The Piano by Sorcha Fogarty

My husband is deaf. Once, he asked me if snow made a sound when it fell, and I lied. We have been married 11 years today, and I am leaving him.

He is in the bakery on the corner where it is warm and they know him well. He will return within the hour to our apartment with a box full of little cakes which he ordered especially for this day. He will walk through the door and toss his keys into the little ceramic bowl on the hall table. I am the only one who ever hears the sound of the keys as they fall into the bowl. He will place the cakes on the second shelf of the fridge and seek me out, but I will be gone.

There is a violent rip in the couch. A giant piece of leather hangs off the armrest like a tongue. It has ruined the couch, but we never bothered to get it repaired.  Just like us. One violent rip has divided us forever. We love each each other differently now; we just remind each other of what is missing. Each time we look at each other, an inexorable ache rises up from deep inside both of us. It is tangible. It pollutes the air between and around us. We have almost completely stopped looking at each other. Instead, we look through each other, or behind each other, or around each other. The ashtray is empty and now only decorative in function, and it tempts me to smoke again. My lungs are hollow and empty and long for the weighty, constricted feeling of being a smoker; just to feel something, anything. Just to feel a feeling that isn’t interminable, unresolved sorrow.

He plays the piano every day, and I am taking it with me. It was made in 1783 in Prague. It sits quietly in the corner now, poised for exile. We’ve moved home three times in eleven years, and each time, the piano goes out of tune when it enters a new environment, as if it were afraid of change. My husband once told me that in the darkness of its body, deep in its belly, there is a piece of him which is living secretly, breathing, pulsating, fed by scherzo and allegro. I am taking the piano for exactly this reason. Inside, quiet as dust, a part of my husband anticipates resurrection, while I have given up completely. I do not want him to have the benefit of resurrection when I know I will never experience such merciful relief.

He is watching the fat baker squeeze the icing in the shape of tiny red hearts onto the little cakes that we are supposed to share with our friends tonight, in celebration of our anniversary. He once told me that he loved me because I was the only thing he could hear. He can feel the vibrations of the piano strings through the soundboard, but I am inside him, he said. I am a song soaked into each bone of his secret body where the world has never been able to wander.

The fat baker is packaging the cakes. He places them delicately into a pink box, tying it up in white ribbon with a flourish. I want to leave before my husband returns, otherwise I will be swayed by the sadness in his eyes and have to wait yet another year. I am running out of years. I have to be on my way to the airport; the piano movers should have been here half an hour ago. I do not want my husband to find them struggling on the stairs with a part of his soul. I want no scenes.

I have already burned all the photographs; they made a crackling sound and set off the smoke detector, which I promptly smashed. He won’t need it because he is deaf and it gives off only a minute vibration, too mild for him to notice. I have written down all the reasons why I am leaving, and I am overcome with a sad longing for the world, to be a part of it again, because I have not spoken to anyone for weeks. I must go now, I can’t wait for any more tomorrows. My feet barely touch the ground as I take a final sweeping look around the apartment. My heart is in my mouth. I can feel it throbbing and taste the pulse.

For some unknown and annoying reason, the moment we met fills my mind. He was giving a recital. I was with friends, eager to see and hear this deaf pianist, like a sort of modern-day Beethoven. I felt like a voyeur, not really caring about the music, but fascinated by the idea of this man. He played several pieces, but the only one I recognised was Chopin’s Nocturne op.9 No.2, with its beautiful, discordant notes. And I was mesmerized by the way he played. It was as if he was listening to every single note, his head bent towards the keys, his eyes half-closed. His fingers dancing like little ballerinas, so delicate and long and elegant. After the show, I went up and introduced myself. I couldn’t resist. I wanted to hear if he could speak at all. It was crass and nosy of me, but he could speak; with palpable strain and effort, he forced out a melody of muffled sounds in an awkward staccato rhythm. I complimented him on his Chopin rendition, and he told me it was his favourite, that he played it every single day. He invited me for a glass of wine. We went to a wine bar, one of those little places that plays quiet but lively jazz in the background, dimly lit by candles on each table. It was there that he asked me the question whether or not snow made a sound when it fell. He wrote it on a napkin, and underneath his question, I wrote, “Yes. It sounds like angels falling”. But of course, he would never hear an angel fall. It was an in impossible answer to an impossible question. But he took my hand immediately, and tears filled his eyes. And he said “Thank you”, with his stunted, strangled voice. A trickle of red wine stained the napkin as we continued our evening. I kept that napkin for years. But today, I burned it with the photographs.

Albert Camus suggested that we would not love if there was no lack within us, but we are offended by a similar lack in the other. Expecting to find the answer, we only find the duplicate of our own problem. And, as a result, we become disgusted, disappointed, and try to flee from the other in an attempt to flee from ourselves also. Inside my husband, outside him, all around him, is the duplicate of my problem. I can never be free, I know that, and I know I can never flee from myself; but I can at least flee from his hopefulness, from his will to force life to go on, which only serves to exacerbate my own emptiness.

The piano movers arrive. They are brusque and professional and ready to get on with the job. They manoeuvre the antique piano down the winding staircase of our apartment building with cautious, studied movements. As they make their descent, the door to an apartment on the second floor opens, and a frail Russian woman called Ida who has lived in the building for over thirty years puts her hand on my arm and looks concerned.  She sees my eyes, she sees the panic and the longing. She wants to know has there been any news. She always wants to know has there been any news. There is never, and there will never be, any news.  I am also escaping from her. I am escaping from the constant questions, the pitying looks, the awkward silences, the stilted conversations on the stairs or outside her apartment door. I tell her, babbling, making no sense at all, that my husband is in the bakery buying little cakes iced with tin red hearts, and I have to be in the taxi on my way to the airport before he returns. I tell her it is our eleven year anniversary and I am leaving him. This makes her gasp; her eyes water, and she lets me go, offering some support or strength or affirmation with a slight squeeze to my shoulder.

I shut the front door of the building behind me. I have no bags, except for a small handbag which contains my passport, my aeroplane ticket, some money, and the address of my new home written on a scrap of paper. I don’t want to take anything with me. Just the piano.

He was playing it the moment the phone rang, eight years ago. A little girl had been found, lying on the wrong side of the footpath, face-down on the road, blood seeping through her little blue coat. Our phone number was in her bag, in her little notebook with the birds and the rainbows on the cover. She had wandered from school. Whoever hit her, whoever killed her, just drove off and left her there. The driver was never found. Her ponytail was sticky with dirt and blood. A tiny bird, broken and forgotten. She was there one minute, perfect and small and dressed so smartly in her little blue coat, and gone the next. He was playing the Chopin Nocturne when I hung up the phone and went to find him. With shaking hands I spoke to him, my fingers trembling as I made the shapes of the letters because I could not speak. My mouth would not work, my tongue dry and lifeless in my mouth.  He never played Chopin again.

I can see his face now, as he enters the apartment, and sees the space where the piano once stood. I can imagine the emptiness that will follow him around. I can imagine him sitting him at the edge of our bed, her photo, the only photo I didn’t burn, in his hands, as he too remembers the night that he asked me if snow made a sound when it fell. He makes his way to where the piano used to be, and, sitting on the stool which I left behind, he holds his hands out in front of him, poised over the no-longer-there keyboard. Closing his eyes, he mimes Chopin’s Nocturne op. 9 No. 2.

The pink box of little cakes iced with tiny red hearts sits forgotten on the bed, her photograph beside it.


Originally from Omagh, Co. Tyrone and presently living in Cork City, Sorcha Fogarty completed a PhD on “The Affirmative Nature of Impossibility in Jacques Derrida’s Work of Mourning” in 2010, and spent several years teaching Undergraduate English in University College Cork. She has previously had academic articles, based on Jacques Derrida, published on The Literary Encyclopedia, an online journal. She has spent the past six years teaching Creative Writing in various libraries around Cork City, and presently works as an Assistant Librarian, while continuing to teach Creative Writing. 

Image Credit:  NeONBRAND

Our Chimera by Clare Diston

We built a bookcase from the pieces of the crib.

            We found it in the corner of a bric-a-brac shop. The crib was smooth and wooden and boxy, a rectangle on rockers, and it was filled with dozens of discount scatter cushions. We loved it the moment we saw it.

            It was delivered on a Sunday. We carried it, laughing, in the seagull-screech afternoon as the wind blew the hair into our faces and we tripped over cobbles and brushed past green carnations, up the little path to our house.

            “We’ll never get it inside!” we hooted. “We’ll have to cut it in two!”

            But we didn’t, of course, although we did end up bent double with laughter when we tried to get it up the stairs.

            For a while it lived on the first floor, covered by a sheet, as we feathered the room around it with fresh paint, new carpet and triangles of rainbow-coloured bunting. We liked to go up there early in the mornings and watch through the steam from our mugs as the sparrows hopped on the window sill and the breeze ruffled the sheet like it was trying to look inside.

            We held hands, and for now the secret was ours.

Three months later, it happened, so we took the crib downstairs. This time it caught on every corner and dug into our limbs, until one of us could not hold up the end properly and our hands slipped and we lost control. It slid, carelessly, all the way down and landed with a crack. For a moment we looked at it, immobile at the bottom of the stairs, one rocker broken and hanging limp. We replayed the sound of the crack in our heads. Then we picked it up and put it on end in the large cupboard under the stairs, and we snapped off the broken rocker and put it inside.

            We pushed it back, squashing everything behind it, and closed the door.

            Like swans we tucked away our heads and let our bodies get on with the business of living. Calmly we took down the rainbow bunting; quietly we packed up the clothes and linen. But our composure exhausted itself before we could get to the understairs cupboard, and as time passed our grief gathered like dewdrops around the only thing we had not dealt with. The crib sent out ripples, lapping us softly every time we passed the cupboard door, until we could not even look at it. One of us tried to tell the other that it was just an empty box, something which only carved up air, but that did not work at all – it was an empty box, it carved up the air.

Then one day one of us said, “I need something.”

            “Then go and get it,” said the other. “What are you looking at me for?”

            “It’s under the stairs.”

            Even though we knew where it was, we searched the whole house first and even rooted through the car. A turtle dove watched us, purring in the highest branches of a tree. At last we went back inside and stood in front of the understairs cupboard.

            We took each other’s hands and it was a surprise and a comfort.

            The thing we were most afraid of was that it might have changed somehow. Perhaps it had tilted forwards and would come tumbling out on top of us the moment we opened the door. Perhaps it would be bigger than we remembered, or worse, smaller.

            But when we opened the door it was exactly as we had left it, standing on its end, the broken rocker inside, framing an emptiness, but not one that wasn’t familiar to us already. In fact, seeing it again felt like alighting on a branch; at last we had something to push off against.

            We pulled everything out of the cupboard and found what we needed. Then we put the crib back in, right way up, and filled it with everything that had been crammed behind it. Now when we closed the door it didn’t feel like a weight against our hands, and when we walked past there was no need to curve our steps towards the far wall. Brushing against the handle was no longer the worst thing in the world.

            We allowed our caged grief to take flight, until it was time again.

One of us had an idea and did not know how to tell the other. One of us stood in the upstairs room – repainted, refurnished, refilled – and knew that something had to go in the empty corner. In the end, when we spoke, one of us decided the what and one of us decided the where.

            We took the crib out from under the stairs and emptied it of everything but its own broken rocker. Then we carried it back to the upstairs room, and it bumped into edges and the soft parts of ourselves until we had it upside down on a sheet, helpless, belly exposed. We had never seen it like that before, and even as it stirred our pity, we found ourselves hating it.

            We wondered whether we were angry enough to claw the thing apart with our bare hands.

            “Why don’t we do it like this?” asked one of us.

            “It would be better this way,” said the other.

            The screws were old and rusted, but with enough force they could be turned. We detached the second rocker and began to take out the screws that tightened the sides to the base, but we saw straight away that it would not be so easy. Ridges of hardened opaque glue squeezed out of the seal between the base and the rest of the wooden frame, and we ran our fingers along them and pecked at them with our nails. But we carried on anyway, one of us dropping loose screws onto the sheet, the other putting them into a little dish. Of course, even when the last screw was out, the structure still held fast.

            “Why would anybody glue this?” asked one of us.

            “They probably never expected it to be taken apart,” said the other.

            We attacked the seam with screwdrivers, which we jabbed into the glue and worked and worked so that we could get the points between the two pieces of wood, and then we levered up and down and side to side, mashing the wood and pulping the dried glue, loosening the base enough that we could force our fingers into the join and really wrench and tear until, finally, it came apart.

            We sat back, breathless, on our heels.

            “Do you think we’ve damaged it?” asked one of us.

            “Let’s go and have lunch,” said the other.

            When we returned there was a collared dove standing on the window sill, cooing and bowing its head. Now and again it paddled its little feet like it was excited about something. When we opened the window it flew away.

            The frame of the crib now became our work table; we laid the base across it and trimmed off the ruined edges with a jigsaw, and then we cut the base into strips which became the shelves, secured with nails and glue. The old screws, some scattered on the floor, some collected neatly in the dish, all ended up in the bin. The crib’s old rockers became an unexpected decoration, added to the top of the new bookcase like deliberate wooden moulding.

            When we had finished we stood it upright and examined our creation; the product of our plan, hatched. It bore the scars of our work, certainly, but it was sturdy, perhaps even sturdier than before. To begin with it was difficult not to see it as a bottomless crib standing on end, but as we stared at it we stopped seeing the shape of what it had been and began to see it in its most basic elements – pieces of wood, nails and glue – like looking at a word for so long that it loses its meaning and all that’s left are the empty letters.

            Right then we wanted nothing more than to fill the shelves with books, but it had to be left to dry. So we went downstairs and out into the garden with mugs of tea, and the air was so crisp the steam looked like feathers. We stood among the violets and looked up at the open window. A breeze stirred the curtain and we knew it was setting the glue.

            “Do you remember when we thought we would have to cut it in two to get it through the door?” asked one of us.

            “I remember it all,” said the other.

            We held each other’s hands as a distant cuckoo started to call.

 


Clare Diston is a freelance writer and editor through her business, Human Voices. She received her MA in Creative Writing in 2011 and she loves reading (and writing) literary and science fiction. She blogs about all things books at www.50ayear.com. This is her first fiction publication.

Image Source:  Kari Shea

A Party by Lucy Montague-Moffatt

Driving at night beside you you ask me to drive with your eyes over the people at the party I say yes back with my eyes because that’s what love is driving you home when you are tired from working all week and want to have another whiskey Fiona has just poured me a third glass of wine and has been telling me all about the particular grape that this wine is made from she has said fabulous about ten times I don’t know if she knows any other descriptive words I pour my glass down the sink when she isn’t looking and the sink gurgles fabulous back to me and Fiona shrieks that I have drank that very fast I flush and shrug and go to the bathroom and use my earring to remove a piece of spinach from my teeth I wish you had also told me across the room with your eyes about the piece of spinach I don’t know how long it has been there or if everyone has been talking about it behind my back I saw a group of Fiona’s archaeologist friends laughing loudly beside a bookshelf howling they must have been laughing at the spinach because what else do archeologists have to laugh about you hate museums and whisper crap crap crap under your breath as we walk around the glass cases of pottery and although I am fascinated I giggle because that’s what you do to me and love is coming to a museum with me even when you prefer to read an Ian Rankin under a beach umbrella you talk to a woman for a long time I watch across the room but can’t get away from Fiona’s conversation because she is right in the middle of a story about buying brie and there’s never a point where it would be polite to step away as she is doing hand gestures and accents and it is taking a lot of effort so I watch the woman from a distance as she touches your shoulder she pours you another whiskey your fourth and you throw your head back in joy and adulation of this moment when an attractive woman is touching you and feeding you alcohol and telling you things that make your eyes wrinkle at the sides with pure happiness when the brie story is over I don’t go over and disturb you I let you keep talking into the night because that’s what love is I watch your eyes wrinkle from how wide your smile is driving at night beside you as you doze and no matter what happens I can bring you anywhere and you would come because that’s what love is


Lucy Montague-Moffatt is a writer from Dublin currently based in Manchester. Her radio drama ‘In His Kiss’ aired on BBC Radio 4 in July. She is currently the Writer-In-Residence for The Gaiety School of Acting, writing their grad play which will be in Smock Alley Theatre in 2018. She graduated with a Masters in Scriptwriting from the University of Salford last year. Her website is lucymm.co.uk 

Image Source:  Adam Jaime

Audio Guide by Ronan Hession

“Are you sure you’ll be ok?”

“I’m fine. Honestly.  My folks are coming over later so I won’t be on my own.  Go on. You’ll be late.”

I left Angela to rest up, her body still getting used to itself after the miscarriage.  Everything had changed so quickly.  Last week, we had been living a life of plans, talking  about the arrival of a baby who was in fact already in our bed, inside of Angela; a little nineteen-week-old grapefruit.  But what can you say when there’s no heartbeat?   When the scan shows indecipherable black and grey shading and the baby is still there but without that pulsing, characteristic pattern that is supposed to last a lifetime?  I was full of questions, trying to talk my way out of things, but Angela just settled into a profound, personal realisation that was inaccessible to me.  That deep wisdom of the body once it knows, truly knows, that everything has changed.

As we sat at home, waiting for the tablets to work, I texted my sister: “We’ve lost the baby.  Can you tell people?”  We sat through the unreality of trying to find something decent on TV, of having run out of bread, of drying some spare pyjamas for Angela in case she needed to go back into hospital, which she did, for a D&C later that day.  I phoned my boss and said that I had a vomiting bug and would be out for a couple of days, instinctively knowing not to tell the truth.  The following days were filled with the practicalities of medicine, and that closeness you find between two people who have been through a lot together.

The world seemed stubbornly normal as I made my way back in to work. It was autumn and Dublin looked well; the leaves turning the colour of Georgian bricks.

“Here he is! The only man to catch morning sickness when his wife is pregnant – how’s your bump Ger?”

“Hi folks.  Thanks for your sympathy. Don’t come too close, I’m not sure if I’m entirely over it.”

“So brave.  What a pro.  Here he is back after only three days in his Superman pyjamas.”

The first morning at the office filled itself with routine: looking through the end-quarter numbers before they were sent to the West Coast; querying payments made while I was out; clearing annual leave for the girl who worked for me.  Little pieces of normality that I operated by remote control from inside my grief.

At lunchtime, I passed on an invite to go for a curry with the others, answering them with a pantomime pat of my supposedly recovering stomach.  Once the office quietened down, I logged out and left for a walk.  Outside, the bockety streets were full of that midday busyness: people texting their lunch dates to say that they were running late, something had come up; charity fund raisers flirting for Africa; and Italian students in puff jackets walking five abreast, full of continental obliviousness.

I stopped outside the National Gallery.  For months it had been barricaded by hoardings during its renovation, but now, like me, it was slowly beginning to engage with the world again.  It appealed to me as a safe place where a person could go and look like they were doing something, even if they were not really taking anything in.

The lobby was busy with tour groups and people with bags being told that they would need to use the cloakroom.  The Perspex donation box stood awkwardly, half full with unfamiliar currencies. I decided to rent a recorded audio guide to insulate myself from the chatter and close off my interior world.  I put the old-style foam-covered headphones over my ears and clipped the device onto my belt.  It was still set to German so I had to fiddle around and find the English setting, but it played automatically once the language was selected.

“The National Gallery first opened in 1922, after the Parliament building had been bombed, leading to a reorganisation of city centre properties under the control of the State . . .”

The crowds were all drawn to the big names on show at the visiting exhibition of Art from the Low Countries, so the rooms of lesser known Irish art were pretty quiet – mostly rural scenes and large landscapes.  The audio guide explained that Irish landscape paintings typically devoted an unusually large amount of space to the sky: the mercurial weather providing the variety and drama that painters loved.

“Number 41.  This painting depicts working men stopping for lunch.  Their dark skin and weathered clothes indicate that they may have been day labourers, or Journée men . . .”

Standing still, my arms hung loose and my body felt torpid.  I needed some rest, but I also knew that I needed to begin the process of rejoining the world.  Any more time in that house and I would have become too sad.

“ . . . Notice how the woman to the rear of the painting, wielding the soup ladle, stares straight at the viewer.”  

-She looks sad.  On her own among all those men.

“That’s because she is sad.  She’s wearing a black scarf over her head, which indicates a family bereavement.”

-Is one of the men her husband?

“Unlikely.  Perhaps her husband has died and her sadness is because she must work among other men in his absence.”

-That’s a powerful interpretation.

“What do you think?”

-I think she might just be exhausted to the point of sadness.

“No. 59.  This portrait depicts the Earl of Longford, James Hassekemp, with his hunting dogs.  The landscape in the background alludes to his Dutch protestant heritage and the style of the Dutch masters . . .”

-Is he famous?

“Only in the sense that he was rich in the nineteenth century and so his history is recorded and his family name remains in the area.”

-Is that the only reason his picture is here?

“Do you feel drawn to him?”

-I don’t know.  I’m not sure.  I think I like the painting though.

“It’s well executed, but somewhat stiff.  Why do you like it?”

-It’s just so big.  He looks so tall.

“Why is that important?”

-It makes him look substantial.  Unaffected by things.

“Number 73 is titled ‘Woman with a Guitar and Tears’.  This is by Irish painter Lily Oster, who travelled and studied throughout Europe and who was married to the famous sculptor, Daniel Bard.”

-Why tell me who her husband was?

“He is very famous, and the better known.”

-He always will be if you keep describing her like that.

“It’s a Cubist painting. Do you know what that is?”

-I think so. I mean, I know it’s modern art and it’s made up of shapes and different perspectives and all that.   I wouldn’t be able to tell it from other schools of abstract art, but I know as much as I need to.

“How does the painting affect you?”

-It’s ok.  Only ok.  On a different day I might feel engaged intellectually, but the way I am today it just sort of washes over me.

“Does the fact that she is crying mean anything to you?”

-I suppose it’s meant to mean something, but to me it just looks, I don’t know.  Just a painting.  I’m not getting anything from it.

“Some say she looks like a sad Mona Lisa.”

-Let’s move on.
“The next one is number 80. We can skip this if you want.”

-It’s ok.

“I thought it might upset you.”

-Why?

“Because of your baby.”

-My little grapefruit.

“We don’t have to do this one if you don’t want to.”

-Tell me about the painting.

“It’s by Ulick Grey.  It’s called the ‘Child’s Wake’.  It was his last painting and was unfinished at his death.  The child and the adult figures were done by Grey, but the details of the room had to be completed by one of his students.  This is the first time it has been shown here.”

-I haven’t seen it before.

“Grey mostly painted landscapes.   Even though it’s not particularly well executed, the choice of subject is original and profound, which makes it arresting.”

-I see what you mean. The child’s face is wrong though, isn’t it?

“How so?”

-It looks like it’s sleeping, rather than dead.  It’s too peaceful.

“How should it look?”

-I don’t know. But not too peaceful.

“What about the mother figure?”

-She’s not difficult to do.  Everyone knows what a heartbroken mother looks like.

“And the father?”

-He’s not looking at the child.

“Why do you think that is?”

-I think I know.

“Go on.”

-At some stage he will have to choose the exact moment to pull the blanket over the child’s face.

“Should we move on?”

-I have to go back.

“Can’t you stay?  There are two more rooms on this floor.”

-I can’t.  I wish I could bring you with me.

“They won’t let you.”

-What would happen?

“I don’t know.  I don’t know how things work from your side.”

-I’ll just bring you back.  I suppose I have no way of knowing if I’ll get you the next time I come here.

“I guess not.”

I returned the audio guide at the counter, where a woman with a steel grey bob hung it among the others, without breaking off the instructive conversation she was having with some tourists.  It was hard to see exactly where she had hung it or to tell which one I had given her.

Stepping outside into the street again, my ears felt the cold.  Things seemed calmer now, with a few people here and there, making their way with an easy randomness.  A school tour passed by, the children each holding hands with the kids in front and behind them, looking like a string of cut-out paper dolls.

I was in no mood to go back: not yet ready to accept that part of returning to normal was getting back to doing the things that I didn’t want to do.  I sent two texts:

“Hi love.  Am taking a half day.  See you in an hour xx G.”

And to my boss:

“We lost the baby.  Can you tell people?”


Ronan Hession is an emerging writer based Dublin – his work has previously appeared in The Honest Ulsterman. As Mumblin’ Deaf Ro, he has released three albums of storytelling songs. His third album Dictionary Crimes was was nominated for the Choice Music Prize.


Image Source:  Igor Miske

LACES by Iseult Deane

In the corridor beside the gantries, she hid with her hands in Oliver’s shoes. She leaned right down, till her cheek was on the carpet, feeling the spread of her fingers where his toes would be.

Downstairs, on stage, the performance was coming to the end of Act I. She sighed, sat back up, and put the shoes back under where the rest of his Act II costume was hanging. She liked to stay here during the show, officially as costume designer ready for quick changes. In this small theatre building they were renting, nothing was soundproofed. No one wanted it to be their footsteps or their conversation that threw off a whole performance. The actor’s voices created a silence that was like a spell; complete and unbreakable. For this, she thought anyway, Oliver’s voice was the most effective because he made it softer. She felt like he understood the potential of the building, forced it to breath in time with him by drawing back just a little. Under this spell, no one could ask her what she was doing with shoes on her hands; no one was supposed to walk this way at all. In this silence, her secret, her adoration, breathed with the building, with Oliver.

She followed his lines on her script:

Malachy: I want you with me Niamh! When you go, I want you with me.

Niamh: But where can we go? What’ll we do when we get there?

Malachy: We’ll go as far as we can. I want to beat those fucking rain clouds Niamh. I can’t take more cold! If we try to leave now, it’ll be hours before anyone notices. We can disappear, and no one will even know it. Maybe no one will even mind, in the end Niamh.

She loved how Oliver said “Niamh”, with two syllables, like Nee-Uv.

She didn’t, though, like the play all that much. It was sentimental and new, and the director was a fretful angry man; David. He came to every rehearsal in the same denim jacket and sat there with his laptop out, covered in the stickers you get from Amnesty International when you sign a petition in the street. She’d seen him, peering over that screen, leering at Molly. Molly was playing Niamh, and Niamh seemed some kind of fantasy for him, following Malachy all the way around the world with her dark hair and her sweet, quick heart only to die on a tiny boat in the night in an unfamiliar sea. David screamed and shouted and ran things over by an hour, or cut them short when everyone had got up at 7am. She hated him for his cruelty, but more for what he had written into life. It was only the second night, and already rumours about Molly and Oliver were falling off the stage and into the real world.

She waited until she heard the murmur of the crowd before standing up and tucking her script away back into her bag. Molly was the first up the stairs from backstage at the bottom of the corridor.

“How’s it going?”

“Alright I think, bit low energy maybe”, Molly replied, taking the tights she was holding out to her and starting to pull them on under her skirt.

“It sounded good from here anyway”. She held out the rest of the costume.

“Thanks a million Laura” Molly said, and turned towards the dressing room. Laura watched her go for a moment. Molly was tying her hair up; she hoped she hadn’t been on stage this whole time with that bobbin on her wrist.

“Could you give me a hand with this?” Oliver. Laura had made him a shirt for Act II, but had put the fastening very high up on the neck by mistake, so that it was hard to do up yourself. She nodded.

He was taller than her, and now she was eye level with his chin, feeling his breath on her hands. Laura felt lately like there was a flood that followed her, that she was only ever just about ahead of. Here, she felt it rise, coming to rest just under her nose as she did the fastening. He lifted his chin to give her space, and she wanted to throw her arms around his neck and lift herself up, away from the flood, up to his height where it couldn’t get her. She took a small, extra second, and stood back from him. The water sank a little.

“There” she smiled.

“Thanks!” he said, and bounced away down the corridor. The water drained down the stairs after him. She smiled to herself that he didn’t feel the need to check his costume in the mirror.

She heard a shout for their five-minute call, and watched the rest of the cast traipse past her, back downstairs. The lights went darker, and she sat back down and took her script out again.

There was never much of a routine before the play started, always a lost pair of shoes, or a new tantrum from David. No one really noticed then, except Laura, how late Oliver was on the fourth night. Ten minutes until open, her breaths were coming shallow with worry, and David stormed into the corridor. He seemed not to notice Laura, but she felt like he knew someone was watching. He was performative, like an angry person in a film, pacing around on his phone

“Fucking nothing!” he screamed, and kicked the piping running along the wall. “Molly!”

Molly came out to the corridor then. Laura liked Molly. They had been in the same class at college. They always commented nice things on each other’s pictures on instagram. Once they had run into each other leaving the library and gone for a drink and Molly had cried about her sick cat to her.

“I can’t get through to Oliver, have you heard from him?”

Molly shook her head.

“If he doesn’t show up in the next like two fucking minutes then I’m gonna do his part tonight. Just to give you a heads up”.

Laura saw real fear cross Molly’s face at the thought of acting across from David, of acting in love with him.

David could no more do this to Oliver than to Molly. He was too cruel to stand where he stands, say his words in his clothes.

She gathered Oliver’s costume up, waited until the cast came out and started downstairs, before slipping into the middle of them, four pins in her mouth so that she’d look like she had a task to do. Downstairs, she got changed in the dark backstage, rolling up the legs of the trousers, pulling the shoelaces as tight as she could, pinning the shirt at the back to make it fit better. The fire announcement began as she stuffed her hair into his hat, patting around the edges for strays. She could hear David stomping around upstairs, and hoped that he’d still care enough about the play to stop making noise soon.

She waited for Oliver’s, or Malachy’s, first scene, running over his lines in her head. She knew them perfectly. She had studied them like they were sacred the past few days, had come to far more rehearsals than she really needed to hear Oliver say them. Her hands shook with worry, with the burden of filling his place, with disgust at the thought of David standing in these shoes.

She felt a hand on her shoulder and turned around. David was there, with the rest of the cast peering at her from behind him. Without waiting for even a gesture from him, she turned and slipped on stage, too early for her scene, and paced at the back. As she became Malachy , her anxiety dissipated. She was safe here, in Oliver’s place, holding something precious for him.

The performance went completely smoothly. They heard from Oliver at the interval; he had been knocked off his bike and had a concussion and a broken ankle. He was safe, and she imagined Molly texting him later about what had happened, and him seeing her name and imagining her in his clothes.

Oliver couldn’t come in the next day. When Laura arrived, Molly and David were screaming at each other. She waited in the corridor, with his costume clutched to her chest. She heard a door slam and footsteps and Molly rushed into the corridor. She said that David had left, that we were to run the show ourselves tonight.

“Thank you so much Laura”. They hugged, the bundled costume caught between them.

The same thing happened the next few nights, until David seemed to give up on the whole production. He stopped even watching, spending the whole show smoking on the balcony and then only going downstairs at the very end to collect his praises and his ticket takings. The cast was grateful to her for creating such a distance between them and David. Every night they flocked around her, chatting, asking for help with their hair, laughing with her. She thought all the time of Oliver, wondered what he was hearing about what was going on, if he was curious enough to come watch, feeling that same flood rising and falling around her.

She still changed backstage in the dark for every show. She preferred it to be dark; it made it easier to forget herself, to inhabit Oliver. On stage, she tried to copy everything, his accent, his gait, squinting slightly to change the shape of her eyes, and always looking out, past the yellow lights, to where he might be in the audience. As she walked home and as she fell asleep every night she thought of nothing but his eyes on her.

On the thirteenth night, the second last, she changed as usual in the dark. As she was tightening the lace on her shoe, it snapped off in her hand. She had pulled too hard and it was only cheap and elastic. The break pinched her skin a little. She tested the shoe; it was very loose, much too big for her. She tucked the raw end of the lace inside and stood up as the fire announcement came on.

As she stepped out, gripping the inside of the shoe with her toes, she went closer to the edge of the stage than usual, so she could see better beyond the lights. The audience was small tonight; he was not there. The weeks’ worth of hoping and getting nowhere weighed heavy on her; she was tired. It was her line but she waited, let the silence grow. She walked out of step with Oliver’s blocking, and took her hat off, feeling her hair fall down around her shoulders. She didn’t pay much attention as the scenes passed her by, always looking outwards, wide-eyed.

She turned, at last, to Molly:

Malachy: I want you with me Niamh! When I go, I want you with me.

She stepped forward, and left her loose shoe behind. She used her foot to loosen the other one.

Niamh: I can’t leave here, what will I do? Where will we go?

As she spoke, Laura untucked and unbuttoned her shirt. She faced forwards at centre stage. Molly was backing away, until she was outside the line of the lights, almost off stage.

Malachy: As far as we can. I want to beat those fucking rain clouds Niamh.

Laura felt herself begin to shout. The rest of her clothes began to come away. They were not hers and they didn’t fit her. They slipped off without her trying.

I cannot take more of the cold. If we try to leave now, it’ll be hours before anyone notices.

Laura stood on stage naked, the trail of the costume behind her, staring

straight into the yellow lights above her.

We can disappear and no one will even know it! Maybe no one will even mind, in the end.


Iseult Deane is 20 years old and a third year English and Philosophy student at Trinity College Dublin. She has lived her whole life in Dublin. She works in a cinema at the moment but likes theatre a lot more and would like to be a costume designer. 

Image Credit: Peter Hershey

Fugue:  A Fragrance by J. T. Townley

I.

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.”

 

II.

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.”

 

III.

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.”

 

IV.

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.”

 

V.

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.”

 

VI.

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.”

 

VII.

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 jttownley.com.

Image Credit: Jakob Owens