Anjumon Sahin is pursuing her M.Phil degree in English literature from the University of Delhi alongside working as an Assistant Professor there. Writing and Photography are her two obsessions. She can be contacted at email@example.com.
It might have been the milk she took one sobering morning with her coffee, had the cow Mona or Luna only trespassed one springtime twilight into some other clover patch spattered with crepuscular mushrooms, that first sip taken too late, too early or on time, but taken; an hour later fresh chemicals burst little lit-up Catherine wheels in her tiger’s blood. She came up from Alabama in a box car, up from snake-coils of barbed wire, impossible circles flattened into cornfields, disemboweled cattle missing jawbones. A sideways county, Tuscaloosa, where the rain fell differently on account of the acid, and dead fish bobbed in the rivers like bottletops. She came all the ways up through Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas city, up and up but never surfaced, and I- I happened. Smack bang in the middle of her wild-child years, a daughter of harvest moons and whiskey in bars with men. Wild begat child.
Fatherless and on the move, she was my rock, my seesaw, my sandpit. She smelled of cigarettes and honey and something else I would have no knowledge of until passing out in a Wichita pool-hall at sixteen. Her corn syrup voice sang me Southern lullabies about guns and heartache and the people who did you wrong. And so I thank her. I thank her for LSD at five. For dinosaurs under the bed, enormous things going BUMP. For the first-hand exhibition of how not to grow up. I owe her my sight, which would come much later. It is possible to break circuits, unravel slipped stitches. Watch bone regenerate, make itself up again. And for new things to grow from nothing, from lost time, the taste of someone else’s spit.
My earliest memory is of waking up in a basket. The room is too bright. I can’t yet speak. A man I don’t know is tickling me. His face is a composite police picture of gapped teeth, bloodshot grey-blue eyes, sideburns, and a dirty blonde quiff. And I refuse. Minutes and minutes of impregnable stone silence, point blank refusal. I remembered it then in that pool-hall washroom, salt sweat freezing on my bare back in my little blue halter-neck, my tongue fizzing against the cistern, too big for my mouth; I remembered it was too bright, and how to fight.
Mine is a fixed star, here, now; hers wanders ever brighter, as with the dying ones. The outer shell blown away, the core still intact, cooling. Last I heard she’s living out of an RV, out of Columbus, Ohio. Bussing tables and singing honky-tonk in a dress gapped of sequins, like as if she’s exotic, like King Kong or those first Siamese twins. To err is human, but not only. We are more than the sum of our earthly mistakes. We are all star stuff, plasma and gravity. Some of us just can’t see it. Look up and count the stars, but wonder if those myriad glinting things are not the silver-scaled bellies of a thousand floating fish.
Tara White is an Irish writer and English Language teacher based in Dublin. She has a BA in English Studies from Trinity College Dublin and is currently receiving an MA in Creative Writing at UCD.
– By Micheal O’Flaherty
The wind came from the west, blowing up the cut of the river. It brushed by him as he stood on the riverbank, depositing on him its detritus and debris, sand and bits of fish and life and death that it had gathered on its passage from America across the ocean and in through Ballybunion.
How, how, how, he called trying to draw the cows to him.
They came slowly, taking their own sweet time, mocking his hurry. They trudged along their meandering path, its narrow line cut into the grass by their hooves, this passage that they decided was the best way to travel from field to the yard that they stuck to militarily in single, sedate, file. Eventually, he had the thirty two of them before him, headed for the yard, the whack of the plastic stick against his wellington urging them on.
There was a bit of give in the soil, the heel of his boot just breaking the surface of the grass. He imagined it releasing an aroma from somewhere, wafting up through the fissures in the ground. Maybe from below, from some hidden layer of mud, rock, mineral, laterite, saprolite, bedrock, whatever.
He looked at his watch. It was now a quarter to three and he was to meet herself at nine. It was going to be a close run thing.
Feckin Lazarus, he muttered. It’s all his fault. Holding the whole thing up. He’s no feckin help. About as much use as the real fella when it comes to dosing cattle. He was pretty sure there was no mention of Albex in Matthew or Acts or whatever.
He was always delaying his father, John, whenever he came over.
Hup, he smacked a straggler on the back. There was a satisfying sting in his hand from the impact and the cow scurried on a little, as much as a cow can scurry – inelegantly, all loose skin and swinging udder.
Feckin Lazarus. We were going grand ‘til he turned up. He never shuts that trap of his.
Earlier that morning
You’ll have a cup, Jack?
No, Mary, thanks. I just rose from the table.
Feckin Lazarus, Pat thought. You’d swear he’d been laid out.
Already, he could see his Saturday night slipping away. Possibilities, potentialities with Anne were drifting from his grasp. Admittedly, it was only a quarter to two in the afternoon and they were just finishing their dinner, but no good could come of having Lazarus help them out. The only part of that fella that ever got any exercise was his jaw.
Pat put his cup down on the table, his gavel of impatience, and looked across to his father, urging him to rise and get going for the farmyard.
Sure, Mary, I will have that cup after all. Some fuel for the job.
Any news, Jack?
Pat’s heart sank.
They were talking, of course, when he drove the last cow into the yard.
They broke into Joan Mac’s.
Won’t have gotten much there, I’d say.
They were lucky they didn’t get the business end of a 12 gauge.
She shot at you once, didn’t she?
That she did.
What was it over, again?
The bull broke into her heifers.
Ha! That’s right. I remember now.
She gave me a fair fright.
She told you she only fired to scare the bull out of the heifers.
That’s right. She nearly scared the shite out of me, though. I was picking pellets out of my hair for a week.
Lazarus snorted with laughter while John allowed himself a rueful smile.
She always had that gun handy.
True. Poor old Tommy Mac had a tough time with her.
She’s like an oul’ silage harvester, she chewed him up and spat him out.
And he was always so well dressed.
Always wore the three piece suite.
Three year he lasted with her.
T’was an ease to him in the end.
Was he sick? Pat asked, finally joining the conversation. Despite himself he had begun to listen to the two men, his father and his friend, talking in their easy patois, hypnotising him with their leisurely delivery.
No, they answered in unison.
Drive in the cows, five at a time, into the crush. Grab head; pull up. Stick the gun into the mouth past the tongue. Depress the trigger. Albex in. Fluke, worms shrivel and die before being shat out or something. Repeat by 31. Finished by a quarter to five. Not too bad.
Despite all that the milking didn’t begin until six.
Fierce cold, Mary. The hands are froze off me.
If you had done a bit of work … Pat thought.
Have a drop of tea.
It’s the stream. The stream’s bollixed. That’s why it’s so cold.
What stream? his father asked.
The river? Pat asked, wondering what the small body of water at the end of the Boundary Field had to do with the weather.
No. The one from Mexico.
Yeah. The Golf Stream. It’s gotten colder. Seen it on Discovery.
He now knew that it was unlikely that he would be on time for Anne. Would he even have time for a shower to scrub himself of the warm smell of cow shite or would he have to make do with a quick face and hand wash to expunge what he could of the aura of the land.
His father went into the parlour while drove the cattle into the collecting yard. There was only going to a few more seconds of peace before the dull, low whirr of the milking machine began. He breathed in the evening air, taking in the serenity, the shuffling of the cows’ hooves, the freshness of it all. Absorbing the farm. All that was at that point in time, at that moment, in that place before he joined his father in the pit.
The machine began and he began to drift away to his other world. The work was automatic. The honest labour of the good, work that did not trouble the conscience but, instead, nourished it. Fill the ration troughs, drive in the cows, wash their teats, dry them and put on the clusters. The twice-daily worship at the altar of the udder had begun once more.
They didn’t share much conversation, they didn’t have to. A look, a mutter or a movement was enough. The routine of the job was well established, like a dance they stepped about the pit, around the pipes and each other, away from the arses that dispensed shite and piss down on them. It never bothered his father, the puddle, as he used to call it. It, too, was honest and elemental. It was so dirty it was cleansing, the strong, sharp smell of the urine clearing his nose, the excrement soothing his hands. Clean dirt, he liked to call it.
The drone of the machine choreographed them, slowed down Pat’s thoughts until his hands and feet were able to work by themselves, until they slowed to the easy rhythm of the animals, the milk, the naturalness of it all.
He imagined himself in Paris, sipping a black coffee of some sort (he was more of a tea man) and smoking a cigarette, probably a Gitane. He thought of himself in Montmarte, lying on a bed in a tiny apartment with a black haired woman with a voluminous, curling bush, making love before setting out each day, canvas and brush in hand, to paint en plein air.
Time, freedom, two valuable commodities, neither of which could be bought. Time, to travel, to escape from the go round; freedom, to do just that. After finishing his masterpiece he would retire to some low-ceilinged bar and drink copious verres du vin and eat tarte au tatin until until one or the other of them made him vomit.
It was after eight when the machine was put out of its misery, the resulting silence hurting his ears after the two hours of constant assault. He was impatient to get going to Anne but the calves still had to be fed. Another half an hour, at least, plus wash-up. He banged the buckets as he got them lined up, ready for their feed, not so much in anger but frustration. He took out his phone, the white flag of surrender being unfurled, and began to hammer away on the keypad.
You go on, John said.
You go on, you’re in a hurry.
The calves …
I’ll do them.
You can’t. You’ll be here all night.
Sure and so what? I’m in no rush.
The motto of his life.
He put the phone away. He bent to the rest of the buckets and completed the line, all of them ready to be filled with the mixture of milk and hot water. He listened to the stillness, felt the coolness of the night’s air blowing through the dairy. Heard the wailing of the calves in their pens, calling for their feed. He watched the methodical way his father worked, filling the buckets.
I’m in no rush.
Time. What was it? Once it was gone it could never be recovered but there was always more of it to come. He took the phone out again.
It’s all right, he said as he texted. I’ll meet her later.
Message completed they went on their way, drawing the buckets across the yard. They were greeted by a wall of cries, of babyish shouting as they opened the door of the calf shed. They didn’t talk like he did with Lazarus, they didn’t need to. This was something else, filtered through the land, the animals, the weather. Once the calves were fed and the buckets were washed they walked across the yard to the house.
You’re late, his mother said when they came in the door.
Yerra, what of it?
You’ll get as bad as your father. He’d be late for his own funeral.
They sipped at their tea in silence. The satisfaction of a good day’s work easing their tiredness.
It was an easterly breeze from Siberia, across the continent, the Irish Sea and in across the country that brought the hail. It made a hard sound as it fell on the pine box, hammering it into the ground. He stood over it, oblivious to it beating on his head, his body, the cold it carried with it. He helped the diggers shovel some of the clayey soil into the hole but left them at it after a while. It was time to go home to the cows.
Micheal O’Flaherty is a librarian and writer living in Mallow, Co. Cork. He have previously had two westerns published under the pen name Mike Deane. Yee Haw! Check out Michael’s Blog and follow him on Twitter @michealof
– By Sinead O’Hart
I’ve nobody but myself to blame for all this. I’m the one who wanted to move away, to go right across the country. To go to a place where I knew nobody. I thought it would be a new start.
But of course everyone knows who I am. In what remains of my innocence, I hadn’t expected that. I really should have, though – the story was too good not to go all over. Crippled mother, dead son, absent father? It was redtop gold. Now the judgement of strangers wallpapers my life, glaring down at me from every passing eye. Every passing forehead wrinkles with cold, impersonal hatred. In every curled lip I see the message clearly: ‘I am better than you.’ I know it’s the truth.
And every photograph of Daniel’s face on the wall leers at me, like he knows too.
After his death, some of his classmates painted a mural at their school. They put him in the middle of the group. Tall and strong and smiling, he holds them all together like their cornerstone, their architect, their foundation. He looks like Christ in The Last Supper.
Realising how much he’s missed, by everyone but me, hurts worse than the razor.
He was supposed to honour me. He was supposed to protect me. He should have been my biggest fan, my best friend. The one who gave the warmest hugs and who loved in that specially protective way that only little boys grown big can possibly do.
Instead he… But I can’t say it, even now. The words just will not form.
And I couldn’t tell anyone – certainly not his dad. It wasn’t just the threats, though they did play a big part. It was the shame, too. Was it all my fault? Did I make him this way? Was it something I drank while he was in me? Something I ate?
Or maybe it boiled down to nothing more than this: one woman, incapacitated; one strong young boy, bored. Result: a scalded cancer of a family, lacerated and necrotic.
I can’t regret not calling the ambulance. I mean, I could’ve done it; my skinny arms might be too weak to fight, but they’re strong enough to pick up a phone. I still have my fine motor control, thank God. I could have done it. Instead I listened as he thrashed around on the kitchen floor, fighting for the breath that I prayed would never come. I wept as I prayed, but I prayed hard.
The world is a filthy enough place without a man in it like the one my son was becoming. The world has enough men like that.
And for all his strength, he was undone by a stray piece of food. Every Goliath has his David, I suppose. One mistimed breath over a chicken sub sandwich was all it took.
Well, that – and his mother pretending to be asleep in her wheelchair two rooms away.
Pretending not to hear.
Pretending not to be desperately, hatefully relieved.
But in a few minutes none of this will matter, anyway.
Nobody will even remember I was here. In this room. On this earth.
By the time the home help comes on her morning rounds, I’ll be gone.
I hope she won’t mind the mess.
Sinéad O’Hart likes words a lot more than they like her. The author of three (as yet unpublished) novels for young people, she is an active blogger, a regular commenter on writing.ie, and was longlisted for the Irish Writers’ Centre Novel Fair 2013. Follow Sinéad on Twitter @SJOHart
I don’t usually include an editor’s note but I decided to make an exception on this occasion. Thank you to everyone who submitted for The Beat Writers’ Issue to celebrate the birthday of Jack Kerouac, it has been a real labour of love. We are delighted to feature the work of Eddie Hearne, Caroline Healy, John P Brady, Andrew McEneff and David Levingstone.
As the title suggests to fully experience Eddie Hearne’s To Be Accompanied By Highway 61 Revisited this story should be read while listening to Bob Dylan’s fantastic sixth studio album. The story within a story aspect to Eddie’s piece works really well, he draws on the self-reflective nature of writing and the huge role real life experiences have to play in the writing process.
Caroline Healy’s work Omni(m)potent is a master class in originality, it is a very beautiful and thoughtful piece exploring relationships, subjectivity and internal dialogue. No Beat Issue could be complete without a strong female voice!
John P Brady’s Streets of San Francisco takes us right into the heart of Beat country where his narrator like a young Jack Kerouac goes in search of the elusive pearl, looking for the heart of Saturday night – you’ll have to read it to see if he finds what he’s looking for.
Andrew McEneff’s enthusiastic and inspiring essay The Lost Beat Generations of Ireland takes a look at what Irish literature has lacked to date and more importantly how that is changing!
David Levingstone’s wonderful photography provides the perfect visual accompaniment to these writings!
The Bohemyth has been up and running for nearly 5 months now – I want to take this opportunity to thank any one who has liked or shared a facebook post, followed us on twitter, favourited a tweet or retweeted a tweet – your support means everything.
To all of our writers, contributors and readers thank you for letting me be a part of this – without you there would no Bohemyth. I am constantly amazed and humbled by the talent and loveliness that shores up in The Bohemyth’s Inbox. You are all Cool Happy Genius Heroes!
xxx Bon Anniversaire Ti Jean xxx
Photography: David Levingstone is a photographer, art director and bearded man from Tipperary living in Dublin, more of his work can be found on Flickr. David currently works for Getty Images.
John Catskill was dozing in a Las Vegas hotel room. When he awoke, one eye first, tentatively, a blurred vision of two empty bottles of Corona, one half-full bottle of water, and a near to empty litre bottle of vodka on the bedside locker, unfurled the first memory in his mothball brain. It was a scene that was not lost on him. It would be framed like a snapshot in his mind. And it was these snapshots that he liked to ponder over, and airbrush, and adjust ever so slightly so that they’d resemble a sombre middle-America movie. His phone lay beside him on the pillow. He needed a soundtrack. Who better than Bob Dylan? To the opening bars of Like a Rolling Stone he pulled himself into a sitting position, reached for a hotel notepad, and a hotel pen, and began to write…
My stomach was doing pirouettes but the air-con felt good. My back was sunburnt. The very thought of how hot it was outside was draining the last drops of vapour from my already dangerously dehydrated body. How hot was it? Hot enough to bake bread maybe.
Which reminded me; Brown bread, with two hands removed in a desert grave. Or so I’d read in a newspaper yesterday. The story concerned a young Irish student who had gotten into trouble with the wrong people. They’d sawn off his hands for good measure.
The thought of it, I was half dead myself. I’d been travelling around for the past two weeks. I’d flown into San Diego from JFK, and then caught a bus to LA. After that I’d continued on to San Fran before renting a car and driving to Vegas. My clothes needed washing. I could have done with a shave but didn’t have the money for razors, not after last night, when I’d bet on black and it turned up green!
Thankfully I was going back to New York the next day.
John looked at the playlist. The next song was Tombstone Blues. He’d gotten his soundtrack right anyway. He sipped his water to stay on the right side of alive…
But last night, yes, last night. What a blast that was. It flew by like a rocket ship orbiting a strange neon planet. And when the little thing landed – the rocket ship that is – I found myself standing at the casino bar in the Flamingo. It was late, or to be more precise it was early; maybe hitting five in the morning. And there I was looking into the eyes of the sweetest little gal in all of Vegas.
We talked for a while about who knows what. I felt like I was fifteen years old again; tripping over those precious words that don’t come easy when you’re pursuing a girl like none you’ve seen before. Then to my surprise we stumbled onto books. It was my doing I suppose.
We began with Kerouac. We agreed on Kerouac. Everyone does though, don’t they? It isn’t cool not to. She was young, I thought innocent too, but she knew books. Who knew books at her age?
‘I’m reading Junot Diaz,’ she said.
‘You look a little Spanish,’ I said.
But for me it was the perfect way of getting around to it; after I’d typed Bukowski into her phone. What a name to spell when you’re sizzled. It must have taken me four attempts.
But yes, getting around to it.
‘I’ve written a book y’know,’ I said.
Her neat little fingers were locking her phone at the time. Fingers of an angel I might say if it wasn’t such a cliché. Ah to hell with it. They were the fingers of an angel. I was falling in love with those fingers. They could march up my chest in an early morning summer bed and tap me on the chin to say hello. At which point I’d smile and remind her about the time we met in a badly-carpeted casino in the melting heart of the Nevada desert.
That would be ten years from now. She’d be thirty-two and I’d be five years her senior. We’d have conducted a cross-country affair, married in a Colorado chapel, and be ready to bring a second beautiful child into the world – the beauty donated from her gene pool.
‘You wrote a book?’ she replied, swaying gently in front of me.
It was a question that I still wasn’t used to answering. It was my book, my beloved first self-publication, the inpouring of my soul, the outpouring of my grieving, written beneath a down-pouring of rain. And I remember her mouth when she said it, and her teeth too, such white teeth, smiling teeth, tipsy teeth, protecting her slender tongue, from which she rolled syllables so delicately I wanted to catch them and wrap them and sell them in a gift shop for things of such finesse.
‘Yeah,’ I laughed, seeing the funny side of it.
She was making me giddier than a sugar-fuelled little-leaguer. Where had she been for the last two nights? I thought. When I’d stumbled up and down the strip, half-blind from the neon lights and the free vodka they ply you with at the roulette tables. Where had she come from? She was the work of a love-struck artist. She was moulded from the clay of sacred soil and coated in the pairings of a golden harp.
Bob knew what John was talking about. Now he was singing about Queen Jane. She was his Queen Jane. John would have worshiped the ground she walked upon. He continued writing…
‘You really wrote a book?’ she said, her thin legs, wrapped in skinny jeans, planted now.
‘Yeah. Come ‘ere. Type this into your phone,’ I said.
She typed. I watched. They were definitely the prettiest fingers I’d ever seen. We waited. I knocked back another Washington apple skin. We were both beyond drunk. Her finer details were fading in my brain. Her face was still there but not in its entirety.
As John scribbled his stomach rumbled. His liver felt like a cleaner’s cloth being wrung dry of a barroom floors deposits. He tore off another page and continued to write…
‘That’s it?’ she said, leaning into me.
I nodded, and crossed my arms. I was as smug as a rosy-faced fat kid who’d just won at hop scotch.
She zoomed in. She enlarged the screen with two perfect fingers.
‘Can you see it?’ I asked.
With eyes squinted she read, ‘Diary of a Fallen Man.’
Just like that she said it, and upon hearing those words presented to me with such splendour I believed my life path to be altered forever. I felt like writing a new book. Something so full of romance they’d stack it with the chic-lit and erotica. She was inspiring me to go somewhere beyond pessimism, to a land filled with happy-clapping positivity.
On my travels I’d seen an old Cadillac deserted on a California desert road. That’s how I felt at the time. But not now, no, now I was re-energised, now we were zooming down the Pacific coast, polished and sleek, with the top down, a full tank of gas and my leather seats moulded to her slim frame and… what?
Cars, he thought. Track four; From a Buick 6. It was planted in his subconscious by Bob.
John was now feeding grapes into his mouth with one hand. He’d bought them in a general store in Death Valley. It was before he’d passed the Shady Lady Ranch whorehouse and laughed so hard he made grape juice in his nose.
He ripped another page from the pad…
‘I’ll read it in the morning,’ she said.
I could tell she was impressed. I mean who writes books anymore? I had a new shirt, Banana Republic jeans, and eighty dollar shoes. It wasn’t as if I looked like a writer. After all it was only part-time. By day I worked in a legal firm. Money came in and money went out. But there I was writing stories on Bally’s Hotel note paper.
Nothing about me made sense. I was living a double life. John Catskill didn’t even know who John Catskill was. But maybe he would, ten years from now.
Yes, ten years from now, drinking coffee in bed with Crystal. She told me her name was Crystal in an email she’d sent the previous night. I’d forgotten her name. I often did. I was a low life at times – But only when I was drunk.
Where was I? Oh yes, drinking coffee, in that same summer bed, with white bed sheets, and outside the Colorado crickets asleep.
Her fingers would march south then, to where my naked body is halved by a patchwork quilt. She’d give me those eyes. We’d make love twice. We’d come twice. It’s easy when you’re in love. There’s electricity. Then I’d tell her that in a different life we were high school sweethearts and that we kissed beneath the portable stand in the football field at the exact same time that Bob Dylan was writing Ballad of a Thin Man.
‘I think you’re really pretty,’ I told her.
She laughed. I was being too obvious.
‘You’re being too obvious,’ she said.
‘Am I?’ I replied.
Then she laughed some more and rocked towards me. I caught her before she fell.
‘What are you laughing at?’ I said, and accompanied her with a smirk of my own.
‘I don’t know,’ she said.
We both laughed. Washington apple skins will do that.
When she finally managed to say it she said, ‘I dunno, it takes a lot to laugh, it takes a train to cry.’
‘Are you quoting Bob Dylan?’ I asked.
‘Yes. But I don’t know why,’ she replied, her nose scrunched up from laughing.
I noticed it then, the crystal stud in her nose. If I’d remembered her name I would have made a smart remark about it. Instead, when we’d finished laughing, I asked her where her ancestors were from. They were Spanish she told me – which explained Junot Diaz – and she was some part Irish, some part Native Indian and a little Italian.
I told her she looked mostly Spanish and Native Indian. Her face was small and round and tanned. Her eye’s spun, but when they stopped they landed on mine, and lingered, and she smiled, and I ran my fingers along her arm, while her older sister who was soon to be married, and who was sitting on a stool at the bar, looked on disapprovingly.
But I didn’t care. They could all stare. Her hairdresser friend who said my hair was fine could stare. The girl with a nurse’s gait who wanted everyone to guess her age could stare. My travelling companions Sal Paradise and Nick Belane could stare. They were fictional of course. I travelled alone.
The barman who I tipped for putting an extra shot of alcohol in my Washington apple skin could stare.
I touched her arm and looked into her brown eyes and felt her skin smooth and warm. She did the same. She ran the back of her hand against mine, and for that split second we both knew. We were both in on it. The story was already been written by a young writer in a lonely Vegas sick bed.
John felt like he was ready to give up. There was no sense to it. If he couldn’t find a publisher then he thought he would just quit. But he continued to write. He might have been the first person ever to wake up with a hangover in Vegas and write a story about a Colorado beauty.
But the music lifted him. Highway 61 Revisited. It was upbeat and reminded him of a box of fire-crackers exploding.
The cleaner would most likely need to replace the note pad…
I had ideas about running away with her. I wondered if her parents would disapprove. Not that I’d give them reason too. I’d work the land, and drive a harvester, and every evening we’d sit down for dinner after I’d scrubbed my nails clean with the hard bristles of a nailbrush, and talk of how each other’s day went.
‘Are you here tomorrow?’ she asked.
I told her I would be.
She took her phone out of her pocket and I spelled out my email address.
‘Maybe we can meet up tomorrow?’ I said.
‘Definitely,’ she replied.
But it was Vegas. Anything could happen before that. I could wake up with the blues. Just like Tom Thumb.
John felt awful. It was a struggle but he moved the pen across the page. And on those small sheets of paper each memory was entrapped in ink and each moment engraved, like that moment when her friends stood to leave and she said had to go, and he went to kiss her cheek but she turned and gave him her lips.
And as Bob blew the last note on Desolation Row John Catskill did the only thing he could when he knew he’d never see her again.
He immortalised her in words.
Eddie Hearne, originally from Waterford lives and works in Dublin, Ireland. His short story In Dreams won the Irish Writers Centre Lonely Voice short story competition in August 2011. He is currently working on his debut novel entitled The Play (which can be read on authonomy.com) A lover of the short story form he has also put together a collection of short stories entitled Irish, American tales. When not writing he enjoys watching 1950’s movies, paying for his sins in the gym, frequenting Dublin’s many pubs and travelling. His favourite authors include Jack Kerouac, Hunter S. Thompson, Hubert Selby Jr. and Jim Thompson.
– By Caroline Healy
I am omnipotent.
I see everything. I hear everything. I know everything.
At times it can be quite a d
Take Shirley for instance.
The things I know about her; you wouldn’t believe.
You might assume that we are friends.
When you know everything about everything and
everyone, you would be surprised how hard it is to make friends.
It doesn’t bother me anymore, though. You get used to
Anyway, Shirley. Yes. Shirley, Shirley, Shirley.
I know she hates herself.
Wonders periodically why she even exists.
She hates herself with complete commitment.
The passionate dislike she feels for herself is in direct contrast to
the passion she feels for Dave.
Dave, Oh Dave, the love of her life, the light of her life,
the one person who makes her feel like getting out of bed in the
morning. Her reason for being. Dave. Dave. Dave.
Dave: who beats her, night after night, in their one
bedroom apartment, with a prosperous view overlooking the
Nobody else knows about this, of course.
Apart from Dave and Shirley.
Nobody but me, that is.
Knowing everything is loud sometimes and sometimes
I’m not sure which I prefer more.
Dave hits Shirley, Shirley loves Dave, Shirley hates
It’s simple really.
See in the corner there, the corner of the room, where
the walls meet at an almost perfect right angle, there is a beetle,
under the floor boards, pushing a crumb. It’s impossible to see
him, as he is sheltered beneath the timber, it’s impossible to hear
him as he is so tiny, but I know he is there.
It’s not only people and their loud pulsating that I know
about. It’s the colour of the couch, the exact feel of the leather,
the exact number of spoons in the drawer in the kitchen, the
make and model of the car in the front yard.
It’s all in the details….and sometimes detail is all.
At the docks a ship has come in, its cargo of fish reeks. Five
dockers work long hours to unload this catch. Kev, Timmy Small,
Peter, Big Johno and Frank; they chat amicably about the football, the
page three model in the Sun and the cuts to their wages. Then, when
their shift is over, three walk aimlessly to the pub to spend their pay
and two more go the long way home, along the train track. When they
are sure that no body is looking, they hold hands, whispering sweet
nothings to each other. I see you.
Whispers, stolen moments, beatings and beetles pushing crumbs.
sitting in the
at the fertility
clinic, her partner
afraid to tell
her that he
wants to leave
her. Afraid that
out his mouth.
he is, waiting to
see a black man
about making a
baby. A black
man; a fertility
specialist. It does
not sit right with
but me that
Jimmy is a little
racist. He is
like the sparing
skim of fresh
butter he puts on
his toast every
about the black
doctor, the skim of
butter or Jimmy‘s
reluctance to have
a baby. She is
what Jimmy said,
about the possibility of
having a defective
wrinkles her brow,
what does that
even mean? In he
heart of hearts she
knows what it
means, it means
that she is to
blame. A defect
from her; she is at
She is the one
who may not be
able to reproduce
and all she wants,
the only thing she
wants, is to be like
She hates Jimmy sometimes. He is normal, like
everyone else. But Miriam is too weak to stand up and tell
them what she really thinks. Tell them to leaver her alone.
It’s what she wants to do, I know because I can hear the
words reverberating around in her head.
Fuck off, fuck off, fuck off…all of you just fuck off!
I like Hannah the best.
If I chose to have a friend, it would probably be her.
She tells people exactly what she thinks.
She likes boys and girls, it’s not a matter of sex, it’s a
matter of SEX. She is not fussy and doesn’t discriminate. She
simply wants to fuck and when this happens, she chooses
whoever is most convenient. People might say she is afraid of
emotional commitment, I would argue that she is just honest.
She has a small flat on the ground floor of an old
She likes tea pots and mismatched crockery.
She has had a few steady boyfriends, none of them good
enough, each one a little more impotent at life than the next.
She wonders sometimes how she manages to gather such
a mish-mash of walking eunuchs around her.
She has recently started dating women but finds them
the same, needy, self-conscious, forever looking to input into her
I know quite a bit about Hannah, I spend a lot of time
Hannah has made spaghetti carbonara for tea, she thinks it
might be the type of thing that Dwane eats on a regular basis;
large bowls of carbohydrates. She doesn’t really have any
deeper interest in Dwane other than the fact that she thinks he
has a hot body. Everyone needs sex, right? And Hannah is no
I’m just an OBSERVER.
Dwane reaches for her.
I’m just an OMnI(m)potent OBSERVER.
I see everything.
I hear everything.
I know everything.
Except what’s going to happen next…..asdfjkl;asdfjkl;asdfjkl;a
Caroline Healy is a writer and community arts facilitator. She has recently completed her M.A. in Creative Writing at the Seamus Heaney Centre, Queen’s University, Belfast. She published her first collection of short stories, entitled A Stitch in Time in August 2012, having won Doire Press’s International Chapbook Short Story Competition. Her work has been featured in publications such as Wordlegs, Prole and the Irish Writers’ Centre Lonely Voice. Caroline is completing the edits to her second short story collection, The House of Water and is working on her second young adult novel entitled The Wolf Mirror. You can follow Caroline on Twitter @charliehealy8 and check out her wonderful website: www.carolinehealy.com
Streets of San Francisco
– By John P Brady
I turned and mounted the steep hill on Taylor Street. I was in San Francisco at last. I didn’t look back as the car disappeared behind me; we had spent every moment of the last 3 days together travelling from San Diego. They were good people but now our paths diverged. My road was another and I had to follow it.
I entered Amsterdam Hotel and proceeded to pay for my accommodation. The goth girl on the desk put on Stone Temple Pilots as I waited to check in. A French guy in a floral shirt scrambled around in the office behind her.
“Is that Soundgarden?” I asked her.
“No, it’s STP,” she responded.
“Same band,” I commented trying to rise her.
“Excuse me, you’re talking to a fan,” she defended.
And quite a lady she was – just my type, with an edge to her. I imagined her dancing seductively in a dark rock club. Her punk/rock/chick look persuaded me to ask her for some local knowledge.
“So where does a guy go to have fun in this town?” I asked in an unapologetically thick Irish accent.
She immediately scribbled on a map the location of all her favourite rock hangouts, describing each one to make sure my decision would be an informed one. Grateful, I thanked her and grabbing my guitar and bag, headed for the second floor.
I needed to wash so looking in the bathroom I found a bathtub with a shower. The bath was blocked and almost full of the vilest liquid I could have imagined. It wouldn’t have been wise to get in, so I showered standing on the edges, slipping as I went. Water overflowed from the bath and covered the floor.
Soon afterwards there was a knock at my door. The French guy from reception rushed into the room saying there was a problem in the kitchen. We looked into the bathroom to see the several inches of water that had collected on the floor ripple gently.
“Okay, we have a problem,” the he asserted.
Soon I was helping him attack the bath with a large plunger.
“Ah, is no good,” he sighed. ‘I worry for the kitchen.’
It was clearly a job for him. It was time to get out and see the city so I prepared to leave. The French guy wore an impressive 70’s shirt which I had to comment on.
“That shirt you’re wearing is superb,” I mentioned.
“Ah thees one! Somebody leave it behind and I just wear it!”
Well, as the Yanks say: “That’s how I roll!”
It was time to find these dungeons of rock that San Francisco proudly hid amidst its great hills and corners.
After a quick step down by Union Square I grabbed a quick slice of pizza and moved towards the party streets. Bums were everywhere. Some I thought had arrived into the city just like me with a little money and just fell on hard times. America really forgets its poor.
I saw a suitably underground bar and went in. It was packed with stoned punters who wore mostly black. Neil Young sang out proudly on the jukebox. “Be on my side/I’ll be on your side…”
The barman poured me ale and I searched for a seat. I saw room in a seedy corner by a pool table. I gestured to the guy sitting there to ask if it was okay to sit. He looked deep into space and completely ignored me. I sipped deep into my first beer in San Fran.
The guy next to me raised a hand suddenly and held it there, almost touching my head. I stole a glance to see what variety of maniac he was. He gestured to an unscrupulous character at the other side of the pool table that looked back menacingly. Obviously my choice of seat was not popular with everybody. He approached and stood over me staring fixedly with empty eyes. I decided it was time to move.
I passed the legions of “cool kids” who each wore more unusual clothing that the last. The bar appeared to be divided in two, stoned rockers one side, coked-up hipsters the other. I left for another bar.
I went out into the fresh San Francisco night and noticed the chill from the mist which descended over the bay each evening. I saw the Edinburgh Castle on my right. Outside to the left of the bar, sat six or seven teenagers. They were puffing on joints and taking photos of each other
“Hi Mom, I’m high,” said one girl while posing for her hairy friend’s camera.
To my right a circle of older punters was forming. One tall guy with grey hair stood fidgeting in his pocket.
“Are you on stage now, man?” one of the others asked him.
The grey haired man produced a dope pipe, and began puffing hurriedly. He grumbled to the affirmative.
The group of guys puffed on American style joints and miniature pipes on the main street as a homeless black crack-head looked on. His eyes screamed for a hit. The grey haired guy reached into his pocket and parted with a roach to cheer him up. The crack-head grasped it frantically and putting it in his mouth, tried to puff.
“No you have to light it first…wait a minute…there you go,” said the grey haired man.
A moment later they went inside the bar, leaving the crack-head swaying alone, puffing relentlessly. I followed along inside, intrigued.
The grey haired man walked to the stage and picked up a bass guitar with the authority of a true musician.
The music began and I leaned against a post drinking ale, totally captivated by what I saw. It was progressive and delicate, soft and strong. Hippies of all ages swayed to the music, others watched with reverence.
The music ended and I snapped out of my haze and went outside. During the road trip from the Mexican border, I had not been on my own even for a moment for 4 days and now the feeling was strange. I went back to where I was standing before watching an endless stream of hobos passing. A mixed group of fashionable mid-twenties in front of me looked to be deciding on their next move.
I used my shamelessly lost Irishman line once again.
“So where does a guy go to have fun in this town?”
“You have an accent!” a girl responded as the five of them turned around in unison.
“Where are you from?” another asked.
They were eager to show me the city.
“Come with us we’re goin’ out now!”
Moments later I was in the back of a Chrysler careering through the streets of San Francisco with Lia, a beautiful Persian-American girl, on my lap. This is it!
We arrived at a club and I soon realised that Lia, clearly the single girl of the group, knew everybody there. I was introduced to super good-looking girls who smiled broadly and snobby gay people who would barely talk to me.
This mass introduction lasted a few minutes before I lost everybody and stood alone again. I began to wander around what I realised was just another soulless R’n’B club which held only negative pretentious vibes.
I listened as the DJ played 40 seconds of a classic song before applying tasteless alterations then changing the track and repeating the process. I walked around and wanted to leave.
Lia was from Iran originally and she was a dynamic representation of Persian beauty. She was the only person from the group that I had made any connection with. She wasn’t exactly easy to talk to as she was fond of affecting a persona which she felt she needed for whatever reason. Crucially, I hadn’t seen her for the last 20 minutes. I walked around alone.
I had firmly decided to leave when suddenly she returned. She looked into my eyes and held my gaze. I felt compelled to get close to her.
She drank more and more and sensing that I was still sober she urged me to drink up. The temptation of Eve. We began to dance and any barriers that we had were now gone. When I moved to kiss her she resisted saying that she didn’t kiss guys that were leaving in two days.
The time passed and now it was just Lia, her friend, Karen and a guy she knew.
We went outside. Karen and the guy began making out with vigour. Lia kicked me in the leg in a playful, drunken fashion.
“You’re just here ‘cos you want a piece of American ass!” she shouted.
“I don’t want American ass,” I announced, “I want Persian ass.”
This promoted another installment of girly violence.
A few bruises later and we were in a taxi, Lia and I along with Karen and her guy.
We pulled up at an upmarket apartment block and I reminded myself that you never really know who you’re talking to outside a bar. It turned out that she owned her apartment, a well decorated, plush place within walking distance of the centre. Inside there was considerable comfort, soft tones and designer furniture, making her abode a pleasure to be in.
We sat on the couch. Still no love and it was getting late. Karen and the guy were dry-humping like animals right next to us. She reached into his pants and rummaged around. A few minutes later they got up and said they were leaving, going to her place apparently.
Lia put on the latest sensation, a Scottish group that had made a name in the US. We sat on the sofa as Lia continued casual conversation and gradually we began to make out.
She had a sofa bed which seemed less pressurised than going to her room, also it was nearer.
A peaceful night later and it was morning. We hit the make or break moment. If the conversation died here I was going for the door. But things went smoothly and soon we were heading out for morning coffee.
The day ran with huge momentum as Lia took me over to Haight-Ashbury the site of the great flower-power revolution. We shopped in the vintage stores, ate Mexican food in a noisy restaurant and became very fond of each other. When we arrived at the Downtown bus stop she lay back on the grass verge and lying over her, I kissed her tenderly.
During the crowded bus journey we barely took our eyes off each other. We then walked silently through the streets towards her apartment each moment uncertain. When we arrived she threw the door open without really offering an invitation. She didn’t need to. Then we were in the elevator, going up.
John P Brady is an Irish writer, journalist and teacher. He has had stories published in Roadside Fiction, The Galway Review and others More of his writing can be found at JohnPBrady.com. Originally from Ireland, he now lives in Sicily, Italy, where he teaches English and writes a blog about expat life. Follow John on Twitter @JohnPBradyIRL
The New Irish Beat – Photo by David Levingstone
The Lost Beat Generations of Ireland
– By Andrew McEneff
Ireland never produced a Beat Generation and it is for this reason alone literature in our country is still struggling to find its contemporary ecstatic groove. As America was giving birth to On the Roadin 1957 and the Beats were yo-yoing from coast to coast, from New York to San Francisco and back again, vastly rolling out freedom, individuality, polyamory, sex-parties, drugs, bebop and rock n’ roll – and spreading the Word of a new literature that deemed “The world is holy! The soul is holy! The skin is holy! The nose is holy! The tongue and cock and hand and asshole holy!” – we were sat at home by the fire, bog-sodden and Church-heavy, guilt-bound to the family and the sad green land, intoning very different prayers, isolated from each other and utterly terrified of ourselves.
As sun-kissed American minds surged forward, joyously and recklessly exploring the promises and challenges of their liberating adventures, our imaginations were being sadistically and systematically repressed, our very emotions and desires beaten out of us. Instead of producing proud, free-thinking, confident and wildly assertive men and women capable of giving voice to their profane beatific sensual desires, we produced a generation of insecure and fearful subjects who were emotionally, morally and artistically retarded. One critic looking back over this bleak time in our cultural history even felt justified in making the following comparison, “If Stalin and Zdhanov crippled a generation of Soviet writers with injunctions to map out a scenario of ‘Girl meets Tractor’, then DeValera and Corkery had their own subtler but no less rigid prescriptions for Irish writers.” The second Irish name that you mightn’t recognize is in reference to Daniel Corkery (1878-1964), an Irish Language revivalist, politician, writer and teacher. Corkery had three such prescriptions, “No writer could truly claim to be Irish unless his work contained three specific notes (i) Nationality, ( ii) Religion (Catholic, of course) and ( iii) and the Land.”
In Ireland Church-State time stood still. Life stood still. And in the shadows of a dominant rural Revivalism change in literature was slow, incredibly and painfully slow. Our tortured colonial history is in part to blame for this. We know that. We were humiliated and controlled and told we weren’t yet ready for the modern world, and we obeyed. There was the added complication that there was a need to find something essentially Irish to celebrate first, being only a newly free Republic, before the destructive up-rooting of a vertiginously Godless American Capitalism invaded us and damned our souls eternally. But because of this complex historical and cultural subjection there is an absence and a terrible silence in our literature of the gloriously alternative underground voice. We never got a whiff of the freedoms or a chance to fully embody for ourselves that great revolutionary spirit that was sweeping across other nations at that time. But maybe now is the time for life and literature here to be inspired by some of the Beat’s wild exuberance: to self-explore and experiment, on all fronts, in all areas. Watermark by Sean O Reilly and Notes from a Turkish Whorehouse by Philip O Ceallaigh were certainly steps in the right direction as is the best of Kevin Barry, but we need more! More! We need to go further! And yet some of the same insidious problems are reoccurring. In the fifties “Ireland as a society was imploding on a central vacuity. Economic stagnation and emigration which amounted to a ‘human haemorrhage’ of 500,000 persons between 1945 and 1961…” A young generation abandoned ship and they are doing so again. So it is deeply troubling to think that something similar might happen and that we are going to be similarly disinherited. But I really don’t want to be writing about another missed opportunity in ten or twenty years’ time.
And yet, there is cause for optimism in the present as even from our Dark-Aged past there have been one or two angelic exceptions that soared up against the odds. The total suppression of desire is an impossibility and if that is so it can only ever be thanks to the courage of individuals, necessarily isolated individuals: outsiders. The only novel that comes anywhere near to having a Beat flavour in Ireland is of course The Ginger Man by J.P. Donleavy. Written by an American and published in Paris by Grove Press in 1955, that horny and hilarious and critical book was banned in Ireland and the U.S.A. But after Donleavy there is only one writer that stands out in my mind that has carried something of the Beat ethos into an Irish context and it is to our greatest shame that his work is still being so unjustifiably ignored. If you’re reading this and the name Desmond Hogan doesn’t mean anything to you then you should get acquainted with his work, especially his short stories, immediately. Desmond Hogan has travelled. He has been on the road a very long time. He is our very own courageous solitary Beat itinerant visionary. Larks Eggs: New and Selected Stories and Old Swords will give you some idea of his beauty, value and worth. His work is rare and singular, exuberant and extraordinary, there’s the high modernist attention to formal innovation and linguistic brilliance coupled to a content obsessive in its detailing and documentation of nature, art, youth, popular-culture, sexuality, Beatific travels and the wild and free, dangerous and damaged characters that are encountered along the way. From his travel writings entitled The Edge of the City he writes, “In autumn of 1976 when I went to San Francisco from Dublin…By a Victorian house with an owlish face I found a diagram illustrating the horrors of Hell. I never really returned to Dublin after San Francisco. In a sense I wandered.” Two names from sixty years of ‘writing’ from this country? We need to start adding to the list. But we also need to read and to love and cherish and celebrate what has gone before us. And we need more! Our literature is still not the feast it promises to be. So maybe being belatedly Beat in this country has been a blessing in disguise because it is now, quite simply, up to us.
So the question is what would a Beat writing in Ireland look like? How would it sound? What utterances, both critical and affirmative, would it be capable of making about our culture and the way we choose to live in it? And what demands will it make of our youth and generation? In order to live differently, to think differently, to feeling differently, to live marginally and most importantly, to live energetically against the staggeringly life-denying and murderous prescripts of the moral majority, we have to become what Jack Kerouac sought in his friends, we have to become our own ‘courage-teachers’ and to find others out there who are trying to live the same mad crazy dreams. I mean my friends, your friends and all those other searchers and fellow seekers and travellers who we haven’t met yet, I mean seeing and listening and giving expression to the eternal recurrence in Dublin and throughout the world of “…the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars…” Now is the exciting time. And perhaps for the trip we could keep in mind some of Jack Kerouac’s own ideas on what you need and how-to-do-it from his significantly titled ‘Belief & Technique for Modern Prose’, “…Number 4. Be in love with yr life…6. Be crazy dumbsaint of the mind…9. The unspeakable visions of the individual…14. Like Proust be an old teahead of time…15. Telling the true story of the world in interior monolog…17. Write in recollection and amazement for yourself…19. Accept loss forever…24. No fear or shame in the dignity of yr experience, language and knowledge…28. Composing wild, undisciplined, pure, coming in from under, crazier the better…30. Writer-Director of Earthly movies Sponsored & Angeled in Heaven…”
Number 24 is something we could all really do with pausing on and feeling how deep it goes. No fear or shame in the dignity of our experience, no fear our shame about the language we use, and no fear or shame about our knowledge. The alcohol and drugs, the music and the parties don’t daunt us, not in the least, but sex and self-confidence and the terror and ecstasy of true individuality keeps us strangely at odds with ourselves and yet those are the original and most gratifying of all intoxicants. The beauty of our dirty angels in the street, our wild mad lives, our crazy mad stories and all the mad shit we get up to, the enthusiasm to live it creatively, to share girlfriends, swap boyfriends, the break-ups break-downs and break-throughs, the bleary eyes at five in the morning still hooked and reading life-changing lines and page after page of all those radically genius and mind-blowing books, the places we’ve been to and fallen in love with here and around the world, the heroes and heroines of the past and the present, and everything that presents the true promises of innocence and youth and experience, not as palliative diversions, but as real and alternative challenges to the pathology of normalcy that always has the power to corrupt us and wear us down, to break our fucking hearts. We can’t let ourselves be beaten again by circumstance or lack of self-confidence. But we have to be cautious, potential capture and traps are all about. As the angel-headed and exuberantly experimental militant philosopher Felix Guattari writes:
The way to have a lust for life, to maintain commitments, to forget
oneself is not simple or obvious. “What for?! has incredible power…
Is it worth trying to keep everything up, taking up the heritage of generations,
keeping the machine running… making Literature or art? Why not break
down, burst and leave it all in the lurch? That’s the question. Giving
way to it is always only so far away…
The answer of course is at the same time both personal and
collective. In life, one can only hold on to momentum. Subjectivity
needs movement, directional vectors, ritournelles, rhythms and refrains
that beat time to carry it along. The most singular and personal factors
have to do with social and collective dimensions.
I bought Felix Guattari’s book Chaosophy in City Light Books in North Beach San Francisco, my friend bought a copy of Desert Islands by Gilles Deleuze and we went into Vesuvios and read bits of them and drank and the words and being there made us ecstatic and happy. Afterwards we went wandering through Chinatown and then through the fast streets in a yellow taxi we rode all the way up to Haight Asbury as the city and bay turned to dusk. Up there were the remnants, the broken wreaks of the hippy-movement, the sad crazy insane ones who never broke out, who never got free, who got stuck and spun in the void. Origins change and weaken and become something else once they have been explosively discharged, but it’s only in retaining the best from the past and looking to the future that hope and optimism is continually regained. I took that book I bought there and those feelings with me back to Dublin and I do believe that something Beat, something philosophic, something explosively youthful and real is out there bubbling under our horizon: writers are out there cooking-up things that will add to the feast. It’s the Beat ethos and the inspirational energy and creativity of the Beats that we need here, to force us, to fuel the expressions of our desires, to start our own origins for different universes of reference, better and more precious than the ones that are being bought and sold in our faces and behind our backs. With self-generating momentum and with the help of different sources and encounters outside of ourselves we might inject some desperately needed newness and freshness into the content of Irish literature so that it no longer bears false witness to the contemporary problems that are specific to our time.
In his essay “Remember Jack Kerouac” William S. Burroughs says something that reminds us about something that perhaps we already know but are still too fearful to admit to ourselves, “What are writers, and I will confine the use of this term to writers of novels, trying to do? They are trying to create a universe in which they have lived or where they would like to live…Sometimes, as in the case of Fitzgerald and Kerouac, the effect produced by a writer is immediate, as if a generation were waiting to be written. In other cases, there may be a time lag…In any case, by writing a universe, the writer makes such a universe possible…Writers are, in a way, very powerful indeed. They write the script for the reality film…Now if writers could get together into a real tight union, we’d have the world right by the words. We could write our own universes…Writers could take over the reality studio. So they must not be allowed to find out that they can make this happen. Kerouac understood this long before I did. Life is a dream, he said.” Man, can’t you dig it? What dizzying joy those words should bring. I hope those words and what it all means makes you emotional and gives you courage and something of a feeling artistic responsibility. Imbue your creations with the feelings of growing forward into life and not backwards into death.
Irish fiction in the twentieth century has been quite conventional
in subject matter and technique, despite Joyce and Beckett and in
spite of what has been going on elsewhere in the world. Too much
is about Ireland, the sow that eats her farrow, about a priest-ridden
God-forsaken race…Too much is in the mould of a cosy realism. The
exceptions are too few and far between.
So the content of our literature has to change, and change utterly. It is still broadly speaking in a shameful state, and the great stuff seems to be little known or ignored. But it’s going to take great writers and great writing to give us what we so sorely need in this country. I know a lot of very good writers and soon some of them will be great, so I have hope. In The Stinging Fly, on wordlegs,The Bohemyth, Bare Hands Poetry, The South Circular and in the recently arrived Penny Dreadful to name but a few platforms there’s a new generation of writers coming to the surface and finding their voice. In our cultural imaginary there’s an on-going struggle for dominance for what will be the primary contents and expressions of our Post-Christian souls or for souls, read, our ethical substance. Some people will become the avatars of reactionary ideals; some will have the look and words of casual nihilism; some will be fashionably vacuous and so on and so on…they’ll all gravitate and find each other and their self-levelling groups and effect the world accordingly. My hope is that some of us are still revolutionary in spirit, that some of us are already saying and doing very un-commonplace things, creating a new gallery of beatific characters of the here and now that are being driven and given momentum by new precepts, affects and ideals about sex love poetry philosophy and freedom and the place at these have in our lives. There’s a crazy trip ahead of us and I’m already looking forward to meeting some of you on the road.
Andrew McEneff is a short story writer, essayist and film-maker living and working in Dublin. His short stories have been published in Commotions: New Writing from the Oscar Wilde Centre, ‘College Green’, Icarus: 50th Anniversary Edition and on wordlegs.com. He is working on a collection of short stories and two novels. This is his first published piece of non-fiction.
We had the idea we’d play house. Make believe our happiness. I baked banana bread and you caught summer swallows that flew through the open kitchen window. I’d remark that it was early for swallows, pretending to know about the rhythms of such things.
When you got home the house stank of sweetness drifting from the kitchen and I’d listen to all the boy bravado. I made myself meek and mild and all the pleasing things that big men need. When the trees grew too close to the front windows you’d cut their branches, while I sat watching, making domestic declarations about the lovely cut I’d gotten from the butchers. In the pantry, I put a fuss of food and salted meats and washed your clothes by hand in the basin because there was more honour in it. In return you’d give me gifts of half-baked promises and wild notions.
We made savage messes, every way, in every room of that place. When you laid your hands on me, to lust, or rage, regardless, my body bucked, a lump lodging in my neck, another slowly swelling.
But you saw me those days, docile, beached in some forgotten, lonesome corner, counting kindnesses. The words fell blankly from me, shifting shape in empty air, and behind it all, I raged against every tender smallness.
You had built me a plywood front, painted pleasant enough, but soon the wood would warp, the paint peeled. If I could have worn you then, like we slept, gripping and crawling across each other, swallowing big blocks of square air. Those times you shuddered and we forgot the bad match, the bitter taste.
But those days were long days and thoughts turn to softer men. Men put together from bits of remembrances fleeting, flown. And from these, grew notions of grander things, of things said once by others sheathed in the blue night. While you sat fat, making sport of princely pomp, walking a tree-lined procession as our paper palace yellowed in the sun.
So starved the smallness of it. That smallness once curled and pressed softly against the inside of my breast, that choking and spitting then drowned in my gut. The petitions, hoarse, quivered in our throats, and though we longed and longed, we lost. And even then, when the light bled saffron along the line of your back, you took my hand in yours and I heard the bones break.
I went back to the house a few times but saw no sign you had been there. The pane glass was broken and I found bits of us scattered. But you left in a hurry, I think, not long after I did.
Patrick H. Fitzgerald is originally from North Co. Kerry. A Fine Art graduate of Limerick School of Art & Design, he has come to writing, through his visual arts background, experimenting with flash fiction and poetry. He has previously collaborated with artists writing work for performance art pieces. He is currently living in Australia, working on a collection of short stories.
– By Graham Conners
David was sat with his back against the wall, in the middle of telling Aisling and Emer some story that had happened years ago when I noticed Laura and how she held herself. She nodded along as he spoke, her lips curled into a soft, almost hesitant smile, her arms folded across her lap. She studied David’s face, watching him with a distracted, almost melancholic, attention and I was certain that it picked at the corner stone that held her together. As I watched her in the snug I knew that she hadn’t looked forward to this night. It seemed that she almost didn’t want to be here at all, as being here made things real. She turned away, catching my attention accidentally and looked at me for a moment, studying my face. I’d known Laura a long time and I saw a sadness she was trying to disguise. She smiled wanly, reaching out and slapping the back of my hand playfully, like I was a bold child. In that moment I felt that, for her, time was moving all too quick and she was afraid of wasting whatever little was left. I returned the smile and leaned in to her.
“I’ll give you a million quid for a smile.” And she did, her eyes flashing in the dim light. “Can I owe ya?” I asked and she nodded. I leaned in a little closer and she leaned in to me. “It’s going to be okay, you know.”
“Yup,” she said, winking at me softly before turning away, trying to slip seamlessly into the conversation. I watched her and knew that she was trying to avoid the reality that David would not be here tomorrow. And David would never be coming back.
I met David, through Laura, from coffee’s shared in the student centre, study days in the library and eventually nights out and weekends at festivals and such. At first I wasn’t sure of him, this fella with an accent that seemed to say all the right things. To the best of my knowledge he never offended anyone. No one ever said that David was a prick, or that he kept bad company. He held open doors, carried heavy things for the girls, remembered birthdays and always seemed to give the best advice going. He read books like they were going out of style and found it very hard to keep hold of them, always giving away his second hand paperbacks if you expressed so much as a passing interest in reading it. Jesus, he was so hard not to like that Laura and I fell out for a short time when I decided that I wasn’t going to like him, just to be different. Most of it was jealousy as he had, did and was everything I wanted or wanted to be. I left the room when he entered or poked fun at his opinions when he offered them. I soon learned that all I was doing was making an arsehole out of myself. Laura told me to cop on and stop being a prick, cornering me in Doyle’s one night out. She started to cry. Laura only ever cried over people she cared about. In that moment I wasn’t sure which one of us she cared about more, David or me, but seeing her cry was enough. Things changed after that.
I came back from the bar with the last round of drinks we’d ever have together. David had moved across into my seat and Aisling into David’s so I found myself sitting opposite them, on my own. David and Laura were sitting beside each other, talking between themselves. She was laughing and it seemed, though I couldn’t hear what they were saying, as if they were talking about things they would do tomorrow, or next week. They had found someway to enjoy whatever time was left and I could not begrudge them that. There’s a song that I use to sing at parties with the lyric ‘the heart is a package tangled up in knots someone else tied.’ I couldn’t help but smile at the two of them together and suddenly I found a new meaning in those words, it made a lot more sense. In that instant part of me wished I were David, even just for these last few minutes, as he seemed to fill her world. I remembered the days before he came along and I knew that things would never again be like that. I would never be able to fill that David-shaped hole in her life. No matter what I did, I’d never be David.
David had his bags packed and sitting in a tidy little knot at the foot of the stairs. He had donated the bigger things he owned to people he felt would use them best. I got a collection of books. The taxi was waiting, parked up on the street outside. Instinctively we all knew that the others in our group needed space. Emer sat in the sitting room, having said her goodbye already, vacantly watching something she had recorded during the week. Aisling and David shared their goodbyes in the kitchen. Laura and I waited in the hallway. I could hear them, Aisling warning him not to forget about us and to hurry back. What else do you say to someone that’s leaving?
I stood by the radiator, warming myself, Laura sitting on the lowest step of the stairs. She fidgeted with the tags on David’s bags, reading the stickers and the patches he’d sewn on over the years, tracing some roadmap of his time in Ireland. The kitchen door opened. David stepped into the shadows of the dim hallway. I straightened up and offered my hand. He took it and shook it, his deep brown eyes boring into mine and we said our goodbyes. Laura was listening, standing to face David as we had finished. She took two hesitant steps down the hallway, she was crying and he began to cry too. She could say nothing, could not say goodbye, her face red with tears as she tucked herself in under his arm and he held her and rocked her slowly forward and back, like a parent with a restless child. I looked away and I stepped up the hallway to the door, turning slightly to view them out of the corner of my eye. His big hands cupped her face, his thumbs wiping away her tears.
“You will see me again,” he said, his heavy voice coming like a whisper, tender and loving. He held her once more and they shook with sobs, David wrapping his great big arms around her little frame tighter, as if folding himself over her, protecting her. “You will see me again,” he said once more and released her, making for the doorway, towards me. “Goodbye Barry,” he said, pausing but a moment as he picked his bags from the floor. I offered to help but he declined it, saying he could manage. He did, taking the three bags with him out into the darkness. We watched him load up the taxi and climb in. He did not look back, or wave, and the taxi slowly pulled away and around the corner.
“Bye David,” I said to myself and to no one in particular as the taillights faded away into the darkness. And then he was gone, flitted away into the night.
She cried more that night as we sat in the kitchen, letting cups of tea go cold on the countertop, letting long drawn out pauses blossom between us. I held her, trying to reassure her that the world was still turning, that things weren’t over. She apologised to me, saying how she was acting like a child. I told her everything was fine and that I understood; it’s hard to lose someone you love. I wish my motives had been less selfish, but they weren’t. I needed to know, needed to know that she loved him. Laura looked up, taking her head off my chest, nodding so smoothly that it was almost invisible, but totally inevitable. She patted my chest and smiled, wiping at the tears on her cheeks and at the damp patches on my shirt. She apologised and broke away from me, taking her cup of cold tea and pouring it down the sink.
“Good night Bar,” she said and half smiled, squeezing my hand as she passed me. She closed the kitchen door over and I listened to the soft thud of her steps on the stairs until they faded away. Standing in the silence of the early hours I felt the ground shifting beneath me. I remembered what David had said to her; you will see me again. And I know she will, I know she will. I hope she does.
The Morning (Hers)
She was gone before 7.30am, leaving early for work. We passed on the landing as she was going and I asked her how she was. She said she was fine but I knew she was lying.
David had lived with us for nearly a year, a great silent hulk moving quietly about, talking about music or movies or about his confusion at an Irish person’s happy disposition in such as sunless country. David was from Trinidad and had followed some crazy idea of coming to Ireland in search of adventure. We laughed about that many times, telling him that if he wanted adventure to try walk through Temple Bar unmolested around 2am of a Saturday night. He never did, to the best of my knowledge. One night, years ago, with the rain sluicing down the windows in great torrents, he told me about home, about ‘his’ island as he called it. He had been home only once in four years, for his sisters wedding. In that moment I felt that David was running from something, as if he had let some gap develop and he regretted it. He rarely spoke of his family and when he did it was always of his mother. I once asked about his father, had he passed away? David replied with a simple, soft ‘no.’ Though I wanted to, I never pressed him on this, I never went fishing for more information. That evening he told me that he had been away for a long time and he felt maybe he was ready to go home.
Home, I always found it strange how he spoke of it. Home never seemed to be thousands of miles away but somewhere you could walk to, somewhere just around the corner that he could visit whenever he wanted. To me David held a little of his home inside him, stored in some jar or cubbie hole in his soul. He carried the sun and warmth with him and, though it was a kind of precious energy that kept him going, he was not afraid to share it with you. That was David and that was why people loved him.
The Morning (Mine)
Usually being the last to leave the house, I checked all the windows and doors were locked and secure. As I gathered my coat to leave I noticed the door to David’s room was open just a crack. He had not pulled it after himself, not sealed it shut with the finality of his leaving. I don’t know why but I looked in. The mat he had was gone, donated to someone or other. It was just that little bit too thick and often jammed the door in some strange position that was neither open nor closed. Now it opened freely and I peeped in, taking a moment, as if waiting for permission, before I entered.
I stood in the doorway and looked about me. The room was virtually bare, all the little bits and pieces that made David, David, were gone. His bed spread, his photographs, his magazines, his rosary beads; all packed away and vanished. And though the room was quite small, and David quite a big man, this empty space now seemed cavernous, hollow and absolutely different. It seemed like he had never been here at all and that is when I felt it, I felt this twinge in my chest that spoke to me of the brittle nature of people, of hearts and life and love. Here I was in a room in a house I’d lived in for four years and I felt like a stranger. I could claim no ownership over it; I felt an alien in this space as, no matter what this room became now David was no longer here, a study room or an office, this will always be known as David’s room. Where’s the old lamp for the sitting room? Try David’s room. Have you seen the suitcase? It’s probably in the wardrobe in David’s room. This will always be his room and now that he is gone it feels so wrong, like it shouldn’t be a room at all. It wasn’t just his room for a while, it was his room for life and as I turned away I felt that maybe it was the heart of the house if only for a short time.
As I left I spied something hanging on a hook just behind the door. It was a small tag from an old Christmas present, a smiling happy Santa looking out at me. It lifted my spirits and for some reason I reached to turn it over.
I read the words over twice and set the tag back in its place. This little piece of card had been too important to throw away, it said too much but still was too heavy to take with him, too rich in memories and emotions. I found myself crying and dried my eyes. I left the room, closing the door over. I stopped and listened to the wind outside running against the side of the house and heard his words in my mind, a smile catching the corners of my mouth.
You will see me again. You will see me again.
Graham Connors is thirty years old and has previously been published in wordlegs magazine, 30 Under 30 (both e-book and paperback editions), Allegory magazine, Under Thirty magazine, The Lit Garden, Link magazine and long-listed for the Doire Press International Chapbook competition. He is the founder and editor of Number Eleven Magazine as well as contributing editor for the Dublin Informer newspaper. He successfully staged his first play, ‘The Mortal Pitch’, in both Wexford and Dublin. He is from Gorey, in Co. Wexford but has lived in Dublin for the last ten years. Someday he’ll find his way back home.
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.
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?
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 then. It’s settled.
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.
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.
“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.”
“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
35 years? No, don’t be ridiculous! It couldn’t be. It simply couldn’t. Er, actually, hold on a cotton-pickin’ minute, I do believe it is 35 years to the season that I first saw not only my first life-changing gig, but the event that kickstarted a cultural revolution in my head. It was Iggy Pop, in London, at a venue that was then called the Rainbow Theatre but which is now a building belonging to the Brazilian Pentacostalist Universal Church of the Kingdom of God. Not to worry – a religious experience is a religious experience whatever the venue.
Back then, I had short hair, wore straight-legged jeans and Doc Marten boots. NME was my weekly bible of cultural reference points – anything that Charles Shaar Murray, Nick Kent, Tony Parsons or Julie Burchill recommended to read/see/hear I’d do just that. London is a mind-expanding city at any time, of course, but in 1977/78? Well, wasn’t that was a time and a place for a young lad to live in, his head spinning from the amount of music to experience and the sights to see.
Punk rock hadn’t yet leveled out to become a caricature of itself; there were no ostrich-coiffured punks strolling along King’s Road or Camden High Street tapping tourists for money. The music was the thing, and from my experience, at least, it was as close to the real deal anyone from a provincial Irish town could imagine. Seeing Iggy Pop headline in a major London venue at around the time when punk rock was at its most influential seemed just that little bit more exciting. And besides, what wasn’t to love about milling into the tube station at Finsbury Park with several hundred Stooges fans singing Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell?
Fact is, I recall that gig as if it were last night: from the early 70s, Iggy Pop had been given a new lease of life via his friendship with David Bowie, and Pop’s proto-punk band The Stooges had attained an enviable high regard from London’s leading punk rock acts. But it was as much Iggy as the music that the audience was into: I’ve never seen anyone before or since utilise their body as if it were pliable work of art. Bowie’s lyric from the Ziggy Stardust album track, Hang On To Yourself, about moving “like tigers on Vaseline” could have been written about Pop, for he slithered around, prowled, on that stage, barracking and beckoning the crowd to do things that, collectively, an audience really shouldn’t. There is something incredibly compelling about a performer that seems to care little about their physical well being; it’s a car-crash scenario that sucks you in, and when the performer is as fearless as Pop an element of genuine danger gets dragged kicking and screaming into a heady mix that includes potent rock music, stimulants of varying kinds and the sense that all of the audience are misfits or miscreants just like you.
I remember leaving the venue and walking towards the tube station, jostling my way past other fans, and thinking not only how invincible was my belief in the power of brilliant music, but also how invulnerable that belief made me feel. 35 years later I still feel the same (performing pop clowns notwithstanding), but I have often asked myself why is that the case? What is it about the live music experience that continues to scratch at what is clearly a severe itch?
Some might think that a person of my age (I’m over 50 and barely give it a moment’s thought, believe me) would be more suited to worrying about the watering of his indoor tomato plants than the scheduling on his wall chart as to whether he’ll go to Norwegian punks Honningen or Sea Sessions one night, or Plan B or Body & Soul the next. Frankly, I’m unsure why music can make a body seem as if it can withstand torture (no doubt neurological scientists and academics would know), but there is one thing I am absolutely certain of: try telling that to the vast majority of people my age or younger, and they’ll look at you as if you have two heads.
It’s as if once you reach a particular age, then certain pursuits you once held on to for dear life should automatically fade into the distance. And so when I’m asked about what I did at the weekend or last week I inhibit myself from expressing my true feelings. “I went to see a band,” I say. “Oh, which one?” they query. “Well, you might not have heard of them – they’re called [for example] Spook of the 13th Lock”.
You can immediately see their interest diminish as the lack of recognition registers. “Were they any good?”, they ask. Here is when I hold back, replying with a brief, “Yea, they weren’t too bad…”, when what I really want to say is something along the lines of how the band fuse post.rock, prog rock and psych rock with traditional folk idioms, occasionally enveloping songs with shrieks of feedback and Krautrock wig-outs. But I don’t. Instead I ask, “How’s the family?”
It’s a curse, unfortunately, that many people of a certain age/era think live music is the preserve of those so much younger; the amount of times I have heard people younger than me saying they’re too old for rock and pop music is something that causes me concern. Don’t they know what they’re missing? Clearly, the cut and thrust of a live gig experience that isn’t sitting down on chairs on a crisp lawn to watch Leonard Cohen (great though the man is) is something they should experience but don’t for fear of being discomforted. But, one supposes, in the same way that ardent gig goers to open-air festivals gradually transfer their bones from sleeping in tents to hotel rooms, so the live music experience mutates from one of excitement to indifference.
I don’t necessarily see it that way, and that’s not just because most gigs I go to I write about and get paid for my time and effort. No, the reason is because the live music experience – like theatre and other areas of performance art – is a vital component of contact with a sense of what’s real. In small spaces you can see it in the faces of the musicians and the audience – and there is no better sense of communion than with a crowd that, en masse, understands the music as well as the band. If the space is large, and if the band is good enough, then the size of the venue and the audience adds to the atmosphere. Whether it’s Whelan’s or Vicar Street or Croke Park don’t dare try to deny that a collective fit isn’t a sight that makes your eyes water and your mouth smile.
Like bands, however, the gig experience differs every time. Occasionally, gigs are awful and ordinary; other gigs, however, oscillate between good, great and out-of-this-world, and touch a part of the human system and spirit that creates what can safely be described as an eargasm.
Inevitably, it’s the latter that mean the most to me, and probably the least to those who have little or no interest in live music. And here’s the rub: there are, quite likely, people who are untouched by the effect that live music can provide or provoke. I understand that open-air festivals functioning under constant showers of rain, rivulets of mud and the promise of too many people under the influence have few benefits; I appreciate that people talking loudly behind your head, standing firmly in front of you, or shoving their way past you as they spill their beer over your footwear is not good for the notion of karma. Yet the blend of voice, music and words (truth, humour and some manner of sexuality and charisma, too) can be intoxicating. I don’t necessarily yearn to be impressed, or even thrilled skinny or driven delirious every time I venture into a small venue or an open-air barn, but I won’t say no to these if they happen.
I’ll be seeing you at the next few gigs, then? Bruce Springsteen, you say? Followed by Rihanna? Followed by a lower profile act you possibly haven’t heard of? Yep, I’ll probably be at those. You can’t miss me – I’ll be the compact 50-something guy with short hair, straight-legged jeans and Doc Marten boots. With memories of Iggy Pop in the back of my head and expectations of whoever’s on stage in front of my face.
Oh – and would you mind not stepping on my toes? Thanks.
Tony Clayton-Lea is an award-winning freelance journalist who writes on pop culture, movies and travel for a variety of publications, notably The Irish Times and Cara (Aer Lingus in-flight magazine). He lives in County Meath, Ireland. Check out more of Tony’s work at tonyclaytonlea.com ; follow him on Twitter @TonyClaytonLea
By Any Other Name
– By Jane Williams
On the night the man asks the woman to move in with him and she says yes – sweating curry, Lambrusco and dope; they exchange impossible vows. He promises never to leave her. She promises not to drive him crazy or tie him down. They joke about sex on tap. They make a pact to speak only the truth.
The kitchen blackboard is fixed to one wall. A window of permanent night. Tiny white shapes appear and disappear like stars that have nothing and everything to do with the man and the woman. They chalk their to do lists, phone numbers, quotable quotes. And once, after a discussion about not listening, about talking too much – the word embellishment. Scrawled in his handwriting, underlined twice. Who suggested a woman ruins her chances by talking too much? That a man is at his strongest when silent?
When, ten years later he uncharacteristically starts telling her how beautiful she is, she knows he has fallen in love. With someone else. No, this isn’t true. She knows nothing of this. Believes in everything to the contrary. Is this her problem? An irrational, unshakable belief that anything is possible? That will and wishing can make it so? Even in the face of rumour and recurring dreams – the woman tells herself they are meant for each other.
She asks him once. Just once. She’s heard other people ask. Namely actors in day time soap operas (what is it about daylight that makes the watching of soap opera so much less forgivable? As if we are only free to choose under cover of dark …).
What are they doing when she asks? What do they wear? Is it the beginning or the end of another day? Or does her question stop play somewhere in the middle? Perhaps they are in the kitchen. Heart of their home. Where they comfort eat, drink and smoke and call it decadence, hedonism, and sometimes, when they are feeling more hopeful – living the good life. Where they ponder the big questions. The big picture questions that take them away from themselves and each other a little further each time. Deep and meaningfuls in which they talk about respecting the rights of the individual. About love as a romantic construct. About timeout and space and the odd weekend away. From each other.
Perhaps he is standing in front of the old combustion stove at the end of the Blackwood table with the Rubenesque legs. The table he made with honest hands at technical college, years and relationships and so many conflicting truths ago. Maybe she is sitting, legs curled, on the velveteen couch she has learnt to stroke as if it were the family pet.
Are you having an affair? she asks. And he answers No, noI’m not having an affair – adding her name onto the end of the sentence like a full stop. Like the Monopoly card that reads: Do not pass go. And she doesn’t. If he flinches she cannot see it – but love as they say …
When she tries to leave, the word trust appears on the blackboard in both their hands. He stops kissing her on the mouth when they make love. They stop making love and start having occasional sad sex. She masters the art of crying soundlessly.
Sometimes, she half stirs from sleep in the middle of the night to sense him whispering in her ear. When she tells herself these whispers are declarations of love he has not yet found the courage for in naked light of day, she dreams of a much older woman telling her it is time she shed her fairytale skin.
Mostly she dreams of lesser men who try to woo her only with chocolates and flowers and of him walking toward her with the fuzzy smile of a middle aged hippy, taking her hand, leading her away toward a purer light. But sometimes she sits up suddenly in bed, still asleep, and starts screaming until he wakes and says her name and tells her to stop. Night Terrors, the doctors tell her. Pavor Nocturnus. Usually the sufferer has no memory of the episodes. But she remembers once, holding up by the roots of its thick and untamed hair, his decapitated head. Like a spoil of war.
Each day becomes a new part to try out for. A desperate misrepresentation of self. He tells her he does not like these inconsistencies. He is waiting for her many faces to fuse into the one he can call Beloved.
She tells him she has always been here. Waiting.
Hear me he begs. See me she counters.
The kiss as a symbol of all that is missing in their relationship, weighs heavily and draws the fatefully perfect memory of her first real kiss, at the electric age of thirteen. She’d heard all the first time stories. About a clashing of noses and teeth, slobbering tongues and always a hand bruising a new breast. About shallow depths and shelf life. But this is not how it is. The boy kisses her first on the cheek, a tender questing. When their mouths join and open together she is aware only of the seamless fluidity of the movement. The strangely validating familiarity of it. And how like coming home this falling together seems.
As a woman in bed she reads about sex as an industry. She learns that some prostitutes prefer to leave kissing, that most intimate of gestures, out of their working lives. Protecting sex acts from being mistaken for anything more personal by either client or worker. They say they are saving their kisses for their lovers. She tells the man this but he cannot see past the implied insult and they do not speak of it again.
The woman learns to kiss the man with her eyes when he comes home, with her hands as she waves him goodbye. She walks on her toes but makes fists of her hands.
Once, after throwing something heavy and hard at the wall behind his head, she learns that acts of self defence can lie dormant then break through out of context.
He retreats behind the invisible shield of his silence. She looks to the blackboard until its black eye stares her down and she knows their days are numbered.
A fog settles between them. It barely allows for the illusion that this a rough patch. That there is a clearing up ahead into which they can build a different life. The one they imagined before the drugs wore off and their bodies grew wary.
One day after a weekend away he comes to her in the garden and unexpectedly drops at her feet, burying his face in her belly, as if she is carrying their child. Holding him this way she wonders, not for the first time, how they will survive each other.
The end is not marked by any of the usual clichéd, tell tale signs: A lipsticked shirt collar. An earring caught under the back seat of the car – the glint of it alluring and misleading as fools gold. The expectant then disappointed breath (not her own) when she answers the phone.
In this new millennium it is the shared laptop that cannot hold its tongue. Emails slip through the deletion process revealing true love has another name, negating all that went before. In this way their worlds end and begin again. In an agony of truth: memories implode, hearts tick over, stars appear and disappear
Jane Williams is an Australian poet and short story writer living in Tasmania. Check out her blog.
Intro and Outrospection of a Latecomer to Narcissism
– By Ewan C. Forbes
Who is this man who stares out at me from these photos? He looks perennially happy, though sometimes this looks forced. His friends are my friends. And what friends they are. He looks comfortable in their company.
He is familiar yet distant. He is someone I could be said to have known my whole life, yet his face is as unfamiliar to me as those of my similarly introspective inner-city neighbours. I don’t know what it is but there is something I don’t like about him. He fills spaces I thought I inhabited, and he does so as a mirror inversion of those relatively few interactions with my own form I have committed to memory. Those encounters were the lie: this is the truth as the rest of the world sees it.
The man in the mirror was never me, and I would not recognise my symmetrically-challenged face in an uninverted form were I to pass myself on the street. I know this. From the photos.
” ” I sleep
” ” we be friends
” ” I get a job
” ” I lose weight
The drop-down options of despair compiled from the searches of those who we think of when we say everyone. Is this a mirror, an inversion of truth, or a photo? More optimism maybe. Lets explore the realms of possibility, together.
” ” make a star on earth
” ” live on mars
” ” still be friends
” ” trust the police
More exact maybe, more practical.
” ” I lose weight
” ” I make money fast
” ” she slap
” ” I stop eating
No! Rubbish! The whole world’s worth of information at our fingertips… and this? Again!
” ” you describe yourself
” ” I look bald
” ” you identify oxygen
” ” I look with a fringe
I push the laptop away. I don’t think a search engine is a mirror or a photo. Metaphors can only take us so far, and if either were apt I would be terrified.
` But the unfamiliar man in the photos was jarring too…
One more attempt.
” ” I know lyrics
” ” the world end
” ” I die
” ” I know
Ewan C. Forbes lives and writes in Aberdeen, Scotland. His work has previously appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Sand Journal (as Ewan Forbes), and in Digital Science Fiction’s Visions Imprint (as E. C. Forbes). Recent Google searches of Ewan Forbes and E. C. Forbes bring up Sir Ewan Forbes of Craigievar (who started life as Elizabeth Forbes-Sempill) in the former case, and a ‘California corporation engaged in the manufacture and sales of high-end erotic electrostimulation products’ in the latter. Ewan C. Forbes said to say hello and to wish you well.
Photography – Jane Riddell is a writer of contemporary fiction and an enthusiastic blogger, including penning letters from a Russian cat. In addition, she loves travel and photography. She is the proprietor of an editing service, Choice Words Editing. Jane holds a Masters in Creative Writing and her first novel, Water’s Edge, will be e-published by ThornBerry Publishing in Spring 2013. Check out Jane’s website. Follow Jane on Twitter @JaneRiddell
I learn through Facebook that Julia is dead. This from some guy I have never actually met. I stare at his profile picture for ages, communing with his image and the momentous message. Soon my newsfeed is buzzing with death, and we all form a group: Julia’s funeral arrangements. Although they are not calling it a funeral, but a valediction. I stop myself from posting something sarcastic.
It’s not going to be a religious ceremony, thank God. All that comfort of the litany makes me want to turn a blind eye to the gaping void; believe me, I know first hand just how terrifying that dark mouth is.
Julia’s dead, and I have stopped existing in a shared past, in our communal memory. There is now only my crappy recollections, and whatever is left in Julia’s extinct hippocampus — perhaps the memory of me like a hippo at campus (I was on the large side then), who the hell knows. She’s going into the ground in a cardboard box. Most of us won’t have a clue what to do. With the usual, at least you know to stand around looking sombre and repeat words after someone, and stand up and sit down in a clean room with a polished box. This alternative thing sounds totally like Julia (although it’s not an alternative to actually being dead, so I don’t see the point).
I never caught up with her again; she was never on Facebook. She had a profile, but no picture, she was inactive. She’s bloody inactive now anyway. Ha! I am not laughing. I’m driving, feeling the lumps grow all over me, from my stomach to my throat, to the aching cold sore that broke out last night. I wish I was going to see her. Even to see her body in death — her corpse, let’s not dress it up — would be something. The old traditions have it right: sit around the body and laugh and sing and talk, and make it have happened over and over, and then put the body in the ground. My phone bleeps and glancing down at the empty passenger seat, I read that Caroline has just checked in at Julia’s valediction.
Julia would not have believed how connected I am to the lives of others; the words ‘social’ and ‘networking’ are the last I would use about myself. I openly express my emotions and my whereabouts (my opinions always came for free): in other words, I update my status. It’s amazing the freedom that little box gives you (no offence, Julia). I never had this kind of help at college. I struggled with Julia, her openness, her romanticism, her offensive sentimentality. I felt more comfortable with Caroline, her sensuality not asking for declarations. I think Julia was waiting for the tortured creature inside me to crawl out and be known, a slick of repressed emotion oozing its way onto our sheets. She was waiting for me to learn emotional articulacy. Poor girl.
I remember us one evening side by side on the sofa. Julia sighed, turning towards me,
“You’re not talking to me.”
“I have been talking to you.”
“No, you haven’t. All you said was ‘how many metres square do you think that living room is?’ That is the best you can come up with.”
“Julia, we’re watching a home improvement programme. What do you want me to ask? What would a woman ask – ‘how do you feel about this living room extension?’”
She looked at me, a world of exasperation.
“You never, ever tell me how you feel.”
I didn’t know what to say, I truly didn’t. I expect she was thinking about her past romance, with Percy fucking Shelley.
I remember this conversation (poorly no doubt, there is no digital record), partly because this was the day that I slept with Caroline, and the day before Julia and I split up for good.
Caroline had been there later that evening looking absolutely gorgeous. She was drunk, so I imagine she had some excuse for betraying her best friend (although to be honest I’ve slept with quite a few best friends over the years, and none have seemed overly plagued by conscience). I was sober and had no excuse, and although I wasn’t eaten up by guilt afterwards, Julia spotted straight away that something was wrong, so I told her. Not a smart move it turned out.
I arrive and it’s very awkward as there is nowhere particular to go. Me and a few others are just standing around on this hill overlooking the sea. If Julia were here she would describe it beautifully. The sun is low, long beams of light, it’s cold. There are quite a few people here, all looking like they’ve arrived at a party with nowhere to put their coats. I’m sure there must be a few pairs of eyes on me, just like I’m scanning the crowd, trying to recognise some faces. Some stand out, instantly, from their digital selves. There’s Shane, knew him at college, one of Julia’s old mates. He’s a Facebook friend. He is married and his last holiday was in Mozambique (‘cool pics, hope you enjoyed’). He has liked a picture of me at a birthday party, and was sorry that I had the flu last month. No one has clocked me yet, or not enough to come up and say hello. And then I catch someone’s eye, some middle aged woman in one of those expensive proper coats; I look and see flickering underneath that it’s Caroline. She walks over, smiling.
Everyone fancied Caroline, she was stunning and clever and funny. I can see her profile picture hovering above her, off to the left, and it distracts me as I look at her physical self – lines, blotches, the roughness of anxiety when I shake her hand.
We don’t have the usual awkwardness as all that was broken when she friended me online. First my stomach turned over reading her full name, then unabashed curiosity, comparing how we’ve aged, and finally she became demythologised, an ordinary face posting on my newsfeed. The opening small talk is easier too, as I know that last week she had some dental work done, and she must know that I got pissed and embarrassed myself last Saturday night, she’s probably seen the clip of me Greek dancing with Dave. I know she works part time, is a strict vegetarian and likes sci-fi and apocalyptic movies. So we cut to the chase.
“It’s unbelievable, isn’t it?”
“She’s the first one of us ––”
“Makes you think ––”
“It does, I know. You’ve gotta just, like, make each moment ––”
I feel oddly comforted. I don’t have to ask how she’s been for twenty five years. The burden of communication is light. She leans in towards me,
“She’s the first real friend — you know what I mean — to die of it.”
This fact somehow unites us, like an amicable conspiracy.
“You know, statistically there’s bound to be another one of us here today who’s on the way to meet their maker soon.”
“Or meet oblivion.”
“Indeed, or meat oblivion,” she giggles, we both giggle, we guffaw. It is not at all funny.
I find I’m having too good a time and remember that I’m at Julia’s funeral and I should be a little more tactful. I try to say something deep.
“Julia was –– well, Julia was Julia.”
“Did you get over her?”
I change the subject.
“Did you guys stay best mates?”
“Nope. Didn’t see her after college. Didn’t hear from her for years until Facebook.”
“Yeah, me neither.”
“But she was inactive.”
We look at each other, the joke gaping at us from the proceedings at the front, and guffaw again.
Someone is signalling for us to gather round, and soon a quietness breaks out. I notice Gregoria standing beside the box, tall, pale. She is Julia’s daughter which comes as a surprise, she must be in her early twenties. She is about to read something. I hope and pray that it is not Stop all the Clocks (she would have to change all the pronouns anyway, it wouldn’t work). I have had enough weddings butcher great poetry, now this whole civil burial thing is opening another can of worms. Everyone waits, and Gregoria begins.
“It’s lovely to see so many old faces here, Julia would be pleased that you all came – although of course it doesn’t really matter to her now…” — a damp laugh rises in condensation — “but it matters very much to John.”
If my name weren’t so common I’d draw some conclusions about her marrying a John, but then, I’m most definitely a Johnny. John nods. Gregoria talks about Julia and suddenly she is there in front of me, fresh faced and gooey with love, laughing into my up close face.
I am back in our old rooms, smoking, the radio blaring, the sun hot on the windowpanes, years sprawled out in front of us. Julia is lying on the bed inhaling a cough, Caroline is sitting cross legged on the chair, posing. I see John beside her, his hand on her shoulder, possessive. We live in our own drama, of flirtation and deception and the full on depth of the future, aswim in all the mucky loveliness of twenty something angst and sex and fierceness.
I was healthy then. I didn’t have pills, medical bills, estimated remaining time.
I look at Gregoria (for god’s sake, Gregoria?) and I can clearly see Julia’s eyes, her dark brows. But as she turns to the side, the hand she lifts to her face, her profile, they are unmistakably mine.
Too late. It’s too late.
I have stopped listening to Gregoria, I have been watching her in slow motion, something like fear and happiness at my throat. But it’s time now to put the box in the ground. The small huddle of people gather more closely around the hole and I see they are going to play some music, and then I realise with a shock it’s going to have to be that song, one we listened to all that summer, and Julia is gone, gone, sloping ungraciously into the earth, and now the music plays and I don’t snigger and joke with Caroline because now I can’t ignore what’s happened to her, what’s happening to me. So I sing a song of love,
Ruth McKee has been shortlisted for RTE’s Francis MacManus Short Story Competition. She is working on her first historical novel. She is a PhD graduate in literature from Trinity College Dublin and lives in Skerries with her two small children and three cats. Follow Ruth on Twitter @RuthMcKee
Short Story: Seamus Gavara and the Fat Capitalist Pig
– By Patrick O’Flaherty
‘Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me.’
‘Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me.’
The class fell silent and bowed their heads like chastised pups. This only encouraged the two boys to sing louder, ‘Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me.’
The jaw of Mrs O’Brien – the religion teacher – now touched the floor. She tried to speak, then shook her head, burst into tears and ran out of the room. Seamus Gavara and his comrade Fiachra ‘The Beard’ Cassidy – les enfants terribles – had to find themselves a new school, but the events of that day forged a bond which would change the course of Irish history.
Seamus and Fiachra had been friends since the age of fourteen. Magnetically drawn to each other by John Player Blue cigarettes and their Rage Against the MachineT-shirts.
Together they would fight the machine to the death.
Throughout their teenage years they waged war against capitalism. They refused to wear watches, to recognise Greenwich Mean Time, buy Nike trainers or to eat in McDonalds. They were small but tenacious thorns in the arse of the multinational cartels. They demanded a new Ireland – a socialist republic – a proletarian utopia. Such was their anarchic reputations that even Joseph Higginsbottom – the Godfather of Irish Socialism – wouldn’t take their calls. He distanced himself from their seditious agitation.
Fiachra first came to international prominence as a member of a far-left Marxist revolutionary ornithological observation group in the Columbian jungle. Fiachra’s research led him into close contact with the terrible poverty of that continent and the massive gulf between rich and poor. Seamus joined Fiachra in South America on a J7 Visa from college. They bought a Honda 50 motorcycle and for twelve weeks rode around the beaches of Cancun and Rio de Janeiro observing the tremendous destitution of the indigenous people and the breath-taking beauty of the local bikini-clad women.
Seamus kept a diary of this historic trip, which later became internationally famous; it contained amongst other things a list of his many sexual conquests. He was known as ‘The Ginger Conquistador’ and the ladies found his freckled charms irresistible.
The adventure wasn’t without its struggles however as both Seamus and Fiachra suffered severe sunburn on their pale Irish skin and also fell victim to the scourge of intoxication in their undying efforts to help the South American people. This epic journey crystallised their egalitarian beliefs.
The Ireland of the Celtic Tiger years was a playground for the corporate mafia of the giant American multinationals. Like 1950s Havana, it was mired in corruption. It was Havana with potatoes and rain. A safe haven for the faceless conglomerates to wash their profits – a developer’s paradise, a brown envelope Shangri La.
Seamus and Fiachra wanted to rid Ireland of the cancer of greed, of the culture that spawned the fat Hibernian capitalist pig – Hiberno Vulgarianism. That pig had grown grotesquely plump during the now extinct Celtic Tiger. It had its snout in the filthy trough of property speculation; its ostentatious displays of wealth were vulgar in the extreme. It was time to put the pig on the spit.
Being nouveau riche hadn’t suited the Irish psyche. The Irish were used to centuries of famine, forced emigration, evictions, and good old-fashioned misery. The newfound affluence drove the natives instantly mad, which was only to be expected of an island of perennially oppressed peasants, some of whom were still living in mud huts until the late 1800s. But the mood of the people had darkened. The Teflon Taoiseach – the Irish Batista – Gertie O’Hern had been dethroned. The Emperor had no clothes.
The arse had fallen out of the country. The world was in turmoil, the bankers and the developers had fucked the people – big style – and the government had let it happen. The socio-political landscape was transformed. The people wanted change – they wanted blood. Now, twenty years after first standing up to the machine in the form of Mrs O’Brien, Seamus and Fiachra and their newly formed party – The People’s Party of the People (PPP) were ready to seize that opportunity.
Seamus Gavara had revolution on his mind but his ideological thirst was yet again quenched by a crippling weakness for the drink. He awoke with his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth. His body shook violently. A black beret nestled on his wild mane of ginger hair. His world was upside down.
‘Seamus, are you dead or alive in there? Do you know the time? Tis three o’clock, the day’ll be gone. You’re sleeping your life away,’ said Betty Gavara. Betty was Seamus’ long suffering mother, locally famous for her superlative scones, an open mind and an acerbic wit often sprinkled with sexual euphemisms of an adolescent nature. It kept her young at heart, and with a thirty-four year old ideologue son in the house, she needed to be.
‘Ya, ya, Jesus Christ I’m awake. Will you leave me alone woman?’
‘My heart is broke with that young fella,’ Betty said, throwing her eyes up to heaven.
Seamus jumped up out of the bed, staggered around looking for the clothes that he had on before tentatively venturing out of the burrow that was his room. He met Betty in the hallway. She was upside down and speaking in tongues. He looked down upon her undulating double chin and attempted to decipher her utterances. Betty shook her head and wondered where did it all go wrong for her. She wondered what the fuck was she after rearing? She went back into the refuge of her kitchen to the soothing sounds of RTE Radio One to make a fresh batch of scones.
Seamus, now terror stricken by his fragmenting mind galloped towards the front door, past the reflection of his head high red Doc Marten boots in the hall mirror.
‘I’m headin mam, good luck, talk later,’ he shouted, as he ran out the door.
He emerged to a sky of lush green fields, populated by black and white Friesian cattle that were upside down happily chewing the cud. They were surrounded by lines of grey stonewalls. An ethereal lawn of white cumulus cloud covered the ground in front of him. Brambles, whitethorn and blackthorn hedges, horse chestnut and tall slender ash trees hung perilously from the sky in complete disregard to Isaac Newton’s theory of gravitation. The Fire Brigade rescued a meowing dog from an ash tree. Crows and finches glided over little fluffy clouds to the sound of barking horses at 30,000ft. A line of chattering neighbours passed the house walking on their hands. The road moved beneath stationary cars like a travelator in an airport departure gate.
To Seamus, this had all the hallmarks of a CIA operation – sensory manipulation – a classic mindfuck. They must have spiked him with hallucinogenic drugs. Seamus had seen the film The Men Who Stare at Goats. He knew what those fuckers were capable of. He wasn’t going to crack. The Bay of fucking Pigs he thought. Maybe they got to Fiachra? Fiachra and the CIA? Seamus ran over the various scenarios in his head. Nobody could be trusted. He needed to pull himself together. He took a deep breath and tried to reassure himself – just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.
America – the cheerleader of free market capitalism had been the sole superpower since the demise of the Soviet Union but the capitalist system was on its knees. China was a monolith and America was crippled by its debt due to its ill-fated Middle Eastern campaigns of imperialist aggression in the aftermath of 9/11. The Western civilization was in decline, soft centred and bloated. Seamus and Fiachra studied the great Roman, Mayan and Aztec empires, all of which imploded and crumbled making way for new and hungrier powers to emerge. Powers like India and China.
The PPP were ready to exploit this new reality.
Ireland was a key battleground because of its proximity to Europe and its importance as a corporate centre. The extreme austerity measures imposed by the troika of the EU, IMF, and the ECB had led to the disillusionment of the people.
The PPP made their move with a campaign of Blitzkrieg electioneering. Their posters were omnipresent, quoting Mao underneath the letters PPP, ‘A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first few steps.’ The people had turned to the People’s Party of the People and the revolution would be televised on TG4 as a party political broadcast after Sergio Leone’s classic western Once Upon a Time in The West.
Seamus made contact with the Chinese secret service under the cover of a takeaway restaurant ‘The Dragons Belly,’ in Rathkeale, Co Limerick. He walked up the red neon-lit curried steps of the entrance, opened the door and walked towards the counter. A young girl sat watching a Chinese game show on a television mounted on the wall.
‘I’ve an order in for a Mr Kung Po.’
‘Gavara, Seamus Gavara.’
‘Ah Mr Gavara, we’ve been expecting you. Welcome to the belly of the dragon. Pleeze come with me.’
Seamus lifted the countertop, walked underneath the television to the sound of a clapping Chinese audience into a back room where he met the man known only as, Chang.
The PPP used their burgeoning political power base to make representations to the Minster for Offense about the building of a Chinese missile defence base at Shannon Airport. In return the Chinese promised significant inward investment – a major project in Tipperary involving the construction of a satellite city as a European base for the Chinese companies. This project would create thousands of jobs and would forge a co-operative bond between Ireland and China. The local TD Mickey Maowry had played a pivotal role in the development due to his extensive contacts in the Asian business community.
Mickey Maowry was known as a man to get things done and was wildly popular amongst his constituents despite high profile scandals involving the awarding of lucrative licenses for massage parlours and the illegal importation of Rhino horns into the greater Tipperary area. Officially announcing the project, Mickey Maowry told the Tipperary Enquirer:
‘After several years of hard work and personal sacrifice I have delivered
this project for the good people of Tipperary who have stood by me during this campaign of vilification by the national media. I would also like to thank my long suffering wife Pamela, my sons John, Johnny, Pa, Patrick and Paddy, Mickey and Mickey Junior, my daughters Bridie and Bride and our Labrador Blacky. They are my rock and without them I would be just a lonely hardworking bachelor politician without a family or a dog. Thank you.’
The Chinese had extensive interests in Africa and in the mineral rich Australian outback. Their hunger for resources was insatiable. Their tentacles were truly global and Ireland was next for Chinafication.
It was during these turbulent times that Seamus met Saoirse. A sultry brunette, tall and elegant with a smouldering sexual allure. She was a force of nature for which Seamus had no resistance. He melted beneath the scorching flame of her ferocious eroticism.
Saoirse had travelled the world after college working casually in bars and restaurants. She liked to dance and drink in a narcotic haze. She exploited her erotic capital. Saoirse was wild as the wind but still found time for her volunteering and charity work, including a month long spell at an orphanage in New Delhi. Her father Sean had a top job in Googlesoft, Ireland and he bankrolled her decadent lifestyle in between her ephemeral periods of gainful employment.
Seamus fell helplessly under Saoirse’s spell. They hit the bars and nightclubs. They feasted on each other in an alcohol-drenched banquet of depravity. The world around them blurred into an inconsequential mass.
Meanwhile, the Chinese had begun construction of the base at Shannon and the satellite city outside Thurles.In the July electionsFiachra and the PPP’s newest apparatchik, Mickey Maowry, were elected on the first count helping to win the party an overall majority.
At a White House press conference the American President and the leader of the Tea Party administration Mitt Palin spoke about the Chinese presence in Shannon, ‘The Irish and the American people always had a special relationship, a shared history of struggle and endurance. We will stand by our friends in Ireland. This is an act of aggression, a threat to democracy and to the free world.’
There were high-level leaks about a covert invasion and CIA funding for the far-right anti-immigration party – The III ‘Irish Ireland for the Irish.’
Seamus had become increasingly paranoid. He saw CIA agents at every corner – old women pushing trolleys in supermarket car parks, street cleaners sweeping the roads, parked taxi drivers. They were everywhere, always seeming to avert their gaze whenever he tried to look them in the eye. Falling silent when he walked into a room. He moved into a new apartment with Saoirse and checked it daily for bugs and cameras. He checked light fittings, ashtrays, picture frames, clock faces. Even the fruit bowl, ticking them off a list as he went.
Saoirse was worried. He was distant and had a glazed look in his eyes. She decided to confront him.
‘Seamus are you alright? Is there something on your mind?’
‘You’re not yourself. You’re very quiet with me. Did I…do something?’
‘I’m sorry Saoirse, it’s just with the PPP and the negotiations with the Chinese, things are mad lately. That’s all. I’m just…a bit stressed out. I’m grand.’
‘You don’t look grand. You look off your fuckin game.’
‘It’s those CIA fuckers…fuckin with my head.’
‘What…are you talking about Seamus?’
‘Mind control, sensory manipulation, Project MK-ULTRA, the Men That Stare At Fuckin Goats. At my mothers house…the bastards. She’s nothing to do with this.’
‘Calm down hunny…it’s ok. Breathe…talk slowly.’
‘They must have spiked me the fuckers. After the Rage Against the Machine concert I woke up and everything was upside down. I was trippin out. You saw what the Russians did to Litvinenko. Poisoned the cunt. With his tea. His fuckin tea. Polonium-210. They’ll get me too.’
‘Don’t you remember Seamus? The acid? We took the acid after the gig. Remember? Got it from Tim O’Leary in town. Larry in the Sky with Dinosaurs? Seamus calmed down a little after their talk. He still thought that the CIA were somehow involved but he kept it to himself. The less she knew the better, for her own sake.
The PPP were monitoring Seamus’ erratic behaviour. Nobody could jeopardise the Party. Fiachra distanced himself from Seamus and had taken to smoking big Cuban cigars. He was elected president of the PPP.
Seamus was now only a peripheral figure in the Party he built but he didn’t care. All he wanted was Saoirse. He loved her so much he took a manufacturing job in Googlesoft to help pay the rent of their apartment. Saoirse’s father Sean pulled a few strings and got him the gig. They settled into a quiet life of debauched domesticity.
Saoirse took up ballet after watching the film Black Swan. Seamus purchased his first watch to observe GMT because his overlords at Googlesoft demanded strict adherence to the clock. Betty would drop over fresh scones to supplement their Big Mac meals.
‘Mrs Gavara, is it yourself?’
‘Saoirse, how many times have I told you? Call me Betty.’
‘Sorry…Betty. Come in.’
‘I’ve some fresh scones for ye. Where is he, where’s my boy?’
‘He’s working overtime. He’ll be home at seven.’
‘I don’t know what you’re doing to him. I’ve never seen him so happy. You even got him working. I thought he was still one of those antichrists, marching and protesting and that. We’ll have to keep you Saoirse.’
‘They’re anarchists Betty.’
‘Sure, they’re all the one, aren’t they?’
‘ I’m going nowhere Betty. I love him. He’s a heart of gold. He’s idealistic and…vigorous.’
And with that, both women laughed heartily.
Life was blissful, well; it was until Saoirse choked on that chicken bone.
If there were any lessons to be learned from this inglorious expiration it would be to avoid dancing while eating a chicken leg. In a Swan Lake finale Saoirse choked while practicing after the day’s ballet class as Seamus dozed in front of the T.V after a feed of drumsticks. Saoirse never could sit still. Seamus hit the bottle.
The Chinese intent on world domination bought Googlesoft. A drunken Seamus was at his evening Mandarin course when he heard that Sean and the entire board had been sacked and the Union shut down. Overnight wages were quartered and working conditions deteriorated. A heartbroken Sean jumped from a tenth floor window of the Googlesoft HQ killing himself and a RTE News reporter in the process.
The PPP had consolidated its power through emergency constitutional reform. Everything changed overnight. Ireland became a one Party State with Fiachra as its figurehead but everybody knew the man known only as Chang really ran the country. Ireland was now closer to Beijing than Boston.
Seamus was drinking three bottles of whiskey a day. He lost his job. He wouldn’t open the door to Betty. He was skin and bone.
Some months later an American journalist interviewed him about his history in the PPP. Seamus criticised Fiachra and the betrayal of the PPP’s original ideals. He was immediately arrested and sent to the Curragh internment camp. Witnesses claim he mounted one final protest outside the office of the camps commanding officer, comrade Zhan, where he shouted pro-American, pro-democracy slogans. He was promptly executed by firing squad.
But Seamus lives on. His organs were harvested and it’s rumoured that a Shanghai millionaire has one of his kidneys and is doing well.
Patrick O’Flaherty is from Limerick, Ireland. He has previously been published in The Moth magazine and in theNewerYork. His writing is an involuntary response to the chaos of his mind, to the insanity, absurdity and the beguiling beauty of the world around him. Folow Patrick on Twitter @PaddyofNazareth