The light unravels outside, spills in the windows, across the floor of the hotel bar. The carpet has become golden with day. What’s it trying to prove? We order another round. I’ve switched to whiskey. It’s more formal. You’re telling me about yourself, like an American would.
-In the eighties, you say, I built skyscrapers in Manhattan.
In the eighties I needed to know that, for the kids on the street who pointed and laughed and said you have no da, you have no da, the kids whose fathers came home and painted purple the eyes of their mothers, the bitter tang of chips and booze on the their tongues, the fucking indifference of the world in their ribcage somewhere. Twanging away, rattling around, bouncing off those bones, playing them like the keys of a xylophone. This dismemberment of maleness. But if I’d known, I could say, me Da’s in New York and he’s building skyscrapers. Fucking skyscrapers. And what’s your da building? A car park, maybe. A shopping centre near Cabra. Maybe his week revolves around the dole office, the promise of a few hours queuing in the blue air for a handful of notes and a trip to the bookies on the way home. My Da, single-handedly building skyscrapers. So high and bright, the sunlight twinkling off the glass, the sky fucked by them, these huge things. Single handed. My Da.
-Well, that’s interesting, I said. And I was interested, maybe somewhat impressed. Pictures of workers on a lunch break, perched on a crossbeam, the vista of New York below them popped into my head. I pictured you there, lunch pail beside you, among the other Irish and Polish and Italian lads. Putting down a real legacy, something that will last and be a source of wonderment for years to come. Something even as it’s being demolished will be a spectacle.
-After that, I went residential. Huge gated communities in Massachusetts.
Somehow there was more money to be made in these prosaic sprawls than in five hundred feet tall skyfuckers. Less magic, more money. Isn’t that always the way? And suddenly I’m disappointed, as if you’ve let me down somehow. As if this is your crime, your talk of millions.
The Irish would never, not even from your generation, bandy digits about with such insouciance. I never have money. I don’t know what it’s like. I know, for example, I couldn’t afford these drinks you’re paying for, the largesse of your tab. Or those chinos that hang elegantly off your slim hips. Or the Ralph Lauren shirt. The heavy gold watch. I couldn’t afford it, I wouldn’t want it.
Maybe things are different for you in America. Here old peoples’ maturity is earned in boredom and submission, and worn across the ordinance of their faces. The American male’s greatest misfortune has been an abundance of choice, the niggling doubt you may have bought the wrong thing, perhaps imparted too much of yourself in that television. Oh, you went with the Sony? Yes, I went with the Sony, what’s wrong with the Sony? There’s nothing wrong, per se. I just went with the Samsung. The fear, the fear.
-What about you, you ask. What about me. I’m ordinary, in the way everything is ordinary. It’s a struggle. It’s a succession of minor failures and harsh lessons, this life. It’s a grind. I read French philosophers and complain to walls life is meaningless. That’s me.
-I read a lot. I listen to music.
You see, that’s disappointing. Small. There’s no genre to me. I’ll listen to anything. I don’t mind, I’m just looking to be moved, and it’s the notes that do it. But seeing as you’re asking, I’m an Arcadia man, before the Power Station. Beatles before Stones. While we’re on it, Paul before John. Beethoven over Mozart. Mozart’s just pop music. Right?
You nod. You tell me how you used to hang on Baggot Street as a youngster, still in school. How you’d sneak in to O’Donaghues and sit there during the epic, legendary sing songs with all the greats. Luke Kelly and Anne Briggs and the like. I picture the yellow walls, the smoke an indoor nimbus and the porter on the tables and the mouths open, the decayed teeth and the singing and the singing, and I wish I’d been there, part of something. There’s nothing here nowadays. No scenes.
-Have you ever mentioned me to your other kids?
-No, I have not. I’ve meant to you know, you say, and rest your head on a folded hand for a second, with some intense middle-distance staring that tells me how difficult it is for you. –When I left here. A pause. –I really felt as if I couldn’t come back. It took years. Then my mother became ill. I came back for the funeral.
Great, another family member I didn’t even know I had bites the dust. Corpses are piling up. I’m beginning to think it’s me.
-And then I saw the country was changing. It wasn’t the same grey, hopeless place I left.
You left me to no hope?
-Have you brought them over? Your other children.
-Sure. Ellen met her husband over here, if you can believe that.
Hold on, my sister, prowling for men in my hometown. Perhaps…
-I will tell them. When we’re all together.
-I’d like to, I start. And then I pause and try the intense inward looking, as you have done. But you misread it or disregard it and plough on, telling me how it’s hard to get them all together with the various ex-wives involved, some less accommodating than others.
-Lana never had any more children? You ask. Lana, my mother. Her death left me orphaned on this continent. Precipitated our meeting. I shake my head. -I was sorry to hear…
-It’s fine. She was sick for a while, so it was a blessing.
I’ve said those words to Lana’s friends repeatedly over the last few months. Save your sorrow. Her life was a painful, the end was a release. But whose suffering ended that day? Mine or hers?
You mumble something about how she was a good woman, and you’re sure she made a good mother, but it’s numbing to me. You stretch, the bad leg, the one with veins that had to be removed, wince almost imperceptibly. You flick an eye towards your watch, and pick up your glass, the ice melted. You swirl it around and neck the remains with a calm finality. You’re telling me this meeting is over, as you must have done hundreds of times before in board rooms across the East Coast, discussing the millions and billions required to shelter humans and their belongings.
-I’m glad we did this, you say, and manage to make it sound almost like you mean it. Here in your hotel, your itinerary didn’t even need to change. To get from the plush, combed velour of the couch here in the bar to your suite is a mere matter of a few steps to the gilded elevator, even after your operation.
-I’ve never been here before, I say uselessly. –It really is as nice as they say, I add, for extra uselessness.
-I stay here every time I’m back.
All those times, and where was I?
A regal twist of your wrist and the waiter’s at your shoulder. You place your tumbler on his tray.
You stand and I stand and we’re separated now by only a couple of feet of foot-deadening pile. We admire each other for a moment. I’m taller than you, broader, but you still have your hair and mine is a chimera, wisps plastered across an all too exposed pate. Grandfather, mother’s side, was a chromedome. Not your fault. Your shoes are polished, my Adidas leak. You’re lithe, an animal quality, as if always poised, even with the stick to aid your recovery. We shake hands. I give it everything I have, but yours is rock solid.–It really was good to see you.
-And, uh. You. And I wonder, should I say anything else. What else does one say? –Maybe I’ll drop into you when I’m in America.
-Sure, you say, with a wide, over-bright smile and a twinkle that says: as if that will happen, and I wonder, briefly, if the bank would be quite so accommodating with their pre-approvals now, post-crash, and sure, isn’t it worth a go. Get out a few grand, head to America, meet the family. Try again. Try life again. Fail life again. Fail it better, American style.
-If you’re ever in New Hampshire, you start. But then you stop, and look out the window at the park across the road, the suffusion of golden evening light. Summer in Dublin, its last breaths. The autumn closing in on us, every syrupy sunset coming earlier and earlier. There’s a look that travels across the smooth, soft sheen of your face, as if something simple has occurred to you. Something so simple and so true, something that’s been there for ever and you haven’t noticed. You’re still holding my hand, and suddenly you grasp me. I grasp back, I don’t know what else to do, and when you fall, you pull me down too. I disentangle myself. You’re convulsing, mouth opening and closing, no sounds in there. A waiter reacts quickly. He drops to his knees and listens to your breathing and thumps your chest. I too am on my knees, leaning over.
-I need some space, says the waiter. –Please.
-He’s my dad, I say. The words I have never uttered previously. They sound strange, too weighty, as if unearned by me. The waiter pummels your chest.
Someone else from the hotel runs over. A man returning from the gym who’s a veterinarian offers his help. An ambulance is on its way. I watched your face turn blue, a strange hue of polished cobalt. The bustle of hotel staff removes me from your side, and I have to stand, stumbling backwards, falling into a chair as I watch. Within ten minutes the paramedics are there, which is impressive. I imagine they had a special hotline, places like this, with their exclusive clientele of the wealthy and the privileged. There’s overdosing junkies on Thomas Street being ignored right now. And rightly so. Here is a son of Erin, a captain of industry, who did more than the gombeens he left behind here on this sod. He left, he conquered. He accumulated a few wives, as they do over there, and seven children, upon whom he dotes, and a business portfolio, of which he’s equally proud. He won. He deserves his life.
The paramedics are working furiously. Some other patrons are down the back of the bar, looking on idly. The barman hasn’t stopped pouring drinks. I go to him, and ask for another whiskey. He pours silently, freely, not using the little pewter measure. He nods at me, and I back. I upend the tumbler and suck it all down at once. –Stick it on the tab, I say.
There’s nothing for me to do here. I’m no undertaker. I leave. They don’t notice me, any of them. The paramedics are wheeling in a gurney, less enthusiastically now. Outside is dark. Hours must have passed. I take your gold Rolex from my pocket and check the time. I think of the funeral. I wonder will it be here or in America. I’d like to go to America. Start again. Start life again. Maybe get it right this time.
Dara Thomas Higgins is a writer and musician based in Dublin. He currently writes screenplays for State Broadcaster RTE and plays bass guitar for Ireland’s premier psycherock group The Jimmy Cake, among others. @Diplah
My husband is deaf. Once, he asked me if snow made a sound when it fell, and I lied. We have been married 11 years today, and I am leaving him.
He is in the bakery on the corner where it is warm and they know him well. He will return within the hour to our apartment with a box full of little cakes which he ordered especially for this day. He will walk through the door and toss his keys into the little ceramic bowl on the hall table. I am the only one who ever hears the sound of the keys as they fall into the bowl. He will place the cakes on the second shelf of the fridge and seek me out, but I will be gone.
There is a violent rip in the couch. A giant piece of leather hangs off the armrest like a tongue. It has ruined the couch, but we never bothered to get it repaired. Just like us. One violent rip has divided us forever. We love each each other differently now; we just remind each other of what is missing. Each time we look at each other, an inexorable ache rises up from deep inside both of us. It is tangible. It pollutes the air between and around us. We have almost completely stopped looking at each other. Instead, we look through each other, or behind each other, or around each other. The ashtray is empty and now only decorative in function, and it tempts me to smoke again. My lungs are hollow and empty and long for the weighty, constricted feeling of being a smoker; just to feel something, anything. Just to feel a feeling that isn’t interminable, unresolved sorrow.
He plays the piano every day, and I am taking it with me. It was made in 1783 in Prague. It sits quietly in the corner now, poised for exile. We’ve moved home three times in eleven years, and each time, the piano goes out of tune when it enters a new environment, as if it were afraid of change. My husband once told me that in the darkness of its body, deep in its belly, there is a piece of him which is living secretly, breathing, pulsating, fed by scherzo and allegro. I am taking the piano for exactly this reason. Inside, quiet as dust, a part of my husband anticipates resurrection, while I have given up completely. I do not want him to have the benefit of resurrection when I know I will never experience such merciful relief.
He is watching the fat baker squeeze the icing in the shape of tiny red hearts onto the little cakes that we are supposed to share with our friends tonight, in celebration of our anniversary. He once told me that he loved me because I was the only thing he could hear. He can feel the vibrations of the piano strings through the soundboard, but I am inside him, he said. I am a song soaked into each bone of his secret body where the world has never been able to wander.
The fat baker is packaging the cakes. He places them delicately into a pink box, tying it up in white ribbon with a flourish. I want to leave before my husband returns, otherwise I will be swayed by the sadness in his eyes and have to wait yet another year. I am running out of years. I have to be on my way to the airport; the piano movers should have been here half an hour ago. I do not want my husband to find them struggling on the stairs with a part of his soul. I want no scenes.
I have already burned all the photographs; they made a crackling sound and set off the smoke detector, which I promptly smashed. He won’t need it because he is deaf and it gives off only a minute vibration, too mild for him to notice. I have written down all the reasons why I am leaving, and I am overcome with a sad longing for the world, to be a part of it again, because I have not spoken to anyone for weeks. I must go now, I can’t wait for any more tomorrows. My feet barely touch the ground as I take a final sweeping look around the apartment. My heart is in my mouth. I can feel it throbbing and taste the pulse.
For some unknown and annoying reason, the moment we met fills my mind. He was giving a recital. I was with friends, eager to see and hear this deaf pianist, like a sort of modern-day Beethoven. I felt like a voyeur, not really caring about the music, but fascinated by the idea of this man. He played several pieces, but the only one I recognised was Chopin’s Nocturne op.9 No.2, with its beautiful, discordant notes. And I was mesmerized by the way he played. It was as if he was listening to every single note, his head bent towards the keys, his eyes half-closed. His fingers dancing like little ballerinas, so delicate and long and elegant. After the show, I went up and introduced myself. I couldn’t resist. I wanted to hear if he could speak at all. It was crass and nosy of me, but he could speak; with palpable strain and effort, he forced out a melody of muffled sounds in an awkward staccato rhythm. I complimented him on his Chopin rendition, and he told me it was his favourite, that he played it every single day. He invited me for a glass of wine. We went to a wine bar, one of those little places that plays quiet but lively jazz in the background, dimly lit by candles on each table. It was there that he asked me the question whether or not snow made a sound when it fell. He wrote it on a napkin, and underneath his question, I wrote, “Yes. It sounds like angels falling”. But of course, he would never hear an angel fall. It was an in impossible answer to an impossible question. But he took my hand immediately, and tears filled his eyes. And he said “Thank you”, with his stunted, strangled voice. A trickle of red wine stained the napkin as we continued our evening. I kept that napkin for years. But today, I burned it with the photographs.
Albert Camus suggested that we would not love if there was no lack within us, but we are offended by a similar lack in the other. Expecting to find the answer, we only find the duplicate of our own problem. And, as a result, we become disgusted, disappointed, and try to flee from the other in an attempt to flee from ourselves also. Inside my husband, outside him, all around him, is the duplicate of my problem. I can never be free, I know that, and I know I can never flee from myself; but I can at least flee from his hopefulness, from his will to force life to go on, which only serves to exacerbate my own emptiness.
The piano movers arrive. They are brusque and professional and ready to get on with the job. They manoeuvre the antique piano down the winding staircase of our apartment building with cautious, studied movements. As they make their descent, the door to an apartment on the second floor opens, and a frail Russian woman called Ida who has lived in the building for over thirty years puts her hand on my arm and looks concerned. She sees my eyes, she sees the panic and the longing. She wants to know has there been any news. She always wants to know has there been any news. There is never, and there will never be, any news. I am also escaping from her. I am escaping from the constant questions, the pitying looks, the awkward silences, the stilted conversations on the stairs or outside her apartment door. I tell her, babbling, making no sense at all, that my husband is in the bakery buying little cakes iced with tin red hearts, and I have to be in the taxi on my way to the airport before he returns. I tell her it is our eleven year anniversary and I am leaving him. This makes her gasp; her eyes water, and she lets me go, offering some support or strength or affirmation with a slight squeeze to my shoulder.
I shut the front door of the building behind me. I have no bags, except for a small handbag which contains my passport, my aeroplane ticket, some money, and the address of my new home written on a scrap of paper. I don’t want to take anything with me. Just the piano.
He was playing it the moment the phone rang, eight years ago. A little girl had been found, lying on the wrong side of the footpath, face-down on the road, blood seeping through her little blue coat. Our phone number was in her bag, in her little notebook with the birds and the rainbows on the cover. She had wandered from school. Whoever hit her, whoever killed her, just drove off and left her there. The driver was never found. Her ponytail was sticky with dirt and blood. A tiny bird, broken and forgotten. She was there one minute, perfect and small and dressed so smartly in her little blue coat, and gone the next. He was playing the Chopin Nocturne when I hung up the phone and went to find him. With shaking hands I spoke to him, my fingers trembling as I made the shapes of the letters because I could not speak. My mouth would not work, my tongue dry and lifeless in my mouth. He never played Chopin again.
I can see his face now, as he enters the apartment, and sees the space where the piano once stood. I can imagine the emptiness that will follow him around. I can imagine him sitting him at the edge of our bed, her photo, the only photo I didn’t burn, in his hands, as he too remembers the night that he asked me if snow made a sound when it fell. He makes his way to where the piano used to be, and, sitting on the stool which I left behind, he holds his hands out in front of him, poised over the no-longer-there keyboard. Closing his eyes, he mimes Chopin’s Nocturne op. 9 No. 2.
The pink box of little cakes iced with tiny red hearts sits forgotten on the bed, her photograph beside it.
Originally from Omagh, Co. Tyrone and presently living in Cork City, Sorcha Fogarty completed a PhD on “The Affirmative Nature of Impossibility in Jacques Derrida’s Work of Mourning” in 2010, and spent several years teaching Undergraduate English in University College Cork. She has previously had academic articles, based on Jacques Derrida, published on The Literary Encyclopedia, an online journal. She has spent the past six years teaching Creative Writing in various libraries around Cork City, and presently works as an Assistant Librarian, while continuing to teach Creative Writing.
If a bar is not kept at all times moist to the touch it will grow feral, dangerous.
Think of it as a type of sessile organism, a compact colony surviving only on the odd sobs of stout and the dead skin of patrons.
This particular bar has pulled the fibres from the knit of my jumper and planted them upright in the mahogany so that they sway like sea creatures. Poor thing must have been starving.
It’s St Stephen’s day morning and I’m consulting the paper. First meet is 11.
I use an inch-long pencil to circle names. My first pick is a tip from the radio, 6/1.
Neil returns from the bathroom preening with dull satisfaction. His paper wagging beneath his arm like the tail of one of those strange fish that sticks to the bellies and backs of sharks.
I can see his picks, circled with red pen so that his choices cannot not be easily erased or forgotten.
He pays for his drink and while he does I catch the contents of his wallet – a loyalty card for the only barber in town and a balance of cash for the day, all big notes. His bank cards are at home. He knows better.
We leave and walk to the bookmakers, two doors down, last year it was five.
Neil is shorter than I am and going bald in the most unfortunate of ways, thinning in strips instead of patches. This doesn’t seem to bother him. He lets it grow until it’s unbearably mossy.
He has pale pocked skin and a sturdy crest of a nose. Sometimes when you call to the house for him, his brother will answer and tell you that Neil is out the back breaking blocks with it.
Right now he has the look about him of someone confident, canny.
The bookies is packed and has the visual palette of a stuffed ashtray. It smells of insoles and devastated carpet.
The only female here is the cashier, Joanna. She has the kind of calm in her eyes that you see in nurses and first responders.
Once on the carpet Neil doesn’t respond to verbal signals. He will not discuss picks or winnings. Men are invisible in this place.
At 2 o clock I tell him that I’m hungry. He seems agreeable. This must mean he’s up.
We go back to the pub and eat vegetable soup, crumble in soda bread that’s thick as scones. We have a carvery lunch and a pint of free cordial each. There is discussion of Ibiza.
He tells me that he’s going to get a job in the new year, that he’d like to come with us on the holiday. Says though, that it’s hard with the Mother the way she is. I sympathize, but secretly I know that if it wasn’t this it would be something else. Neil has the sort of mind that subconsciously seeks labyrinths. It’s not broken, it just does what it does with a ruthlessly efficiency.
He’s never been out of the country. He’s never eaten pasta or drank barista coffee. To my knowledge he has only ever been to the cinema that one time with school. He likes football and playing poker online, thinks he’s better at both than he is.
We step outside for a smoke. I rub my belly and tell him what the Father told us over Christmas dinner.
He told us that when he was thirteen years old his Dad organized a job for him in a plant nursery somewhere between Aherlow and Lisvernane. They supplied food and accommodation for the summer and a couple of quid would go back home.
The meals weren’t much, spuds and bacon, mustard from a tube if they had it. Breakfast was porridge and tea without milk or sugar.
He told us that he would be so hungry that by lunchtime he would start to eat chips of wood from the handle of his shovel and in bed at night he would sometimes chew the feathers from inside his pillow.
The story has Neil shaking his head, ”Different times.” he says.
Back in the ashtray the smell has evolved to include the bizarre body odours of farmers fresh from the field.
It’s not wholly unpleasant. It has a spicy quality to it, something cheap splashed against a hairy throat on the way into town.
Later myself and Neil huddle in the doorway as a heavy shower leathers the blanked out windows. Threads of rainwater drop from a clogged-up gutter and clap against the pavement. Even the smoke we’re blowing wants nothing to do with the weather, it circles our faces, seeks shelter in our pores.
Neil is about as happy as Neil gets. Tells me he’ll put the deposit down on Ibiza tomorrow, maybe he’ll even get a deal in the sales.
When the bookies close we make our ways back to the pub. Neil keeps walking.
I pat his back dutifully, offer to buy him a drink, curried chips if he’s hungry. He doesn’t answer me, just carries on down the street, trans-illuminated by a connect-the-dot forest of birches wrapped in fairy lights.
Once inside, I go to the bar, run my hand across its skin. It feels dewy, fed. I knock it once to see if it answers, thumb the vinyl-like groves in the wood. A voice comes; I order a stout.
I think of Neil, walking alone in the country dark. I bet he’s starving.
Paul Whyte is an emerging Irish writer. Originally from Tipperary, he currently lives in Dublin with his wife and two children, where he is working on his first short story collection – Brazen Head. Paul has been writing for about 10 years. He works mostly on speculative literary fiction.
Driving at night beside you you ask me to drive with your eyes over the people at the party I say yes back with my eyes because that’s what love is driving you home when you are tired from working all week and want to have another whiskey Fiona has just poured me a third glass of wine and has been telling me all about the particular grape that this wine is made from she has said fabulous about ten times I don’t know if she knows any other descriptive words I pour my glass down the sink when she isn’t looking and the sink gurgles fabulous back to me and Fiona shrieks that I have drank that very fast I flush and shrug and go to the bathroom and use my earring to remove a piece of spinach from my teeth I wish you had also told me across the room with your eyes about the piece of spinach I don’t know how long it has been there or if everyone has been talking about it behind my back I saw a group of Fiona’s archaeologist friends laughing loudly beside a bookshelf howling they must have been laughing at the spinach because what else do archeologists have to laugh about you hate museums and whisper crap crap crap under your breath as we walk around the glass cases of pottery and although I am fascinated I giggle because that’s what you do to me and love is coming to a museum with me even when you prefer to read an Ian Rankin under a beach umbrella you talk to a woman for a long time I watch across the room but can’t get away from Fiona’s conversation because she is right in the middle of a story about buying brie and there’s never a point where it would be polite to step away as she is doing hand gestures and accents and it is taking a lot of effort so I watch the woman from a distance as she touches your shoulder she pours you another whiskey your fourth and you throw your head back in joy and adulation of this moment when an attractive woman is touching you and feeding you alcohol and telling you things that make your eyes wrinkle at the sides with pure happiness when the brie story is over I don’t go over and disturb you I let you keep talking into the night because that’s what love is I watch your eyes wrinkle from how wide your smile is driving at night beside you as you doze and no matter what happens I can bring you anywhere and you would come because that’s what love is
Lucy Montague-Moffatt is a writer from Dublin currently based in Manchester. Her radio drama ‘In His Kiss’ aired on BBC Radio 4 in July. She is currently the Writer-In-Residence for The Gaiety School of Acting, writing their grad play which will be in Smock Alley Theatre in 2018. She graduated with a Masters in Scriptwriting from the University of Salford last year. Her website is lucymm.co.uk
You’re sitting in a corner booth of the bakery café when the man with a face like a dehydrated frog storms in and starts to yell about how, just this morning, this building housed a bookshop.
Do you? A) respond,
or B) ignore him and continue to eat your slice of apple pie, accompanied by black coffee that tastes just a little too bitter because they’ve only recently started doing coffee here and the staff haven’t mastered the art as yet. Clearly none of them have ever worked as a proper barista before. Probably everybody learns to make coffee in Starbucks now. You begin to suppose that what this raving derelict is saying may be really true after all, that as recently as this morning this place was a bookshop. You’ve walked past here but never been inside before, have you ever really noticed, are there any clues to the place, apart from the sign that reads: we now serve coffee––
If you choose A), and stand up to tap him on the shoulder and inform him that this was – for the last 24 hours at least – always a bakery, he’ll get violent and start to throw things, and the police, whom the bakery staff have even now dialled for, will arrive and find him making a scene, leaving them little recourse but to take him on with pepper spray and nightsticks (did you see the way his hand shot into his pocket, they’ll say. Nine out of ten times it’s a concealed weapon, they’ll say).
If however you choose option B), and everyone else does too, and goes right on about their day, the frog-faced man will get a bit discouraged after a while, will become suddenly crippled with an embarrassing clarity – a sudden doubt of what he has been claiming married with an equally sudden realisation of how stupid he looks. His froggy face will fall and he’ll start to look pathetically old as his shrivelling features sag into an acceptance of his own utterly pathetic nature. If you choose option B), there will be no scene here when the police arrive, and who knows what they might do if they lack such an easy target.
Bernard O’Rourke is a writer & filmmaker. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in The Penny Dreadful, The Tangerine, The Incubator, Queen Mob’s Teahouse, The Honest Ulsterman, TheEEEL, The Bohemyth, and Wordlegs. In 2017, his short film Impression, Canal was shortlisted for the Ó Bhéal Poetry Film Prize at the IndieCork Film Festival. His Twitter account is @guyserious. He lives in Dublin.
“I’m fine. Honestly. My folks are coming over later so I won’t be on my own. Go on. You’ll be late.”
I left Angela to rest up, her body still getting used to itself after the miscarriage. Everything had changed so quickly. Last week, we had been living a life of plans, talking about the arrival of a baby who was in fact already in our bed, inside of Angela; a little nineteen-week-old grapefruit. But what can you say when there’s no heartbeat? When the scan shows indecipherable black and grey shading and the baby is still there but without that pulsing, characteristic pattern that is supposed to last a lifetime? I was full of questions, trying to talk my way out of things, but Angela just settled into a profound, personal realisation that was inaccessible to me. That deep wisdom of the body once it knows, truly knows, that everything has changed.
As we sat at home, waiting for the tablets to work, I texted my sister: “We’ve lost the baby. Can you tell people?” We sat through the unreality of trying to find something decent on TV, of having run out of bread, of drying some spare pyjamas for Angela in case she needed to go back into hospital, which she did, for a D&C later that day. I phoned my boss and said that I had a vomiting bug and would be out for a couple of days, instinctively knowing not to tell the truth. The following days were filled with the practicalities of medicine, and that closeness you find between two people who have been through a lot together.
The world seemed stubbornly normal as I made my way back in to work. It was autumn and Dublin looked well; the leaves turning the colour of Georgian bricks.
“Here he is! The only man to catch morning sickness when his wife is pregnant – how’s your bump Ger?”
“Hi folks. Thanks for your sympathy. Don’t come too close, I’m not sure if I’m entirely over it.”
“So brave. What a pro. Here he is back after only three days in his Superman pyjamas.”
The first morning at the office filled itself with routine: looking through the end-quarter numbers before they were sent to the West Coast; querying payments made while I was out; clearing annual leave for the girl who worked for me. Little pieces of normality that I operated by remote control from inside my grief.
At lunchtime, I passed on an invite to go for a curry with the others, answering them with a pantomime pat of my supposedly recovering stomach. Once the office quietened down, I logged out and left for a walk. Outside, the bockety streets were full of that midday busyness: people texting their lunch dates to say that they were running late, something had come up; charity fund raisers flirting for Africa; and Italian students in puff jackets walking five abreast, full of continental obliviousness.
I stopped outside the National Gallery. For months it had been barricaded by hoardings during its renovation, but now, like me, it was slowly beginning to engage with the world again. It appealed to me as a safe place where a person could go and look like they were doing something, even if they were not really taking anything in.
The lobby was busy with tour groups and people with bags being told that they would need to use the cloakroom. The Perspex donation box stood awkwardly, half full with unfamiliar currencies. I decided to rent a recorded audio guide to insulate myself from the chatter and close off my interior world. I put the old-style foam-covered headphones over my ears and clipped the device onto my belt. It was still set to German so I had to fiddle around and find the English setting, but it played automatically once the language was selected.
“The National Gallery first opened in 1922, after the Parliament building had been bombed, leading to a reorganisation of city centre properties under the control of the State . . .”
The crowds were all drawn to the big names on show at the visiting exhibition of Art from the Low Countries, so the rooms of lesser known Irish art were pretty quiet – mostly rural scenes and large landscapes. The audio guide explained that Irish landscape paintings typically devoted an unusually large amount of space to the sky: the mercurial weather providing the variety and drama that painters loved.
“Number 41. This painting depicts working men stopping for lunch. Their dark skin and weathered clothes indicate that they may have been day labourers, or Journée men . . .”
Standing still, my arms hung loose and my body felt torpid. I needed some rest, but I also knew that I needed to begin the process of rejoining the world. Any more time in that house and I would have become too sad.
“ . . . Notice how the woman to the rear of the painting, wielding the soup ladle, stares straight at the viewer.”
-She looks sad. On her own among all those men.
“That’s because she is sad. She’s wearing a black scarf over her head, which indicates a family bereavement.”
-Is one of the men her husband?
“Unlikely. Perhaps her husband has died and her sadness is because she must work among other men in his absence.”
-That’s a powerful interpretation.
“What do you think?”
-I think she might just be exhausted to the point of sadness.
“No. 59. This portrait depicts the Earl of Longford, James Hassekemp, with his hunting dogs. The landscape in the background alludes to his Dutch protestant heritage and the style of the Dutch masters . . .”
-Is he famous?
“Only in the sense that he was rich in the nineteenth century and so his history is recorded and his family name remains in the area.”
-Is that the only reason his picture is here?
“Do you feel drawn to him?”
-I don’t know. I’m not sure. I think I like the painting though.
“It’s well executed, but somewhat stiff. Why do you like it?”
-It’s just so big. He looks so tall.
“Why is that important?”
-It makes him look substantial. Unaffected by things.
“Number 73 is titled ‘Woman with a Guitar and Tears’. This is by Irish painter Lily Oster, who travelled and studied throughout Europe and who was married to the famous sculptor, Daniel Bard.”
-Why tell me who her husband was?
“He is very famous, and the better known.”
-He always will be if you keep describing her like that.
“It’s a Cubist painting. Do you know what that is?”
-I think so. I mean, I know it’s modern art and it’s made up of shapes and different perspectives and all that. I wouldn’t be able to tell it from other schools of abstract art, but I know as much as I need to.
“How does the painting affect you?”
-It’s ok. Only ok. On a different day I might feel engaged intellectually, but the way I am today it just sort of washes over me.
“Does the fact that she is crying mean anything to you?”
-I suppose it’s meant to mean something, but to me it just looks, I don’t know. Just a painting. I’m not getting anything from it.
“Some say she looks like a sad Mona Lisa.”
-Let’s move on. “The next one is number 80. We can skip this if you want.”
“I thought it might upset you.”
“Because of your baby.”
-My little grapefruit.
“We don’t have to do this one if you don’t want to.”
-Tell me about the painting.
“It’s by Ulick Grey. It’s called the ‘Child’s Wake’. It was his last painting and was unfinished at his death. The child and the adult figures were done by Grey, but the details of the room had to be completed by one of his students. This is the first time it has been shown here.”
-I haven’t seen it before.
“Grey mostly painted landscapes. Even though it’s not particularly well executed, the choice of subject is original and profound, which makes it arresting.”
-I see what you mean. The child’s face is wrong though, isn’t it?
-It looks like it’s sleeping, rather than dead. It’s too peaceful.
“How should it look?”
-I don’t know. But not too peaceful.
“What about the mother figure?”
-She’s not difficult to do. Everyone knows what a heartbroken mother looks like.
“And the father?”
-He’s not looking at the child.
“Why do you think that is?”
-I think I know.
-At some stage he will have to choose the exact moment to pull the blanket over the child’s face.
“Should we move on?”
-I have to go back.
“Can’t you stay? There are two more rooms on this floor.”
-I can’t. I wish I could bring you with me.
“They won’t let you.”
-What would happen?
“I don’t know. I don’t know how things work from your side.”
-I’ll just bring you back. I suppose I have no way of knowing if I’ll get you the next time I come here.
“I guess not.”
I returned the audio guide at the counter, where a woman with a steel grey bob hung it among the others, without breaking off the instructive conversation she was having with some tourists. It was hard to see exactly where she had hung it or to tell which one I had given her.
Stepping outside into the street again, my ears felt the cold. Things seemed calmer now, with a few people here and there, making their way with an easy randomness. A school tour passed by, the children each holding hands with the kids in front and behind them, looking like a string of cut-out paper dolls.
I was in no mood to go back: not yet ready to accept that part of returning to normal was getting back to doing the things that I didn’t want to do. I sent two texts:
“Hi love. Am taking a half day. See you in an hour xx G.”
And to my boss:
“We lost the baby. Can you tell people?”
Ronan Hession is an emerging writer based Dublin – his work has previously appeared in The Honest Ulsterman. As Mumblin’ Deaf Ro, he has released three albums of storytelling songs. His third album Dictionary Crimes was was nominated for the Choice Music Prize.
In the corridor beside the gantries, she hid with her hands in Oliver’s shoes. She leaned right down, till her cheek was on the carpet, feeling the spread of her fingers where his toes would be.
Downstairs, on stage, the performance was coming to the end of Act I. She sighed, sat back up, and put the shoes back under where the rest of his Act II costume was hanging. She liked to stay here during the show, officially as costume designer ready for quick changes. In this small theatre building they were renting, nothing was soundproofed. No one wanted it to be their footsteps or their conversation that threw off a whole performance. The actor’s voices created a silence that was like a spell; complete and unbreakable. For this, she thought anyway, Oliver’s voice was the most effective because he made it softer. She felt like he understood the potential of the building, forced it to breath in time with him by drawing back just a little. Under this spell, no one could ask her what she was doing with shoes on her hands; no one was supposed to walk this way at all. In this silence, her secret, her adoration, breathed with the building, with Oliver.
She followed his lines on her script:
Malachy: I want you with me Niamh! When you go, I want you with me.
Niamh: But where can we go? What’ll we do when we get there?
Malachy: We’ll go as far as we can. I want to beat those fucking rain clouds Niamh. I can’t take more cold! If we try to leave now, it’ll be hours before anyone notices. We can disappear, and no one will even know it. Maybe no one will even mind, in the end Niamh.
She loved how Oliver said “Niamh”, with two syllables, like Nee-Uv.
She didn’t, though, like the play all that much. It was sentimental and new, and the director was a fretful angry man; David. He came to every rehearsal in the same denim jacket and sat there with his laptop out, covered in the stickers you get from Amnesty International when you sign a petition in the street. She’d seen him, peering over that screen, leering at Molly. Molly was playing Niamh, and Niamh seemed some kind of fantasy for him, following Malachy all the way around the world with her dark hair and her sweet, quick heart only to die on a tiny boat in the night in an unfamiliar sea. David screamed and shouted and ran things over by an hour, or cut them short when everyone had got up at 7am. She hated him for his cruelty, but more for what he had written into life. It was only the second night, and already rumours about Molly and Oliver were falling off the stage and into the real world.
She waited until she heard the murmur of the crowd before standing up and tucking her script away back into her bag. Molly was the first up the stairs from backstage at the bottom of the corridor.
“How’s it going?”
“Alright I think, bit low energy maybe”, Molly replied, taking the tights she was holding out to her and starting to pull them on under her skirt.
“It sounded good from here anyway”. She held out the rest of the costume.
“Thanks a million Laura” Molly said, and turned towards the dressing room. Laura watched her go for a moment. Molly was tying her hair up; she hoped she hadn’t been on stage this whole time with that bobbin on her wrist.
“Could you give me a hand with this?” Oliver. Laura had made him a shirt for Act II, but had put the fastening very high up on the neck by mistake, so that it was hard to do up yourself. She nodded.
He was taller than her, and now she was eye level with his chin, feeling his breath on her hands. Laura felt lately like there was a flood that followed her, that she was only ever just about ahead of. Here, she felt it rise, coming to rest just under her nose as she did the fastening. He lifted his chin to give her space, and she wanted to throw her arms around his neck and lift herself up, away from the flood, up to his height where it couldn’t get her. She took a small, extra second, and stood back from him. The water sank a little.
“There” she smiled.
“Thanks!” he said, and bounced away down the corridor. The water drained down the stairs after him. She smiled to herself that he didn’t feel the need to check his costume in the mirror.
She heard a shout for their five-minute call, and watched the rest of the cast traipse past her, back downstairs. The lights went darker, and she sat back down and took her script out again.
There was never much of a routine before the play started, always a lost pair of shoes, or a new tantrum from David. No one really noticed then, except Laura, how late Oliver was on the fourth night. Ten minutes until open, her breaths were coming shallow with worry, and David stormed into the corridor. He seemed not to notice Laura, but she felt like he knew someone was watching. He was performative, like an angry person in a film, pacing around on his phone
“Fucking nothing!” he screamed, and kicked the piping running along the wall. “Molly!”
Molly came out to the corridor then. Laura liked Molly. They had been in the same class at college. They always commented nice things on each other’s pictures on instagram. Once they had run into each other leaving the library and gone for a drink and Molly had cried about her sick cat to her.
“I can’t get through to Oliver, have you heard from him?”
Molly shook her head.
“If he doesn’t show up in the next like two fucking minutes then I’m gonna do his part tonight. Just to give you a heads up”.
Laura saw real fear cross Molly’s face at the thought of acting across from David, of acting in love with him.
David could no more do this to Oliver than to Molly. He was too cruel to stand where he stands, say his words in his clothes.
She gathered Oliver’s costume up, waited until the cast came out and started downstairs, before slipping into the middle of them, four pins in her mouth so that she’d look like she had a task to do. Downstairs, she got changed in the dark backstage, rolling up the legs of the trousers, pulling the shoelaces as tight as she could, pinning the shirt at the back to make it fit better. The fire announcement began as she stuffed her hair into his hat, patting around the edges for strays. She could hear David stomping around upstairs, and hoped that he’d still care enough about the play to stop making noise soon.
She waited for Oliver’s, or Malachy’s, first scene, running over his lines in her head. She knew them perfectly. She had studied them like they were sacred the past few days, had come to far more rehearsals than she really needed to hear Oliver say them. Her hands shook with worry, with the burden of filling his place, with disgust at the thought of David standing in these shoes.
She felt a hand on her shoulder and turned around. David was there, with the rest of the cast peering at her from behind him. Without waiting for even a gesture from him, she turned and slipped on stage, too early for her scene, and paced at the back. As she became Malachy , her anxiety dissipated. She was safe here, in Oliver’s place, holding something precious for him.
The performance went completely smoothly. They heard from Oliver at the interval; he had been knocked off his bike and had a concussion and a broken ankle. He was safe, and she imagined Molly texting him later about what had happened, and him seeing her name and imagining her in his clothes.
Oliver couldn’t come in the next day. When Laura arrived, Molly and David were screaming at each other. She waited in the corridor, with his costume clutched to her chest. She heard a door slam and footsteps and Molly rushed into the corridor. She said that David had left, that we were to run the show ourselves tonight.
“Thank you so much Laura”. They hugged, the bundled costume caught between them.
The same thing happened the next few nights, until David seemed to give up on the whole production. He stopped even watching, spending the whole show smoking on the balcony and then only going downstairs at the very end to collect his praises and his ticket takings. The cast was grateful to her for creating such a distance between them and David. Every night they flocked around her, chatting, asking for help with their hair, laughing with her. She thought all the time of Oliver, wondered what he was hearing about what was going on, if he was curious enough to come watch, feeling that same flood rising and falling around her.
She still changed backstage in the dark for every show. She preferred it to be dark; it made it easier to forget herself, to inhabit Oliver. On stage, she tried to copy everything, his accent, his gait, squinting slightly to change the shape of her eyes, and always looking out, past the yellow lights, to where he might be in the audience. As she walked home and as she fell asleep every night she thought of nothing but his eyes on her.
On the thirteenth night, the second last, she changed as usual in the dark. As she was tightening the lace on her shoe, it snapped off in her hand. She had pulled too hard and it was only cheap and elastic. The break pinched her skin a little. She tested the shoe; it was very loose, much too big for her. She tucked the raw end of the lace inside and stood up as the fire announcement came on.
As she stepped out, gripping the inside of the shoe with her toes, she went closer to the edge of the stage than usual, so she could see better beyond the lights. The audience was small tonight; he was not there. The weeks’ worth of hoping and getting nowhere weighed heavy on her; she was tired. It was her line but she waited, let the silence grow. She walked out of step with Oliver’s blocking, and took her hat off, feeling her hair fall down around her shoulders. She didn’t pay much attention as the scenes passed her by, always looking outwards, wide-eyed.
She turned, at last, to Molly:
Malachy: I want you with me Niamh! When I go, I want you with me.
She stepped forward, and left her loose shoe behind. She used her foot to loosen the other one.
Niamh: I can’t leave here, what will I do? Where will we go?
As she spoke, Laura untucked and unbuttoned her shirt. She faced forwards at centre stage. Molly was backing away, until she was outside the line of the lights, almost off stage.
Malachy: As far as we can. I want to beat those fucking rain clouds Niamh.
Laura felt herself begin to shout. The rest of her clothes began to come away. They were not hers and they didn’t fit her. They slipped off without her trying.
I cannot take more of the cold. If we try to leave now, it’ll be hours before anyone notices.
Laura stood on stage naked, the trail of the costume behind her, staring
straight into the yellow lights above her.
We can disappear and no one will even know it! Maybe no one will even mind, in the end.
Iseult Deane is 20 years old and a third year English and Philosophy student at Trinity College Dublin. She has lived her whole life in Dublin. She works in a cinema at the moment but likes theatre a lot more and would like to be a costume designer.
‘We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.’
– Oscar Wilde
And what beauty do you find there in the stars? What is it that sustains your soul when all around you crumbles to ruin? What is the magic that makes it all worthwhile? We at The Bohemyth want to know!
We will be publishing a special Oscar Wilde Issue on the 16th of October (Oscar’s birthday!). We are looking for photography submissions, short stories, flash fiction and one act plays inspired by, referencing, associated with or somehow connected to the writings of Oscar Wilde.
To be considered for this issue please submit by the end of September. If you’re unsure of the suitability of your work for this issue, submit anyway.
The intention of The Bohemyth’s Bloomsday issue is to celebrate Ulysses, James Joyce and the strange and wonderful city of Dublin. For the streets of Dublin are paved with something finer than gold, they are paved with the stories of the ones who walk them. James Joyce knew this better than anyone.
We whisper our stories to the trees in Stephen’s Green. We tell them to ourselves as we ramble along our way. We shout them at each other over pints in the pub. We cry them into the river. We scream them at the sea. We bury them where we can. We set them free where we can’t.
Once upon a time all of the stories of Dublin were gathered together and popped inside an empty old bottle of Guinness. It bobbed off down the Liffey. Inside were stories of love lost as soon as won, salvation and hope, moments lost and memories gained, some stories were made of songs and some were made with tears, but all were made with the heart. Then the bottle broke apart and all the stories fell out. Most were washed away, downstream and out into Dublin Bay.
We went fishing off Dun Laoghaire pier and caught a few that were still swimming about there.
Here are some of the stories we were lucky enough to catch. We hope you like them as much as we do.
We hope you love Dublin as much as we do!
– Alice Walsh
Photography: David Levingstone is a Photographer, Art Director and bearded man from Tipperary living in Dublin, more of his work can be found here. David currently works for Getty Images.
– By Laura Cleary
Last night I dreamt.
Dreamt I was found.
Love found me. There.
In that dream.
In a doorway.
Maybe nine was too early.
But I’d been awake since six. The sun had been shining in through my bedroom window. The birds had started hours before, they were in full chorus by then. I had lain there, playing the dream back over and over. By half past seven I was fully dressed and ready to go. The house was still as a tomb.
Ten to nine and there are three of us at the bus stop. A young Romanian woman, her buggy, me.
There’s a baby in the buggy. I’m sure that there is. I just can’t quite tell. All the puffed pink vinyl, femur-thick frame. It’s like a grounded spaceship next to her Romany skirt. I wonder whether the velvet is uncomfortable. If it itches. If it soaks up the damp, rain, piss, swinging as it does so close to the ground. I hope she doesn’t see me staring at her buggy. Or at her hemline.
The bus arrives late.
The woman boards first. Well, her buggy, the baby, then her.
I stand alone in the doorway. The driver is the old man that used to drive the bus to DCU. Years ago, back when I’d been in college. The driver that had asked to see my student ID every time he punched my ten journey ticket. The same one I’d bought from him the Monday before.
I stood in the doorway.
Then paid the fare.
Nine was too early. But it meant an empty seat in every direction.
The dark side of the bus in Naas is the bright side on the way to Dublin. And it’s bright this morning. We’re having a June for a change.
The bus follows the slip road’s curl out of Naas. Holds my window to the sun. I open the case and put them on. The case is much sturdier than the glasses. Two skulls safe inside a motorcycle helmet. I bought them back when I still worked in the shop. A spree on store discount. Two Calvin Klein bras and a pair of Chanel sunglasses.
The bus twists into Johnstown. Swans through and out. Past Kill. Rathcoole. Over the spot Veronica Guerin was shot. Under the speed cameras Da had us watch. Arches round the Red Cow and on to the Long Mile. Through Bluebell. Inchicore. Bless myself past the statue of Our Lady and wait for the first breath of air born of concrete.
Drink in the length of the Liffey. Wave to the sunlight buoyed between ripples.
Bridge after mismatched bridge.
A man in a blue Puffa jacket raises his fist in the air. A woman in worn runners and a rain jacket shuffles over to him. They stand very close together, crossing and uncrossing palms.
Nine was too early.
We stop at O’Connell Bridge.
I offer to unload the Romanian lady’s buggy but she hands me the baby instead. She smiles at me. The baby. Smiles and winds her little fingers in my hair. The lady says thank you and takes the baby back. Straps her into the spaceship. Tiptoes away.
All of the doors on Bachelor’s Walk are closed.
O’Connell Street isn’t a pleasant walk but I love to make it anyway. I love all of it. Bulletholes in statues’ breasts. Weather burned faces beneath them. Piss pooled on the streets. The layer of old Dublin laid on top of store fronts.
The Hugh Lane is open. I’m sure of it. It’s quiet in there. Restful. Nice coffee shop. I round the corner, pass the Writers’ Centre. I must have walked too fast. Its door is closed too.
I stand there, still for a few minutes. Turn around. Walk back the way I came.
It isn’t warm enough to sit in the Garden of Remembrance. I walk around it anyway. Remember taking my sister to see it years ago. She didn’t know the story of the Children of Lir. She took pictures of the sculpture while I told her what I could remember. Which wasn’t much. It’s even less now. Really just that the girl’s name was Fionnuala. That she looked after everyone else. Well, that and they were swans. For ages. It’s one of the Sorrows. I forget how many there are.
I leave the garden and turn down onto Parnell Street, through the birdshit and sunshine. Cross over onto Moore Street. Fresh flowers, fresh fruit, fresh fish, y’alrigh’ luv? Two for a tenner, lovely arndey? Isn’ir only glowrious ou’? Der yar luv Goblesha. Enjoydesun t’day luv shure itcouldbe raynin t’mara, wha?
I wave and walk on. Shop shutters are beginning to rise.
Weave through flocks of young girls on Henry Street. Making sure not to look right at them. They’re wearing tights they think are leggings. I know by the raised gusset outlining each twelve year old pubis. I don’t look. I can’t. They’d stride up to me just like they’re striding now, shouting about how I’m some fuckin’ sick lezzer ye bleedin’ queer paedo my da’s just ourathe bleedin’ Joy an’ he’ll fuckin’ come down here a bather ya watchin’ my arse ya sick queerass lezzbeen.
Duck into Arnotts. The piped music and designer handbags are soothing. Wander through aware that it’s only half one. There’s a bagel stand at the back, wedged between Menswear and Abbey Street. A turkey bagel for every day I worked here. The seat beside the far door is empty. Drape my coat there while I order.
The windows have been washed. The passers by can see and the door opens out. Perhaps Love will pass. Maybe this is the doorway.
They bring my order too quick.
Green tea, plain bagel, toasted, butter, jam. Just me and Huck Finn.
This is my third time through. It’s like going home. It’s more home than Naas. Like here. Maybe that’s it. A viscous Mississippi, the greasy Liffey beyond. Jim on the run, my cousin’s five years. Snakeskins, NAMA. Sivilization.
A second green tea.
I usedn’t feel able to get up and order seconds. Then one day, here, on my break I saw a mother send her eight-year-old son to the counter. He almost turned purple waiting at the register. But then he turned around and came back with hot chocolate.
A third green tea. The pen is for marking out passages but the Grangerford’s feuding doesn’t keep my napkin bare.
lOVe loVe LovE
I leave.The chair opposite me is bare. I need it to work. Need love to find me. Want love to find me. Sitting by the doorway. Want love to. Want to be found. Wantwantwant—
There’s a bar across the street. I used to go there often back when I worked here. It’s still bright out. There’s no football today, so it should be quiet. No washed out T-shirts. Bookies’ slips. Deep swallows. Roaring at the screen.
An empty seat in every direction. I sit in view of the door. Just in case.
Liffey street is just beyond the glass. It’s fluid, Liffey street. Moves at a constant pace. If it stops, it smells. It’s gorgeous to watch. Even abandoned shopping trolleys caught up in the current.
Soda water and a chicken stir fry. Too salty and over far to quick. A gin and tonic. A man in white pants walks past on his way to the bathroom. Huck won’t tell me about Buck Grangerford’s murder. I’m glad Jim’s okay. Another gin. It’s still bright out. I’m sure it’s getting later. Liffey Street flows strong. Another gin.
Huck and Jim begin to swell, then sink. They soak into the river and pull apart like tissue paper. I mark the page and fumble for my jacket.
“You can’t be leaving?”
The man in white pants stands beside me, smiling. He is short, grey haired, shirt collar unbuttoned to the order of wealth. Not that common these days. This side. Anymore.
Uninvited, he sits down. He strikes me as the type of man to put his voice into a sneeze. The type of man to decide when companions cross the street. The type of man to explain things.
I tell him I have to leave soon. That there’s a bus in ten minutes. He hands a green banknote to the waitress holding my bill.
“Wait for the next one?”
I hold my breath. Ten seconds pass. I take off my coat.
Two more gins.
He tells me he’s a businessman. CEO of a web design firm that specialises in translation software. You know when you enter a website for any big cosmetics brand a stack of different flags unfurl across the screen? You click on your own nationality to understand what to buy.
They deal with that. Dior, Clinique, Chanel. I run my fingers along my sunglasses case.
He asks about me. Maybe I’m hopeful. Or maybe it’s the gin. But I tell him. Everything. Mammy. Home. The Baby. Why not?
It doesn’t matter at this stage.
I don’t matter at this stage.
He listens. Says I’m remarkable. Surviving alone in a home like that. He tells me that living in a place where no one believes in you makes for remarkable people. Most of the time.
I think I’m supposed to ask about him.
I ask does he have children. He admits to a grown up son. Attending Rutkers in New Jersey. Was eager to leave home (Colorado) after his mother died. Car accident, 2010. Drunk driver. Killed instantly. Very tragic. Very tragic indeed.
I ask him is he enjoying Dublin. He says he hasn’t had the chance yet, looking at me from under his eyebrows. He reaches across under the table. Hooks a fingertip into my waistband. Grunts softly, just loud enough for me to hear.
There’s a bus in ten minutes. It’s still bright outside. He insists on walking me. I notice on standing that he’s shorter than me. A green note to the waitress. His hand on my waist.
We join Liffey Street, are carried over the Ha’Penny Bridge. I tell him about the time I ran, drunk, across it. That I didn’t notice the change from long steps to short ones. That I skidded the whole way down and didn’t fall.
He tells me I’m remarkable. I tell him he already said that.
I point down a laneway into Temple Bar. Tell him there’s a Lebanese restaurant he should visit there. A great gallery right beside it. He asks me to show him. I say it’s just a couple of steps on, but he insists. We turn down the laneway and he pulls me aside. Against a metal door. The rust nips at my shoulders.
Morning came with yellow light filling the room. A taste of dried wine on the tongue. Strips of plastic window shutters giggling in the breeze. The song of city cars playing on a distant street. A beautiful bleached blonde with a face full of nordic edges lying nude on the bed, sheets hanging from her and the boy. Him smelling orange and sweat and rubber, sitting up to look on the ground, and seeing a carpet awash with books, clothes and scribbled paper. The girl is smiling at him now. He wants to say a silly thing, but he just kisses her and keeps the ideas in his throat. What would you do? The boy is shy baby Cormac (me).
“Here,” two Camels ready between her fingers “Your roll-my-owns make me sad.”
I try to explain I’m a student and too socialist to bother working, and all the rest.
“You are such veal. Light the fugging cigarette and appreciate good things.”
I do. We puff. We tip ash into an empty cider can. I’m lying there dumbfounded.
“This room smells like poison.” she says. That’s her thing. When a word is clear in a sentence she swaps it for poison. Example: Motherly poison. I poison books. Late at night a man and woman can make poison. And so on.
“Cormac,” she says. “I couldn’t remember it for a second.”
Someone knocks on the door.
“Go away!” she pulls the sheets over us. “And my name really is Alice.”
Alice, lying in to me. Her face beneath my neck. Her voice coming up muffled from the pillow.
“Tell me a story.”
“Any story. Just tell me anything.”
“Once upon a time there were two alcoholics in a bar. A boy and a girl alcoholic. Dublin. The town he was born in. They could have been in any other place, but they were both in this one bar. The boy was there by pure chance, with his friend Barry, who left to work in America this morning.
(the girl hasn’t yet told me how life got her to The Globe Bar)
The boy was outside smoking his rollies when she appeared, and she stood crooked in the door. A man was in her way. A big man with a big beard who told a story about some war and the way it made you feel after so broken and sorry and everybody was listening to him because he had a hard voice and a big jaw. It’s a wonder she didn’t take him home instead!”
“People don’t hmmprff in fiction, Alice. Unless they hmmprff in real life. Unless women really do sigh and roll their eyes sometimes. But anyway, forget that old bore. The boy pointed at the crooked girl and said that the man’s stories turned women into statues. And that was enough to get her chatting. Boy and girl went inside and danced, her lost her, but he found her again. Outside, smoking her Camels. He saw the burns on her arms from the café and made a joke about razor blades. She said she got her marks playing Fight Club.
‘I’ll play with you,’ he said ‘Give me a punch and then I’ll give you one.’
They couldn’t in front of the doorman. They walked to the unlit corner of the street. She hit him on the left cheek.
‘And now it’s your turn’ she said. So he took her and kissed her. When they walked back Barry laughed at the red stains on his mouth. But he didn’t mind.”
She lifts her head from the pillow, her blond hair falling down and resting on my face. I’m in a hair cocoon. I feel lips.
“I’d read that. The tale of Alice and Veal.”
“I’d call it Alice at the Globe if I ever wrote it. Doesn’t that sound like Fitzgerald? Alice at the Globe?”
“It’d make a fine short story.”
“Well,” I pause for just one moment “Maybe it could be a novel”
Cormac Buchmann is a 22 year old writer of fiction living in Howth, Dublin. He drinks Karpackie and rolls cigarettes from rejection letter paper. He can also fold them into little hats.
Sitting With A Stranger In A Busy Café
– By Sophie Meehan
The vegetable moussaka is nice but vegetable moussaka is just what people on Come Dine With Me make when there’s a vegetarian over. He keeps hrrmphing behind his paper, so that’s what a hrrmph sounds like, I’d only seen it written down. RAIN TO EASE TODAY BUT WILL BE BACK and a fireman carries a small pink girl through a puddle. There’s a smudge of soup under the headline, the bowl is as big as his head. He has one of those professions that make grown men look like they’re wearing a school uniform, I think it’s the navy jumper. Go ahead plenty of room he says but the face buried means he doesn’t want to talk. The mashed potato has cheese in it which I don’t understand.
There’s a dingle at the doorbell, it must be a mother and a daughter, because she’s translating Shoes! Yes your shoes are lovely, they sparkle just like you do. Lunch! Yes we’re going to get you some food now, it’s closer to dinnertime though. I wonder if he’ll check what I’ve written when I go to get some cake, he probably wants me to go away. Everyone here is very trusting with their Marks and Spencers shoppers, but he’ll probably feel crippled with responsibility, coat-minding wasn’t part of the agreement and now he’ll have to stay put in the 3-7 minutes between chocolate and cheesecake. Doesn’t look like he’s going any time soon though, he’s getting his money’s worth out of that soup, all the way to the sports section.
He has a ring on his finger but it doesn’t look like a wedding ring. I bet he can feel me reading the back of his paper, he probably regrets his openness but it would be rude to move now. Elsewhere, this sponge is so spongey is feels like I’m cleaning raspberry sauce off the bathroom floor. I wonder if people think we’re a father and daughter who through comfort or discomfort are beyond communication. I wonder if he has a daughter. Maybe he had a childless marriage which divorced because they’re both financially independent, and now he lives in the Docklands which has changed a lot since his day but most of the old gang are still around, snooker on Wednesdays, no, Thursdays, and he’s planning his first trip to Thailand because he wants to get some warmth in his bones.
Sophie Meehan studies English and Spanish in Trinity. She wants to be a writer when she grows up, she also wants to have a dog and live in Sandycove. Sophie writes poetry, prose and theatre, she has been published in Icarus and THE SHOp and wrote and directed Does Anybody Ever as part of ABSOLUT Fringe Festival 2011. Follow her on twitter @someehan
At least I Have Her Love The City She Loves Me
– By Angela Finn
Yeah because after a night of no sleep we walk north to Clontarf past Pigeon house towers rising sun-glow platinum yellow flushes of first love making my heart pound into Saint Annes Park by the milky green pond Italian pavilion not like Dublin at all we lie on the cold stone steps morning bird song you singing your new lyrics then Janes Addicition Im done with Sergio treats me like a ragdoll you unbutton my blouse softly singing Red Hot Chilli Peppers the city like my only friend is the city I live in city of Angels smell of night leaving earth glistening green pond water frothy white scum sound of early tide lapping notsofaraway feel my stomach ribs breasts take me to the place I love take me all the way tweeting birds sky haze dissolving at least I have her love the city she loves me lick my face lips kiss me sparkly sun on olive green water under the bridge downtown is where I drew some blood eat breakfast through the cafe window glittering periwinkle sea eggs benedict oozing yolk starry eyes silver leaking teapot tea tastes of chlorine milk brown sugar crystals feet entwined fluttering belly take me to Cowper Road Victorian house brick red facade santaupe steps hot June midday drifting in and out of sleep squashed in single bed speakers amplifiers bass guitars posters waking fucking smoking end of spliff from your shirt pocket take me to the place I love take me all the way yeah yeah yeah in twilight we surface one drink at Bruxelles snoggers everywhere Pygmalion smells of sewage Long Hall mirrors reflect starry eyes sing try again tomorrow Im gonna kick tomorrow kick tomorrow summer city noise shrinks to quiet almost midnight drunken howls opposite University Church pinned against rusting iron railings dusty branches scratch my neck my bare shoulders Jane says Ive never been in love lonely as I am together we cry Yeah.
Angela Finn lives in Dublin. In 2012 she was shortlisted for Francis MacManus story award and was runner up in the RTE Penguin short story competition. This year she came third in the Fish Publishing short memoir contest and had two pieces of short fiction broadcast as part of RTE Arena’s New Planet Cabaret creative writing course.
One Good Eye
– By James Conor Patterson
At some indeterminate point in the day, when Dylan Ruddy could hear nothing at all, he opened his eyes with a slow scratch against the light in the room and felt it fade from above and around him with unnatural quickness. He couldn’t remember being asleep.
There was the sound of a clock ticking and it sent echoes through the wooden boards and coursing cell-like across the entire infrastructure of where he lay so that he imagined lying in a colony of locusts. He was aware of a single red candle dripping in the hearth.
The slightest manipulation of light from a glimmer of the wick, or even rising and falling with the fluctuations of a shallow breath kept the room moving in a constant swim of changing dark and as he adjusted further, he noticed alterations in the room’s fragrance between black coffee and burning wood.
Dylan lifted himself carefully onto one elbow and looked quietly around him. Barely daring to cough or stretch a tendon for fear of disturbing the atmosphere, he could see that what little light there was seemed to come almost entirely from the candle burning in the fireplace. Any remaining light was filtered sparingly through the black window on the side furthest from the hearth. He could also make the shape of a black plinth on the opposite side about a dozen feet from where he lay. Something which, when he squinted hard against the scant amber of the low flame, revealed a wooden bar with brass taps and a gaudy footrest. He had no idea how he had got there.
‘That was an awful fall you took’ someone said to him, ‘you’re lucky the wife and the two boys were here to help me get you up the stairs.’
Dylan didn’t move. He had presumed, up to then, that he was merely alone and that the room would reveal itself over time; or by deciding what may or may not have happened in order that he might end up on this strange floor at this strange hour; in a dark and strange and empty city pub with no boots or hat or coat on.
The floor itself was black and white and two-tone marble in a pattern that slithered quite everywhere and drew attention to the bright red velvet on the walls. It had done its best to make him uneasy before any voice had revealed itself beneath the dark, but now he was shocked completely into stunned silence. He didn’t know where he was.
The immediate fear he felt was that he hadn’t located a door and he had the strange urge that any access to where he was seemed at once both impossible and perfectly natural. He tried to locate the voice and looked to the corner nearest the window. A man leaned out from the dark in a wooden chair with a ladder of pipe-smoke climbing about him into the yellowing roofspace. He was wearing a greatcoat over some long-johns and spoke with an accent that Dylan couldn’t account for. Perhaps he was foreign.
‘Where am I?’
‘On the floor of a public house asking a strange man with a pipe where you are.’
‘Not to worry. I’ll tell you in a moment when you’re feeling a bit better.’
The man’s words seemed to come from the inside shell of a shared lung and Dylan could see that, underneath a peaked cap with silver badges that shone bright like teeth against the window and the moon, he had only one eye. The socket rang out against the featureless wax-bent drip of his skin and he could feel it watching him the same as if it were the eye of any number of gamblers he knew. Or the men he’d see with unnatural movement in the ring, who lurched hawk-eyed into the path of an oncoming throw without ever being hit and the hands of their opponents all the time by their sides as they slumped onto the mattress and the bell rang Time.
‘I had a fall?’
‘Where was that?’
‘On the street’ replied the man, getting up and pointing. ‘Down there.’
‘Did you see it happen?’
Dylan paused. ‘I wasn’t in here was I?’
The man shook his head, ‘No.’
He came over to Dylan and sat down heavily on the floor beside him. He carried a round cushion taken from somewhere in the dark and his bare feet were stretched out, twitching like dog-eared hares snuffing at a vegetable patch in spring. His back was against the wall where the fireplace lay and he motioned to a black plastic and glass pot that stood out on the hearth with two empty cups on either side of it.
‘You should have some.’ He said, ‘Black preferably. I can’t think of anything more suited to a fall and rescue mission.’ He smiled and shook his head as he poured out twice, ‘And quite a fall it was.’
‘I’d say you met more than your match today with a move like that.’
The man looked at him from behind one clear, blue eye and lifted a hot cup off the floor. ‘Not like that.’
‘I suppose not.’
‘Tell me though… would you never think about stopping?’
‘I have’ said Dylan. ‘Sometimes I have, but I don’t have much in the way of income, and there’s not a whole lot for me to go back to, you understand.’
‘Why do you ask?’
‘No reason. I just thought you could use a bit of sage advice from a man who’s seen this sort of thing before.’
He pointed up to his empty socket and winked with his one good eye.
He laughed ‘No, not me. Someone else. I’d just seen it so many times that I got tired of it and plucked my one good eye out with a teaspoon.’
‘Only codding’ he said, ‘Some people took it a number of years back in a bit of a tiff… I was trying to help them out of a jam…’
‘I’m sorry to hear that.’
He waved his hand. ‘Not to worry…’ he smiled, ‘it happens.’
Somewhere out the window Dylan could hear the grumble of a motorcycle, low and still and spreading across the warmth of the room like a sleepless man. He imagined it calling out over the dark dormant lawn of a suburban back-spread and the dogs speaking in monosyllables through the nooks of trees and up the sides of houses. There was a white rectangle rising sharp against a nameless black void, and an open garage revealing itself; a garage that would receive the shuddering bike and close back up into nothing once again. All was silent.
‘Listen’ the man said, ‘do you have somewhere you can go?’
‘And a wife and kids in the same bargain I presume? A bit like myself…’
‘Well then…’ he said, standing up, ‘put on your coat there. Get your boots and hat, shake my hand and make your way home this very minute. I’m sure your family think you’re dead along with the rest of the world.’
Dylan shifted his shoulder-blades and stretched his back as he moved up onto his hands and said quietly, ‘I’m not sure they’ll have me.’
‘They’ll have you.’ The man said.
‘How do you know?’
He smiled, ‘I know a lot of things.’
Back out in the street it had gotten cold. Dylan turned the collar of his coat up and buried his chin beneath it, slouching down against the frost as he went and the harsh wind up the Liffey from Dublin bay promising new snow if he didn’t get a move on and do what the stranger had asked.
He was walking now, believing that people would never fully appreciate the uncanny complexity of night until they had embarked upon a lone walk like this one: A walk across the deserted heart of a city street at three o’clock in the morning, for it taught a man everything he needed to know about human frailty. That everything was quite frantic, alive and urgent before a certain hour in the day seemed only to enhance the absolute absurdity of boundaries and social conduct and nothing deflated hubris for Dylan quite like the frozen dark of a city street laid out like the interior of a cobbled valley; vast and silent.
The street where he stood was completely empty; all except for a single white square a thousand feet from the city floor. Perhaps, he thought, there was a cleaner working late in the upper portion of an office building; someone dealing with the fallen staples and accumulation of the day’s debris. The relics of men and women who were likely now at home in their beds. Men and women, indeed, who could be lying dead in the city morgue.
The change from daylight to dark and the passage of time in general brought much that was unexpected and Dylan considered that really the only tangible reality at all was that beacon of light he watched shining several stories into the night sky. A light that, before tonight, he had known absolutely nothing about.
James Conor Patterson is a 24 year old Irish poet and short-story writer who, over the past few years has seen his work published in a number of publications including: Cyphers; Wordlegs; The Poetry Bus; Southword; Bare Hands; The Open Ear; Outburst; The QUB Writers’ Journal (Queen’s University Belfast); The Bell (University College Dublin); and Full-Stop (UL, University of Limerick). He will also be featured in the Autumn issue of The James Dickey Review, based in Virginia (U.S.A.)
In 2012 he was featured in the Wordlegs ‘30 Irish Writers Under 30’ e-book publication and also in its print anthology which was published in November by Doire Press. He currently lives in his home-town of Newry, Co. Down. Check out his blog and follow him on twitter.