your way home this very minute. I’m sure your family think you’re dead along with the rest of the world.’
Dylan shifted his shoulder-blades and stretched his back as he moved up onto his hands and said quietly, ‘I’m not sure they’ll have me.’
‘They’ll have you.’ The man said.
‘How do you know?’
He smiled, ‘I know a lot of things.’
Back out in the street it had gotten cold. Dylan turned the collar of his coat up and buried his chin beneath it, slouching down against the frost as he went and the harsh wind up the Liffey from Dublin bay promising new snow if he didn’t get a move on and do what the stranger had asked.
He was walking now, believing that people would never fully appreciate the uncanny complexity of night until they had embarked upon a lone walk like this one: A walk across the deserted heart of a city street at three o’clock in the morning, for it taught a man everything he needed to know about human frailty. That everything was quite frantic, alive and urgent before a certain hour in the day seemed only to enhance the absolute absurdity of boundaries and social conduct and nothing deflated hubris for Dylan quite like the frozen dark of a city street laid out like the interior of a cobbled valley; vast and silent.
The street where he stood was completely empty; all except for a single white square a thousand feet from the city floor. Perhaps, he thought, there was a cleaner working late in the upper portion of an office building; someone dealing with the fallen staples and accumulation of the day’s debris. The relics of men and women who were likely now at home in their beds. Men and women, indeed, who could be lying dead in the city morgue.
The change from daylight to dark and the passage of time in general brought much that was unexpected and Dylan considered that really the only tangible reality at all was that beacon of light he watched shining several stories into the night sky. A light that, before tonight, he had known absolutely nothing about.
James Conor Patterson is a 24 year old Irish poet and short-story writer who, over the past few years has seen his work published in a number of publications including: Cyphers; Wordlegs; The Poetry Bus; Southword; Bare Hands; The Open Ear; Outburst; The QUB Writers’ Journal (Queen’s University Belfast); The Bell (University College Dublin); and Full-Stop (UL, University of Limerick). He will also be featured in the Autumn issue of The James Dickey Review, based in Virginia (U.S.A.)
In 2012 he was featured in the Wordlegs ‘30 Irish Writers Under 30’ e-book publication and also in its print anthology which was published in November by Doire Press. He currently lives in his home-town of Newry, Co. Down. Check out his blog and follow him on twitter.
David Martín is a Spanish photographer and dreamer living in Dublin, capable of eating a whole chicken in less than 8 minutes. Sadly, non of those hobbies or skills are paying the bills that why he is working in Sales for Getty Images. You can see more of his work on his Flickr.
– By Helen Victoria Murray
He had worn black that day. Normally a pale blue man, the black shirt burned a hole in his wardrobe. Like a cigarette burn marking out a misdemeanour, it was making him uncomfortable – as if he owed it something. It wasn’t really geared towards self-flattery. It did not match his eyes, it did not match his hair; it matched his mood.
And she’d worn green. A pale green jersey, which cynics would have said turned her sallow. And she was fair, yes. She was perfectly fair. But surely never sallow. The face, well it was symmetrical, you could say that for it, at least. But its expressions? Nondescript, half faded, as if toned to blend into the pattern on the wallpaper. Her intellect was watery. Addicted to thoughts about thinking, she was a dilute woman. He watched her from across the room, observed her trying to press her musings on the world, and was reminded of temporary tattoos. Childlike. The same transparent falsity.
But the hipbone…
The corner of his eye caught the hem of the jersey as it raised, a very slight amount. Her skin was exposed to the light. He saw the jutting angle of the bone, the smoothness of the skin. He saw her fingers extend, and graze it with badly broken fingernails. It was all it took.
In the unflattering overhead lighting, two screens flickered before him. On one, he watched his own extending hands. Something was wrong, something in the colours. The whites were too glaring, the darks too deep, the contrast too sharp on the eyes. He saw himself seize the hipbone, whirling it around and towards him, using it to mash it in amongst himself. The screen portrayed the frantic gnashing of him – animalistic and abhorrent, he watched the hipbone smash as she blacked his eyes and spat in his face. It made his skin creep inwards on itself in horror. And yes, the animal – himself – was withering now. He saw the hands, their sinewy knots grow soft and veined with blue, the nails blackening. Gradually, the grit set in and he watched himself become dust, all blown to pieces by her justified fury.
But the hipbone…
The action on the second screen moved slower, showing a steady, practised dance in which the hipbone featured. It was choreographed to perfection, every movement refined. Effective. The colours were warm and organic, something hazy blurred the motion. There was something captivating, almost mesmeric about the dance of biology: the hipbone melted, grew tactile, became like mercury in his hands.
Oh, that hipbone…
Everyone knows you can’t watch two screens at once. You get a migraine.
He stared at the floating screens until his eyes hurt, and when they flickered out, he was returned, slack-mouthed to the moment. That instant of dark clarity, whatever it had meant – was gone.
The remaining day was fuddled. Small sounds or light touches made him start. Night brought a welcome chance to clear his head. He lay, with the black shirt haphazard on the floor, and tried to recreate the vision of the hipbone, comprehend its meaning. All night he wrestled with the two scenes, trying to commit his mind to one or other. All night they played in tandem, flickering with the blink of his eyes.
Come morning, he was wearing blue again.
Helen Victoria Murray is a writer and poet from Glasgow, attempting to balance her literature degree with her literary aspirations. Find her on twitter @HelenVMurray.
– By Mary Róisín McGill
Des lay in the dark, wondering if he should chance it. Beside the bed, a sliver of light from his laptop slowly blinked like a lighthouse beam in the night. Across his chest lay Daisy, breathing softly, her slight arms wrapped around him as if he might be torn from her.
Des envied Daisy’s ability to completely surrender to rest in a matter of moments. He only ever managed a few agitated hours, during which the day replayed on an endless Technicolor loop, punctuated by faces hacked from magazine pages and online profiles, charging at him like a strange body-less army of vacant eyes and flat, grainy smiles.
His phone was on the kitchen table. If he were to get up, Daisy might wake – what would he say then?
He watched the fragile white light wink in the darkness, before finally reaching out to the screen, pushing it open just enough to see he had one new message from Pandora453.
With tiny movements he tucked the duvet around Daisy’s bare shoulders, manoeuvring her onto her back. Then he crept from their warm bed into the bathroom, its tiles icy beneath his bare feet, the laptop balanced on his palms like an offering.
Des met Daisy on the last bus very early one Sunday morning. She was only other person left apart from him. In a fit of boozy bravado he sat beside her, without ever thinking he might be imposing, that his sudden appearance might frighten her.
‘I’m Des,’ he said, taking her limp, unoffered hand in his.
Daisy pulled back, her red mouth curling downward.
‘Can’t you just leave me alone?’ she said, folding her arms over the bulk of her jacket, her thigh pressed against her ratty backpack.
After a moment he said, ‘look, I’m sorry if I’m bothering you. If you want to be left alone, I’ll leave you alone. If that’s what you want, that’s no problem… Is that what you want?’
Des meant to sound funny. Daisy studied him with wide-set, somnolent eyes before shrugging as if to say, ‘suit yourself’. In Des’s mind this was not the same thing as a ‘no’ and so he stayed.
Daisy had long butter-yellow hair, brittle to the touch with a blunt fringe she cut herself in front of the bathroom mirror, biting deeper into her lip with every snip. She smeared red gloss over her mouth and carried herself in a slightly round-shouldered stoop, as if the world was a weight she alone must bear.
When they started dating, Daisy liked to chat about her PhD research. Des, keen to impress her, filled her wine glass without taking his eyes off her face as if to say, ‘I’m present. I’m paying attention.’
‘You’re a really good listener,’ she said, picking up a pizza slice, tipping it toward her face. ‘Not everyone cares for the finer points of communication theory.’
‘What you do is really interesting to me,’ Des said, passing her a napkin, enjoying how serious his voice sounded. ‘The Internet is the biggest thing in the world right now.’
Daisy took a bite, thinking for a moment. ‘I’m not so sure it’s a good thing, the whole digital revolution. I mean, don’t get me wrong. It’s given me the opportunity to write my thesis but I wonder sometimes, about what it all means for us.’
Des locked eyes with Daisy, letting the moment stretch between them before leaning across the coffee table he’d rescued from the side of the street, kissing her for the first time with greasy lips that aimed for her mouth but got her nose.
Three weeks later she moved into to his place, a dive apartment above an Indian in Rialto where even the wallpaper stank of spice.
In the dark of the night Des thought, ‘I’m not a bad man, just a clichéd one.’
The man who he was with those women he met online, women whose real names he had no interest in ever knowing until Pandora453, was not the man who went home to Daisy, who brushed the hair off her forehead so he could kiss it, prepared dinner with her, side-by-side in their tiny kitchen or held her as she slept.
The other Des was all in his head, even as he plunged himself into another strange woman who was no longer just an avatar and yet, still was in a way. Though he felt himself grow harder inside her, it was never fully real to him and so, it was never enough.
But something about Pandora453 was different. They had a true connection, chatting for hours when Des was at work stacking whatever piece-of-shit bestseller made him rue not writing his own piece-of-shit bestseller this week.
He ducked in and out of the stockroom to message her with giddy fingers, the idea of her sending bolts of pleasure to his groin. Sometimes, Des felt a sting of actual pain when anything threatened to come between them.
The more time he spent with Pandora453, the more Daisy’s presence began to irritate him. He could hear her in the bedroom, typing furiously, not bothering to get dressed or even shower, leaving a trial of mouldy coffee cups in her wake.
‘You’re like a woman possessed,’ he said, when she gave him a sour look for daring to enter the feral den she’d turned the bedroom into.
‘It’s my PhD,’ she replied in a gobsmacked voice, as if no justification was necessary, as if by needing it explained to him Des was spectacularly, mind-bendingly thick.
When she said she’d be going out that evening to have dinner with her supervisor, he could’ve punched the ceiling with delight but instead, he reached for his phone.
‘What’s your plan?’ Daisy called, as she painted her lips in front of the bathroom mirror. ‘You can join us you know. You’d be very welcome.’
On the couch Des stretched, saying in a lethargic voice, ‘Arah no thanks babe. I’ve the match and a few cans to keep me company.’
Daisy made a face muttering, ‘well how can I compete with that.’
When she finally left, he bolted into the shower then doused himself in aftershave, pulling on the new shirt he’d hidden at the back of the wardrobe. He was standing in the hall texting Pandora453 when he heard lock tweak.
With reflexes he never knew he had, Des scrambled into the bathroom. He could hear her in the kitchen calling his name, explaining that her supervisor was sick.
‘I’m just having a shower!’ he cried, pulling the shirt off.
‘But sure the match is still on,’ Daisy said. He heard the pop and hiss of her opening one of his cans.
‘It wasn’t much a game,’ Des shouted, turning on the shower full blast, his heart beating like a jackhammer.
The opportunity, when it finally came, was not something Des forced. Rather the opposite: it was presented to him not quite on his dinner plate but alongside it.
‘I have to stay over on campus this weekend,’ Daisy said, glancing at him over her shoulder while draining a white hill of pasta, her cheeks ruddy from the steam, her buttery hair twisted into a loose bun. Des knew better than to be indifferent, so he slouched like a petulant little boy.
Daisy put the plate down in front of him and took a seat saying, ‘I know things haven’t been great between us but I promise I’ll make it up to you. I just need to get this part of my final report nailed. It’s the most important part. And I’m sorry for always going on about work but I’m nearly there now. I’ll shut up soon, I promise.’
She gave him a hug, squeezing him tight within her thin arms. He felt like an idiot then, like a royal jerk.
‘Can’t keep doing this Des,’ he thought, watching Daisy push her food around her plate, her brow creased with worries he couldn’t bring himself to ask about.
While Daisy filled the dishwasher, he tucked his phone into the pocket of his jeans and went into the bathroom.
Des sat in the booth, his eyes picking over the crowded diner aching for his first glimpse of her. Every time the door opened, the bells reminded him of Christmas.
Daisy would be getting the letter around now, pulling it out from where he’d left it, tucked into the edge of the pillow as she slept. He could imagine her pale face scrunching up, the kohl she never washed off her eyes seeping down her cheeks, her hands trembling as his words hit her heart. In frenzy, she’d probably stuff her things into some bin bags and lug them over to campus, never to return.
The bell jangled. When he spotted Pandora453, adrenalin flooded his veins like water from burst pipes. She was tall, slender, slightly stooped like Daisy but her shoulders and back descended into a graceful ‘v’ at her waist, accentuated by an old style mac neatly belted and speckled with rain.
As she slowly walked towards him, wearing the red bobbed wig and big black sunglasses they’d joked about, Des had the sense that they knew each other somehow, that this, despite the wrongness of it, was somehow made right by the sheer will of destiny.
She eased herself into the booth with a sigh, pulling the shades from her face and setting them down on the table along with her phone. Staring at her, Des felt winded. He had seen pictures in the trashy magazines Daisy liked to read in the bath but never in real life. Never like this.
The old woman’s face – for she was, despite everything, much older than Des had anticipated – was taunt, so plastic-like it glowed like an orb beneath the diner’s fluorescent light. Her eyebrows sat high and arched on her forehead as if she were perpetually surprised. Her eyes, red-tinged and wide, blankly regarded him. Her lips, two bulbous pillows, were too swollen to close fully so her breath made a faint, dry whistling sound as it passed through them.
When she pulled her face into a macabre grin, saying with sickening playfulness, ‘not what you expected, am I sweetheart?’ Des thought of Daisy. For the first time, in a very long time, he felt like he could cry.
Mary Róisín McGill is a web editor, talking head and writer who splits her time between Galway and Dublin. She regularly reviews books for RTÉ’s Arena and is the co-founder and co-editor of Irish feminist website Fanny.ie. Follow Mary on Twitter @missmarymcgill
Nick wore a waistcoat, as many intellectuals do when they live in the country. His floppy grey hair and silver-rimmed glasses weren’t my style, but at the food table I overheard him say he’d worked with Lindsay Kemp. I knew about Lindsay Kemp from David Bowie Black Book, the first biography I read as a teenager. Bowie made his theatrical debut in 1967 in Kemp’s mime Pierrot in Turquoise or The Looking Glass Murders.
This was 1995. Everyone at the party was still in the kitchen or upstairs doing coke. I was off the drink and feeling shy. I went to the sitting room and took a book off the shelf. Nick followed me. He introduced himself and asked what I was reading. I showed him the volume of poems by John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester. He knew Rochester by heart. He recited the twenty-three verses of Signior Dildo. Then he told me he had a house in the south of France; I could go and write there, any time I wanted.
At Violette’s one night, we met a guy who toured with Lindsay Kemp at the same time. He said Nick was Kemp’s favourite. Later, Nick says it’s because he was the one who always got Kemp his drink; he was his cupbearer, his Ganymede. There are photographs of Nick from that tour, taken on a cruise ship in Italy. He is wearing a brown suede bomber jacket and aviator shades. He has floppy blonde hair. He looks like David Bowie.
He writes about the dark-haired girl in the tartan jacket: lyrics for a song, or a poem, he’s not sure yet. Two days after the party, I am housesitting for Simone and James. They’ve gone to South Africa for Christmas. Through the letterbox comes a book called An Intimate History of Humanity: inside is a card saying, ‘Call me!’
I am chopping mushrooms when I fall in love with him. He is sitting at the kitchen table, drinking red wine and rolling a spliff by candlelight. His voice is soft, beguiling, almost a whisper. He is telling me a story about the kindness of strangers. The story is this: he was driving from France to England for his mother’s funeral when someone (a woman, perhaps?) was kind to him. There may have been a snowstorm. There may have been a missed boat, or train, or a breakdown on the motorway. I have no idea. Every time I hear him whisper this story into a woman’s ear, I forget another detail.
My only defence is idealism and naivity; I would like to add youth, but I was twenty-nine years old.
Raoul Vaneigem proposed a revolution of everyday life; Leonora Carrington apparently made a festival of it; Nick did both: he acted spontaneously, he was politically motivated, and he could make crisps and olives and a bunch of irises into a sumptious tableau vivant. He was beautiful naked. He had Iggy Pop’s body before the big workout, perfect sallow skin.
The first time I sleep with him, I’m spooked. I see the same-shaped face of a man who put me in hospital. The same hollow cheeks, the same vertical lines. These visual clues I will later pay attention to, but already I am in denial. I have met the man I am going to spend the rest of my life with. I want to marry him. I tell him so, our first weekend together. Hell, he wants to marry me, too.
My female friends are charmed. My male friends think I’m mad. This new man has two young children living with their mother in France. He has an ex-wife and a sixteen-year-old daughter in Devon. He is old, penniless, and he appears to be an alcoholic.
The first time he invited me to lunch, I cooked. He had six of us round to Miller and Virginia’s house, where he was renting a room. Miller was another art school friend. He bought a mansion with orchards when he was on a roll in the eighties, directing videos for Depeche Mode. He was now living like an minor aristocrat fallen on hard times, showing guests around rooms without furniture and pointing out the splendour of his mouldings. We were all seated at table. Nick went out to get a couple of ingredients he’d forgotten, and came back two hours later, drunk. At the end of the meal, I wrote Miller a cheque for Nick’s outstanding electricity bill.
We’re in his bedroom. He’s standing by the fireplace. He’s wearing a white cotton jumper, denims rolled-up at the bottom, and converse sneakers. He looks like a lesbian beatnik; like women I’ve bedded in the past. He’s smiling. He hands me a perfectly rolled spliff.
At his drawing table, he shows me plans for the play he is working on with Sarah Kane at The Gate. Kane’s new play is called Phaedra’s Love: a reworking of Seneca’s Phaedra, it becomes notorious for its violence; she calls it ‘my comedy’. She will commit suicide three years later, at the age of twenty-eight.
Nick has poetry collections stacked either side of his futon. I open one at a poem called Sheela-na-gig. This is fate. I am planning a novel based on these female exhibitionist stone carvings. What it’s about, he asks. I say, it’s a surreal erotic comedy about a bisexual performance artist who develops gigantic labia and becomes a reluctant serial killer when she starts to swallow people’s heads up into her vagina. I try to sound excited, but I’ve already said this two hundred times at parties. Nick says, is there a male version of Sheela-na-gig? I say yes, it’s called a Seán-na-gig.
James warns me off Nick. They’ve been friends since they were seventeen; they’re now forty-five. He’s friendly with Nick’s ex-partner, Jane, a former BBC costume designer. They all lived together in Soho when they left the Royal College. He tells me not to fall for Nick’s sob story about Jane having an affair with a local punk musician heroin addict half her age. They both had affairs, always.
Nick is spending most nights at my flat in Hampstead. While he is at work, I throw out all his waistcoats and shirts. He is stupified when he discovers this. He can’t believe my gall. He tells me the navy crombie I despise is worn by all lighting designers; or maybe all electricians, I can’t remember.
He is perfect naked, but I can’t cope with the seventies folk-singer. I want a French philosopher. I buy him black polo-neck jumpers, cashmere scarves and an Armani tweed jacket from the charity shop. The glasses go. He gets contacts so you can see his soft brown eyes. He slicks back his hair; it’s no longer grey, it’s silver. The teeth are bad, the look of the wrecked dope-smoker doesn’t ever entirely vanish, but it adds a touch of rock ‘n’ roll to him. He now looks like Jeremy Irons.
One evening, he runs a bath for me. I’m under the bubbles smoking a spliff when he walks in and hands me the latest edition of Vogue. What’s this, I say. I never buy women’s magazines. He says, you appear to be interested in fashion.
Before I met Nick, I wrote a film script most of my MA class thought was pornographic. One girl couldn’t read it. The film featured auto-asphyxiation, sado-masochism, and a man who bites lumps out of his own arm when he suffers attacks of sexual jealousy. It was based on my relationship with an experimental jazz musician. I found it embarrassing afterwards, how much I’d exposed myself.
I come back from Nick’s house in France without a written novel. I have sat by the fire for the winter reading every single issue of Art Forum magazine published in the seventies, and the biographies of Louis-Ferdinand Céline and Jean Genet. I have written dozens of starts to Sheela-na-gig, none of which go beyond a thousand words. My friend Saul, fresh out of the University of East Anglia’s Creative Writing MA, tells me I should publish a book of beginnings.
Nick is pissed off with me. That generation of Englishmen seems to have had a thing for Edna O’Brien. He says, I thought I’d met an Irish writer. He is a better writer than I am, which makes it even worse. He has a fine line in poetry and his letters to me are art. To inspire me, he reads aloud the work of Kenneth Patchen and B S Johnson and then he shows me the sentences on the page. There is one I remember about a leaf falling to the ground; the eye of a rabbit has seen it, build me such a machine.
I’ve just spent the day with Ralph Fiennes at a read-through for a film. He arrived at the door in the same outfit he wore in The English Patient; he says they let him keep the clothes. Nick rants about Ralph Fiennes. He tells me what I am doing is fluff. He is designing a virtual theatre for a London University. They are applying for Lottery funding. His theatre is politically committed; he wants to name it after John Berger. We drink wine and argue into the dark. Next morning the portrait I took of him is on the floor. The glass is smashed. I do not know if I smashed the photograph or if he did, to indicate that portaiture is worthless. Nick has devoted his life to radical theatre and avant-garde art. The only time he is interested in my work is when we do a Friedrich Dürrenmatt play called Frank V with members of Theatre de Complicite.
I am on a beach: the mean, stony beach in Hastings. It’s not cold, but I am displaying the first signs of hypothermia: I am shaking uncontrollably and I am disoriented. Olaf has gone to buy chips. He has driven me here so that I can keen by the sea like a good islander. Behind me are beached half-deck trawlers with ragged black bunting; they look like a fleet of anarchist boats. There are gulls flying over the shore. They’re squawking loudly. One breaks away from the flock and flies off on it’s own. The flock of gulls squawking loudly is Nick’s wedding party right now, chattering and drinking champagne. I’m the gull who’s flown off, solo. In the wake of my flight, he has speedily married a former children’s television presenter. All I know is she wears Doc Martens, has a very pretty face, owns her own home, has a gay father, and does PR for a museum. He says, she’s very spiritual: you would like her.
Seagulls always show up. They showed up in the sky above Kentish Town High Road at six in the morning when I walked it, unable to sleep. I pleaded on the phone with Nick to come home. I said I’m not ready; I can’t handle it; it’s too early in our relationship. I was hysterical. I telephoned so many times he turned off the phone. The man he spent the night with answered it the following day and handed it to him in bed. He was exultant when he came home. He told me it was my fault for encouraging him to explore his bisexuality. I said I meant as a couple, together. Not for you to go off on your own.
Sheila Mannix is from Youghal, Co Cork. Her work has been broadcast on RTE Radio 1 and has appeared in Cyphers, Southword, Poetry Now, Karnival, Microbe, Wurm im Apfel’s can can poezine, The Poetry Bus and the book Cork Caucus: on art, possibility and democracy. She last exhibited at the Black Mariah gallery in a group show curated by the SoundEye Festival. Her photography has been published in the French magazine L’Artiste and is on display at the Bodega and the Crane Lane in Cork. She was recently selected by Poetry Ireland for their ‘Introductions’ Series 2013. Check out Sheila’s website.
Marina And The Marine
– By Michael Naghten Shanks
And so just as I finish saying what it is that I want to say there are three beats of silence – beat, beat, beat – and she starts to open her mouth, but then I notice a bird sticking its head out from between her pink lips, its beady eyes blinking in the harsh light, and it jumps onto her protruding bottom lip, using it like a perch, and flaps a bit before flying onto the top of my head, and I look at her and she looks at me as if to say “Understand?” and a wind carries her away like sand over a dune, and then I feel the weight of the bird lift off of my head and I see it fly towards a tree where it perches itself on the lowest branch, within arms reach, and so I run to the tree, jumping and grasping, but I can’t get to it, and then I see all these other people jumping and grasping for things – balls, knapsacks, food, clothes, rifles, books – but then the bird flies past my face and up towards an open window of a building I had not seen was behind me, so I run in and up the staircase, two steps at a time, sometimes three, sometimes missing a step and falling, and I see the bird on the window ledge and just as I dive to grab it with both hands it swoops down and takes a shit on JFK and everyone in the cavalcade starts to scream and run around, and no-one notices the bird skipping along the grassy knoll because all of their eyes are zooming in on me, so I run back down the staircase and out into the street, but it’s empty – not a car, not a building, not a tree, not a blade of grass, not a person to be seen – it is just me, the bird, and a white nothingness that stretches on into the ether for eternity.
In Alice’s infinite wisdom, and after the success of our Beat Writers’ Issue, she allowed me to take the reins for a special issue of my own. So here it is, The Bohemyth’s special issue dedicated to and inspired by the work and life of Samuel Beckett.
I would like to thank each and every person who submitted their work. The standard and variation was incredibly high – a testament in itself to the influence of Beckett – and the decisions on what to select for publication was harder than I would have imagined. I believe the pieces we have chosen are a fitting tribute to the memory of Beckett and I hope you feel the same after you have read and reread each one.
In Jan Wilm’s flash fiction, Colm O’Shea’s short story, Eamon Mc Guinness’ personal essay, Kenneth Hickey’s short drama, Denis O’Callaghan’s painting, and Claire Tracey’s photography, I hope you will find something that stays with you and gets you talking.
I would like to thank everyone who helped to spread the word about this issue and I hope that you continue to do so.
Finally, I would like to thank The Bohemyth’s amazing editor Alice Walsh. Her passion and enthusiasm for encouraging new writers is only surpassed by her own distinctive writing. Her ability to do both continues to inspire me.
I hope you enjoy the issue. And remember: BECKETT IS THE WORD.
Photography – Claire Tracey lives and works in Dublin. She has previously lived in France, Italy and Singapore. She has also travelled throughout Asia, America, Canada and Europe. Claire is currently working on her first screenplay.
Snow. Why. Repeat. Why. One. Three. Two. Four. Five. Why. One draws the blinds and fills the room with moth light of morning. Heaviness in the bones. Five. Why. One lifts the hands to touch the lakecold plain of the snow window. The white sinking hourglass sand. One is suddenly old, too old for life over again, all of life an old memory, forever redrawn in a puppeteering mind, one is old overnight, one with oldness. Why.
One recalls the moments of old, like crystal stars in darkness, snow petals on the windowpane, blooming, dying. The hand, her starfish hand spread out against the windowpane, tiny little thing, and the white sinking hourglass sand. Mercury, like dust, like mould, forms cold, but soft, around the hand. The greying warmth enfolding her fingers, a giggle, her head turning from frozen memory, a lily blossoming from the darkness, the mercury print of fingers left against the windowpane. One breathes against the lakecold windowpane. Blooming, dying. Too much remains of too little.
Why. Snow. Five. One has been to the room, the last room, her smell on the air, tender as pastry scent on the wind on a day of hunger. The blanket, which safeguards her shape against time, some day it will have to be straightened. The mine field of playthings on the floor, thinly arrayed, the mind field ploughed out already by the impossible mornings to come. Alone with age. Nothing to be done. No more marrying, no more having of children, no more hearing the lull of the voice, tiny little voice, when she turned herself into voices, so as to be together in solitude. One looked quietly from the kitchen to the rectangle of sunlight on the floor in the hall, dust flakes floating, the hourglass sand settling on your daughter. One day you step into the rectangled light and see the cut that it makes in the floor as what it was, open grave of time, tiny little thing.
You have returned to the living room with the memory of her scent, flying into the void of memory altered, pure silence in the walls, in the clocks, in the dawning sky. You, sequestered in the void, hold still to memory devoid of words, devoid of time, falling from the night of your mind, like moth dust through the hourglass, and you hold death in your eyes, in your eyes behind your eyes, vast rooms of death, streamed with light glaring in your eyes as on a stage, a full moon of expectation, and you keep still. You touch her hair somewhere in that room, you take her hand somewhere on that stage, her hand moves with your hand onto the windowpane. A tiny cracked moon of a hand eclipsing an older sun, the lake cold windowpane against your palm. Your hand is alone, an image puppeteered in the mind, of the hand, the tiny little hand of dimpled knuckles on the windowpane. Blooming, dying. Repeat.
Why. Five years too late for returning, barren tides, holding hands in memory. You remember the call made together. Can you dial the last digits. A giggle. The number, dear. One. Three. Two. Four. Five. The giant receiver on the small sea shell ear. The waiting, the ancient waiting. Daddy. I dialled the dadgets. Breathe. Repeat. Alone, the number escapes you, you look it up, you dial, the last five digits like stabs, you wait, the receiver restored as of old. His voice, a question as from the wintry void itself. You exhale against the windowpane, his voice unknowing still, waiting in another world, against another light for news that is, already, ageing and eternal. Mercury evaporates. You answer. No. It’s just me.
Jan Wilm (*1983) teaches English literature at Goethe University Frankfurt. He lives in Frankfurt.
– By Colm O’Shea
The wait, the long wait. Longer than before, not as long as it will be but longer than before. Here, now, here, rain again, as before, softer than but rain all the same. Waiting here, in the dark, waiting. Waiting for the door to open and waiting for him to come out. Waiting here, not standing, tried that, seen, chased away. Not sitting, tried that, seen, stones thrown at me. Crouching now, here, waiting, crouching. Behind the bins, crouching, ready, waiting but ready. Ready for the door to open and for him to come out. Waiting for someone to see me and I can be off, gone, run, away. Waiting. Waiting for the door to open and I, me, here, waiting. He knows, when he comes, he knows now, he knew then, he knows what he did, when he did it, before he did it maybe but he knows what he did then, and he knows it now. He knows and that’s why. He knows and that’s why I wait. He knows what he did and he knows he must expect it, not expect me, he doesn’t know me, well he does, but he doesn’t know me well, well he does. He does know me. He doesn’t know me now. He’ll be expecting it all the same. The same thing maybe, maybe not, maybe not expecting it at all, got away with it so far so why not. No, he’ll be, he is, he’ll be expecting something. Deserves something. Stupid that, fucking stupid that. Deserve, deserve, deserve means nothing anymore, never meant anything. Used to tell each other, used to be taught, used to be told that deserve, deserve meant something, meant we earned it, whatever it was, good, bad or indifferent, we deserved it. Meaningless word now, I mean look at it, when you look at it, when you think about it, deserve, really, deserve, means nothing. No one, not me, not him, no one keeping track, keeping score, keeping a tally on it all, on us all, no one. No one to decide who deserves what, good, bad or indifferent, no one. But say it all the same, think it all the same. Why I’m here, deserve, he deserves and I’m here. I did, I allocated, I tallied, I kept score and I decided. No better than anyone else, my own flaws, my own faults, my own, all my own, mine own and no one else’s. But I kept score and I decided, oh yes I did, I decided that he deserved, that he deserved this, that he deserved this now, here. He deserved this then, when I waited, the time I waited, all the time, all the times I waited, he deserved this then too, all of these times or just once. He deserves this once and that will be the end of it, no more deserving for him, never, all gone. He’ll deserve and I’ll give, I’ll dole out, I’ll serve, I’ll. Me, does it count, does it deserve the name, that word again. Should be banned, deserve, like that old nun, that old nun that taught us the words, taught us the words and the rhythms and the rhymes, the alliteration and the assonance, taught us the metre, not the metres, that was someone else, gone, funny that, their faces gone, her’s still here. I’ll ask him if I have the chance, I’d ask him if I thought I had the time. Others, there had to be others, there were others, she, that old nun, no, not a nun, that former nun, she only taught us the words, nothing more, not that we needed more, not that I remember any of the rest of it. I remember the words though, I remember them, funny that all the same. At the time we hated them, we hated her, always going on, always nosing and pointing, hated the sight of her, dreaded her, dreaded the words. And yet, and yet now, all that remains, all that I can recall. Ask him if I get a chance. Who were the others. Think on that, think on that later when it’s finished, when it’s done. What was that anyway, why that, why her, why that old nun, that old former nun. Deserve, yes, that was it, deserve, hate that word, ban that word. Words she banned, no, only one word she banned, never cursed, never swore in front of her, swore plenty behind her back but never in front of her. One word she banned, one word, only word. Nice, only word she banned, only word she never let us use, never let us say. Silly then, stupid then, I mean, nice, nothing wrong with it, we thought, nothing. Nice, good word, does what it says on the tin word, nice, has its place and use it word, nice. See it now, nice. Hateful word, nice, understand it now. He was never the nice one, no, he was, the bad one, no, not exactly, not at the time, no, didn’t know that, weren’t aware of that at the time. If I knew then, if we knew then, no, no point, would have happened anyway, no. Think what I want, couldn’t have stopped it. No, I was the nice one, yes, cursed with being the nice one, ruined by being the nice one, yes, ruined everything, ruined it all by being the nice one. Could have been much more, could have had much more. Could have deserved, no, not that word. Much more, anything more, anything. Could have anything if I wasn’t the nice one. Ruined it all for me. Ruined it all for myself. Should have been worse, should have been a cunt, no, maybe. If I’d been a cunt I would have had more, I would have been more. No, had to be, was, no point in discussing it, debating it, was, is, am, will be, nice. Ignored, nice, always is, always will be. Looked at, passed over, considered for a little while, yes, it’s nice, isn’t that what they all say, what we all say, it’s nice I suppose, it’s nice and all that. Maybe it will do for, maybe it will do for someone else. Oh yes, it’s nice, I mean it’s harmless and invisible, it won’t cause any problems, but it’s just, it’s just. Oh, I don’t know. I mean it’s not good enough for me, you say, I say, we say. I mean it’s not good enough for me but may be someone else will look at it, I say, you say, we all say. Knew what she was on about, have to give her that, admit it now. Have to give it to her now, knew what she was on about. Ban that word like the other, means worse than meaning nothing. Ban it, ban them. Knew what she was on about that old nun, that former nun. When you think about it, I mean when you really think about it. No, no, not too much. Miss it all if I think about it too much. No, forget, put it aside, ask him if I get a chance. Won’t get a chance, never ask him. Still, think on it again, sometime, somewhere, forget. Just now, just here, now. Think, yes, know what I have to do, know what I had to do, do it now, do it here. Wait for, wait here for the door to open and, yes, wait, yes. Know it, have it. Have it in my hand. Cudgel, yes, have it in my hand, the cudgel. Waiting here for him now with the cudgel. Knows why, he knows why. Thought of more before. Thought of more, maybe the stick, maybe the knife, maybe the Hurley, no. Thought about the knife, no, can’t do that. Thought about the gun, no, can’t do that. Get a gun, me, no. No, nothing left except the cudgel. Has to be the cudgel. The sound, the name, says it all, no words but it says it all. Wait here, stand here, no, crouch here with the cudgel, yes. Deserves, no, merits, no, just being stupid now, pretending it’s not one thing or the other. Earned, maybe, maybe earned. Either way, anyway. The cudgel, me and the cudgel waiting here, waiting here in the alley for the door to open, waiting here and then. And then what, yes I know, yes I know, I know what will happen then, he knows what will happen then, should know, might ease the pain, no don’t be stupid. Just wait, wait. Listen for anything, listen for anyone. No one here, no one here except him. No him, not the him. The other him, the other him here now, looking over, standing over. On the wire, a crow now, a crow, he’s a crow now. Know it’s him, of course, has to be. Look, even now in the dark, look. The black eyes, the black cold eyes and the long beak. Looking down on me with the black cold eyes and the long narrow beak. Looking down on me and saying no, always saying no. He doesn’t know, of course he does, then why does he say no. Has to know the truth, why does he say no. Looking at me, looking at me crouching here with the cudgel and he says no. Not listening to him anymore. Used to listen to every word he said, we all did, every word. Not anymore. Words mean nothing now. His words mean nothing now. Ask him about it, if there is any time. Ask him, he should know. Thick as thieves, him, me. Were, best of friends if that means anything, if the words mean anything, not banned, allowable words, still, mean very little now, almost nothing. Still, yet. True, was, were, him, me. Yes, best of friends. Once. Now, no. Now, here, now I wait, crouching in the alley with the cudgel and the door will open and he’ll get what he. Should have told him, for old time’s sake, should have sent a message. Let him realise the truth, let him realise he can’t, no, he won’t, yes, he won’t get away with it. Let him know he can’t get away with it. He knows what he did, knows it, has to know that others know too. Has to know that I know it too. Has to know that he can’t get away with it. Don’t tell him all, shouldn’t have told him all if anything, no, no point. Wouldn’t have told him about the alley and me and the crow and the cudgel. No, wouldn’t have told him that. Surprise, like the old days, jumping out and shouting surprise. Like that time, that time in Wicklow, walking, him and me, in the dark. Walking ahead of the girls, young, much younger then, we all were. Walking in front of them in the dark, along the road going down to the village, yes. Knew, we knew, barely had to say a word about it, both knew. Hid behind the trees, me on one side of the road and him on the other. The road, the narrow dark road, trees overhanging, darker than dark hiding behind the trees until the girls walked by then jumping out and yelling, yelling something anyway, forget what it was. Ask him if I get the chance. Good times, thinking now, good times. Knew it then sure he did, sure I did, knew they were good times. Cudgel could have come from one of those trees, old enough, knotted enough, maybe, maybe not but maybe. Still, quiet, still. Crow given up on me, once more says no and leaves, flies, gone. Crow given up and gone, more pickings elsewhere. Maybe it doesn’t know, maybe it really doesn’t. Might have had rich pickings, man and a cudgel, good for crows, cracking open the shell and letting the meat out, letting it all out onto the alley. Crow might have liked that, no chance to ask him. Crouching here, waiting, yes the crow might have enjoyed it, me, the cudgel and him, yes. Light now, door opening, yes me and the cudgel, swinging, knows what he did, body coming out, light dimmed for a moment, light from inside blocked from coming out into the alley, held back, blocked. A body. A body stepping out into the alley, the alley, me and the cudgel, yes thing about it, swinging, looping, a looping arc, bringing it, bringing the cudgel crashing down. The body moving in the alley, the face on the body. Know the face, have seen the face, the cudgel swinging through the air, one long arcing swing. The face on the body, recognise it, know it. Ask it, could ask it all the questions I have, could do all that. Just think about the cudgel, just think. The body, the face, doesn’t see me. Say something, call out, ask it the questions, ask him the questions. No, just think, the cudgel, the swing, the crash, breaking the shell and the meat coming out. The face and the body passing by, walking away. Could ask, don’t ask. Could ask the man everything I wanted to know. He knows, he knows, he knows all, he knows what he did and if I ask he’ll know why I’m waiting here in the alley, standing, no, crouching in the alley with the cudgel. The body and the face are gone. He’s gone. The light returns, the dim light returns, the darkness returns, if it was ever anywhere else. The crow hasn’t returned but the darkness has. Waiting, crouching in the alley. Waiting in the alley with the cudgel because the door will open and he will step out into the alley. He will step out into the alley and he will know, and he knows what he did.
Colm O’Shea is originally from Leixlip, County Kildare. He currently lives in Dublin City where he works as a Civil Engineer. He was one of the winners, in 2012, of the inaugural Irish Writers’ Centre Novel Fair Competition. Check out his blog.
´I can´t write about him´ – Writing in the Silences: Beckett, Grief and Art
– By Eamon Mc Guinness
It started with reading the letter Beckett wrote to his friend and poet Thomas Mc Greevy in Paris after his father died. It opened up things for me and gave me the strength to start expressing myself in new ways. It was 2010 and I was doing an M.A in Anglo-Irish Literature and Drama in U.C.D. One of the modules was ´Beckett and Contemporary Irish Drama´. My father had died earlier in the year. I was teaching English in Spain when it happened, came back in June when the academic year had finished and threw myself into the masters in September. I read every book and article recommended. I spent hours in the library and would often be there when it opened. I didn´t know what else to do. If I stopped I didn´t know what would happen. I didn´t allow myself to properly think or write about what had happened to me and my family.
Beckett was 27 when his father William Beckett died aged 61 on 26th of June 1933. Beckett wrote to McGreevy in Paris on the second of July. That act itself was comforting; the writing of the letter was an important gesture for me. Putting pen to paper was a conserving act. When I returned to Spain after the funeral I gave myself daily writing tasks. I wrote long letters and e-mails to friends and family. Communication was vital. There is, I believe, an honesty and space to letters and I sought that out. Whenever I´d been away before my father and I exchanged letters and my time in Spain was no different and we wrote to each other regularly. In reality, I wrote anything just to keep myself busy. Quotes, shopping lists, dreams, memories, plans, regrets, books I wanted to read, song and film titles, places I wanted to go, to-do lists; anything.
Beckett´s letter to McGreevy is concise and direct. It also contains more overt emotion than I´d up to that point encountered in his work.
It opens with:
“Father died last Monday afternoon after an illness lasting just under a week, and was buried the following Wednesday morning in a little cemetery on the Greystones side of Bray Head, between the mountains and the sea.”
He then goes on to briefly describe his father´s death and the practical matters that needed to be taken care of. One of his main duties was to help his mother and respond to the “endless letters on her behalf”. His own uncertain future is alluded to: “My position of course is vaguer than ever”.
In the final paragraph he mentions some memories he has of his father´s final days, “joking and swearing at the doctors”, “in bed with sweet pea all over his face” and most poignantly his father´s assertion that “when he got better he would never do a stroke of work. He would drive to the top of Howth and lie in the bracken and fart”. I could relate to all of this. In the weeks preceding his death I would speak to my father regularly on the phone. I was living in Santiago de Compostela and would constantly see the relieved and joyous faces of pilgrims who had finished El Camino de Santiago. I told him that many people who had been sick would walk the Camino when they had recovered. We planned to do this together when the treatment was finished and he was better. He too promised that he´d never go back to work.
Beckett says that his last words were “Fight fight fight” and “What a morning”. I´ve racked my brain for three years but still can´t remember our last conversation or his final words to me. In a strange way that makes me happy, there was no ´final ‘conversation over the phone, no ‘goodbye’ moment. Our last chat was I´m sure filled with trivial matters; the weather, family, news from home and work. One thing that sticks out though and that I wrote down in a journal at the time was something he said to me. We were talking about friendship and falling out with people and he said “Eamon, there is no time to make enemies”. I don´t know why I wrote it down but I did. Beckett finishes the paragraph with the beautiful sentence: “All the little things come back – memoire de l´escalier.” The French phrase refers to, according to the footnotes, “an inspired afterthought that comes to one only after leaving, that is, on the stairs”. It was and is true; all the little things do come back, at unexpected and surprising moments.
This letter was read out at the start of class by Prof. Anthony Roche and needless to say it numbed me. Beckett was 27 when his father died, I was 24. His father was also 61. I´d been in a haze, working hard, and trying to avoid the pitfalls that accompany grief. I wasn´t drinking or going out much. My girlfriend and I were living in my family home and we were all supporting one another. Beckett´s letter brought me back to my own letters and writing in the weeks and months after my father´s passing. I tried writing poems and stories about him but they all ended in failure. I was, perhaps, too close to the incident. In his signing off Beckett heartbreakingly states: “I can´t write about him, I can only walk the fields and climb the ditches after him”. In a letter to a friend afterwards I remember writing about my dad: “I am always in his shadow”. I think of that line often and try to figure out what I meant by it but writing it made me feel better. The letter floored me and gave me the most intimate reading of Beckett´s work I could hope for and I began looking at his work from the perspective of ´not writing´.
That final line has stayed with me the longest and I return to it often. The next day I went to Prof. Roche´s office and he photocopied the letter for me. We then began speaking about death and expression, how or when a writer can begin to express certain topics. When does the grief settle and the expression become clearer, more objective and less filled with raw emotion? There was and is no concrete answer. For some, that expression comes quickly and clearly, for others more slowly and for some it never comes.
The final line is telling. Beckett has just written three paragraphs “about him” before telling McGreevy he “can´t write about him”. However, we know what he means, “write about him”, in poetry, prose or drama. Beckett´s work is full of allusions, glimpses, memories that linger, small incidences that remain in the unconscious and will not go away, the little things that “come back”. In Krapp´s Last Tape Krapp speaks of a lost love and wonders “What remains of all that misery? A girl in a shabby green coat, on a railway-station platform? No?” and later on “I lay down across her with my face in her breasts and my hand on her. We lay there without moving. But under us all moved, and moved us, gently, up and down, and from side to side.” Krapp is haunted by these images and returns to them constantly. The death of Beckett´s mother in 1950 is alluded to in both Rockaby and Krapp´s Last Tape.
In Rockaby we hear v reliving old memories:
“at her window
let up the blind and sat
quiet at her window”
Later, we hear:
“in the end went down
into the old rocker
where mother rocked”
Similarly, in Krapp´s Last Tape death and blinds are again referred to:
“I was there when the blind went down, one of those dirty brown roller affairs…I happened to look up and there it was. All over and done with, at last.”
The letter to McGreevy allowed me to write about things at my own pace, if at all. There was no pressure but simultaneously a reminder that these feelings would remain and would re-emerge again and again. It was the willingness and bravery of Beckett and other writers to mine, investigate and confront these memories and emotions from different artistic perspectives that was and is the most inspiring to me.
In my shock and sadness I saw grief everywhere in art. I returned to albums and songs that dealt with loss, most notably Bob Dylan´s ´Blood on the Tracks´, Beck´s ´Sea Change´ and The Streets´ ´Never Went to Church´. I actively sought them out. Czeslaw Milosz says: “When it hurts we return to the banks of certain rivers.” Everything was re-shaped and sounded different, as if seeing or hearing things for the first time. I saw Stephen Dedalus in Ulysses not as the portentous arts graduate with literary aspirations but as a lost child whose mother had recently passed away, who is wandering the city, going from one de-energising group of men to another. A case in point being his friendship with Buck Mulligan who dismisses Stephen´s grief in the ´Telemachus´ episode: “You saw only your mother die. I see them pop off every day in the Mater and Richmond and cut up into tripes in the dissecting room. It’s a beastly thing. It simply doesn’t matter”.
Bloom has himself suffered great loss. The suicide of his father, the death of his mother and the tragic early death of his son Rudy. Throughout the day he is constantly reminded of his suffering: “Something to hand on. If little Rudy had lived. See him grow up. Hear his voice in the house”. Soon after, in ´Lestrygonians´ Bloom says of Rudy: “Can’t bring back time. Like holding water in your hand”. Bloom has the wherewithal to walk away from groups (the newspapermen in ´Aeolus´ and the drinkers in ´Lestrygonians´) and his ability to keep his own company marks him out from Stephen. It is little wonder that it is Bloom who saves Stephen during his drunken escapades and brings him home to 7 Eccles St for a cup of cocoa.
What intrigued me most was the idea of mining and confronting one´s past. There are certain incidences and memories we constantly fall back on and remember, certain people we can´t quite forget. I became intrigued by artists who not simply revisited their pasts but allowed these references to reappear in their work again and again. To some it may appear futile or even easy to go over the same ground but I see it as an act of bravery. In John Mc Gahern´s work there is a constant re-examining of his childhood in which his mother died at a young age and he was brought up by his aggressive and domineering father. We see this theme in both his short stories and novels throughout his career and again in Memoir.
As we see with Krapp´s Last Tape and Waiting for Godot, there are different versions of the self constantly at play. Our old selves die, we improve in some ways and dis-improve in other ways but the key point is that certain memories remain. There is a willingness and an acceptance on the writer´s part to return to the moments that define us as humans and tackle them again with fresh perspective amidst new experience and more objectivity. What differentiates this mining from simple repetition is that the standards are high and never frivolous. Stephen Fry, speaking about music, said: “Listening to music may inspire an extraordinary emotional response, but extraordinary emotions are not enough to make music”. Essentially, when Beckett or McGahern re-examine a moment from their past it is not simply through emotional laziness but more so a desire to view that moment again through a prism of change and new experience, from a more mature vantage point. It is not enough to simply have these experiences and write about them, a poem about a dead father is no more valid than a poem about a lamp, it depends on the execution and this is what characterizes the great from the good in my opinion, that determination to return again to the defining moments that shape us and attempt to create great art from this.
For example, knowing that there is biographical detail in the works of Beckett, Joyce or McGahern doesn´t improve the work. It has to stand alone on its own terms. Being aware that Bruce Springsteen´s ´My Father´s House´ is a personal story doesn´t make it a better song. Similarly, in Guy Clark´s ´Randall Knife´ he sings honestly and directly about his father´s passing, using the knife as a metaphor for his loss. Knowing that Clark´s father owned a Randall knife doesn’t artistically advance the song but strangely adds even more pressure on Clark to write universally. There is an impetus with the great writers to take their experiences to the next level, where it becomes useful not just for the writer but for the reader or listener too. We see this also in Patrick Kavanagh´s ´Memory of My Father´, Raymond Carver´s ´Photograph of My Father in His Twenty-Second Year´ and with Seamus Heaney´s ´Digging´ and ´Dangerous Pavements´. They are not simply diary entries but nuanced and crafted poems that work on both a subjective and objective level.
It was Beckett´s letter which gave me the mental space to express myself. It allowed me to face things at my own pace. I have written many bad poems about my father´s passing but have also written some lines that I am extremely proud of. By simply writing and examining the silence I feel I have made some progress. Where will it end? Will it end? Everyday there are reminders, “all the little things come back”. For me it´s about remaining open to the experiences and feelings, being aware that something will re-emerge that will throw you off course, get you down and open up old wounds. Grief gets quieter and becomes consumed by life and daily routine. It´s rarely as loud as it was at first but the desire to express and examine those feelings is still as valid as ever. The oft quoted Beckett phrase from his 1983 novella Westward Ho: “Ever Tried? Ever Failed? No Matter. Try Again. Fail Again. Fail Better” encourages us to persevere both mentally and artistically.
People have different ways of dealing with grief but for me it is returning to the page, to the clichéd notion that art saves. I even question this at times. Does it save or merely distract us? Either way, I still see the desire to write in the silences everywhere. Dermot Bolger´s recent collection The Venice Suite was a masterly collection of poems he wrote following the sudden death of his wife Bernie in 2010. He said he didn´t remember writing them but wrote them in a daze on “multiple scraps of paper” and “barely legible lines scribbled on envelopes”. Bolger says: “Reshaping them into poems allowed me to confront that initial grieving process and try to imagine myself into the different life I now lead”.
The bravery to return to these memories inspires me. In my view, the great writers write in the spaces, tackle the silences and go to the dark places. Speaking about his life Beckett said “Nothing matters but the writing. There has been nothing else worthwhile…a stain upon the silence”. It was this silence that I wanted to explore, the ´not writing´ and emptiness that consumes us all. It´s seeing it as a part of the human condition and once that space is accepted it is like having the end of the story, the in-between is there to be filled, to be written in, walked in and loved in. There is a pervasive loss that everyone feels, that everyone will go through, a search for meaning, for stability in the world. Filling it up as best you can becomes not only a means of survival but also a duty.
Eamon is 27 and from Dublin. He has had poetry published in wordlegs and Bare Hands Poetry. He has been writing for the last few years and is currently working on a series of short stories and poems.
Observations on a Funeral (After Beckett)
A Short Dramatic Piece
– By Kenneth Hickey
DUM – A Man
DEE – A Woman
VOICE – An Unseen Male Voice
[The stage lights slowly come up on DUM sitting on a small wooden box, like an orange crate, slightly to the left of centre. He is dressed in pinstriped trousers and dark cardigan over a dull grey shirt. All his clothes are threadbare. His boots are worn and broken. He has a wooden bowl of gruel and a spoon in his hand. He stares straight ahead. DEE stands slightly to the right of centre in front of a small wooden box similar to DUM’s. She is dressed in a dark cardigan over a grey dress. Her clothes are equally threadbare. There are ladders in her tights. Her boots are worn and broken. Her bowl of gruel and spoon are at her feet. She stares straight ahead. On the floor in the space between them is an old fashioned black phone. From darkness to the stage lights being bright DEE begins to speak in a single rapid monotone delivery. Her speech is about three quarters the volume of normal delivery.]
DEE: Watching them walking, the shape, the curve, the movement of one step in front of the other down the streets, the eyes hidden behind cascading hair, the smile, the look, the not look, ignoring, pretending to ignore, the watching, all that’s hidden and not hidden, the lies, the make believe, the sun pushing through their fingers, the curve, the curve beneath, the curve beneath garment and coat, hidden, why hidden, hidden from watching, the futile attempt not to care, they all care, watching, nails painted, eyes painted, lips painted, nails, eyes, lips, the lips, oh the lips, the bounce, the twist, the turn, the half turn, glancing into windows to glance back, smiling half smiles, hidden, watching from the corner of eyes, wanted to be ignored so they can watch back, they lie, I lie, we lie, together lying, too clever, too clever for our own good, twirling the world on the tips of their fingers, impaling, pulling, dragging, catching me and dragging me after them around dark corners, gone, gone now, and me with them, the smell, oh the smell of them on the air after, after they have left me, perfume, the perfume they possess, left with me, the small crack, the crack of dark tongue darting, behind small teeth, too white, too white, darting, the darkness behind, inside, inside those glittering lips, glittering with the glitter they put there, the glitter I watch for, the glitter I want, inside there, and underneath, my imagination, the small, the tight, pink and red and black, holding back, taking back, all I want to see, these eyes no good for underneath, I think, I dream, I invent the underneath, where I cannot see, underneath, and there it lies, and the skin sucks me in, imagination gone again, the heels, the hair, the lips, oh the lips, closer, closer till the kiss, only the kiss, imagination, every one of them as they walk by, skin on skin, finger on skin, them, me, them, it all, all of it, and then the blink, the blink till it is gone, and then another one, the skin again, and the lips, and back again, underneath, inside, the lips, and I am gone, again, the heat, the touch, they move, touch them as they move, want, wanting to move closer, the touching…
[Taking up her bowl and spoon DEE sits on her wooden box. Long Pause. DUM and DEE both remain motionless for several moments and continue to stare straight forward as they speak.]
DUM: You start.
DEE: No it’s you.
DUM: How long have we been here ?
DEE: Too long.
DUM: Has the world fallen yet ?
DEE: To which world are you referring?
DUM: [Confused.] Which world ?
DEE: The world here or the world beyond ?
DUM: Oh… The world beyond of course.
DEE: I don’t know about that. I’d have to check.
DUM: Well would you ?
[DEE puts down the bowl of gruel and spoon, gets up and without looking at DUM takes her box and moves to stage right. Pause.]
DEE: Isn’t there a ladder? I think I remember a ladder.
DUM: There usually is.
DEE: Was there one last time?
DUM: I can’t remember.
[DEE steps up on the box and peers off into the audience. Pause.]
[DEE continues to strain to see into the audience.]
DEE: Well what ?
DUM: Has it fallen then ?
DEE: Hard to say.
DUM: But if you had to say ?
[DEE continues to stare out.]
DEE: There’s not much out there.
DUM: If you had to guess.
DEE: Then I’d guess it’s still falling.
[DEE climbs down from her box and crosses with it to her original position.]
DUM: Not quiet finished then.
DEE: Not quiet done.
[DEE sits down on the box, picking up the bowl and spoon before staring forward again.]
DUM: Time still remaining yet.
DEE: Time still left.
[Long pause as they continue to stare directly ahead and eat from their gruel.]
DUM: Have you begun the preparations ?
DEE: For what ?
DUM: The party.
DEE: The party ?
DUM: The weekly celebration.
DEE: It’s not a birthday party?
DUM: No definitely not.
DEE: [Animated.] Is that you, Petey? [Pause.] Petey is that you?
DEE: Let me go back. [Looking up into the rafters.] Is it okay to go back? Just a little bit?
[Pause. No response.]
DEE: The party ?
DUM: The weekly celebration.
DEE: It‘s not a birthday party?
DUM: No definitely not.
[Long pause as they continue to stare directly ahead and eat from their gruel.]
DEE: And who will come ?
DUM: Too what ?
DEE: The party.
DUM: Those which remain.
DEE: But who remains ?
[Long pause as they continue to stare directly ahead and eat from their gruel.]
DUM: My mother remains.
DEE: She left when you killed the dog.
DUM: His barking kept me awake at night.
DEE: You were right then…
DUM: …To kill the dog.
DEE: …If it’s what you wanted to do.
DUM: Have you washed the plates for the party ?
DEE: You threw them from the window.
DUM: After I killed the dog.
[Long pause as they continue to stare directly ahead and eat from their gruel.]
My father will come.
DEE: He left when you killed your mother.
DUM: Her complaining about the dog kept me awake at night.
DEE: You were right then…
DUM: …To kill my mother.
DEE: …If it’s what you wanted to do.
DUM: Have you polished the cutlery for the party ?
DEE: You threw them from the window too.
DUM: After I killed my mother.
[Long pause as they continue to stare directly ahead and eat from their gruel.]
DUM: My sister will come.
DEE: She left when you killed your father.
DUM: His complaining about my mother kept me awake at night.
DEE: You were right then…
DUM: …To kill my father.
DEE: …If it’s what you wanted to do.
DUM: Have you counted the chairs for the party ?
DEE: The chairs?
DUM: Hurry up dear and close the window.
DUM: Let me go back. [Looking up into the rafters.] Is it okay to go back? Just a little way?
[Pause. No response.]
Have you counted the chairs for the party?
DEE: You threw them…
[DUM turns to stare at the window, the point where DEE was looking form earlier. He is confused.]
DUM: [Unsure.] …from the window !
DEE: After you killed your father.
[Long pause as they continue to stare directly ahead and eat from their gruel.]
DUM: My wife will come.
DEE: She left when she found you in bed with your sister.
DUM: She was lonely after my father.
DEE: You were right then…
DUM: …To sleep with my sister.
DEE: …If it’s what you wanted to do.
DUM: Have you cleared the table for the party ?
DEE: [Confused.] You threw it…
[DEE stands and crosses to position at left where she stood on the box earlier and stares up at it confused.]
DUM: [Unsure.] …from the window.
DEE: After you slept with your sister.
[Long pause as DUM continue to stare directly ahead. DEE continues to stand and stare.]
DUM: Then my sister must come.
DEE: She left when you got the dog.
DUM: I’ve always wanted one.
DEE: Since you were a boy.
DUM: So I was right then…
DEE: …To get a dog.
DUM: …If it’s what I wanted to do.
DUM: Have you placed out the caviar for the party ?
DEE: You threw it from the window.
DUM: After I got the dog.
DEE: And so we eat gruel.
[DEE returns to sitting as before. Long pause as they continue to stare directly ahead and eat from their gruel.]
DUM: We’re the only true nihilists left then.
DEE: With our hollow cell…
DUM: Our dull defence…
DEE: …To guard us.
[Pause before the stage lights slowly fade to blackout. Pause before dim stage lights come up again on DUM sitting as before. DEE is standing as before. From darkness to the stage lights being less bright than before DEE begins to speak in a single rapid monotone delivery. Her speech is about three quarters the volume of normal delivery.]
DEE: Rooted, rooted to the spot, can’t move, can’t touch, they walk on with eyes, hair, lips, the curve, the slip, the slide, the slide, then the badness, it comes, comes inside, the anger, twitching, itching, eating, that badness, that jealousy as they walk, not looking, why don’t they look, the hardness of me, inside me, with me, too long, too long, take it away from me, take it, take them away, leave me alone with my inside words, inside thoughts, thoughts, inside, without them, without them, then gone, it is gone, thank god, thank them, and I am back, back to my watching, then the two of them, the him and the her, him, leave him, the her, him with her, testing the badness, the darkness just left me, testing, the him and the her, the laughing, the joking, the joking I can’t hear, don’t want to hear, but straining, straining to hear, I don’t want to, hear, the him and her joking, the him and her, the look, the glance, the touch of them, the children unborn between them, ignored now, more ignored than before, more ignored than completely, the him, the her, hands held, hands holding, together, the small dead leaves crushed beneath their feet, still testing, still holding, holding the badness back, the bitterness to spit into theirs, wanting what they have, wanting theirs, the him and the hers, wanting, pushing my eyes across the street, away from the him and her, back to them walking, the hers, the hers, with the walk, and the curve, the inside, the underneath, my imagination back, the badness gone for now, now, for now just the watching, the leather, the lace, the small things, the small things they wear, their colours…
[Taking up her bowl and spoon DEE sits on her wooden box. Long Pause. DUM and DEE both remain motionless for several moments and continue to stare straight forward as they speak.]
DUM: You first.
DEE: No it’s you.
DUM: And how long have we been here ?
DEE: As I said before, too long.
DUM: And have you checked ?
DEE: If the world beyond has fallen ?
DEE: I checked before so you’ll have to check this time.
DUM: You think I should ?
DEE: It is your turn.
[DUM puts down his bowl of gruel and spoon, gets up and without looking at DEE takes his box and moves towards thewindow at stage left.]
DUM: It would be better if there was a ladder.
DEE: It’s usually provided.
DUM: But not this time?
DEE: It would appear not.
[DUM steps up on the box and peers off into the audience. Pause.]
DEE: Well ?
[DUM continues to strain to see into the audience.]
DUM: Well what ?
DEE: Has it fallen then ?
DUM: Hard to say.
DEE: But if you had to say ?
[DUM continues to stare out into the audience.]
DUM: It’s a pretty grim view all round.
DEE: Try to get past it.
DUM: Then I’d say it’s fallen.
[DUM gets down from the box and crosses to his original position.]
DEE: Quite finished then.
DUM: Quite done.
[DUM sits down on the box and picks up his bowl of gruel again.]
DEE: No time remaining.
DUM: No time left.
[Long pause as they continue to stare directly ahead and eat from their gruel.]
DEE: No point in me beginning the preparations then ?
DUM: For what ?
DEE: The party of course.
DUM: The party ?
DEE: Our weekly celebration.
DUM: Oh that.
DEE: Yes that.
[Long pause as they continue to stare directly ahead and eat from their gruel.]
DEE: Because there’s no one left to come is there ?
DUM: No, no one left to come.
[DUM and DEE continue to stare out directly ahead and eat from their gruel as the stage lights slowly fade to blackout. Pause before dim stage lights come up again on DUM alone on stage standing before his wooden box. His bowl of gruel and spoon is at his feet. The other orange box is in the same position as before. From darkness to the stage lights being less bright than before DUM begins to speak in a single rapid monotone delivery. His speech is about three quarters the volume of normal delivery.]
DUM: The fall, the feel, the move as they move, it all, all on top of me, the boots, the boots that make them walk so tall, so small to me, the detail, but the boots that have me, trample all over me, all over me, trample me, longing to be stepped upon, squashed, made nothing by them, by those boots and their walking, nothing, the light cotton and the little Vs, all their little Vs, and back to the underneath, the unseen, there my mind rests, rests and pants, and pants and moans and rests, the underneath, the small dresses and the pale thighs, pale thighs leading to the underneath, the line, the move, the curve, forbidden but calling, forbidden calling me, calling, and little bags of tricks on their arms, little bags of tricks, and there is no talking, no words, just the watching, the silence, the unsaid, unsaid and silence, no talking, no need for words, they don’t look, pretending, not noticing my watching, my watching, loving the silence between us, between me and them, me and the hers, the hers with their movement and curves, the me and the hers and the watching, then she looks, catching my breath, she looks, the smile, the flick, the smile, the look, rooted, rooted as before I watch her watching, the smile, the flick, the curves, the lips, oh the lips, the inside, the underneath, the inside and underneath are smiling, imagination smiling, I shift, I twist, I turn, the her watching from across, across the street, stopped now, stopped, smiling, watching, I turn, ignore, am moving, moving, all bravery gone, washed into the darkness, but the underneath, the underneath, I cough, another appointment calls me.
[Pause. DUM sits down on the wooden box, picking up his bowl and spoon. Pause.]
[Long pause with DUM staring out at the audience before the stage lights slowly fade to blackout.]
Kenneth Hickey was born in 1975 in Cobh, Co. Cork Ireland. He poetry and prose has been published in Ireland, the UK and the United States. His writing for theatre has been performed in Ireland, the UK, New York and Paris. He has won the Eamon Keane Full Length Play Award as well as being shortlisted for The PJ O’Connor Award and the Tony Doyle Bursary. He is currently completing an MA diseratation on the late plays of Samuel Beckett, 1975-1983: Footfalls to What Where, at University College Cork. Follow him on twitter @kennethjhickey
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 email@example.com.
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.
– By Micheal O’Flaherty
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.
Any news, Jack?
Pat’s heart sank.
They were talking, of course, when he drove the last cow into the yard.
They broke into Joan Mac’s.
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.
Yeah. The Golf Stream. It’s gotten colder. Seen it on Discovery.
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.
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
– 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