Before The Blue

Floaters - Photo by James O'Sullivan
Floaters – Photo by James O’Sullivan
Photography –
James O’Sullivan is a PhD candidate at University College Cork, where he studies cultural theory and transmission under Graham Allen and Órla Murphy. In addition to a variety of pieces as a journalist, he has had works of short fiction, poetry, photography and cultural criticism published. James is the founder of New Binary Press.
Further information on his work can be found at http://josullivan.org. Follow James on twitter.
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Photogenic Lens
– By Myra King

Josie was happy to look after Christopher’s child. But not on her own.

He’d said, “Back soon, Josie girl. Two hours, tops.” But that was years ago, and she hasn’t heard from him since.

She’d had no children of her own and this one was only a freckle past a newborn when he presented him to her, wrapped in a dirty blue bunny rug. Josie knew nothing about babies, her life had been hollow of them and so many other things until she met Christopher.

The baby was called Cabbage. She laughed at the time Christopher told her, but didn’t ask if this was his real name, and the baby had no words to tell her otherwise.

Cabbage has grown like his namesake but that is where any connection ends, everything else is as normal, as much as she would know. Except he stopped talking at the same time that Christopher left, and she is too far from help to ask for it.

He’s not well, Josie thinks. She wishes Christopher was here, for what does she know about childhood illnesses?

Cabby, as she calls him, is not outside chasing the chickens or playing with his dog, Sherpie, the little white terrier he loves so much. She sees him sitting on the armchair, the one with the flock coat that’s balding in places like an old man’s head.

Josie warms some milk on the stove, taking care that it doesn’t heat so much as to spill over the pan. She pours it into Cabby’s favourite mug, cradles it in her hands, feels the warmth ease the stiffness in her fingers. “Here you are lovely boy, milk to make you feel better.”

But Cabby is no longer in the chair. Placing the mug on the table, she shouts from the back door: “Cab, Cabby.’ She smiles, it seems like she’s calling an errant taxi. She brings her hands to her face then snatches them forward to focus. They look like her grandmother’s. She touches one hand with the other, traces the wrinkles, frowns. She was only twenty-five when Christopher brought Cabby to her.

Josie walks out into the farmyard. Everything looks the same but the trees have grown tall and the ducks and chickens have gone. Stolen, she thinks. Or taken by dingos. She squints towards the horizon, sees that the night is coming, wonders if she should set some traps. Her gaze draws around the fence-line, stopping at the old magnolia tree which, in contrast to everything else, is blooming. Soft apricot flowers like coupling butterflies are tip-massing on branches otherwise as barren as the earth. A breeze tickles her hair, sending it to cover her eyes, but she pushes back its greyness with fingers thinner than her memory.

Who was she calling? She feels the residue of something not right, something to which she cannot put a thought. Her stomach feels tight and her hands are shaking. Josie calls again, but this time not a name.

“Come on, come on now.”

A black cat with a white smudge on its nose stretches out from under a rusting car-body wreck, its claws driving the sand before them. It yawns, and walks a crooked path to her. She knows this cat, but she cannot remember what to call it. It follows her into the house and begins to scratch the old armchair in a rhythmic pawing. Josie takes the cup of milk and pours it into a bowl near the front door. She sits down, wraps herself in her arms and watches the cat drinking. Tiny flicks of milk spatter the floor like dandruff.

The pictures are clearer if she shuts her eyes, but then there is always the threat of sleep from which she fears she will never wake.

She rises and takes the cup to the sink, sees a note stuck on the fridge with a purple magnet. The cat’s name is Bobby, the note says, in a scrawl that is only decipherable by its size.

“Bob-by.’ She tries the name; her voice sounds empty, the syllables robotic, like a child learning to read. The cat looks up from the plate, there is milk on its whiskers and its eyes are staring. Josie turns away, reaches into the sink and sluices water through the mug, watching it swirl down the plug hole. She sees the greasy kitchen curtain, the edge of its faltering hem stuttering in the draught. The window behind is dirty and someone has written something in the grime. She lifts the curtain and reads: Turn off the stove. She stretches a bony finger and writes her name next to it: Josie. She leans back and stares. The writing is the same.

Then she writes: Christopher.

She closes her eyes and sees an image clearer than life.

“Josie girl, you have a photogenic memory,” he once told her. She recalls laughing. “Don’t you mean a photographic memory?” “No,” he said. “Photogenic, you remember the past more beautiful than it really is. Even the dark you turn grey.”

When she met Christopher she was attracted to him in a way she found hard to set to words. He was freedom and promise wrapped in a package. But she’d stopped trying to peel back the layers when she found nothing holding the structure.

Josie wipes tears from her eyes with the back of her arm and notices she is wearing her nightdress and dressing-gown. She wonders if it is morning and she has just got up. She rummages in the drawer until she finds what she is looking for. She pulls at the material on her sleeve. She wants to write: Go and get dressed but the fabric slips and the pen only writes the first word: Go.

Christopher was the man at the corner store. She saw him every time she went there with eggs to sell or cheques to cash. She has no eggs now and a woman brings meals to her house and puts them in her freezer. She reminds Josie of her chickens. She makes funny noises in the back of her throat. The last time she came, she kept shaking her head as well.

Then people came in two cars. Josie saw them coming. She hid in the bush- scrub surrounding her farm and waited, crouched like a dingo, swirling her fingers in the red dust, making circles that spiralled to nothing.

It was dark by the time she got home, and they had gone

Where was Sherpie? Cabby loved that little dog, he was always taking it for walks, she remembers. Maybe he’s gone for a walk with it now.

But no, Sherpie is dead. She closes her eyes and sees a picture of the terrier, its white turned red with blood.

Then she sees Cabby standing over the body. She quickly opens her eyes and sees him again in the chair. He is not well. That is why she made him the milk. Milk to make you feel better, my lovely boy.

It’s been so good since Cabby came, Josie thinks. The wonder of childhood is hers now.

He reminds her of Christopher. He looks like him, with his blue-green eyes and pale skin. His hair is as fair as Christopher’s was, with the same under-streaks like tiger’s stripes.

But now Cabby is gone again.

“Come out, my lovely boy. It’s too late to play.” She hears an old voice, wonders how it’s hers.

He was always a good boy, always happy, never making a fuss. But he’s been too quiet since his father left.

Christopher told her he’d adopted Cabby. It was a year after their wedding, not long after she’d been told she couldn’t bear children. She loved children, she said, when the doctor told her she couldn’t bear them. Doctor Willits had opened his eyes wide and gone silent, but Christopher had smiled at her. He knew her ways. He was the only one who ever had. And when he brought Cabby home she hadn’t questioned why she didn’t have to sign any papers. Why it had been so easy.

And when Cabby had grown more like Christopher every day, she’d laughed and said that’s what she’d heard, that adopted children often grew to look like the people who adopted them.

She recalls one day, when Cabby was just beginning to walk, an elegant lady came knocking on the door. Her breath smelled of alcohol and her fingers shook. She also had no manners, for she barged past Josie and demanded to see Christopher.

“Christopher’s at work,” Josie said.

“Not that one,” the elegant lady said. “The baby, Christopher.”

“My baby’s name’s Cabbage, but I call him Cabby.” Josie recalls saying.

The lady had collapsed onto the old chair; her shoulders were shaking and her face was red. Her hand was clutching her mouth and when she brought it away there was lipstick smudging her knuckles like blood.

“Christopher did say you were a bit simple. He told you the nickname I’d given the baby because he was growing like one. A cabbage that is. He couldn’t tell you the baby’s real name, I suppose.”

Josie was still trying to fathom why the lady thought she was simple. Simple meant easy. Her mother had told her ‘easy’ women were ladies of the night, but she hated the dark.

The lady continued. “I need to see my baby. I made a mistake saying I didn’t want him. Where did Christopher tell you the boy came from? The cabbage patch?” Once more the lady fell back into the chair. But this time her laughter took her to coughing until Josie went to her and banged her on her back. Then the lady looked at her strangely. “Perhaps..,” she said, “Perhaps…” Then she nodded to herself as if she was affirming an unspoken question.

Josie can’t remember how it ended that day. Maybe she’d got her gun, the one she uses for the dingos, and threatened the lady with it if she didn’t leave. Perhaps they had hugged and she’d let the lady see the baby.

Cabby had slept through it all. That much Josie does remember.

Josie lowers herself into the old chair. She strokes the soft fabric of the armrest, watches as the pile flattens this way and that. Her eyes close and the pictures come once again but she hears the words first.

Cabby’s words. Is he speaking to her again? But these words she’s heard before. They are not from today. How could she have forgotten them? They were the start of crying words, for Cabby and for Christopher.

“Mammy, Sherpie has blood on him, and he’s not moving.”

Josie had gone outside and found the little dog lying still, by the old magnolia tree. There was blood on him. Cabby was standing near him holding an axe.

“What have you done?” That was her voice.

“There was a dingo, mammy. I tried to get him. He ran over there.” She saw Cabby pointing, followed the line of his finger. Saw a tawny shape in the distance. There were two others matching it, and feathers scattered like snow, leading a trail back to the hen-runs. Then she saw the axe was clean.

Josie opens her eyes, pulls her dressing-gown around her and rises stiffly from the chair. There is something she wants to see. Outside, the moon is bright and the stars light a path that is strewn with potholes but Josie finds her way to the old magnolia tree. There, beneath its branches, blending with the fence, is a little cross. She remembers Christopher made that cross from a loose paling, and marked Sherpie on it with a burning twig. Now it’s as faded as her eyesight.

Cabby is crying. His sobs punctuate her mind in stabs. Then she hears Christopher’s voice. Josie closes her eyes to see his face. “Poor little bugger,” he says. “He really loved that dog.”

She tries to stop her answer but it comes like a flood. “Chris, why don’t you take him for a drive in the car? I’ll give him a drink of warm milk before you go. It’ll make him feel better.”

Now she hears the car doors slam. “Back soon, Josie girl, two hours, tops.”

She drops to the ground and once more the pictures come, but these have no words. Josie sees the police car with its flashing blue light, sees the policemen walking towards her. Sees herself, a young self, climbing into the car.

Then in a room full of whiteness, a man and a child lying together in death.

When Josie enters the house she walks on slow feet to the kitchen. There’s the note on the fridge. Her voice comes softly: “The cat’s name is Bobby,” she says. Then she glances at the kitchen window, the curtain is still drawn back: “Turn off the stove,” she says to her scribble, her words. Then she looks at her sleeve. Go, she reads. Go where, she wonders.

Josie finds her bedroom, sees the sheets pulled back, sees an impression of a body in the mattress. She climbs into it, being careful to match its form with hers. Then she pulls up the blanket and stares at the wall. She closes her eyes, lets the dreams come but shapes them to her memory with its photogenic lens. Even if she sleeps forever, she thinks, better asleep than this awake.And in the morning the sun will scrawl its shine, write its pictures of brighter days across her mind, lift the darkness to a paler shade of grey.  

Myra King, an Australian writer, has written a number of prize winning short stories and poems. Her stories and poetry have been published in the UK, New Zealand, Australia and the US. Amongst other publications she has work in print and online, in Short Story America, The Boston Literary Magazine, Eclectic Flash, The Valley Review, Red River Review, Illya’s Honey Journal, San Pedro River Review, The Pages, and The Foundling Review.

She has a short story collection, City Paddock, published by Ginninderra Press. Her novel, Cyber Rules, was published by Certys UK in 2012. Royalties from her books have gone to help support The Creswick Light Horse Troop and Médecins Sans Frontières – Doctors Without Borders. Follow Myra on twitter.

Thimblerig - Photo by James O'Sullivan
Thimblerig – Photo by James O’Sullivan
811: Pound
– By Michael Phoenix

I walked into the library most days then. It was a horrid grey building of stones that had had the life sucked out. They were ugly and without sun from days drying in the desert. They didn’t reflect or withhold. They were undead, past decaying. It was worst in winter – Heavy and coated.

Inside was better. There were books. They smelt (the stones didn’t smell). And there were people. Beautiful girls. They wore denim jeans and red tops with their shoulders cutting out into that warm library air. Those bones. Like the sun through shards of glass. They walked up the stairs softly, and hung about in groups near the entrance, talking, and the words were in the distance of all their blue and green and black eyes.

I was studying Law. We were supposed to read all the books. No one did. I took one look at the names of their spines and turned away. I never looked back to that section. It was in a far corner of the place. A dead arm. The books were thick. The biggest and heaviest stones. Full of nothing. No thing. They could not rot.

I began to explore. There was a reference system. I went to the 800’s. I was listening to a lot of music at the time. I walked clicking my fingers when it was sunny. And sang when no one else was on the paths. The songs my father played on the piano – ragtime beat. I went to 811 just like that. Clicking my fingers. 11 was my lucky number. I wore it for the soccer team when we won the schools cup. Clicking my fingers. I scored twice. No one else in the row. I didn’t sing. It was too quiet in the library. I was shy. I didn’t have friends on the team.

811. 811. I looked at the names of the spines of the books there. They were different from the names of the law books. They were short and clear. And the names of the authors were bright. Some of them were written there in bold golden letters. The law books were all written by names like ‘Harris’ or ‘Barry’. Land owning english names. Though they said they were Irish. Names like ‘Roger Davis’ and ‘D.B Parsons’. None of them seemed to be women. Down near 811 it was different. That meant something. I took a book. 811 Poe. Poetry.

I kept going back to the 800’s. Every time they told us to take out some law book. It made sense to me. I walked in clicking my fingers. I looked at the girls. Sometimes I just said ‘hi’ to them as I went by even if I didn’t know them. Sometimes they said ‘hi’ back. Mostly they didn’t and I just went on clicking my fingers. When it was getting into spring I did that a lot.

The books I found led me to others. It turned out that Poe wasn’t the only poet in 811. He had friends. People he didn’t know. Other poets. They turned up all around him. It meant I got to hear about some even before I had heard of them. I never checked out beforehand which books were where. That wasn’t the point. They had to be discovered. But I remembered their names. They were hard to forget. Someone told me that they were false names. I didn’t think that could be true.

Sometimes I’d see the names of writers I had heard of. Sometimes they were great and other times they weren’t. It was amazing. I clicked my fingers as I went through the library. All those years. In the end I came to the last book. The last of the 811’s. 811 Pound. Ezra Pound. The greatest of all the names. Ezra Pound. I clicked my fingers.

By then I had started to whistle. I couldn’t sing so good but I had air in my lungs. People didn’t seem to mind the whistling. Other times when I had went down a path, here or there – singing, people heard and they didn’t seem to like it. No one said anything about the whistling. So I went on those walkways doing just that. Thinking ‘811 Pound’. Saying it over and over in my head.

By then they wouldn’t let me take books out. I had fines. I forgot to bring the books back. So I could only read them right there in the library. I carried Ezra Pound to a desk. I always chose the one’s that looked out the window. But sometimes they would all be taken. It was one of those days. The only seat was facing a pillar. I couldn’t see anything. Apart from Ezra Pound and to my left. A girl sat there. It turned out she sat there most days. She wrote on lined yellow paper and her handwriting was terrible. My teachers could never read my essays. My parents bought me a typewriter. The other’s all wrote neat and clear. I sat there with her and Ezra Pound and thought, ‘I bet they can’t read her essays neither’. She wore blue jeans. Her eyes were green. I would have sat beside here everyday from then on, but sometimes the seat was taken. Other times it was free but she wouldn’t be there. I wondered if something had happened. In the papers they wrote about people being hit by buses and people going missing. They wrote about young people leaving the country. I hoped that she was still there. I hoped that she hadn’t been hit by a bus or gone missing. Those days she wasn’t there. I couldn’t read at all. I just sat there hoping.

In the end Pound made me speak to her. Normally I didn’t speak much. Just said ‘hi’ here and there. But to her I said “Hello. My name is James” and then we went for a walk.

She didn’t know anything about the 811’s. I had to tell her all about them. She listened. Her eyes were green. She liked the sound of the things I told her. I talked a lot. It was sunny. I clicked my fingers. I couldn’t help it. She asked if I liked music. She played the piano. She wore blue jeans. Ezra Pound. I left him on the desk. The lake was full of resting gulls.

She told me it was her birthday one week from that day. I said it over and over in my head. I didn’t want to forget.

I had some money, not a lot. I decided to get her a present. I took the bus to town. It was yellow and I sat on the second floor. The bus driver had a strange mustache. The shoes of the man beside me were square. I didn’t take the bus much.

There was a bookshop on the quays. It was hidden behind the traffic. When you opened the door a bell rang. It was a high pitched kind of bell. I had been there before and looked at the books. They smelt different to the one’s in the library. There was a lady at the counter. She had round glasses and an old neck. I felt sorry for her. One day I would be old. I felt sorry for myself. She told me that she would be right back. Then she was. And Pound was with her. The book was clean. I thought that it didn’t look right. She told me that was the only copy. I bought it and walked home. I had no money left for the bus. But I didn’t mind. I clicked my fingers. I whistled. I felt strong.

There were always birds in late spring but people had exams. The library was full. I went there early that day. I wanted to be sure to get the seat beside her. When I got there I wrote inside the cover of the book. I said: no one can read my writing either. After that I didn’t know what to say. I hadn’t given many birthday presents. I bought my friend in primary school a football. We were 10. You didn’t have to write on a football. I didn’t know what to put. I wrote: love, James – happy birthday. Then I closed the book and pushed it to the far corner of the desk.

She didn’t come that day. Or the next. I kept her present in my bag. I didn’t know what to do with it.  I walked around the library searching. I didn’t click my fingers the same way. Her name was Lucy. She wore blue jeans. She had green eyes. I couldn’t find her. Ezra Pound…

Michael Phoenix is a 22 year old writer from Belfast based in Dublin. He writes poetry, short stories, and has recently completed his first novel. He has been published in the 10th Anniversary Edition of the RedFez.

Lazarus

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

Photography 

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

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Surfacing

– By Tara White

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cowtime

– By Micheal O’Flaherty

Afternoon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Earlier that morning

You’ll have a cup, Jack?

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

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

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

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

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

Feckin Lazarus.

Any news, Jack?

Pat’s heart sank.

Afternoon

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

They broke into Joan Mac’s.

They did.

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

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

She shot at you once, didn’t she?

That she did.

What was it over, again?

The bull broke into her heifers.

Ha! That’s right. I remember now.

She gave me a fair fright.

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

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

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

She always had that gun handy.

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

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

And he was always so well dressed.

Always wore the three piece suite.

Three year he lasted with her.

T’was an ease to him in the end.

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

No, they answered in unison.

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

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

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

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

Have a drop of tea.

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

What stream? his father asked.

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

No. The one from Mexico.

Mexico?

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

Feckin Lazarus.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You go on, John said.

What?

You go on, you’re in a hurry.

The calves …

I’ll do them.

You can’t. You’ll be here all night.

Sure and so what? I’m in no rush.

The motto of his life.

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

I’m in no rush.

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

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

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

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

Yerra, what of it?

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

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

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

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

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

Reunion

– By Sinead O’Hart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pretending not to hear.

Pretending not to be desperately, hatefully relieved.

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

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

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

I hope she won’t mind the mess.

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

Underneath It All

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The Secret Of The Universe – Photo by Dominic Corrigan

Photography

Dominic Corrigan lives in Sligo, Ireland. He holds an honours degree in Fine Art. His art has been exhibited throughout Ireland and also in New York at the Lockhart gallery. His next Solo exhibition is in The Model, Niland gallery, Sligo October . His work has been published or is forthcoming in, The Monkey Puzzle Press, Yemassee  Journal  and Out of Our Journal. Orio Headless, Bare Hands and Cerise Press spring 2013. Check out his website.

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Blue

– By Stephen Devereux

The secret of the universe is adrenalin. You can live without its rush for a while, but when it comes something ignites, flows. A rhythm hooks you out of your seat and onto the dance floor. Someone says I love you or let’s kill him.

Danny hadn’t felt anything much for a good while. Bought a house in the suburbs. Made money. Married Anna. But one night, one drizzly autumn night, he was driving back from his city centre office when something happened. My words aren’t good enough, for the something is not the kind of thing that might be conveyed by words like autumn and drizzly. I can only tell you that he’d pressed the search button on his car radio and it had flicked to the last minute of a song he loved. It hit him. The sly, sweet chemical of nostalgia (was it that, exactly?) swirled through his blood, welled up behind his eyes. People with frostbite only begin to hurt when they thaw out. No. That’s not it. Danny felt a cloying, acute, incurable wound that made him nostalgic for the last time he had felt such a feeling. That’s nearer. Would it help if I told you about how Danny felt before this night, this drizzly autumn night? He’d had such minor epiphanies before. The smell of toffee apples. His mother’s letters. Old photos But it had never lasted, had always quickly faded so that he might remember remembering, but wouldn’t feel anything much. But this one, this one on this drizzly night remained, getting stronger and stronger. Like heartburn. Like a hard-on.

As soon as he arrived home he rushed indoors and called to Anna. Without waiting for a reply he looked out the old box under the stairs where he’d shoved his vinyl albums. As soon as he found the record he put it on his old turntable. The scratch and hiss of sapphire on vinyl was exciting. It both put him at a distance and focused his attention. That’s not good enough. It made him painfully conscious of the past but only through his awareness of this moment. That’s too pompous. The words and music when they trickled through intensified everything. He listened to himself listening. He loved knowing that he had felt like this before. He forgot the last twenty years. Perhaps he had always felt like this, underneath it all. It was like wearing his older brother’s coat and walking the streets smoking his cigarettes. It was like getting off a train alone in a strange city, sharing someone’s bed for the first time. Life was all potential. Adrenalin. I cannot find a better word.

Anna, combing her unfashionably curly hair in the bedroom, heard the familiar music and felt something like a doom mixed up with panic. Why was he playing this record, now awakening things? It would end in tears. Perhaps he was drunk. I’m not doing Anna so well, am I? She did not really think about him in such clichés. But I am certain that she went down stairs, nonetheless, and planned to say something sensitive and touching and connected to their past. Instead she stubbed her toe on the door of the cupboard under the stairs.

‘Why have you left the cubby door open? I nearly killed my bloody self!’

‘Sorry. Just settling a bet. Steve said the words were ‘Acid, boots and tarts’ but I say it’s ‘Acid, booze and arse.’’

‘Acid, booze and arse, needles, guns and grass. Lots of laughs.’ That’s how it goes. You know it does. Why do men have to bet on everything?’

She went into the kitchen.

She went into the kitchen but she kept the door open and listened as intently as he did. He was going to shout something after her about women always picking on men, but the contrast between such banter and the delicacy of his feelings just then was too great. Anyway, he’d lied, you see, about making a bet (but you know that), lied simply to cover his exposure. Why should he defend men from her accusation when there were no men involved to defend? There wasn’t even a Steve in his office (but she knew that).

As he listened, he remembered them listening together, for the first time. She had said how beautiful (that was the exact bloody Laura Ashley word), how beautiful it was. Wow! All of it! He hadn’t agreed, had maintained a certain necessary masculine critical distance, even then. He’d said something about it being dated in its outlook. She needs to move on, needs more commitment (that was the exact radical bullshit word, commitment). He cringed. He remembered his words precisely and remembered that he had not believed them, even as he spoke them. Why hadn’t he echoed her words, created a shared moment with her? Why had he not given himself that delicious moment then so that they could share it now? He was thinking about calling through to her ‘I really loved this stuff’ when she shouted from the kitchen ‘You never liked this record anyway.’

‘I did.’

‘No you didn’t. You said it was dated.’

‘Never.’

‘Did.’ She knew that both of them would remember his exact words.

He was remembering how they had resolved it then by going for a couple of drinks in a funny little pub where the landlady had been all breathy and sweet with them and had kept smiling at them. They’d caught her mood. She had a funny little dog. Later on they’d giggled about her and her dog as they sprawled on the sofa in front of his Mum’s TV. He looked over towards the kitchen door. Was Anna also remembering that scene just now? He hoped not.

Needles, guns and grass. He had forgotten that line. As he heard it again, he couldn’t help shouting out ‘Hey, I never knew she’d been to Manchester!’ Why was he making cheap jokes when he was being thrilled, unbearably sensitised by the music? Just because it was unbearable. Unexpectedly, she replied with a loud laugh when he had been expecting a politically correct rebuke and another attack on what men always did. For her it was unbearable too? Perhaps.

He kept putting the stylus down on different tracks, parts of tracks. He loved the movement, the noise, the feel of it. He was trying to make it sounds as if he was writing down the words and had to keep repeating bits, but he liked the delicate weight of the pickup arm in his hand. Like a bird.

The scene on his Mum’s sofa had not ended it. Each week of their courtship they had become more intimate, had exposed more of their vulnerability or rather their pretended vulnerability. This is, after all, what lovers do, have to do, even when there is so little to expose. He felt a little sickly now and tried not to remember how they had used those tender confessions in rows, years later. It’ what couples do. But he could not forget how he had accused her of flirting with someone, ‘just like you always did with my brother.’ She could not help but retaliate by saying how often she’d noticed him looking at other women, how he’d even fantasised about women on album covers. Were they both now thinking of how those tender confessions had been betrayed?

I am on a lonely road and I am travelling. Yes, that was it. That was how he’d been. All his life. Even now in this cul-de-sac. Always travelling. Anna also heard the words. What piquant nuances they awoke. No, that’s not how she thought about it. She’s so hard to get right. Let’s see. She thought how comforting was the restlessness that those words evoked now and that she had felt then. That’s nearer. And she thought how comfortless was the peace that she had arrived at now. All this trash, she thought. Yes, all this trash (I’m getting her now) from the egg-rack in the shape of a cheerful chicken, the herbs and spices of the world set sitting on the kitchen shelf, the tea-cosy in the form of a twee country cottage. She picked it up and turned it inside out, preferring the tea-stained, grey interior. All this trash was a travesty of her ideas, her life’s significance. She could hire a skip and dump everything in it. She had a desire to run into the front room and hug her husband. She wondered if there were some words left to say that would make him want to take her off somewhere. Somewhere still to go.

‘Tea’s ready.’

He came into the kitchen, trying to hide his face as if this something that animated him was visible. And she did catch sight of something different about him but it made her recoil. Was it because the music had also changed her? Was this what she had waited for for so long? But then the urge to hug him returned, to bridge the years. She rushed her arms around him and made of her two hands a tight, girlish ball at the back of his neck, standing forward on her toes.

Danny squashed the side of his face against the side of her face and she could tell that he had ached for that hug. They rocked from side to side a little. But how long should they stay like this? Who breaks? What will end it? He pressed himself harder against her, lifted the back of her long skirt and slid his palms along her thighs. Could he really think that this was what it was about? So little imagination? She imagined him dragging her down to the kitchen floor and pushed him away. His body yielded to her shoving, but he kept his face buried in the side of hers, holding her head between his large hands like a football.

There was a metallic click in the front room and Danny turned towards it. ‘That’ll be the tape finishing. I’m recording it, you know, for Steve, to prove I’m right, I mean, about the words.’ More lies. He left the kitchen without ever having looked directly at her. He took the tape out of the machine and threw it on the coffee table. He would play it alone when he wanted to feel something. She wasn’t in it. Anna brought through his tea on a little tin tray that had ducks printed on it. He switched on the television with the remote, his tea on his lap. Maybe there would be some football on. Or a good film. A war film would be good, anything to shake off this unnecessary refinement of feeling, this presence of things that had so little to do with their lives, here, now. Really it was not so bad. He was coming down, back to banality. Where we all like to be. But then a crazy thought hit him. He called out before he had time to think about it. He called out ‘Hey Anna, why don’t we go dancing like we used to do?’

He heard the front door click and saw, through the bay window, Anna get into the car and drive away. He noticed that the tape he’d made was missing from the table. He ran to the garden gate, but could not see where she had gone.

She puts the tape into the car cassette player and turns it up loud. We don’t need no piece of paper from the City Hall keeping us tried and true. Love is the secret of the universe. She heads for the motorway, puts her foot down. Closes her eyes.

Stephen Devereux grew up near the Suffolk coast, its landscape figuring in much of his work.  Most of his adult life has been spent in the North-West and the people and cityscapes of the north also loom large in his poetry.  He write both traditional and contemporary poetry.  He has contributed to many magazines, including: Acumen, Agenda, Ambit, Brittle Star, Borderlines, The Cannon’s Mouth, Carillon, Chimera, Coffee House Poetry, the Delinquent, Envoi, Iota, The Interpreter’s House, Other Poetry, Poetry Salzburg, Raindog, The SHOp, Seventh Quarry, Smiths Knoll, The Stinging Fly, Turbulence, The White Review. He has read at events and festivals, including supporting Felix Dennis on his Did I mention the Free Wine?tour.  He has several poems on the Poetry Library, South Bank archive and has made recordings for them.  He has been placed in several competitions including short listed for the Arvon Foundation Northern Short Story Competition, most recently, winner of the Slipstream Poetry Prize and runner-up for the Elmet Foundation’s Ted Hughes Prize (judge Liz Lochhead).

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Silence – Photo by Dominic Corrigan

Just Another Day

– By Alvy Carragher

Silence is all she wants. There they are again, seagulls. They woke her at six with the shriek of birds trapped inland. It resonates. She knows how they feel, but that doesn’t make her anymore forgiving.

He sleeps through it all. Slurps, gurgles in his lumpish dreams. Always she lies staring at the back of him, the covers broken up in the folds of his legs as he curls away from her. She will never understand why he doesn’t hear the screaming of her mind.

“Did you sleep well?”

“Not really,” she replies.

“Look, I won’t be home, I’ve stuff to do this evening. Did you not post these yet?”

She sits scraping the fungus off the top of the yoghurt tub as he rumbles about. Perhaps he will eat it later. Maybe she can sandwich it somehow into the evening’s menu. She wipes the granite counter it looks like specks of stardust trapped beneath her cloth.

There is a constant stream of questions and he never waits for answers. Rifling through their post and then he hands her the paper.

“They’re looking for a cleaner down the road?”

“Do I look like a cleaner?” she asks.

“Bar-tending too, sure you’ve experience for that?”

“I hated it,” it sounds pathetic, whimpering.

He is gone. Out into the day, into his office where he taps answers to other people’s questions. Takes time to filter through answers. He has left his dishes gritty with cold porridge on the table.

She counts seconds. Checks Facebook and “likes” the lives of others. It’s been two hours. There is a dull ache in her lower back from sitting stooped over the screen. Time to apply for something she thinks, anything.

There they are again. Seagulls breaking the silence and their squawks strum through her. She googles places far from the coast, far from city-living. Her mind is in a desert, riding hissing camels across dunes with sand-storms for company.

The door slams and he is home.

“You didn’t post these?”

Those are his first words she thinks. That is the first thing on his mind.

“Is dinner not ready?”

That is his second thought she thinks.

“What did you do all day?” he asks.

She wipes the internet history. Google Images will not be constructive enough for him.

“The seagulls, they wouldn’t shut up,” she says.

“So what’s for dinner, did you do the shop?” he asks.

“I didn’t have time.” She wants to say. There is never any time.

Alvy Carragher is a Tipperary based 23 year old writer. An enthusiastic member of Dublin Writers Forum, she spends a lot of her free time attending poetry events and performing spoken word. She hopes to do a Masters in Creative writing and to someday be a published novelist, poet and short story writer. Check out her Blog and follow Alvy on Twitter.