The Glassy Blue of The Deep

The World According to Oak Creek, Oak Creek Canyon, Arizona - Photo by Ken Swearengen
The World According to Oak Creek, Oak Creek Canyon, Arizona – Photo by Ken Swearengen

The Diving Belle

– By Kirsty Fraser 

Knees slightly bent, head tucked in between outstretched arms, and hands clasped together. I shiver and take a breath; there’s no one else around but me in my polka dot bikini top and khaki shorts. The sun has only just glimpsed out from behind the Cuillin’s and the earth hasn’t yet warmed to the day ahead. As my toes curl round the edges of the rock I push off from my stance and inhale one last time before cool air becomes freezing water. I hear the thunder of falling streams hitting rock from further up the pools before the shape of noise changes in my ears and I hit the glassy blue of the deep well that only a moment before I looked down upon. If these hills could speak, surely they would remember me?

Cocooned within the icy spray, I kick further down into the well. Three hundred and sixteen days have passed since I was last here yet nothing about this ancient place seems to have changed. I touch the rocks as I swim around – testing to see if they’re really there – the rough edges confirm that I can’t be dreaming. Foam from the waterfall fills the surface of the water above me and I adjust my direction so I don’t break from the water directly in its path. If Cal were here he’d push me under, only to rescue me from the weight of the water a moment later.

I re-surface and catch my breath. The cool morning air descends and clings to my skin making it tingle. I hold onto the ledge beside me and get my bearings – the morning rays capture Skye, and the Glen in all their beauty. Coming back here could have been a mistake but the morning sun has lightened my head of the heavy thoughts that had washed their way in.

Following the path I’ve already made I plunge again; this time looking around, checking the ridges of the underwater rock to see if there’s something I missed the last time I made this swim. But there are no secret caves, or darkened corners to explore. The sun – climbing higher into the sky now – has made beams of light transcend the water and filter down into the well. Everything is lit anew. I don’t want to break for air but I never was as good as Cal at holding my breath and I can feel the beginnings of a burning sensation as my lungs cry out for oxygen. I rise again to the top and perch my goggles on my head. Blinking back the sunlight I am startled to see a man looking down upon me from the ridge. Cal standing, camera in hand, coaxes me as I lap around in the pool –

‘C’mon, look up at me. You never look into the camera’.

I ignore him and instead goad him to join me, ‘You won’t feel the cold once you’re in.’

‘Yeah but I’ll feel the cold the whole time I’m getting ready to go in! Do you think I’m as mental as you are?’

I laugh and splash about a bit, ‘You’re such a woose… I mean seriously, bringing me all the way up here under false pretences that you’re going to come in and have a romantic swim with me. I’m hurt.’ I do my best puppy-dog eyes and petted lip and for a second I can see on his face that I’ve got him but I ruin it by laughing again and he breaks into a smile…

‘Are you all right down there?’

The voice shakes me from the memory. I look up to see the man standing on the ledge.

‘What?’ I ask, not quite sure If I caught all he said.

‘Is everything OK? It’s a cold morning to be swimming in the Pools.’

His voice is deeper than Cal’s. I can’t quite make out his features from the way the morning sunshine is bouncing around the Glen. I adjust my position slightly to get a better look at him,

‘I’m fine thanks. It’s not cold in here.’

I can see now that he’s not very tall, probably about 5’6’’ at the most, greying slightly or is that just the light? I can’t tell if he’s carrying a little weight round the middle or if he just has multiple layers of clothing on to fend off what must be the beginning of a cold walk taking in the Cuillin’s.

‘We just caught sight of something in the water as we were passing and wondered what it was; we were a bit startled to find someone out swimming.’

He nods behind him as he says the word ‘we’ and a woman emerges from behind the bank. She smiles down at me, but her eyes tell me she’s as baffled as her husband over my morning dip. I smile back and turn my attention back to the man,

‘Oh, don’t worry about me… I always come up here for a swim.’

They look briefly at each other, assessing this new information. The man quips,

‘In November? We thought we were mad… ah well, good luck to you. You’re braver than me.’ And off they both walk, half-laughing, half-talking.

I pull myself out of the water and sit on the rocky ledge beside the heap of clothes I left minutes before. My teeth chatter as I wrap a towel around my body and squeeze the remnants of water from my hair. I stand but the platform is only high enough to see what’s immediately around me. I scoop up the clothes and slide on my flat pumps, the inside of my shoes become soaked and I squelch as I walk. I climb the shanty dirt steps that have been battered into the ground over the years. The man and woman come into view, heading towards Sgurr an Fheadain, probably just to take in the beauty of it than to climb. They are almost dots on the landscape now. Snow is scattered upon the tops of the hills and a cool wind makes its way down the valley.

I walk alongside the pools, further up the path – I know which pool I’m looking for but can never remember if it’s second or third last…

‘How far up are you going?’ Cal shouts between pictures.

‘I’m going to the deepest one, and you’re coming in too.’ I look over my shoulder and smile at him as he makes his way up the path behind me. The rush of falling water grows louder as I come to the place. The climb down is trickier here – the steps steeper, and less secure. I leave the clothes at the top and use my hands to steady me as I climb down.  Just as I reach the bottom Cal is above me.

‘You’re insane’, he says as he starts making his way down too.

‘No, we’re insane.’ I correct him, ‘C’mon just jump in. You’ll regret it if you don’t.’

He takes the last step down and reaches the platform closest to the pool. The spray from the waterfall hits the back of my bare legs and makes goose pimples appear on my skin. Cal looks around, assessing the pool – it’s deeper than the others – the water is clear, the underwater arch teases as it rises just slightly above the surface of the water, it whispers as water laps against the rock.

‘God… okay. But I’m telling you if I get hypothermia I’m holding you responsible.’

‘Yes!’ I do a little dance of victory as he kicks his shoes off.

I dive first – the coolness of the water flooding my senses and making my heart surge – the archway is ancient and stunning. I swim through touching the underside of the stone as I pass. How many others have done the same and felt the unexplained connection to this natural landscape?  I rise to the top and burst out from the water to wait for Cal.

‘C’mon, hurry up – we haven’t got all day!’

Cal stands, watching me.

‘What if I dive from higher up?’ he asks,

‘Why would you want to do that when you haven’t even been in yet?’ I reply, slightly confused but he’s an excited school boy now and I’m just one of the guys, egging him on in his head,

‘It’ll be fun. Look how deep it is! You do it too.’

Before I can say anything he’s darting back up the steps towards the higher ridge beside the waterfall.

‘Cal, I think that’s a stupid idea…’

But he’s not listening or he can’t hear me over the fall of water. The pool is deep but that’s a high jump. I try and work out the depth he’s likely to fall from such a height. I drop under for a second and check the bottom of the pool – it’s not smooth. Every surface is a point, a crag; rougher than the beauty of it lets you believe.

‘Cal…  Just come back down and dive from here.’

‘What? I can’t hear you.’ He’s at the top now, arms folded in front of him, shoulders hunched from the cold.

‘Come. Back. Down.’ I say louder, emphasising every word.

I don’t like the angle of the rocks below him, I don’t trust what lies directly beneath the waterfall, concealed by the froth and foam as the water sprays in all directions.

It’s too late, he leaps but in his haste the dive isn’t right – he’s overshot the angle, almost somersaulting but not even managing that. Instead his head is at an odd juxtaposition with his body, his arms splayed out to the sides as if he’s trying to correct himself mid-air but can’t manage it. He hits the water and he’s gone… seconds pass. I panic. I dive under the water and kick hard in his direction. I can see the shape of his body as it slowly floats to the surface and I know instantly that something isn’t right. I reach him just as his body reaches the surface but he’s limp and unconscious. I turn him onto his back so his head is above the water and pull him away from the harshness of the waterfall that’s only centimetres from him. There’s no blood, no clue as to what I’m trying to fix.

Even with his weightlessness I can’t get enough purchase to do much except shout for him to wake up. I edge him to the side of the pool and attempt to lift us out of the water but I can’t. Minutes pass, I can’t find a pulse on his neck but I’m not even sure if I’m checking the right place. I scream for help – there’s nothing but a heavy echo from the wide open space. As time passes I grow colder, shivering from my lack of movement. My arms grow tired from the effort of keeping Cal at my side while the rush of the water around us tries to pull him away.

He doesn’t move, doesn’t flinch. I hug him to me and pray; pray for help, pray he’ll be OK, pray that I won’t die here with him – the two of us becoming entwined by the pull of the water as it cascades from one pool to the other. Eventually a man and his wife come by, snapping holiday memento’s as they go…

At last the memory has surfaced, a tear runs down my cheek and I brush it away with my hand. The water will wash away the sadness but the echo of that morning will play out in the landscape for eternity. Knees slightly bent, head tucked in between outstretched arms, and hands clasped together. I shiver and take a breath; there’s no one else around but me. The cold, crisp November morning has kept the visitors away. If only these rocks could speak, the stories they’d tell. I dive again.

Kirsty Fraser currently resides in Glasgow with her cat Buttons. She studies Media & Communications by day and by night she blogs on New Hellfire Club and Sabotage Times about all things music. She writes short stories and poetry, that in the most part, only her bin gets to read. In an attempt to change that she’s currently writing her first collection of short stories – she hasn’t figured out how it ends yet. Check out Kirsty’s music blog.

Collapsed Crater, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park - Photo by Ken Swearengen
Collapsed Crater, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park – Photo by Ken Swearengen
Torpor Corpse
– By Cal Ashton

He drew hard on his pint. Madeline frowned. The third sigh in ten minutes left him hunched over like an inflatable leaking air.

“What is it Tom?”

The sigh was heart-rending and lasted a full twenty seconds, rising and bursting from his pursed lips. His fingers crept around the pint glass again as if to lift it…but just stayed wrapped around it, unable or just not caring enough to lift it.

Each breath left his body, but wasn’t replaced. He hadn’t breathed in now for an hour. All his air was leaving him.

His brain air left first, his mind had shut down three days ago. Neglect had left it numb and rusty. Seized up. The banality of an undemanding job, no challenge, even in conversation with his work colleagues, all too shallow to communicate and when he got to his own office he never talked to anyone anyway. Except Dave, the Doorman. But a “Hello” that had dissolved into a murmur, then a grunt, then a conciliatory nod of the head, then brief eye contact, had finally collapsed into a non-physical act whereby Tom would only react if Dave wasn’t there.

And Dave was always there.

Home was empty, a chair so long and so familiar there he couldn’t describe it to you if asked him, even if he did answer he would say it was just, y’know, a chair, kinduh greeny grey-blue red thing. Nice. There.

TV was on. Unless he fell asleep, woke up again , realized it was on, turned it off and went to sleep again.

One shop, never-changing for never-altering tinned food.

And now – a heart unused beat out the air, pushed smaller and smaller amounts of blood to the vital areas, even then, it forgot why. The heart had never raced since long ago. Not even reflexively. If Tom tripped, Tom fell. He didn’t stop himself. The adrenalin breathed out of him 3 days ago. There was only his self left. And he breathed it out now.

“Tom, what is it?”

Tom looked at Madeline through half opened eyes. 3 day stubble dotted his see-every-day-of-it lined 42 year old face. The curly hair, the thin grey lips. The hollow cheeks.

The next sigh blew out the light in his eyes.

His hands dropped to the table, still surrounding the glass of half drunk lager. The next sigh drained all the colour from his skin. He was pale to translucence, fish scale grey. He breathed out his lungs. The noise was a low rushing puncture now, like a gas ring hissing unlit. He breathed out his powdered bones and his body deflated into a skinsack, a bag, a film across the table. As his body dropped forward his face never touched the table surface. He breathed away his skin and left on the table, chair and floor were only his hair and clothes.

Tom had not-lived himself out of existence. No-one cared. He had made sure of it. Not deliberately, he just had. Death by torpor.

Cal Ashton is a redhead but accepts the term ginger. A Scot, he has wandered from Germany to Australia and is currently in Hong Kong. Cal has had work published many years ago in Shanghai Metrozine, That’s Beijing and Oxford University Student magazines and has performed in numerous plays in numerous dark basements and international schools throughout Europe and Asia. Check out Cal’s website.

Seeking God, Barcelona - Photo by Ken Swearengen
Seeking God, Barcelona – Photo by Ken Swearengen

Midnight Shadows, Passing

– By David McVey

Everybody hates me, thought Kyle, just because my hair sticks up in that funny way and I’m shy of girls and I haven’t had a job since I left college.

He had snaffled a good handful of his mum’s stash of sleeping pills; enough to do the job, anyway. But what about the mess, the scene? He’’d probably puke before dying and if it got on the carpet or bedclothes mum would be raging. And she’’d hate all the hassle – police, ambulance, undertakers. How much did a funeral cost nowadays? Even if nobody came?

And then Kyle thought about Derryburn Wood. Nobody went there except dog-walkers and daft wee boys who wanted to get drunk and there would be nobody there at night. He could slip out, find a hidden spot, pop the pills and die quietly. No one would be inconvenienced, no one would mind the mess.

It was nearly twelve and there was a bright moon. Kyle pulled on a capacious hoodie, transferred the sleeping pills to a pocket and took a bottle of spring water to wash them down. He was about to leave the bedroom for the last time when he noticed that the duvet, which he’d been lying on, was crinkled and untidy. Mum would go mental. He shook it smooth before creeping quietly downstairs in case he woke her, and then disappeared into the cooling night to die in Derryburn Wood.

*****

A ship of light swept over the horizon of the dark trailing a wake of silence. Jane had missed the last bus.

It had already been a hard evening, involving what Sally from work had called a ‘break-up date’. She had arranged to meet Scott in a charmless chain pub called the Goblet and Wishbone on an edge-of-town trading estate. While Scott fetched the drinks, Jane had reflected on the meanness of her reason for ending things: Scott was just too nice.

He held doors open for her. He bought her flowers (too many – some bunches went straight into the green bin). He was open about his feelings and considerate about hers. He loved children; before long there’d be a marriage proposal with a view to starting a family. He was generous, sharing, thoughtful, someone who wanted to share his life – fruitfully – with someone else.

Jane didn’’t. Not yet, anyway. Scott was 30, which explained a lot. She was still only 24 and wanted the free, fun-loving life a bit longer. And yet, even when she told Scott the cold truth, he had managed to be gracious.

‘I didn’’t see this coming,’ he said, with the puzzled facial expression of a gentle forest creature that had misplaced some nuts, ‘but I appreciate your honesty and courage in telling me.’

Get angry, Jane had thought. Why do you never get angry?

Scott left soon afterwards but Jane had remained behind, drinking. Only when the last bus was due to abandon this desolate urban periphery did she emerge, only to see it disappearing down the ring-road. Bus drivers just want to get home too, she thought. She’’d drunk a lot and it moved her to be reasonable. Like Scott.

She considered phoning for a taxi, but it was a dry, breezy night in May – the sun had barely gone down – and while it was a long way by road to her home on the Glenturlie Estate it was just a mile or so through countryside. A footpath ran from the ring-road between fields to Derryburn Wood; soon after the path re-emerged from the wood, you saw the first houses of the estate. There was a moon riding high in the sky and surely on a Tuesday night there would be no feral fourteen-year-olds giggling round a bottle of tonic wine in some dark corner? She clicked across the ring-road in her heels and crunched onto the gravel farm track that marked the beginning of the path.

*****

Reverend Rab Soutar needed to pray. He needed God to hear him, and to know that he had been heard. There was always something unsatisfying about praying in the manse; nothing to do with Carol or the children, just the sense of being enclosed. A ceiling wouldn’’t prevent words reaching an omnipotent God but it could inhibit the person doing the praying.

Glenturlie Parish Church was a pleasing modern building of plain harling with some pinewood panels; large windows in the ceiling brought the sun into the morning service. The estate it served was large, sprawling and rich. The church was rich, too; Rab ministered to lawyers and GPs and lecturers and high-powered IT execs, their wives, husbands and children. There were always funds for repairs to the church building or crèche equipment. But Rab tried to open the congregation’s hearts and minds to mission, to bringing Christ to the lost, to serving the poor and despairing and hungry. There were many needy folk, locally, albeit on the other side of town. His sermons were met with nods and smiles but little else. The church was determined to keep its hands clean.

Rab craved prayer. He would go to a quiet spot in Derryburn Wood and pour out his soul to the Lord, seeking His will for Reverend Rab Soutar and for Glenturlie Parish Church. He would pray also that God would lead him, personally, to troubled souls that he could help.

The moon blinked between trees as Rab entered the wood. Away from the sodium-bathed streets, darkness embraced him and stars upon stars gleamed from the velvety sky, an infinity of tiny lights that spoke to him of the limitless, unimaginable reach of God. He decided to pray where a small patch of grass bounded the path. He took off his Craghopper cagoule, laid it on the ground, and knelt on it.

*****

‘This is SHITE!’ yelled Jason, hurling a newly-emptied lager can into the unseen undergrowth. ‘It’s dark. We cannae see anything. What are we doing here, man?’

‘Chill, man, I just thought it would be cool,’ said Connor, ‘all spooky and that. I didnae think it would be so cold and dark.’

Jason softened when Connor admitted his error. ‘It’’ll be a magic place to come when we plunk off school, though. Naebody from the council will find us here.’

Connor detached the plastic carrier bag of drink from the branch on which he’’d hung it and they began to pick their way along the path using the faint light from their mobiles. Then Jason stopped. ‘That’s weird, man. Do you hear that?’

‘What?’

‘Somebody. Talking.’

‘Naw. No at this time of night, surely…’

The path led past some pine trees to an open glade wanly lit by the moon. Just off the path they sensed a dark, stooping figure – no, a kneeling figure – muttering away to himself. ‘Show me your will… lead me in your ways… soften our hearts towards the weak…’

‘He’’s mental,’ whispered Connor.

‘It’’s pure scary, man, let’s go.’

They ignored the path and clattered off through the trees. Dimly, they saw the lights of the Glenturlie Estate and ran towards them, the branches clawing as they went. They only stopped running when they reached a scruffy field bordering the estate.

‘I left the bag,’ said Connor.

‘What?’

‘The bag with the drink. I dropped it when we saw the mad guy.’

‘This was a great idea.’ Jason trudged away towards the lights of town.

*****

This is life, Jane thought as she entered the wood. She was warm from the gentle climb through the fields but it felt good. Pity about her shoes; they were ruined. She switched on her mobile to light the path a little.

*****

Kyle inhaled the mouldy breath of the wood. There was peace, here, quietness. And then, just ahead of him, he heard a muffled tattoo of running feet on the soft woodland floor. Two shadows fled past through sparely-filtered moonlight.

Not far along, on the same path, he saw something bright that shifted and crinkled gently in the breeze; a plastic bag. He picked it up and peered inside; a half-full bottle of Buckfast and a few cans of multipack lager. Well, they’’ll help, Kyle thought, they’’ll deaden the pain.

More footsteps, behind him this time. They stopped.

He turned to see a young woman, wearing a light raincoat over a short dress, and smart, high-heeled shoes. He edged closer to get a clearer view.

‘Don’’t hurt me,’ said Jane.

‘It’’s all right,’ said Kyle, ‘I won’t.’ He nodded at the plastic bag. ‘This isn’’t mine. I found it.’

He sounded nice, thought Jane, well-spoken. What a shame he was out on his own, drinking. ‘I’d better be getting along,’ she said.

‘Yes. Midnight walk?’

‘Yes. Just going home.’

He watched as she disappeared into the gloom. Even struggling with those heels, there was a grace about her. If she was the last person he’’d ever see, he hadn’’t chosen badly.

He crawled into the midst of a cluster of rhododendrons and felt in his pockets for the tablets. He sat on a dry stump of wood, remembering that mum always said you could catch something from sitting on something damp. He reached into the carrier bag for a can and wished he hadn’’t brought the water. It seemed a waste, now.

*****

Rab stood up and retrieved his cagoule. A night of victorious prayer. Now and then he had heard voices, whisperings, the sound of passing feet. Distractions sent by the Enemy? If so, they had failed. Rab glanced at his watch; quarter to one. The night would soon be compromised by the first dirty grey light. He set off for the manse.

*****

Connor followed Jason into the Glenturlie estate, where all the poshies lived, but then turned towards the path that led back into Derryburn Wood. He couldn’’t leave that drink behind.

Just as he entered the wood he met an attractive young woman who was coming the other way. Ignoring his ‘Hi, doll!’ she continued speaking into her mobile; ‘I’’m sorry to phone so late, Scott, and I’’m sorry about tonight. Can I see you tomorrow?’ Lucky Scott, whoever he was; she had nice legs and that, though she shouldnae have walked through the wood in those heels.

He hadn’’t gone much further when he met a middle-aged man wearing a cagoule and a tweed bunnet. They both stopped.

‘Can I help you, young man? I’m Reverend Soutar of Glenturlie Parish Church.’

‘Aye. Have ye seen a plastic bag somebody might have dropped?’

*****

Kyle lay down; the damp didn’’t worry him, now. He just felt warmth and peace and silence as the faint smell of rhododendron blossom fought with the mouldiness. He was hidden from sight in this lonely woodland place. Would anyone ever find him?

*****

The minister guy had tried to convert Connor so he had pulled away and scampered into the wood. When he got back to the place there was no sign of the carry-out but at least the mad guy had gone. A strong gust of wind blew in from somewhere, penetrating even the sheltered places, the kind of wind you got at scary bits in horror films. Behind those big bushes, something rustled. A plastic bag?

There were steely bars of light in the sky now but it was still deep-dark among the bushes. There was his carry-out, though. Someone had definitely been at it, just two cans left and no sign of the Buckie.

Connor turned and saw something dark and still on the ground. He looked at the silent shape for a long time and wondered what it was. The light seemed a long way away.

David McVey worked for many years at the University of Paisley, but he has also been a grouse beater, a tax officer and spent one miserable Saturday night stocktaking at a B&Q. He has published nearly 100 short stories and hundreds of non-fiction articles. David enjoys hillwalking, visiting historic sites, reading, telly, and watching football, especially his hometown team, Kirkintilloch Rob Roy FC and the Scotland national side. Check out David’s website

BECKETT IS THE WORD

Oil Painting of Samuel Beckett
Oil Painting of Samuel Beckett – By Denis O’Callaghan

Artwork: Denis O’Callaghan is based in Cork. He studied at the Crawford school of art. denisocallaghan.art@gmail.com

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Introduction

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.

Michael.

Stunted Growth - Photo By Claire Tracey
Stunted Growth – Photo by Claire Tracey

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.

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Mercury Moment Memory

– By Jan Wilm

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.

En Attendant - Photo By Claire Tracey
En Attendant – Photo By Claire Tracey

Better, not

– 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

Pages - Photo by Claire Tracey
Pages – Photo by Claire Tracey

´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
right down
into the old rocker
mother 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. 

First Love - Photo By Claire Tracey
First Love – Photo by Claire Tracey

 Observations on a Funeral (After Beckett)

A Short Dramatic Piece

– By Kenneth Hickey

CAST

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…

VOICE: Stop

[Long pause.]

Begin.

[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: Really?

DEE: Yes.

[Long pause.]

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: Certainly.

[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.]
Well ?

[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?

DUM: What?

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.

[Pause.]

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.

[Pause.]

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.

[Pause.]

DUM: Have you counted the chairs for the party ?

DEE: The chairs?

DUM: Hurry up dear and close the window.

DEE: What?

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.

[Pause.]

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.

DEE: Yes.

[Pause.]

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.

VOICE: Stop.

[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…

VOICE: Stop.

[Long pause.]

Begin… Again.

[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: Really?

DEE: Yes.

[Long pause.]

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 ?

DUM: Yes.

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.

VOICE: Stop.

[Pause. DUM sits down on the wooden box, picking up his bowl and spoon. Pause.]

Cease.

[Long pause with DUM staring out at the audience before the stage lights slowly fade to blackout.]

[ Curtain.]

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

Lazarus

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

Photography 

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

_____________________________________________________________________________________________

Surfacing

– By Tara White

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cowtime

– By Micheal O’Flaherty

Afternoon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Earlier that morning

You’ll have a cup, Jack?

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

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

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

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

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

Feckin Lazarus.

Any news, Jack?

Pat’s heart sank.

Afternoon

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

They broke into Joan Mac’s.

They did.

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

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

She shot at you once, didn’t she?

That she did.

What was it over, again?

The bull broke into her heifers.

Ha! That’s right. I remember now.

She gave me a fair fright.

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

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

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

She always had that gun handy.

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

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

And he was always so well dressed.

Always wore the three piece suite.

Three year he lasted with her.

T’was an ease to him in the end.

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

No, they answered in unison.

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

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

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

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

Have a drop of tea.

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

What stream? his father asked.

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

No. The one from Mexico.

Mexico?

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

Feckin Lazarus.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You go on, John said.

What?

You go on, you’re in a hurry.

The calves …

I’ll do them.

You can’t. You’ll be here all night.

Sure and so what? I’m in no rush.

The motto of his life.

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

I’m in no rush.

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

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

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

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

Yerra, what of it?

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

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

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

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

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

Reunion

– By Sinead O’Hart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pretending not to hear.

Pretending not to be desperately, hatefully relieved.

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

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

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

I hope she won’t mind the mess.

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

Crack! Crack! Crack!

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

Photography

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

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

Last Year’s Child

– By Kenneth Duffy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

*

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

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

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

The Elementorians

– By Duffie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Lives Of Others

St Pierre de Chartreuse, Rhône Alps, France - Photo by Jane Riddell
St Pierre de Chartreuse, Rhône Alps, France – Photo by Jane Riddell

Photography – Jane Riddell is a writer of contemporary fiction and an enthusiastic blogger, including penning letters from a Russian cat. In addition, she loves travel and photography. She is the proprietor of an editing service, Choice Words Editing. Jane holds a Masters in Creative Writing and her first novel, Water’s Edge, will be e-published by ThornBerry Publishing in Spring 2013. Check out Jane’s website. Follow Jane on Twitter @JaneRiddell

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Short Story: Half Of What I Say Is Meaningless

– By Ruth McKee

I learn through Facebook that Julia is dead. This from some guy I have never actually met. I stare at his profile picture for ages, communing with his image and the momentous message. Soon my newsfeed is buzzing with death, and we all form a group: Julia’s funeral arrangements. Although they are not calling it a funeral, but a valediction. I stop myself from posting something sarcastic.

It’s not going to be a religious ceremony, thank God. All that comfort of the litany makes me want to turn a blind eye to the gaping void; believe me, I know first hand just how terrifying that dark mouth is.

Julia’s dead, and I have stopped existing in a shared past, in our communal memory. There is now only my crappy recollections, and whatever is left in Julia’s extinct hippocampus — perhaps the memory of me like a hippo at campus (I was on the large side then), who the hell knows. She’s going into the ground in a cardboard box. Most of us won’t have a clue what to do. With the usual, at least you know to stand around looking sombre and repeat words after someone, and stand up and sit down in a clean room with a polished box. This alternative thing sounds totally like Julia (although it’s not an alternative to actually being dead, so I don’t see the point).

I never caught up with her again; she was never on Facebook. She had a profile, but no picture, she was inactive. She’s bloody inactive now anyway. Ha! I am not laughing. I’m driving, feeling the lumps grow all over me, from my stomach to my throat, to the aching cold sore that broke out last night. I wish I was going to see her. Even to see her body in death — her corpse, let’s not dress it up — would be something. The old traditions have it right: sit around the body and laugh and sing and talk, and make it have happened over and over, and then put the body in the ground. My phone bleeps and glancing down at the empty passenger seat, I read that Caroline has just checked in at Julia’s valediction.

Julia would not have believed how connected I am to the lives of others; the words ‘social’ and ‘networking’ are the last I would use about myself. I openly express my emotions and my whereabouts (my opinions always came for free): in other words, I update my status. It’s amazing the freedom that little box gives you (no offence, Julia). I never had this kind of help at college. I struggled with Julia, her openness, her romanticism, her offensive sentimentality. I felt more comfortable with Caroline, her sensuality not asking for declarations. I think Julia was waiting for the tortured creature inside me to crawl out and be known, a slick of repressed emotion oozing its way onto our sheets. She was waiting for me to learn emotional articulacy. Poor girl.

I remember us one evening side by side on the sofa. Julia sighed, turning towards me,

“You’re not talking to me.”

“I have been talking to you.”

“No, you haven’t. All you said was ‘how many metres square do you think that living room is?’ That is the best you can come up with.”

“Julia, we’re watching a home improvement programme. What do you want me to ask? What would a woman ask – ‘how do you feel about this living room extension?’”

She looked at me, a world of exasperation.

“You never, ever tell me how you feel.”

I didn’t know what to say, I truly didn’t. I expect she was thinking about her past romance, with Percy fucking Shelley.

I remember this conversation (poorly no doubt, there is no digital record), partly because this was the day that I slept with Caroline, and the day before Julia and I split up for good.

Caroline had been there later that evening looking absolutely gorgeous. She was drunk, so I imagine she had some excuse for betraying her best friend (although to be honest I’ve slept with quite a few best friends over the years, and none have seemed overly plagued by conscience). I was sober and had no excuse, and although I wasn’t eaten up by guilt afterwards, Julia spotted straight away that something was wrong, so I told her. Not a smart move it turned out.

I arrive and it’s very awkward as there is nowhere particular to go. Me and a few others are just standing around on this hill overlooking the sea. If Julia were here she would describe it beautifully. The sun is low, long beams of light, it’s cold. There are quite a few people here, all looking like they’ve arrived at a party with nowhere to put their coats. I’m sure there must be a few pairs of eyes on me, just like I’m scanning the crowd, trying to recognise some faces. Some stand out, instantly, from their digital selves. There’s Shane, knew him at college, one of Julia’s old mates. He’s a Facebook friend. He is married and his last holiday was in Mozambique (‘cool pics, hope you enjoyed’). He has liked a picture of me at a birthday party, and was sorry that I had the flu last month. No one has clocked me yet, or not enough to come up and say hello. And then I catch someone’s eye, some middle aged woman in one of those expensive proper coats; I look and see flickering underneath that it’s Caroline. She walks over, smiling.

“Johnny!”

Everyone fancied Caroline, she was stunning and clever and funny. I can see her profile picture hovering above her, off to the left, and it distracts me as I look at her physical self – lines, blotches, the roughness of anxiety when I shake her hand.

“Caroline!”

We don’t have the usual awkwardness as all that was broken when she friended me online. First my stomach turned over reading her full name, then unabashed curiosity, comparing how we’ve aged, and finally she became demythologised, an ordinary face posting on my newsfeed. The opening small talk is easier too, as I know that last week she had some dental work done, and she must know that I got pissed and embarrassed myself last Saturday night, she’s probably seen the clip of me Greek dancing with Dave. I know she works part time, is a strict vegetarian and likes sci-fi and apocalyptic movies. So we cut to the chase.

“It’s unbelievable, isn’t it?”

“Yeah.”

“She’s the first one of us ––”

“I know.”

“Makes you think ––”

“It does, I know. You’ve gotta just, like, make each moment ––”

“I know.”

I feel oddly comforted. I don’t have to ask how she’s been for twenty five years. The burden of communication is light. She leans in towards me,

“She’s the first real friend — you know what I mean — to die of it.”

“Me too!”

This fact somehow unites us, like an amicable conspiracy.

“You know, statistically there’s bound to be another one of us here today who’s on the way to meet their maker soon.”

“Or meet oblivion.”

“Indeed, or meat oblivion,” she giggles, we both giggle, we guffaw. It is not at all funny.

I find I’m having too good a time and remember that I’m at Julia’s funeral and I should be a little more tactful. I try to say something deep.

“Julia was –– well, Julia was Julia.”

“Did you get over her?”

I change the subject.

“Did you guys stay best mates?”

“Nope. Didn’t see her after college. Didn’t hear from her for years until Facebook.”

“Yeah, me neither.”

“But she was inactive.”

“I know.”

We look at each other, the joke gaping at us from the proceedings at the front, and guffaw again.

Someone is signalling for us to gather round, and soon a quietness breaks out. I notice Gregoria standing beside the box, tall, pale. She is Julia’s daughter which comes as a surprise, she must be in her early twenties. She is about to read something. I hope and pray that it is not Stop all the Clocks (she would have to change all the pronouns anyway, it wouldn’t work). I have had enough weddings butcher great poetry, now this whole civil burial thing is opening another can of worms. Everyone waits, and Gregoria begins.

“It’s lovely to see so many old faces here, Julia would be pleased that you all came – although of course it doesn’t really matter to her now…” — a damp laugh rises in condensation — “but it matters very much to John.”

If my name weren’t so common I’d draw some conclusions about her marrying a John, but then, I’m most definitely a Johnny. John nods. Gregoria talks about Julia and suddenly she is there in front of me, fresh faced and gooey with love, laughing into my up close face.

I am back in our old rooms, smoking, the radio blaring, the sun hot on the windowpanes, years sprawled out in front of us. Julia is lying on the bed inhaling a cough, Caroline is sitting cross legged on the chair, posing. I see John beside her, his hand on her shoulder, possessive. We live in our own drama, of flirtation and deception and the full on depth of the future, aswim in all the mucky loveliness of twenty something angst and sex and fierceness.

I was healthy then. I didn’t have pills, medical bills, estimated remaining time.

I look at Gregoria (for god’s sake, Gregoria?) and I can clearly see Julia’s eyes, her dark brows. But as she turns to the side, the hand she lifts to her face, her profile, they are unmistakably mine.

Too late. It’s too late.

I have stopped listening to Gregoria, I have been watching her in slow motion, something like fear and happiness at my throat. But it’s time now to put the box in the ground. The small huddle of people gather more closely around the hole and I see they are going to play some music, and then I realise with a shock it’s going to have to be that song, one we listened to all that summer, and Julia is gone, gone, sloping ungraciously into the earth, and now the music plays and I don’t snigger and joke with Caroline because now I can’t ignore what’s happened to her, what’s happening to me. So I sing a song of love,

Julia.

Ruth McKee has been shortlisted for RTE’s Francis MacManus Short Story Competition. She is working on her first historical novel. She is a PhD graduate in literature from Trinity College Dublin and lives in Skerries with her two small children and three cats. Follow Ruth on Twitter @RuthMcKee

Lyon, France - Photo by Jane Riddell
Lyon, France – Photo by Jane Riddell

Short Story: Seamus Gavara and the Fat Capitalist Pig

– By Patrick O’Flaherty

‘Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me.’

‘Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me.’

The class fell silent and bowed their heads like chastised pups. This only encouraged the two boys to sing louder, ‘Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me.’

The jaw of Mrs O’Brien – the religion teacher – now touched the floor. She tried to speak, then shook her head, burst into tears and ran out of the room. Seamus Gavara and his comrade Fiachra ‘The Beard’ Cassidy – les enfants terribles – had to find themselves a new school, but the events of that day forged a bond which would change the course of Irish history.

Seamus and Fiachra had been friends since the age of fourteen. Magnetically drawn to each other by John Player Blue cigarettes and their Rage Against the Machine T-shirts.

Together they would fight the machine to the death.

Throughout their teenage years they waged war against capitalism. They refused to wear watches, to recognise Greenwich Mean Time, buy Nike trainers or to eat in McDonalds. They were small but tenacious thorns in the arse of the multinational cartels. They demanded a new Ireland – a socialist republic – a proletarian utopia. Such was their anarchic reputations that even Joseph Higginsbottom – the Godfather of Irish Socialism – wouldn’t take their calls. He distanced himself from their seditious agitation.

Fiachra first came to international prominence as a member of a far-left Marxist revolutionary ornithological observation group in the Columbian jungle. Fiachra’s research led him into close contact with the terrible poverty of that continent and the massive gulf between rich and poor. Seamus joined Fiachra in South America on a J7 Visa from college. They bought a Honda 50 motorcycle and for twelve weeks rode around the beaches of Cancun and Rio de Janeiro observing the tremendous destitution of the indigenous people and the breath-taking beauty of the local bikini-clad women.

Seamus kept a diary of this historic trip, which later became internationally famous; it contained amongst other things a list of his many sexual conquests. He was known as ‘The Ginger Conquistador’ and the ladies found his freckled charms irresistible.

The adventure wasn’t without its struggles however as both Seamus and Fiachra suffered severe sunburn on their pale Irish skin and also fell victim to the scourge of intoxication in their undying efforts to help the South American people. This epic journey crystallised their egalitarian beliefs.

The Ireland of the Celtic Tiger years was a playground for the corporate mafia of the giant American multinationals. Like 1950s Havana, it was mired in corruption. It was Havana with potatoes and rain. A safe haven for the faceless conglomerates to wash their profits – a developer’s paradise, a brown envelope Shangri La.

Seamus and Fiachra wanted to rid Ireland of the cancer of greed, of the culture that spawned the fat Hibernian capitalist pig – Hiberno Vulgarianism. That pig had grown grotesquely plump during the now extinct Celtic Tiger. It had its snout in the filthy trough of property speculation; its ostentatious displays of wealth were vulgar in the extreme. It was time to put the pig on the spit.

Being nouveau riche hadn’t suited the Irish psyche. The Irish were used to centuries of famine, forced emigration, evictions, and good old-fashioned misery. The newfound affluence drove the natives instantly mad, which was only to be expected of an island of perennially oppressed peasants, some of whom were still living in mud huts until the late 1800s. But the mood of the people had darkened. The Teflon Taoiseach – the Irish Batista – Gertie O’Hern had been dethroned. The Emperor had no clothes.

The arse had fallen out of the country. The world was in turmoil, the bankers and the developers had fucked the people – big style – and the government had let it happen. The socio-political landscape was transformed. The people wanted change – they wanted blood. Now, twenty years after first standing up to the machine in the form of Mrs O’Brien, Seamus and Fiachra and their newly formed party – The People’s Party of the People (PPP) were ready to seize that opportunity.

Seamus Gavara had revolution on his mind but his ideological thirst was yet again quenched by a crippling weakness for the drink. He awoke with his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth. His body shook violently. A black beret nestled on his wild mane of ginger hair. His world was upside down.

‘Seamus, are you dead or alive in there? Do you know the time? Tis three o’clock, the day’ll be gone. You’re sleeping your life away,’ said Betty Gavara. Betty was Seamus’ long suffering mother, locally famous for her superlative scones, an open mind and an acerbic wit often sprinkled with sexual euphemisms of an adolescent nature. It kept her young at heart, and with a thirty-four year old ideologue son in the house, she needed to be.

‘Ya, ya, Jesus Christ I’m awake. Will you leave me alone woman?’

‘My heart is broke with that young fella,’ Betty said, throwing her eyes up to heaven.

Seamus jumped up out of the bed, staggered around looking for the clothes that he had on before tentatively venturing out of the burrow that was his room. He met Betty in the hallway. She was upside down and speaking in tongues. He looked down upon her undulating double chin and attempted to decipher her utterances. Betty shook her head and wondered where did it all go wrong for her. She wondered what the fuck was she after rearing? She went back into the refuge of her kitchen to the soothing sounds of RTE Radio One to make a fresh batch of scones.

Seamus, now terror stricken by his fragmenting mind galloped towards the front door, past the reflection of his head high red Doc Marten boots in the hall mirror.

‘I’m headin mam, good luck, talk later,’ he shouted, as he ran out the door.

He emerged to a sky of lush green fields, populated by black and white Friesian cattle that were upside down happily chewing the cud. They were surrounded by lines of grey stonewalls. An ethereal lawn of white cumulus cloud covered the ground in front of him. Brambles, whitethorn and blackthorn hedges, horse chestnut and tall slender ash trees hung perilously from the sky in complete disregard to Isaac Newton’s theory of gravitation. The Fire Brigade rescued a meowing dog from an ash tree. Crows and finches glided over little fluffy clouds to the sound of barking horses at 30,000ft. A line of chattering neighbours passed the house walking on their hands. The road moved beneath stationary cars like a travelator in an airport departure gate.

To Seamus, this had all the hallmarks of a CIA operation – sensory manipulation – a classic mindfuck. They must have spiked him with hallucinogenic drugs. Seamus had seen the film The Men Who Stare at Goats. He knew what those fuckers were capable of. He wasn’t going to crack. The Bay of fucking Pigs he thought. Maybe they got to Fiachra? Fiachra and the CIA? Seamus ran over the various scenarios in his head. Nobody could be trusted. He needed to pull himself together. He took a deep breath and tried to reassure himself – just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.

America – the cheerleader of free market capitalism had been the sole superpower since the demise of the Soviet Union but the capitalist system was on its knees. China was a monolith and America was crippled by its debt due to its ill-fated Middle Eastern campaigns of imperialist aggression in the aftermath of 9/11. The Western civilization was in decline, soft centred and bloated. Seamus and Fiachra studied the great Roman, Mayan and Aztec empires, all of which imploded and crumbled making way for new and hungrier powers to emerge. Powers like India and China.

The PPP were ready to exploit this new reality.

Ireland was a key battleground because of its proximity to Europe and its importance as a corporate centre. The extreme austerity measures imposed by the troika of the EU, IMF, and the ECB had led to the disillusionment of the people.

The PPP made their move with a campaign of Blitzkrieg electioneering. Their posters were omnipresent, quoting Mao underneath the letters PPP, ‘A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first few steps.’ The people had turned to the People’s Party of the People and the revolution would be televised on TG4 as a party political broadcast after Sergio Leone’s classic western Once Upon a Time in The West.

Seamus made contact with the Chinese secret service under the cover of a takeaway restaurant ‘The Dragons Belly,’ in Rathkeale, Co Limerick. He walked up the red neon-lit curried steps of the entrance, opened the door and walked towards the counter. A young girl sat watching a Chinese game show on a television mounted on the wall.

‘I’ve an order in for a Mr Kung Po.’

‘Name pleeze.’

‘Gavara, Seamus Gavara.’

‘Ah Mr Gavara, we’ve been expecting you. Welcome to the belly of the dragon. Pleeze come with me.’

Seamus lifted the countertop, walked underneath the television to the sound of a clapping Chinese audience into a back room where he met the man known only as, Chang.

The PPP used their burgeoning political power base to make representations to the Minster for Offense about the building of a Chinese missile defence base at Shannon Airport. In return the Chinese promised significant inward investment – a major project in Tipperary involving the construction of a satellite city as a European base for the Chinese companies. This project would create thousands of jobs and would forge a co-operative bond between Ireland and China. The local TD Mickey Maowry had played a pivotal role in the development due to his extensive contacts in the Asian business community.

Mickey Maowry was known as a man to get things done and was wildly popular amongst his constituents despite high profile scandals involving the awarding of lucrative licenses for massage parlours and the illegal importation of Rhino horns into the greater Tipperary area. Officially announcing the project, Mickey Maowry told the Tipperary Enquirer:

‘After several years of hard work and personal sacrifice I have delivered

this project for the good people of Tipperary who have stood by me during this campaign of vilification by the national media. I would also like to thank my long suffering wife Pamela, my sons John, Johnny, Pa, Patrick and Paddy, Mickey and Mickey Junior, my daughters Bridie and Bride and our Labrador Blacky. They are my rock and without them I would be just a lonely hardworking bachelor politician without a family or a dog. Thank you.’

The Chinese had extensive interests in Africa and in the mineral rich Australian outback. Their hunger for resources was insatiable. Their tentacles were truly global and Ireland was next for Chinafication.

It was during these turbulent times that Seamus met Saoirse. A sultry brunette, tall and elegant with a smouldering sexual allure. She was a force of nature for which Seamus had no resistance. He melted beneath the scorching flame of her ferocious eroticism.

Saoirse had travelled the world after college working casually in bars and restaurants. She liked to dance and drink in a narcotic haze. She exploited her erotic capital. Saoirse was wild as the wind but still found time for her volunteering and charity work, including a month long spell at an orphanage in New Delhi. Her father Sean had a top job in Googlesoft, Ireland and he bankrolled her decadent lifestyle in between her ephemeral periods of gainful employment.

Seamus fell helplessly under Saoirse’s spell. They hit the bars and nightclubs. They feasted on each other in an alcohol-drenched banquet of depravity. The world around them blurred into an inconsequential mass.

Meanwhile, the Chinese had begun construction of the base at Shannon and the satellite city outside Thurles. In the July elections Fiachra and the PPP’s newest apparatchik, Mickey Maowry, were elected on the first count helping to win the party an overall majority.

At a White House press conference the American President and the leader of the Tea Party administration Mitt Palin spoke about the Chinese presence in Shannon, ‘The Irish and the American people always had a special relationship, a shared history of struggle and endurance. We will stand by our friends in Ireland. This is an act of aggression, a threat to democracy and to the free world.’

There were high-level leaks about a covert invasion and CIA funding for the far-right anti-immigration party – The III ‘Irish Ireland for the Irish.’

Seamus had become increasingly paranoid. He saw CIA agents at every corner – old women pushing trolleys in supermarket car parks, street cleaners sweeping the roads, parked taxi drivers. They were everywhere, always seeming to avert their gaze whenever he tried to look them in the eye. Falling silent when he walked into a room. He moved into a new apartment with Saoirse and checked it daily for bugs and cameras. He checked light fittings, ashtrays, picture frames, clock faces. Even the fruit bowl, ticking them off a list as he went.

Saoirse was worried. He was distant and had a glazed look in his eyes. She decided to confront him.

‘Seamus are you alright? Is there something on your mind?’

‘No…why?’

‘You’re not yourself. You’re very quiet with me. Did I…do something?’

‘I’m sorry Saoirse, it’s just with the PPP and the negotiations with the Chinese, things are mad lately. That’s all. I’m just…a bit stressed out. I’m grand.’

‘You don’t look grand. You look off your fuckin game.’

‘It’s those CIA fuckers…fuckin with my head.’

‘What…are you talking about Seamus?’

‘Mind control, sensory manipulation, Project MK-ULTRA, the Men That Stare At Fuckin Goats. At my mothers house…the bastards. She’s nothing to do with this.’

‘Calm down hunny…it’s ok. Breathe…talk slowly.’

‘They must have spiked me the fuckers. After the Rage Against the Machine concert I woke up and everything was upside down. I was trippin out. You saw what the Russians did to Litvinenko. Poisoned the cunt. With his tea. His fuckin tea. Polonium-210. They’ll get me too.’

‘Don’t you remember Seamus? The acid? We took the acid after the gig. Remember? Got it from Tim O’Leary in town. Larry in the Sky with Dinosaurs? Seamus calmed down a little after their talk. He still thought that the CIA were somehow involved but he kept it to himself. The less she knew the better, for her own sake.

The PPP were monitoring Seamus’ erratic behaviour. Nobody could jeopardise the Party. Fiachra distanced himself from Seamus and had taken to smoking big Cuban cigars. He was elected president of the PPP.

Seamus was now only a peripheral figure in the Party he built but he didn’t care. All he wanted was Saoirse. He loved her so much he took a manufacturing job in Googlesoft to help pay the rent of their apartment. Saoirse’s father Sean pulled a few strings and got him the gig. They settled into a quiet life of debauched domesticity.

Saoirse took up ballet after watching the film Black Swan. Seamus purchased his first watch to observe GMT because his overlords at Googlesoft demanded strict adherence to the clock. Betty would drop over fresh scones to supplement their Big Mac meals.

‘Mrs Gavara, is it yourself?’

‘Saoirse, how many times have I told you? Call me Betty.’

‘Sorry…Betty. Come in.’

‘I’ve some fresh scones for ye. Where is he, where’s my boy?’

‘He’s working overtime. He’ll be home at seven.’

‘I don’t know what you’re doing to him. I’ve never seen him so happy. You even got him working. I thought he was still one of those antichrists, marching and protesting and that. We’ll have to keep you Saoirse.’

‘They’re anarchists Betty.’

‘Sure, they’re all the one, aren’t they?’

‘ I’m going nowhere Betty. I love him. He’s a heart of gold. He’s idealistic and…vigorous.’

And with that, both women laughed heartily.

Life was blissful, well; it was until Saoirse choked on that chicken bone.

If there were any lessons to be learned from this inglorious expiration it would be to avoid dancing while eating a chicken leg. In a Swan Lake finale Saoirse choked while practicing after the day’s ballet class as Seamus dozed in front of the T.V after a feed of drumsticks. Saoirse never could sit still. Seamus hit the bottle.

The Chinese intent on world domination bought Googlesoft. A drunken Seamus was at his evening Mandarin course when he heard that Sean and the entire board had been sacked and the Union shut down. Overnight wages were quartered and working conditions deteriorated. A heartbroken Sean jumped from a tenth floor window of the Googlesoft HQ killing himself and a RTE News reporter in the process.

The PPP had consolidated its power through emergency constitutional reform. Everything changed overnight. Ireland became a one Party State with Fiachra as its figurehead but everybody knew the man known only as Chang really ran the country. Ireland was now closer to Beijing than Boston.

Seamus was drinking three bottles of whiskey a day. He lost his job. He wouldn’t open the door to Betty. He was skin and bone.

Some months later an American journalist interviewed him about his history in the PPP. Seamus criticised Fiachra and the betrayal of the PPP’s original ideals. He was immediately arrested and sent to the Curragh internment camp. Witnesses claim he mounted one final protest outside the office of the camps commanding officer, comrade Zhan, where he shouted pro-American, pro-democracy slogans. He was promptly executed by firing squad.

But Seamus lives on. His organs were harvested and it’s rumoured that a Shanghai millionaire has one of his kidneys and is doing well.

Patrick O’Flaherty is from Limerick, Ireland. He has previously been published in The Moth magazine and in theNewerYork. His writing is an involuntary response to the chaos of his mind, to the insanity, absurdity and the beguiling beauty of the world around him. Folow Patrick on Twitter @PaddyofNazareth

 

The Last Place To Lose Its Snow

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

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

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Short Story: Black Snow

– By Michael Crossan

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

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

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

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

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

‘Dreams suck.’

‘It creeped me.’

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

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

‘Hat, mister’ said Grace.

‘My head is immune to the cold.’

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

‘Cheeky witch.’

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

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

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

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

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

‘Enjoy your shopping trip?’ asked Grace.

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

‘How was aunt Flo?’

‘Quiet.’

‘Did she invite you to Christmas dinner?’

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

‘Maybe planning a party for your sixteenth.’

‘Do you know something I don’t?’

‘Guessing.’

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

‘Nice.’

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

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

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

‘She’s the disease.’

‘At least you met her.’

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

‘You needed to meet.’

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

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

‘They’re from the home,’ he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Last one?’ asked Grace.

Ruth nodded. ‘Share it.’

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

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

‘Mushroom pakora.’

‘Chicken wings.’

‘Stop it, Ruth.’

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

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

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

‘Wonder if he has a daughter?’

‘Daddy’s girl.’

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

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

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

‘I don’t know him.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Hmm.’

‘They’re angels, Malcolm.’

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

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

‘His mum was nice.’

‘Ditty.’

‘Ditty sweet.’

‘He reeked.’

‘Turd.’

‘Pigs arse shite.’

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

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

Folded on her knees, Ruth vomited bile.

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

She heaved and puked a fizzy pool.

‘Chuck it out.’

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

‘All up?’

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

‘Take your time.’

‘That was grotty.’

Grace touched her hair. ‘Feel better.’

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

‘Maybe we should wait.’

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

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

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

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

‘Mental, isn’t it.’

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

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

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

‘No thanks,’ said Grace.

‘Anywhere you want.’

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

‘I can run you.’

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

‘I can run you.’

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

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

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

‘The sea. Taste it.’

‘I love that.’

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

‘Smells like shells.’

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

‘What.’

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

‘Probably sorted it weeks ago.’

‘Thanks, babes.’ Ruth climbed the rail.

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

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

‘There’s a Devil. We know that.’

‘Mr stink.’

‘Old turdster.’

‘Pigs arse shite.’

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

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

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

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

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Short Story: Petrol Horizons

– By Lane Ashfeldt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The World Turned Inside Out

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

Short Story: Cut You Down Like An Old Oak Tree

– By Alice Walsh

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

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

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

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

‘Yeah I have’.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Night love, don’t stay up too late’.

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

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

‘Okay night Mam’.

‘Night love’.

***

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

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

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

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

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

‘Heart attack’.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flash Fiction: Purge

– By Clodagh O’Brien

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

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

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

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

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

Flash Fiction: The Call of the Sea

– By Christina Murphy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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