Six Nights by Aileen Ferris

When Colin came into view descending the stairs of the wine cellar, I knew I wasn’t attracted to him.  He was skinny, about my height, and clean-shaven.  He had obviously made an effort, and that put me right off.  It seems counterintuitive not to want someone to make an effort for me, but it contributes to that contrived feeling of being On A Date.  The effort is for themselves, really. I’m more comfortable with people in their natural state, without observance of rules that no one knows who wrote.

He spotted me sitting at the table and waved.  My selfies must at least look recognisably like me.  I took a long gulp from the glass of Malbec in front of me (not intended to be gulped) and stood up to greet him.  A quick, superficial kiss on the cheek – he really was only about an inch taller than me.  How to get through the next hour?  More wine, of course.  While listening politely to stories of his advertising job at a large multinational (you know the one), I guzzled the stuff (not intended to be guzzled).  We (mostly I) went through a bottle quickly and as soon as enough time had passed to excuse myself I did, telling him that this was nice and wishing him safe home.

I checked my phone while walking in the opposite direction.  My friends were in Pantibar dancing, so I joined them and drank some more.  That was where I met Lacey.  She wore baggy jeans and a beanie hat, her soft flesh hanging out self-confidently from her yellow crop top.  She was twenty two, a student from Oregon on a semester abroad, and she knew what she wanted.  We talked, laughed and danced until closing time, when I said I should go home.  She was upfront.  “Can I come?”  Hell yes.  Yes, you can.  Once in my bedroom, she cut through the smalltalk.  “Do you wanna fuck?”  Hell yes.  Yes again.

Lacey wasn’t trying.  She didn’t care what I thought of her.  She had hair on her legs.  She was comfortable in herself, and it was sexy as hell.  She told me about the guys she fucked now and again when she felt like it.  She usually went home right after, but she stayed with me till morning, when we ate hummus and I drove her home.  She was perfectly content.


The left are the good guys, we agreed as we walked, feeling reassured and slightly superior to count ourselves among that group.  The only problem is that people on the left are too principled to compromise and this keeps us fractured.  The right is happy to compromise, we supposed, because it has no real principles.  That’s what keeps it in power, and how it perpetuates the oppression of women, gays, trans people, bisexuals, immigrants, Muslims, non-whites, the working class, the disabled, the mentally ill, the chronically ill, artists, the polyamorous, the unemployed and any other group it can get its hands on.  “The right is interested in the good of the individual”, Logan said, “while the left is interested in the good of all.”  I could have fucked him there and then in the street.

Later, we talked about television, which we considered unforgivably low-brow.  Logan breathed his appreciation of Twin Peaks, however, telling me that I would love the music, the intimacy and the broken fourth wall.  I rushed to order the DVDs as soon as I got home.  The interaction between the characters felt staged and surreal, but in Lynch’s stylised ambiance it was believable, as though the unreal was more real than the real.  A hyperreal, Baudrillardian simulation of reality, the cinematography and style winked and grinned at me, like a perfectly made up face with a gaping, dripping wound glaring from the lower lip.  Jarring like the sight of blood on an image of performed beauty, it was impossible to turn away from.

Logan was surprised when I told him I didn’t have a television.  “It’s by choice”, I said.  “But how do you keep up with current affairs?” he asked.  “That’s what Twitter is for.”  And maybe social media has taken television’s place as the dulling apparatus of contemporary times.  In any case, my reflection in the black mirror of his empty television screen while bent over his single bed looked more engaged and present than when in front of screen lit with dancing pixels.


I was already drunk when I met the beardy Shinner with the tattooed arms.  We talked about little that I remember, except for the fact that he was in Sinn Féin, and presumably I must also have told him about my own political affiliations.  Both a little the worse for wear, he ended up scrapping with his mate and I ended up kissing someone who called himself a “non-practising Catholic”, thought it would be handiest to baptise his future children to get them into school, and said that politics was boring.  I might have bored him with the reasons why church and state should be separated, but what with all the wine I can’t say for sure.  Either way, the beardy Shinner and I both ended up going home alone.

A week later I found a contact I didn’t recognise in my phone: Cathal.  Confused for a second, and then it came back to me.  He had given me his number.  I was supposed to text him for a drink.  Better late than never, I thought.  He was happy to hear from me, and said he’d be in touch at the weekend.

The following day I crashed my car into the side of a yellow BMW.  Broken neck.  Lying strapped to a board in A&E hours later, I told my sister about Cathal the beardy Shinner.  “You’re going to go out with a Shinner?” she asked, alarmed.  “What are you going to tell Dad?”  “I hadn’t planned telling him anything.  Besides, I’m in no fit state to go anywhere now.”

I didn’t hear from Cathal again.  I saw him at a protest months later.  Too much time had passed to say hello.


I met Joanne on a crowded Saturday night.  She was the new friend of my friend, who had met her in the psych hospital.  My friend had gone off her meds and got manic.  She ended up getting arrested for trying to break into the national broadcaster to prove that the government was using radio signals for mind control.  Joanne had borderline personality disorder.  She was a nurse, although not working at the moment.  She was vivacious.  Her huge curves seemed to spill from her dress as she leapt at me to kiss me.  She showed me the little plastic ziplock bag with her meds for the night in it.  There must have been ten tablets.  She was amazed that I could manage my bipolar with just an antipsychotic.  I hadn’t been up or down in over a year, and it helped me sleep, too.  A wonder drug with no side effects, I thought, though I knew that my friend hated it.  She said it messed with her lateral thinking.  I never saw Joanne after that night.

Two years later my friend mentioned her at a party – “Poor Joanne”, with a reflective pause.  “What happened to Joanne?”  My friend looked at me with dismay.  “You don’t know?  Joanne killed herself three months ago.”  I couldn’t distinguish the feeling.  It wasn’t grief – I had hardly known her.  But she was there, she was real, I had touched her skin and kissed her lips, and now only her absence was there.  Only Not Joanne.


I wasn’t really attracted to Xavier.  He was nice, and we had good conversations.  He thought Hillary Clinton was a criminal but was voting for her anyway.  I met him two nights in a row just before leaving LA.  It was good to have someone interesting to talk to.  The practice of driving to a bar, drinking, and then driving home would remind me of rural Ireland if this wasn’t such a sprawling metropolis.   Xavier said he was a feminist, but told me that in America the man always pays on a date.  I told him that on the rare occasions when a man insists on paying I get uncomfortable.  What if my date wasn’t a man, anyway?  He paid for dinner, and was impressed when I bought him a drink in return.  It was the least I could do.  He said that he liked this system because “It renders women more independent and puts less pressure on men”.  “It puts less pressure on women”, I told him, “because there’s no unspoken expectation to repay a man with sex.”

We had sex anyway.  I wasn’t that into it, but it had been three months since my ex and two years since anyone else, and I wanted it out of the way.  His flesh was squishy, and his breath smelled.  Just as the thought that America’s culture of body hair removal for all genders was too much floated idly through my mind, he commented “I’ve never had sex with a European girl before.”  Sure enough, I had more hair than him.  I like hair.  Xavier thought it was novel.


I sat at the bar waiting for Nico twenty minutes past the time we had agreed to meet.  My phone hopped with frantic texts every few moments, always assuring me that he was two minutes away.  Eventually he appeared, hurrying down the stairs toward me – I recognised the messy black hair and pointed face from his photos – but when he reached the bottom he veered off course and straight into the men’s toilets.  Minutes later, he greeted me.

He was agitated, and drank his pint before I had finished my wine.  Conversation was clipped on his side; gently probing on mine.  Less than half an hour in, Nico lunged at me.  “Lobbed the gob” is the expression my friend used when I described it to her later.  Startled, I froze for a few seconds before extricating myself and returning abruptly to contrived conversation.  He sulked, but kept his hands to himself for at least ten minutes.

He kept bringing the conversation back to an ex-girlfriend of his.  I asked how long the relationship had been over.  Two months, he said.  Gently suggesting that he may not be quite over it yet, I drained my wine glass, making moves to leave.

“You have nothing to worry about”, he insisted, grabbing my arm.

Oh, I thought, that is definitely not what’s going on.  He ordered another round of drinks, as I dropped my coat with dismay.

For hours I tried to remove myself, politeness too deeply embedded in me to stand up and walk away.  I let him rave about filmmaking, LSD and ‘crazy’ girls, all the time searching for my way out.  When I stood up for a bathroom break, he grabbed both my hands.

“I just don’t want to lose you.”

“My coat is still here”, I pointed out with impatience.  “I’m coming back.”

When I returned, Nico took his own bathroom break.  I waited.  And waited.  He was taking his time.  Suddenly it hit me: just leave.  I was out the door and down the street without another thought.

With a dead phone battery and an empty wallet I walked the forty minutes home.  When my phone was revived in the secluded safety of my bedroom, there were six text messages, fourteen missed calls and three voicemails.  They kept coming.  After ignoring many more, I responded asking him to leave me alone.  He said he’d never forgive me.  I blocked his number.


Aileen Ferris has published poetry in Route 57, the University of Sheffield’s online literary journal.  A Dublin native, she ran a travel blog at for some time before turning to writing fiction.  She is also an aerial acrobat and channels her creative energy into that as much as her writing.  This is her first fiction publication.

Image Credit:  Bruno Martins

Frog Bookshop by Bernard O’Rourke

You’re sitting in a corner booth of the bakery café when the man with a face like a dehydrated frog storms in and starts to yell about how, just this morning, this building housed a bookshop.

Do you?          A) respond,

or                     B) ignore him and continue to eat your slice of apple pie, accompanied by black coffee that tastes just a little too bitter because they’ve only recently started doing coffee here and the staff haven’t mastered the art as yet. Clearly none of them have ever worked as a proper barista before. Probably everybody learns to make coffee in Starbucks now. You begin to suppose that what this raving derelict is saying may be really true after all, that as recently as this morning this place was a bookshop. You’ve walked past here but never been inside before, have you ever really noticed, are there any clues to the place, apart from the sign that reads: we now serve coffee––

If you choose A), and stand up to tap him on the shoulder and inform him that this was – for the last 24 hours at least – always a bakery, he’ll get violent and start to throw things, and the police, whom the bakery staff have even now dialled for, will arrive and find him making a scene, leaving them little recourse but to take him on with pepper spray and nightsticks (did you see the way his hand shot into his pocket, they’ll say. Nine out of ten times it’s a concealed weapon, they’ll say).

If however you choose option B), and everyone else does too, and goes right on about their day, the frog-faced man will get a bit discouraged after a while, will become suddenly crippled with an embarrassing clarity – a sudden doubt of what he has been claiming married with an equally sudden realisation of how stupid he looks. His froggy face will fall and he’ll start to look pathetically old as his shrivelling features sag into an acceptance of his own utterly pathetic nature. If you choose option B), there will be no scene here when the police arrive, and who knows what they might do if they lack such an easy target.

Bernard O’Rourke is a writer & filmmaker. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in The Penny Dreadful, The Tangerine, The IncubatorQueen Mob’s Teahouse, The Honest UlstermanTheEEELThe Bohemyth, and Wordlegs. In 2017, his short film Impression, Canal was shortlisted for the Ó Bhéal Poetry Film Prize at the IndieCork Film Festival. His Twitter account is @guyserious. He lives in Dublin.

Image Credit:  Nafinia Putra

The Swallow by Anna Foley

He examined the plant as the sun set over the skyline. A day out of the glasshouse had not improved the colour of the tomatoes as hoped, but the vines had wilted. The rusty screech of the back-door hinge announced her arrival to this quiet space at the back of the terraced house.

“I must oil that later. Are you at your flowers?”

“I don’t do flowers, only edible stuff,” he barked. “Organic. It’ll be good for you.”

She was peering into the ramshackle glasshouse, imbibing the chlorophyll. He watched, willing her not to touch anything. A flicker of movement at the back-bedroom window next door caught his eye. Someone had noticed him raise his voice to her, again. Dusk was looming.

“You’ve a lovely crop of gherkins lovey,” she said. Her voice was tinny since that last surgery.

“Cucumbers,” he snapped.


“They’re not gherkins ‘til you bloody pickle um, Mam. Cucumbers”

She sighed and stood before him, smiling. He wondered why she persisted with these inane conversations. Tensing, he shifted his gaze to the window next door again. No movement to be seen. When he glanced at his mother again, she had focussed her attention on his barrel of collected rainwater.

“Oh Jesus,” she said.


“There’s a dead bird in there. Don’t look now love.”

He edged toward her and eyed the oily sheen of the water, interrupted by the greasy feathers of a swallow.

“He won’t get back to Africa now anyway,” she said, fishing it out with her right hand.

“God, Mam! There’s germs an all sorts. You have to be careful of bugs.”

“Don’t you worry, pet, I’ll get rid of it.”

She lifted the lid of the steel bin in the corner and replaced it with a clang, wiping her hand on her apron afterwards. He imagined bacteria flourishing all over it, creeping all over the eroded Kiss The Cook embellishment. The pathogens would garnish whatever awful meal she was preparing indoors too. Endotoxin stew.

She paused then, hovering along the fencing that separated his garden from that crowd next door. The shrieks of seemingly happy children permeated the air of the estate on either side of him. Glancing at his mother he was struck by how thin she seemed. Though the evening was fine, and the coral sky beautiful in its way, this close-proximity living was not something a true country woman like her would ever get used to. The August wind picked up, whipping the scant remains of her hair into her eyes and she jumped. She would need a scarf for her head soon, or a wig, he thought.

“Must go back to the dinner love, come in after me now won’t you.”

He grunted.

When he was sure he had heard her close out the back door, he entered the glasshouse, and tore down the last of the nests.

Anna Foley lives in her native East Cork. She completed an MA in Creative Writing in UCC in 2016. She has had several pieces published in various journals including The Lonely Crowd, The Incubator, The Quarryman and the Honest Ulsterman.

Image credit:  Markus Spiske

Fugue:  A Fragrance by J. T. Townley


A woman, blonde, blue-eyed, glides down a white-sand beach.  Waves crash.  Sea breeze tousles her long tresses.  Her translucent sarong flutters.  Her tiny white bikini covers very little.  Her thigh muscles ripple with each graceful step.

A man, chiseled, bronzed, pads toward her across the wet, white sand.  He wears a confused expression.  Breakers roar.  His unbuttoned white tailored shirt whips in the wind.  Close-up:  pecs, abs, face, abs, pecs.  From neck to navel, sweat droplets bead and run.

A jaguar, lithe, limber, races through the lush jungle beyond the beach.

Cue the strings.

The woman and man embrace in slow motion against a backdrop of tumultuous surf.  His fingers dance up her spine.  Her lips gnaw at his stubbly chin. “Passion.”  He holds her cheek in his hand.  She wraps an arm around his waist.  “Pleasure.”  He brushes her locks out of her eyes.  She paws his tight rump. “Destiny.”  They tumble into the sand in a passionate heap.

Sunlight refracts through sea spray.  Surf pounds the beach.  From the edge of the jungle, a jaguar preens and roars.

“Fugue.  The new fragrance.  For men.”



A woman, chiseled, bronzed, pads across the wet, white sand.  Her unbuttoned white tailored shirt whips in the cold tropical wind.  It’s snowing.  Close-up: breasts, abs, face, abs, breasts.  From neck to navel, goosebumps.

A man, blonde, blue-eyed, plods down a white, snowy beach.  He wears a confused expression.  Waves crash soundlessly.  Cold wind tousles his long tresses.  His translucent sarong flutters.  His tiny white bikini covers very little.  His thigh muscles ripple with each plodding footfall.

A jaguar, loose-limbed, lissome, races up the snow-covered sand in a red Alfa Romeo Spider.  The top is down.  He sports Ray-Bans.

Cue the harps.

The woman and man embrace in slow motion against a backdrop of gathering storm.  Her fingers dance up his spine.  His lips gnaw at her stubbly chin. “Passion.”  She holds his cheek in her hand.  He wraps an arm around her waist.  “Pleasure.”  She brushes his locks out of his eyes.  He paws her tight rump. “Destiny.”  They tumble into the accumulating powder in a passionate, shivering heap.

Sunlight refracts through blowing snow.  Ice crystals form in the surf swell.  The jaguar spins donuts around them in his bright red convertible, roaring.

“The new fragrance for men:  Fugue.”



A blonde, blue-eyed ski bunny glides down a snow-covered slope.  A thick crust of ice glistens on the surface of a mountain lake.  A cold wind tousles the long tresses trailing from her stocking cap.  Her white bikini covers very little.  Her thigh muscles ripple with each graceful turn.

A man, chiseled, bronzed, pads toward her across the wet, white slope carrying hot toddies.  He wears furry boots and a confused expression.  His unbuttoned white tailored ski jacket whips in the icy wind.  Close-up:  pecs, abs, face, abs, pecs.  From neck to navel, goosebumps.

A jaguar, svelte, supple, races up the snowy shore in a red Alfa Romeo Spider.  The top is down.  He sports a snow-leopard suit and Ray-Bans.

Cue the banjos.

The woman and man embrace in slow motion against a backdrop of snow-covered mountains.  His mittens dance up her spine.  Her chapped lips gnaw at his numb, stubbly chin.  “Passion.”  He holds her cheek in his mitten.  She wraps an arm, blue with cold, around his waist.  “Pleasure.”  He slides off her stocking cap, pawing at her sweaty, matted locks.  She pokes him in the tight rump with the handles of her ski poles.  “Destiny.”  She loses her balance, and they tumble into a heap of poles and skis and awkward, icy passion, hot toddies spilling in the snow.

Wind whips powder into stinging clouds.  Ice on the lake creaks and moans.  The jaguar in the snow-leopard suit adjusts his Ray-Bans, revving the engine of his bright red convertible and roaring.

“Men:  The new Fugue.  For fragrance.”



A blonde, blue-eyed farmer’s daughter splashes up out of a river.  Summer sun carries the secret scent of tilled loam.  Snow-capped mountains tower over the valley.  She wrings out her long tresses.  Her tiny, non-existent white bikini covers very little.  Her thigh muscles ripple as she lies back in the soft riverbank grass.

A man, chiseled, bronzed, pads toward her across a fallow field.  He wears a confused expression.  Cicadas hiss and rattle.  His unbuttoned tailored white overalls flap and sway in the warm wind.  From neck to navel, sweat droplets bead and run.

A jaguar, spry, lithesome, races through the cornfields on a red Alfa Romeo tractor.  The top is down.  He sports a straw hat and Ray-Bans.  In his paw, a .12-gauge shotgun.

Cue the fiddles.

The farmer’s daughter and man embrace in slow motion against a backdrop of cornfields, river, and snow-capped mountains.  Her spine dances down his fingers.  His stubbly lips gnaw at her chin.  “Passion.”  She holds his hand against her cheek.  He wraps a sweaty waist inside her arm.  “Pleasure.”  She brushes his eyes out of her locks.  He rumps her tight paws.  “Destiny.”  They tumble to the grass in a disheveled heap.

Sunlight refracts through dust clouds.  The cicada clatter swells.  The straw-hatted jaguar barrels toward the lovers at full throttle, adjusting his Ray-Bans, cocking his .12-gauge, and roaring.

“New.  The fragrance for men.  Fugue.”



A woman, blue-eyed, blonde, glides down a bright, white street.  Cars crash.  Fetid subway wind tousles her long tresses.  Murky late-autumn sunlight casts a glare on mountains of snow-capped dumpster garbage.  Her translucent thigh muscles flutter.  Her tiny white bikini covers very little.  Her sarong ripples with each graceful step.

A man, bronzed, chiseled, pads toward her across the wet, white sidewalk.  He wears a confused expression.  Traffic roars.  New Yorkers, too.  His unbuttoned white tailored shirt whips in the fetid subway wind.  Close-up:  pecs, abs, face, abs, pecs.  From neck to navel, raindrops bead and run.

A jaguar, limber, lithe, races through the concrete jungle, blowing stoplights and cutting off cabbies, in a red Alfa Romeo Spider.  The top is down, despite the drizzling rain.  He sports Ray-Bans and can’t see where he’s going.

Cue the jangly electric guitars.

The woman and man embrace in slow motion against a backdrop of rush hour road rage.  His fingers dance up her spine.  Her lips gnaw at his stubbly chin. Drivers honk, bleat, and make obscene hand gestures, then someone throws a bottle, which explodes in a spray of jagged glass.  “Passion.”  He holds her cheek in his hand.  She wraps an arm around his waist.  Rats squeak and scurry, gazing at the lovers from their snow-capped mountains of dumpster garbage.  “Pleasure.” He brushes her locks out of her eyes.  She paws his tight rump.  A divorced secretary in a no-nonsense gray skirt and glowing white Reeboks shoves them accidentally-on-purpose and yells, “Get a room!”, face plastered with disgust and envy.  “Destiny.”  They tumble to the filthy, glass-shattered pavement in a passionate heap.

The trickle of rain turns to sleet.  The air feels cold and greasy.  The jaguar stands upright on the hood of his red Alfa Romeo Spider, Les Paul sunburst in his paws, a Marshall stack big as a bus behind him, strumming jangly power chords and roaring.

“Fugue for men.  The new fragrance.”



A woman, bronzed, chiseled, pads down a wet, white sidewalk.  Traffic roars.  Mimes, too.  Her unbuttoned white tailored shirt whips in the sweet spring wind.  Close-up:  breasts, abs, face, abs, breasts.  From neck to navel, sweat droplets bead and run.

A man, blonde, blue-eyed, glides down a bright, white street.  He wears a confused expression.  Buses hit delivery trucks hit cars hit motorcycles hit mopeds hit bicycles hit pedestrians.  The unfamiliar wail of Parisian sirens.  The wind off speeding emergency vehicles tousles his long tresses.  His translucent sarong flutters.  His tiny white bikini covers very little.  His thigh muscles ripple with each graceful step.

A jaguar, lissome, loose-limbed, races through the concrete jungle in a red Alfa Romeo Spider, spinning around the Arc de Triomphe and slaloming down the Champs Elysées, a smoldering Gauloise between his lips.  The top is down.  He sports Ray-Bans, a jaunty-angled beret, and a crooked smile.

Cue the accordions.

The woman and man embrace in slow motion against a backdrop of other women and men and women and women and men and men embracing in slow motion.  His spine dances up her fingers.  Her stubbly chin gnaws at his lips.  “Passion.”  She holds his cheek in her hand.  She wraps her waist inside his arm. “Pleasure.”  She brushes his locks out of his eyes.  Her tight rump slides beneath his paws.  “Destiny.”  They tumble into the tulips in a passionate heap, along with at least two other couples.

Sunlight refracts through Gauloise smoke.  The warm breeze carries the scent of daffodils, crêpes, and fresh espresso.  In his bright red convertible, the jaguar barrels down the steps of Sacré-Coeur, smashes through the Louvre, and drives straight up the Eiffel Tower, roaring, “Sous les pavés, la plage!”

“Fragrance:  The new Fugue.  For men.”



A woman, blonde, bronzed, glides down a giant golden dune.  Sunshine assaults her.  Hot, arid wind tousles her long tresses.  Her translucent kaftan flutters.  Her tiny white bikini covers very little.  Her thigh muscles ripple with each graceful step.

A man, chiseled, blue-eyed, pads toward her across the sandy void.  He wears a confused expression.  The wind howls through a bleached human skull.  A javelin sand boa constricts around a wayward goat.  The man’s unbuttoned white tailored shirt whips in the wind.  Close-up:  pecs, abs, face, abs, pecs.  From neck to navel, sweat droplets bead and run.

A jaguar, supple, svelte, races up and over the vast dunes in a red Alfa Romeo Spider.  The top is down, despite the blowing sand.  He sports Ray-Bans and a turban.  He sips sweet mint tea.

Cue the ouds.

The woman and man embrace against a backdrop of spitting camels, endless sand, and empty sky.  His fingers dance up her spine.  Her lips gnaw at his stubbly chin.  It’s 120 degrees, and there’s no shade.  “Passion.”  He holds her cheek in his leathery hand.  She wraps a sunburned arm around his waist.  The blue dome of sky stretches and shimmers.  “Pleasure.”  He brushes her locks out of her eyes.  She paws his tight rump.  On the horizon, an enormous sandstorm rages. “Destiny.”  They tumble down that golden dune in a flailing, passionate heap.

The roiling wall of sand blots out the sun.  The wind carries the scent of recent slaughter.  The jaguar presses a button, transforming his bright red convertible into a bright red coupe in which to weather the storm.  Sand and wind hammer the windshield.  He preens in the lighted vanity mirror, roaring.

“Fugue.  The new fragrance.  For men.”


J. T. Townley has published in Harvard Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Prairie Schooner, The Threepenny Review, and other magazines and journals.  His stories have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net award.  He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia and an MPhil in English from Oxford University, and he teaches at the University of Virginia.  To learn more, visit

Image Credit: Jakob Owens