Underneath It All

DSCF4106
The Secret Of The Universe – Photo by Dominic Corrigan

Photography

Dominic Corrigan lives in Sligo, Ireland. He holds an honours degree in Fine Art. His art has been exhibited throughout Ireland and also in New York at the Lockhart gallery. His next Solo exhibition is in The Model, Niland gallery, Sligo October . His work has been published or is forthcoming in, The Monkey Puzzle Press, Yemassee  Journal  and Out of Our Journal. Orio Headless, Bare Hands and Cerise Press spring 2013. Check out his website.

______________________________________________________________________________________

Blue

– By Stephen Devereux

The secret of the universe is adrenalin. You can live without its rush for a while, but when it comes something ignites, flows. A rhythm hooks you out of your seat and onto the dance floor. Someone says I love you or let’s kill him.

Danny hadn’t felt anything much for a good while. Bought a house in the suburbs. Made money. Married Anna. But one night, one drizzly autumn night, he was driving back from his city centre office when something happened. My words aren’t good enough, for the something is not the kind of thing that might be conveyed by words like autumn and drizzly. I can only tell you that he’d pressed the search button on his car radio and it had flicked to the last minute of a song he loved. It hit him. The sly, sweet chemical of nostalgia (was it that, exactly?) swirled through his blood, welled up behind his eyes. People with frostbite only begin to hurt when they thaw out. No. That’s not it. Danny felt a cloying, acute, incurable wound that made him nostalgic for the last time he had felt such a feeling. That’s nearer. Would it help if I told you about how Danny felt before this night, this drizzly autumn night? He’d had such minor epiphanies before. The smell of toffee apples. His mother’s letters. Old photos But it had never lasted, had always quickly faded so that he might remember remembering, but wouldn’t feel anything much. But this one, this one on this drizzly night remained, getting stronger and stronger. Like heartburn. Like a hard-on.

As soon as he arrived home he rushed indoors and called to Anna. Without waiting for a reply he looked out the old box under the stairs where he’d shoved his vinyl albums. As soon as he found the record he put it on his old turntable. The scratch and hiss of sapphire on vinyl was exciting. It both put him at a distance and focused his attention. That’s not good enough. It made him painfully conscious of the past but only through his awareness of this moment. That’s too pompous. The words and music when they trickled through intensified everything. He listened to himself listening. He loved knowing that he had felt like this before. He forgot the last twenty years. Perhaps he had always felt like this, underneath it all. It was like wearing his older brother’s coat and walking the streets smoking his cigarettes. It was like getting off a train alone in a strange city, sharing someone’s bed for the first time. Life was all potential. Adrenalin. I cannot find a better word.

Anna, combing her unfashionably curly hair in the bedroom, heard the familiar music and felt something like a doom mixed up with panic. Why was he playing this record, now awakening things? It would end in tears. Perhaps he was drunk. I’m not doing Anna so well, am I? She did not really think about him in such clichés. But I am certain that she went down stairs, nonetheless, and planned to say something sensitive and touching and connected to their past. Instead she stubbed her toe on the door of the cupboard under the stairs.

‘Why have you left the cubby door open? I nearly killed my bloody self!’

‘Sorry. Just settling a bet. Steve said the words were ‘Acid, boots and tarts’ but I say it’s ‘Acid, booze and arse.’’

‘Acid, booze and arse, needles, guns and grass. Lots of laughs.’ That’s how it goes. You know it does. Why do men have to bet on everything?’

She went into the kitchen.

She went into the kitchen but she kept the door open and listened as intently as he did. He was going to shout something after her about women always picking on men, but the contrast between such banter and the delicacy of his feelings just then was too great. Anyway, he’d lied, you see, about making a bet (but you know that), lied simply to cover his exposure. Why should he defend men from her accusation when there were no men involved to defend? There wasn’t even a Steve in his office (but she knew that).

As he listened, he remembered them listening together, for the first time. She had said how beautiful (that was the exact bloody Laura Ashley word), how beautiful it was. Wow! All of it! He hadn’t agreed, had maintained a certain necessary masculine critical distance, even then. He’d said something about it being dated in its outlook. She needs to move on, needs more commitment (that was the exact radical bullshit word, commitment). He cringed. He remembered his words precisely and remembered that he had not believed them, even as he spoke them. Why hadn’t he echoed her words, created a shared moment with her? Why had he not given himself that delicious moment then so that they could share it now? He was thinking about calling through to her ‘I really loved this stuff’ when she shouted from the kitchen ‘You never liked this record anyway.’

‘I did.’

‘No you didn’t. You said it was dated.’

‘Never.’

‘Did.’ She knew that both of them would remember his exact words.

He was remembering how they had resolved it then by going for a couple of drinks in a funny little pub where the landlady had been all breathy and sweet with them and had kept smiling at them. They’d caught her mood. She had a funny little dog. Later on they’d giggled about her and her dog as they sprawled on the sofa in front of his Mum’s TV. He looked over towards the kitchen door. Was Anna also remembering that scene just now? He hoped not.

Needles, guns and grass. He had forgotten that line. As he heard it again, he couldn’t help shouting out ‘Hey, I never knew she’d been to Manchester!’ Why was he making cheap jokes when he was being thrilled, unbearably sensitised by the music? Just because it was unbearable. Unexpectedly, she replied with a loud laugh when he had been expecting a politically correct rebuke and another attack on what men always did. For her it was unbearable too? Perhaps.

He kept putting the stylus down on different tracks, parts of tracks. He loved the movement, the noise, the feel of it. He was trying to make it sounds as if he was writing down the words and had to keep repeating bits, but he liked the delicate weight of the pickup arm in his hand. Like a bird.

The scene on his Mum’s sofa had not ended it. Each week of their courtship they had become more intimate, had exposed more of their vulnerability or rather their pretended vulnerability. This is, after all, what lovers do, have to do, even when there is so little to expose. He felt a little sickly now and tried not to remember how they had used those tender confessions in rows, years later. It’ what couples do. But he could not forget how he had accused her of flirting with someone, ‘just like you always did with my brother.’ She could not help but retaliate by saying how often she’d noticed him looking at other women, how he’d even fantasised about women on album covers. Were they both now thinking of how those tender confessions had been betrayed?

I am on a lonely road and I am travelling. Yes, that was it. That was how he’d been. All his life. Even now in this cul-de-sac. Always travelling. Anna also heard the words. What piquant nuances they awoke. No, that’s not how she thought about it. She’s so hard to get right. Let’s see. She thought how comforting was the restlessness that those words evoked now and that she had felt then. That’s nearer. And she thought how comfortless was the peace that she had arrived at now. All this trash, she thought. Yes, all this trash (I’m getting her now) from the egg-rack in the shape of a cheerful chicken, the herbs and spices of the world set sitting on the kitchen shelf, the tea-cosy in the form of a twee country cottage. She picked it up and turned it inside out, preferring the tea-stained, grey interior. All this trash was a travesty of her ideas, her life’s significance. She could hire a skip and dump everything in it. She had a desire to run into the front room and hug her husband. She wondered if there were some words left to say that would make him want to take her off somewhere. Somewhere still to go.

‘Tea’s ready.’

He came into the kitchen, trying to hide his face as if this something that animated him was visible. And she did catch sight of something different about him but it made her recoil. Was it because the music had also changed her? Was this what she had waited for for so long? But then the urge to hug him returned, to bridge the years. She rushed her arms around him and made of her two hands a tight, girlish ball at the back of his neck, standing forward on her toes.

Danny squashed the side of his face against the side of her face and she could tell that he had ached for that hug. They rocked from side to side a little. But how long should they stay like this? Who breaks? What will end it? He pressed himself harder against her, lifted the back of her long skirt and slid his palms along her thighs. Could he really think that this was what it was about? So little imagination? She imagined him dragging her down to the kitchen floor and pushed him away. His body yielded to her shoving, but he kept his face buried in the side of hers, holding her head between his large hands like a football.

There was a metallic click in the front room and Danny turned towards it. ‘That’ll be the tape finishing. I’m recording it, you know, for Steve, to prove I’m right, I mean, about the words.’ More lies. He left the kitchen without ever having looked directly at her. He took the tape out of the machine and threw it on the coffee table. He would play it alone when he wanted to feel something. She wasn’t in it. Anna brought through his tea on a little tin tray that had ducks printed on it. He switched on the television with the remote, his tea on his lap. Maybe there would be some football on. Or a good film. A war film would be good, anything to shake off this unnecessary refinement of feeling, this presence of things that had so little to do with their lives, here, now. Really it was not so bad. He was coming down, back to banality. Where we all like to be. But then a crazy thought hit him. He called out before he had time to think about it. He called out ‘Hey Anna, why don’t we go dancing like we used to do?’

He heard the front door click and saw, through the bay window, Anna get into the car and drive away. He noticed that the tape he’d made was missing from the table. He ran to the garden gate, but could not see where she had gone.

She puts the tape into the car cassette player and turns it up loud. We don’t need no piece of paper from the City Hall keeping us tried and true. Love is the secret of the universe. She heads for the motorway, puts her foot down. Closes her eyes.

Stephen Devereux grew up near the Suffolk coast, its landscape figuring in much of his work.  Most of his adult life has been spent in the North-West and the people and cityscapes of the north also loom large in his poetry.  He write both traditional and contemporary poetry.  He has contributed to many magazines, including: Acumen, Agenda, Ambit, Brittle Star, Borderlines, The Cannon’s Mouth, Carillon, Chimera, Coffee House Poetry, the Delinquent, Envoi, Iota, The Interpreter’s House, Other Poetry, Poetry Salzburg, Raindog, The SHOp, Seventh Quarry, Smiths Knoll, The Stinging Fly, Turbulence, The White Review. He has read at events and festivals, including supporting Felix Dennis on his Did I mention the Free Wine?tour.  He has several poems on the Poetry Library, South Bank archive and has made recordings for them.  He has been placed in several competitions including short listed for the Arvon Foundation Northern Short Story Competition, most recently, winner of the Slipstream Poetry Prize and runner-up for the Elmet Foundation’s Ted Hughes Prize (judge Liz Lochhead).

DSCF4267
Silence – Photo by Dominic Corrigan

Just Another Day

– By Alvy Carragher

Silence is all she wants. There they are again, seagulls. They woke her at six with the shriek of birds trapped inland. It resonates. She knows how they feel, but that doesn’t make her anymore forgiving.

He sleeps through it all. Slurps, gurgles in his lumpish dreams. Always she lies staring at the back of him, the covers broken up in the folds of his legs as he curls away from her. She will never understand why he doesn’t hear the screaming of her mind.

“Did you sleep well?”

“Not really,” she replies.

“Look, I won’t be home, I’ve stuff to do this evening. Did you not post these yet?”

She sits scraping the fungus off the top of the yoghurt tub as he rumbles about. Perhaps he will eat it later. Maybe she can sandwich it somehow into the evening’s menu. She wipes the granite counter it looks like specks of stardust trapped beneath her cloth.

There is a constant stream of questions and he never waits for answers. Rifling through their post and then he hands her the paper.

“They’re looking for a cleaner down the road?”

“Do I look like a cleaner?” she asks.

“Bar-tending too, sure you’ve experience for that?”

“I hated it,” it sounds pathetic, whimpering.

He is gone. Out into the day, into his office where he taps answers to other people’s questions. Takes time to filter through answers. He has left his dishes gritty with cold porridge on the table.

She counts seconds. Checks Facebook and “likes” the lives of others. It’s been two hours. There is a dull ache in her lower back from sitting stooped over the screen. Time to apply for something she thinks, anything.

There they are again. Seagulls breaking the silence and their squawks strum through her. She googles places far from the coast, far from city-living. Her mind is in a desert, riding hissing camels across dunes with sand-storms for company.

The door slams and he is home.

“You didn’t post these?”

Those are his first words she thinks. That is the first thing on his mind.

“Is dinner not ready?”

That is his second thought she thinks.

“What did you do all day?” he asks.

She wipes the internet history. Google Images will not be constructive enough for him.

“The seagulls, they wouldn’t shut up,” she says.

“So what’s for dinner, did you do the shop?” he asks.

“I didn’t have time.” She wants to say. There is never any time.

Alvy Carragher is a Tipperary based 23 year old writer. An enthusiastic member of Dublin Writers Forum, she spends a lot of her free time attending poetry events and performing spoken word. She hopes to do a Masters in Creative writing and to someday be a published novelist, poet and short story writer. Check out her Blog and follow Alvy on Twitter.

 

A Portrait Of The Artist

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

The Great South Wall

– By Niall Foley

Dead.

That’s how you’ll find me.

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

I will not resist.

I will go willingly.

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

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

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

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

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

His disgusted face makes me shiver with glee.

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

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

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

“How are yez? Nice evening!”

Nearly run, they do. Christ.

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

Céad Mile Fáilte.

I wait.

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

The Da smiles.

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

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

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

Is there someone else they could ask?

Sarah.

No, not Sarah. It won’t be Sarah.

The cargo ship inches level with me. The Andromeda.

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

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

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

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

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

I know what they say.

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

I walk to the edge.

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

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

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

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

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

Leave Sarah alone.

Just ignore the others.

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

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

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

Horse it into you.

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

I step forward –

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

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

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

“Rovers?” I say, tentatively.

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

It’s just me and him and the wind.

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

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

He leaves me alone on the edge.

Shamrock Rovers Football Club.

The cry of the seagulls above.

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

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

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

What more do you want?

Well?

What?

Well then. It’s settled.

For today.

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

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

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

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

Pop Goes The Gun

– By Vikki Gemmell 

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

“Cheers,” he says.

“Cheers.”

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

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

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

“Gun?” I laugh nervously.

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nirvana blasts out from his stereo and I laugh.

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

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

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

I smile back; my body begins to relax.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Would it help if I got naked too?”

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

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

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

“Don’t get all coy, Sammy!”

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

I stand awkwardly, waiting.

He holds up a gun.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Bit more to the left.”

I move.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He shuts the door and he hands me the gun.

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

A Sense Of What’s Real

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

35 Years Of Gigs

– By Tony Clayton-Lea

35 years? No, don’t be ridiculous! It couldn’t be. It simply couldn’t. Er, actually, hold on a cotton-pickin’ minute, I do believe it is 35 years to the season that I first saw not only my first life-changing gig, but the event that kickstarted a cultural revolution in my head. It was Iggy Pop, in London, at a venue that was then called the Rainbow Theatre but which is now a building belonging to the Brazilian Pentacostalist Universal Church of the Kingdom of God. Not to worry – a religious experience is a religious experience whatever the venue.

Back then, I had short hair, wore straight-legged jeans and Doc Marten boots. NME was my weekly bible of cultural reference points – anything that Charles Shaar Murray, Nick Kent, Tony Parsons or Julie Burchill recommended to read/see/hear I’d do just that. London is a mind-expanding city at any time, of course, but in 1977/78? Well, wasn’t that was a time and a place for a young lad to live in, his head spinning from the amount of music to experience and the sights to see.

Punk rock hadn’t yet leveled out to become a caricature of itself; there were no ostrich-coiffured punks strolling along King’s Road or Camden High Street tapping tourists for money. The music was the thing, and from my experience, at least, it was as close to the real deal anyone from a provincial Irish town could imagine. Seeing Iggy Pop headline in a major London venue at around the time when punk rock was at its most influential seemed just that little bit more exciting. And besides, what wasn’t to love about milling into the tube station at Finsbury Park with several hundred Stooges fans singing Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell?

Fact is, I recall that gig as if it were last night: from the early 70s, Iggy Pop had been given a new lease of life via his friendship with David Bowie, and Pop’s proto-punk band The Stooges had attained an enviable high regard from London’s leading punk rock acts. But it was as much Iggy as the music that the audience was into: I’ve never seen anyone before or since utilise their body as if it were pliable work of art. Bowie’s lyric from the Ziggy Stardust album track, Hang On To Yourself, about moving “like tigers on Vaseline” could have been written about Pop, for he slithered around, prowled, on that stage, barracking and beckoning the crowd to do things that, collectively, an audience really shouldn’t. There is something incredibly compelling about a performer that seems to care little about their physical well being; it’s a car-crash scenario that sucks you in, and when the performer is as fearless as Pop an element of genuine danger gets dragged kicking and screaming into a heady mix that includes potent rock music, stimulants of varying kinds and the sense that all of the audience are misfits or miscreants just like you.

I remember leaving the venue and walking towards the tube station, jostling my way past other fans, and thinking not only how invincible was my belief in the power of brilliant music, but also how invulnerable that belief made me feel. 35 years later I still feel the same (performing pop clowns notwithstanding), but I have often asked myself why is that the case? What is it about the live music experience that continues to scratch at what is clearly a severe itch?

Some might think that a person of my age (I’m over 50 and barely give it a moment’s thought, believe me) would be more suited to worrying about the watering of his indoor tomato plants than the scheduling on his wall chart as to whether he’ll go to Norwegian punks Honningen or Sea Sessions one night, or Plan B or Body & Soul the next. Frankly, I’m unsure why music can make a body seem as if it can withstand torture (no doubt neurological scientists and academics would know), but there is one thing I am absolutely certain of: try telling that to the vast majority of people my age or younger, and they’ll look at you as if you have two heads.

It’s as if once you reach a particular age, then certain pursuits you once held on to for dear life should automatically fade into the distance. And so when I’m asked about what I did at the weekend or last week I inhibit myself from expressing my true feelings. “I went to see a band,” I say. “Oh, which one?” they query. “Well, you might not have heard of them – they’re called [for example] Spook of the 13th Lock”.

You can immediately see their interest diminish as the lack of recognition registers. “Were they any good?”, they ask. Here is when I hold back, replying with a brief, “Yea, they weren’t too bad…”, when what I really want to say is something along the lines of how the band fuse post.rock, prog rock and psych rock with traditional folk idioms, occasionally enveloping songs with shrieks of feedback and Krautrock wig-outs. But I don’t. Instead I ask, “How’s the family?”

It’s a curse, unfortunately, that many people of a certain age/era think live music is the preserve of those so much younger; the amount of times I have heard people younger than me saying they’re too old for rock and pop music is something that causes me concern. Don’t they know what they’re missing? Clearly, the cut and thrust of a live gig experience that isn’t sitting down on chairs on a crisp lawn to watch Leonard Cohen (great though the man is) is something they should experience but don’t for fear of being discomforted. But, one supposes, in the same way that ardent gig goers to open-air festivals gradually transfer their bones from sleeping in tents to hotel rooms, so the live music experience mutates from one of excitement to indifference.

I don’t necessarily see it that way, and that’s not just because most gigs I go to I write about and get paid for my time and effort. No, the reason is because the live music experience – like theatre and other areas of performance art – is a vital component of contact with a sense of what’s real. In small spaces you can see it in the faces of the musicians and the audience – and there is no better sense of communion than with a crowd that, en masse, understands the music as well as the band. If the space is large, and if the band is good enough, then the size of the venue and the audience adds to the atmosphere. Whether it’s Whelan’s or Vicar Street or Croke Park don’t dare try to deny that a collective fit isn’t a sight that makes your eyes water and your mouth smile.

Like bands, however, the gig experience differs every time. Occasionally, gigs are awful and ordinary; other gigs, however, oscillate between good, great and out-of-this-world, and touch a part of the human system and spirit that creates what can safely be described as an eargasm.

Inevitably, it’s the latter that mean the most to me, and probably the least to those who have little or no interest in live music. And here’s the rub: there are, quite likely, people who are untouched by the effect that live music can provide or provoke. I understand that open-air festivals functioning under constant showers of rain, rivulets of mud and the promise of too many people under the influence have few benefits; I appreciate that people talking loudly behind your head, standing firmly in front of you, or shoving their way past you as they spill their beer over your footwear is not good for the notion of karma. Yet the blend of voice, music and words (truth, humour and some manner of sexuality and charisma, too) can be intoxicating. I don’t necessarily yearn to be impressed, or even thrilled skinny or driven delirious every time I venture into a small venue or an open-air barn, but I won’t say no to these if they happen.

I’ll be seeing you at the next few gigs, then? Bruce Springsteen, you say? Followed by Rihanna? Followed by a lower profile act you possibly haven’t heard of? Yep, I’ll probably be at those. You can’t miss me – I’ll be the compact 50-something guy with short hair, straight-legged jeans and Doc Marten boots. With memories of Iggy Pop in the back of my head and expectations of whoever’s on stage in front of my face.

Oh – and would you mind not stepping on my toes? Thanks.

Tony Clayton-Lea is an award-winning freelance journalist who writes on pop culture, movies and travel for a variety of publications, notably The Irish Times and Cara (Aer Lingus in-flight magazine). He lives in County Meath, Ireland. Check out more of Tony’s work at tonyclaytonlea.com ; follow him on Twitter @TonyClaytonLea

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

By Any Other Name

– By Jane Williams

On the night the man asks the woman to move in with him and she says yes – sweating curry, Lambrusco and dope; they exchange impossible vows. He promises never to leave her. She promises not to drive him crazy or tie him down. They joke about sex on tap. They make a pact to speak only the truth.

            The kitchen blackboard is fixed to one wall. A window of permanent night. Tiny white shapes appear and disappear like stars that have nothing and everything to do with the man and the woman. They chalk their to do lists, phone numbers, quotable quotes. And once, after a discussion about not listening, about talking too much – the word embellishment. Scrawled in his handwriting, underlined twice. Who suggested a woman ruins her chances by talking too much? That a man is at his strongest when silent?

            When, ten years later he uncharacteristically starts telling her how beautiful she is, she knows he has fallen in love. With someone else. No, this isn’t true. She knows nothing of this. Believes in everything to the contrary. Is this her problem? An irrational, unshakable belief that anything is possible? That will and wishing can make it so? Even in the face of rumour and recurring dreams – the woman tells herself they are meant for each other.

            She asks him once. Just once. She’s heard other people ask. Namely actors in day time soap operas (what is it about daylight that makes the watching of soap opera so much less forgivable? As if we are only free to choose under cover of dark  …).

            What are they doing when she asks? What do they wear? Is it the beginning or the end of another day? Or does her question stop play somewhere in the middle? Perhaps they are in the kitchen. Heart of their home. Where they comfort eat, drink and smoke and call it decadence, hedonism, and sometimes, when they are feeling more hopeful – living the good life. Where they ponder the big questions. The big picture questions that take them away from themselves and each other a little further each time. Deep and meaningfuls in which they talk about respecting the rights of the individual. About love as a romantic construct. About timeout and space and the odd weekend away. From each other.

            Perhaps he is standing in front of the old combustion stove at the end of the Blackwood table with the Rubenesque legs. The table he made with honest hands at technical college, years and relationships and so many conflicting truths ago. Maybe she is sitting, legs curled, on the velveteen couch she has learnt to stroke as if it were the family pet.

            Are you having an affair? she asks. And he answers No, no Im not having an affair – adding her name onto the end of the sentence like a full stop. Like the Monopoly card that reads: Do not pass go. And she doesn’t. If he flinches she cannot see it – but love as they say …

            When she tries to leave, the word trust appears on the blackboard in both their hands. He stops kissing her on the mouth when they make love. They stop making love and start having occasional sad sex. She masters the art of crying soundlessly.

            Sometimes, she half stirs from sleep in the middle of the night to sense him whispering in her ear. When she tells herself these whispers are declarations of love he has not yet found the courage for in naked light of day, she dreams of a much older woman telling her it is time she shed her fairytale skin.

            Mostly she dreams of lesser men who try to woo her only with chocolates and flowers and of him walking toward her with the fuzzy smile of a middle aged hippy, taking her hand, leading her away toward a purer light. But sometimes she sits up suddenly in bed, still asleep, and starts screaming until he wakes and says her name and tells her to stop. Night Terrors, the doctors tell her. Pavor Nocturnus. Usually the sufferer has no memory of the episodes. But she remembers once, holding up by the roots of its thick and untamed hair, his decapitated head. Like a spoil of war.

            Each day becomes a new part to try out for. A desperate misrepresentation of self. He tells her he does not like these inconsistencies. He is waiting for her many faces to fuse into the one he can call Beloved.

            She tells him she has always been here. Waiting.

            Hear me he begs. See me she counters.

            The kiss as a symbol of all that is missing in their relationship, weighs heavily and draws the fatefully perfect memory of her first real kiss, at the electric age of thirteen. She’d heard all the first time stories. About a clashing of noses and teeth, slobbering tongues and always a hand bruising a new breast. About shallow depths and shelf life. But this is not how it is. The boy kisses her first on the cheek, a tender questing. When their mouths join and open together she is aware only of the seamless fluidity of the movement. The strangely validating familiarity of it. And how like coming home this falling together seems.

            As a woman in bed she reads about sex as an industry. She learns that some prostitutes prefer to leave kissing, that most intimate of gestures, out of their working lives. Protecting sex acts from being mistaken for anything more personal by either client or worker. They say they are saving their kisses for their lovers. She tells the man this but he cannot see past the implied insult and they do not speak of it again.

            The woman learns to kiss the man with her eyes when he comes home, with her hands as she waves him goodbye. She walks on her toes but makes fists of her hands.

            Once, after throwing something heavy and hard at the wall behind his head, she learns that acts of self defence can lie dormant then break through out of context.

            He retreats behind the invisible shield of his silence. She looks to the blackboard until its black eye stares her down and she knows their days are numbered.

            A fog settles between them. It barely allows for the illusion that this a rough patch. That there is a clearing up ahead into which they can build a different life. The one they imagined before the drugs wore off and their bodies grew wary.

            One day after a weekend away he comes to her in the garden and unexpectedly drops at her feet, burying his face in her belly, as if she is carrying their child. Holding him this way she wonders, not for the first time, how they will survive each other.

            The end is not marked by any of the usual clichéd, tell tale signs: A lipsticked shirt collar. An earring caught under the back seat of the car – the glint of it alluring and misleading as fools gold. The expectant then disappointed breath (not her own) when she answers the phone.

            In this new millennium it is the shared laptop that cannot hold its tongue. Emails slip through the deletion process revealing true love has another name, negating all that went before. In this way their worlds end and begin again. In an agony of truth: memories implode, hearts tick over, stars appear and disappear

Jane Williams is an Australian poet and short story writer living in Tasmania. Check out her blog.

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

Intro and Outrospection of a Latecomer to Narcissism

– By Ewan C. Forbes

Who is this man who stares out at me from these photos? He looks perennially happy, though sometimes this looks forced. His friends are my friends. And what friends they are. He looks comfortable in their company.

He is familiar yet distant. He is someone I could be said to have known my whole life, yet his face is as unfamiliar to me as those of my similarly introspective inner-city neighbours. I don’t know what it is but there is something I don’t like about him. He fills spaces I thought I inhabited, and he does so as a mirror inversion of those relatively few interactions with my own form I have committed to memory. Those encounters were the lie: this is the truth as the rest of the world sees it.

The man in the mirror was never me, and I would not recognise my symmetrically-challenged face in an uninverted form were I to pass myself on the street. I know this. From the photos.

Why can’t…

” ” I sleep

” ” we be friends

” ” I get a job

” ” I lose weight

The drop-down options of despair compiled from the searches of those who we think of when we say everyone. Is this a mirror, an inversion of truth, or a photo? More optimism maybe. Lets explore the realms of possibility, together.

Can we…

” ” make a star on earth

” ” live on mars

” ” still be friends

” ” trust the police

More exact maybe, more practical.

How can…

” ” I lose weight

” ” I make money fast

” ” she slap

” ” I stop eating

No! Rubbish! The whole world’s worth of information at our fingertips… and this? Again!

How would…

” ” you describe yourself

” ” I look bald

” ” you identify oxygen

” ” I look with a fringe

I push the laptop away. I don’t think a search engine is a mirror or a photo. Metaphors can only take us so far, and if either were apt I would be terrified.

` But the unfamiliar man in the photos was jarring too…

One more attempt.

How will…

” ” I know lyrics

” ” the world end

” ” I die

” ” I know

Ewan C. Forbes lives and writes in Aberdeen, Scotland. His work has previously appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Sand Journal (as Ewan Forbes), and in Digital Science Fiction’s Visions Imprint (as E. C. Forbes). Recent Google searches of Ewan Forbes and E. C. Forbes bring up Sir Ewan Forbes of Craigievar (who started life as Elizabeth Forbes-Sempill) in the former case, and a ‘California corporation engaged in the manufacture and sales of high-end erotic electrostimulation products’ in the latter. Ewan C. Forbes said to say hello and to wish you well.