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Crepuscular Rays On Divis Mountain - Photo by Eamonn Stewart
Crepuscular Rays On Divis Mountain – Photo by Eamonn Stewart

Photography:

Eamonn Stewart was born in Belfast. He is twice winner of the Irish National Children’s Poetry Competition. He trained as an advertising photographer and worked as focus-puller. He has been published in various magazines and some anthologies. His poem Bluebagopolis was nominated for the Pushcart Prize. He has worked as the director of photography on student films. His most recent publication was in The Centrifugal Eye Magazine, where a poem and photo essay were featured.

Veins of Frost on Veins of leaves - Photo by Eamonn Stewart
Veins of Frost on Veins of leaves – Photo by Eamonn Stewart

Field Day

– By Boris Gregoric

Walking out in the morning, a Sunday out of the concrete-and-mortar boxes, past the Mexican looking white church in the suburbs, to the suburbs, over to the meadows, across the wild rye, the narrow gauge railway track, behind the barracks, the shacks, past the dirt yard in which two men in bib overalls putter with the rusty VW beetle — one, under the chassis, prone on the oilcloth and the other shifting the knob of the transistor radio as we hike by, the last few uniformly red tile, brick and mortar one-storey houses,  the dogs barking like mad—that perpetually unfinished look of the Croatian brick and mortar homes — two Sunday hikers heading out, swimming almost, Jonah and the fields were the Whale is to receive them into his vast bowels gladly. Another shack, abandoned in the field, next to it a vintage pedal oxidizing splendidly but huge black tires in place, the odd paint job unfinished halfway  — the three hues of sienna catching the casual glance.  Onward. Three or four chicken scurrying out on no man’s land, clucking about the hard, patchy ground. What can they find?

“When was the last time you saw free-range chickens?”

“Hm, I guess at my grandmother’s, in the country, many years ago…”

Onward, down the ravine, over to the other side, past an air-raid bunker hidden amid the tall wild grasses —‘Beware, Minefield!’  —a lonely sign warned but that the war happened long ago, by now most if not all minefields have been cleared; the life had returned to normal —whatever the normal might be.

Onward, parallel the telegraph poles that always seem so full of promise of the far-off places.  And it will be good to disappear.  Southern Hemisphere beckons.  Never to have to return to the ugly mews and the gray city.

“Don’t you love the telegraphic poles? They remind me of totems,” he said.

“Totems schmotems” she laughed.

“You can almost hear the wires buzzing the news of nothing new under the sun.”

“The wires buzzing I love you.”

“Yes, me too.  Let us rest for a bit, here, on the mossy eiderdown, tickled by sun and stars let us watch the gentle drift of the faraway clouds.”

“Oh, lettuce.

They laughed like two children.  These were days before the ozone layer depletion.

“Ozone schmozone.”

They laughed together, getting up, holding hands, and there they went again, over a fallow field, another one, releasing the sweaty hands, the heat rising, he saying, the fallow fields are my favorite fields. Hey, look at the anthill. Giants, aren’t they? Like a fairy tale… he said. Or she said.  Down the dirty path to the bottom of the grass gully:

“Nothing like a gully in the middle of nowhere.”

“Like two Spanish explorers!” she said. It made him smile, the childish enthusiasm of the adventure.

“Just so. Like two intrepid Spanish explorers.”

Where the famous Cortázar, the oversized head on the narrow shoulders brimming with various fantastic ideas, would perhaps have discovered bones of the slain conquistadors — the hungry ghosts of the dead in the field of a mindless massacre — shall we say, soldiers in their prime, their last thoughts of their faraway Spanish señoritas — of those faraway days of wine and roses — the old continent explorers find only that noon shadows are to get longer, that a host of sparrows flitters carelessly in the bush, that a thrush might be heard with a song, or that a crow would certainly start to craw its disturbed cry from the telegraphic totem they had left behind.  A Sunday in the summer celebrated by the rise of crickets chirping, always quick to upstage cicadas that could not sing, but rather complained with their nonmusical, calling song.  Onward, to the top of the gully, where they heard a locomotive whistle in the distance, the whistle so full of promise of the far-off place.  Would they only at least climb up to the path, that lead still farther away, toward the levee in the dusty fields.

“Looks like a concrete pillbox.”

“Should we peek inside?“

“Why? You’ll find rats, or some old syringes.”

“What a memorable day, Borsky,” she said.

“Yes, Mia, indeed.”

Yes, always having such a good time together, Borsky thought, no matter where they went on Sunday afternoon field trips and excursions — to the zoo, to botanical gardens, to Sugar Mountain, to Cold Mountain, to the moon or, to the lighthouse in the field of wild rye.  And it is maybe time to have it revealed halfway through, the lighthouse — for that’s where they were actually headed. To the lighthouse. Yes, that Lighthouse. Because, every Sunday walkout in a sense is but a walkout to the lighthouse in the field of wild rye.

On the embankment, she stooped low to pick the jolly white daisies, and then — adding to a posy — the salvia-like purple starflowers.  How Whitman would have trilled at the sight and sound of bumblebees buzzing around the posy in Mia’s hands, and small yellow butterflies flittering over the huge dandelion head-towers ready to be puffed off with the slightest caress from the warm, lazy stream of air.

“These are huge,” Mia said.  When the soft blow of the air scattered some fluff, Borsky made as if to chase the fuzz, and Mia twittered: “Mind you catch your luck that way!” And then Borsky, made a wry face: “Oh, yes, the luck is caught so easily.”

“Borsky, what if we were attacked by a pack of stray dogs?”

“We’d fight back.”

“How hard would we fight?”

“We’d fight tooth and nail, dear. And some of them would have their skins handed back to them.”

“Would anyone, in the case they tore us to pieces, find our bones down in the ravine?”

“People are bound to find you sooner than later, dead or alive, Borsky said.  He thought for an instant of a dog trauma he had as a child when a German shepherd tore off the back on his breeches and bit him badly.

“There’s a famous Austrian writer who walked all across Europe. Handke is his name. Once in the south of France a pack of stray dogs attacked him.”

“Where?”

“Oh, I think in Provence, he was making pilgrimage to Mt St.Victoire —the Cézanne’s mountain. ”

“Talking of strays, there’s a mutt!”

It was true, a pitiful, sad-eyed tan colored mutt with most of his tail missing, quickly scurried off in the bulrushes that they were passing by, scared of his shadow, the creature seemed.

“A scrawny little thing…” Then, swiftly, out of nowhere, a pair of riders came cantering from the gully which they have explored.  Would they make them yield on the narrow embankment? A snatch of words reached Mia and Borsky’s ears. What is the point in me telling you again? —the man was saying to the woman.  As they stopped on the level part, the riders dismounted, and taking over the leather halters, they decided to continued on foot in the opposite direction from Mia and Borsky.

“My father used to be a rider too,” Borsky said.

“Old Josie?”

“Yes, Josie. He even took part in the horse jumping tournaments. I think he was pretty good..”

“I can quite see him.”

“Yes, in his youth he was svelte. Very prim.”

“What about it —what kind of sport is that?”

“Simple, Mia, astride of your horse you try to jump as many bars, hedges, brick walls as you can.  Then, one day, you’d be ready for the Olympic Games.”

“The Olympic games?,” she laughed, “I haven’t seen fifteen minutes of them in my entire life.”

“Then, you haven’t missed much.”

“Your dad was a lot like you though.”

“How would you know? You have never met him.”

“Somehow, the way you describe him…quite a dreamer.”

“Not a dreamer,” Borsky said. “But terribly naïve I’d say. Trusting. Easily waylaid.”

“Just like you.”

“Nah.”

“Writers are dreamers too, you know,” Mia said. His eyebrows arched.

“What makes you say that?
“The way they make up things we say or think…never really taking part in life, always observing it from the sidelines…”

“Yes, the writing game seems to be the sidelines.”

“Do you mind what I am saying? You might us it against me in one of your future plays.”

“Don’t worry. The best part is always left out of plays.” They laughed, and walked on.  Walking readily over to the meadows, to the sun and the clouds in the endless Sunday afternoon.    And already back past the grazing chickens, the rusty behemoth of a tractor, the red bricked houses, the men now gone from the court, away from the skeleton of the  VW beetle sitting on cinder.  Honk, honk,  the honking gander; the barking dogs, finally the asphalt in the setting sun.  once more, across the fallow fields.  The scattered group of lads kicking the football;  the sound of carpet trashing, the car claxon honking, the stooping week-end gardeners hoeing in the tidy cottage parcels of squash, string beans, turnips, tomatoes,  what not ¾back in the rectangular prison world of high rise mews.

Here’s to the lyrical genius of a weekend gardener in rubber garden shoes hauling a plastic bucket of bright cadmium green.  And to another, in wooden clogs, with a watering can, without hesitation, knowing what to do.   Borsky and Mia have entered the elevator, six, seven stories up, and were already at the buzzer.

“Oh, it’s you guys.  Come on in, we’ll have a drink.”

“We were in the are, so decided to swing by, briefly…”

“You are welcome.  What were you up to?”

“Went for a little hike.”

“Terrific.  Where at?”
“Past the church, across the tracks.

“Over those fallow fields.”

“Oh, yes.  Astrid and I do go that way sometimes…”

“And you –what’s with you, Peter?

Peter wore a paisley tee with big letters on his chest:  God Is Harvesting. Hemp.
“Nothing.  Astrid is gone to see her parents. Fixing myself  a spaghetti dinner and watching French film. Just started.”

In the room the metal shades were still drawn low, making the room dark and cool.  A slow, deliberate film set in the 1880’s French countryside seemed like a perfect summer fare.  While Peter puttered in the kitchen fixing iced tea, they sat at the sofa and watched the movie.

“A quiet and peaceful life then,” Mia sighed.

“It seems so, doesn’t it.  I’d love to teletransport to the 1880’s,” Borsky said.

“I’d probably go to that period too,” Peter added returning with the glass pitcher of bright yellow libation. “This film is like the most beautiful tableau vivant,” Mia said.  Pero had now joined them, and soon he made and passed the joint, its fragrance quickly permeating the small space.  Peter’s uncle had problems with kidney stones, “Nothing worked for him” Peter said, ‘until he started drinking huge quantities of bearberry tea.”  “The what?” “Bearberry.”  “Does it really work?’” “He says it does.”   “What about your aunt Louise?”  “The therapy is only making her feel worse.”  Peter said.  “Does she still smoke?”

“She does. She said it helps ease the anxiety if not actually pain,” Peter said.

“Marijuana is good for her.”

“Marijuana is good for everyone.”

“In moderation, yes.”

“Absolutely so.”

It lasted quite a long time, the French countryside, and by the time the film finally ended Mia said,  “Eight o’clock already. We better hit the road, Borsky.”

“Better hit the road, before the road hits you.”  Peter giggled.  They all felt lighthearted. Their muscles convulsed with laughter. It could have been triggered by anything anyone had said.

“Ha ha ha, hoo, hoo, hoo, better hit the road”  they shook, and after an exchange of hugs, of unrelated verbal excursions and asides —the parting words petered out and the couple stepped in through the sliding elevator metal door while Peter happily hummed behind their backs:

“So long, farewell, Auf wiedersehen, good night…”

And the two echoed from inside the elevator: “…we hate to go and leave your pretty sight, but sun has gone to bed so long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodbye!”

Boris Gregoric is a Croatian-American short story writer, visual artist, translator and language tutor. The author of five books of short fiction, he has translated prose and poetry between English, Croatian and Slovene. This is his blog

New Lodge Enchanted Fog - Photo by Eamonn Stewart
New Lodge Enchanted Fog – Photo by Eamonn Stewart

A Hate For Waiting

– By Sophie Fenella Robins 

He stood by the open front door tapping his feet, his brow knitted like a worn down woollen jumper. He always hated waiting,

“I think it’s because of my childhood” he said, “when I was a child, my mother was waiting for my father to return from the war. I think she passed her anxiety onto me.”

Anxiety inherited like hair that goes frizzy in the rain. I imagine her pacing over loose floorboards that creak and keep my father awake. Whispers over neighbour’s fences about Mrs Jenkins now left alone forever. The dreaded fallen uniform, hangs like an empty shell, calling memories of what has been lost. Faded photographs that look like the past, remind my father of his mothers worry. Grey bricks crumble with the memory of a national downfall. I listen in with ears from the future, and wonder what it felt like to wait for bombs to drop over St Paul’s.

*

Waiting for delayed flights to summer breaks in Greece caused severe tension in his neck. He had a patch of dry skin on the outside of his index finger, caused by a bad habit of biting the skin. Skin erodes like pebbles on a beach. With his hands behind his back and his shoulders hunched, he paced, back and forth, back and forth, starring at the arrivals board. I prayed for our plane to arrive, because I could see how much waiting pained him. The airport air thick with tired sighs, waited with us, like a silence asking to be broken. We didn’t speak, exhausted by the effort of waiting. We didn’t move, tied to our seats for fear of missing the flight. We didn’t breathe, breathing felt like too much of a distraction.

*

The train is late and I feel my feet tapping. I begin to pace, back and forth, back and forth. The 09.28 has been delayed by two minutes. Two minutes feels like a life time. Anxiety creeps up my spine and causes my teeth to grind. I have a hate for waiting, inherited like hair that goes frizzy in the rain.

Sophie Fenella Robins writes poetry and prose for the stage and the page. She graduated from The Royal Court Young Writers Program in 2006, she then went on to study English Literature and Drama Studies at The University of Sussex. In 2012 she graduated from Central School of Speech and Drama with a masters in Performance Practices and Research. She is the co-founder of Portmanteau Performance Company and the The Patchwork Paper. She has also been short listed to be the Young Poet Laureate for London. Follow Sophie on twitter @sophiefenella

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

 

Sentences

Portrait of Jane Bowles - Photo by Sheila Mannix
Portrait of Jane Bowles – Photo by Sheila Mannix

The 23 Verses of Signior Dildo

– By Sheila Mannix

Nick wore a waistcoat, as many intellectuals do when they live in the country. His floppy grey hair and silver-rimmed glasses weren’t my style, but at the food table I overheard him say he’d worked with Lindsay Kemp. I knew about Lindsay Kemp from David Bowie Black Book, the first biography I read as a teenager. Bowie made his theatrical debut in 1967 in Kemp’s mime Pierrot in Turquoise or The Looking Glass Murders.

*

This was 1995. Everyone at the party was still in the kitchen or upstairs doing coke. I was off the drink and feeling shy. I went to the sitting room and took a book off the shelf. Nick followed me. He introduced himself and asked what I was reading. I showed him the volume of poems by John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester. He knew Rochester by heart. He recited the twenty-three verses of Signior Dildo. Then he told me he had a house in the south of France; I could go and write there, any time I wanted.

*

At Violette’s one night, we met a guy who toured with Lindsay Kemp at the same time. He said Nick was Kemp’s favourite. Later, Nick says it’s because he was the one who always got Kemp his drink; he was his cupbearer, his Ganymede. There are photographs of Nick from that tour, taken on a cruise ship in Italy. He is wearing a brown suede bomber jacket and aviator shades. He has floppy blonde hair. He looks like David Bowie.

*

He writes about the dark-haired girl in the tartan jacket: lyrics for a song, or a poem, he’s not sure yet. Two days after the party, I am housesitting for Simone and James. They’ve gone to South Africa for Christmas. Through the letterbox comes a book called An Intimate History of Humanity: inside is a card saying, ‘Call me!’

*

I am chopping mushrooms when I fall in love with him. He is sitting at the kitchen table, drinking red wine and rolling a spliff by candlelight. His voice is soft, beguiling, almost a whisper. He is telling me a story about the kindness of strangers. The story is this: he was driving from France to England for his mother’s funeral when someone (a woman, perhaps?) was kind to him. There may have been a snowstorm. There may have been a missed boat, or train, or a breakdown on the motorway. I have no idea. Every time I hear him whisper this story into a woman’s ear, I forget another detail.

*

My only defence is idealism and naivity; I would like to add youth, but I was twenty-nine years old.

*

Raoul Vaneigem proposed a revolution of everyday life; Leonora Carrington apparently made a festival of it; Nick did both: he acted spontaneously, he was politically motivated, and he could make crisps and olives and a bunch of irises into a sumptious tableau vivant. He was beautiful naked. He had Iggy Pop’s body before the big workout, perfect sallow skin.

*

The first time I sleep with him, I’m spooked. I see the same-shaped face of a man who put me in hospital. The same hollow cheeks, the same vertical lines. These visual clues I will later pay attention to, but already I am in denial. I have met the man I am going to spend the rest of my life with. I want to marry him. I tell him so, our first weekend together. Hell, he wants to marry me, too.

*

My female friends are charmed. My male friends think I’m mad. This new man has two young children living with their mother in France. He has an ex-wife and a sixteen-year-old daughter in Devon. He is old, penniless, and he appears to be an alcoholic.

*

The first time he invited me to lunch, I cooked. He had six of us round to Miller and Virginia’s house, where he was renting a room. Miller was another art school friend. He bought a mansion with orchards when he was on a roll in the eighties, directing videos for Depeche Mode. He was now living like an minor aristocrat fallen on hard times, showing guests around rooms without furniture and pointing out the splendour of his mouldings. We were all seated at table. Nick went out to get a couple of ingredients he’d forgotten, and came back two hours later, drunk. At the end of the meal, I wrote Miller a cheque for Nick’s outstanding electricity bill.

*

We’re in his bedroom. He’s standing by the fireplace. He’s wearing a white cotton jumper, denims rolled-up at the bottom, and converse sneakers. He looks like a lesbian beatnik; like women I’ve bedded in the past. He’s smiling. He hands me a perfectly rolled spliff.

*

At his drawing table, he shows me plans for the play he is working on with Sarah Kane at The Gate. Kane’s new play is called Phaedra’s Love: a reworking of Seneca’s Phaedra, it becomes notorious for its violence; she calls it ‘my comedy’. She will commit suicide three years later, at the age of twenty-eight.

*

Nick has poetry collections stacked either side of his futon. I open one at a poem called Sheela-na-gig. This is fate. I am planning a novel based on these female exhibitionist stone carvings. What it’s about, he asks. I say, it’s a surreal erotic comedy about a bisexual performance artist who develops gigantic labia and becomes a reluctant serial killer when she starts to swallow people’s heads up into her vagina. I try to sound excited, but I’ve already said this two hundred times at parties. Nick says, is there a male version of Sheela-na-gig? I say yes, it’s called a Seán-na-gig.

*

James warns me off Nick. They’ve been friends since they were seventeen; they’re now forty-five. He’s friendly with Nick’s ex-partner, Jane, a former BBC costume designer. They all lived together in Soho when they left the Royal College. He tells me not to fall for Nick’s sob story about Jane having an affair with a local punk musician heroin addict half her age. They both had affairs, always.

*

Nick is spending most nights at my flat in Hampstead. While he is at work, I throw out all his waistcoats and shirts. He is stupified when he discovers this. He can’t believe my gall. He tells me the navy crombie I despise is worn by all lighting designers; or maybe all electricians, I can’t remember.

*

He is perfect naked, but I can’t cope with the seventies folk-singer. I want a French philosopher. I buy him black polo-neck jumpers, cashmere scarves and an Armani tweed jacket from the charity shop. The glasses go. He gets contacts so you can see his soft brown eyes. He slicks back his hair; it’s no longer grey, it’s silver. The teeth are bad, the look of the wrecked dope-smoker doesn’t ever entirely vanish, but it adds a touch of rock ‘n’ roll to him. He now looks like Jeremy Irons.

*

One evening, he runs a bath for me. I’m under the bubbles smoking a spliff when he walks in and hands me the latest edition of Vogue. What’s this, I say. I never buy women’s magazines. He says, you appear to be interested in fashion.

*

Before I met Nick, I wrote a film script most of my MA class thought was pornographic. One girl couldn’t read it. The film featured auto-asphyxiation, sado-masochism, and a man who bites lumps out of his own arm when he suffers attacks of sexual jealousy. It was based on my relationship with an experimental jazz musician. I found it embarrassing afterwards, how much I’d exposed myself.

*

I come back from Nick’s house in France without a written novel. I have sat by the fire for the winter reading every single issue of Art Forum magazine published in the seventies, and the biographies of Louis-Ferdinand Céline and Jean Genet. I have written dozens of starts to Sheela-na-gig, none of which go beyond a thousand words. My friend Saul, fresh out of the University of East Anglia’s Creative Writing MA, tells me I should publish a book of beginnings.

*

Nick is pissed off with me. That generation of Englishmen seems to have had a thing for Edna O’Brien. He says, I thought I’d met an Irish writer. He is a better writer than I am, which makes it even worse. He has a fine line in poetry and his letters to me are art. To inspire me, he reads aloud the work of Kenneth Patchen and B S Johnson and then he shows me the sentences on the page. There is one I remember about a leaf falling to the ground; the eye of a rabbit has seen it, build me such a machine.

*

I’ve just spent the day with Ralph Fiennes at a read-through for a film. He arrived at the door in the same outfit he wore in The English Patient; he says they let him keep the clothes. Nick rants about Ralph Fiennes. He tells me what I am doing is fluff. He is designing a virtual theatre for a London University. They are applying for Lottery funding. His theatre is politically committed; he wants to name it after John Berger. We drink wine and argue into the dark. Next morning the portrait I took of him is on the floor. The glass is smashed. I do not know if I smashed the photograph or if he did, to indicate that portaiture is worthless. Nick has devoted his life to radical theatre and avant-garde art. The only time he is interested in my work is when we do a Friedrich Dürrenmatt play called Frank V with members of Theatre de Complicite.

*

I am on a beach: the mean, stony beach in Hastings. It’s not cold, but I am displaying the first signs of hypothermia: I am shaking uncontrollably and I am disoriented. Olaf has gone to buy chips. He has driven me here so that I can keen by the sea like a good islander. Behind me are beached half-deck trawlers with ragged black bunting; they look like a fleet of anarchist boats. There are gulls flying over the shore. They’re squawking loudly. One breaks away from the flock and flies off on it’s own. The flock of gulls squawking loudly is Nick’s wedding party right now, chattering and drinking champagne. I’m the gull who’s flown off, solo. In the wake of my flight, he has speedily married a former children’s television presenter. All I know is she wears Doc Martens, has a very pretty face, owns her own home, has a gay father, and does PR for a museum. He says, she’s very spiritual: you would like her.

*

Seagulls always show up. They showed up in the sky above Kentish Town High Road at six in the morning when I walked it, unable to sleep. I pleaded on the phone with Nick to come home. I said I’m not ready; I can’t handle it; it’s too early in our relationship. I was hysterical. I telephoned so many times he turned off the phone. The man he spent the night with answered it the following day and handed it to him in bed. He was exultant when he came home. He told me it was my fault for encouraging him to explore his bisexuality. I said I meant as a couple, together. Not for you to go off on your own.

Sheila Mannix is from Youghal, Co Cork. Her work has been broadcast on RTE Radio 1 and has appeared in Cyphers, Southword, Poetry Now, Karnival, Microbe, Wurm im Apfel’s can can poezine, The Poetry Bus and the book Cork Caucus: on art, possibility and democracy. She last exhibited at the Black Mariah gallery in a group show curated by the SoundEye Festival. Her photography has been published in the French magazine L’Artiste and is on display at the Bodega and the Crane Lane in Cork. She was recently selected by Poetry Ireland for their ‘Introductions’ Series 2013. Check out Sheila’s website.

Berlin - Photo by Sheila Mannix
Berlin – Photo by Sheila Mannix

Marina And The Marine

– By Michael Naghten Shanks

And so just as I finish saying what it is that I want to say there are three beats of silence – beat, beat, beat – and she starts to open her mouth, but then I notice a bird sticking its head out from between her pink lips, its beady eyes blinking in the harsh light, and it jumps onto her protruding bottom lip, using it like a perch, and flaps a bit before flying onto the top of my head, and I look at her and she looks at me as if to say “Understand?” and a wind carries her away like sand over a dune, and then I feel the weight of the bird lift off of my head and I see it fly towards a tree where it perches itself on the lowest branch, within arms reach, and so I run to the tree, jumping and grasping, but I can’t get to it, and then I see all these other people jumping and grasping for things – balls, knapsacks, food, clothes, rifles, books – but then the bird flies past my face and up towards an open window of a building I had not seen was behind me, so I run in and up the staircase, two steps at a time, sometimes three, sometimes missing a step and falling, and I see the bird on the window ledge and just as I dive to grab it with both hands it swoops down and takes a shit on JFK and everyone in the cavalcade starts to scream and run around, and no-one notices the bird skipping along the grassy knoll because all of their eyes are zooming in on me, so I run back down the staircase and out into the street, but it’s empty – not a car, not a building, not a tree, not a blade of grass, not a person to be seen – it is just me, the bird, and a white nothingness that stretches on into the ether for eternity.

Michael = http://about.me/michaelnaghtenshanks

The One Who Writes Is The One Who Reads - Photo by Sheila Mannix
The One Who Writes Is The One Who Reads – Photo by Sheila Mannix

 

Before The Blue

Floaters - Photo by James O'Sullivan
Floaters – Photo by James O’Sullivan
Photography –
James O’Sullivan is a PhD candidate at University College Cork, where he studies cultural theory and transmission under Graham Allen and Órla Murphy. In addition to a variety of pieces as a journalist, he has had works of short fiction, poetry, photography and cultural criticism published. James is the founder of New Binary Press.
Further information on his work can be found at http://josullivan.org. Follow James on twitter.
______________________________________________________________________________________
Photogenic Lens
– By Myra King

Josie was happy to look after Christopher’s child. But not on her own.

He’d said, “Back soon, Josie girl. Two hours, tops.” But that was years ago, and she hasn’t heard from him since.

She’d had no children of her own and this one was only a freckle past a newborn when he presented him to her, wrapped in a dirty blue bunny rug. Josie knew nothing about babies, her life had been hollow of them and so many other things until she met Christopher.

The baby was called Cabbage. She laughed at the time Christopher told her, but didn’t ask if this was his real name, and the baby had no words to tell her otherwise.

Cabbage has grown like his namesake but that is where any connection ends, everything else is as normal, as much as she would know. Except he stopped talking at the same time that Christopher left, and she is too far from help to ask for it.

He’s not well, Josie thinks. She wishes Christopher was here, for what does she know about childhood illnesses?

Cabby, as she calls him, is not outside chasing the chickens or playing with his dog, Sherpie, the little white terrier he loves so much. She sees him sitting on the armchair, the one with the flock coat that’s balding in places like an old man’s head.

Josie warms some milk on the stove, taking care that it doesn’t heat so much as to spill over the pan. She pours it into Cabby’s favourite mug, cradles it in her hands, feels the warmth ease the stiffness in her fingers. “Here you are lovely boy, milk to make you feel better.”

But Cabby is no longer in the chair. Placing the mug on the table, she shouts from the back door: “Cab, Cabby.’ She smiles, it seems like she’s calling an errant taxi. She brings her hands to her face then snatches them forward to focus. They look like her grandmother’s. She touches one hand with the other, traces the wrinkles, frowns. She was only twenty-five when Christopher brought Cabby to her.

Josie walks out into the farmyard. Everything looks the same but the trees have grown tall and the ducks and chickens have gone. Stolen, she thinks. Or taken by dingos. She squints towards the horizon, sees that the night is coming, wonders if she should set some traps. Her gaze draws around the fence-line, stopping at the old magnolia tree which, in contrast to everything else, is blooming. Soft apricot flowers like coupling butterflies are tip-massing on branches otherwise as barren as the earth. A breeze tickles her hair, sending it to cover her eyes, but she pushes back its greyness with fingers thinner than her memory.

Who was she calling? She feels the residue of something not right, something to which she cannot put a thought. Her stomach feels tight and her hands are shaking. Josie calls again, but this time not a name.

“Come on, come on now.”

A black cat with a white smudge on its nose stretches out from under a rusting car-body wreck, its claws driving the sand before them. It yawns, and walks a crooked path to her. She knows this cat, but she cannot remember what to call it. It follows her into the house and begins to scratch the old armchair in a rhythmic pawing. Josie takes the cup of milk and pours it into a bowl near the front door. She sits down, wraps herself in her arms and watches the cat drinking. Tiny flicks of milk spatter the floor like dandruff.

The pictures are clearer if she shuts her eyes, but then there is always the threat of sleep from which she fears she will never wake.

She rises and takes the cup to the sink, sees a note stuck on the fridge with a purple magnet. The cat’s name is Bobby, the note says, in a scrawl that is only decipherable by its size.

“Bob-by.’ She tries the name; her voice sounds empty, the syllables robotic, like a child learning to read. The cat looks up from the plate, there is milk on its whiskers and its eyes are staring. Josie turns away, reaches into the sink and sluices water through the mug, watching it swirl down the plug hole. She sees the greasy kitchen curtain, the edge of its faltering hem stuttering in the draught. The window behind is dirty and someone has written something in the grime. She lifts the curtain and reads: Turn off the stove. She stretches a bony finger and writes her name next to it: Josie. She leans back and stares. The writing is the same.

Then she writes: Christopher.

She closes her eyes and sees an image clearer than life.

“Josie girl, you have a photogenic memory,” he once told her. She recalls laughing. “Don’t you mean a photographic memory?” “No,” he said. “Photogenic, you remember the past more beautiful than it really is. Even the dark you turn grey.”

When she met Christopher she was attracted to him in a way she found hard to set to words. He was freedom and promise wrapped in a package. But she’d stopped trying to peel back the layers when she found nothing holding the structure.

Josie wipes tears from her eyes with the back of her arm and notices she is wearing her nightdress and dressing-gown. She wonders if it is morning and she has just got up. She rummages in the drawer until she finds what she is looking for. She pulls at the material on her sleeve. She wants to write: Go and get dressed but the fabric slips and the pen only writes the first word: Go.

Christopher was the man at the corner store. She saw him every time she went there with eggs to sell or cheques to cash. She has no eggs now and a woman brings meals to her house and puts them in her freezer. She reminds Josie of her chickens. She makes funny noises in the back of her throat. The last time she came, she kept shaking her head as well.

Then people came in two cars. Josie saw them coming. She hid in the bush- scrub surrounding her farm and waited, crouched like a dingo, swirling her fingers in the red dust, making circles that spiralled to nothing.

It was dark by the time she got home, and they had gone

Where was Sherpie? Cabby loved that little dog, he was always taking it for walks, she remembers. Maybe he’s gone for a walk with it now.

But no, Sherpie is dead. She closes her eyes and sees a picture of the terrier, its white turned red with blood.

Then she sees Cabby standing over the body. She quickly opens her eyes and sees him again in the chair. He is not well. That is why she made him the milk. Milk to make you feel better, my lovely boy.

It’s been so good since Cabby came, Josie thinks. The wonder of childhood is hers now.

He reminds her of Christopher. He looks like him, with his blue-green eyes and pale skin. His hair is as fair as Christopher’s was, with the same under-streaks like tiger’s stripes.

But now Cabby is gone again.

“Come out, my lovely boy. It’s too late to play.” She hears an old voice, wonders how it’s hers.

He was always a good boy, always happy, never making a fuss. But he’s been too quiet since his father left.

Christopher told her he’d adopted Cabby. It was a year after their wedding, not long after she’d been told she couldn’t bear children. She loved children, she said, when the doctor told her she couldn’t bear them. Doctor Willits had opened his eyes wide and gone silent, but Christopher had smiled at her. He knew her ways. He was the only one who ever had. And when he brought Cabby home she hadn’t questioned why she didn’t have to sign any papers. Why it had been so easy.

And when Cabby had grown more like Christopher every day, she’d laughed and said that’s what she’d heard, that adopted children often grew to look like the people who adopted them.

She recalls one day, when Cabby was just beginning to walk, an elegant lady came knocking on the door. Her breath smelled of alcohol and her fingers shook. She also had no manners, for she barged past Josie and demanded to see Christopher.

“Christopher’s at work,” Josie said.

“Not that one,” the elegant lady said. “The baby, Christopher.”

“My baby’s name’s Cabbage, but I call him Cabby.” Josie recalls saying.

The lady had collapsed onto the old chair; her shoulders were shaking and her face was red. Her hand was clutching her mouth and when she brought it away there was lipstick smudging her knuckles like blood.

“Christopher did say you were a bit simple. He told you the nickname I’d given the baby because he was growing like one. A cabbage that is. He couldn’t tell you the baby’s real name, I suppose.”

Josie was still trying to fathom why the lady thought she was simple. Simple meant easy. Her mother had told her ‘easy’ women were ladies of the night, but she hated the dark.

The lady continued. “I need to see my baby. I made a mistake saying I didn’t want him. Where did Christopher tell you the boy came from? The cabbage patch?” Once more the lady fell back into the chair. But this time her laughter took her to coughing until Josie went to her and banged her on her back. Then the lady looked at her strangely. “Perhaps..,” she said, “Perhaps…” Then she nodded to herself as if she was affirming an unspoken question.

Josie can’t remember how it ended that day. Maybe she’d got her gun, the one she uses for the dingos, and threatened the lady with it if she didn’t leave. Perhaps they had hugged and she’d let the lady see the baby.

Cabby had slept through it all. That much Josie does remember.

Josie lowers herself into the old chair. She strokes the soft fabric of the armrest, watches as the pile flattens this way and that. Her eyes close and the pictures come once again but she hears the words first.

Cabby’s words. Is he speaking to her again? But these words she’s heard before. They are not from today. How could she have forgotten them? They were the start of crying words, for Cabby and for Christopher.

“Mammy, Sherpie has blood on him, and he’s not moving.”

Josie had gone outside and found the little dog lying still, by the old magnolia tree. There was blood on him. Cabby was standing near him holding an axe.

“What have you done?” That was her voice.

“There was a dingo, mammy. I tried to get him. He ran over there.” She saw Cabby pointing, followed the line of his finger. Saw a tawny shape in the distance. There were two others matching it, and feathers scattered like snow, leading a trail back to the hen-runs. Then she saw the axe was clean.

Josie opens her eyes, pulls her dressing-gown around her and rises stiffly from the chair. There is something she wants to see. Outside, the moon is bright and the stars light a path that is strewn with potholes but Josie finds her way to the old magnolia tree. There, beneath its branches, blending with the fence, is a little cross. She remembers Christopher made that cross from a loose paling, and marked Sherpie on it with a burning twig. Now it’s as faded as her eyesight.

Cabby is crying. His sobs punctuate her mind in stabs. Then she hears Christopher’s voice. Josie closes her eyes to see his face. “Poor little bugger,” he says. “He really loved that dog.”

She tries to stop her answer but it comes like a flood. “Chris, why don’t you take him for a drive in the car? I’ll give him a drink of warm milk before you go. It’ll make him feel better.”

Now she hears the car doors slam. “Back soon, Josie girl, two hours, tops.”

She drops to the ground and once more the pictures come, but these have no words. Josie sees the police car with its flashing blue light, sees the policemen walking towards her. Sees herself, a young self, climbing into the car.

Then in a room full of whiteness, a man and a child lying together in death.

When Josie enters the house she walks on slow feet to the kitchen. There’s the note on the fridge. Her voice comes softly: “The cat’s name is Bobby,” she says. Then she glances at the kitchen window, the curtain is still drawn back: “Turn off the stove,” she says to her scribble, her words. Then she looks at her sleeve. Go, she reads. Go where, she wonders.

Josie finds her bedroom, sees the sheets pulled back, sees an impression of a body in the mattress. She climbs into it, being careful to match its form with hers. Then she pulls up the blanket and stares at the wall. She closes her eyes, lets the dreams come but shapes them to her memory with its photogenic lens. Even if she sleeps forever, she thinks, better asleep than this awake.And in the morning the sun will scrawl its shine, write its pictures of brighter days across her mind, lift the darkness to a paler shade of grey.  

Myra King, an Australian writer, has written a number of prize winning short stories and poems. Her stories and poetry have been published in the UK, New Zealand, Australia and the US. Amongst other publications she has work in print and online, in Short Story America, The Boston Literary Magazine, Eclectic Flash, The Valley Review, Red River Review, Illya’s Honey Journal, San Pedro River Review, The Pages, and The Foundling Review.

She has a short story collection, City Paddock, published by Ginninderra Press. Her novel, Cyber Rules, was published by Certys UK in 2012. Royalties from her books have gone to help support The Creswick Light Horse Troop and Médecins Sans Frontières – Doctors Without Borders. Follow Myra on twitter.

Thimblerig - Photo by James O'Sullivan
Thimblerig – Photo by James O’Sullivan
811: Pound
– By Michael Phoenix

I walked into the library most days then. It was a horrid grey building of stones that had had the life sucked out. They were ugly and without sun from days drying in the desert. They didn’t reflect or withhold. They were undead, past decaying. It was worst in winter – Heavy and coated.

Inside was better. There were books. They smelt (the stones didn’t smell). And there were people. Beautiful girls. They wore denim jeans and red tops with their shoulders cutting out into that warm library air. Those bones. Like the sun through shards of glass. They walked up the stairs softly, and hung about in groups near the entrance, talking, and the words were in the distance of all their blue and green and black eyes.

I was studying Law. We were supposed to read all the books. No one did. I took one look at the names of their spines and turned away. I never looked back to that section. It was in a far corner of the place. A dead arm. The books were thick. The biggest and heaviest stones. Full of nothing. No thing. They could not rot.

I began to explore. There was a reference system. I went to the 800’s. I was listening to a lot of music at the time. I walked clicking my fingers when it was sunny. And sang when no one else was on the paths. The songs my father played on the piano – ragtime beat. I went to 811 just like that. Clicking my fingers. 11 was my lucky number. I wore it for the soccer team when we won the schools cup. Clicking my fingers. I scored twice. No one else in the row. I didn’t sing. It was too quiet in the library. I was shy. I didn’t have friends on the team.

811. 811. I looked at the names of the spines of the books there. They were different from the names of the law books. They were short and clear. And the names of the authors were bright. Some of them were written there in bold golden letters. The law books were all written by names like ‘Harris’ or ‘Barry’. Land owning english names. Though they said they were Irish. Names like ‘Roger Davis’ and ‘D.B Parsons’. None of them seemed to be women. Down near 811 it was different. That meant something. I took a book. 811 Poe. Poetry.

I kept going back to the 800’s. Every time they told us to take out some law book. It made sense to me. I walked in clicking my fingers. I looked at the girls. Sometimes I just said ‘hi’ to them as I went by even if I didn’t know them. Sometimes they said ‘hi’ back. Mostly they didn’t and I just went on clicking my fingers. When it was getting into spring I did that a lot.

The books I found led me to others. It turned out that Poe wasn’t the only poet in 811. He had friends. People he didn’t know. Other poets. They turned up all around him. It meant I got to hear about some even before I had heard of them. I never checked out beforehand which books were where. That wasn’t the point. They had to be discovered. But I remembered their names. They were hard to forget. Someone told me that they were false names. I didn’t think that could be true.

Sometimes I’d see the names of writers I had heard of. Sometimes they were great and other times they weren’t. It was amazing. I clicked my fingers as I went through the library. All those years. In the end I came to the last book. The last of the 811’s. 811 Pound. Ezra Pound. The greatest of all the names. Ezra Pound. I clicked my fingers.

By then I had started to whistle. I couldn’t sing so good but I had air in my lungs. People didn’t seem to mind the whistling. Other times when I had went down a path, here or there – singing, people heard and they didn’t seem to like it. No one said anything about the whistling. So I went on those walkways doing just that. Thinking ‘811 Pound’. Saying it over and over in my head.

By then they wouldn’t let me take books out. I had fines. I forgot to bring the books back. So I could only read them right there in the library. I carried Ezra Pound to a desk. I always chose the one’s that looked out the window. But sometimes they would all be taken. It was one of those days. The only seat was facing a pillar. I couldn’t see anything. Apart from Ezra Pound and to my left. A girl sat there. It turned out she sat there most days. She wrote on lined yellow paper and her handwriting was terrible. My teachers could never read my essays. My parents bought me a typewriter. The other’s all wrote neat and clear. I sat there with her and Ezra Pound and thought, ‘I bet they can’t read her essays neither’. She wore blue jeans. Her eyes were green. I would have sat beside here everyday from then on, but sometimes the seat was taken. Other times it was free but she wouldn’t be there. I wondered if something had happened. In the papers they wrote about people being hit by buses and people going missing. They wrote about young people leaving the country. I hoped that she was still there. I hoped that she hadn’t been hit by a bus or gone missing. Those days she wasn’t there. I couldn’t read at all. I just sat there hoping.

In the end Pound made me speak to her. Normally I didn’t speak much. Just said ‘hi’ here and there. But to her I said “Hello. My name is James” and then we went for a walk.

She didn’t know anything about the 811’s. I had to tell her all about them. She listened. Her eyes were green. She liked the sound of the things I told her. I talked a lot. It was sunny. I clicked my fingers. I couldn’t help it. She asked if I liked music. She played the piano. She wore blue jeans. Ezra Pound. I left him on the desk. The lake was full of resting gulls.

She told me it was her birthday one week from that day. I said it over and over in my head. I didn’t want to forget.

I had some money, not a lot. I decided to get her a present. I took the bus to town. It was yellow and I sat on the second floor. The bus driver had a strange mustache. The shoes of the man beside me were square. I didn’t take the bus much.

There was a bookshop on the quays. It was hidden behind the traffic. When you opened the door a bell rang. It was a high pitched kind of bell. I had been there before and looked at the books. They smelt different to the one’s in the library. There was a lady at the counter. She had round glasses and an old neck. I felt sorry for her. One day I would be old. I felt sorry for myself. She told me that she would be right back. Then she was. And Pound was with her. The book was clean. I thought that it didn’t look right. She told me that was the only copy. I bought it and walked home. I had no money left for the bus. But I didn’t mind. I clicked my fingers. I whistled. I felt strong.

There were always birds in late spring but people had exams. The library was full. I went there early that day. I wanted to be sure to get the seat beside her. When I got there I wrote inside the cover of the book. I said: no one can read my writing either. After that I didn’t know what to say. I hadn’t given many birthday presents. I bought my friend in primary school a football. We were 10. You didn’t have to write on a football. I didn’t know what to put. I wrote: love, James – happy birthday. Then I closed the book and pushed it to the far corner of the desk.

She didn’t come that day. Or the next. I kept her present in my bag. I didn’t know what to do with it.  I walked around the library searching. I didn’t click my fingers the same way. Her name was Lucy. She wore blue jeans. She had green eyes. I couldn’t find her. Ezra Pound…

Michael Phoenix is a 22 year old writer from Belfast based in Dublin. He writes poetry, short stories, and has recently completed his first novel. He has been published in the 10th Anniversary Edition of the RedFez.

The Glassy Blue of The Deep

The World According to Oak Creek, Oak Creek Canyon, Arizona - Photo by Ken Swearengen
The World According to Oak Creek, Oak Creek Canyon, Arizona – Photo by Ken Swearengen

The Diving Belle

– By Kirsty Fraser 

Knees slightly bent, head tucked in between outstretched arms, and hands clasped together. I shiver and take a breath; there’s no one else around but me in my polka dot bikini top and khaki shorts. The sun has only just glimpsed out from behind the Cuillin’s and the earth hasn’t yet warmed to the day ahead. As my toes curl round the edges of the rock I push off from my stance and inhale one last time before cool air becomes freezing water. I hear the thunder of falling streams hitting rock from further up the pools before the shape of noise changes in my ears and I hit the glassy blue of the deep well that only a moment before I looked down upon. If these hills could speak, surely they would remember me?

Cocooned within the icy spray, I kick further down into the well. Three hundred and sixteen days have passed since I was last here yet nothing about this ancient place seems to have changed. I touch the rocks as I swim around – testing to see if they’re really there – the rough edges confirm that I can’t be dreaming. Foam from the waterfall fills the surface of the water above me and I adjust my direction so I don’t break from the water directly in its path. If Cal were here he’d push me under, only to rescue me from the weight of the water a moment later.

I re-surface and catch my breath. The cool morning air descends and clings to my skin making it tingle. I hold onto the ledge beside me and get my bearings – the morning rays capture Skye, and the Glen in all their beauty. Coming back here could have been a mistake but the morning sun has lightened my head of the heavy thoughts that had washed their way in.

Following the path I’ve already made I plunge again; this time looking around, checking the ridges of the underwater rock to see if there’s something I missed the last time I made this swim. But there are no secret caves, or darkened corners to explore. The sun – climbing higher into the sky now – has made beams of light transcend the water and filter down into the well. Everything is lit anew. I don’t want to break for air but I never was as good as Cal at holding my breath and I can feel the beginnings of a burning sensation as my lungs cry out for oxygen. I rise again to the top and perch my goggles on my head. Blinking back the sunlight I am startled to see a man looking down upon me from the ridge. Cal standing, camera in hand, coaxes me as I lap around in the pool –

‘C’mon, look up at me. You never look into the camera’.

I ignore him and instead goad him to join me, ‘You won’t feel the cold once you’re in.’

‘Yeah but I’ll feel the cold the whole time I’m getting ready to go in! Do you think I’m as mental as you are?’

I laugh and splash about a bit, ‘You’re such a woose… I mean seriously, bringing me all the way up here under false pretences that you’re going to come in and have a romantic swim with me. I’m hurt.’ I do my best puppy-dog eyes and petted lip and for a second I can see on his face that I’ve got him but I ruin it by laughing again and he breaks into a smile…

‘Are you all right down there?’

The voice shakes me from the memory. I look up to see the man standing on the ledge.

‘What?’ I ask, not quite sure If I caught all he said.

‘Is everything OK? It’s a cold morning to be swimming in the Pools.’

His voice is deeper than Cal’s. I can’t quite make out his features from the way the morning sunshine is bouncing around the Glen. I adjust my position slightly to get a better look at him,

‘I’m fine thanks. It’s not cold in here.’

I can see now that he’s not very tall, probably about 5’6’’ at the most, greying slightly or is that just the light? I can’t tell if he’s carrying a little weight round the middle or if he just has multiple layers of clothing on to fend off what must be the beginning of a cold walk taking in the Cuillin’s.

‘We just caught sight of something in the water as we were passing and wondered what it was; we were a bit startled to find someone out swimming.’

He nods behind him as he says the word ‘we’ and a woman emerges from behind the bank. She smiles down at me, but her eyes tell me she’s as baffled as her husband over my morning dip. I smile back and turn my attention back to the man,

‘Oh, don’t worry about me… I always come up here for a swim.’

They look briefly at each other, assessing this new information. The man quips,

‘In November? We thought we were mad… ah well, good luck to you. You’re braver than me.’ And off they both walk, half-laughing, half-talking.

I pull myself out of the water and sit on the rocky ledge beside the heap of clothes I left minutes before. My teeth chatter as I wrap a towel around my body and squeeze the remnants of water from my hair. I stand but the platform is only high enough to see what’s immediately around me. I scoop up the clothes and slide on my flat pumps, the inside of my shoes become soaked and I squelch as I walk. I climb the shanty dirt steps that have been battered into the ground over the years. The man and woman come into view, heading towards Sgurr an Fheadain, probably just to take in the beauty of it than to climb. They are almost dots on the landscape now. Snow is scattered upon the tops of the hills and a cool wind makes its way down the valley.

I walk alongside the pools, further up the path – I know which pool I’m looking for but can never remember if it’s second or third last…

‘How far up are you going?’ Cal shouts between pictures.

‘I’m going to the deepest one, and you’re coming in too.’ I look over my shoulder and smile at him as he makes his way up the path behind me. The rush of falling water grows louder as I come to the place. The climb down is trickier here – the steps steeper, and less secure. I leave the clothes at the top and use my hands to steady me as I climb down.  Just as I reach the bottom Cal is above me.

‘You’re insane’, he says as he starts making his way down too.

‘No, we’re insane.’ I correct him, ‘C’mon just jump in. You’ll regret it if you don’t.’

He takes the last step down and reaches the platform closest to the pool. The spray from the waterfall hits the back of my bare legs and makes goose pimples appear on my skin. Cal looks around, assessing the pool – it’s deeper than the others – the water is clear, the underwater arch teases as it rises just slightly above the surface of the water, it whispers as water laps against the rock.

‘God… okay. But I’m telling you if I get hypothermia I’m holding you responsible.’

‘Yes!’ I do a little dance of victory as he kicks his shoes off.

I dive first – the coolness of the water flooding my senses and making my heart surge – the archway is ancient and stunning. I swim through touching the underside of the stone as I pass. How many others have done the same and felt the unexplained connection to this natural landscape?  I rise to the top and burst out from the water to wait for Cal.

‘C’mon, hurry up – we haven’t got all day!’

Cal stands, watching me.

‘What if I dive from higher up?’ he asks,

‘Why would you want to do that when you haven’t even been in yet?’ I reply, slightly confused but he’s an excited school boy now and I’m just one of the guys, egging him on in his head,

‘It’ll be fun. Look how deep it is! You do it too.’

Before I can say anything he’s darting back up the steps towards the higher ridge beside the waterfall.

‘Cal, I think that’s a stupid idea…’

But he’s not listening or he can’t hear me over the fall of water. The pool is deep but that’s a high jump. I try and work out the depth he’s likely to fall from such a height. I drop under for a second and check the bottom of the pool – it’s not smooth. Every surface is a point, a crag; rougher than the beauty of it lets you believe.

‘Cal…  Just come back down and dive from here.’

‘What? I can’t hear you.’ He’s at the top now, arms folded in front of him, shoulders hunched from the cold.

‘Come. Back. Down.’ I say louder, emphasising every word.

I don’t like the angle of the rocks below him, I don’t trust what lies directly beneath the waterfall, concealed by the froth and foam as the water sprays in all directions.

It’s too late, he leaps but in his haste the dive isn’t right – he’s overshot the angle, almost somersaulting but not even managing that. Instead his head is at an odd juxtaposition with his body, his arms splayed out to the sides as if he’s trying to correct himself mid-air but can’t manage it. He hits the water and he’s gone… seconds pass. I panic. I dive under the water and kick hard in his direction. I can see the shape of his body as it slowly floats to the surface and I know instantly that something isn’t right. I reach him just as his body reaches the surface but he’s limp and unconscious. I turn him onto his back so his head is above the water and pull him away from the harshness of the waterfall that’s only centimetres from him. There’s no blood, no clue as to what I’m trying to fix.

Even with his weightlessness I can’t get enough purchase to do much except shout for him to wake up. I edge him to the side of the pool and attempt to lift us out of the water but I can’t. Minutes pass, I can’t find a pulse on his neck but I’m not even sure if I’m checking the right place. I scream for help – there’s nothing but a heavy echo from the wide open space. As time passes I grow colder, shivering from my lack of movement. My arms grow tired from the effort of keeping Cal at my side while the rush of the water around us tries to pull him away.

He doesn’t move, doesn’t flinch. I hug him to me and pray; pray for help, pray he’ll be OK, pray that I won’t die here with him – the two of us becoming entwined by the pull of the water as it cascades from one pool to the other. Eventually a man and his wife come by, snapping holiday memento’s as they go…

At last the memory has surfaced, a tear runs down my cheek and I brush it away with my hand. The water will wash away the sadness but the echo of that morning will play out in the landscape for eternity. Knees slightly bent, head tucked in between outstretched arms, and hands clasped together. I shiver and take a breath; there’s no one else around but me. The cold, crisp November morning has kept the visitors away. If only these rocks could speak, the stories they’d tell. I dive again.

Kirsty Fraser currently resides in Glasgow with her cat Buttons. She studies Media & Communications by day and by night she blogs on New Hellfire Club and Sabotage Times about all things music. She writes short stories and poetry, that in the most part, only her bin gets to read. In an attempt to change that she’s currently writing her first collection of short stories – she hasn’t figured out how it ends yet. Check out Kirsty’s music blog.

Collapsed Crater, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park - Photo by Ken Swearengen
Collapsed Crater, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park – Photo by Ken Swearengen
Torpor Corpse
– By Cal Ashton

He drew hard on his pint. Madeline frowned. The third sigh in ten minutes left him hunched over like an inflatable leaking air.

“What is it Tom?”

The sigh was heart-rending and lasted a full twenty seconds, rising and bursting from his pursed lips. His fingers crept around the pint glass again as if to lift it…but just stayed wrapped around it, unable or just not caring enough to lift it.

Each breath left his body, but wasn’t replaced. He hadn’t breathed in now for an hour. All his air was leaving him.

His brain air left first, his mind had shut down three days ago. Neglect had left it numb and rusty. Seized up. The banality of an undemanding job, no challenge, even in conversation with his work colleagues, all too shallow to communicate and when he got to his own office he never talked to anyone anyway. Except Dave, the Doorman. But a “Hello” that had dissolved into a murmur, then a grunt, then a conciliatory nod of the head, then brief eye contact, had finally collapsed into a non-physical act whereby Tom would only react if Dave wasn’t there.

And Dave was always there.

Home was empty, a chair so long and so familiar there he couldn’t describe it to you if asked him, even if he did answer he would say it was just, y’know, a chair, kinduh greeny grey-blue red thing. Nice. There.

TV was on. Unless he fell asleep, woke up again , realized it was on, turned it off and went to sleep again.

One shop, never-changing for never-altering tinned food.

And now – a heart unused beat out the air, pushed smaller and smaller amounts of blood to the vital areas, even then, it forgot why. The heart had never raced since long ago. Not even reflexively. If Tom tripped, Tom fell. He didn’t stop himself. The adrenalin breathed out of him 3 days ago. There was only his self left. And he breathed it out now.

“Tom, what is it?”

Tom looked at Madeline through half opened eyes. 3 day stubble dotted his see-every-day-of-it lined 42 year old face. The curly hair, the thin grey lips. The hollow cheeks.

The next sigh blew out the light in his eyes.

His hands dropped to the table, still surrounding the glass of half drunk lager. The next sigh drained all the colour from his skin. He was pale to translucence, fish scale grey. He breathed out his lungs. The noise was a low rushing puncture now, like a gas ring hissing unlit. He breathed out his powdered bones and his body deflated into a skinsack, a bag, a film across the table. As his body dropped forward his face never touched the table surface. He breathed away his skin and left on the table, chair and floor were only his hair and clothes.

Tom had not-lived himself out of existence. No-one cared. He had made sure of it. Not deliberately, he just had. Death by torpor.

Cal Ashton is a redhead but accepts the term ginger. A Scot, he has wandered from Germany to Australia and is currently in Hong Kong. Cal has had work published many years ago in Shanghai Metrozine, That’s Beijing and Oxford University Student magazines and has performed in numerous plays in numerous dark basements and international schools throughout Europe and Asia. Check out Cal’s website.

Seeking God, Barcelona - Photo by Ken Swearengen
Seeking God, Barcelona – Photo by Ken Swearengen

Midnight Shadows, Passing

– By David McVey

Everybody hates me, thought Kyle, just because my hair sticks up in that funny way and I’m shy of girls and I haven’t had a job since I left college.

He had snaffled a good handful of his mum’s stash of sleeping pills; enough to do the job, anyway. But what about the mess, the scene? He’’d probably puke before dying and if it got on the carpet or bedclothes mum would be raging. And she’’d hate all the hassle – police, ambulance, undertakers. How much did a funeral cost nowadays? Even if nobody came?

And then Kyle thought about Derryburn Wood. Nobody went there except dog-walkers and daft wee boys who wanted to get drunk and there would be nobody there at night. He could slip out, find a hidden spot, pop the pills and die quietly. No one would be inconvenienced, no one would mind the mess.

It was nearly twelve and there was a bright moon. Kyle pulled on a capacious hoodie, transferred the sleeping pills to a pocket and took a bottle of spring water to wash them down. He was about to leave the bedroom for the last time when he noticed that the duvet, which he’d been lying on, was crinkled and untidy. Mum would go mental. He shook it smooth before creeping quietly downstairs in case he woke her, and then disappeared into the cooling night to die in Derryburn Wood.

*****

A ship of light swept over the horizon of the dark trailing a wake of silence. Jane had missed the last bus.

It had already been a hard evening, involving what Sally from work had called a ‘break-up date’. She had arranged to meet Scott in a charmless chain pub called the Goblet and Wishbone on an edge-of-town trading estate. While Scott fetched the drinks, Jane had reflected on the meanness of her reason for ending things: Scott was just too nice.

He held doors open for her. He bought her flowers (too many – some bunches went straight into the green bin). He was open about his feelings and considerate about hers. He loved children; before long there’d be a marriage proposal with a view to starting a family. He was generous, sharing, thoughtful, someone who wanted to share his life – fruitfully – with someone else.

Jane didn’’t. Not yet, anyway. Scott was 30, which explained a lot. She was still only 24 and wanted the free, fun-loving life a bit longer. And yet, even when she told Scott the cold truth, he had managed to be gracious.

‘I didn’’t see this coming,’ he said, with the puzzled facial expression of a gentle forest creature that had misplaced some nuts, ‘but I appreciate your honesty and courage in telling me.’

Get angry, Jane had thought. Why do you never get angry?

Scott left soon afterwards but Jane had remained behind, drinking. Only when the last bus was due to abandon this desolate urban periphery did she emerge, only to see it disappearing down the ring-road. Bus drivers just want to get home too, she thought. She’’d drunk a lot and it moved her to be reasonable. Like Scott.

She considered phoning for a taxi, but it was a dry, breezy night in May – the sun had barely gone down – and while it was a long way by road to her home on the Glenturlie Estate it was just a mile or so through countryside. A footpath ran from the ring-road between fields to Derryburn Wood; soon after the path re-emerged from the wood, you saw the first houses of the estate. There was a moon riding high in the sky and surely on a Tuesday night there would be no feral fourteen-year-olds giggling round a bottle of tonic wine in some dark corner? She clicked across the ring-road in her heels and crunched onto the gravel farm track that marked the beginning of the path.

*****

Reverend Rab Soutar needed to pray. He needed God to hear him, and to know that he had been heard. There was always something unsatisfying about praying in the manse; nothing to do with Carol or the children, just the sense of being enclosed. A ceiling wouldn’’t prevent words reaching an omnipotent God but it could inhibit the person doing the praying.

Glenturlie Parish Church was a pleasing modern building of plain harling with some pinewood panels; large windows in the ceiling brought the sun into the morning service. The estate it served was large, sprawling and rich. The church was rich, too; Rab ministered to lawyers and GPs and lecturers and high-powered IT execs, their wives, husbands and children. There were always funds for repairs to the church building or crèche equipment. But Rab tried to open the congregation’s hearts and minds to mission, to bringing Christ to the lost, to serving the poor and despairing and hungry. There were many needy folk, locally, albeit on the other side of town. His sermons were met with nods and smiles but little else. The church was determined to keep its hands clean.

Rab craved prayer. He would go to a quiet spot in Derryburn Wood and pour out his soul to the Lord, seeking His will for Reverend Rab Soutar and for Glenturlie Parish Church. He would pray also that God would lead him, personally, to troubled souls that he could help.

The moon blinked between trees as Rab entered the wood. Away from the sodium-bathed streets, darkness embraced him and stars upon stars gleamed from the velvety sky, an infinity of tiny lights that spoke to him of the limitless, unimaginable reach of God. He decided to pray where a small patch of grass bounded the path. He took off his Craghopper cagoule, laid it on the ground, and knelt on it.

*****

‘This is SHITE!’ yelled Jason, hurling a newly-emptied lager can into the unseen undergrowth. ‘It’s dark. We cannae see anything. What are we doing here, man?’

‘Chill, man, I just thought it would be cool,’ said Connor, ‘all spooky and that. I didnae think it would be so cold and dark.’

Jason softened when Connor admitted his error. ‘It’’ll be a magic place to come when we plunk off school, though. Naebody from the council will find us here.’

Connor detached the plastic carrier bag of drink from the branch on which he’’d hung it and they began to pick their way along the path using the faint light from their mobiles. Then Jason stopped. ‘That’s weird, man. Do you hear that?’

‘What?’

‘Somebody. Talking.’

‘Naw. No at this time of night, surely…’

The path led past some pine trees to an open glade wanly lit by the moon. Just off the path they sensed a dark, stooping figure – no, a kneeling figure – muttering away to himself. ‘Show me your will… lead me in your ways… soften our hearts towards the weak…’

‘He’’s mental,’ whispered Connor.

‘It’’s pure scary, man, let’s go.’

They ignored the path and clattered off through the trees. Dimly, they saw the lights of the Glenturlie Estate and ran towards them, the branches clawing as they went. They only stopped running when they reached a scruffy field bordering the estate.

‘I left the bag,’ said Connor.

‘What?’

‘The bag with the drink. I dropped it when we saw the mad guy.’

‘This was a great idea.’ Jason trudged away towards the lights of town.

*****

This is life, Jane thought as she entered the wood. She was warm from the gentle climb through the fields but it felt good. Pity about her shoes; they were ruined. She switched on her mobile to light the path a little.

*****

Kyle inhaled the mouldy breath of the wood. There was peace, here, quietness. And then, just ahead of him, he heard a muffled tattoo of running feet on the soft woodland floor. Two shadows fled past through sparely-filtered moonlight.

Not far along, on the same path, he saw something bright that shifted and crinkled gently in the breeze; a plastic bag. He picked it up and peered inside; a half-full bottle of Buckfast and a few cans of multipack lager. Well, they’’ll help, Kyle thought, they’’ll deaden the pain.

More footsteps, behind him this time. They stopped.

He turned to see a young woman, wearing a light raincoat over a short dress, and smart, high-heeled shoes. He edged closer to get a clearer view.

‘Don’’t hurt me,’ said Jane.

‘It’’s all right,’ said Kyle, ‘I won’t.’ He nodded at the plastic bag. ‘This isn’’t mine. I found it.’

He sounded nice, thought Jane, well-spoken. What a shame he was out on his own, drinking. ‘I’d better be getting along,’ she said.

‘Yes. Midnight walk?’

‘Yes. Just going home.’

He watched as she disappeared into the gloom. Even struggling with those heels, there was a grace about her. If she was the last person he’’d ever see, he hadn’’t chosen badly.

He crawled into the midst of a cluster of rhododendrons and felt in his pockets for the tablets. He sat on a dry stump of wood, remembering that mum always said you could catch something from sitting on something damp. He reached into the carrier bag for a can and wished he hadn’’t brought the water. It seemed a waste, now.

*****

Rab stood up and retrieved his cagoule. A night of victorious prayer. Now and then he had heard voices, whisperings, the sound of passing feet. Distractions sent by the Enemy? If so, they had failed. Rab glanced at his watch; quarter to one. The night would soon be compromised by the first dirty grey light. He set off for the manse.

*****

Connor followed Jason into the Glenturlie estate, where all the poshies lived, but then turned towards the path that led back into Derryburn Wood. He couldn’’t leave that drink behind.

Just as he entered the wood he met an attractive young woman who was coming the other way. Ignoring his ‘Hi, doll!’ she continued speaking into her mobile; ‘I’’m sorry to phone so late, Scott, and I’’m sorry about tonight. Can I see you tomorrow?’ Lucky Scott, whoever he was; she had nice legs and that, though she shouldnae have walked through the wood in those heels.

He hadn’’t gone much further when he met a middle-aged man wearing a cagoule and a tweed bunnet. They both stopped.

‘Can I help you, young man? I’m Reverend Soutar of Glenturlie Parish Church.’

‘Aye. Have ye seen a plastic bag somebody might have dropped?’

*****

Kyle lay down; the damp didn’’t worry him, now. He just felt warmth and peace and silence as the faint smell of rhododendron blossom fought with the mouldiness. He was hidden from sight in this lonely woodland place. Would anyone ever find him?

*****

The minister guy had tried to convert Connor so he had pulled away and scampered into the wood. When he got back to the place there was no sign of the carry-out but at least the mad guy had gone. A strong gust of wind blew in from somewhere, penetrating even the sheltered places, the kind of wind you got at scary bits in horror films. Behind those big bushes, something rustled. A plastic bag?

There were steely bars of light in the sky now but it was still deep-dark among the bushes. There was his carry-out, though. Someone had definitely been at it, just two cans left and no sign of the Buckie.

Connor turned and saw something dark and still on the ground. He looked at the silent shape for a long time and wondered what it was. The light seemed a long way away.

David McVey worked for many years at the University of Paisley, but he has also been a grouse beater, a tax officer and spent one miserable Saturday night stocktaking at a B&Q. He has published nearly 100 short stories and hundreds of non-fiction articles. David enjoys hillwalking, visiting historic sites, reading, telly, and watching football, especially his hometown team, Kirkintilloch Rob Roy FC and the Scotland national side. Check out David’s website

You Will See Me Again

Monastic settlement, Skellig Michael, County Kerry, Ireland - Photo by Ian Kennelly
Monastic settlement, Skellig Michael, County Kerry, Ireland – Photo by Ian Kennelly

Ian Kennelly is a photojournalist from Kerry currently living in Dublin. You can see more of his work here, and on his Flickr.

______________________________________________________________________________________

The House

– By Patrick H. Fitzgerald

We had the idea we’d play house.  Make believe our happiness. I baked banana bread and you caught summer swallows that flew through the open kitchen window. I’d remark that it was early for swallows, pretending to know about the rhythms of such things.

When you got home the house stank of sweetness drifting from the kitchen and I’d listen to all the boy bravado. I made myself meek and mild and all the pleasing things that big men need. When the trees grew too close to the front windows you’d cut their branches, while I sat watching, making domestic declarations about the lovely cut I’d gotten from the butchers. In the pantry, I put a fuss of food and salted meats and washed your clothes by hand in the basin because there was more honour in it. In return you’d give me gifts of half-baked promises and wild notions.

We made savage messes, every way, in every room of that place. When you laid your hands on me, to lust, or rage, regardless, my body bucked, a lump lodging in my neck, another slowly swelling.

But you saw me those days, docile, beached in some forgotten, lonesome corner, counting kindnesses. The words fell blankly from me, shifting shape in empty air, and behind it all, I raged against every tender smallness.

You had built me a plywood front, painted pleasant enough, but soon the wood would warp, the paint peeled.  If I could have worn you then, like we slept, gripping and crawling across each other, swallowing big blocks of square air.  Those times you shuddered and we forgot the bad match, the bitter taste.

But those days were long days and thoughts turn to softer men. Men put together from bits of remembrances fleeting, flown. And from these, grew notions of grander things, of things said once by others sheathed in the blue night. While you sat fat, making sport of princely pomp, walking a tree-lined procession as our paper palace yellowed in the sun.

So starved the smallness of it. That smallness once curled and pressed softly against the inside of my breast, that choking and spitting then drowned in my gut. The petitions, hoarse, quivered in our throats, and though we longed and longed, we lost. And even then, when the light bled saffron along the line of your back, you took my hand in yours and I heard the bones break.

I went back to the house a few times but saw no sign you had been there. The pane glass was broken and I found bits of us scattered. But you left in a hurry, I think, not long after I did.

Patrick H. Fitzgerald is originally from North Co. Kerry. A Fine Art graduate of Limerick School of Art & Design, he has come to writing, through his visual arts background, experimenting with flash fiction and poetry. He has previously collaborated with artists writing work for performance art pieces. He is currently living in Australia, working on a collection of short stories.

River Shannon, County Leitrim, Ireland - Photo by Ian Kennelly
River Shannon, County Leitrim, Ireland – Photo by Ian Kennelly

Last Orders

– By Graham Conners

Dinner

David was sat with his back against the wall, in the middle of telling Aisling and Emer some story that had happened years ago when I noticed Laura and how she held herself. She nodded along as he spoke, her lips curled into a soft, almost hesitant smile, her arms folded across her lap. She studied David’s face, watching him with a distracted, almost melancholic, attention and I was certain that it picked at the corner stone that held her together. As I watched her in the snug I knew that she hadn’t looked forward to this night. It seemed that she almost didn’t want to be here at all, as being here made things real. She turned away, catching my attention accidentally and looked at me for a moment, studying my face. I’d known Laura a long time and I saw a sadness she was trying to disguise. She smiled wanly, reaching out and slapping the back of my hand playfully, like I was a bold child. In that moment I felt that, for her, time was moving all too quick and she was afraid of wasting whatever little was left. I returned the smile and leaned in to her.

“I’ll give you a million quid for a smile.” And she did, her eyes flashing in the dim light. “Can I owe ya?” I asked and she nodded. I leaned in a little closer and she leaned in to me. “It’s going to be okay, you know.”

“Yup,” she said, winking at me softly before turning away, trying to slip seamlessly into the conversation. I watched her and knew that she was trying to avoid the reality that David would not be here tomorrow. And David would never be coming back.

Relationships

I met David, through Laura, from coffee’s shared in the student centre, study days in the library and eventually nights out and weekends at festivals and such. At first I wasn’t sure of him, this fella with an accent that seemed to say all the right things. To the best of my knowledge he never offended anyone. No one ever said that David was a prick, or that he kept bad company. He held open doors, carried heavy things for the girls, remembered birthdays and always seemed to give the best advice going. He read books like they were going out of style and found it very hard to keep hold of them, always giving away his second hand paperbacks if you expressed so much as a passing interest in reading it. Jesus, he was so hard not to like that Laura and I fell out for a short time when I decided that I wasn’t going to like him, just to be different. Most of it was jealousy as he had, did and was everything I wanted or wanted to be. I left the room when he entered or poked fun at his opinions when he offered them. I soon learned that all I was doing was making an arsehole out of myself. Laura told me to cop on and stop being a prick, cornering me in Doyle’s one night out. She started to cry. Laura only ever cried over people she cared about. In that moment I wasn’t sure which one of us she cared about more, David or me, but seeing her cry was enough. Things changed after that.

Last Orders

I came back from the bar with the last round of drinks we’d ever have together. David had moved across into my seat and Aisling into David’s so I found myself sitting opposite them, on my own. David and Laura were sitting beside each other, talking between themselves. She was laughing and it seemed, though I couldn’t hear what they were saying, as if they were talking about things they would do tomorrow, or next week. They had found someway to enjoy whatever time was left and I could not begrudge them that. There’s a song that I use to sing at parties with the lyric ‘the heart is a package tangled up in knots someone else tied.’ I couldn’t help but smile at the two of them together and suddenly I found a new meaning in those words, it made a lot more sense. In that instant part of me wished I were David, even just for these last few minutes, as he seemed to fill her world. I remembered the days before he came along and I knew that things would never again be like that. I would never be able to fill that David-shaped hole in her life. No matter what I did, I’d never be David.

Later

David had his bags packed and sitting in a tidy little knot at the foot of the stairs. He had donated the bigger things he owned to people he felt would use them best. I got a collection of books. The taxi was waiting, parked up on the street outside. Instinctively we all knew that the others in our group needed space. Emer sat in the sitting room, having said her goodbye already, vacantly watching something she had recorded during the week. Aisling and David shared their goodbyes in the kitchen. Laura and I waited in the hallway. I could hear them, Aisling warning him not to forget about us and to hurry back. What else do you say to someone that’s leaving?

I stood by the radiator, warming myself, Laura sitting on the lowest step of the stairs. She fidgeted with the tags on David’s bags, reading the stickers and the patches he’d sewn on over the years, tracing some roadmap of his time in Ireland. The kitchen door opened. David stepped into the shadows of the dim hallway. I straightened up and offered my hand. He took it and shook it, his deep brown eyes boring into mine and we said our goodbyes. Laura was listening, standing to face David as we had finished. She took two hesitant steps down the hallway, she was crying and he began to cry too. She could say nothing, could not say goodbye, her face red with tears as she tucked herself in under his arm and he held her and rocked her slowly forward and back, like a parent with a restless child. I looked away and I stepped up the hallway to the door, turning slightly to view them out of the corner of my eye. His big hands cupped her face, his thumbs wiping away her tears.

“You will see me again,” he said, his heavy voice coming like a whisper, tender and loving. He held her once more and they shook with sobs, David wrapping his great big arms around her little frame tighter, as if folding himself over her, protecting her. “You will see me again,” he said once more and released her, making for the doorway, towards me. “Goodbye Barry,” he said, pausing but a moment as he picked his bags from the floor. I offered to help but he declined it, saying he could manage. He did, taking the three bags with him out into the darkness. We watched him load up the taxi and climb in. He did not look back, or wave, and the taxi slowly pulled away and around the corner.

“Bye David,” I said to myself and to no one in particular as the taillights faded away into the darkness. And then he was gone, flitted away into the night.

Night

She cried more that night as we sat in the kitchen, letting cups of tea go cold on the countertop, letting long drawn out pauses blossom between us. I held her, trying to reassure her that the world was still turning, that things weren’t over. She apologised to me, saying how she was acting like a child. I told her everything was fine and that I understood; it’s hard to lose someone you love. I wish my motives had been less selfish, but they weren’t. I needed to know, needed to know that she loved him. Laura looked up, taking her head off my chest, nodding so smoothly that it was almost invisible, but totally inevitable. She patted my chest and smiled, wiping at the tears on her cheeks and at the damp patches on my shirt. She apologised and broke away from me, taking her cup of cold tea and pouring it down the sink.

“Good night Bar,” she said and half smiled, squeezing my hand as she passed me. She closed the kitchen door over and I listened to the soft thud of her steps on the stairs until they faded away. Standing in the silence of the early hours I felt the ground shifting beneath me. I remembered what David had said to her; you will see me again. And I know she will, I know she will. I hope she does.

 The Morning (Hers)

She was gone before 7.30am, leaving early for work. We passed on the landing as she was going and I asked her how she was. She said she was fine but I knew she was lying.

David

David had lived with us for nearly a year, a great silent hulk moving quietly about, talking about music or movies or about his confusion at an Irish person’s happy disposition in such as sunless country. David was from Trinidad and had followed some crazy idea of coming to Ireland in search of adventure. We laughed about that many times, telling him that if he wanted adventure to try walk through Temple Bar unmolested around 2am of a Saturday night. He never did, to the best of my knowledge. One night, years ago, with the rain sluicing down the windows in great torrents, he told me about home, about ‘his’ island as he called it. He had been home only once in four years, for his sisters wedding. In that moment I felt that David was running from something, as if he had let some gap develop and he regretted it. He rarely spoke of his family and when he did it was always of his mother. I once asked about his father, had he passed away? David replied with a simple, soft ‘no.’ Though I wanted to, I never pressed him on this, I never went fishing for more information. That evening he told me that he had been away for a long time and he felt maybe he was ready to go home.

Home, I always found it strange how he spoke of it. Home never seemed to be thousands of miles away but somewhere you could walk to, somewhere just around the corner that he could visit whenever he wanted. To me David held a little of his home inside him, stored in some jar or cubbie hole in his soul. He carried the sun and warmth with him and, though it was a kind of precious energy that kept him going, he was not afraid to share it with you. That was David and that was why people loved him.

The Morning (Mine)

Usually being the last to leave the house, I checked all the windows and doors were locked and secure. As I gathered my coat to leave I noticed the door to David’s room was open just a crack. He had not pulled it after himself, not sealed it shut with the finality of his leaving. I don’t know why but I looked in. The mat he had was gone, donated to someone or other. It was just that little bit too thick and often jammed the door in some strange position that was neither open nor closed. Now it opened freely and I peeped in, taking a moment, as if waiting for permission, before I entered.

I stood in the doorway and looked about me. The room was virtually bare, all the little bits and pieces that made David, David, were gone. His bed spread, his photographs, his magazines, his rosary beads; all packed away and vanished. And though the room was quite small, and David quite a big man, this empty space now seemed cavernous, hollow and absolutely different. It seemed like he had never been here at all and that is when I felt it, I felt this twinge in my chest that spoke to me of the brittle nature of people, of hearts and life and love. Here I was in a room in a house I’d lived in for four years and I felt like a stranger. I could claim no ownership over it; I felt an alien in this space as, no matter what this room became now David was no longer here, a study room or an office, this will always be known as David’s room. Where’s the old lamp for the sitting room? Try David’s room. Have you seen the suitcase? It’s probably in the wardrobe in David’s room. This will always be his room and now that he is gone it feels so wrong, like it shouldn’t be a room at all. It wasn’t just his room for a while, it was his room for life and as I turned away I felt that maybe it was the heart of the house if only for a short time.

As I left I spied something hanging on a hook just behind the door. It was a small tag from an old Christmas present, a smiling happy Santa looking out at me. It lifted my spirits and for some reason I reached to turn it over.

To David,

Happy Christmas!

Love, Laura.

I read the words over twice and set the tag back in its place. This little piece of card had been too important to throw away, it said too much but still was too heavy to take with him, too rich in memories and emotions. I found myself crying and dried my eyes. I left the room, closing the door over. I stopped and listened to the wind outside running against the side of the house and heard his words in my mind, a smile catching the corners of my mouth.

You will see me again. You will see me again.

Graham Connors is thirty years old and has previously been published in wordlegs magazine, 30 Under 30 (both e-book and paperback editions), Allegory magazine, Under Thirty magazine, The Lit Garden, Link magazine and long-listed for the Doire Press International Chapbook competition. He is the founder and editor of Number Eleven Magazine as well as contributing editor for the Dublin Informer newspaper. He successfully staged his first play, ‘The Mortal Pitch’, in both Wexford and Dublin. He is from Gorey, in Co. Wexford but has lived in Dublin for the last ten years. Someday he’ll find his way back home.

Little Samphire Lighthouse, Tralee Bay, County Kerry - Photo by Ian Kennelly
Little Samphire Lighthouse, Tralee Bay, County Kerry – Photo by Ian Kennelly

 

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

The Lives Of Others

St Pierre de Chartreuse, Rhône Alps, France - Photo by Jane Riddell
St Pierre de Chartreuse, Rhône Alps, France – Photo by Jane Riddell

Photography – Jane Riddell is a writer of contemporary fiction and an enthusiastic blogger, including penning letters from a Russian cat. In addition, she loves travel and photography. She is the proprietor of an editing service, Choice Words Editing. Jane holds a Masters in Creative Writing and her first novel, Water’s Edge, will be e-published by ThornBerry Publishing in Spring 2013. Check out Jane’s website. Follow Jane on Twitter @JaneRiddell

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Short Story: Half Of What I Say Is Meaningless

– By Ruth McKee

I learn through Facebook that Julia is dead. This from some guy I have never actually met. I stare at his profile picture for ages, communing with his image and the momentous message. Soon my newsfeed is buzzing with death, and we all form a group: Julia’s funeral arrangements. Although they are not calling it a funeral, but a valediction. I stop myself from posting something sarcastic.

It’s not going to be a religious ceremony, thank God. All that comfort of the litany makes me want to turn a blind eye to the gaping void; believe me, I know first hand just how terrifying that dark mouth is.

Julia’s dead, and I have stopped existing in a shared past, in our communal memory. There is now only my crappy recollections, and whatever is left in Julia’s extinct hippocampus — perhaps the memory of me like a hippo at campus (I was on the large side then), who the hell knows. She’s going into the ground in a cardboard box. Most of us won’t have a clue what to do. With the usual, at least you know to stand around looking sombre and repeat words after someone, and stand up and sit down in a clean room with a polished box. This alternative thing sounds totally like Julia (although it’s not an alternative to actually being dead, so I don’t see the point).

I never caught up with her again; she was never on Facebook. She had a profile, but no picture, she was inactive. She’s bloody inactive now anyway. Ha! I am not laughing. I’m driving, feeling the lumps grow all over me, from my stomach to my throat, to the aching cold sore that broke out last night. I wish I was going to see her. Even to see her body in death — her corpse, let’s not dress it up — would be something. The old traditions have it right: sit around the body and laugh and sing and talk, and make it have happened over and over, and then put the body in the ground. My phone bleeps and glancing down at the empty passenger seat, I read that Caroline has just checked in at Julia’s valediction.

Julia would not have believed how connected I am to the lives of others; the words ‘social’ and ‘networking’ are the last I would use about myself. I openly express my emotions and my whereabouts (my opinions always came for free): in other words, I update my status. It’s amazing the freedom that little box gives you (no offence, Julia). I never had this kind of help at college. I struggled with Julia, her openness, her romanticism, her offensive sentimentality. I felt more comfortable with Caroline, her sensuality not asking for declarations. I think Julia was waiting for the tortured creature inside me to crawl out and be known, a slick of repressed emotion oozing its way onto our sheets. She was waiting for me to learn emotional articulacy. Poor girl.

I remember us one evening side by side on the sofa. Julia sighed, turning towards me,

“You’re not talking to me.”

“I have been talking to you.”

“No, you haven’t. All you said was ‘how many metres square do you think that living room is?’ That is the best you can come up with.”

“Julia, we’re watching a home improvement programme. What do you want me to ask? What would a woman ask – ‘how do you feel about this living room extension?’”

She looked at me, a world of exasperation.

“You never, ever tell me how you feel.”

I didn’t know what to say, I truly didn’t. I expect she was thinking about her past romance, with Percy fucking Shelley.

I remember this conversation (poorly no doubt, there is no digital record), partly because this was the day that I slept with Caroline, and the day before Julia and I split up for good.

Caroline had been there later that evening looking absolutely gorgeous. She was drunk, so I imagine she had some excuse for betraying her best friend (although to be honest I’ve slept with quite a few best friends over the years, and none have seemed overly plagued by conscience). I was sober and had no excuse, and although I wasn’t eaten up by guilt afterwards, Julia spotted straight away that something was wrong, so I told her. Not a smart move it turned out.

I arrive and it’s very awkward as there is nowhere particular to go. Me and a few others are just standing around on this hill overlooking the sea. If Julia were here she would describe it beautifully. The sun is low, long beams of light, it’s cold. There are quite a few people here, all looking like they’ve arrived at a party with nowhere to put their coats. I’m sure there must be a few pairs of eyes on me, just like I’m scanning the crowd, trying to recognise some faces. Some stand out, instantly, from their digital selves. There’s Shane, knew him at college, one of Julia’s old mates. He’s a Facebook friend. He is married and his last holiday was in Mozambique (‘cool pics, hope you enjoyed’). He has liked a picture of me at a birthday party, and was sorry that I had the flu last month. No one has clocked me yet, or not enough to come up and say hello. And then I catch someone’s eye, some middle aged woman in one of those expensive proper coats; I look and see flickering underneath that it’s Caroline. She walks over, smiling.

“Johnny!”

Everyone fancied Caroline, she was stunning and clever and funny. I can see her profile picture hovering above her, off to the left, and it distracts me as I look at her physical self – lines, blotches, the roughness of anxiety when I shake her hand.

“Caroline!”

We don’t have the usual awkwardness as all that was broken when she friended me online. First my stomach turned over reading her full name, then unabashed curiosity, comparing how we’ve aged, and finally she became demythologised, an ordinary face posting on my newsfeed. The opening small talk is easier too, as I know that last week she had some dental work done, and she must know that I got pissed and embarrassed myself last Saturday night, she’s probably seen the clip of me Greek dancing with Dave. I know she works part time, is a strict vegetarian and likes sci-fi and apocalyptic movies. So we cut to the chase.

“It’s unbelievable, isn’t it?”

“Yeah.”

“She’s the first one of us ––”

“I know.”

“Makes you think ––”

“It does, I know. You’ve gotta just, like, make each moment ––”

“I know.”

I feel oddly comforted. I don’t have to ask how she’s been for twenty five years. The burden of communication is light. She leans in towards me,

“She’s the first real friend — you know what I mean — to die of it.”

“Me too!”

This fact somehow unites us, like an amicable conspiracy.

“You know, statistically there’s bound to be another one of us here today who’s on the way to meet their maker soon.”

“Or meet oblivion.”

“Indeed, or meat oblivion,” she giggles, we both giggle, we guffaw. It is not at all funny.

I find I’m having too good a time and remember that I’m at Julia’s funeral and I should be a little more tactful. I try to say something deep.

“Julia was –– well, Julia was Julia.”

“Did you get over her?”

I change the subject.

“Did you guys stay best mates?”

“Nope. Didn’t see her after college. Didn’t hear from her for years until Facebook.”

“Yeah, me neither.”

“But she was inactive.”

“I know.”

We look at each other, the joke gaping at us from the proceedings at the front, and guffaw again.

Someone is signalling for us to gather round, and soon a quietness breaks out. I notice Gregoria standing beside the box, tall, pale. She is Julia’s daughter which comes as a surprise, she must be in her early twenties. She is about to read something. I hope and pray that it is not Stop all the Clocks (she would have to change all the pronouns anyway, it wouldn’t work). I have had enough weddings butcher great poetry, now this whole civil burial thing is opening another can of worms. Everyone waits, and Gregoria begins.

“It’s lovely to see so many old faces here, Julia would be pleased that you all came – although of course it doesn’t really matter to her now…” — a damp laugh rises in condensation — “but it matters very much to John.”

If my name weren’t so common I’d draw some conclusions about her marrying a John, but then, I’m most definitely a Johnny. John nods. Gregoria talks about Julia and suddenly she is there in front of me, fresh faced and gooey with love, laughing into my up close face.

I am back in our old rooms, smoking, the radio blaring, the sun hot on the windowpanes, years sprawled out in front of us. Julia is lying on the bed inhaling a cough, Caroline is sitting cross legged on the chair, posing. I see John beside her, his hand on her shoulder, possessive. We live in our own drama, of flirtation and deception and the full on depth of the future, aswim in all the mucky loveliness of twenty something angst and sex and fierceness.

I was healthy then. I didn’t have pills, medical bills, estimated remaining time.

I look at Gregoria (for god’s sake, Gregoria?) and I can clearly see Julia’s eyes, her dark brows. But as she turns to the side, the hand she lifts to her face, her profile, they are unmistakably mine.

Too late. It’s too late.

I have stopped listening to Gregoria, I have been watching her in slow motion, something like fear and happiness at my throat. But it’s time now to put the box in the ground. The small huddle of people gather more closely around the hole and I see they are going to play some music, and then I realise with a shock it’s going to have to be that song, one we listened to all that summer, and Julia is gone, gone, sloping ungraciously into the earth, and now the music plays and I don’t snigger and joke with Caroline because now I can’t ignore what’s happened to her, what’s happening to me. So I sing a song of love,

Julia.

Ruth McKee has been shortlisted for RTE’s Francis MacManus Short Story Competition. She is working on her first historical novel. She is a PhD graduate in literature from Trinity College Dublin and lives in Skerries with her two small children and three cats. Follow Ruth on Twitter @RuthMcKee

Lyon, France - Photo by Jane Riddell
Lyon, France – Photo by Jane Riddell

Short Story: Seamus Gavara and the Fat Capitalist Pig

– By Patrick O’Flaherty

‘Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me.’

‘Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me.’

The class fell silent and bowed their heads like chastised pups. This only encouraged the two boys to sing louder, ‘Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me.’

The jaw of Mrs O’Brien – the religion teacher – now touched the floor. She tried to speak, then shook her head, burst into tears and ran out of the room. Seamus Gavara and his comrade Fiachra ‘The Beard’ Cassidy – les enfants terribles – had to find themselves a new school, but the events of that day forged a bond which would change the course of Irish history.

Seamus and Fiachra had been friends since the age of fourteen. Magnetically drawn to each other by John Player Blue cigarettes and their Rage Against the Machine T-shirts.

Together they would fight the machine to the death.

Throughout their teenage years they waged war against capitalism. They refused to wear watches, to recognise Greenwich Mean Time, buy Nike trainers or to eat in McDonalds. They were small but tenacious thorns in the arse of the multinational cartels. They demanded a new Ireland – a socialist republic – a proletarian utopia. Such was their anarchic reputations that even Joseph Higginsbottom – the Godfather of Irish Socialism – wouldn’t take their calls. He distanced himself from their seditious agitation.

Fiachra first came to international prominence as a member of a far-left Marxist revolutionary ornithological observation group in the Columbian jungle. Fiachra’s research led him into close contact with the terrible poverty of that continent and the massive gulf between rich and poor. Seamus joined Fiachra in South America on a J7 Visa from college. They bought a Honda 50 motorcycle and for twelve weeks rode around the beaches of Cancun and Rio de Janeiro observing the tremendous destitution of the indigenous people and the breath-taking beauty of the local bikini-clad women.

Seamus kept a diary of this historic trip, which later became internationally famous; it contained amongst other things a list of his many sexual conquests. He was known as ‘The Ginger Conquistador’ and the ladies found his freckled charms irresistible.

The adventure wasn’t without its struggles however as both Seamus and Fiachra suffered severe sunburn on their pale Irish skin and also fell victim to the scourge of intoxication in their undying efforts to help the South American people. This epic journey crystallised their egalitarian beliefs.

The Ireland of the Celtic Tiger years was a playground for the corporate mafia of the giant American multinationals. Like 1950s Havana, it was mired in corruption. It was Havana with potatoes and rain. A safe haven for the faceless conglomerates to wash their profits – a developer’s paradise, a brown envelope Shangri La.

Seamus and Fiachra wanted to rid Ireland of the cancer of greed, of the culture that spawned the fat Hibernian capitalist pig – Hiberno Vulgarianism. That pig had grown grotesquely plump during the now extinct Celtic Tiger. It had its snout in the filthy trough of property speculation; its ostentatious displays of wealth were vulgar in the extreme. It was time to put the pig on the spit.

Being nouveau riche hadn’t suited the Irish psyche. The Irish were used to centuries of famine, forced emigration, evictions, and good old-fashioned misery. The newfound affluence drove the natives instantly mad, which was only to be expected of an island of perennially oppressed peasants, some of whom were still living in mud huts until the late 1800s. But the mood of the people had darkened. The Teflon Taoiseach – the Irish Batista – Gertie O’Hern had been dethroned. The Emperor had no clothes.

The arse had fallen out of the country. The world was in turmoil, the bankers and the developers had fucked the people – big style – and the government had let it happen. The socio-political landscape was transformed. The people wanted change – they wanted blood. Now, twenty years after first standing up to the machine in the form of Mrs O’Brien, Seamus and Fiachra and their newly formed party – The People’s Party of the People (PPP) were ready to seize that opportunity.

Seamus Gavara had revolution on his mind but his ideological thirst was yet again quenched by a crippling weakness for the drink. He awoke with his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth. His body shook violently. A black beret nestled on his wild mane of ginger hair. His world was upside down.

‘Seamus, are you dead or alive in there? Do you know the time? Tis three o’clock, the day’ll be gone. You’re sleeping your life away,’ said Betty Gavara. Betty was Seamus’ long suffering mother, locally famous for her superlative scones, an open mind and an acerbic wit often sprinkled with sexual euphemisms of an adolescent nature. It kept her young at heart, and with a thirty-four year old ideologue son in the house, she needed to be.

‘Ya, ya, Jesus Christ I’m awake. Will you leave me alone woman?’

‘My heart is broke with that young fella,’ Betty said, throwing her eyes up to heaven.

Seamus jumped up out of the bed, staggered around looking for the clothes that he had on before tentatively venturing out of the burrow that was his room. He met Betty in the hallway. She was upside down and speaking in tongues. He looked down upon her undulating double chin and attempted to decipher her utterances. Betty shook her head and wondered where did it all go wrong for her. She wondered what the fuck was she after rearing? She went back into the refuge of her kitchen to the soothing sounds of RTE Radio One to make a fresh batch of scones.

Seamus, now terror stricken by his fragmenting mind galloped towards the front door, past the reflection of his head high red Doc Marten boots in the hall mirror.

‘I’m headin mam, good luck, talk later,’ he shouted, as he ran out the door.

He emerged to a sky of lush green fields, populated by black and white Friesian cattle that were upside down happily chewing the cud. They were surrounded by lines of grey stonewalls. An ethereal lawn of white cumulus cloud covered the ground in front of him. Brambles, whitethorn and blackthorn hedges, horse chestnut and tall slender ash trees hung perilously from the sky in complete disregard to Isaac Newton’s theory of gravitation. The Fire Brigade rescued a meowing dog from an ash tree. Crows and finches glided over little fluffy clouds to the sound of barking horses at 30,000ft. A line of chattering neighbours passed the house walking on their hands. The road moved beneath stationary cars like a travelator in an airport departure gate.

To Seamus, this had all the hallmarks of a CIA operation – sensory manipulation – a classic mindfuck. They must have spiked him with hallucinogenic drugs. Seamus had seen the film The Men Who Stare at Goats. He knew what those fuckers were capable of. He wasn’t going to crack. The Bay of fucking Pigs he thought. Maybe they got to Fiachra? Fiachra and the CIA? Seamus ran over the various scenarios in his head. Nobody could be trusted. He needed to pull himself together. He took a deep breath and tried to reassure himself – just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.

America – the cheerleader of free market capitalism had been the sole superpower since the demise of the Soviet Union but the capitalist system was on its knees. China was a monolith and America was crippled by its debt due to its ill-fated Middle Eastern campaigns of imperialist aggression in the aftermath of 9/11. The Western civilization was in decline, soft centred and bloated. Seamus and Fiachra studied the great Roman, Mayan and Aztec empires, all of which imploded and crumbled making way for new and hungrier powers to emerge. Powers like India and China.

The PPP were ready to exploit this new reality.

Ireland was a key battleground because of its proximity to Europe and its importance as a corporate centre. The extreme austerity measures imposed by the troika of the EU, IMF, and the ECB had led to the disillusionment of the people.

The PPP made their move with a campaign of Blitzkrieg electioneering. Their posters were omnipresent, quoting Mao underneath the letters PPP, ‘A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first few steps.’ The people had turned to the People’s Party of the People and the revolution would be televised on TG4 as a party political broadcast after Sergio Leone’s classic western Once Upon a Time in The West.

Seamus made contact with the Chinese secret service under the cover of a takeaway restaurant ‘The Dragons Belly,’ in Rathkeale, Co Limerick. He walked up the red neon-lit curried steps of the entrance, opened the door and walked towards the counter. A young girl sat watching a Chinese game show on a television mounted on the wall.

‘I’ve an order in for a Mr Kung Po.’

‘Name pleeze.’

‘Gavara, Seamus Gavara.’

‘Ah Mr Gavara, we’ve been expecting you. Welcome to the belly of the dragon. Pleeze come with me.’

Seamus lifted the countertop, walked underneath the television to the sound of a clapping Chinese audience into a back room where he met the man known only as, Chang.

The PPP used their burgeoning political power base to make representations to the Minster for Offense about the building of a Chinese missile defence base at Shannon Airport. In return the Chinese promised significant inward investment – a major project in Tipperary involving the construction of a satellite city as a European base for the Chinese companies. This project would create thousands of jobs and would forge a co-operative bond between Ireland and China. The local TD Mickey Maowry had played a pivotal role in the development due to his extensive contacts in the Asian business community.

Mickey Maowry was known as a man to get things done and was wildly popular amongst his constituents despite high profile scandals involving the awarding of lucrative licenses for massage parlours and the illegal importation of Rhino horns into the greater Tipperary area. Officially announcing the project, Mickey Maowry told the Tipperary Enquirer:

‘After several years of hard work and personal sacrifice I have delivered

this project for the good people of Tipperary who have stood by me during this campaign of vilification by the national media. I would also like to thank my long suffering wife Pamela, my sons John, Johnny, Pa, Patrick and Paddy, Mickey and Mickey Junior, my daughters Bridie and Bride and our Labrador Blacky. They are my rock and without them I would be just a lonely hardworking bachelor politician without a family or a dog. Thank you.’

The Chinese had extensive interests in Africa and in the mineral rich Australian outback. Their hunger for resources was insatiable. Their tentacles were truly global and Ireland was next for Chinafication.

It was during these turbulent times that Seamus met Saoirse. A sultry brunette, tall and elegant with a smouldering sexual allure. She was a force of nature for which Seamus had no resistance. He melted beneath the scorching flame of her ferocious eroticism.

Saoirse had travelled the world after college working casually in bars and restaurants. She liked to dance and drink in a narcotic haze. She exploited her erotic capital. Saoirse was wild as the wind but still found time for her volunteering and charity work, including a month long spell at an orphanage in New Delhi. Her father Sean had a top job in Googlesoft, Ireland and he bankrolled her decadent lifestyle in between her ephemeral periods of gainful employment.

Seamus fell helplessly under Saoirse’s spell. They hit the bars and nightclubs. They feasted on each other in an alcohol-drenched banquet of depravity. The world around them blurred into an inconsequential mass.

Meanwhile, the Chinese had begun construction of the base at Shannon and the satellite city outside Thurles. In the July elections Fiachra and the PPP’s newest apparatchik, Mickey Maowry, were elected on the first count helping to win the party an overall majority.

At a White House press conference the American President and the leader of the Tea Party administration Mitt Palin spoke about the Chinese presence in Shannon, ‘The Irish and the American people always had a special relationship, a shared history of struggle and endurance. We will stand by our friends in Ireland. This is an act of aggression, a threat to democracy and to the free world.’

There were high-level leaks about a covert invasion and CIA funding for the far-right anti-immigration party – The III ‘Irish Ireland for the Irish.’

Seamus had become increasingly paranoid. He saw CIA agents at every corner – old women pushing trolleys in supermarket car parks, street cleaners sweeping the roads, parked taxi drivers. They were everywhere, always seeming to avert their gaze whenever he tried to look them in the eye. Falling silent when he walked into a room. He moved into a new apartment with Saoirse and checked it daily for bugs and cameras. He checked light fittings, ashtrays, picture frames, clock faces. Even the fruit bowl, ticking them off a list as he went.

Saoirse was worried. He was distant and had a glazed look in his eyes. She decided to confront him.

‘Seamus are you alright? Is there something on your mind?’

‘No…why?’

‘You’re not yourself. You’re very quiet with me. Did I…do something?’

‘I’m sorry Saoirse, it’s just with the PPP and the negotiations with the Chinese, things are mad lately. That’s all. I’m just…a bit stressed out. I’m grand.’

‘You don’t look grand. You look off your fuckin game.’

‘It’s those CIA fuckers…fuckin with my head.’

‘What…are you talking about Seamus?’

‘Mind control, sensory manipulation, Project MK-ULTRA, the Men That Stare At Fuckin Goats. At my mothers house…the bastards. She’s nothing to do with this.’

‘Calm down hunny…it’s ok. Breathe…talk slowly.’

‘They must have spiked me the fuckers. After the Rage Against the Machine concert I woke up and everything was upside down. I was trippin out. You saw what the Russians did to Litvinenko. Poisoned the cunt. With his tea. His fuckin tea. Polonium-210. They’ll get me too.’

‘Don’t you remember Seamus? The acid? We took the acid after the gig. Remember? Got it from Tim O’Leary in town. Larry in the Sky with Dinosaurs? Seamus calmed down a little after their talk. He still thought that the CIA were somehow involved but he kept it to himself. The less she knew the better, for her own sake.

The PPP were monitoring Seamus’ erratic behaviour. Nobody could jeopardise the Party. Fiachra distanced himself from Seamus and had taken to smoking big Cuban cigars. He was elected president of the PPP.

Seamus was now only a peripheral figure in the Party he built but he didn’t care. All he wanted was Saoirse. He loved her so much he took a manufacturing job in Googlesoft to help pay the rent of their apartment. Saoirse’s father Sean pulled a few strings and got him the gig. They settled into a quiet life of debauched domesticity.

Saoirse took up ballet after watching the film Black Swan. Seamus purchased his first watch to observe GMT because his overlords at Googlesoft demanded strict adherence to the clock. Betty would drop over fresh scones to supplement their Big Mac meals.

‘Mrs Gavara, is it yourself?’

‘Saoirse, how many times have I told you? Call me Betty.’

‘Sorry…Betty. Come in.’

‘I’ve some fresh scones for ye. Where is he, where’s my boy?’

‘He’s working overtime. He’ll be home at seven.’

‘I don’t know what you’re doing to him. I’ve never seen him so happy. You even got him working. I thought he was still one of those antichrists, marching and protesting and that. We’ll have to keep you Saoirse.’

‘They’re anarchists Betty.’

‘Sure, they’re all the one, aren’t they?’

‘ I’m going nowhere Betty. I love him. He’s a heart of gold. He’s idealistic and…vigorous.’

And with that, both women laughed heartily.

Life was blissful, well; it was until Saoirse choked on that chicken bone.

If there were any lessons to be learned from this inglorious expiration it would be to avoid dancing while eating a chicken leg. In a Swan Lake finale Saoirse choked while practicing after the day’s ballet class as Seamus dozed in front of the T.V after a feed of drumsticks. Saoirse never could sit still. Seamus hit the bottle.

The Chinese intent on world domination bought Googlesoft. A drunken Seamus was at his evening Mandarin course when he heard that Sean and the entire board had been sacked and the Union shut down. Overnight wages were quartered and working conditions deteriorated. A heartbroken Sean jumped from a tenth floor window of the Googlesoft HQ killing himself and a RTE News reporter in the process.

The PPP had consolidated its power through emergency constitutional reform. Everything changed overnight. Ireland became a one Party State with Fiachra as its figurehead but everybody knew the man known only as Chang really ran the country. Ireland was now closer to Beijing than Boston.

Seamus was drinking three bottles of whiskey a day. He lost his job. He wouldn’t open the door to Betty. He was skin and bone.

Some months later an American journalist interviewed him about his history in the PPP. Seamus criticised Fiachra and the betrayal of the PPP’s original ideals. He was immediately arrested and sent to the Curragh internment camp. Witnesses claim he mounted one final protest outside the office of the camps commanding officer, comrade Zhan, where he shouted pro-American, pro-democracy slogans. He was promptly executed by firing squad.

But Seamus lives on. His organs were harvested and it’s rumoured that a Shanghai millionaire has one of his kidneys and is doing well.

Patrick O’Flaherty is from Limerick, Ireland. He has previously been published in The Moth magazine and in theNewerYork. His writing is an involuntary response to the chaos of his mind, to the insanity, absurdity and the beguiling beauty of the world around him. Folow Patrick on Twitter @PaddyofNazareth

 

The Last Place To Lose Its Snow

Dawn Galway Bay Susan Prediger
The Prom in Salthill, Galway – Photo by Susan Prediger

Susan Prediger was born and raised in the USA, and has lived in Berlin, Germany, and, for the last 14 years,  Galway, Ireland. Her award-winning photography has been exhibited by the Galway Arts Service, at the Botanical Gardens, and other venues around Ireland.

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Short Story: Black Snow

– By Michael Crossan

Ruth breathed on her bedroom window. Scratched boo with a fingertip.

‘Keep us,’ she whispered, scanning the Jericho Centre’s gardens. Snow dusted the bare oak. Gravel paths led to the gate. Eastward, far streetlamps twinkled. A fairy troop, thought Ruth. To the north, amber lights on high bridge cables blinked in a dull sky.

Grace joined her at the window. Fidgeted with her zipper collar. ‘I had a bad dream.’

Ruth studied the bridge. Stark iron like a goliath mantis over the river. ‘Tell me.’

‘It was spooky.’ Arms folded, Grace rested her cheek on Ruth’s shoulder. ‘You were in hospital. I wanted to visit. A stairway led up to the building. I was stuck on the steps. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t move. People stared from the windows. They looked scared. Like they knew I could never reach them. Then I saw it was you and me. Every window. I woke crying.’

‘Dreams suck.’

‘It creeped me.’

‘Poor babes.’ Ruth cuddled her friend. ‘Let’s go. While it’s quiet.’

A portal cabin at the gate, a bald watchman opened the door. ‘Jackets, ladies.’

‘Hat, mister’ said Grace.

‘My head is immune to the cold.’

‘Doubt it. Looks like mince,’ said Ruth.

‘Cheeky witch.’

‘We’re ok.’ Grace stamped a heel. ‘Booted up.’

‘Cars are buried in Kent,’ said the watchman. ‘Six foot drifts.’

‘Grandpa said a snowdrift is Satan’s cloak,’ said Grace.

The watchman pointed at a field. ‘There’s His pup.’ A fox bounded stubborn, robust fur deep in snow, a zigzag channel up a slope. ‘Vermin,’ he said, and shut the door.

Saturday nights, boy racers parked near the gate revving souped Fords. Funland cabs. Prize seats for hug famished girls. Tonight was Tuesday. The road was white and mute and barren. Ruth and Grace linked arms and headed toward the river.

‘Enjoy your shopping trip?’ asked Grace.

‘It was good to be out. Shops were mobbed. There were two Santas in John Lewis.’

‘How was aunt Flo?’

‘Quiet.’

‘Did she invite you to Christmas dinner?’

‘No. Dad’s going. But aunt Flo said she has a surprise for me in the New Year.’

‘Maybe planning a party for your sixteenth.’

‘Do you know something I don’t?’

‘Guessing.’

‘I had a party once,’ said Ruth, sniffing.

‘Nice.’

‘I was four or five. Cousins were there. I had balloons.’

‘Nutter doesn’t remember my birthdays. Not one.’

‘She’s sick. Schizophrenia is a disease. I think.’

‘She’s the disease.’

‘At least you met her.’

‘Wish I hadn’t.’ Grace blew into cupped hands. ‘I liked the thought of her.’

‘You needed to meet.’

‘She didn’t know me. Her own daughter. I don’t belong to anyone.’

Town centre, an empty car park, four juvenile boys, hooded in tracksuits, played hockey with a cola can. The girls passed and play stalled. A lank hoodie sat on a graffiti carved bench.

‘They’re from the home,’ he said.

‘Taking your fleas for a walk?’ bawled a beak face.

Ruth squeezed Grace and hurried. ‘Ignore him, babes.’

A chin scarred beanpole stalked them. ‘Brollies, crawlies. It might rain. You’ll get a wash.’ He high fived the beak.

‘Remember soap?’ Beak bent, choked in hilarity. ‘Muck necks.’

The girls jogged, slipping. ‘Inbreeds,’ shouted Grace, vapour breath, shiny hair wild in a gust.

Up a cobble lane they halted outside a kebab shop. Pungent aromas hurt thin bellies. Ruth foraged a cigarette from her zipper pocket. Flicked a Bic lighter. She inhaled; face flared orange, smoke drizzling thin from her nose.

‘Last one?’ asked Grace.

Ruth nodded. ‘Share it.’

They smoked in turns. Keen drags, passing the fag. Grace took a last pull and tossed the butt. ‘Wish we had money for a kebab,’ she said, stomping, December devouring worn soles.

‘A large donner.’ Ruth smacked her lips. ‘Tons of onions.’

‘Mushroom pakora.’

‘Chicken wings.’

‘Stop it, Ruth.’

A man exited the shop carrying a family meal box. Gloved and parka’d like an Inuit. He dragged his eyes and loped to a sleek four by four. The fat wheeled guzzler pulled away, Eskimo man, bloat with revulsion.

Steamy flue heat had thawed a clearing. Grace sat on the warm cobbles. ‘He’s a stink.’

‘Pigs arse shite.’ Ruth kicked the slush curb. ‘Fuck hole.’

‘Wonder if he has a daughter?’

‘Daddy’s girl.’

‘I was a baby once,’ said Grace, hands cosy under her bum. ‘Funny that.’

On the main road a church service had ended, congregation flooding the square. The girls fused in the flock, pink and lime zippers loud in a beige and brown spill.

‘Excuse me, lass.’ The old lady poked Ruth’s arm. ‘Have you seen my Malcolm?’ she asked, her eyes wet and glad.

‘I don’t know him.’

Pencilled eyebrows rose to her woollen hat. Plum cheeks puffed. ‘He’s an inspector.’

‘Sorry.’ Ruth shrugged. ‘Maybe he’s in the church.’

‘Don’t be a fruit. Malcolm hates church.’

‘Are you all right, Mrs?’ asked Grace. ‘Shall I get the priest?’

‘Mother.’ A neat man, coat and scarf, cut between the girls. ‘Can’t leave you for a second.’

‘She’s looking for Malcolm,’ said Ruth.

‘Hmm.’

‘They’re angels, Malcolm.’

The man led his mother to a car. He turned and saluted the girls, a stiff middle finger.’

Elbows looped, they weaved out of the crowd. ‘Merry fucking Christmas,’ said Ruth.

‘His mum was nice.’

‘Ditty.’

‘Ditty sweet.’

‘He reeked.’

‘Turd.’

‘Pigs arse shite.’

Shivery, Grace nestled into Ruth. A road sign read half a mile to the dual carriageway. Traffic picked up. Cars, vans, trucks moaned past. Exhausts spewed black breath, rising sour and noxious in the dusk. On the embankment, Ruth squat and retched.

‘Holy pish.’ Grace spanked her spine. ‘You should have eaten something.’

Folded on her knees, Ruth vomited bile.

Grace massaged her neck. ‘Dump it up, babes.’

She heaved and puked a fizzy pool.

‘Chuck it out.’

Another sore retch, yellow slime strings swung from her mouth.

‘All up?’

Ruth spat on the snow. ‘I’m done.’ She rested sucking and blowing.

‘Take your time.’

‘That was grotty.’

Grace touched her hair. ‘Feel better.’

‘Much.’ Ruth rose and sleeved her chin. ‘I nearly fainted.’

‘Maybe we should wait.’

‘It’s nothing to do with that. You were right. We should have had lunch.’

‘I couldn’t. I felt weird all day. Hungry now though.’

‘Me too. I’d kiss dog shit for a fish supper.’

‘Freak. You spew your guts, now you could eat a whale.’

‘Mental, isn’t it.’

Zippers shut at the throat; fisted pockets, they walked on, teary cold. Sleet hit and died. A crow squealed. They glanced at each other. Shied away. Fixed on the path. A mutual trance.

Close to the bridge a van slowed and parked on a bank. The girls saw a gloved hand adjust the side mirror. ‘Here we go.’ Ruth nudged and tugged. ‘Paedo patrol.’

The door window rolled down. ‘You hitching?’ asked a man, silver beard, glasses.

‘No thanks,’ said Grace.

‘Anywhere you want.’

‘We’re out for a walk on the bridge,’ said Ruth.

‘I can run you.’

‘It’s right there.’ Grace pointed, blueish face crunched.

‘I can run you.’

Arms locked, they mushed up the embankment, boots slippy sliding. Ruth glanced back. ‘Wonder if it has a daughter.’

Gritted stairs led to the bridge’s paved walkway. ‘Last one up is a fart.’ Grace ran the steps nimble as a foal. ‘I can taste the sea,’ she yelled.

A truck grumped past. Ruth wagged a red numb hand at her red numb ear. ‘What?’

‘The sea. Taste it.’

‘I love that.’

They dallied along the footpath. Leaned on the chest high railing. Below, broad waters lifted and fell and clapped. ‘Choppy isn’t it?’ Ruth gobbed a frothy blob. ‘It’s not the sea. It’s a river.’

‘Smells like shells.’

‘Maybe it is the sea.’ Ruth watched purple hills. ‘Grace.’

‘What.’

‘Do you really believe aunt Flo is planning a party?’

‘Probably sorted it weeks ago.’

‘Thanks, babes.’ Ruth climbed the rail.

Grace scrambled over and stood beside her, boots sunk in a snow shelved girder. Vehicles’ horns blared. The girls held hands and stared down at the syrupy blackness.

‘Do you think God is real?’ asked Grace, chilled and lost.

‘There’s a Devil. We know that.’

‘Mr stink.’

‘Old turdster.’

‘Pigs arse shite.’

They stepped off the bridge, into slappy icy air, and Ruth shouted, ‘So there must be a God.’

Michael Crossan was shortlisted for the Bridport Short Story Prize 2011. And shortlisted for the Scottish Book Trust New Writers Award 2011. In January 2012, the Atlantic Wire published an interview piece about his Cormac McCarthy Twitter parody. His novel – Morningplace – is written. Three years work. The story combines naturalism – the way people talk and behave – and big unnatural, dehumanising situations. Think esoteric Twin Peaks. London editor, Gillian Stern, said Michael is her next big novelist. He is researching agents. Born in Scotland to Irish parents, he plans to settle in his forefathers Donegal and write a dozen novels. Check out Michael’s Blog and follow him on Twitter @MichaelCrossan

Olafia10-turning circle by old fish factory (1)
Turning Circle By The Old Fish Factory – Photo by Ólafía Lárusdóttir

Ólafía Lárusdóttir was born and raised in Iceland. She is an Arctic Biologist. Her interest in photography first started when she lived in Venezuela. Turning Circle By The Old Fish Factory was taken in Skagaströnd, in north Iceland.

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Short Story: Petrol Horizons

– By Lane Ashfeldt

You drive into the village, make a right by the church, and you come to the beach. No one is swimming. The beach is the end of the road. You drive along it to the turning circle where the fish factory used to be, and you circle back again on the same road.

Ahead of you is the one shop and the bank that doubles as a post office. You pull up at the petrol station. Here is where you work. You keep the older folks’ cars ticking over, and you sell sweets, soft drinks, and cigarettes to schoolchildren whose lives are just like yours used to be a few years ago.

The children who come by the petrol station are never alone. They walk in small groups to school and home again, always surrounded by friends. When they reach school they pull off their boots and leave them in the cloakroom to dry along with the herds of other shoes and boots, then pad around the corridors in knitted socks, as comfy as if still at home. Many walk further to school than the short way you drive every day from your parents’ house to the petrol station, but you never walk it, not even in high summer. It’s safer to drive, easier to pull a car round you than it is to pull on a coat and gloves. In the car you can just press play, and the music surrounds you and keeps you warm.

The village is not far off the Arctic Circle and it can snow here even in May, although nothing like the snow in winter. Then it’s so cold your face hurts, so dark that if it blizzards as you switch off the petrol station lights all sense of direction goes, everything shrinks to dark points of ice that needle your face. Once you were so lost you fell into the sea while trying to find your car. That night the water was colder than snow, although scientifically you know that’s impossible. The sea was not properly frozen, only caked in a layer of ice that crunched as your foot sank into the inky liquid below. Lucky for you it was only knee deep.

Some winter mornings – but this happens less often now than it did when you were a child – you wake to that special thick silence that comes when the town is awash with snowdrifts. On those mornings you don’t open the petrol station. It doesn’t matter. Nobody is going far, those days. You and your uncle take out the diggers and work to clear the town of drifts. This might take one day or three, all depends on the whim of the skies. Until you’re done, people hole up indoors and eat dried food, waiting for the freeze to end. Waiting for the light that can seem as if it will never return. Your brother disappeared one of those dark hushed nights, any clue that might have led to him blanketed in pure fresh snow. The police have a word for this, you heard them say it when they stood outside your house. ‘Snowdrop’. They saw you watching, and they hushed and turned away. But the word echoed silently.

Snowdrop. A body hidden under fresh snow. And the killer chose their snowstorm well. It was months before they found your brother. Twelve weeks, three days and three nights. Short days and long nights that stretched pointlessly, each like the last. All that time your mother stayed in her bedroom alone. Neighbours brought hot meals for the family and sat with her. My son, you heard her cry out to them, when is my son coming home? No one had an answer. You were her son too, but she never spoke about you.

You examined old family photos, convinced she had always loved him more than you, ever since he was born. Just one photograph showed all seven of you together, in height order. Your mother stood next to him; he was the only child taller than her. So alike. Blond, happy, smiling at your father who took the picture. In the next photo he and your mother were singing. They often sang together. Old songs, from the island long ago. Campfire songs.

The church was crowded out for the service, and part of you wondered if the killer had chosen the wrong son: he could so easily have taken one who would have been missed less. One who was less alive. He could have taken you.

Your father was quiet as always, and strong. A month after the funeral he cleared your brother’s bedroom and began to sleep there. You found your brother’s hi-fi and record collection in the garage, and his guitar. One day you put on a record in a half-hearted effort to teach yourself to play. After maybe an hour, your mother stormed out of her bedroom and raked the needle hard across the record, scratching a deep line in the vinyl. You stared at her. Then she hugged you to her and shook with tears. Afterwards she began to cook dinners again for you and the other children. This made you think of how, in winter when there are just a few hours of slanted sunlight to see by, a fishermen will make do with moonlight to get some fishing done. Yes your mother cooked hot meals for you and your siblings, yes she cleaned the house, but you never again heard her sing.

Winter is long and dark, that’s true. Each time it comes and sits on the mountains, it seems as if it will never leave. But when finally the sun swings up over the mountains and melts the snow, everything burns brighter and for two or three months the whole village lives twice as much. Lawns outside bright-painted houses are crowded with bicycles, boats and trampolines. Children bounce skywards in slow motion, freed for once of their heavy coats, wearing fleeces or hand-knitted jumpers. And everyone has things to do – summer feasts to sing at, hills to climb, fish they must hang out to dry.

You sell a lot of petrol those months. Sweets, too. And high-energy drinks. People nod and greet you by name yet you seldom find two words to say back. Locked out of their sped-up world, you take their money and watch them leave.

The hours of your shift pass slowly. You wonder sometimes – rarely now, but still it happens – if the polite neighbour you just served was the one who killed your brother. How they met. Were they friends, or not? It never came out in the end who killed him and the police put the death down to a passing stranger, but you don’t believe this. It had to have been a local. Only a local would have timed it so well. His walk home after singing practice, alone because he’d stayed behind to rehearse his solo part for the Christmas midnight mass. Was it a grown-up, a teacher maybe? Or one of the kids from school? Many of them went away to study and never came back. You wonder, did your brother’s killer run away to forget, and keep on running until he was off the edge of the map? Far beyond this island and this language, to other islands and languages that you do not know.

As you finish at the petrol station tonight, the light is strong. It pulls you. Instead of going home you fill the tank and drive. Past your parents’ house, past the school, past the disused farmhouse on the edge of town where even now streaks of brown snowmelt cling to the barren hill. Here is where they found your brother: it’s always the last place to lose its’ snow. Only a local would have known that. You speed on. Past the farmhouse and its snowmelt, and over this mountain to the next town and the one after that. It’s late, and the road is empty save for an occasional silver truck all lit up like a fishing boat luring squid. You turn up the sound and sing along to the radio: these are new songs, songs that have a fast insistent beat. If one of the old songs comes on that he and your mother once sang, you punch the dash and change stations. It’s not that you don’t care. But… His time is over now. And you need the kind of music that keeps you warm and alive.

On this bright bright night the light slants endlessly so that you feel the world spin under you, the sun a crazy ball bouncing on this round horizon, a ping-pong tied to a bat with elastic string. The clouds deepen in colour until they’re like petrol floating on dark oily puddles of sky, then lighten again as the sunset segues into dawn.

You know then that your chance to sleep is gone. But why waste a sunny night sleeping? You can sleep when you’re dead.

Lane Ashfeldt grew up in Dublin. Her stories have won the Fish Short Histories prize and the Global Short Stories prize. You can read more stories by Lane in her début collection of short fiction, SaltWater

 

The World Turned Inside Out

Bare Boned Tree - Photo By Emily O'Sullivan
Like An OId Oak Tree – Photo by Emily O’Sullivan

Short Story: Cut You Down Like An Old Oak Tree

– By Alice Walsh

The smell of sulphur tickled my nose. The match died again before it got to lick the cigarette.

‘Here you can’t even light the thing you dozy bastard, I thought you said you’d smoked before, I’ll fucking light it’.

Spiggy ripped the Silk Cut Purple and with it part of my lip from my gob. He lit a match and cupped it around the cigarette with one eye shut like he thought he was a hot shot cowboy or something. He thought he was so fucking cool because of all his big brothers but everyone knew Spiggy was the runt of the litter and they didn’t give a fuck about him. He knew it too – the night they kicked him about the place on the green after they’d drank a bottle of vodka over in the church field. Yeah he knew it when he lay face down in the gravel with a mouth full of blood. But he’d forgotten about that now that they weren’t around, he thought he was the shit again, he really did.

He handed me his lit cigarette in a way you could tell he’d practised to death. He grabbed it from his mouth so the hot part was nearly sticking in the palm of his hand and then he sort of flicked it over like a magician pulling a rabbit out of his arse.

‘Yeah I have’.

I ground the have down to dust and took the cigarette like it was a weapon. I put it in my mouth but some of the smoke drifted up past my nose stinging my eye and making it water. I swallowed the grey air. The top of my skull came off like a hat and all of me was rising up in steam escaping out of the top of my head. The fag was my grandfather who’d died of lung cancer all rolled up and I was smoking him, smoking the cancer out of him while he turned to ash. The yard started spinning, my head started sweating and Spiggy was laughing saying I was gone green and that I was the first ever cunt to pull a whitey on a cigarette.

And when he caught sight of my eye watering he really went for it.

‘Wait a second are you crying ya daft cunt? You fucking are and all! Brilliant just fucking brilliant! Pussy Power really living up to his name. That’s just perfect that is. Oh wait until I tell the boys in school about this, piss themselves so they will’. He rubbed his hands together like he’d just scored the winning point in the All Ireland.

The invisible hand of a boxer’s coach gently tilted my chin back making me look upwards at the window and that was when I saw him standing there statue still, hands in his pockets. I tried to focus because I couldn’t read what his face wrote. He just stared beyond the yard like he couldn’t see me. I was a ghost his eyes had no way of ever falling on. I looked behind me but there was nothing there. I turned back and he was gone. I dropped the fag. It swallowed the wet ground. I vomited in the drain. Spiggy the little shit pissed himself laughing again. I wiped the sick away from the corner of my mouth with the sleeve of my school jumper, all the while looking up to where he had been.

Spiggy said something I didn’t hear. Then he said ‘Fuck this for a game of soldiers I’m off home, see ya later Pussy’. I slammed the door on him. It was bad enough being called it by anyone but I just couldn’t take it from Spiggy the miserable little prick. I could hear him shouting, ‘Ooh ooh ooh someone’s in a bad mooohood’, like one of the stupid bitchy girls in our class. Arsehole.

I went up to my room and lay on the bed shaking trying to smell the clean of the bed sheets. When I sat up the mirror said my face was all white and my hair was wet from sweat. I brushed my teeth three times and still felt yellow ill inside. I wondered if I had cancer now. I felt like it. I spat thick splats of dirty cigarette tar phlegm into the wicker waste paper basket. It landed on a rotten apple core that mildewed at the bottom of the bin, growing sporey fur on the half snapped broken wicker latticed pieces. I stood stooped over like a question mark with my hands on the front of my hips and my head bent over filling up with my cancer swimming blood. A string of spit hung from my mouth to the dead apple. Rotten brown apple core cancer growing inside of me, spreading into the half snapped broken wicker latticed pieces of my lungs.

I kissed my hot cold head against the glass and I watched the world grow navy while people and leaves blew down the hill and I thought about how Spiggy had been acting the prick for months now. Ever since I’d gotten tall. He had always called me Paddy but since I’d gotten the height he started calling me Pussy like everyone else. When the world was more black than navy Mam called me for dinner. I sprayed myself in the deodorant she’d bought me last Christmas then ran downstairs.

‘Sit down love you look tired I made your favourite, Shepherd’s Pie’. She smiled. Her eyes looked tired.

Joe was parked with his nose just about touching the table. He had dirt on his face and was playing with his peas. He threw one at me and said ‘Shepherd’s Poo’ putting his hands to his mouth like it might stop him from saying the bold words that had already come out. I gasped pretending to be shocked and my mother said ‘Stop that Joseph’. I wished Joe could stay like a little pea forever and not become a shit smoking lying guilty fuck up of a son like me.

He came in and said nothing. He melted butter on his spuds and listened to the news on the radio. He didn’t look up. Maybe he was in a bad mood because he hated mince and she had made my favourite. After dinner she said she was going to the library with Joe and to pick Annie up from Irish Dancing and would I mind washing up. I kissed her on the cheek and told her not at all. She smelt like powder make up made of flowers. I thought he’ll say something when she’s gone. When it’s just the two of us. He read yesterday’s paper and drank his black tea like I wasn’t even there. He never looked up even when I took the dirty dinner plates from the table. I watched my hundred selves looking up at me from all the little suds bubbles in the sink. Why didn’t he say anything?

I drank a cup of sweet milky tea and watched Home and Away. Mam came back with Joe and Annie, they had gotten me red lace liquorice in the shop. After she put them to bed she made herself a hot water bottle.

‘Night love, don’t stay up too late’.

‘I won’t I’ll just watch The X-Files. Mam is everything okay with Dad? He seemed to be in bad form earlier’.

‘Your father is just under a lot of pressure at the moment Patrick, things are tight. We just need to be a bit understanding of his moods’.

‘Okay night Mam’.

‘Night love’.

***

When I woke up the next morning the taste of cancer on my tongue was gone. I went to meet Spiggy at the bollards to walk to school in the rain. Through the circle of my parka I could see his marble dead hands covered in cuts and scrapes. He never had a coat. When I looked up I saw he had a black eye. He wasn’t cocky anymore. He was quiet and I felt bad for him so I gave him my last piece of liquorice and we walked to school together saying nothing.

We were doing history. It was the only good thing we ever did because sometimes it was about battles and chieftains and high kings. Mrs O’Boyle was telling us how you can tell how old a tree is by counting its rings when Mr O’Neill walked in and went over to her desk. He held his clip board up so they could talk behind it in whispers. There was no need though because they were talking in Irish and no one understood them anyway. It seemed like it might have been serious. I wasn’t really interested but you could tell some of the girls were. I just looked about the ground of dark carpet and school bags and saw that some of their legs dangled from their chairs but mine didn’t.

Then Mrs O’Boyle said ‘Patrick will you go with Mr O’Neill please?’ When she said Patrick it jolted inside me and made my face hot because I was the only Patrick in the class. I knew I must have been in trouble. Fuck maybe they knew about the smoking. Fucking Spiggy must have been shooting his mouth off.

Mr O’Neill did small talk as we walked down the corridor asking me what Mrs O’Boyle was teaching us. I told him about the tree but fucked up the explaining of it. He smiled at me which made me wonder if I was in trouble at all. When we got to his office he said ‘Patrick have a seat’. He sat behind his desk with his hands clasped together like he was praying and tipped the steeple of his fingers against his bum chin a couple of times sighed uncomfortably and said ‘There is no easy way to say this Patrick I’m afraid it’s not good news, your father, he eh… he passed away this morning’. He glanced down at the stapler on his desk solemnly.

I wondered if Mr O’Neill had any top teeth at all, you only ever saw the bottom ones.

‘Heart attack’.

He just sat looking at me from beneath his eyebrows that were bunched together like the elastic part of an old worn sock.

I didn’t know what Mr O’Neill wanted me to say. I looked down at the stapler on his desk solemnly.

‘I can run you home I’m sure you just want to be with your mother.’

I backed away and edged for the door. I didn’t like the thought of going in Mr O’Neill’s car – there’d be more small talk and some horrible smelling air freshener and somebody might see me or he might try to hug me.

‘Ah no it’s okay Mr O’Neill, really sure it’s just around the corner I’d be quicker walking’.

‘Patrick it’s no trouble at all I’d really be much happier if you’d just let me run you home I know this must be an awful shock’.

‘No no I’m just going to walk thanks’.

I bolted for the front door of the school that was meant only for the teachers. I put my head down and my hands in my pockets and didn’t look back in case he was following me.

The rain had stopped and the sun had broken through in the time since I had gone to school and he had died. It was a different day. Old women with scarves wrapped around their old heads rolled their old women trolleys down the Main Street. How normal the world seemed. The world he was no longer a part of. Could he see me? Why hadn’t he said anything? Did it feel like a stitch like you’d get in PE when they make you do laps of the field until your lungs and throat hurt or was it like a knife in the heart and how long did it last for? My lunch was still in my lunchbox in school, it’d go all moldy and shite. I went into the shop. I thought about the word lolly pop then walked out with one in my hand. Then I thought that maybe it’s only real sometimes. It was like it was probably real in Mr O’Neill’s office when he was being all grey faced and it’d definitely be like it was real if I went home and saw Mam, but so long as I just stayed out wandering about it’d be like I was only on the mitch. But Annie, Joe, Mam. My milk at school, would someone drink it or would it be left on the counter after lunch to sour over the weekend? I better go home in case he was looking down. Jesus was he always going to be watching me now?

The front door was open, there were people standing about talking. I brushed past them. I didn’t know who they were. They looked at me, their mouths all open and nothing coming out. A woman that looked like my mother was sitting on the couch, my aunt Margaret’s hands were wrapped around her hands that were wrapped around a mug. She stared at the ground without looking at it. Smoke streamed up in ribbons from the wick of her head. She moved her gaze slowly up to meet mine. Tears of wax tumbled out of her hopeless red eyes. The lead of what was left of my heart fell down cementing my feet to the ground because I knew then that she was gone too.

My aunt Margaret said ‘Come and sit with your mother Paddy we’ve all had a terrible shock’.

I didn’t want to go and sit with her because she wasn’t like my Mam anymore she was a broken egg shell. This wasn’t like our home anymore. It was all wrong. I just wanted to run down through the church field and off over the cliffs or down the beach or someplace wide open and empty and not dark and huddled, filled with people whispering sniffling death. Fuck him for dying on us. Fuck all of this. But I didn’t run. I stayed in case he was watching.

The afternoon drifted on, I made ten thousand cups of tea for nosy people who all knew my name and were sorry for my trouble. My uncles, who we never saw, came and told me I was the man of the house now. It wasn’t so bad until Annie lay sobbing on his dead chest like a baby elephant. Joe just looked down at the Velcro on his shoes and never said a word. I sat up all night doing the wake staring at his pissed off white face.

I wished I was small and weedy like Spiggy then they wouldn’t have asked me to do it. It wasn’t him. It was the trunk of an old oak tree that was resting on our shoulders between my uncle and me. Out in front of us I could see the roots all dangling down with muck and clay on them. It looked like the time Annie got her dinner all in her hair. No I couldn’t think of Annie now. We were just carrying the tree to put it back in the ground someplace else. That’s why it still had its roots. It wasn’t cut so we couldn’t tell the age of it. You can only tell the age of a dead tree. It was fine when I thought it was a tree. I had the right rhythm of walking with uncle Sean and the others at the back. But when I told myself that it wasn’t him and that it wasn’t a coffin – that was when it started because that was how I knew it was him.

I didn’t want that little prick Spiggy or any of the others to see me crying.

Later in the day after the tea and sandwiches and strangers were gone the doorbell rang for a little too long. When I went to the door there was Spiggy bouncing a football.

‘Alright Pussy sorry to hear about your Dad, I know he was a bit of a bollocks but I guess he was still your Dad and all, fancy a game of ball?’

I grabbed him by the scruff of his runt neck and pinned him to the flagstones. I pounded on him, kicked him until he was just snot and blood and spit. I just kept going at him.

‘You’re just a boy Spiggy, a stupid and weak boy! I’m a man now Spiggy, a fucking man, so no I don’t want to play ball!’

I kicked him when I said the words boy, stupid, weak, boy, man, man, no, play and ball.

I did it because Spiggy was weak. I did it because I knew it wasn’t an old oak tree and because I was a ghost his eyes had no way of ever falling on.

Cut You Down Like An Old Oak Tree was short listed for the Fish International Publishing Short Story Prize 2011/2012 and long listed for the Over The Edge New Writer of The Year Award 2011. Alice Walsh is the Editor of The Bohemyth. 

It All Depends On How You Look At It - Photo By Emily O'Sullivan
It All Depends On How You Look At It – Photo by Emily O’Sullivan

Flash Fiction: Purge

– By Clodagh O’Brien

I always knew where things stood. Then suddenly I didn’t. The world turned inside out. There was now more land than sea, horizons of dust that held no comfort. Life was wearing me.

There were no screams. Instead it was a violent silence too heavy to shrug off. His admission stranded me, carried me out past myself to an unrecognisable place that belonged to nowhere I had been. He apologised with finality. A sorry not seeking anything but release. He dismissed all we owned. It was a purge, everything we had built thrown away. Its very existence tainted by bearing my fingerprints.

Someone waited; a shadow in the car. The engine hummed like bees. He wished me luck, a goodbye thick with relief. My cheek burnt from where his lips had been. He left with less than he came, handed all trace of me back. Long after they had gone I stood, each breath a dewy patch on glass. Day bled into night, the sky a bruised canopy.

Clodagh O’Brien writes short stories, poetry and is working on the rickety bones of a novel and screenplay. Her work has appeared in Wordlegs, thefirstcut, ‘The Blue Staircase and Other Short Stories’ anthology, Best Poems of the Phizzfest, Bare Hands Poetry and ‘Gods & Monsters of Tomorrow’ anthology. You can follow her work and musings on her blog and follow her on Twitter @wordcurio.

Towers of Porto - Photo By Emily O'Sullivan
Towers of Porto – Photo by Emily O’Sullivan

Flash Fiction: The Call of the Sea

– By Christina Murphy

Maybe she will come search for you, here in the cold. But maybe she is not real, only a dream, someone to cherish in the isolation that feels like drowning. You used to swim long distances once and were afraid of drowning—of what might come from the waves and drag you to the bottom, your lungs giving out, no more air and the horrible darkness descending. The undertow met your fears and carried you out in a panic more physical than you ever imagined fear could be.

She saved you, lifted you into her boat, the Seraphim, and drew your fears from you like a fever breaking. That was real, wasn’t it? Here in this barbaric cold that has damaged your hands and split open your frozen lips, does it even matter if she was real? The cold is real—you know that. With your one eye that remains, you see blood coming from your hands, frostbitten in purple and mangled red. Only one eye focuses; the other is like a glacier blurred with ice lines and small blue veins. You feel your frozen eye throbbing with each heartbeat.

Where is she? Where are you that she cannot find you? If your tongue could move, you would call out for her. You must believe she is coming. You try to pry your tongue loose with your fingers but the taste of blood is pooling in your mouth. You cannot speak as ice crystals form about your lips, making each breath even more painful.

The snow has almost covered you now. It falls in such soft patterns gently against your skin. When the wind blows, the snow feels like waves from the sea, and you sense the rushing tides.

You hear her calling to you. So close. So close!

You stretch out your arms and begin swimming toward her, your freezing heart filling with bitterness and regret.

Christina Murphy’s stories have appeared in a range of journals and anthologies, including A cappella Zoo, PANK, Word Riot, and LITnIMAGE. Her fiction has twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and was the winner of the 2011 Andre Dubus Award for Short Fiction.  Follow Christina on Twitter @Christinamurph1            

What Might Have Been Lost

Anywhere Is Paradise With You – Photo by Denise O’Riordan.

The Same Old Song of Plenty

– By Matt Hutchinson

‘I’ll tell you who’s to blame,’ the old man said, banging his dessert spoon on the check tablecloth, ‘that bitch who lives on Liberty Island.’

The woman sighed but didn’t let go of his free hand, which lay palm down in hers, his knuckles thick like knots in old rope.

‘You’re drunk, Paolo,’ she said. The restaurant was empty apart from a young man alone at a corner table. He looked up briefly when Paolo banged the spoon but quickly returned to his dinner.

‘She stands there and sings out across the ocean,’ Paolo continued, ‘same old song of plenty. What does she give when you get here? Nothing.’

‘We have this.‘ The woman spread her hands. ‘Food, wine, each other.’

‘Pfff,’ said Paolo, ‘we had that already.’

‘We have a home, we have a family.’

‘And she gave us those did she? No.’

The waiter – a young man, thirty at most – took a glass from the rack above the bar. He held it up to the light, polished it carefully on his apron and put it back. The woman finished the last of her dessert.

‘Delicious,’ she said, placing her spoon down. ‘Typical man, blame a woman for your own disappointment.’ She smiled and rubbed the back of his hand with her thumb.

‘Fifty-seven years,’ said Paolo. ‘Fifty-seven years in this country and still we’re living hand to mouth.’

‘Maybe so but the hand has a well-stocked cupboard to choose from these days.’ The woman wiped the corner of her mouth with a napkin. ‘You were never like this when we were young.’

‘When we were young I didn’t think this was how we’d end up,’ he said.

‘This?’ the woman replied, pushing her plate away.

‘Another birthday dinner in a cheap neighbourhood restaurant.’

‘Would you rather eat in the fancy restaurants uptown?’ she said. ‘Where they charge twelve dollars for polenta and call it rustic?’

Paolo looked at the tablecloth.

‘When were you last hungry?’ the woman continued. ‘When did we not have wine? Are our children not healthy?’

Paolo spoke more softly. ‘What about the dream? What about our life?’

‘We have a life, mio caro, we have a life.’

‘Not the one we came for.’

‘Maybe not the one you came for.’ The woman held his gaze.

‘We had a life before we came – we have a life now,’ he said. ‘No difference.’

‘We had hope, not a life. We brought that seed with us and planted it here in America. It would never have grown into anything more at home, you know that. Those hills are too old, too tired.’

‘It’s me who is too tired now,’ Paolo said.

A siren passed outside. The couple sat in silence till it faded.

‘More wine?’ the waiter asked, leaning in to clear their plates. Paolo shook his head.

‘Why mourn a dream,’ the woman said, ‘when we have a reality. Be happy with who you are now.’

Paolo waved a hand in dismissal. The waiter, misreading the gesture, returned with the bill. Paolo sighed, took out his wallet and counted out a small stack of bills.

‘The truth is,’ he said, tucking his wallet back into the inner pocket of his coat, ‘I’m to blame. I’m the one who brought us here, who believed her promise – wanted to believe it. What kind of fool does that make me, Francesca?’

‘Come now,’ the woman said, taking his hand again. ‘You’re no fool. It will feel different soon, it always does, you know that. Every year-’ she paused. ‘It passes.’

Paolo nodded.

‘You can mourn for now but let tomorrow be the end of it.’ He held her coat so she could slide first one arm and then the other into the sleeves. As she smoothed the lapel of his jacket he kissed the back of her hand and they left the restaurant arm in arm.

The waiter pushed their chairs back under the table and held the door for the young man who left, turning his collar up against the wind. The waiter turned the sign from Open to Closed and locked the door. He took down a glass, poured an inch of amaretto into it and added an ice cube. He held the glass up in salute to the old couple as they disappeared into the dark beyond the streetlights.

***

The morning was clear but Paolo’s head was a little foggy from too much wine the night before. He would go and see her; she always made him feel better. Anyway, he needed to apologise. He made it through the security checks and onto the boat quickly; the terminal wasn’t busy yet, not as busy as it would be in a couple of hours. As the ferry moved off he stood at the railing and watched Battery Park recede. He was still watching the city skyline when a young man tapped him on the elbow.

‘Time to get off, sir. We’re here.’ Paolo nodded and set his wind-blown hat straight. He kept his eyes low as he stepped off the boat and didn’t look up until he was close enough that his shadow blended with hers.

‘I’m sorry about last night,’ he said. The woman gazed out over the docks towards the Atlantic. ‘About what I said – what I called you.’ He wasn’t here just to apologise – he had to put an end to it. Paolo watched a line form to enter her pedestal. Since the attacks you had to book in advance to go all the way to the crown. Used to be you could just show up but they were clamping down now for security reasons. Who knew how many times Paolo had made that climb and stared out towards his past.

Back in Genoa it had been the hills. Whenever he needed some time to himself, time to think, he’d head out of town and climb, look out over the old harbour towards the New World and whisper his secrets to the wind. When he came to New York he found no hills, only tall buildings with security desks and over-inquisitive doormen. This town didn’t want his secrets. Then he’d discovered the Liberty Island ferry. As often as he could Paulo would make an excuse and slip away to climb up and whisper his secrets to the statue. She would keep them safe, tell them to no-one. For a while Francesca had been convinced he was seeing another woman and, in a way, he was. Eventually though she accepted Paolo’s walks as she had in Genoa; sometimes, it was understood, he just needed to be alone. Anyway, now he was an old man it was good for him to walk.

How many secrets did his other woman hold in safekeeping for him now? In those first years it had been mostly the one he held closest and told to no-one, not even Francesca – I want to go home. After that had come others: I was fired from my job; I slept with Cecilia the night before we left Genoa; I don’t remember who I am anymore. She kept them all.

For two years in the Eighties the statue had been closed for repairs in readiness for her centennial. Her right arm, it turned out, had never been properly attached and her head had been fitted two feet off centre. Paolo had kept his secrets then, written them down. He didn’t like to think of workmen up in Liberty’s crown, poking around in the quiet detail of his unhappiness, but what choice did he have? Again, after the towers fell, he’d been forced to keep his secrets close. When the statue finally re-opened in 2009 access to the crown was restricted to 240 people a day and Paolo had to find other ways to get his secrets to her. He could book in advance and go to the top and, once, he had, whispering secret after secret as he walked amongst strangers. Other times he only came as far as the island, secrets scribbled on tiny balls of folded up paper, which he would slip into the pocket of unsuspecting tourists as they circled the pedestal, hoping they were one of the lucky ones. To be on the safe side he would slip the same one into several pockets. He couldn’t often afford the ferry though so most days he sat on a bench in Battery Park and whispered to himself as he watched Liberty from over the water, waiting for the day he could be with her.

Today was different; Paolo had booked several months ago as a birthday present to himself. He was going to the top. As he joined the nine others in the first group of the day he fingered the worn piece of paper in his coat pocket, softened by time and by touch so it more closely resembled cloth. He’d touched it so many times over the years he was sure some of his DNA – the spiral ladder that climbed to the very heart of who he was – was embedded in its grain. The statue swallowed the queue one by one; hungry, like her country, for the people of the world. To be a national in some countries you needed family dating back generations – to become an American you just had to come here. Yet Paolo had never felt like one. He was still an outsider, after all this time. It was no secret; he told Francesca that. You never felt like you belonged in Genoa, she had patiently reminded him. It’s different here, Paolo had said, although he wasn’t sure it was. When he’d booked the ticket for Liberty’s crown he hadn’t know what he’d do when the day came. He knew now. As he passed from sunlight into the pedestal, he had more than a secret – he had a plan.

Paolo headed straight for the stairs; he knew the climb by heart. Up he went, each step taking him nearer his end. He had to pause several times to get his breath back – that had never happened when he was a young man. Finally, slightly dizzy, he spiralled out into the light. Up in the crown the usual shuffle and scuffle to get the best view was taking place. It still amazed Paolo that, in the statue’s 129-year history, only one man had managed to kill himself by hurling himself from the top, glancing off the copper as he fell like a tiny human tear. He reached up and touched a fingertip to the ripples on the ceiling – the underside of Liberty’s wavy hair. A young Japanese couple moved from their spot and Paolo slid into the gap they left.

He looked out at the ocean as though he could see all the way to Genoa – to the lighthouse and, beyond it on the Apennine foothills, to a younger version of himself. But the curve of the earth hides many secrets and all he saw was water. Paolo couldn’t recall now what had so dissatisfied him with his old life – just that he’d been hungry to leave, had needed to leave. He pulled the folded paper from his pocket and stroked its soft nap a final time. The greying surface was covered in looping handwriting; years of secrets in shades from vivid blue to faded purples and greys. Paolo opened a window and took a deep breath. He took a step closer. Slowly he began to tear off bits of paper and stuff them through the open gap. One by one his secrets fluttered out into the air. There went I’m scared of becoming a father, followed closely by I don’t belong anywhere and What if she leaves me?

‘What you got there?’ A woman in her early fifties was watching with interest.

‘A ticket,’ Paolo replied.

‘Ticket for what? Don’t you need it no more?’

He dropped the final piece and watched until he couldn’t see it through his tears. He dried his eyes and descended, one slow step at a time, towards the exit, the ferry, the walk back uptown and the two flights to his front door where Francesca waited patiently (as she had for years) in their new life. On the ground he looked up and fancied he saw a secret or two floating off to settle on the waters of Upper Bay or beyond, but it was probably just old eyes playing tricks on him. As the ferry pulled away from the quay Paolo took one last look. He tipped his hat, settled it back on his head and turned to face the city, rising up to greet him like a familiar friend. As the boat drew nearer the skyline filled his vision until it was all he could see.

Matt Hutchinson was born and grew up in Lancashire. From an early age he was convinced he was going to be a rock star and learned to play a series of instruments in readiness. However, despite a degree in pop music (seriously) and a wide variety of gigs, ranging from the Salzburg Festival to Cambridge Folk Festival, and including two equally terrifying performances at the Albert Hall and Wakefield Prison, stardom forgot to knock.

In the meantime Matt kept himself busy with a variety of jobs in record shops, bookshops, music publishing, websites and – for an all too brief two weeks – as a volunteer monkey keeper.

Matt began writing in 2009 and, in 2011, attended a Faber Academy course given by MJ Hyland and Trevor Byrne. He has completed a novel and is currently working on a second as well as a collection of short stories. He lives in south-east London with his wife and a secret desire to still be a rock star.

Follow Matt on Twitter @matthwrites

___________________________________________________________________

leaves

The Heir

 – By EM Reapy

Grandad said to Ma that I was an odd, sensitive lad because I wouldn’t even go down to the slaughterhouse. The sound of the cattle bawling at night was bad enough.

I was sitting the other side of the table from him. He never spoke to me.

Grandad said to Ma, ‘The boy’ll be a weakling. He needs protein.’

But I still couldn’t eat the meat. Not even poke it with my fork. I didn’t mind just spuds and beans for dinner. At least I wouldn’t have cows Irish dancing in my stomach and the guilt of their orphan calves on my mind after.

Grandad had ‘talks’ in Westport every Friday.

I asked Ma, ‘With who?’

‘Farmers, butchers and codgers.’

A rough fella, Donny, would go with him. Donny had black front teeth and always smelt of cowshite. I never knew what he was saying. He laughed at the end of his sentences. He’d hose down his green wellies but Ma still made him take them off before coming inside.

Ma said Donny was pure handy at slitting throats. Giving the cows a quick death. This was supposed to be a good thing. I thought of the blood spurting from the Friesians. Their big black eyes sad. Their big pink tongues dangling out their mouths. Deflating to death. Ma said it wasn’t like that at all.

Donny had an awful turn and his left side went lame. Grandad said I’d be going to the ‘talks’ with him from then on. My pulse pumped and my head went roasting hot when I thought about it.

*

We get the train. It sounds like a heart beating on the rails. I can only see Grandad’s hands holding the Irish Times as he sits across from me. Trimmed nails with white half moons at the bottom. His pipe fills the carriage with Sweet Afton smoke.

In Castlebar, he crunches the paper down to chat with the ticket inspector. Would Mayo bring Sam back this year?

‘Would they hell,’ says the ticket man.

My job in the ‘talks’ is to stand behind Grandad, ready to take notes, do messages or run into someone’s shop or pub or house and see who’s there and if they are trading.

I like watching Grandad with them. They are all happy to see him.

After, Grandad buys us cones with flakes. He’s his eaten before I even get to the wafer of mine. We walk to the station. The sun is crawling down.

My eyelids sink on the train. Grandad puts his suitjacket over my lap. I wake to the whistle, recognise the bridge at Claremorris station.

Ma is on the platform, waving.

‘How did ye get on?’ She kisses me wet on the forehead.

Grandad says, ‘A great little worker, so you are,’ to me.

EM Reapy is from Mayo, Ireland and has an MA in Creative Writing from Queen’s University, Belfast. She co-founded and edits wordlegs.com. She is the 2012 Tyrone Guthrie Exchange Irish Writer in Varuna Writers’ House, Australia.

Her work has been published in Ireland, the UK, Australia, France and the United States. Her short film ‘Lunching’ is in production with Barley Films Animation Studio and she has been longlisted for the 2012 RTE/Filmbase Short Film Award. Her podcast ‘Getting Better’ went to No. 1 globally in iTunes’ Literature charts, May 2012.

She was featured at NYWF in Australia, the Dromineer Literary Festival and is the Director of Shore Writers’ Festival which took place in Enniscrone at the start of November.

Follow EM Reapy and wordlegs on Twitter @emreapy, @wordlegs, @30under

How The Light Got In

How The Light Got In – Photo By Unicorn.

The Only Tree In The Field

– By Michael Naghten Shanks

Amber light from the low rising sun beams between milky clouds that spill across the sky. Its warm tone brightens the rain soaked bark of the only tree in the field.

I am kneeling in the long grass beside the brook: the khakis she bought me are drenched in the morning dew.

I hold her heart in my soil-speckled hands. It is the last piece of her that I will bury.

This was where we first met. I was climbing the tree when she appeared, like a bud bursting up through the soil.

“Bet you won’t jump in from there?” she said.

From my angle all I could see was her curly ginger hair, freckled forehead, and chestnut brown eyes.

The stream was only over a foot deep, but I wanted to impress her. I broke my ankle and she and I became inseparable.

We had our first kiss behind the tree. We carved our love into it before we knew it was a cliché. We got married when I inherited the house. We never had children, but we did go through our fair share of cats and dogs over the years. We built a nice little garden and grew everything we could to sustain ourselves.

I found her here the first time she had a stroke, and the second. Last night was the final time. Since then I’ve been planting pieces of her, hoping she would grow again.

Michael Naghten Shanks is a writer from Dublin. 

Follow him on Twitter @MichaelNShanks

_____________________________________________________________

Eternally Yours

– By Emily Cross

It is often said that when you are about to die, your life flashes before your eyes. In my case however, it was more of a question of many lives than one in particular.

I have existed for a hundred lifetimes but for only a hundred brief moments have I been able to reach out to him, across the divide between the end of that life and the beginning of the next. For this is our eternal punishment – my never ending cycle of ignorant life and his never ending lack of it with only a brief crossover between, allowing time for only a touch and maybe a kiss before the next life begins.

It is snowing today, although it is spring. The white blue slant of light cuts through the dark shadows of the room, illuminating the rough plaster of my bedroom ceiling. For fifty years, I have laid in this bed, every single night staring at this same ceiling, my husband beside me snoring as I listened to a painful silence which resided deep inside of me that I never understood – until now.

It is always in my final moments of life, that the curtain is drawn back on my memories and I finally remember him – love and pain intertwined tying our souls forever together.

It will be today, that this life will end and that we will meet again.

Tilting my head to one side, resting my cheek against the smooth pillow, I can see the soft clumps of snow falling through the gap of my curtains. The world is coated in a pure white, with hints of green and bark peeking from beneath.

Closing my eyes, my mind is full of white. There was much more of it back then in the wilderness – more beautiful and deadly . . .

I remember that night sky – a cascade of colours as the aurora lights shimmered above the black forest. I tightened my grip on my father’s gun; its weight was a comfort in my hands although I could barely feel it.

It was so cold.

It was then I remember that I heard the wolves singing. Their death song seemed to make even the trees sway and dance.

I tried to quicken my pace but it felt like every limb was weighted – I stumbled then fell.

I knew I had to move. ‘Get up and go’ my mind screamed, but my body said ‘no’ and that voice grew quiet and still.

I thought of my parents. I thought of Anya. I even thought of Sasha – and wondered would he feel guilt or relief when they found me?

I didn’t feel as cold now. My breathing, once panicked now grew more calm and slow and my mind drifted away from the present, my world beginning to slip away. . .

I lay on my back now, I must have moved at some point but I don’t remember how – all I remember is that night sky going on forever. . .

It was then that I remembered.

He is coming.

It was there on that bed of snow, between the slowing of my heartbeat and freezing of my body that I finally know myself again. I am no longer the young man, tricked into the woods, soon to become prey – I am only his. I feel the life seep from my bones, as I watch the heavens colour the sky.

He is here.

His lips gently press against my frozen lips, parting them slightly. He steals my breath away with the smooth feel of his kiss. Gently he pulls away, and I open my eyes to meet his – obsidian black of eternity, they peer into my soul and I know I am his in this life and the next . . .

I feel my chest restrict, and the pull of the next life as my final breath escapes in a whispered farewell.

Quickly he leans in again, stealing a final kiss before I am truly gone. . .

My cheeks are wet with tears.

I am no longer with him. I am still here, lying on a soft bed of covers and pillows watching the snow fall. I can hear the hushed whispers of the doctor speaking to my daughter in the hall. She worries that I am in pain, if only she knew the cause of my pain – an eternity of stolen moments and separations.

I can hear her move toward my bedroom, away from the doctor, her footsteps rapping against the hard oak floor. I wish I had the energy to wipe my cheeks dry, but my hands remain still – resting uselessly on the decorative duvet.

“Oh Mama”

I hear the pain in her voice, as she plucks a tissue from the box by my bed and gently wipes my tears. The tissue trembles against my skin – she tries to still her shaking hands. I continue to look out the window, pretending not to know her grief. She leans in and presses a brief peck against my cheek before whispering an excuse to leave the room.

Even after she has left, I can smell her perfume . . .

I remember that smell of perfume, lingering in the air. Our bed was unmade and messed. He didn’t even have the consideration to make it. I leaned against the wall for support. He didn’t care if I knew about her or not. He didn’t care at all.

I ripped his necklace from my neck and threw it on our bed. It was a birthday present. The party was still in full swing downstairs – everyone getting splendidly drunk in spite of prohibition. He didn’t think I noticed when he slipped away, only a moment after her. It wasn’t the first time but it was the most painful. I don’t know why.

Without realising it, I had crossed the room and had reached out and touched the sheets of the bed. It was too much – all too much.

All too much.

I went to the bathroom, locking the door and began to fill the bath. I lit some candles and watched them sway, as I stripped off the dress he had bought me.

I remember now it was so easy to let go then – much easier than times before. I let the taps run and the water rise as I let myself sink below the surface. It is here encased in the warm scented water, that I finally remember myself.

He is coming.

I am no longer her – that young woman, betrayed by her husband – I am only his. I feel myself struggle as I begin to choke on the water and make sure to press against the sides of the bath to keep under the surface. I wanted this to end. My vision begins to dim and fade. The struggle leaves my body and my mind finally feels ease.

He is here.

I feel his gentle touch as he traces my cheek. I close my eyes, savouring it. Time is running out.

There is no water now, there is only us.

I feel my chest restrict, and the pull of the next life as my final moment escapes into this watery grave. I cannot whisper, yet I know he hears me.

“I love you”

Then I am again truly gone. . .

I think it has stopped snowing now. I can hear the grandchildren laughing in happy ignorance outside, as their mother bangs around in the kitchen – trying to remain busy while she waits for me to leave.

It is all about the waiting now.

She will wait in dread, while I will wait in anticipation – not for this life to end but for him to finally come.

I feel small in this bed now, engulfed by its size. Its vast space almost feels suffocating and hot, although for more than ten years, one side of this bed has been empty and cold. The bed is too much, too big for someone so little, too big for me . . .

I am lying in a cot, cramped between two still warm bodies. The sisters do not know yet that I will soon follow my brother and sister from this hellish place.

Even here, I can still hear the constant bustle of the Calcutta streets – it had been our family’s home since I could remember. I was the only one left and soon I would be gone too.

The agonised moans coughs of the neighbouring beds which were constant in our time here finally quieten, everything growing silent. My time is ending and he is coming.

I am no longer the young boy, begging on the streets, starving to death and suffocated with disease – I am only his. I feel the breathe leave my heavy lungs, as my hearing grows more silent and my coughing stills.

He is here.

I watch as he approaches me, the shadows pulling into his existence. He leans down and I feel his cool breath on my cheeks and lips. There is no more hurt or agony now, there is only us.

His hand touches my forehead, stroking my fevered mind into calmness, then he kisses me on the lips. It is gentle and soft, like when I felt my mother’s silk.

I know I am his in this life and the next forever.

There is the pull again of the next life as with a shuttering cough, my final breathe escapes into the heat of this never ending season. I cannot say farewell. . .

Everything is distant now.

I know that my family is here with me, but I am no longer with them.

Whispers are fading, growing quieter.

From my window I see the snow is beginning to melt and disappear.

The small space of my bedroom is full now, – people holding my useless hands and stroking thin hair.

My life is fading brightly as the body begins to die and my soul prepares.

The familiar is becoming strange and everything begins to depart.

He is coming.

It is here on my plush bed, that I am no longer an old woman, looking at the snow, waiting to die – I am now only his. I begin to feel the life seep from my useless body, as I watch the snow melt from the world outside.

He is here.

I feel his gentle touch as he traces my wrinkled cheek. It was only us now.

His lips gently press against mine, before the next farewell begins.

We are eternally bound to live this cycle of love and separation till the heavens cease.

Closing my eyes, I feel my heart has stopped beating and my lungs have stilled.

Yet, I am not afraid, I know he is here with me.

He will never leave me.

Neither in this life nor in the next.

For truly, my lover is most eternally constant.

Death always is.

Emily Cross is a pseudonym aspiring to be a published and (hopefully well) paid author. By day, she is an unnamed mild-mannered if not neurotic PhD student. By night, she is Emily Cross, a blog hopping chocoholic with delusions of literary grandeur, who procrastinates her time  through tweeting, blogging and posting random thoughts across the blogosphere. You can find her most recent ramblings on her blog.