Want

Turn Your Face Into The Sun - Photo by Denise O'Donnell
Turn Your Face Into The Sun – Photo by Denise O’Donnell

Photography:

Dicey O’ Donnell, mother of two, lover and taker of great imagery! These images were taken at the beautiful Borgo di Tragliata, wedding venue and working organic farm in the Roman countryside. A joy to saunter around in 30 degree heat snapping vibrant colours, playful shadows and intricate details. She’s going to move there and set up camp among the sunflowers…

Up On The Inside - Photo by Denise O'Donnell
Up On The Inside – Photo by Denise O’Donnell

We Can’t Go Home

– By Jacky Ievoli

We walked up and down the strip that summer. Our heels turned black as our feet hit the road, despite our flip flops. They stayed stained that whole summer. The sand, the sea, the scrubbing in the shower. The black of the road was stubborn. It marked us. It showed the miles we had walked. The sun beat down, bringing out our freckles, lightening our hair and darkening our skin. We rolled the waistband of our shorts to expose as much of our legs as we could. We didn’t want tan lines to traverse our thighs. Our taut stomachs exposed, our breasts barely filling our bikini tops. Our hair hung in salty waves down our backs, hers brown and mine blonde. Her green eyes danced in the sunlight and gold flecks appeared when she smiled. My brown eyes were always the same color. I wished they would dance in the light like hers.

“We can’t go home until we get up to twenty.”

I nodded. She was older. She had already been kissed by a boy. I looked up to her. Twenty. Yesterday it was fifteen. Five more? In one day? I wanted to say that maybe we should shoot for seventeen. Seventeen seemed more reasonable. Two more than yesterday seemed like a reachable goal. But five more? I wondered how far we would have to walk to get five more. I longed to go to the beach, to strip off my shorts, grab my board and hit the waves. Let the salt water crash over me and the current take me where it would. But I was getting kind of old for that, she had said. The boys won’t like me if I keep that up, she had warned. My flip flops were bothering my feet. I needed to wriggle my toes in the sand.

“Don’t look down at your feet! You gotta look up!”

I lifted my head. I watched her as she twirled her hair between her fingers and sashayed her hips. How did she do that? I looked down at my own hips as I walked. They stayed stubbornly in place. I tried to watch her out of the corner of my eye, but I could only see the side of her. I slowed my pace. I walked just behind her. I was mesmerized by the swaying of her hips in time with her steps. I tried to watch her feet, her legs, her thighs to try and figure out what part of her made her hips wiggle like that. But I was perplexed. It seemed like something you should just know how to do. As a woman. How to make your hips move in the way that made boys stare. I guess that’s why boys didn’t stare at me. I was somehow deficient. They could tell by the way I walked.

“Yes! Fourteen!”

I high-fived her as the car speeding by us honked its horn. We almost had as many beeps as we had yesterday. I checked the next street sign. We weren’t even as far as we were yesterday when we hit fifteen. It was a game for her. How many beeps could we get and how many blocks did we have to walk to get them. It wasn’t like she didn’t have people staring at her everywhere we went and it wasn’t like there weren’t tons of boys who would take her out for ice cream come Friday night. And it wasn’t like boys didn’t tell her how pretty she was every chance they got.

It was. Well, I don’t know what it was. I think maybe it had to do with needing something quantifiable. She could count how many boys she kissed. But then she’d be easy. So that summer, she counted the number of boys who beeped at her as they drove by her in their cars. She said us, but she meant her. I was just there for the company.

“Do you think we can get to twenty before we reach the boardwalk?”

The boardwalk was the end of town. There was another town after it, but it was the end of our town. And as far as I was concerned, it was the end. I didn’t want to walk any further than the boardwalk. If we stopped at the boardwalk, got an ice cream and turned around, it would seem less… pathetic. We weren’t counting beeps. We were going to the boardwalk for ice cream.

“Maybe.” She paused and looked me up and down. “Pull your shoulders back. Don’t slouch. Stick out your chest.”

I looked down at the triangular shaped fabric on my chest. It was flat. The fabric and my chest.

“Like this.” She pushed out her boobs and her butt and continued walking.

The next two cars honked at her. She threw back her head and laughed.

“We can definitely get twenty before the boardwalk.”

*

We went out every night that summer. Her breasts had come on, but mine stubbornly stayed put. I was the smart one, everyone said. I was on my way to law school and I’d find a smart, handsome boy there who would run his family’s law practice one day. I’d just smile. It wasn’t worth it to explain that I was going to school because I wanted to be a lawyer, not because I wanted to marry one.

We stayed out until last call and then we’d lay on the beach until the sun rose. I knew there was a lot of hard work ahead of me, so I relished my last chance to be carefree. Sometimes there was a boy. Sometimes it was just us. On those nights, she’d hold my hand and tell me about the boy she was going to marry. The dark circles under our eyes when we went in for our lunch shifts marked us. We had been out late. I’d lay next to her in the sand on those nights when there was no boy and I’d tell her that she’d find him soon.

Maybe tomorrow.

“Tomorrow we can’t go home until I find him.”

I’d nod. The movement would grind the sand into my scalp, making it impossible to wash it all out, making little grains of sand fall from my hair during my shift the next day.

I still hadn’t kissed a boy. All the boys wanted to kiss her. I guess some girls would get mad, but I didn’t really see what the big deal was. I had watched her kiss plenty of boys on the beach. I didn’t see what the fuss was all about. I didn’t think I wanted a boys lips mashed up against mine, his breath smelling of rum and Cokes. That was what everyone was drinking that summer. Rum and Coke. I didn’t drink soda. And rum made my head spin. So I had cranberry juice and seltzer.

“With vodka?” The bartender would ask.

“Just a lime.” I’d say and pray that she didn’t hear me.

He’d look at me funny and shrug, dropping a lime wedge into the pink liquid.

“What do you think of that guy?”

She’d grab my arm as I was leaving the tip for the bartender. She was always forgetting things like leaving the tip, so I was always doing it for the both of us.

“He’s cute.”

I never had to look at him. I knew what he looked like. Tall. Dark hair. Pretty smile. Always the same guy.

“I’m gonna go talk to him.”

“Go for it.”

I’d stand by the bar sipping on my drink, watching her mesmerize the guy. I always felt kind of sorry for the guy. He had no defences against her and even if he did, I don’t think he’d want to use them anyway. She was pretty. No. Sexy. In that Brigitte Bardot way of sexy. The full lips, the bedroom eyes, the curves. And the hair. She had Brigitte Bardot hair. I reached up and touched my own chin length, choppy bob. Definitely not Brigitte Bardot hair. I looked down at my narrow frame. Definitely not Brigitte Bardot curves.

I guess that’s why I always stood there waiting and watching. I didn’t have it. That it that made the boys want to talk to you. To kiss you. So I’d stand and sip my drink and watch her talk to the boy. Some nights she’d come over with the boy and we’d go to the beach and we’d all talk until she decided she wanted to kiss him. Sometimes she never decided she wanted to kiss him and she’d turn to me and talk until he got the hint. Sometimes she left him in the bar. Ladies room, she’d say. She’d leave him standing there holding her half-finished drink and wondering later if she were even real. But he had the drink. So she must have been real…

“Do you really think I’ll find him one day?”

I reached for her hand as we lay under the stars.

“I know you will.”

She sighed and curled up next to me, laying her head on my stomach. I ran my fingers through her hair.

“We should go home.”

I never knew what clock she used or what would compel her to go home. I never asked what magic rule she followed on those nights.

*

We stopped going out every night the night she met him. Or I stopped going out every night. She kept going out. But now with him. She met him on the beach.

“Hey.” He had said.

She pretended to be asleep in her chair.

“Oh sorry.” He had been embarrassed.

“It’s okay.” I tapped her arm to ‘wake her’ and pointed up at the owner of the voice.

“Hi.”

“Sorry to wake you up. I just had to say hi.”

He just had to. Why did he just have to? I wanted to ask him what she had done to make him just have to. What sorcery was it? They made plans to meet that night after our shift ended.

“Come with me?”

I didn’t want to go with her to meet him. I didn’t see the point. Nobody likes to play the third wheel.

“Okay.”

Whatever magic she had wasn’t just for the opposite sex. After one drink she whispered for me to go home if I wanted to. So I left her with the boy who couldn’t take his eyes off of her.

*

We walked down that church aisle together, arm in arm, me and her. Her parents said she was too young. Her parents didn’t approve.

“You hardly know this boy.” They had said.

“So don’t come.” She had told them.

And so they didn’t. Her parents, it seemed, were under her spell too.

“But who will walk you down the aisle?” I had asked.

I didn’t want this wedding to happen but I didn’t know how to tell her that. I thought maybe if I tripped her up…

“Well, you.”

“Me?”

“Well, why not?”She put her hands on her hips. “You’re my best friend. Why shouldn’t you give me away?”

When she put it like that, I couldn’t see a counterargument. She was my best friend. And I was giving her to the boy she was going to marry. It hit me then. She’d be his. She wouldn’t be mine anymore. I linked my arm in hers and walked her up to the altar that fall. Summer was just fading. We had daisies in our hair and held the last of the day lilies in our hands.  Only a few friends came. Even fewer family members were there.  Mostly everyone just shook their heads.

Why would such a pretty girl throw away her whole life on a boy she had only just met on the beach? Well that’s just it. She was a pretty girl. And she wasn’t much else. And the yellow specks would only dance in her eyes for so long, and she only had so much magic dust in her pouch. She had to find him before it was too late. And if he wasn’t quite right, well, he’d do. At least she wouldn’t have to go out every night. And at least she wouldn’t be alone.

After the cake and the dancing, I went back to the little bungalow we had shared. It looked empty with all of her stuff gone.

Most of my stuff was gone too. I had moved it to my small apartment by the law school. But some stuff remained. We had paid the rent through to Christmas.

I don’t know why. We both knew we wouldn’t be there come Christmas. But it was cheap. And I think we felt sorry for the landlord, who we knew would have trouble renting it in the off season when all the summer people left. So we kept it. And I escaped there on weekends when I needed solitude. It would make a great writer’s retreat. If I were a writer. I sighed and unzipped my dress. She had picked out a frothy pink silk slip dress for me.

“Pink was always your color.” She had said.

I’ve always hated pink. But she was the bride. And I’d have my revenge one day. Lime green. She’d look lovely in lime green. I chuckled as I let the dress fall to a puddle on the floor. I stepped out of it and pulled a shirt from the dresser over my head. She found him. That was all she ever wanted, was to find him and to marry him and to have a baby. I admired her conviction. That marriage and baby was all she needed in life to be happy. A part of me wished I was a bit more simple. I wanted a lot of things. A baby, yes. But so many more things before that. I moved the curtains so I could see the stars. When she’d be kissing a boy, I’d be staring at the stars thinking of all the places I wanted to see and wondering if my dreams were more numerous than the stars. I laughed. I bet she wondered if she could kiss as many boys as there were stars. She’d never kiss another boy again. I sobered at the thought. That was it for her. There’s be no more boys and no more first kisses and no more only kisses. She was so young. I was so sad for her. I had so many firsts out there waiting for me.

I had given my best friend away in marriage, but I still hadn’t kissed a boy. I could buy a drink legally, but I didn’t know how to make the boys go wild or how to press my lips up against another’s. Maybe now that she was married, she’d tell me her secrets. I let the curtains fall and pulled back the sheets on the bed. Maybe I’d say hi to that boy in my criminal law class. I could ask him for the notes for the day I missed. I was stopped from crawling into bed by a knock on the door. Who could that be?  I opened the door and saw my friend’s tear-stained face. Her wedding gown was ripped, barely hanging on her body.

“What happened?”

She collapsed on me and I closed the door behind us.

“I can’t go home!”

After studying British fiction and writing about the courtship novel, Jacky Ievoli left the romance behind and traded her Austen in for legal briefs. She currently works for a law firm, turning lawyer’s legalease into English that people can understand, not actually want to read, but at least understand. She lives in Turtle Bay and loves watching people’s faces as they try to figure out where exactly that is.

L'Alerbo Di Tutti Bambini Del Mondo - Photo by Denise O'Donnell
L’Alerbo Di Tutti Bambini Del Mondo – Photo by Denise O’Donnell

Pests

– By Tom Offland

Have you done it?

This will be the last one, thought the man and he unpacked his tools. I’m not doing this again. Green leather gloves and garden wire and plastic bags and dishwasher solution and aluminium scourers. I’m not doing this ever again.  Six tins of Danish lager and a ring bound folder and a bag of nails and two steel capped boots and a cordless drill and a half gram of cocaine and blue overalls and a black satchel and a house brick. The man slapped shut the boot of his car and leant his head on the window in meditation. Come on, he said quietly to himself, come on come on come on come on come on come on. And the glass steamed a little under his breath.

What do you mean, you haven’t?

When the man reached the iron gate he turned around one last time to check on his car and then passed through the arch into the garden. Spider webs and potting string and English Ivy hung from the trellises. Crickets squatted in the grass. The man picked his feet carefully past the blind snails and broken garden tiles. The daffodils nodding furiously as he brushed past. A plastic windmill turned on a bamboo stick and a plastic woodsman waved his axe and a plastic spruce tree bristled and two plastic singing birds revolved around the breeze. God, the man said, and pulled his cap on tighter.

I don’t care if there are laws!

The man followed the flower beds and the stinging nettles and the punctured footballs and the slug pellets and the pale half oranges and he found the house. At the door he dropped his satchel behind his feet and felt around in his pockets for his identification. A paper wasp fumbled in the leaves around the door. Another dropped out from between the bricks and drifted away towards the road. This is it, he said, rubbing his nose with the back of his hand. This is the one. A note beside the door buzzer read, PLEASE KNOCK, and the man closed his eyes for a moment and then knocked his knuckles against the wooden door.  This is the one, he said.

What do you mean I have to do it?

The door opened and the man bent his knees and hoisted his bag over his shoulder and tried to appear professional. Look professional, he thought, holding his identification out before him.  Look professional. There was a woman in the doorway, bunching her hair back into a pony tail.  I’m here about the animals, the man said, and he felt the corners of his mouth twitching and he worried about his breath. The woman looked at the man’s identification and at the man’s face and at the man’s overalls and at the man’s steel capped boots and over the man’s shoulder and she stepped aside so as to let the man inside her house. They’re upstairs, the woman said, they’re on the children’s beds. The man stood in the doorway looking up the stairs. They’re on the bunk beds, the woman said.

I can’t do it!

 The woman walked ahead of the man through the house, waving her hands and making a clucking noise with her mouth and stopping occasionally to pluck stray strands of black cotton and specks of thread from the carpet and the man followed slowly in his socks and cradled his boots and his satchel against his belly and tried to look at every picture on the wall. Prize cattle and chewed pencils and scavenging crows and thatch cottages burning down. It’s a lovely house, the man said. Racehorses kicking free and galloping riderless from their stalls and dogs walking on two feet and empty  office blocks and empty beaches and dried up swimming pools and family portraits taken in dark rooms.  Upstairs, the woman paused beside an open bedroom door and waited for the man. They’re in here, she said, pointing through the doorway and biting her lip and itching her forehead and studying the buttons on her shirt so as not to meet the man’s eye.

I can’t!

The man unpacked his tools gently in the corridor. The woman watched him, crossing and uncrossing her arms and she asked him if he had done this before and he smiled in answer and he felt as if he might throw up. The man slipped on his boots and buttoned his overalls and turned off the lights and crept across the bedroom. At the bottom of the beds the man stood and held his breath and listened and could hear the animals moving on the mattresses above. This will be the last one, thought the man, and he climbed the rungs of the bunk bed ladder slowly through the darkness. Eight or nine or ten gorillas stirred  on the top beds. The man struggled to count them in the gloom. They stared at him with big black eyes and they paced the beds in fear.

I can’t!

Have you done it, the woman said as the man emerged from the bedroom. No, the man said, and he tried to touch the woman’s hand. What do you mean, you haven’t, the woman said. There are laws, the man said. I don’t care if there are laws, the woman said. And the man took a deep breath and closed his eyes and said if the woman wanted the gorillas dead then she would have to do it herself, and that he would remove them afterwards and that he would tidy up all the mess. And the woman said, what do you mean I have to do it? And the man started crying and he said that it was the law. And the woman said, I can’t do it! I can’t! And the man lifted a beer out of his satchel and offered it to the woman and the man tried to touch the woman’s hand and the man said, we can drink a beer together before it happens. And the woman said, I can’t!

Tom Offland lives in London. He keeps a blog here.

Find the Light - Photo by Denise O'Donnell
Find the Light – Photo by Denise O’Donnell

Great Expectations

Flock To The Lighthouse - Photo by David Martin
To The Lighthouse – Photo by David Martín

Photography

David Martín is a Spanish photographer and dreamer living in Dublin, capable of eating a whole chicken in less than 8 minutes. Sadly, non of those hobbies or skills are paying the bills that why he is working in Sales for Getty Images. You can see more of his work on his Flickr.

As Time Goes By - Photo by David Martin
As Time Goes By – Photo by David Martín

Hipbone

– By Helen Victoria Murray

He had worn black that day. Normally a pale blue man, the black shirt burned a hole in his wardrobe. Like a cigarette burn marking out a misdemeanour, it was making him uncomfortable – as if he owed it something. It wasn’t really geared towards self-flattery. It did not match his eyes, it did not match his hair; it matched his mood.

And she’d worn green. A pale green jersey, which cynics would have said turned her sallow. And she was fair, yes. She was perfectly fair. But surely never sallow. The face, well it was symmetrical, you could say that for it, at least. But its expressions? Nondescript, half faded, as if toned to blend into the pattern on the wallpaper. Her intellect was watery. Addicted to thoughts about thinking, she was a dilute woman. He watched her from across the room, observed her trying to press her musings on the world, and was reminded of temporary tattoos. Childlike. The same transparent falsity.

But the hipbone…

The corner of his eye caught the hem of the jersey as it raised, a very slight amount. Her skin was exposed to the light. He saw the jutting angle of the bone, the smoothness of the skin. He saw her fingers extend, and graze it with badly broken fingernails. It was all it took.

In the unflattering overhead lighting, two screens flickered before him. On one, he watched his own extending hands. Something was wrong, something in the colours. The whites were too glaring, the darks too deep, the contrast too sharp on the eyes. He saw himself seize the hipbone, whirling it around and towards him, using it to mash it in amongst himself. The screen portrayed the frantic gnashing of him – animalistic and abhorrent, he watched the hipbone smash as she blacked his eyes and spat in his face. It made his skin creep inwards on itself in horror. And yes, the animal  – himself – was withering now. He saw the hands, their sinewy knots grow soft and veined with blue, the nails blackening. Gradually, the grit set in and he watched himself become dust, all blown to pieces by her justified fury.

But the hipbone…

The action on the second screen moved slower, showing a steady, practised dance in which the hipbone featured. It was choreographed to perfection, every movement refined. Effective. The colours were warm and organic, something hazy blurred the motion. There was something captivating, almost mesmeric about the dance of biology: the hipbone melted, grew tactile, became like mercury in his hands.

Oh, that hipbone…

Everyone knows you can’t watch two screens at once. You get a migraine.

He stared at the floating screens until his eyes hurt, and when they flickered out, he was returned, slack-mouthed to the moment. That instant of dark clarity, whatever it had meant – was gone.

The remaining day was fuddled. Small sounds or light touches made him start. Night brought  a welcome chance to clear his head. He lay, with the black shirt haphazard on the floor, and tried to recreate the vision of the hipbone, comprehend its meaning. All night he wrestled with the two scenes, trying to commit his mind to one or other. All night they played in tandem, flickering with the blink of his eyes.

Come morning, he was wearing blue again.

Helen Victoria Murray is a writer and poet from Glasgow, attempting to balance her literature degree with her literary aspirations. Find her on twitter @HelenVMurray.

Looking Back - Photo by David Martin
Looking Back – Photo by David Martin

Pandora453

– By Mary Róisín McGill

Des lay in the dark, wondering if he should chance it. Beside the bed, a sliver of light from his laptop slowly blinked like a lighthouse beam in the night. Across his chest lay Daisy, breathing softly, her slight arms wrapped around him as if he might be torn from her.

Des envied Daisy’s ability to completely surrender to rest in a matter of moments. He only ever managed a few agitated hours, during which the day replayed on an endless Technicolor loop, punctuated by faces hacked from magazine pages and online profiles, charging at him like a strange body-less army of vacant eyes and flat, grainy smiles.

His phone was on the kitchen table. If he were to get up, Daisy might wake – what would he say then?

He watched the fragile white light wink in the darkness, before finally reaching out to the screen, pushing it open just enough to see he had one new message from Pandora453.

With tiny movements he tucked the duvet around Daisy’s bare shoulders, manoeuvring her onto her back. Then he crept from their warm bed into the bathroom, its tiles icy beneath his bare feet, the laptop balanced on his palms like an offering.

#

Des met Daisy on the last bus very early one Sunday morning. She was only other person left apart from him. In a fit of boozy bravado he sat beside her, without ever thinking he might be imposing, that his sudden appearance might frighten her.

‘I’m Des,’ he said, taking her limp, unoffered hand in his.

Daisy pulled back, her red mouth curling downward.

‘Can’t you just leave me alone?’ she said, folding her arms over the bulk of her jacket, her thigh pressed against her ratty backpack.

After a moment he said, ‘look, I’m sorry if I’m bothering you. If you want to be left alone, I’ll leave you alone. If that’s what you want, that’s no problem… Is that what you want?’

Des meant to sound funny. Daisy studied him with wide-set, somnolent eyes before shrugging as if to say, ‘suit yourself’. In Des’s mind this was not the same thing as a ‘no’ and so he stayed.

#

Daisy had long butter-yellow hair, brittle to the touch with a blunt fringe she cut herself in front of the bathroom mirror, biting deeper into her lip with every snip. She smeared red gloss over her mouth and carried herself in a slightly round-shouldered stoop, as if the world was a weight she alone must bear.

When they started dating, Daisy liked to chat about her PhD research. Des, keen to impress her, filled her wine glass without taking his eyes off her face as if to say, ‘I’m present. I’m paying attention.’

‘You’re a really good listener,’ she said, picking up a pizza slice, tipping it toward her face. ‘Not everyone cares for the finer points of communication theory.’

‘What you do is really interesting to me,’ Des said, passing her a napkin, enjoying how serious his voice sounded. ‘The Internet is the biggest thing in the world right now.’

Daisy took a bite, thinking for a moment. ‘I’m not so sure it’s a good thing, the whole digital revolution. I mean, don’t get me wrong. It’s given me the opportunity to write my thesis but I wonder sometimes, about what it all means for us.’

Des locked eyes with Daisy, letting the moment stretch between them before leaning across the coffee table he’d rescued from the side of the street, kissing her for the first time with greasy lips that aimed for her mouth but got her nose.

Three weeks later she moved into to his place, a dive apartment above an Indian in Rialto where even the wallpaper stank of spice.

#

In the dark of the night Des thought, ‘I’m not a bad man, just a clichéd one.’

The man who he was with those women he met online, women whose real names he had no interest in ever knowing until Pandora453, was not the man who went home to Daisy, who brushed the hair off her forehead so he could kiss it, prepared dinner with her, side-by-side in their tiny kitchen or held her as she slept.

The other Des was all in his head, even as he plunged himself into another strange woman who was no longer just an avatar and yet, still was in a way. Though he felt himself grow harder inside her, it was never fully real to him and so, it was never enough.

But something about Pandora453 was different. They had a true connection, chatting for hours when Des was at work stacking whatever piece-of-shit bestseller made him rue not writing his own piece-of-shit bestseller this week.

He ducked in and out of the stockroom to message her with giddy fingers, the idea of her sending bolts of pleasure to his groin. Sometimes, Des felt a sting of actual pain when anything threatened to come between them.

The more time he spent with Pandora453, the more Daisy’s presence began to irritate him. He could hear her in the bedroom, typing furiously, not bothering to get dressed or even shower, leaving a trial of mouldy coffee cups in her wake.

‘You’re like a woman possessed,’ he said, when she gave him a sour look for daring to enter the feral den she’d turned the bedroom into.

‘It’s my PhD,’ she replied in a gobsmacked voice, as if no justification was necessary, as if by needing it explained to him Des was spectacularly, mind-bendingly thick.

When she said she’d be going out that evening to have dinner with her supervisor, he could’ve punched the ceiling with delight but instead, he reached for his phone.

‘What’s your plan?’ Daisy called, as she painted her lips in front of the bathroom mirror. ‘You can join us you know. You’d be very welcome.’

On the couch Des stretched, saying in a lethargic voice, ‘Arah no thanks babe. I’ve the match and a few cans to keep me company.’

Daisy made a face muttering, ‘well how can I compete with that.’

When she finally left, he bolted into the shower then doused himself in aftershave, pulling on the new shirt he’d hidden at the back of the wardrobe. He was standing in the hall texting Pandora453 when he heard lock tweak.

With reflexes he never knew he had, Des scrambled into the bathroom. He could hear her in the kitchen calling his name, explaining that her supervisor was sick.

‘I’m just having a shower!’ he cried, pulling the shirt off.

‘But sure the match is still on,’ Daisy said. He heard the pop and hiss of her opening one of his cans.

‘It wasn’t much a game,’ Des shouted, turning on the shower full blast, his heart beating like a jackhammer.

#

The opportunity, when it finally came, was not something Des forced. Rather the opposite:  it was presented to him not quite on his dinner plate but alongside it.

‘I have to stay over on campus this weekend,’ Daisy said, glancing at him over her shoulder while draining a white hill of pasta, her cheeks ruddy from the steam, her buttery hair twisted into a loose bun. Des knew better than to be indifferent, so he slouched like a petulant little boy.

Daisy put the plate down in front of him and took a seat saying, ‘I know things haven’t been great between us but I promise I’ll make it up to you. I just need to get this part of my final report nailed. It’s the most important part. And I’m sorry for always going on about work but I’m nearly there now. I’ll shut up soon, I promise.’

She gave him a hug, squeezing him tight within her thin arms. He felt like an idiot then, like a royal jerk.

‘Can’t keep doing this Des,’ he thought, watching Daisy push her food around her plate, her brow creased with worries he couldn’t bring himself to ask about.

While Daisy filled the dishwasher, he tucked his phone into the pocket of his jeans and went into the bathroom.

#

Des sat in the booth, his eyes picking over the crowded diner aching for his first glimpse of her. Every time the door opened, the bells reminded him of Christmas.

Daisy would be getting the letter around now, pulling it out from where he’d left it, tucked into the edge of the pillow as she slept. He could imagine her pale face scrunching up, the kohl she never washed off her eyes seeping down her cheeks, her hands trembling as his words hit her heart. In frenzy, she’d probably stuff her things into some bin bags and lug them over to campus, never to return.

The bell jangled. When he spotted Pandora453, adrenalin flooded his veins like water from burst pipes. She was tall, slender, slightly stooped like Daisy but her shoulders and back descended into a graceful ‘v’ at her waist, accentuated by an old style mac neatly belted and speckled with rain.

As she slowly walked towards him, wearing the red bobbed wig and big black sunglasses they’d joked about, Des had the sense that they knew each other somehow, that this, despite the wrongness of it, was somehow made right by the sheer will of destiny.

She eased herself into the booth with a sigh, pulling the shades from her face and setting them down on the table along with her phone. Staring at her, Des felt winded. He had seen pictures in the trashy magazines Daisy liked to read in the bath but never in real life. Never like this.

The old woman’s face – for she was, despite everything, much older than Des had anticipated – was taunt, so plastic-like it glowed like an orb beneath the diner’s fluorescent light. Her eyebrows sat high and arched on her forehead as if she were perpetually surprised. Her eyes, red-tinged and wide, blankly regarded him. Her lips, two bulbous pillows, were too swollen to close fully so her breath made a faint, dry whistling sound as it passed through them.

When she pulled her face into a macabre grin, saying with sickening playfulness, ‘not what you expected, am I sweetheart?’ Des thought of Daisy. For the first time, in a very long time, he felt like he could cry.

Mary Róisín McGill is a web editor, talking head and writer who splits her time between Galway and Dublin. She regularly reviews books for RTÉ’s Arena and is the co-founder and co-editor of Irish feminist website Fanny.ie. Follow Mary on Twitter @missmarymcgill

 

Captured Moments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Portrait Of The Artist

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

The Great South Wall

– By Niall Foley

Dead.

That’s how you’ll find me.

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

I will not resist.

I will go willingly.

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

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

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

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

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

His disgusted face makes me shiver with glee.

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

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

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

“How are yez? Nice evening!”

Nearly run, they do. Christ.

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

Céad Mile Fáilte.

I wait.

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

The Da smiles.

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

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

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

Is there someone else they could ask?

Sarah.

No, not Sarah. It won’t be Sarah.

The cargo ship inches level with me. The Andromeda.

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

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

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

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

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

I know what they say.

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

I walk to the edge.

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

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

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

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

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

Leave Sarah alone.

Just ignore the others.

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

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

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

Horse it into you.

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

I step forward –

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

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

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

“Rovers?” I say, tentatively.

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

It’s just me and him and the wind.

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

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

He leaves me alone on the edge.

Shamrock Rovers Football Club.

The cry of the seagulls above.

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

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

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

What more do you want?

Well?

What?

Well then. It’s settled.

For today.

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

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

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

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

Pop Goes The Gun

– By Vikki Gemmell 

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

“Cheers,” he says.

“Cheers.”

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

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

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

“Gun?” I laugh nervously.

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nirvana blasts out from his stereo and I laugh.

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

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

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

I smile back; my body begins to relax.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Would it help if I got naked too?”

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

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

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

“Don’t get all coy, Sammy!”

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

I stand awkwardly, waiting.

He holds up a gun.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Bit more to the left.”

I move.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He shuts the door and he hands me the gun.

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

A Sense Of What’s Real

Brownstown Head
Brownstown Head, Tramore, Co. Waterford – Photo by Michael Dwyer

35 Years Of Gigs

– By Tony Clayton-Lea

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

Beach Pebbles - Photo by Michael Dwyer
Beach Pebbles On The Copper Coast – Photo by Michael Dwyer

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, no Im 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.

Foam - Photo by Michael Dwyer
Foam of The Atlantic Ocean – Photo by Michael Dwyer

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.

Why can’t…

” ” 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.

Can we…

” ” make a star on earth

” ” live on mars

” ” still be friends

” ” trust the police

More exact maybe, more practical.

How can…

” ” 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!

How would…

” ” 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.

How will…

” ” 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.

The Unknown

Fiona Foskin 1
The Gravestones, Necropolis, Lisbon – Photo by Fiona Foskin

Photography: Fiona Foskin, originally from Waterford, has been living and working in Dublin for 5 years. Fiona works as a School Librarian.

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171

– By Tom Offland

I’m worried sick about the ice age. I’ve marked it on my calendar. They say that aeroplanes will fall into frozen seas and that all the oak trees will go extinct and that humans will scavenge in the blinding snow to survive. We will freeze, they say, but I’m not worried about that. About freezing. I’m not the type. When I was a little girl, when there was still rape seed in the fields and frogspawn in the ponds and white teeth in most people’s faces, I found a lady dead on the street. Killed by the cold. Curled up still like a heap of clothes. No, I’m not worried about that.

There are less buses every day. There was a time when London rolled on a red set of wheels, when one could step from bus to bus without ever touching the ground. A time when buses rode nose to tail all across London. So close you’d swear they were red carriages on a single, tangled, city wide train. Nowadays you have to wait in the cold for the buses. Yesterday I waited an hour. There will be more waiting during the ice age. Mark my words.

I haven’t slept in a bed for twenty years. The very suggestion of it seems absurd to me now. I sleep sitting up. I dream as much as anybody. I fidget and I flicker and I wake up as confused as everyone else. We build bathrooms and decorate them with steel and glass and clean them with bleach and water and think it something civilised but really we’re just animals shitting in a corner. There are women in the tabernacles who can sleep with their eyes open. Some who can sleep hanging upside down. I can only sleep on the number 171 bus.

The 171 is the oldest running bus service in the nation. It runs between Holborn station and Bellingham Catford bus garage. It was here when Saint Pauls still stood. When the Thames flowed. I try to imagine the 171 back then and I wonder if I would’ve recognised it, running on petrol, being ridden by people who drank tap water and ate animals and passed saliva to one another with their mouths. They should cut this bus in half and have it dragged by dogs. They should do it if it helps. I would work my fair shift dragging it if it helps.

Sometimes the buses die in the road. Their engines give out and their lights blink out and all the passengers look to one another in the darkness. In the ice age the dead buses will form glaciers and crawl along their routes driven by the ice. In the ice age people will have to learn to walk again. God knows they will have to try.

There are bus graveyards out there in the country. No one goes to the country. Only criminals and murder victims and bus drivers towing dead buses along the narrow roads. It is dark in the country at night. Real darkness. The light has abandoned the country like everything else, it crowds in glowing tenements and squats in squalid lamp posts. The light has moved to the city.

Sometimes I dream that the 171 picks me up from my home, that I open my curtains and it is there outside waiting, turning its wheels nervously, shrieking its horn like a baby bird. Sometimes I dream that the 171 is my home, not one particular 171 but all of them, a fleet of homes all hung with the same wall paper and rattling with identical antiques. Sometimes I don’t dream at all and eight hours of living escapes me in blackness and droning, eight hours lost as though it were shaken loose out of my pockets.

I’m worried sick about the ice age. I can think of little else. They say that the whole world will lose its fingers and that men and women will walk on stumps for feet and that we will shiver for the rest of our lives. But I’m not worried about that. There was a time when people could touch one another without fear of infection, a time before gloves and gas masks when strangers would brush their lips across each other’s faces and lovers exchanged fluids without vaccination. No I’m not worried about that.

There are less buses every day. Eventually there will be none. The last bus will have a route that takes in most of London, it will stop at every house and pick up everybody and it will be the only moving thing on the road, steering through untouched snow and navigating the traffic jams of dead and dark and frozen buses. When the last bus dies all the bus lanes and bus timetables and bus shelters will die too. When the last bus dies it will leave a nation standing in the cold, checking their watches, hailing their arms at the approaching ice age.

I haven’t slept in a bed for twenty years. When the last 171 has gone I won’t sleep at all. I will wander the bus lanes awake. I will try to sleep on other buses, whichever there are left but it won’t do any good. There will be a pair of headlights on in my head. A horn sounding indefinitely. Before the sickness people used to sleep in the same beds. Children. Couples. I can’t imagine it. They kept fish alive in glass containers and they buried each other whole in boxes in the ground and they slept in one another’s beds. Sometimes when I wake up on the 171 there are other passengers sitting nearby. They look at me as though I might be dead. I’m not. I’m not dead.

The 171 is the oldest running bus service in the nation. There is a plaque in Holborn and in Bellingham Catford bus garage commemorating its longevity. It was here when the buses had aisles of two seats side by side and people would sit next to each other with their legs touching. It was here when people still tried to talk to god. When people meant it when they said god forsaken, god damned or god only knows. It was here back then. If I was made of bus parts I would donate my body to keep the 171 running. I would donate it without question.

Sometimes the buses die in the road. It’s happened to me before. To a bus I was riding. Once it happened when I was asleep. I woke up in the darkness. I tried to open the doors and when I found that I couldn’t I went back to my seat and tried to sleep. I wasn’t sure but I think there was someone else on the bus too. I think there was something breathing. I couldn’t be sure. In the ice age we will make the dead buses our homes. We will forget they ever moved.

There are bus graveyards out there in the country. No one goes to the country. There is only snow and bones and foot prints in the country. It is where things go to die. I should like to find a bus graveyard. God knows I should like that. Somewhere a dead fleet of 171 stands rusting. I could make a home there in the rust. I could learn to see in the darkness. Learn to live in the bitter cold. I could.

Sometimes I dream that the 171 is alive, that it is old and kind and that it is dying. I know that if the 171 could give promises it would never break them. I know that I could trust it with my life. Sometimes I dream that I am riding the 171 years and years and years ago, when there were still swimming pools and dragonflies and before all the birds were culled and when the ice age was just a joke people told over dinner. Sometimes I dream of that and the light in those dreams is always thin and pale and the air in those dreams always smells of orange trees and the time in those dreams always passes so quickly but nobody is worried. Nobody is worried about anything.

Tom Offland lives in London. He is twenty four and a half years old. He writes on the bus to and from work. His favourite bus is the 171. He blogs at http://happyhealthynormal.tumblr.com/

Fiona Foskin 3
Sleep For The Angel, Necropolis, Lisbon – Photo by Fiona Foskin

North

By Brian Bennett

1.

As a young boy I moved to a house

by the sea

by the trees

and by the shadow of myself far out in the water.

In the lands

in the trees

and reflected upon myself through passing tides

there was a shadow.

I watched a reflection of myself on the water

as it danced under moonlight on the surface.

I watched.

And waded.

A thousand years went by and nothing.

One thousand years more then something.

It changed and glowed while the water ebbed and flowed.

Then one night by twilight

after shouting to the sky with all my might

I realised I was the same as him, as her, as them and

as the silent breeze that flowed over the water which I swim.

I was not dead nor did I die another death for

my soul sat comfortably in me as he did, she did, or they did.

Except I was the one with breath.

It’s a hard thing to love oneself.

To be forgiven for that which was taken as easily as you gave it.

But it’s not impossible.

I did.

And the people who came and stayed in that house by the sea all left after a time. Then more came. And more left after a time. All in all it was always me. By the sea, by the trees, with the tide taking me, day to day for what seemed an eternity. But not to me.

And when I had forgotten how to swim someone showed me. And when I had forgotten how to climb someone showed me. And when I had forgotten how to sit and be still, I showed myself. And with that act the last of him, of her, of them finally left and what did I find? Myself – shadowed upon the water. And a river and trees and a house by the sea where the people who stayed are still staying right with me.

2.

And on the very last day I’ll be there

watching the coming light with an engulfing stare.

And the lands before me formed by the lands behind

will be shaped by the place in which I did reside.

And I’ll have no mask behind which to hide

for my face will be bare and my eyes close to blind.

And my home, here, at this very time will be close to bursting with the coming sight of a man made God shown up by the light.

3.

And it reaches us, this impasse in the day, when orange turns yellow and black turns grey. People fall where they come, if they come and they may, with silence all laughed for the joke as they say.

These city’s streets are young and they are old with whimpering souls scared from stories that were told.

This is not a statement of intent nor an observation regarding my youths lament but a thought or question or dialogue or hope for myself and mine and you and yours and whomever may be watching while they listen, while they read.

In the farm lands

in the lakes

in the lanes

off tenement squares

in the playgrounds

in the parks

in the fields

off country roads

old men are dying.

Young girls can’t stand

their own thoughts and

young men seem to have forgotten.

We still swing from tree to tree as if it’s not us, oh it’s you but not me. As if we were never here in the times before time. As if we’ve never seen the time before now. Here. Where we are. Where we come from. Where we’e going.

Old women still sit and knit and talk of it.

A little buttercup cradled in arms, from star to star swung gently as if in all the endless reaches, in all the spiraling arms, it’s the only thing that matters. The only reason for myself and mine and you and yours and all of ours to walk these streets. Which we own. Which were built for us. By us.

We are living and we have lived and we are held up for what we will live.

Not by ourselves but by that what we wish to see, by that which we wish to feel, to kneel, to kiss, to caress and to bless. To make a holy of nothing as if it’s the most desired of all homely truths. Mine and yours and ours and theirs.

This is life. This is how it is. How dare you ask? How dare you live?

I have lived. I am living.

My soles are burnt from kicking burning bridges. From bitches and fiends and friends and dicks ripping at seems for late night flicks. And I flicked. And in return I was flicked. And I wanted to do it. And I wanted it. And I’m here. Living. And that’s there. It has lived. And I’m here, living. While that’s there, living.

And I’ll fuck you all as I’ve fucked you all for the Earth is very big and the universe very small and our streets are buckling under the weight of nostalgia. These streets are buckling under the weight of nostalgia and I’m here living unbeknown to you all. Watch me. Watch what I do. I mimic the rest of us as they mimic us too. The Earth is unbeknown so they’ll never catch us. They can’t and they won’t. I swear to you all that they don’t know. No one knows. It’s unknown. But that is OK. The unknown. It’s unknown so why fear it? Why demolish and sink that which is much higher than you and me and this and that and the knowledge of this and the knowledge of that doesn’t make me any happier. It doesn’t put a smile on my face. Are the things you pray to smiling on their face?

And as we fall there will be no catch, no lock on the door that was always there before, no safety net to save us from what we fret, or hand with a slap for our trousers stained wet.

Bone dry. When we fall we will be bone dry. There is nothing to fear for us when we die.

When I thought of him, and her, and they way before I had stood on a porch as the sun went down. With friends, and family, and you in surround, it could not compare or know what was in my heart except me, myself, and I. And with that the sun and the sky, the green grass growing and the later night lie, I had slept. Content in myself for what I truthfully felt. I slept a sound sleep. Content in myself as the one that I seek.

And it reaches us, this impasse in the day, with thoughts of ourselves and what they find who’s to say.

I am not the day, neither are you. Nor the night either, green grass sky blue. They are of another thing, of another dream that will take care of itself and we’ll see as we’ve seen.

It’ll be aright. It’ll be alright. When love finds the love it was supposed to find. When I’m not looking for my sacrosanct sin. When different colour flags are held by different colour skin. When I see all too clearly that which some can’t see. When I give myself over to such uncertainty. For certainty is holding us up, this buttercup and me.

A buttercup. That’s all you pray too. A thing of beauty. And it is beautiful I know and the buttercup is still there but if the buttercup was brought down to the base of man, would I dare say that it’s not?

It all doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things but a pebble in an ocean in a land made of time. But for some the pebble’s all and for them that’s the find.

Why do you build up the buttercup? When all you have to do is think it down? It messes you around and then worst of all it never answers when you say it will. What I’m saying is; the thing you’ve named as buttercup doesn’t answer you nor should it because that would be ridiculous no? For a plant to talk but we know they do talk. They do sing and react to our vibrations exact. To the tone of our tongue and the singing song sung. And that’s enough. It should be enough.

That should be the starting point.

On the very last day on Earth

as the sun sets and becomes

nothing but brilliant light.

I will walk North. Head first into it.

And be fine. And be OK.

Because I’m not in my knees

for the light kneels to me.

In this city and others beyond, around kitchen sinks, chatter that chitters in the time hereafter will destroy young girls, young men, for how much and how long cannot be echoed and viewed along the lines that we know for we view them all wrong.

I am not my father nor my mothers woes. I am a man unto myself with many made foes. The hardest of all when uttering a call is for myself to answer. Is for myself to answer myself. And find what I find. And hear what I hear and see what I see and with that comes the knowledge of you unto me.

I’m sick of fearing that which is unknown. The beauty is in the seems, in the joy, how it’s sown. I’m sick of adhering to you and myself, to the glory of it and the glory of wealth.

Is this what I am? The sum of a man is how much he works, how much he can earn, what can he buy not what can he learn? If you could control your death, and live a long life, in the final moments what would you answer when asked, “What are you here for?”. If you think that thought and really think that thought then the questions that arise can emancipate closed eyes. The light once dim now begins with a flicker. But if, with that light you’re driven away, then turn back around and get on your knees quicker.

On the very last day on Earth

as the sun sets and becomes

nothing but brilliant light.

I will walk North. Naked and free.

Exposed to this world that’s for you and for me.

And what my skin endures will change how I walk, how I see and I feel, and that is our burden but I certainly won’t kneel. I will spread my arms open for the engulfing light, a shimmer cascaded and I’ll know I was right. But this certainty is uncertain and with that, the question is wrong, for none of us know and that was right all along.

Brian Bennett is an actor and theatre-maker from Dublin, Ireland. He is currently working on his first novel and a feature script to be filmed next year. He is also working on a photography exhibition entitled ‘Blue’. Follow Brian on Twitter @brianbennett84

The Dark Bird of the Midway

The Dark Bird of the Midway – Photo by Christopher Woods.

Christopher Woods is a writer, teacher and photographer who lives in Texas.

http://christopherwoods.zenfolio.com/

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Buying and Selling

– By John MacKenna 

Was that precisely what he’d said, Thaddeus wondered? He’d said so many things over the years they’d travelled together, that much of it was becoming a confusion.

Sometimes, Thaddeus read the books that had been written about those years and the man and the philosophy and he wondered where the journalists and biographers and critics were coming from, where they’d unearthed their so-called information, how they’d reached the conclusions they had. Very little of what he read bore any resemblance to the things he remembered. He didn’t remember there ever being a philosophy as such. Ways of doing things had emerged over the weeks and months; they had learned from experience and often the suggestions had come from one or other of the group members but, by no stretch of the imagination, would Thaddeus call it a philosophy.

Could two and a half decades have bewildered his memory to that extent? He doubted it. He didn’t forget important things. He could walk into his office now and lay his hand on the exact key to any of the forty cars in the sales yard without even checking the registration numbers on the plastic ties. And he still had an eagle eye for the occasional opportunity, but the opportunities were becoming fewer and farther between. That’s why there were forty cars in the yard. He’d never had this many before, even in the eighties, never been caught carrying so much immovable stock,

It’s not what you achieve but what you believe.

Yes, that was what he’d said. Not at one of the rallies but over a meal on a summer night. Afterwards, Thaddeus and Al had stayed on for a last, late drink. Al was flying off somewhere the next morning, off in search of another story that might make a book. Those were the days before any of Al’s books had seen the light of day. Thaddeus had admired the younger man’s energy but doubted his story chasing would ever amount to anything. Ideas were one thing but opportunities were the real thing.

“Sounds like he’s getting us ready for a change,” Al had said.

“In what way?”

“Don’t know. Just does. He talked about belief not achievement. There’s a difference.”

“Believe to achieve,” Thaddeus laughed. “It’s a good motto.”

“Is it? Seems to me it’s just a motto and, anyway, that’s not what he’s saying.”

Thaddeus remembered shrugging.

“You’re over-analysing, man. You read too much. Stay rooted.”

“Maybe.”

“For sure. We’re on the right track here. You should stick around.”

“I’ll be back in a couple of weeks.”

“The books can wait.”

“I don’t know if they can,” Al had said. “But I’ll get there, wherever there is. Maybe that’s the problem with me: I don’t really know where there is.”

Looking back, Thaddeus remembers his young friend as a man waiting for magic to find him, believing in the sunlight, filled with a genuine expectation that someone would come, a white witch, a wizard casting a spell, bringing him the gifts of joy and certainty, offerings in which he hardly dared believe.

And then he looks at himself. A man standing on a garage forecourt, stock list in hand, amid all the shining, unsold second-hand cars. Not that they’re advertised as such. They’re pre-owned now, as though Thaddeus has been keeping them warm, running them in for whichever lucky punter it is who may walk through the gate on this spring afternoon.

His dog ambles from behind one of the cars and comes to him. Together they sit on the office step, the soft sunlight painting their bodies. Thaddeus leaves the stock list on the concrete tread and rubs the dog’s warm coat and then his ears until the animal moans softly, singing a song of pleasure and companionship.

“We all have stories and reasons not to tell them,” Thaddeus says out loud and the dog looks up at him, listening for familiar words like walk or dinner, but they don’t come.

Thaddeus rubs the dog’s ears again and lowers his own head, sinking his face into the dog’s coat, breathing the smell of animal life and freedom, each deeply drawn breath a point of recollection and reconciliation. He is aware of two hearts beating, his own and the dog’s. He listens, trying to match the rhythms to each other but the patterns are not the same. One is uncertain, more an erratic throb than a beat, the other is calm and measured, loyal and trusting.

He especially loves the smell of the dog’s coat, drying in the sunshine after rain. That deep, dark smell drawn from a thousand scents unknown to humans, that smell which catches some inkling of the sniffing that dogs do when they become aware of the depths of senses we will never know.

A shadow falls across his face and he looks up.

A young woman is standing in front of him, her features masked by the aura of sunlight about her.

“You sell cars?” she asks.

“Yes. I certainly do.”

“I’d like to look at one or two.”

“Of course.”

He stands up, shielding his eyes.

“I like your dog,” the young woman says.

“He’s not for sale,” Thaddeus laughs.

“I should hope not.”

They walk across the sales yard.

“What did you have in mind? Cheap and cheerful or something more solid.”

“I’m not sure. Let’s look.”

He walks and talks her through the lines of cars. He’s in no rush; there’s no one else about, he has all afternoon and so, it seems, does she. He explains the benefits of one above another, checking prices against his stock list as if he didn’t already know the cost of every car and the amount by which he is prepared to reduce it. And, each time he mentions a lower figure, she moves to the next vehicle and asks about colours or upholstery or wheel trims.

“You’re not here to buy a car, are you?” Thaddeus asks finally.

“No.” Her reply is definite.

“Just passing an afternoon?”

“No. I wanted to talk to you.”

“About?”

“Him. Then. About what really happened.”

“I don’t talk about him or then. And everybody knows what happened.”

“Bullshit,” the young woman laughs. “Those who don’t really care assume they know; those who care realise they don’t know.”

“And you care?”

“That’s why I’m here.”

“Oh come on,” Thaddeus barks a sharp cackle. “You’re here for a story. You’re a journalist. You smell a story, an old one but a story nevertheless.”

“Is that a crime?”

“Not at all and I wish you well with it. It’s just that the story isn’t here.”

“I’d write it sympathetically.”

“I have no doubt but that you would,” he says sarcastically.

“You don’t believe me?”

“Belief doesn’t come into it. There is no story here. Trust me. Not the one you’re looking for; I don’t think it exists. It’s a figment of your editor’s imagination. Let me guess. He’s in his fifties, one-time student activist, imagines himself a freethinker. He’s a conservative dressed in liberal clothing, trying to get you to recreate some element of the dream he thinks he missed out on. You do realise that sending you here is that middle-aged man’s surrogate fantasy.”

“You’ve thought about all this.”

“You’re not the first journalist to come around here. Some of them bring money, some come in short skirts, some are aggressive, some have that extra button open on their blouses – I’ve seen all the tacks they take. Sorry, that you take, trust me.”

“Trust doesn’t come into it,” the young woman smiles. “Believe me. There is a story.”

“Well, if there is, it’s not here,” Thaddeus says again.

“How’s business?”

“Fantastic! You’re the millionth customer we’ve had this month. That’s something about which I’ll happily give you a story – cars that won’t sell, I can ladle out heartbreaking stuff about a staff of four reduced to one. I can even give you an idea for a headline. The soundless silence. And the first line, if you want. Forty gleaming, driverless cars form a silent traffic jam, an image of the new republic. See, I’ve done half the work for you already. Or I can give you an angle. Look, down there, seven four-wheel drives, not one of them more than two years old, each of them an aspiration that crashed in metaphorical flames. Actually, maybe that’s not a good analogy. Each a dream that withered on the vine of illusory success.”

The young woman laughs.

“You’re impressed, I can see,” Thaddeus smiles. “In return for your listening, you get a free key ring.”

Rummaging in his jacket pocket, he produces a fob and hands it to the woman.

“Thank you,” she says. “But you don’t like me, do you?”

“Actually I do.”

She seems surprised.

“I don’t like what you’re doing or how you tried to do it but I do like you. Something you said.”

“What did I say?”

“You said ‘I should hope not’ about my dog not being for sale.”

She nods.

“You can have a cup of coffee if you want,” Thaddeus says. “But no story.”

The woman nods again and they walk towards the office. Thaddeus draws up a chair and motions her to sit down. The dog settles at her feet. Thaddeus pours two coffees, clears a space on his desk, pushes sachets of milk and sugar towards the young woman, takes a packet of biscuits from a drawer and sits opposite her.

The woman sips her coffee.

“What was he like?” she asks, as nonchalantly as though she were asking about a set of seat covers.

Thaddeus allows himself a smile and a raised eyebrow but says nothing.

“It’s just a story at this stage,” the woman says.

“Then you could make it up, give your imagined version. Others have.”

“That’s not how I work.”

“Good for you.”

Thaddeus stares through the plate glass window that frames five miles of countryside. Across the distant fields, the haze gives way to memory. He looks back through the mists of spring to a remembered evening and sees his father in a garden.

“I’ll tell you a story,” he says.

The woman looks up but doesn’t reach for her recorder.

“It had been raining all that afternoon,” Thaddeus says quietly. “But the late light and the evening breeze were sucking the dampness out of the raised drills. My father bent and dug out one last sod near the headland of the garden. ‘Now,’ he called. Called to me. ‘Bring him out.’ I was a young boy then, ten or eleven, used to doing as I was told, but I hesitated. ‘Bring him on,’ my father said again. ‘The sooner we get this done, the better; you’re only prolonging his misery.’

“I turned and opened a shed door. From the darkness, an old dog hobbled into the garden. It seemed to me that it was suddenly twilight and that the warmth had gone out of the sun.

“Bring him over,’ my father called. ‘It’ll save us carrying him.’

“I put my hand on the dog’s shoulder and he looked up at me.

“Come on,’ I said quietly. I was hoping the animal wouldn’t hear or would disobey but, instead, he wagged his tired tail, his eyes brightened momentarily and he struggled in my wake, along the narrow path to where my father stood, crowbar in hand.

“‘See,’ my father said. ‘He can hardly walk. We’re doing him the best turn anyone ever done him.’

“The dog didn’t look up to the place from which my father’s voice had come. Instead he held my gaze, I know it was because he trusted me. The breeze was lifting his long coat and then it seemed to me that his head exploded. My father had brought the crowbar down heavily, the point crashed through the dog’s skull. For a moment, the animal went on embracing me with that unquestioning look and his eyes filled up with blood and slowly they begin to drip, then gush. Blood was bulging from his sockets and suddenly it spouted out. And, just as abruptly, the dog’s legs buckled and he fell on his side, away from the open grave. There was no sound. I had heard nothing, no splitting skull, no breaking bone, no whimper, no bark.

“My father put his boot on the animal’s side, jerking the crowbar from his skull.

“‘Never felt it,’ he said.

“I was mesmerised by the tears of blood drip, drip, dripping on the evening clay. My father heaved the dog’s carcass with the toe of his boot and rolled it awkwardly into the hole he had dug. There was nothing left only the dark blots of drying blood on the clay.”

The young woman is silent.

“There’s your story,” Thaddeus says quietly.

“Thank you.”

For a long time they sit in silence. Finally, the young woman takes her bag from the floor and stands up.

“Thank you again.”

Thaddeus drains his coffee cup and walks her to the door.

“I hope I didn’t waste your afternoon,” she says.

“Millionth customer, glad to see you,” he smiles. “You’ve got your free key ring?”

She opens her palm; the key ring rests in it.

“You should have been a writer,” she says.

“No, that was someone else’s job, but we won’t go there. And now it’s your job. Good luck with it.”

Bending, the young woman pats the dog, then walks towards the road.

“If you know of anyone looking for a good car, tell them about us,” Thaddeus calls after her.

The woman waves without turning and disappears around the yard gate. Thaddeus sits again on the office step and buries his face in the warm hair of this dog, the dog whose smell reminds him of the smell of that other dog on long ago, far away shining days. And he thinks of a summer evening after rain in another garden, not the one in which the dog was killed and not the overgrown patch at the back of this car showroom. He’s there with a girl, dark-haired, like the young woman who has just left. The girl is saying, “It’s the most beautiful evening of my life.” They’re standing in the shadow of a tree and an hour has passed since she agreed to marry him.

As they watch, a dunnock flies into the paws of a skulking cat and from there into the cat’s jaws. He wonders what the dunnock was thinking to be so easily caught. Was it thinking only of food or was it not thinking at all? Was it celebrating the summer day that was ending, yet another summer day on top of all the other summer days stretching back across the weeks?

“It seemed to be filled with joy when it flew into the cat’s paws, the cat’s claws, the cat’s jaws,” Thaddeus says. “It was singing.”

“Birds are addicted to singing,” she says. “It’s not a conscious choice. It truly is an addiction.”

And he knows, in that instant, that they will never marry.

Even now, thirty-five years later, sitting on the sunlit step of this failing second-hand car business, he has no idea how or why he knew, intuitively, that what had just been agreed would never happen. He has never been able to fathom why, suddenly, they were losing one another, why something in her tone, rather than what she had said, told him everything he didn’t want to know.

“Gardens are not always good places,” Thaddeus says.

The dog looks up at him, then rolls on its back, wanting its belly rubbed.

Thaddeus obliges, laughing as he does so.

John MacKenna is the author of fifteen books – novels, short-stories, memoir, biography and most recently, a collection of poems Where Sadness Begins (Salmon Poetry). He is a winner of the Irish Times Fiction Award; the Hennessy Award and the Cecil Day Lewis Award. Email John at ub15@eircom.net

House In Shadows – Photo by Christopher Woods.

The Chrysalis

 – By Wes Henricksen

There was an ant. The ant was running along one day, nimbly dodging around pebbles and sticks, when he caught sight of a chrysalis hanging from the side of a log. He’d never seen a chrysalis before. It looked like some kind of strange upside down mushroom. Or maybe a fungus. Whatever it was, it was funny-looking.

The ant, uninterested in the strange-looking thing, ran along, foraging for bits and pieces of this and that to carry back to its nest.

The next day, the ant saw the chrysalis there again. He looked a little closer, wondering what in the world it was. It didn’t look like part of the tree, exactly. But it didn’t move either. He went up to it and bit it. Nothing. A droplet of clear liquid seeped from the puncture he’d made but the thing stayed rigid. He ran along.

A couple days later the chrysalis caught his attention in a big way. It was moving! He ran up to it as it swung back and forth. Back and forth, back and forth. It was the saddest thing he’d ever seen. The damned thing was alive! He couldn’t believe it. What a miserable way to live, he thought. It’s stuck in place—it can’t go anywhere! He watched it a little while, feeling sorry for it.

Then he got bored and went on foraging.

The next morning the ant hurried to the chrysalis, anxious to see the pitiful, squirming thing. Maybe bite it again. But it wasn’t there. All he found was an empty shell. He walked very close to it and looked inside. Nothing. He bit the shell but it was hard and crusty. A small flake fell from it.

The thing was gone.

He imagined that finger-shaped bug bouncing and squirming along somewhere close by. No legs. No wings. No eyes or ears or antennae. It would be the easiest prey ever, and it would be a prize if he brought it back to the nest. It would be a feast. But he didn’t have time to go looking for it. He had foraging to do.

Wes Henricksen is a former ice hockey player who now practices law.  When he can, he writes.  His writing has appeared in various media, including the New York Times and the Chicken Soup for the Soul book series, and he is the author of the popular law student guidebook Making Law Review.  He is currently working on his first novel. His Twitter handle is @henricksen.