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.

Captured Moments

Oceans Apart - Photo by Mireya Semelas
Oceans Apart – Photo by Mireya Semelas

There are still grains of sand left on your feet from that other beach you now walk on. Whilst sweeping them in silence, I only hope over and over that you never stop wanting to bathe in my waters. I know that it is not possible to find settlement in the constant change of my tide. It is unimaginable to find asylum in the impulsive shift from tranquility to chaos that I harbour. Many boats, tricked by my blue aquatic transparency, have sailed in comfort before knowing the agony of their slow sinking. How can it be different when even I find it hard to float? When I recurrently end up drowning in my own cold water? I guess that the embrace of my waves now imprisons you in confusion and pushes you further away and onto the warm cuddle of your new paradise. I plead you to never stop wanting to bathe in my waters.

Adjacent Distance - Photo by Mireya Semelas
Adjacent Distance – Photo by Mireya Semelas

If I slightly unfold my arm, I’ll touch your skin. If I just twist a little, your body will come into contact with mine, granting it with a spare of your warmth. The five fingers in my hand can stroke gently your hair once, twice, the amount of times needed for your eyes to meet mine. My lips know the way to yours, it is the place where they once belonged to. But my arms remain idle. My body remains cold. Each of the fingers in my right hand thread with their left pair. And my lips, pressed tight, hold in the tears of my agitated sea. And it is not pride that keeps me motionless, but the fear my prison is build upon. The terror of facing the immense distance inherent in the few centimeters that stand between you and me.

Twinkling Stars - Photo by Mireya Semeles
Twinkling Stars – Photo by Mireya Semelas

I once somewhere read that it is in the darkest skies where the brightest stars are to be found. I am unsure of the colour balance of my sky, but if there is something I am completely certain of, is that it holds the most incandescent stars of all.

There is one to whom everything might now look cloudy and unreal, but I can unquestionably foretell that your natural glow is going to be revealed. Sooner than you might think. Don’t you realise that you are no longer eclipsed? You may be small, but only in size; your soul is huge. The richness of my sky is enhanced by the smile of the star to whose days are my nights. I cannot stop admiring your capability of blooming through the days whilst having to live one step ahead of your heart. The latter being left stranded eight hours behind. You perennial perseverance will be finally rewarded, and you will be granted with the world which you are so purposely constructing. Please, reserve a small place in it for me so that I remain complete.

The exotic touch of my sky comes from the East. Not knowing half as much about her as I wished I did, she has taught the meaning of many words. One of them being achievement. The instantly perceptible attraction of her physical appearance fails to remotely portray the monumental beauty of her soul. Having thrived through innumerable battles, she is now forced to fight on two grounds.

Do not give up, let the sparkle in your eyes blind the setbacks thrown by life. My request for you is to acknowledge me in the fight and heavily rely on my constant support. The chromaticity of my sky is intensified by the light emanating from the most recent star. Having gazed over my sky by the inexplicable coincidences of life, I am daily thankful for you deciding to stay. By allowing me to be a witness in your defeat of adversity with the only weapon of your laugh, you have safeguarded my sanity. Thank you for sharing the incalculable value of the legacy that bereaved event left in your hands.

I cannot think of a better place for the strongly glowing star to leave her gem when she forever dimmed.

Without any right, but filled with hope, I ask you not to ever change. The most special component of my humble sky is reserved for the star whose blood runs through my veins. Oceans apart, you are the closest to my heart. Your infinite love unconditionally follows every one of my steps. You remain the backbone of my life. I am sorry for all the ache I have caused. I am grateful for you teaching me to fight through the toughest battles and forcing me confront rough reality. With all that you have given me, which is all you have, I am in no position to demand; but I beg for the vigor in your soul to never fade away. I once somewhere read that you are what you have. And I have the most vivid, solid, magical sky of them all.

Free Me - Photo by Mireya Semelas
Free Me – Photo by Mireya Semelas

The unused sheet of paper lays flat on the table, eyeballing me, pleading to capture words that will defeat forgetfulness and prevail through time. I feel its stare and I stare back. Even though I own this pen and the left hand that is holding it, it’s as if the brain governing the muscles has gone blank and is unable to convert the captured ink into printed letters. I am free now. Free to reinvent my life, to start over, to be who I always wanted to be and to do what I have never done before. I can choose the cast, change the plot.

Why then my head always wanders to thoughts about you? What if who I want to be is a half of you? If all I feel like doing on this rainy Sunday afternoon is to get lost in your arms. Return to your embrace, to that exact place where I once felt safe, protected against the world in which I find myself vulnerably thrown now, force to continue building my days. I blend real with idealised memories. No longer able to tell the difference. Unwilling to tell the difference. Afraid that the absent mindedness that distinguishes me takes over remembrance. Symptoms are already arising. I cannot recall the smell of your soft skin but I still sense it in random places. The other day it hid in my apartment lift. Today, in a passing stranger. I can trust my nostrils, but not much more. I don’t remember the sound of your laugh. I blame myself for not having heard it much in the last days. I am starting to forget the tickle your teasing stroke triggered on my waking lips. Or the feel of having each one of my fingers threaded in yours. What side of your body did your birthmark adorn? What brand gel couldn’t you live without? The curse of selective memory haunts me, shifting my energy into bringing these things to the present and letting go of what I should hold on to: the fact that I wasn’t happy, that your love was long gone, that I meant nothing to you any longer, that you have started to swim in seas I will never become. Time will free me, but how much time?

Born in Madrid, Spain, Mireya Semelas has been living in Dublin for nearly five years. Writing has been her language for as long as she can remember. The landscapes in Ireland are responsible for her awakened interest in photography. With “Captured Moments” Mireya aims to combine her passion in pictures with her love for words. Throughout these two-word titled passages, the reader is immersed in a sea of love, friendship, suffering, surrender, survival and many other emotions that will preserve them into the future. Check out Mireya’s blog and follow her on Twitter @semelas

A Portrait Of The Artist

Jim Larkin Statue, O'Connell Street, Dublin - Photo by Emily O'Sulivan
Jim Larkin Statue, O’Connell Street, Dublin – Photo by Emily O’Sulivan

The Great South Wall

– By Niall Foley

Dead.

That’s how you’ll find me.

The sea is brown at my back, the autumn breeze urging it against the rocks on which I sit. In front of me the rippling tide is black, then blue. The water looks gentle with the evening light tip-toeing on its surface. But I know beneath is strong, dark and cold.

I will not resist.

I will go willingly.

Lapping of the sea echoes pleasingly from under the rocks. Pleasing is the sound, soft on the ear. Pleasing too that my body will soon be down there. With the rats. And the worms.

A wretched business for whoever identifies me. They’d have to ask someone, wouldn’t they, to be sure? Would they ask Alan? I wonder, would they?

Alan. Great big block head on thick shoulders. A sour face. A landlord of the old school.

It’ll shake him up a bit alright, having to identify my body laid out on a slab. All blue and bloated. Recognisable yet unrecognisable. Alan, forced to have a good long look with eyes wide open before whispering, “Yes, that’s him.”

I can see his sickened face. The same face he has the rare time he does the dirty work and cleans sick from the stairs or lifts someone’s shit off the floor in the jacks.

His disgusted face makes me shiver with glee.

Stiffness claws at my back so I shift a bit but that starts my hip off, waking the untouchable dull pain that is never far away. So I just sit and wait for a little of the pain to go and a little more of the evening to pass.

A cargo ship with containers stacked tidy row upon row leaves Dublin Port for the mouth of the Liffey, one green light flashing her slow heartbeat.

An old pair nearing me now. With tanned skin, beige trousers, and plastic water bottles. Not paying me any attention at all so they’re not.

“How are yez? Nice evening!”

Nearly run, they do. Christ.

Ah, the tourists, where would this country be without them but?

Céad Mile Fáilte.

I wait.

A father and son come cycling. The old feller nods. I nod back. The boy trails behind bumping on the uneven stones, forehead furrowed in concentration. “You’re playing a stormer, kid,” I tell him. “You’re flying.”

The Da smiles.

Alan has kids too. And a nice home, no doubt, with a comfy warm scratcher. But soon all he’ll see when he goes to sleep is me and my rotten face. There will be a stench. God, will there be a stench. It will give him nerves alright.

My gut suddenly lurches and my head is light. Pinpricks of heat circle my neck and rise in a fizzy rush to my face. Sure wouldn’t Alan be glad to see me dead? Aren’t I a problem to him? What would he care if I was out of the way? Unemployed barmen are two a penny these days.

I cover the sight of the world with my fingers, angered and embarrassed at my own stupidity. Because the only person they could ask to identify me body will be glad to see it.

Is there someone else they could ask?

Sarah.

No, not Sarah. It won’t be Sarah.

The cargo ship inches level with me. The Andromeda.

It’s not quite time. At the far end of the Wall I see blurry silhouettes fishing. But when they go it’ll be just me.

It could never be Sarah. You’d be a fool to think otherwise. And I never did. Not really. There’s the age, for starters. Sarah. Twenty-three years old.

The one time I’d lost the run of myself at her birthday drinks. If it hadn’t been a Sunday I wouldn’t have gone. But it was. On a Sunday, my day off, wearing my good clothes, not the usual faded trousers and old polo shirt. Sunday means Terry, all dressed up and with places to go, drowning in thirst.

I was only messing. Tried to give her a birthday kiss, is all. And that was all. We were mates.

The kiss was just banter. I know it was. But everyone else said otherwise, and when everyone else looks at you different to how you look at yourself, well, it clouds your thinking.

I know what they say.

I stand, unsteadily. The breeze cools my head and carries salt to my eyes and lips.

I walk to the edge.

The red-and-white towers of Poolbeg hide the steel and glass of the Docklands. In the low-rise houses of Clontarf opposite I see old Dublin, my Dublin.

New Dublin is everywhere. It even sparkles in the dark sky. Kite-surfers on Bull Island. At this time of evening. At this time of year. When I was young it was just fishing. Fishing and football.

Fifteen years I’ve been pulling pints for Alan. Five months Sarah has been behind the bar. Part-time. But she fills the place. As every other pub in town loses trade. The punters go for her like flies to shite. It’s the oldest trick in the publican’s book.

While me, after years of feeding and watering them – I’m just sick of people. I have the craic as always. Chat about the weather. Pass on racing tips. Compliment the women. But it’s all a lie. And maybe it shows. Maybe that’s it after all, just that and nothing more.

Maybe that’s why Alan put me on split-shifts. Open the bar at ten in the morning, work till four. Come back at nine for the few hours to close the night.

Leave Sarah alone.

Just ignore the others.

There’s not a lot you can do in five hours. By the time I walk home to the room in Finglas and catch my breath it’s nearly time to go back to the pub again.

I walk because I hate giving my money away to the buses or taxis and because I need to lose weight. I do be needing to lose weight. Now and then I’ll get into the hardness of having a salad sandwich instead of the usual fried pub lunch. Now and then I won’t lash six or seven pints into me while cashing up. Now and then I won’t drink on the job.

But it’s not easy. You go behind that bar with the worst hangover of your life and vowing to never drink again but after five minutes of pouring pints left right and centre, breathing sweat and farts, men and women stepping in off the street and shrugging the day off themselves so strongly that you can hear it hit the floor… after five minutes, you’ll be gagging for a pint, and the first chance you get, you’ll horse the drink into you.

Horse it into you.

An excuse, of course. Always an excuse. The good habits never last. It’s not Alan. It’s not Sarah. I wish them the best. I really do. It’s me. Failing the false dawns. Letting myself down. Struggling, fighting against my nature, my thoughts, my self. Always trying again. Always failing. Always excuses. I’m sick of nothing in this world like I’m sick of me.

I step forward –

“Fucking shite in the end, wasn’t it mister?”

The voice sprung from darkness sends my heart to my throat. I spin around. A boy of eleven or twelve, fishing rod in hand, stands there.

“Pure bollocks it was,” he says, his blue eyes piercing through the gloom. Then I notice the green and white football shirt.

“Rovers?” I say, tentatively.

“Yeah. I see you there every game mister, standing at the back. We were pure muck on Friday, weren’t we? Another missed penno in the car park end.”

It’s just me and him and the wind.

“You must be freezing in just that top,” I say.

“But I don’t feel it, mister,” he shrugs and walks away. “Don’t feel it.”

He leaves me alone on the edge.

Shamrock Rovers Football Club.

The cry of the seagulls above.

Passing the All American Laundrette on South Great George’s Street in winter and inhaling the hot soapy steam blowing from its air vents.

The smooth stone of Jim Larkin’s statue against my fingers.

Is that all there is? These solitary and fleeting touchstones of happiness in my city?

What more do you want?

Well?

What?

Well then. It’s settled.

For today.

I take a careful step back and turn my back on the dark void of the sea.

Far behind me the green light of The Andromeda continues to strike its heartbeat, faint against the black canvas of the night.

Niall Foley has been harnessed as a barman, labourer, clerk, lecturer and journalist – and several other functions. He currently lives in Edinburgh, and is happiest when unshackled and alone in a room with a desk, some paper, and a pencil. Check out Niall’s website.   

Dun Laoghaire By Emily O'Sullivan
In the Words of James Joyce – Photo by Emily O’Sullivan

Pop Goes The Gun

– By Vikki Gemmell 

Flecks of gold circle his irises, like blasts of sun in a blue sky; a detail I’m only just noticing. After three years of working together he’s still a mystery. He clinks his beer glass against mine.

“Cheers,” he says.

“Cheers.”

“This is good, you agreeing to come out for a drink with me. We can have a proper chat before you come over tomorrow. I think you get me; it’ll be perfect.”

I nod. “I’ve never done any… modelling… like this before.”

“All you need to do is stand there. I’ll have my paints and gun ready.”

“Gun?” I laugh nervously.

He laughs too and I smile, not exactly sure what’s so funny. His is a proper belly laugh.

He pinches my cheek. “You look pretty cute when you giggle.”

I look away, heat creeping up my throat. “How long have you been painting?” I divert attention back to him.

“As soon as I could pick up a brush,” he says. “It’s tough getting anyone to give a shit about it all. You know, Van Gogh didn’t sell a single painting until he died. I think he was onto something there.”

I survey him curiously. “I’m sure he would’ve preferred to have been around to see his success, don’t you think?”

“Sammy, Sam,” he winks at me. “It doesn’t always work like that. You’ll see…tomorrow, my dear.”

*

His flat smells of turpentine and ashtrays and something sweet… the odours concoct a potent mixture in my nostrils and shoot to my head. My head spins and I feel it’s slowly breaking away from the rest of my body; my neck is the string of a helium balloon and someone just untied it. I can almost feel my hair brushing against the ceiling… static electricity.

Static electricity is the real reason why I’m here and we both know it. I’m bored with my boyfriend. He’s bored with his girlfriend. He wants me to pose nude because it’s the fastest and easiest way he can think of getting my clothes off and it saves us having to make excuses to our consciences.

“In here,” He pushes a door open and I follow him inside.

My eyes don’t know which wall to focus on first. I blink then take a deep breath and focus on the one facing me. My face burns as I am confronted with wall-to-wall coverage of nude women posing like they are in pre-edited James Bond credits. No silhouettes here.

“D’you like them?” He sees me looking and I open and close my mouth, not sure what he wants me to say.

“Took me fucking ages. I used a different kind of paint for those ones so it was hard doing much detail.”

“Oh,”’ My throat collapses into my stomach. Not much detail? I can practically see the goose bumps along their inner thighs… I begin to feel panicky and stupid. Maybe he really does want to paint me naked. Like seriously. In detail… to add to his wall. Shit, shit, shit.

I turn to look at his other wall and see Andy Warhol prints, movie posters… a Trainspotting poster with him and his friends in place of the actors. He’s Renton. I look at another poster for Pulp Fiction and realise it’s his girlfriend, donned in a black wig, pouting. I try to decide if this is cool or just…weird.

“Sit down,” he says, motioning to his bed.

I perch on the end of his bed. I watch as he starts to sift through his CD collection.

“What kind of music you into?” he asks.

I shrug. “Rock. Alternative.” Did alternative exist anymore? It seemed everything alternative had gone mainstream. Even the kids hanging around town were confused; their eclectic wardrobes borrowing a piece of everyone in an attempt to look different, only to turn up and see fifty other people had had the same idea.

Nirvana blasts out from his stereo and I laugh.

“What’s so funny?” he yells in my face, as he dances around, an unlit fag between his fingers, his jeans slouching half way down his arse.

“I haven’t heard this in ages,” I say.

“What?” He cups his ear with his hand and smiles. I can still see his dimples even though he clearly hasn’t shaved for a while.

I smile back; my body begins to relax.

“Have you ever thought about dying?” He appears in my face again and I jerk back, unnerved by his abrupt question.

“Well, not exactly. I mean I’ve thought about death, but not, like, the actual act of how I’ll go…”

“Sammy, Sammy, Sammy,” he tuts, shaking his head. “All the interesting people are dead. I can’t wait to meet them all and party with them.” He lights his cigarette and laughs as he blows circles into the air.

“You could always hold a séance,” I shrug.

He ponders this seriously. We really don’t share the same sense of humour. I begin to wonder if he is so crazy that he is beyond a sense of humour…

“I don’t really believe in all that shit.” He waves a hand dismissively at me. He pulls out a bottle of whisky from his cupboard. “Ah, there you are my sweet baby.”

He takes an over enthusiastic swig and the liquid glides over his chin, dripping on to his t-shirt. He keeps drinking. I hold my breath along with him. How much whisky can you down in one go?

“Ahhh,” he gasps, pulling the bottle back down level. He burps loudly. “Here, have some.”

I take the bottle. Peer into the half empty gold pool. I take a swig. The roof of my mouth roars in protest. I feel every drop sail down the back of my throat, down, down, down, exploding in my stomach.

“You’re so cute,” he says. He sits down beside me and pinches my cheek.

“Thanks.” His eyes analyse every line and pore on my face.

“And sexy.” He brushes my hair back from my shoulder and his finger traces a circle around the delicate skin on my neck. Every inch of my body begins to pulsate, my lips are screaming Kiss me, kiss me.

“Just perfect. Hmmm…” He snaps his fingers and I blink. He jumps up and rushes over to his easel.

I swig some more whisky. Oh my God. Just kiss me for Christ’s sake… His jumping around is beginning to make me dizzy.

“Okay. Cool,” He begins to squeeze tubes of paint and colours squirt out onto a palette, like a melting rainbow. “Take your clothes off, Sam. Let’s get started.”

I swallow the whisky slowly. Uh oh. That doesn’t sound like the ‘Ooh baby. I want you,’ that I was expecting. He really wants to look at my body. Objectively. Fuck. I have cellulite. My boobs are too small…I look at the Bond Girls dancing across his wall. Their boobs are fantastic; their bodies acquaintances of the local gym.

“Uh, Scott…” I sit up; feel the nausea grip my tongue.

“Mmm?” He is mixing frantically, chewing on a paintbrush.

I am on the verge of saying I feel sick and want to go home. No lie there. But I seem to have lost the ability to speak.

“Come on beautiful. Smile for the camera.” He peers at me through the square he has constructed with his fingers.

I stand up. My hands are shaking so much I can’t unbutton my shirt properly.

“Would it help if I got naked too?”

“Umm…” He’s already thrown his t-shirt over his head, is climbing out of his jeans…

I laugh and quickly unbutton my shirt, slip off my denim skirt. Then the underwear… quick and painless, like ripping off a plaster. I glance over at him. He hasn’t taken off his boxers.

“Hey…” I protest, crossing my legs, hugging my chest.

“Don’t get all coy, Sammy!”

He bends down to open a box underneath his easel and I notice how smooth his skin looks, the slight muscles in his arms ripples on a flawless canvas.

I stand awkwardly, waiting.

He holds up a gun.

“What is that?” Asking the obvious. I think back to his comment in the pub last night.

“A gun,” He hands it to me and I forget about my nakedness. I hold the weight in my hand nervously.

I want to ask if it’s real. But I don’t want to know. “Why d’you have a gun?”

“For my art darling,” he says, nodding towards the Bond Girls. “All part of the little picture I’m painting.”

Of course. How stupid of me to think that he wouldn’t just add in some fake guns afterwards.

“Okay, strike a pose,” He lunges forward, pointing his fingers in an upside down v.

I hesitate, then point the gun; mimic his pose.

“Hmm…” He scratches his chin, scanning my body.

Don’t look at my bum. Don’t look at my bum.

“Bit more to the left.”

I move.

“Perfect!” He claps his hands and bounces back to his easel.

Twelve songs spin past. I’m getting a cramp in my shoulder. The gun’s getting heavier.

He lays down his palette. “Sam, do you know why I really asked you here today?”

“What d’you mean?” Hallelujah. I hadn’t read the signals wrong. He did want my body for a different kind of creativity. My thigh twitches.

“Take a break, sweetie. Sit down.” He walks over to me, motions for me to sit on the bed.

I sit down, laying the gun beside me. He crouches, facing me. I’m slightly disappointed that he holds my gaze. I try to stop my eyes from devouring his whole body.

“I think we get each other. I can see the same desire inside of you that’s inside of me.”

Waves of panic and anticipation wash over me as I follow his gaze to the ‘bond girls’ on the wall.

“Those other girls – they weren’t quite ready…”

He grabs my hand, grinning. A spark runs up my arm.

“Come on, it’ll be more dramatic and memorable in the living room. My best paintings are in there.”

I let him pull me up, my head spinning. He reaches behind me to pick up the gun.

“Are you going to paint me in the living room?” I ask, following him out the door.

“No, we’re moving on to the main event now,” he stops and touches me gently on the cheek. “The timing had to be just right. I feel ready now.”

A shiver tickles my spine. I’ve been ready for so long…

We walk down the hall and he turns to smile at me as he leads me into a large, sun filled room.

He shuts the door and he hands me the gun.

Biography: Vikki Gemmell lives in Scotland and has fiction published in Spilling Ink Review, Flashflood Journal and recently won third prize in the Multi-Story flash fiction competition. She is currently working on a Young Adult novel. Her observations about life can be found on her blog. Follow Vikki on Twitter @VikkiGemmell

Hades

Abandoned House – Photo by Áine Lonergan

Áine Lonergan is a final year history student at Trinity College Dublin. 

‘Abandoned House’ was taken in Samara, Russia in June 2012.

Follow Áine on Twitter @alonerga

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Good Way

– By Lucy Montague-Moffatt

Their bodies mushed into one another like butter oozing into a carpet; legs entwined, hands everywhere. He whispered “I love you” into her ear. Kate shrieked in ecstasy and they rolled off each other, clammy and flushed.

He went to the kitchen to fix tea, he always did after. He was able to do it naked now that her mother had passed. It still felt odd standing in the middle of a room he didn’t feel was his, in the nip. He always had an eerie sensation that someone might walk in at any moment even though there was no one for miles. He made sure to keep a ‘dignity’ dish cloth near, just in case.

She was already watching TV in bed when he returned with two full cups, the creamy liquid sloshing over the sides as he lowered them on to the bedside table. He sat with her and half watched the blurred screen for a few minutes then, realising the time, jumped up to get ready to go to the shop.

“Get us a takeaway when you’re coming home, Pad” she called from the bedroom when she heard car keys jangling in the hall. He walked back to the doorway, a clean polo shirt tightening around his arms as he moved. There were still speckles of sweat lingering on her glowing cheeks and her hair was sticking up, framing her face, the way he remembered loving, once.

“But we got takeaway last night.”

“Well I want it again.” She didn’t look up from the TV but a tiny frown line appeared between her eyebrows.

“Couldn’t you…maybe…you’re here all day…and” he hesitated, wary of the agitated face of hers he knew so well.

“Cook for you? Like some sad housewife who has nothing better to do but cook and clean for her darling man?” She said it in a joking way, flailing her arms about overdramatically, but he knew there was no way she was going to cook now.

“Chinese?”

“Chipper.”

Paddy’s shoulders sagged inwards as he returned to the front door. He hated chipper. He didn’t mind it when he was actually in the process of eating it, chewing the soggy mass to a pulp and washing it down with thick black coke. No, it was the oily regret after. The horrible layer of grease that was left in his mouth like slugs had been dancing around his gums. But he knew he would be eating chipper tonight. That was a fact.

His car was just a small red thing. It was reliable, good for the narrow country roads and if he admitted it, which he never did, he kind of loved it. Or her. Her name was Sheila- complete with an ancient tape deck and a 2 cent coin that could never be yanked out from where it was wedged between the seat and the gear stick.

He arrived at work a few minutes late and rushed to open the shutters on the shop front and unlock the two dark toilets around the back of the building. It was a small white building with bright yellow gas canisters lined in front like miniature footmen. The shop had no name but locals fondly called it ‘Oil Stop’ because of two faded signs that hung on the outside wall. One said ‘Oil!’ in big black font with an illustration of a smiling oil can. The other one displayed lots of writing but now, after years of weathering and rust, the only word you could make out was ‘Stop’. Paddy knew that it was only a matter of time before it would be called Centra or Spar or similar. He didn’t want to still be there when that happened.

Inside it was dim and grotty or, as most tourists liked to call it, cute. There were two tiny aisles with tins and packages and cartons stacked with no thought of order or reason. Sometimes, on really slow days, Paddy would take the time to organise everything, making sure the cat food wasn’t beside the baby food or putting the tins of tuna away from the washing powder. Half way through this job he would usually get bored and leave it unfinished. The owner Mr. Connor, or Tom to everyone who knew him, would undo all this work the next time there was a delivery anyway, so it was pointless. Tom was a great boss and Paddy was grateful of that. He had worked in a few places since he left school, a restaurant, a couple of pubs, delivering pizza, but this was his favourite job because Tom was so fair. He treated him like an adult, unlike so many of his bosses before. He was turning twenty six at the end of the month but didn’t look a day over twenty, he had spent most of his grown up life being treated like a youngster.

“If it wasn’t for you I would have moved away a long time ago.” Paddy would often joke when Tom called in during his shift.

“You’ll move away when you really want to, nothing to do with me” Tom would answer back, flashing him a winning smile before handing over a wagon wheel biscuit. Tom paid Paddy well, especially for how easy the job was, but his real currency was wagon wheels. He’d pass them over through a handshake, as though they were sealing the deal on a big business agreement. Tom would always follow the transaction with a wink, as if to say “keep that a secret.” Paddy would sit on the bench outside the shop front, dust from inside still clinging thickly to his nostrils, and devour his chocolaty prize. It was always a little bit melted and he often wondered how many biscuits Tom carried on him during the day and whether his wife was used to the regular chore of washing out crusty brown stains from his pockets.

The first customers were a bus full of tourists, mainly Germans and Americans, on their way to Galway’s Gaeltach, or as they put it excitedly “your Gaelic region.” The tiny space was quickly swarmed with Trinity college hoodies and backwards baseball caps. An old woman with enormous glasses knocked over a stack of Pot Noodles, which Paddy admitted had been inevitable. He told her not to worry as he hurriedly stacked them back up before returning to the queue at the cash register. They used to same cash register that had been put into the shop when it first opened in the 20s. After every transaction the cash drawer would shoot open and a little bell would ding loudly, throwing most tourists into a wild fit of giddy clapping and hooting.

“Alright Pad, how’s it going?” the coach driver pushed a packed of chewing gum across the desk and leaned one elbow casually on the shabby wood.

“Good, Harry, I’m good. It’s not raining so I have nothing to complain about.” Paddy took a crumpled fiver from the man and rung it through the till.

“I thought you were leaving.” He laughed and Paddy grinned back. This happened nearly everyday.

“I am, I’m telling you, I am.”

“I won’t believe it till you’re gone.” He stood up and waved the packed of chewing gum at him as he strolled out the door. The Americans had slowly filed back on to the navy coach and it eased gently back on to the road before disappearing into the distance.

Paddy went to sit on the bench outside the shop, letting his head rest back against the glass window behind him. Sometimes sitting there, the silence only being cut by the rare vroom of a hurrying vehicle, he played with the idea of just leaving, right at that moment. He’d walk, no run, straight to his car. He’d let Sheila take him wherever she wanted to go, possibly a ferry or to an airport. And then he would be gone forever.

It was a busy morning with three more coachfulls of people stopping to buy food and trinkets before noon. Paddy was run off his feet, which he was happy about as that made time fly. He was mopping up 7up that a child had spilled in one of the aisles when a little old woman hunched in to the shop. She was almost completely vertical, with a large bump protruding out of her back, stretching her purple coat.

“Ah Paddy, what have you got for me?” This is what was called to him every visit, as though she was pretending she hadn’t phoned in with her grocery order and Paddy was actually going to give her a lucky bag full of surprises.

Paddy looked up from his mopping and gave the old woman a nod.

“Mary, my favourite customer. I’ve the bag ready for you.” He went to a hook behind the counter, took a half full canvas shopping bag from it, and brought it to her.

“You’re a great lad. My Tony will be in tomorrow to pay, you know yourself.”

“No problem, Mary.” He placed it in her wheeled shopping bag, carefully as it contained eggs.

“So how are you? How’s Kate?” Her face turned serious as she looked up at Paddy, letting her eyes do most of the work as her neck couldn’t reach very far.

“Oh she’s alright, much better actually.” Paddy leaned a hand on the front of the milk fridge, resting the other on top of the mop.

“She took it hard, she really did. But losing your mother is always hard. Oh it was sad.” She sighed wistfully and Paddy nodded.

“But you have the house now, that’s good. That’s one less thing to worry about. My grand kids now, they are killing themselves trying to afford homes. You’re all set.”

“Yes, it’s good. It’s…” He trailed away trying to think of another word but Mary had stopped listening. She had said her piece and was tipping her shopping trolley on to its wheels getting ready to leave.

“Listen, look after yourself Paddy, you’re a great lad.” And she squeaked out the door at a snail’s pace.

The rest of the day crawled by, as Wednesdays usually do, with the clock on the wall seeming to tick slower than usual. Finally night began to ooze hazily into the sunlight and Paddy dragged the briquette stand into the shop before pulling the shutters down and locking up the two toilets. The trees rustled in the newly made shadows, as though whispering to eachother the events of the day. He drove slowly to the chipper in the village; passing fields just as the sky was turning into a golden hue, making the shaking crops almost shimmer.

“Two singles with extra vinegar and one large cod to share.” said the woman behind the counter brightly as Paddy pushed his way into the warm shop.

“Hi Janet, yea…” he said, a little taken back, “that’s right.”

“Don’t look so worried Pad. I’m not going to charge you extra for remembering your order.” she chuckled, wiping her hands across a greasy apron covering her expansive stomach, “it’s hard not to remember when you order the same thing every day!”

“Not every day.” Paddy frowned. He never liked Janet, even when they were in school together. She loved to know everyone’s business. He hated her even knowing his order.

“Most days.”

She winked playfully at another customer in the shop and Paddy left to get a six pack of Miller from the off licence next door. When he got back his food was waiting for him on the counter and he left quickly, mumbling a goodbye as he went.

“See you tomorrow!” Janet called as he pulled the heavy glass door open. He frowned back at her before letting the door swing shut soundlessly.

He rested the dripping bag hesitantly on the front seat, almost apologising to Sheila, and turned up the radio as he drove back to Kate.

He turned on to the thin winding road that led to the house. The slanting trees shadowed the tarmac and the hedgerow either side grew darker by the minute. He knew that when he got back, after they had devoured their salty feast and maybe after a beer or two, for courage, he was going to break up with her. He had said the same thing to himself the evening before, and the one before that, but this time he was almost sure he was going to do it.

He rolled down the window letting the wind rush into the car and over his face. The smell of fresh leaves mixed with manure and he smiled sadly, thinking about how much he would miss it, but in a good way.

Lucy Montague-Moffatt is a 23 year old writer, comedian and student from Dublin. She has a poem and short story featured on the ebook Wordlegs Presents: 30 under 30 available on Amazon and a short story in the recently published collection 30 Under 30. She was one of the winners of the Fishamble: Tiny Plays competition and her piece will be performed in The Project Arts Centre in March 2013. She was commissioned to write the first year play for Inchicore College of Further Education last year, which was performed in March 2012 and has been commission to write the play this year too, which will be performed in March 2013. She was a Funny Woman Competition 2012 finalist. She wrote and performed two comedy shows as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2011. Lucy is currently a columnist for the UCD Observer. You can read her column here. Follow Lucy on Twitter @LuSay

Insomniac – Photo by Fabio Sassi

Fabio Sassi has had several experiences in music, photography and writing. He has been a visual artist since 1990 making acrylics using the stenciling technique on canvas, board, old vinyl records and other media. Fabio makes his acrylics mixing up homemade stencils, found tiny objects and discarded stuff. His work can be viewed on his website.

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A Little Dante

– By M.V. Montgomery

I was in Hades, not Hell: that much was clear. As I drove along, I saw the place packed with all the dead.

Clusters of souls generated their own force fields. A coterie of tightly packed bodies on one hill chatted and gossiped endlessly; gamers pursued their passions without relent; Internet scammers and spammers on another rise spouted off in their bubbles.

The operative principle appeared to be magnetic attraction rather than gravity. Souls were bound together by their own sticky, deeply rooted obsessions. And the further they attempted to part from the like-minded, the more resistance they encountered.

The selfish drifted like Greek seers in blind circles, and the isolates bumped into each other like mummers and then darted away, occasionally straying into the road.

It was no use honking: they were impervious to sound.

While I braked for one lonely soul and waited for it to drift by, a group of teen ghouls jumped into my car. They were vandals, scoundrels, and thieves, seeking to travel somewhere new to wreak their destruction. Resistance was impossible—they growled like the monsters they were.

And this place was full of frights: former devotees of bodybuilding, or plastic surgery, or of junk food and drink, who, stripped of all mortal constraint, now pursued their pet loves with infinite license. I shall not attempt to describe their grotesquely exaggerated forms.

The gruesome passengers in my car ogled and grrred aggressively at the others as we cruised by. Then they could no longer resist the temptation to get out to kick and torment a perfectly round, gluttonous soul.

I stopped the car, making an empty promise to wait. I sensed they would be oblivious to my departure while they pursued their quarry.

I then saw souls of the greatest earthly exercise-fiends nearing a suspension bridge over a vast bay. Call it the Ocean Styx, if you like. A light was just beyond, though it could never reach this enclave of shadow people. The souls crawled on hands and knees toward it, nearing the completion of a triathlon of triathlons.

One seemed just about to break through the penumbra of darkness but faltered near the finish, the force of resistance becoming so overwhelming that his limbs broke apart.

As I watched, others piled up on the beach near him. It was a noble defeat, worthy of Thermopylae.

I was filled with pity, yet drove on.

The long bridge ahead would have comprised still another marathon for these runners, had any of them reached it and sought to melt into the light beyond. But it was empty.

Halfway across, I felt warmed to the bone to feel the dawn break, and fortunate to wake up again out of darkness.

M.V. Montgomery is a professor at Life University in Atlanta.  His most recent work includes What We Did With Old Moons (2012), a collection of poetry, and Beyond the Pale, a forthcoming collection of stories, both from Winter Goose Publishing.  Check out his website.

How The Light Got In

How The Light Got In – Photo By Unicorn.

The Only Tree In The Field

– By Michael Naghten Shanks

Amber light from the low rising sun beams between milky clouds that spill across the sky. Its warm tone brightens the rain soaked bark of the only tree in the field.

I am kneeling in the long grass beside the brook: the khakis she bought me are drenched in the morning dew.

I hold her heart in my soil-speckled hands. It is the last piece of her that I will bury.

This was where we first met. I was climbing the tree when she appeared, like a bud bursting up through the soil.

“Bet you won’t jump in from there?” she said.

From my angle all I could see was her curly ginger hair, freckled forehead, and chestnut brown eyes.

The stream was only over a foot deep, but I wanted to impress her. I broke my ankle and she and I became inseparable.

We had our first kiss behind the tree. We carved our love into it before we knew it was a cliché. We got married when I inherited the house. We never had children, but we did go through our fair share of cats and dogs over the years. We built a nice little garden and grew everything we could to sustain ourselves.

I found her here the first time she had a stroke, and the second. Last night was the final time. Since then I’ve been planting pieces of her, hoping she would grow again.

Michael Naghten Shanks is a writer from Dublin. 

Follow him on Twitter @MichaelNShanks

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Eternally Yours

– By Emily Cross

It is often said that when you are about to die, your life flashes before your eyes. In my case however, it was more of a question of many lives than one in particular.

I have existed for a hundred lifetimes but for only a hundred brief moments have I been able to reach out to him, across the divide between the end of that life and the beginning of the next. For this is our eternal punishment – my never ending cycle of ignorant life and his never ending lack of it with only a brief crossover between, allowing time for only a touch and maybe a kiss before the next life begins.

It is snowing today, although it is spring. The white blue slant of light cuts through the dark shadows of the room, illuminating the rough plaster of my bedroom ceiling. For fifty years, I have laid in this bed, every single night staring at this same ceiling, my husband beside me snoring as I listened to a painful silence which resided deep inside of me that I never understood – until now.

It is always in my final moments of life, that the curtain is drawn back on my memories and I finally remember him – love and pain intertwined tying our souls forever together.

It will be today, that this life will end and that we will meet again.

Tilting my head to one side, resting my cheek against the smooth pillow, I can see the soft clumps of snow falling through the gap of my curtains. The world is coated in a pure white, with hints of green and bark peeking from beneath.

Closing my eyes, my mind is full of white. There was much more of it back then in the wilderness – more beautiful and deadly . . .

I remember that night sky – a cascade of colours as the aurora lights shimmered above the black forest. I tightened my grip on my father’s gun; its weight was a comfort in my hands although I could barely feel it.

It was so cold.

It was then I remember that I heard the wolves singing. Their death song seemed to make even the trees sway and dance.

I tried to quicken my pace but it felt like every limb was weighted – I stumbled then fell.

I knew I had to move. ‘Get up and go’ my mind screamed, but my body said ‘no’ and that voice grew quiet and still.

I thought of my parents. I thought of Anya. I even thought of Sasha – and wondered would he feel guilt or relief when they found me?

I didn’t feel as cold now. My breathing, once panicked now grew more calm and slow and my mind drifted away from the present, my world beginning to slip away. . .

I lay on my back now, I must have moved at some point but I don’t remember how – all I remember is that night sky going on forever. . .

It was then that I remembered.

He is coming.

It was there on that bed of snow, between the slowing of my heartbeat and freezing of my body that I finally know myself again. I am no longer the young man, tricked into the woods, soon to become prey – I am only his. I feel the life seep from my bones, as I watch the heavens colour the sky.

He is here.

His lips gently press against my frozen lips, parting them slightly. He steals my breath away with the smooth feel of his kiss. Gently he pulls away, and I open my eyes to meet his – obsidian black of eternity, they peer into my soul and I know I am his in this life and the next . . .

I feel my chest restrict, and the pull of the next life as my final breath escapes in a whispered farewell.

Quickly he leans in again, stealing a final kiss before I am truly gone. . .

My cheeks are wet with tears.

I am no longer with him. I am still here, lying on a soft bed of covers and pillows watching the snow fall. I can hear the hushed whispers of the doctor speaking to my daughter in the hall. She worries that I am in pain, if only she knew the cause of my pain – an eternity of stolen moments and separations.

I can hear her move toward my bedroom, away from the doctor, her footsteps rapping against the hard oak floor. I wish I had the energy to wipe my cheeks dry, but my hands remain still – resting uselessly on the decorative duvet.

“Oh Mama”

I hear the pain in her voice, as she plucks a tissue from the box by my bed and gently wipes my tears. The tissue trembles against my skin – she tries to still her shaking hands. I continue to look out the window, pretending not to know her grief. She leans in and presses a brief peck against my cheek before whispering an excuse to leave the room.

Even after she has left, I can smell her perfume . . .

I remember that smell of perfume, lingering in the air. Our bed was unmade and messed. He didn’t even have the consideration to make it. I leaned against the wall for support. He didn’t care if I knew about her or not. He didn’t care at all.

I ripped his necklace from my neck and threw it on our bed. It was a birthday present. The party was still in full swing downstairs – everyone getting splendidly drunk in spite of prohibition. He didn’t think I noticed when he slipped away, only a moment after her. It wasn’t the first time but it was the most painful. I don’t know why.

Without realising it, I had crossed the room and had reached out and touched the sheets of the bed. It was too much – all too much.

All too much.

I went to the bathroom, locking the door and began to fill the bath. I lit some candles and watched them sway, as I stripped off the dress he had bought me.

I remember now it was so easy to let go then – much easier than times before. I let the taps run and the water rise as I let myself sink below the surface. It is here encased in the warm scented water, that I finally remember myself.

He is coming.

I am no longer her – that young woman, betrayed by her husband – I am only his. I feel myself struggle as I begin to choke on the water and make sure to press against the sides of the bath to keep under the surface. I wanted this to end. My vision begins to dim and fade. The struggle leaves my body and my mind finally feels ease.

He is here.

I feel his gentle touch as he traces my cheek. I close my eyes, savouring it. Time is running out.

There is no water now, there is only us.

I feel my chest restrict, and the pull of the next life as my final moment escapes into this watery grave. I cannot whisper, yet I know he hears me.

“I love you”

Then I am again truly gone. . .

I think it has stopped snowing now. I can hear the grandchildren laughing in happy ignorance outside, as their mother bangs around in the kitchen – trying to remain busy while she waits for me to leave.

It is all about the waiting now.

She will wait in dread, while I will wait in anticipation – not for this life to end but for him to finally come.

I feel small in this bed now, engulfed by its size. Its vast space almost feels suffocating and hot, although for more than ten years, one side of this bed has been empty and cold. The bed is too much, too big for someone so little, too big for me . . .

I am lying in a cot, cramped between two still warm bodies. The sisters do not know yet that I will soon follow my brother and sister from this hellish place.

Even here, I can still hear the constant bustle of the Calcutta streets – it had been our family’s home since I could remember. I was the only one left and soon I would be gone too.

The agonised moans coughs of the neighbouring beds which were constant in our time here finally quieten, everything growing silent. My time is ending and he is coming.

I am no longer the young boy, begging on the streets, starving to death and suffocated with disease – I am only his. I feel the breathe leave my heavy lungs, as my hearing grows more silent and my coughing stills.

He is here.

I watch as he approaches me, the shadows pulling into his existence. He leans down and I feel his cool breath on my cheeks and lips. There is no more hurt or agony now, there is only us.

His hand touches my forehead, stroking my fevered mind into calmness, then he kisses me on the lips. It is gentle and soft, like when I felt my mother’s silk.

I know I am his in this life and the next forever.

There is the pull again of the next life as with a shuttering cough, my final breathe escapes into the heat of this never ending season. I cannot say farewell. . .

Everything is distant now.

I know that my family is here with me, but I am no longer with them.

Whispers are fading, growing quieter.

From my window I see the snow is beginning to melt and disappear.

The small space of my bedroom is full now, – people holding my useless hands and stroking thin hair.

My life is fading brightly as the body begins to die and my soul prepares.

The familiar is becoming strange and everything begins to depart.

He is coming.

It is here on my plush bed, that I am no longer an old woman, looking at the snow, waiting to die – I am now only his. I begin to feel the life seep from my useless body, as I watch the snow melt from the world outside.

He is here.

I feel his gentle touch as he traces my wrinkled cheek. It was only us now.

His lips gently press against mine, before the next farewell begins.

We are eternally bound to live this cycle of love and separation till the heavens cease.

Closing my eyes, I feel my heart has stopped beating and my lungs have stilled.

Yet, I am not afraid, I know he is here with me.

He will never leave me.

Neither in this life nor in the next.

For truly, my lover is most eternally constant.

Death always is.

Emily Cross is a pseudonym aspiring to be a published and (hopefully well) paid author. By day, she is an unnamed mild-mannered if not neurotic PhD student. By night, she is Emily Cross, a blog hopping chocoholic with delusions of literary grandeur, who procrastinates her time  through tweeting, blogging and posting random thoughts across the blogosphere. You can find her most recent ramblings on her blog.