The Unknown

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

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

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171

– By Tom Offland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

North

By Brian Bennett

1.

As a young boy I moved to a house

by the sea

by the trees

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

In the lands

in the trees

and reflected upon myself through passing tides

there was a shadow.

I watched a reflection of myself on the water

as it danced under moonlight on the surface.

I watched.

And waded.

A thousand years went by and nothing.

One thousand years more then something.

It changed and glowed while the water ebbed and flowed.

Then one night by twilight

after shouting to the sky with all my might

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

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

I was not dead nor did I die another death for

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

Except I was the one with breath.

It’s a hard thing to love oneself.

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

But it’s not impossible.

I did.

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

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

2.

And on the very last day I’ll be there

watching the coming light with an engulfing stare.

And the lands before me formed by the lands behind

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

And I’ll have no mask behind which to hide

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

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

3.

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

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

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

In the farm lands

in the lakes

in the lanes

off tenement squares

in the playgrounds

in the parks

in the fields

off country roads

old men are dying.

Young girls can’t stand

their own thoughts and

young men seem to have forgotten.

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

Old women still sit and knit and talk of it.

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

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

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

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

I have lived. I am living.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That should be the starting point.

On the very last day on Earth

as the sun sets and becomes

nothing but brilliant light.

I will walk North. Head first into it.

And be fine. And be OK.

Because I’m not in my knees

for the light kneels to me.

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

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

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

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

On the very last day on Earth

as the sun sets and becomes

nothing but brilliant light.

I will walk North. Naked and free.

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

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

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

The Dark Bird of the Midway

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

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

http://christopherwoods.zenfolio.com/

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Buying and Selling

– By John MacKenna 

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

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

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

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

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

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

“In what way?”

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

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

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

Thaddeus remembered shrugging.

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

“Maybe.”

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

“I’ll be back in a couple of weeks.”

“The books can wait.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A shadow falls across his face and he looks up.

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

“You sell cars?” she asks.

“Yes. I certainly do.”

“I’d like to look at one or two.”

“Of course.”

He stands up, shielding his eyes.

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

“He’s not for sale,” Thaddeus laughs.

“I should hope not.”

They walk across the sales yard.

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

“I’m not sure. Let’s look.”

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

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

“No.” Her reply is definite.

“Just passing an afternoon?”

“No. I wanted to talk to you.”

“About?”

“Him. Then. About what really happened.”

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

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

“And you care?”

“That’s why I’m here.”

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

“Is that a crime?”

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

“I’d write it sympathetically.”

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

“You don’t believe me?”

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

“You’ve thought about all this.”

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

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

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

“How’s business?”

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

The young woman laughs.

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

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

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

“Actually I do.”

She seems surprised.

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

“What did I say?”

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

She nods.

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

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

The woman sips her coffee.

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

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

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

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

“That’s not how I work.”

“Good for you.”

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

“I’ll tell you a story,” he says.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“‘Never felt it,’ he said.

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

The young woman is silent.

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

“Thank you.”

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

“Thank you again.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thaddeus obliges, laughing as he does so.

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

House In Shadows – Photo by Christopher Woods.

The Chrysalis

 – By Wes Henricksen

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

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

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

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

Then he got bored and went on foraging.

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

The thing was gone.

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

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