Michael McGill recently had poems and photographs published in the Embodied Masculinities edition of HARTS & Minds journal. He also has work published in Funhouse Magazine, The Transnational, New Walk and Ink, Sweat and Tears. Michael performed his poetry on The Verb on BBC Radio 3.
Catherine Farmer lives in Co. Wicklow and works in Ashford Film Studios. She studied Media Production in Liberties Media College after which she moved to San Francisco, where she lived for 10 years. Always interested in Arts & Culture, she came to love photography having received her first digital camera as a gift in 2004. Capturing images of nature is what she loves most. She has participated in several exhibitions and has won a number of local photography competitions.
Amy Kennelly is an amateur photographer from Kerry currently on a voyage of self discovery, like Eat, Pray, Love but supplemented by a job in customer service.
Future Bohemic Boyfriend
– By Brianne Kohl
I know you are out there, spinning so free in the universe, just waiting for the day I’ll ride into your life on my 1984 Shwinn World Sport fixie with the retro pink and white lettering. I’ll braid my hair loose like a mermaid and wear a Che Guevara T shirt even though I spent years thinking he was the lead singer of Rage Against the Machine. But, you won’t care, future try-hard-boyfriend. Because, you couldn’t find Cuba with google maps and a prayer.
When I meet you, you’ll be in your late 20s/early 30s. You’ll be sporting a full lumberjack beard but dress like you are auditioning for an episode of Happy Days. You’ll have a neon green Vespa LX 150 scooter that you’ll ride to your job as a barista at the local non-corporate coffee shop, Counter Culture.
“Four-stroke single overhead camshaft!” you’ll say.
You will be good with your hands. A grease monkey underneath it all just like my Dad was. Your fingernails will always be rimmed in engine oil and dirt, even when you scrub them clean. You’ll carry that roasted smell of freshly ground coffee beans in your shaggy brown hair. Sometimes, I’ll think if you would just shake your head like a dog, beans could fly out onto the floor.
On the weekends, you’ll be a drummer in a post-post modern Band of Horses cover band. People will flock to you, eager for that nearness of you. You’ll know the difference between essential and non-essential hygiene and even though you’ll have no political or religious objection to antiperspirant, you won’t bother using it. I won’t notice this at first, because we’ll meet in the Autumn, just as the leaves start to turn orange and red and the nights have a slick coolness about them.
You’ll have a slightly crooked front tooth, cocked to the side like a swinging door. I’ll feel it with my tongue every time I kiss you. On our first date, we’ll meet up in a parking lot and share a PBR and a Parliment. I’ll get chilly so you’ll lend me your gray fitted hoodie. It will almost be too small but I’ll squeeze it around me, stretching it tight against my chest. I’ll run the zipper up to my mouth and suckle the metal pull tab. I’ll love you that quick.
I’ll start spending my nights at yours. We’ll stay up late, listening to Elephant 6 and Neutral Milk Hotel on vinyl. People will begin to expect us at all the wrong-for-the-right-reasons shows in Cobble Hill. You’ll get jealous when I get friendly with that noise scene musician we’ll meet outside Derby’s but I’ll only be friendly with him because he’ll know my room mate’s sister. His music will be marginal, squawking baby toys spun against radio transmission wave noise. It will be borderline in all the right ways, even if we can’t stand to listen to it for long. You and I will make up over a couple of gin and tonics, leave the noise behind and head home. As you slide into me that night, your weight pressed down on my hips like a clamp, I’ll smile up at you and think of him.
You’ll hate my room mate. She’ll hate you even more. We’ll start to argue about what to do when your lease is up. You’ll barely be able to afford your little one man pup-efficiency in Bushwick. So, we’ll start to talk about getting our own place together, someplace that belongs to you and me and no one else.
“Williamsbug,” I’ll say.
“Metro North Railroad,” you’ll say. You’ll have this need to track your life like a hobo on the side of a freight train as the ground conveys passed your heels. I’ll narrow my eyes in confusion. “Hastings-on-Hudson,” you’ll say. “The city’s been over run. We need someplace new. Someplace a man can get a real job.” All I can think is, “What the hell would we do in Westchester?” But you’ll fucking love it, all that roving hipsturbia and I’ll begin to tick off the moments, rolling my eyes and sighing, until you lose interest.
You’ll get fired from Counter Culture because of a pissy missive you’ll blog, decrying all the wrong ways customers order coffee. “They don’t even fucking know what a Machiato is!” you’ll cry out, throwing a spoon into the sink. It will clatter against my nerves and I’ll hope I hid my Starbucks cup far enough into the trash can so you’ll never see.
We’ll start to plan a community garden that we’ll never build. You’ll get a job at the local co-op. You’ll start dreading your hair, just two long tufts at the base of your skull. I’ll have dreams of running past you with scissors, cutting that gnarled bark of hair from your head. You’ll forgive me for throwing out your ratty black Bel Biv Devoe Tshirt – you’ll leave it at my place and I’ll think its a rag because of the threadbare holes in the back. We’ll sit outside on the front stoop and you’ll feed me beautiful fresh cherries in the Spring. I’ll spit the pits back out into your hand.
I’ll get pregnant and miscarry and never tell you, blood as ripe as those cherries, that fragile pit lost forever as I cry on the toilet.
I’ll fall deep into a hole, so deep that I won’t be able to see your face peering down at me. You’ll get confused and with the confusion, you’ll start to get a little mean. I’ll start to get a lot distant.
“You’re a shitty musician,” I’ll say.
“I can’t STAND you right now,” I’ll say.
“Trendslut,” you’ll say.
After a while, you’ll stop peering down into my hole and I’ll stop looking up.
It will take us a long time, too long, really, to admit it will be too late for us. You’ll send me a text, maybe. Or, I’ll get one of your co-workers at the co-op to pass along the message. But, we’ll close that door and I know you’ll be out there, spinning around and away. I’ll eventually find my way out to Hastings-on-Hudson – housing will be so much more affordable in the sprawl. And, I’ll think of you, of your battered Doc Martins hanging out over the rusted rails, every time I take the 9:06 into Grand Central.
Brianne M. Kohl is a fiction writer who has lived all over the United States but currently resides in Chatham County, North Carolina. Her work has been published in Black Heart Magazine, Ohio Edit, Crack the Spine Literary Magazine, Corner Club Press and in ‘In the Hardship and the Hoping: Poems of Northeast Ohio by JB Solomon Editions. She was the best fiction recipient from Bop Dead City’s 2013 Summer Fiction Contest. Her work and musings can also be found at www.briannekohl.com.
Joyce and Me
– By Anna Byrne
It was in Oxfam’s, in the used book area. Section M to P. That’s where it happened. Later, when I went through things, I realized I’d already read some of her short stories. This book however, had a Getting to Know the Author section in the back, including a personal profile, a segment entitled Writing with Words and a photograph. The photo showed a woman with dark curly hair and large, soulful eyes, staring off camera. And right then, I knew there was something about her that would change my life. Joyce Carol Oates.
Before. That’s a word people used alot in Ireland. Before, guys would proudly write their number on the back of their ATM stubs and pass them out among the waiting ocean of high heeled, sun bedded women. Before, people were marching up the property ladder and buying five hundred euro dogs at the weekends. They were thronging the bar, fifty euro notes fluttering like miniature flags heralding our fiscal wisdom. I had a good vantage point, my circumnavigation in the employ of the eating and drinking establishments of Cork city almost complete at that time.
Now. That was a different story. Now, people lecture bitterly about household tax and the pitfalls of buying to rent, and get thrown out for smuggling in their own Tesco vodka. Now, no one bothers to print out their bank balance because they’re all either bankrupt or on the dole. Or just gone. If Galway is Ireland‘s graveyard of ambition, then Cork is the wake, with everyone sitting around, drinking too much and lamenting about somebody that went too soon.
In bed that night, John snoring beside me, I reread Joyce Carol Oates Writing with Words. I copy out the main points.
She doesn’t own a computer but works longhand and then on a typewriter.
She writes in silence.
She does not read, watch or listen to anything trashy. Life is too short.
I set up a small desk from Argos in the tiny room of our apartment underneath the stairs. I unpack the notebooks I have kept under the bed. They are full of the word Idea printed and then circled, and then the idea written underneath. Privately, I have harboured the ambition of being a writer for years. As a child, I had written a story about a hedgehog that was published in a book of children stories for children, by children. I place this, entitled Rainbow Days, on the desk. Since then there had been a dry spell.
I don’t really understand what happened. After school everyone dropped into their places, so sure they were the right fit. I started a course in web design, decided it wasn’t for me and moved to Cork with a vague notion of saving money to go traveling. I met John at a party. It made sense that we’d move in together. I’d sit back and listen to him and his friends talk about how to roll a perfect joint, and watch as they tried to master it. They talked about taking ten pills before they even ‘gotta tingle offa them.’ I had a job, money. I was even skinny because I usually didn’t eat at the weekends. Things were good.
But then one day I was taking a glass from the cupboard and I noticed it was cloudy looking. I held it up to the light and I saw how dirty it was. I took out the other glasses. They were the same. Then I collected the mugs from around the sitting room. Their insides were stained dark brown. I tried scrubbing at them but it made no difference. I started to sweep. How had I not noticed how the floor sloped in the kitchen before? I went out to the tiny back garden, where I thought the mop bucket would be, and saw the pile of sodden rubbish bags. I realized I didn’t have a mop bucket, or a mop. My head got this funny buzzing feeling. I got my keys and jacket and went outside. It was late morning and the sound of children echoed along the narrow street. I walked down the hill past St. Finbarr’s Church, crossed the South Mall with a vague notion of Oliver Plunkett Street and on the way I walked into Oxfam’s and found Joyce.
In work, at Ned’s Irish Fusion Bar and Restaurant I’m on the early shift with Iris. Iris is American. She’s outstaying her visa here because she’s having an on/off relationship with the drummer from the local heavy metal band Rancid Corpse. She is what my mother would call brazen. She pokes at the blueberry muffins in the pastry basket. I polish forks and imagine Joyce Carol Oates and her morning routine: wandering through her house to the study, coffee cup in hand. Do her friends call her Joyce, or JayCee? I think probably just Joyce. I conjure up a chance encounter we’d have; how we’d end up, somehow, going for a coffee. I’d hand the sugar to her, call her Ms. Oates, and by the end of our first cup she’d look me in the eye and say, Just call me Joyce.
Iris is waving at me.
‘You’re in another world Sarah.’
She bends her neck, shouting at the ceiling in mock frustration.
‘God, this is so boring.’
Twisting her lip ring she calls out the old game.
‘Okay, if you had to, had to choose: Simon Cowell or Perez Hilton?’
I smile vaguely.
‘What’s going on with you?’ she asks.
I just shake my head and kind of float off; what I imagine Joyce would do.
I search the library for her books, then the bookshops. I line them all up on my desk. I underline the sentences of Joyce‘s that I can identify with most and stick them on the desk, the wall, the bathroom mirror. I stick one on the front door so I can read it before work. John comes up behind me, puts his hands on my shoulders.
‘What’s this?’ he asks. I try not to wince when he touches me. I try to remember why I fell for him. He had a car. With a sub woofer. He brought me to Mondello race track when we were going out first. He still has it. The sub woofer, I mean. We haven’t been getting on recently. If I’m honest, part of it is because I know that Joyce wouldn’t like my boyfriend. She wouldn’t say it, but I’d know.
She’d have that intuition, that he would let me down and then one night, after something unspeakable, I’d arrive at Joyce’s house with the words ‘I had nowhere else to go,’ and she would take me in, no questions asked. She’d draw me a bath. Then, in the morning over coffee, she’d offer me the spare room.
Things would go from there. Joyce would see herself in me. I’d be like her little sister. I’d discover her love of ginger tea, spicy Mexican food. Her abhorrence for bananas since eating a rotten one when she was three years old. We’d go to book readings. I’d read her latest manuscripts while she paced in the next room, finally coming to the door where I would look up at her and smile.
After her book readings we’d go out for dinner. Somewhere small we could talk. She’d look at me with those soulful eyes over a plate of tacos with extra jalapeños and say ‘Oh Sarah. Don’t waste that talent.’
No, she wouldn’t. She’d never say something so twee. She’d quote maybe, something from her favourite authors, Joyce or maybe Dickenson.
Understanding. There would be an understanding between us. Joyce and Me. Me and Joyce.
I’m in work, thinking about a trip Joyce and I could take on the Trans Siberian express when Ben, the manager, asks me to come into the office. His office is cramped and smells of that aftershave all male bar managers seem to use. His shirt stretches when he sits down. I can see the outline of his bellybutton. He scrapes the stubble just under his chin and asks me if everything’s ok. Everything’s fine, I tell him.
‘Your mind isn’t on your work anymore.’
I can’t answer that, so I just look at him, around him. I know Iris has said something. Yesterday I refused to gossip about a story leaked on the internet that said John Travolta is gay. She was shocked. Ben rakes the remaining hair on his balding head with a chubby hand.
‘Sarah, things are difficult, I’d appreciate if you could – pull together with me. Will you do that?’
I nod my head.
Then everything starts to move to the edges of the page. John tells me he is going on a football trip with the lads, a something Cup or other. Finally, another of Joyce’s keys to writing accomplished – silence. At this point, I have shunned my computer, don’t have to worry about what people are saying on Facebook, or who is emailing me. I head to work on Monday morning to find a notice on the window that Ned’s Fusion Bar and Restaurant has gone into liquidation – apparently people don’t want to spend ten euro‘s on chicken wings anymore. Smiling widely, I go straight back to the flat and my desk and write like a demon in longhand. I write so much that I can’t keep track of it all. The phone rings and rings until I send a group message that I got a cheap package holiday to Lanzarote and then shut the thing off. Sometimes I wake up in there. Sometimes when I wake up I spend hours trying to figure out the tangled web of writing across the pages that carpet the floor. Sometimes I‘m sitting there and just thinking of the door, the door that is opening and staying open the more I write and it’s only when the motor on the fridge clicks on that I say ‘thank you,‘ and start writing again. The house is cold. I shiver, make a cup of tea. The milk lumps in the cup. I laugh at that. This is real writing, I think. In a jubilant mood I scrape coins off the mantelpiece and go out to the shop for milk. It is there, standing in line, holding a pint of milk, that I see the poster.
I walk across Parliament bridge, down South Mall and into the library. The event is confirmed by the librarian. I walk back across Parliament bridge. My legs are trembling and I buy a chocolate bar for sugar and find a bench by the river beside a homeless man .
Joyce will be coming to my town! She will read in the library for the literary festival, in four days time. I look at the pamphlet the librarian handed to me. In it is a photograph of Joyce. She is looking upwards, her chin resting on her palm. I could swear her eyes are green. The homeless man beside me hawks up a gob of phlegm. It sits on the pavement like a rejected oyster. I close my eyes, chewing slowly.
It is true.
I am going to meet her.
The next few days I spend in preparation. I hear the door bell but it seems far away, like the shouts I imagine coming through the letterbox but I don’t answer them; I don’t have the time! I re read all of the quotes, paste some that have fallen off back on the walls. I try to remember what I want to ask Joyce, but there’s so much, I don’t know where to start. So I copy more of her quotes into a notebook and write my questions beside them.
On The Day, as I have referred to it in my notebooks, I get up early. I’ve been so busy I’ve forgotten about clothes. I manage to find an almost clean wool jumper and a pair of leggings I have to just quickly wipe down with a wet cloth.
Outside it’s the usual summer weather, the sky a cloudy marbled glare that hurts your eyes. I make my way down the small steep hills. At this time of the morning it’s just the same few delivery men and street people shuffling along. The library isn’t open yet so I wait outside. I peer back across the river at the derelict government building and the vegetarian restaurant that shoulders it. Finally, the library opens and I follow the woman inside. I watch her set out chairs, a small desk and microphone. I settle into one of the chairs. I change seats several times. I double check my notebook. I study the photo of Joyce, the same one that was on the poster. It has been blown up and sellotaped onto the wall. I like it.
Soon another librarian arrives with flasks of tea and coffee, a plate of biscuits. People trickle into the library, elderly people at first, then someone with a camera. They congregate around the tea and biscuits. I can’t believe people can fathom eating and drinking at a time like this. I read the leaflet about the literary festival but can’t get past the first sentence. I breathe deeply, in through my nose, and out my mouth. I stand; try to shake some of the energy out of me. The librarian is making a special fuss over a small, thin, elderly lady with short hair. Someone beside her carries a sheaf of pages and a laptop. She must be a benefactor of the library, I think.
I must be staring, because the librarian turns to me and nods in the direction of the old woman.
‘This young lady was especially keen to meet you.’
I watch; an uncomprehending observer.
‘Ms. Oates. I assumed you were waiting here for her this morning.’
I look at the librarian and back at the old woman.
‘Ms. Oates was just talking about her new collection of short stories. She’s just published them on Amazon.’
Ms. Oates nods. Her eyes aren’t soulful. And they’re not green, they’re brown.
‘Tell me,’ she says. ‘Are you a Mac or a PC person?’
A single, trembling biscuit crumb clings to her lip.
Originally from Ireland, Anna Byrne is a writer and filmmaker. She focuses her work on the female experience, and recently travelled to Iceland to work on a short experimental film. She is currently working on a short experimental documentary set in Berlin and her first novel.
Carolyn Meredith loves exploring the world through the lens of a camera and sharing her stories. She is a travel and photo opportunist and hopes to stimulate others to adventure and creativity through her work and her relentless tales of personal exploits. She grew up in England, and now lives and works in America.
– By James Claffey
Under a split infinitive sky where the frozen bodies gather dust in early mornings, there’s a strange bird doing a dance. It’s feathers ruffle and the tips of its wings rotate in opposite directions. This is not a mating dance. This is not a love song. This is not a train wreck by the side of a sinewy river of muddied water. The bird takes a short hop towards a mound of rock, only to find a waiting snake inside a discarded bag of toasted croutons. We are the snake and the bird, my love. The dance of death reminds me of the day we sat on the grass at Dolores Park, the fog slowly burning off, your sandals wet with dew, and fresh from your lips, the accusation that I’d been stringing you along. I fingered the lint in my pocket, the lump of ring in tissue paper, too. Right when I was about to ask you a serious question the brakes shifted on a child’s stroller and the mother screamed as her baby gathered speed and put some distance between them. Back to the present cold circumstance, and your accusation is only a memory, less real than the coiled snake, less painful than the frozen dead.
James Claffey hails from County Westmeath, Ireland, and lives on an avocado ranch in Carpinteria, CA with his family. He is the author of a collection of a short fiction, Blood a Cold Blue. His website is at www.jamesclaffey.com.
– By Shaunagh Jones
On a street, there’s a lamp that saturates the pavement with a hazy, gold light. The cobbled road is lined with townhouses, each with a different coloured door and an elegantly looped number. You stop under the lamp and notice the house in front of you has a burgundy door. At the window, two suited men are talking animatedly and you’re sure one was in a film you saw the other week. Leading man handsome. They’re too immersed in their conversation to notice you. Behind them, a waiter hurries from group to group with long stemmed glasses and squat crystal ones with whisky sluiced into them. A child sits in the corner of the room, rolling a toy car around the floor, largely ignored. You notice a woman who has her back to the window and her flash of red hair. You think it’s her, but when she turns around you realise your mistake. To calm your heart’s quickening thud, you focus on a group of women in dresses of onyx velvet and ruby silk who are laughing. From where you’re standing it’s like watching a silent movie.
The doorstep has a row of empty champagne bottles beside it. You remember Sarah, and how she insisted on placing a brown sugar cube in her glasses of champagne; mostly because she liked to watch it eaten up by the bubbles. You tried it because she wanted you to, and because everyone in her circle was drinking sugar-infused champagne. You said you liked it so you could be one of them, but really the sugar and cold made your teeth ache. You excused yourself from speaking to a heavily perfumed Chanel-suited woman and walked endless corridors in search of the bathroom. On the way, you noticed a porcelain vase decorated with copper red flowers and remember the newspaper reports that detailed the vase’s heritage and the vast price it fetched at auction. You opened various doors and found rooms decorated with diamond embossed rugs and rococo paintings. The low hum of conversation could be heard through the corridors so, not wanting to be caught intruding, you hurried along. Finally, you locked yourself in the bathroom before pouring the contents of the champagne glass into the toilet.
Returning, you noticed Sarah had a lopsided drunken smile and knew it was time to leave. At home, you tried to recount a joke told to you that night, but you couldn’t remember the punch line. Sarah laughed anyway and whispered ‘Oh, you,’ onto your lips.
You concentrate on the icy cold, trying to halt your thoughts. It’s eleven o’clock and it went dark hours ago. The windows of the house with the burgundy door are illuminated and none of the revellers inside pays you any attention. It must seem strange though: a man standing outside a house just watching those within. You look on the wrong side of dishevelled.
The door of the house opens and a woman stumbles out. Her dress is sequinned and her legs look too bare. Her make up is smudged; purple lipstick is plastered outside the lines of her mouth like a child’s drawing. She places a cigarette between her lips and fidgets with the clasp of her bag. She fishes for a lighter but can’t seem to find one. Then she looks up and says:
‘Hey. Got a light?’
You’re startled and Sarah’s face floats before you once again. The simplicity of the woman’s greeting and the sense she has somewhere better, more exciting, to be reminds you of Sarah. Every time there’s a jolt behind your rib cage. You say you’re sorry because you don’t have a lighter. Sarah made you quit smoking. There’s arsenic and formaldehyde in those things.
The woman in the sequinned dress nods and then points upwards. ‘That’s like an eye,’ she says and walks shakily away into the December night. You resist the urge to run after her to give her your coat or ask her name. There’s frost crystallising on the windows and the coat was a gift. Something you want to hold on to. Then you glance up to see what she was referring to and it’s the Victorian lamp post. The beam it omits is like a spotlight on you; a halo on the ground. Not quite an eye.
You aren’t even sure how you came to this street, looking in on a scene that used to be so familiar. But you’re not one of those people anymore. You can’t forget the day your manager called you into the office and hissed: ‘There’s been some indiscretions in the accounting. Could you perhaps explain them?’ Sarah was long gone by the time they announced the verdict in court, but you still looked out at the benches hoping to see her one final time, not really listening to what the judge said. Now, the whisky you drink is blended and when you swallow it down, you hear the guilty verdict clearly. You force yourself to empty the glass and then another, because it makes you sleep. The only time you can’t think about what you’ve lost.
You urge yourself to move your numb legs. So you start to walk away and after a few steps you hear the door opening again. You try not to look back, but you can’t stop yourself. You want one last glimpse into a world that’s forgotten you. Two people are standing under the lamp post. There’s a woman with bobbed black hair and she’s clutching a bouquet of winter flowers to her chest; red roses with sprigs of holly intermingled amongst them, stark against her white dress. She has a man’s tuxedo jacket draped over her shoulders. The man who owns the jacket clasps her face in his hands and says something you can’t hear, although you find yourself trying to. She laughs and flicks her hair in a move that’s both rehearsed and charming. They start to make their way up the street towards you.
The woman with the black bobbed hair stumbles slightly and grasps her companion’s arm to steady herself. He gently swings her round to face him and she brings her mouth to his. You hope the man knows he’s lucky.
The pair untangle from the warmth of each other and they walk in the direction of the city centre; towards the bars that serve cocktails consisting of exotic spirits; towards the nightclubs that need a membership to enter; towards those streets that you used to walk along in your bespoke suit while Sarah grasped your hand. There’s small part of you that thinks you will again someday. You cling to that hope like it’s a ledge of a building you’ve slipped off. Aware of the weight of your worn cashmere coat you take one final look at the house with the burgundy door, and then you too walk towards the city.
Shaunagh Jones is a short story writer. She recently completed a Creative Writing MLitt at the University of Glasgow. Follow her on Twitter @JonesShaunagh.
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.
– 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.”
They laughed like two children. These were days before the ozone layer depletion.
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.”
“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 youagain? —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.
“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.”
“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 beetlesitting 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.”
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.
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
Jenny Hauser is from Berlin and stumbled into Dublin via Kuwait, London and Cork but is impressed with where aimless wandering can get you. She is a journalist and PhD student of media studies at DIT. Photography has been her consistent sidekick since she was a teenager and she studied film and photography in London after leaving school but before she knew what she wanted to be when she grew up. More photos can be seen on her criminally neglected blog and she can be found on Twitter @jenny_hauser.
– By E.M. Reapy
Our youngest child, Patti, came bawling through the door, her plump face red, dribble bubbling from her mouth.
My instinct seized my gut as I rushed over to her and asked, ‘What is it, honey?’ trying to keep the alarm from my voice. My husband Bill stayed in his chair but watched us intently.
‘Cooper- And – Justin Beiber,’ she said, struggling to get the words out. ‘Cooper and Justin Beiber, they- they-‘ And then she broke down.
‘Where are they?’ I asked.
She pointed to the wall behind me and I knew she meant the garden. I scooped her up in my arms and kissed her fair curls a couple of times, shushing and cooing her. I walked out to through the sliding doors in the kitchen. The day was marshy, grey clouded but dry for the moment.
Cooper was to the left of a crow, his paw clawing the fat, awkward looking bird, Justin Beiber was to the right and took swipes from that side. The cats wailed like pained babies and the disorientated crow cawed deep and mournful.
‘Oh Jesus,’ I said and shielded Patti’s head. I took her back inside. ‘Daddy, come out here for a minute,’ I said and Bill paused his TV show.
‘She alright?’ he asked me as he rose.
‘Yeah. But we have a situation.’
I gave Patti my phone to play around with and promised we’d be back to her in a minute.
I took Bill’s hand and ushered him to the garden. The cats had grown bored. Cooper leapt onto the wall and patrolled around. Justin Beiber skulked on the grass while the crow, like he was headless, rather than half headless, flapped and cocked erratically, blood making his breast shiny and reddening the dewy grass around him.
‘It’s awful,’ I said.
Bill nodded at me and gave my palm a gentle squeeze.
‘The bird, it’s not fair is it? We need to stop the misery.’
I could feel emotion threaten up my chest to my throat. I didn’t like crows, little pricks that woke me up most mornings, even before Patti did with her hopping and cuddling and playing. They squawked demented as early as 5am sometimes, before the night had even lifted. But this little one had been destroyed by our pets, by the creatures that we fed and allowed roam our house and snuggle up beside us on the couch.
Bill inspected the bird but didn’t touch it. ‘How will I do it?’ he asked and I shrugged.
‘Just do something, hit it with a stick or something?’
‘Ah no, I can’t do that. What if Patti caught me? No,’ he said. He took a deep breath and bunched the bird into his hands. I was shivery.
The cats eyed us from different angles of the garden.
He went to one of Patti’s sand buckets. It was filled with Irish summer rainwater.
‘Sorry birdy,’ he said and plunged it into the bucket. The crow didn’t put up too much of a fight but then again Bill had strong worker’s hands. I dread to think of me trying to drown it, its wings flittering and protesting, me screaming, flittering and protesting.
Bill put the dead bird beside the bucket and said, ‘I’ll get a shovel, will I?’ and went to get a shovel.
Cooper and Justin Beiber sprang over to sniff at the bird.
The choke in me changed shape.
Cooper strutted towards me and purred against my leg. I recoiled and nudged him away with my shin, ‘Go away,’ I said but he rubbed, clinged, his furry heat on my skin.
I tried again to shoo him away before using my foot,
and into his face.
EM Reapy is from Mayo, has an MA in Writing from Queen’s University, Belfast. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee and edits wordlegs.com . In 2013, she was awarded an Arts Council Literature Bursary for her debut collection. She is the Irish representative for PEN International’s New Voices Award and directs Shore Writers’ Festival in Enniscrone. Follow her @emreapy
The Mask of Ophelia
– By K.S. Moore
The stage is closed up but dressed up in loud gold curtains. The only figures visible are marble formed, lazy operators, leaning against pillars. Behind the scenes are murmurs, sideways looks and put downs. All is a flurry of preparation, hair scraped, make up on. Nobody has time.
Martha has less than most; the fear has stolen it all. She sits, tense and shivering at her dressing table, a mug of steaming black coffee beside her. She hasn’t even begun to apply her make up. Her hands are too clammy.
Leonardo hovers, offering comfort or condemnation. He is sly, ever watchful and yet she is addicted to his company. They first met at the auditions for ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream‘. He was the obvious choice for Puck with his diminutive stature and wicked edge.
She had harboured dreams of playing Titania but was eventually cast as Mustardseed. The role was better than it appeared. The production was a blend of drama and ballet and she was given extra dialogue and a solo dance. She had hated the colour of her costume though; a shade of yellow that fell somewhere between bile and peanut butter. She had felt ugly and not good enough.
Looking back, she had been blessed, cast in a role that did not place her under too much pressure but still up there on the main cast list. Everyone told her she had stolen the show. The critics called her and Leonardo ‘the stars of tomorrow’, whereas the actress playing Titania was labelled ‘frigid’ and ‘disconnected’.
When Martha had been chosen to play Ophelia in ‘Hamlet‘ she had felt beyond ecstatic. But the madness and despair of the role must be catching. She can almost feel the water closing over her head. It had taken hold in the dress rehearsal as Hamlet struggled to remember even one line of his soliloquy. His fragility was unnerving, as were his heavy lidded eyes.
When he asked her to ‘get thee to a nunnery’ she felt like racing straight there. But she is imprisoned in this role.
Steering her senses back to the present, she sees Leonardo advance towards her, a hip flask in his hand.
“This will take the edge off.”
But she is too afraid the alcohol will rob the shine from her performance, make her sluggish and inclined to slur. Jerkily, she shoots out a hand to stop Leonardo. She catches him mid-pour and the liquid trickles out onto the carpet. It smells like her Father’s going out jacket, slightly chemical, with a hint of the outdoors.
She listens, detached as Leonardo curses and leaves to find a rag. She is usually distraught when he is angry with her but tonight she is untouchable. She is still immobile when he returns to furiously scrub at the carpet.
“I’m not giving up on you!”
A few members of the chorus, butterfly in. They feign concern, giving themselves an excuse to be present. Both Martha and Leonardo know they care for nothing but their own aspirations. Leonardo glowers until they all drift away, leaving only the sickly union of their perfumes.
The word signals the start of the rescue operation. Leonardo swoops on the foundation, measuring out the exact amount required for each cheek and for Martha’s high forehead. He dots, blends and expands, taking the reddish hue from her skin, replacing it with a pale sheen: the mask of Ophelia.
His next task is to darken Martha’s eyes. They are green and watery but by the time he is finished they are vibrant, enormous. He has swirled black and silver eyeshadow, given her eyes shape with incisive dark eyeliner and finished the look by attacking her eyelashes with mascara. She now resembles a doll. All her features are exaggerated and there is no life in her eyes. She has still not woken up.
“The dress Martha, where is the dress?”
Leonardo’s words have become a hiss and Martha feels no compulsion to answer him. She is lost in memories of triumphant moments, spontaneous outbursts of applause, encores and cheers. If only she could take back the control from these memories. She has been that person. She can be her again. But before she can complete the transformation, she is drowning in cloth.
Leonardo has found the dress and is forcing it over her head. For the first time since sitting down at the dressing table she moves, feels slippery, like the first catch of the day. She doesn’t know whether she is complying or fighting but she cannot sit there like a dummy. Halfway through the struggle, she realises it is Ophelia she is resisting.
When it is over, she looks at herself in the mirror. She resembles a bride from the Romantic Gothic era, doomed to be wedded to a monster. The parallels are accurate. The stage has become her enemy and she is an innocent all over again. She understands now, that the dress has become her catalyst. It is terribly significant, symbolic of Ophelia’s purity and trust.
Leonardo attempts to remove her from the chair. He has long sharp fingernails like a girl. She winces but stays put. Her bare shoulders are fraught with red and she feels like the sacrifice has already begun.
Leonardo is stronger than he looks. He hauls her up, out of the chair and her eyes take in the dull colours of his costume, a peep of cream shirt, a laced brown topcoat and black felt hat. He is like a drab garden bird, nothing like his flamboyant appearance in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. She wonders if tonight will be a step down for him.
At last, she is standing, although swaying slightly. She is glad she didn’t take the drink. She feels otherworldly enough. She opens her mouth to say she will not go out there, but Leonardo speaks first.
“You are going out on that stage. Do you hear me? This is your big chance!”
The moment she realises he is serious, she hears the gong of her own heart, gathering speed until it is battering her from the inside. She has no idea how to quiet it, so moves forward in its pounding company. Leonardo is not touching her, yet she can feel his presence at her back and knows he will not allow her to turn.
She finds herself in the wings, regarding the action on stage, wondering how it can ever include her. She is incapable of speech, has no fight left and cannot even run away.
“Martha, it’s you, it’s Ophelia!”
Leonardo nudges her out from behind the curtain. Her heart is wilder than ever. At least she cannot see the audience. The lighting is so acute, all their faces blend into a silver mush. She finds herself wandering towards it as the floor tilts up.
She’s going down.
K. S. Moore was one of the FlashMob 2013 finalists, with her story: ‘Old and Free’. She also had a piece called ‘Bones’ selected for publication in National Flash Fiction Day’s FlashFlood Journal. A poem of hers will appear in the Winter issue of Welsh literary magazine: The Seventh Quarry. She has a background in publishing and ran a company called ‘Young Welsh and Poetic’ between 2005 and 2008. During this time she published pamphlets and full collections by young writers and produced four poetry collections of her own. She blogs at: ksmoore.com and has had articles published at Irish magazine site: Writing.ie. Recent achievements include performing her poetry at Waterford Writers’ Weekend, and being awarded a place on Artlinks Clinic Mentoring with Grace Wells. She is also the Clonea & Rathgormack Correspondent for The Munster Express.
‘We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.’
– Oscar Wilde
And what beauty do you find there in the stars? What is it that sustains your soul when all around you crumbles to ruin? What is the magic that makes it all worthwhile? We at The Bohemyth want to know!
We will be publishing a special Oscar Wilde Issue on the 16th of October (Oscar’s birthday!). We are looking for photography submissions, short stories, flash fiction and one act plays inspired by, referencing, associated with or somehow connected to the writings of Oscar Wilde.
To be considered for this issue please submit by the end of September. If you’re unsure of the suitability of your work for this issue, submit anyway.
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…
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.
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.
“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.
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.
“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.
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, 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.
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.
– 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.
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.
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.
Amy Kennelly from Kerry via Dublin quit her job earlier this year to go on an adventure. She is currently living in a shed in Sydney surrounded by hipsters.
The street art pics are all of good vibes Amy found while wandering around Melbourne on a blustery winter day. She shot the heron on a beach at sunset while drinking wine and eating fish and chips. To her left (out of shot) were a couple taking their wedding pictures.
Interview With A Campfire
– By Brian Coughlan
The photograph on the front of the paper is of a dog shaking hands with a prominent politician. I repeat a dog shaking hands with a politician. What the newspaper did next set the tone for the whole day. Sporting tight brown trousers and dainty black shoes it emitted a sound akin to upholstery being ripped apart. There was a very faint quiver but no apology – not even an acknowledgement of the fact. While I muttered with indignation a sulpher-like stench engulfed the carriage.
The photograph on the front was still of a dog shaking hands with a politician. It was standing up tall on its hind legs and looking disdainfully at the future leader of this country. It was a very unusual dog – a cross between a Labrador and a Poodle. There were names underneath. I was more interested in the dog’s name but the writing was too small to make it out.
For the remainder of the journey I was troubled by my complete lack of enthusiasm. I got off at a small deserted station and walked into the town. The morning sun cast an orange light across cars and trees and buildings. Walking past the window of a man’s outfitters I noticed a mannequin in the window. It reminded me vaguely, of someone. It was the likeness of a young man with short black hair and a piercing gaze. His head tilted at an unusual angle – it may have been incorrectly screwed on – and his hands were frozen in karate-chop positions. I could not for the life of me figure out who he reminded me of.
On arrival at the factory I found the place deserted. There were clearly people working there – the car park was full but there was nobody at the security hut and no sign of activity behind the gates. I thought I could hear a dull repetitive thudding noise off in the distance but when I stopped to listen for it –it was no longer there.
A red button, sticking out like an erect nipple needed to be pressed – so I pressed it. A woman’s plaintive voice told me to wait for the buzz and then push the gate. I waited for the buzz. Nothing happened. So I had no option but to press the red nipple again. She came over the speaker. I did not push until I heard the buzz and when I heard the buzz I pushed but the thing still wouldn’t move. So I had to press the nipple again. Eventually a woman came out of a building walked swiftly towards me and pulled the gate open.
Without so much as a glance in my general direction she turned on her heels and walked away smartly, her large behind swerving from side to side, back towards a red brick building at the end of a series of concrete paving slabs. I was admitted to an empty waiting room furnished with a row of drab plastic chairs along the walls and a low coffee table in the middle, smothered in old dog-eared magazines. My eye roved from one barren wall to the next. It was a depressing shit-hole of a place.
After a long time sitting there I very nearly fell asleep. Out of nowhere another small plump woman in a smart suit appears in the doorway with a clip-board clenched to her bosom. I am perkily instructed to follow her. We walk up two flights of stairs and down a long dimly lit corridor at the end of which I am asked to wait in a small room of just a single chair. According to her they are nearly ready for me. The clock high on the wall across from me says eight forty-nine.
I watch time go past with the jerky, continuous movement of a red plastic hand as it stops – then carries on – past each tiny gradation. After precisely six minutes and thirty eight seconds I stop watching the clock but when I close my eyes I can still picture that red hand jerking along in a steady monotonous onslaught.
She comes back and leads me into a boardroom, a long narrow room with a long narrow table down the center of the room and a number of chairs pushed in neatly all along it. It is a really nice table, dark wood, expertly polished, smooth to the touch. I hear the sound of footsteps coming down the hallway and then the door of the room opens.
I rise from my chair to exchange handshakes with a HR woman who looks like an ostrich; long neck, black beady-eyes and short cropped haircut – puffball body encased in a power suit; and with the Technical Director – dead-ringer for an Albino Gorilla; thick-set and in a grumpy mood. The ostrich does the introductions and starts waffling on about the company. There’s a large window in the space above their heads and I gaze out through it. Beyond the walls of the factory there are fields made green by that still strong morning light. I can see a small figure walking its dog and throwing a stick-like object for the dog to retrieve; probably a stick.
So tell us a little bit about yourself?
If you were to ask my ex-wife I’m a demon of some sort; a cruel and sadistic schemer who doesn’t give a damn about his children. She accuses me of walking away from my responsibilities and not giving her the credit she feels entitled to – for the great job she’s done raising the kids. If you ask my friends they will tell you that I am unreliable and absent when needed – that I cannot be depended on, that I drift away all too easily. But they don’t really know me at all. That’s the thing. I keep myself hidden from view. In reality I am the reincarnation of St. Stephen. I know it’s incredible but what do you want me to tell you – a bunch of made-up lies and make-believe? I only found out myself last month through a series of visions I experienced at my hot yoga class.
The Ostrich is very happy with my answer. She grimaces with a smile and writes a few notes on my CV. She has a hole in her tights just above one knee. What is she writing down I wonder? And why hasn’t she made reference to or even glanced at my tonsure yet?
The albino gorilla takes off his glasses and deftly wipes them with a little cloth he has conjured, most likely from his anal passage. It’s a little yellow cloth imprinted with the name and address of his optician. He slides them back on in a remarkably gentle fashion and puts the little cloth back where it belongs. He glances down at his belly and removes a few bits of fluff from his tie.
So why did you leave your last job?
Because they did not want to hear the truth – that’s why. They subjected me to a show trial in front of other executives and representatives from HR and they sentenced me to be stoned to death. I brought up the whole ‘he who hath not sinned bit’ and the stones started flying so I hid under the board room table and used the Managing Director as a human shield to get the hell out of there. But you know something it’s like I always say – was there ever a prophet that they didn’t try and execute? You know what I mean? I’m just going to take a drink of water here at this juncture.
The gorilla nods his head in agreement. I’m giving him another one of those textbook answers. They are a basic requirement – any hint of individual thought is exterminated by stock answers to stock questions. He produces a banana and peels it gently as I continue to wax lyrical about the benefits of gaining experience in a multitude of different settings. As he lovingly devours the banana his ostrich colleague buries her head in the sand of ignorance. I already know the job is mine if I want it.
What motivates you to do a good job?
Money motivates me. Not unlike every other person who gets up in the morning when they don’t want to, travels into work at a job they dislike and stays working all day with this great pretence that it’s really not that bad once you get into it. Some people even buy into the whole business and enjoy repeating the company slogans and admonishing those who ignore them. I’m here for the hard cash Ms. Ostrich. Next question please.
What are your strengths and what are your weaknesses?
My strength Mr. Gorilla is that I can’t stand other people. I hate the fucking sight of them. I hate people and I hate work and I hate clocking-in and clocking-out and pretending. More than anything I hate pretending to be interested in the field of work I find myself wandering around in. So you see by not giving a shit it actually helps because it gives me the cold dispassionate eye one needs to survive in this kind of environment. And I can tell an asshole when I see one which is what you clearly are. I can well imagine taking orders from you and never doing things up to your expected standard. How long would it take for us to fall out I wonder? A month, two months…who knows. My weaknesses are too numerous to mention but I’ll have a go; I’m lazy, I don’t listen, I hate taking orders, I am un-sociable and prone to bullying people when they bug me…that’s all I can think of right now.
Stephen why should we hire you?
For a brief moment I am inexplicably thrown by the question. My mouth opens and then closes without a word passing my lips. I stare into those two sets of expectant eyes and I do not know what to say. Nothing! There is not one word in my mind that presents itself for usage. They are shying away from the act of bravery. They seek safety in the silence of the crowd. Instead there is an excruciating stillness in the room where the ticking of the wall clock becomes deafening. I am the mannequin. I am the dummy in the shop window; it reminds me of myself. Then I hear myself vomit out the following:
I believe that I have the relevant experience to do the job. I believe that I’ve proved myself more than capable in the past. I believe I would be an excellent addition to the team here at this well-regarded company. I am excited at the prospect of learning more and growing both as an individual and as a team player within this exciting organization and who knows? I think I would make a really significant contribution to the company and bring renewed success through my hard work and results-based dynamism.
The Ostrich nods her head emphatically and locks eyes with the Gorilla who shrugs his shoulders as much as to say ‘I’ve no objections’. The Ostrich thanks me for coming in to see them and she keeps smiling at me now. Well done for answering all the questions in a way that has meant we can tick all the boxes. Well done for making our lives that little bit easier. Well done for telling us nothing that we need be concerned about. Well done.
‘How soon can you start?’ asks the gorilla in a dour voice.
I’m gazing out through the large window above their heads. Beyond the walls of the factory there are fields made green by the now grey morning light. I can see a small figure being mauled by a dog. I jump to my feet and send the chair toppling over.
‘Look what’s happening out there!’ I shout.
Brian Coughlan lives in Galway where he works as a screenwriter and part-time pharmaceutical industry employee. He also writes short stories and the occasional poem.
Summer at Maghermore
– By Alan Walsh
It was early and no one was anywhere near the shore but for an old man sat against the rock nearest the tide, draped in a long towel, who watched out for the light to break. It was still a little like night to venture out and he sipped from a flask he had brought to warm him at that hour. The first call of gannets had woken two surfers inside of their camper van and they sat, with tea, and watched the old man, wondering why he was out alone so early and on such a remote stretch of beach.
“He’s trying to kill himself,” one surfer said.
“Why do you say that?”
“No one would arrive out here so early. He’s working up courage, drinking from that flask, maybe rum. He seems unsteady.”
“Then why did he change into that swimsuit? Why the towel if not to dry off?”
“Who knows what occurs in the mind of a suicide? Maybe he wishes to seem normal, like it might look an accident.”
They crouched behind the wheel of the van with the light off so as not to be noticed in all of the silence and darkness. The only thing to move was the low branch stooped over the old man’s rock and the loose strands of seaweed in the breeze. The gannets and gulls began to circle more frequently and the light began slowly to come in. When the water was lit well enough to make out, the old man folded his towel down into the bag where he had packed his clothes and placed his flask on top of the rock beside it. He began walking out toward where the water washed the first pebbles on the shore.
“There, he’s going to do it. We can’t just allow it to happen.”
“He doesn’t look anything like drunk. He’s just testing the temperature.”
They both silently got out of the van to watch from the shade, keeping sure to remain very still. The old man stood a while with the water reaching only his ankles. He adjusted his shorts, tucked up underneath where his belly hung, and crouched down to place his hands into the foam. He brought water up to rinse through his hair and down his face, doing this a number of times. He ventured out a little deeper, knee deep and then to his waist, and allowed the tide lap his belly and upper arms while he looked out at the sky gradually changing colours.
“Where are you going?”
“I’m going down there. It’s probably even a crime to stand by and watch someone kill themselves, doing nothing.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about. He’s just taking a dip.”
The man craned his knees to have the water cover his chest and then wash over his shoulders. That early it was still cold enough to throw you off if you didn’t take enough care. He went through this motion a couple of times, then finally dunking his head the whole way under to come up again wet all over. Sure of his footing now and far enough from the shore, he pushed forward into a forearm stroke, letting the water catch his weight under the belly and kicking hard as he could manage it. It churned water high in every direction, his strokes weren’t quite timed to replace one another in the water and his kicking legs weren’t strong enough to breach the surface and push him on. He floundered sideways, unable to bring his following arm round in time to keep afloat and kicked down to touch the bottom again. He stood a minute out as far as the water reaching his shoulders and took a few heavy breaths. He washed some more of the tide through his hair. Bending his knees further, he let the tide lap up to his lips and nose and pushed off again, horizontal to the shoreline, this time with greater effort and more foam thrown up about him. His legs kicked harder and he forced his arms on through the water ahead. But he was already off course, and soon heading diagonally out from the tide to where the bottom began to slope off. The push and thrashing soon tired the old man. He quit to stand still a while again, but he had ventured a little far out of his depth. His shoulders dipped under quickly to his surprise, taking his head down under as well and he had to reach right away into another forward splash, even out of breath, to make it in close enough to shore to touch down.
“He doesn’t know about us. He thinks he’s all alone out here. He can’t even hardly keep afloat. It’s still almost dark and there’s no one for miles.”
“He’s teaching himself to swim.”
“Why would anybody do that at this hour, miles from any possible help? At that age.”
“Maybe that’s why he’s out here.”
“He’s well into his eighties easy. He was unsteady getting out there across the stones to start off with. Hazard to himself. There have to be laws against people acting out of recklessness with their own well being.”
“There aren’t any people out in the water at this time. No one to pay him any attention back on shore either, to get unduly worried. He can concentrate freely.”
The old man was back down into another stroke, this one a little sharper, tighter to the line of the tide. He seemed not to kick as much froth up around him either. A number of gulls had settled on the moving surface, content to drift and watch. He only made a couple of feet along before having to touch down again and catch his breath. He knew he was doing it all wrong, that his timing was off, he was pushing too hard and without any grace. Stood deep in the tide, he tried to figure out how to better it with his next go. He waded out a little deeper and practiced moving just his arms, each over the shoulder in turn, slowly as he could, for imagined in this lay the key. Then, remembering what he had seen others do, he began rolling his head from side to side in the water, breathing in one side and out the other. He stood in place and did this a little while. The younger surfer watched him, shaking his head. The man took another breath and lunged forward again, this time in the opposite direction. Again, he kicked up a lot of froth and began to stray diagonally outward, but it seemed a little more contained a motion than before. He couldn’t maintain it for very long and hadn’t gotten the breathing right. He lacked the strength to keep stroking any length and had to stop to again pretty soon. The younger surfer shook his head some more.
“You know he’ll be back out here tomorrow morning.”
“He looks that type.”
“And we’ve taken the place up by Maghermore. So we won’t be here.”
The light had by then come in enough that the rock, the trees and camper van and both men were clearly visible and the old man, seeing them, wet his head one final time in the foam and began to stride his way back into shore through the water. He reached the stones and collected his bag and his flask from the rock, made his way back up the shingle slope and past the camper van, saluting the surfers with a nod as he went. Both of them nodded in return.
In a little while, they had suited up and prepared the boards, they’d locked up the van and headed down to the shore themselves. It was still early but the waves were starting to come in a little harder and break with more force. They paddled out far enough and caught what they could, but the waves weren’t as lively as they had been earlier in the month. That was why the younger surfer has suggested moving on up to Maghermore, where it was said to be rougher. They had planned to pass the summer there but had left it too long. He brought his board out past the furthest rock and let the sea rise and drop him until he felt there was enough in it to try and make it back in on. Each time he did it, though, it tapered off and he was left wishing he had left it longer. A few of these and he had given up. He relaxed and watched his partner fight to drag some life out of the waves, sometimes even getting a little. He sat on the surf board, flat on the surface of the water, and thought about that old man, wondering if he’d be out there the following morning and if he’d ever succeed in teaching himself to swim. It was too dead to surf. He paddled back into shore and lit a fire back by the van. He dried himself off and began to prepare breakfast.
Alan Walsh is a 36 year old Writer and Designer who has just finished his third novel. He has been published in The Moth, Outburst and The Illustrated Ape among other magazines and has written for Magill magazine and Film Ireland. He is currently involved in a graffiti project with hurls and an unlikely illustration project with Irish superheroes. Follow Alan on twitter.
Kerstina Mortensen is an Irish-Danish graduate of History of Art and German, Trinity College Dublin. She writes, paints and photographs, and has had work published in Icarus, The Attic and the Trinity Journal of Literary Translation. Check out her blog.
– ByYaseena McKendry
You rest in my arms, peaceful, quiet.
We’ve done this before in the months since you were born, sitting together along the
edge of the sand dune, looking out to sea.
I lean down and kiss your temple. Your skin is damp from your sweat, your curly
hair matted to your head in sections. The wind gathers around us, brushing against our
bodies and teasing you from sleep. I breathe in the salty air wishing it was warm enough for
a swim. I have a feeling you’d love the water, just like me. I’ll teach you when you’re older
and we’ll sneak out here just the two of us in the summer, away from mom and dad.
You look up at me, your eyes wide and curious. Your eyes were the first sign that
something was wrong, but I didn’t understand then. The midwife, who had been with mom
through her delivery, held you in her arms, careful and tentative. She looked down at you
for a long while, anxious as if she knew something she didn’t want to say out loud.
Everyone was talking, the stillness that had come over each of us while mom was in
delivery, broken now that you were there in the room– all of a sudden as if you always had
The midwife told mom and dad your eyes were too small, pressed too flat against
your face. Your nose was the same and later, when the doctors saw you, they said that it
would be hard for you to breathe, that you might need surgery one day.
Your body moves restlessly in my arms and I look down at your face to see if you’re
about to cry. Your eyebrows, fair even though your hair is dark, scrunch together and I run
my fingertip along the slope of your nose and you stop fussing.
My lips are chapped and I feel them stretch as I smile at you, the skin cracking with
the effort. I’ve held you each day since you were born, taking you with me where ever I go.
You like the beach best though, you’re always more peaceful when we’re out of the house.
I look out towards the ocean, watch the waves as they curl, changing from navy blue
to teal and then white as they turn in on themselves. It’s getting dark out and soon we’ll
have to go back inside. I don’t want to leave this spot, to go back to the house and listen to
the pressing quiet.
Mom used to call our cottage the perfect beach home. A getaway for us all when the
city got to be too much. I remember watching dad stain the deck a bright blue to match the
ocean. The siding such a crisp white it used to hurt my eyes when the sun shone against the
slats. Now the whole place looks neglected, forgotten. It’s been years since we’ve visited
the beach but mom thought having you by the water would be peaceful. A chance for
everything to calm down is what she said to dad.
The screen door is ripped now, the frame leaning off its hinges. Our deck used to be
bold. Now the colour has dulled and the paint is worn down. I can’t walk on it in bare feet
anymore or the paints chips scrape off and catch in my skin. Our house is one of the only
ones on this side of the beach. I used to love the privacy. When I was little I could yell and
scream and run as far as I wanted without annoying the neighbours. Now at night I hear the
wind slam against the walls and the rain hit the tin roof and all I want is to look out my
window and see light. Some sign of life that says we aren’t the only ones trapped here,
marooned away from every other sign of life.
I burrow my feet in the sand and wiggle my toes. I dig them deeper, finding the cool,
sticky darkness of the beaches underworld and try not to think of the tiny bugs crawling
around underneath the surface. Your little hand, so small and fragile breaks free of the
blanket I’ve wrapped you in. Your arm swings uncontrolled, luxuriating in the freedom of its
escape. I feel your fingers graze my face and lean closer to let you pet my cheek. You want
to sit up, I can tell by the look in your eye and the way you’re craning your neck to see
more. I raise you in my arms, bending my knees, letting your head rest against them like a
pillow. I brush your hair across your forehead, smoothing it back against the softness of your head. I take care not to brush the spot that’s so sensitive, your ‘soft spot,’ mom calls it.
She worries for you. She cried when you were born. She wonders if things would
have been different if she hadn’t been so desperate for another baby. Something to hold the
pieces of our family together. She wonders what might have happened if you’d been born in
a hospital. I tell her not to think of it. She had me at home.
I watched her hold you for the first time. She sat folded on the bed. Her legs splayed
outwards, spread wide and apart like they were no longer part of her body. Her arms looked
heavy as they held you. She was silent. She looked down at you, a frown on her face. I
stood in the doorway, leaning against the chipped white frame, the paint folding itself into
the threads of my sweater as I shifted, ripping from the wall and disintegrating into bits
when I moved. I watched them fall to pieces on the ground. I knew I’d have to sweep them
Mom called to me, told me to take you. To hold you tight. She needed to rest. I took
you in my arms that first day, scared and unsure. I didn’t understand what was happening,
why everyone was so quiet, so still. I looked down at mom. I didn’t know how to hold you,
how to make you comfortable. She wouldn’t look at me though, so I turned to the midwife,
ready to give you to her. She smiled kindly. Her sunken eyes looked me over, assessing,
measuring me. She motioned with her arms for me to cradle your body. I moved and your
head swayed, like it wasn’t properly attached to your neck. You made a funny sound, a wet
hiccup, and I looked down at your face for the first time. I guess I understood then, the
quiet. My mind went still. I wasn’t worried anymore. Your eyes were closed, your tiny hands
fisted by your cheek. I could feel my hands trembling, but the rest of me felt calm. I looked
at mom, but she had turned her back to me. I nodded at the midwife and walked with you
towards the door. Turning, I watched as mom moved her head into the downy softness of
the pillow, her eyelids growing heavy as the tears pooled in her eyes, falling into the sheets.
Her pallor scared me and sickened me at the same time. I didn’t want you to see her like
that. I wished you could have known her the way she was before her and dad started
stealing bits of each other.
I found dad in the kitchen. He was leaning against the counter, sipping at a drink. His
eyes told me everything I never needed to ask him. He didn’t know if he could love you.
I liked the quiet of those first few days. It wasn’t like at home before you came
along. Doors weren’t slamming; dinner wasn’t tense with ugly words being thrown across
the table. I could eat my food without feeling like I’d be sick later. It took me a few days to
realize that the absence of noise was worse than the shouting. The silence grated on me,
made my skin tingle with everything I could hear that wasn’t being said.
They called you special. I knew you were, but not for the reasons they gave. You
weren’t a test like mom believed. You weren’t a punishment that dad couldn’t understand. I
knew their thoughts and I was determined to protect you from them.
I lie in bed tonight, like I do most nights wondering if you’re all right in the next
room. If you’re sleeping soundly or if mom’s snoring keeps you awake. I think about dad
sleeping on the couch, why he thinks I’ll believe his lie. He said it’s to give mom peace at
night when she feeds you but I know that it’s because he doesn’t want to be around her
anymore. He doesn’t want to touch her. I think he blames her for you.
Too old to have another one – I told her…she was too old. Whole things a mistake.
He didn’t know I was standing behind him.
I don’t understand how he could blame her though, when half of you is dad and half
of you is mom. I wonder about that extra part. The doctors said you weren’t supposed to be
born with it, it isn’t right, it causes problems. Like the hole in your heart and the fact that
you won’t be able to see clearly and they said your hearing isn’t so good either. You can
always hear me though. I whisper softly in your ear and you smile at me. You know exactly
what I’m saying.
Mom coughs in the next room. It’s kind of a snort, like she rolled over and had to
catch her breath from the effort. I rise, pitching the blankets off my legs. I hear you start to
cry and I move away from my bed treading carefully on the floorboards so they don’t creak
and wake anyone up. I cross the hall and push lightly against mom’s bedroom door. She’s
standing at your crib, looking down at you as you stir within your blankets. The light from
the hallway skims the ground, slicing through the floor and lighting mom’s feet as they peek
out from beneath her nightgown. I notice for the first time how bony and frail they look. She
turns and catches me staring and I shrug, moving further into the room. I reach her side
and she looks down at me for a moment. I want her to smile, to touch my hair, smooth it
back from my face like she used to. She just stares blankly.
It’s okay momma, I’ve got her.
She does smile then. It’s faint and barely recognizable, it could have been a facial
spasm really, but I want it to be a smile. She pats my arm as she turns away towards the
bed. I don’t watch as she climbs beneath the covers. I turn to you and lift you gently into
my arms. You settle immediately and I feel better. I wrap you in your blanket and then step
slowly towards the door, closing it with my free hand. I take the stairs carefully and as I get
closer to the bottom I begin to feel the ocean breeze against my legs as it seeps through
the open windows. My skin tingles, the hair on my arms rising. Dad isn’t on the couch when
we pass. I hear the fridge door slam shut and turn the other way heading for the back door.
Outside I walk along the sand, each step guided by the cold glow of the moon. It’s
full tonight, brighter than most nights. I find our spot and settle carefully with you in my
arms. You’re awake now but I know how to get you back to sleep. I start humming at first,
the words mom used to sing to me stuck at the back of my throat.
Twinkle, Twinkle little star, how I wonder what you are…
My voice cracks slightly when I finally get the words out. You smile at me though, so I keep
singing. I kiss your head and smooth your cheek. I place my lips against your ear,
whispering, and you hear me.
Yaseena McKendry has an undergradute degree from Concordia University where she majored in Creative Writing and minored in Irish Studies. She went on to pursue a masters degree in Dublin, Ireland where she recently received an MPhil in Creative Writing from Trinity College Dublin. While studying at the Oscar Wilde Center, Yaseena worked with her classmates as one of eight editors to publish an anthology of their work. An excerpt of her first novel, currently in progress, was published in the anthology, A Thoroughly Good Blue: New Writing from the Oscar Wilde Centre. Check out Yaseena’s blog.
The Irish Father
– By Daniel Connell
“That is what you are. That’s what you all are […] all of you young people who never served in the war. You are a lost generation. You who have seen nothing of great pain, nothing but l’ennui and money woes. You are a lost generation.” Me in conversation with myself this morning.
This particular morning I was sad, as was the case with most mornings at the end of last winter. It wasn’t an abrasive or sharp sadness, but a dull one that sat from my jawline to my diaphram. I always thought it was because my dog had passed away earlier that winter. That was something that hurt me deep in my chest, much like being winded constantly. Anyway, I took the chance to take the day off college, sit around in my bedroom and do nothing in particular. The nearlyspring sun settled its way through my beige curtains. It gave the room a warm glow.
As I lay around looking at the television, I grew bored and hungry, which were the only things that would have stirred me to get up that day. After about two hours of growing hunger my stomach felt as though it had bottomed out. The sun had passed over my house and my room was now in the shade. There was a wall around four feet away from my window blocking out most of the light, and that made it damp and uncomfortable outside of my duvet. The sun would be glaring into my kitchen by now.
After I had stretched and struggled and nearly blew out all the blood vessels in my head I got up. I dressed into yesterday’s dirty clothes and got dizzy from stretching more. My dad probably heard me and shouted my name and something mumbling after, as he does when he is checking to see if I’m still in.
He sat with my niece Lucia at the kitchen table and he was clearly frustrated with her as she liked to act out all the time if there wasn’t sufficient attention put on her, as fouryearolds do. He was probably too old to mind kids, as he had already had four of his own, and he was pushing fiftyfive as a manual labourer. Surely he deserved his days off when they came around and they were all too frequent these days.
He had actually been working for most of his life, it was all he knew. He told me before that he had worked since he was around 12 or 13. That was the old Ireland. A labourer, a bricklayer, a handyman where he can be. And me, an arts student that doesn’t feel the need to go to college most of the time. But still, he seemed quite proud, proud that he can offer me and my siblings a more privileged and relaxed life of college, part time jobs and a bedroom each. All of these things were unavailable to him, which always made me sad and proud at the same time.
There is never much dialogue between us; it is more of a quiet understanding of mumblings, and affirmative grunts and nods, but I could tell that he was in a better mood than normal, though he was evidently agitated with Lucia’s lack of attention.
The kettle had boiled and I poured the boiling water into the coffee granules with two sugars. It sounded like fizzing, shifting sands and stank like bad coffee does. He began to speak to Lucia as I went over to the countertop behind them and sat on it with my legs dangling, and I began rubbing my eyes orgasmically.
“Look, Lucia, here, stop, look,” he sputtered. She was quick and strong in her messing.
“Gwandad, I’m bored. Put on the telly,” she said, with her unformed R’s.
“Look, watch this.” As I looked up with blurred vision he took up a piece of plastic that was shaped like an oval. It was one of those tops of the Persil or Ariel bottles that you use to fill full of washing detergent. He began to draw its outline onto a sheet of blank paper.
“Look, it’s easy Lucia, you just draw the shape and then colour it in. Now watch.”
He took up a few of the colouring pencils and began to draw lines waving through the shape, each line a different colour. Then he drew another outline of the same shape and began colouring it in with arching lines, each line a different colour. He repeated this many times, and each one became more intricate and colourful from what I could see. It seemed as though he had really been drawn into it. Lucia just watched with her chin in her right hand, balancing on my dad’s lap and the kitchen table.
He had finally got her attention and she was enjoying it.
“Can I have a go? Gwandad, gimme the pencils.”
He let Lucia take control and she attempted to do the same. Her attempt was good, but she then began to scribble through it violently trying to colour it in. Then she proceeded to scribble off the page and onto the place mat.
I could see a glint in my dad’s eye. There was some sort of sorrow that he showed. Drawing those shapes and enjoying it so much; it was only a distraction from his everyday labours. Labours that were scarce to come around these days, to his selfish shame. He just stared at the paper as Lucia began to ruin the place mat, but it didn’t matter. She always did that and everything in our house was wrecked from her anyway.
“Ah here,” he said in his loud voice, “don’t…stop…Lucia! Stop!”
She threw down the colours in her hand and he let her go out of his lap and then ran off into the living room with a skip and jumped onto the couch where some kid’s programme was on, probably Cbeebies or whatever it was called.
As she left, so did I. As I jumped down from the counter my dad noticed me there, and half embarrassed looking he picked up the drawing and said “not bad?” or something to that effect, then laughed throwing his drawings down onto the glass table.
I went into my bedroom where it was quite cool then as the sun had reached well over my house. At that point and I began to flick through different day time tv, Jeremy Kyle, Auction Hunters, and drifted into a boring comatose. I pictured Lucia did the same as me, and my Dad was probably still sitting at the kitchen table, looking at what he had created.
Daniel Connell is a 21 year old student studying English and is in his final year. He is a Dublin-based writer, usually through the medium of poetry and prose.
The intention of The Bohemyth’s Bloomsday issue is to celebrate Ulysses, James Joyce and the strange and wonderful city of Dublin. For the streets of Dublin are paved with something finer than gold, they are paved with the stories of the ones who walk them. James Joyce knew this better than anyone.
We whisper our stories to the trees in Stephen’s Green. We tell them to ourselves as we ramble along our way. We shout them at each other over pints in the pub. We cry them into the river. We scream them at the sea. We bury them where we can. We set them free where we can’t.
Once upon a time all of the stories of Dublin were gathered together and popped inside an empty old bottle of Guinness. It bobbed off down the Liffey. Inside were stories of love lost as soon as won, salvation and hope, moments lost and memories gained, some stories were made of songs and some were made with tears, but all were made with the heart. Then the bottle broke apart and all the stories fell out. Most were washed away, downstream and out into Dublin Bay.
We went fishing off Dun Laoghaire pier and caught a few that were still swimming about there.
Here are some of the stories we were lucky enough to catch. We hope you like them as much as we do.
We hope you love Dublin as much as we do!
– Alice Walsh
Photography: David Levingstone is a Photographer, Art Director and bearded man from Tipperary living in Dublin, more of his work can be found here. David currently works for Getty Images.
– By Laura Cleary
Last night I dreamt.
Dreamt I was found.
Love found me. There.
In that dream.
In a doorway.
Maybe nine was too early.
But I’d been awake since six. The sun had been shining in through my bedroom window. The birds had started hours before, they were in full chorus by then. I had lain there, playing the dream back over and over. By half past seven I was fully dressed and ready to go. The house was still as a tomb.
Ten to nine and there are three of us at the bus stop. A young Romanian woman, her buggy, me.
There’s a baby in the buggy. I’m sure that there is. I just can’t quite tell. All the puffed pink vinyl, femur-thick frame. It’s like a grounded spaceship next to her Romany skirt. I wonder whether the velvet is uncomfortable. If it itches. If it soaks up the damp, rain, piss, swinging as it does so close to the ground. I hope she doesn’t see me staring at her buggy. Or at her hemline.
The bus arrives late.
The woman boards first. Well, her buggy, the baby, then her.
I stand alone in the doorway. The driver is the old man that used to drive the bus to DCU. Years ago, back when I’d been in college. The driver that had asked to see my student ID every time he punched my ten journey ticket. The same one I’d bought from him the Monday before.
I stood in the doorway.
Then paid the fare.
Nine was too early. But it meant an empty seat in every direction.
The dark side of the bus in Naas is the bright side on the way to Dublin. And it’s bright this morning. We’re having a June for a change.
The bus follows the slip road’s curl out of Naas. Holds my window to the sun. I open the case and put them on. The case is much sturdier than the glasses. Two skulls safe inside a motorcycle helmet. I bought them back when I still worked in the shop. A spree on store discount. Two Calvin Klein bras and a pair of Chanel sunglasses.
The bus twists into Johnstown. Swans through and out. Past Kill. Rathcoole. Over the spot Veronica Guerin was shot. Under the speed cameras Da had us watch. Arches round the Red Cow and on to the Long Mile. Through Bluebell. Inchicore. Bless myself past the statue of Our Lady and wait for the first breath of air born of concrete.
Drink in the length of the Liffey. Wave to the sunlight buoyed between ripples.
Bridge after mismatched bridge.
A man in a blue Puffa jacket raises his fist in the air. A woman in worn runners and a rain jacket shuffles over to him. They stand very close together, crossing and uncrossing palms.
Nine was too early.
We stop at O’Connell Bridge.
I offer to unload the Romanian lady’s buggy but she hands me the baby instead. She smiles at me. The baby. Smiles and winds her little fingers in my hair. The lady says thank you and takes the baby back. Straps her into the spaceship. Tiptoes away.
All of the doors on Bachelor’s Walk are closed.
O’Connell Street isn’t a pleasant walk but I love to make it anyway. I love all of it. Bulletholes in statues’ breasts. Weather burned faces beneath them. Piss pooled on the streets. The layer of old Dublin laid on top of store fronts.
The Hugh Lane is open. I’m sure of it. It’s quiet in there. Restful. Nice coffee shop. I round the corner, pass the Writers’ Centre. I must have walked too fast. Its door is closed too.
I stand there, still for a few minutes. Turn around. Walk back the way I came.
It isn’t warm enough to sit in the Garden of Remembrance. I walk around it anyway. Remember taking my sister to see it years ago. She didn’t know the story of the Children of Lir. She took pictures of the sculpture while I told her what I could remember. Which wasn’t much. It’s even less now. Really just that the girl’s name was Fionnuala. That she looked after everyone else. Well, that and they were swans. For ages. It’s one of the Sorrows. I forget how many there are.
I leave the garden and turn down onto Parnell Street, through the birdshit and sunshine. Cross over onto Moore Street. Fresh flowers, fresh fruit, fresh fish, y’alrigh’ luv? Two for a tenner, lovely arndey? Isn’ir only glowrious ou’? Der yar luv Goblesha. Enjoydesun t’day luv shure itcouldbe raynin t’mara, wha?
I wave and walk on. Shop shutters are beginning to rise.
Weave through flocks of young girls on Henry Street. Making sure not to look right at them. They’re wearing tights they think are leggings. I know by the raised gusset outlining each twelve year old pubis. I don’t look. I can’t. They’d stride up to me just like they’re striding now, shouting about how I’m some fuckin’ sick lezzer ye bleedin’ queer paedo my da’s just ourathe bleedin’ Joy an’ he’ll fuckin’ come down here a bather ya watchin’ my arse ya sick queerass lezzbeen.
Duck into Arnotts. The piped music and designer handbags are soothing. Wander through aware that it’s only half one. There’s a bagel stand at the back, wedged between Menswear and Abbey Street. A turkey bagel for every day I worked here. The seat beside the far door is empty. Drape my coat there while I order.
The windows have been washed. The passers by can see and the door opens out. Perhaps Love will pass. Maybe this is the doorway.
They bring my order too quick.
Green tea, plain bagel, toasted, butter, jam. Just me and Huck Finn.
This is my third time through. It’s like going home. It’s more home than Naas. Like here. Maybe that’s it. A viscous Mississippi, the greasy Liffey beyond. Jim on the run, my cousin’s five years. Snakeskins, NAMA. Sivilization.
A second green tea.
I usedn’t feel able to get up and order seconds. Then one day, here, on my break I saw a mother send her eight-year-old son to the counter. He almost turned purple waiting at the register. But then he turned around and came back with hot chocolate.
A third green tea. The pen is for marking out passages but the Grangerford’s feuding doesn’t keep my napkin bare.
lOVe loVe LovE
I leave.The chair opposite me is bare. I need it to work. Need love to find me. Want love to find me. Sitting by the doorway. Want love to. Want to be found. Wantwantwant—
There’s a bar across the street. I used to go there often back when I worked here. It’s still bright out. There’s no football today, so it should be quiet. No washed out T-shirts. Bookies’ slips. Deep swallows. Roaring at the screen.
An empty seat in every direction. I sit in view of the door. Just in case.
Liffey street is just beyond the glass. It’s fluid, Liffey street. Moves at a constant pace. If it stops, it smells. It’s gorgeous to watch. Even abandoned shopping trolleys caught up in the current.
Soda water and a chicken stir fry. Too salty and over far to quick. A gin and tonic. A man in white pants walks past on his way to the bathroom. Huck won’t tell me about Buck Grangerford’s murder. I’m glad Jim’s okay. Another gin. It’s still bright out. I’m sure it’s getting later. Liffey Street flows strong. Another gin.
Huck and Jim begin to swell, then sink. They soak into the river and pull apart like tissue paper. I mark the page and fumble for my jacket.
“You can’t be leaving?”
The man in white pants stands beside me, smiling. He is short, grey haired, shirt collar unbuttoned to the order of wealth. Not that common these days. This side. Anymore.
Uninvited, he sits down. He strikes me as the type of man to put his voice into a sneeze. The type of man to decide when companions cross the street. The type of man to explain things.
I tell him I have to leave soon. That there’s a bus in ten minutes. He hands a green banknote to the waitress holding my bill.
“Wait for the next one?”
I hold my breath. Ten seconds pass. I take off my coat.
Two more gins.
He tells me he’s a businessman. CEO of a web design firm that specialises in translation software. You know when you enter a website for any big cosmetics brand a stack of different flags unfurl across the screen? You click on your own nationality to understand what to buy.
They deal with that. Dior, Clinique, Chanel. I run my fingers along my sunglasses case.
He asks about me. Maybe I’m hopeful. Or maybe it’s the gin. But I tell him. Everything. Mammy. Home. The Baby. Why not?
It doesn’t matter at this stage.
I don’t matter at this stage.
He listens. Says I’m remarkable. Surviving alone in a home like that. He tells me that living in a place where no one believes in you makes for remarkable people. Most of the time.
I think I’m supposed to ask about him.
I ask does he have children. He admits to a grown up son. Attending Rutkers in New Jersey. Was eager to leave home (Colorado) after his mother died. Car accident, 2010. Drunk driver. Killed instantly. Very tragic. Very tragic indeed.
I ask him is he enjoying Dublin. He says he hasn’t had the chance yet, looking at me from under his eyebrows. He reaches across under the table. Hooks a fingertip into my waistband. Grunts softly, just loud enough for me to hear.
There’s a bus in ten minutes. It’s still bright outside. He insists on walking me. I notice on standing that he’s shorter than me. A green note to the waitress. His hand on my waist.
We join Liffey Street, are carried over the Ha’Penny Bridge. I tell him about the time I ran, drunk, across it. That I didn’t notice the change from long steps to short ones. That I skidded the whole way down and didn’t fall.
He tells me I’m remarkable. I tell him he already said that.
I point down a laneway into Temple Bar. Tell him there’s a Lebanese restaurant he should visit there. A great gallery right beside it. He asks me to show him. I say it’s just a couple of steps on, but he insists. We turn down the laneway and he pulls me aside. Against a metal door. The rust nips at my shoulders.
Morning came with yellow light filling the room. A taste of dried wine on the tongue. Strips of plastic window shutters giggling in the breeze. The song of city cars playing on a distant street. A beautiful bleached blonde with a face full of nordic edges lying nude on the bed, sheets hanging from her and the boy. Him smelling orange and sweat and rubber, sitting up to look on the ground, and seeing a carpet awash with books, clothes and scribbled paper. The girl is smiling at him now. He wants to say a silly thing, but he just kisses her and keeps the ideas in his throat. What would you do? The boy is shy baby Cormac (me).
“Here,” two Camels ready between her fingers “Your roll-my-owns make me sad.”
I try to explain I’m a student and too socialist to bother working, and all the rest.
“You are such veal. Light the fugging cigarette and appreciate good things.”
I do. We puff. We tip ash into an empty cider can. I’m lying there dumbfounded.
“This room smells like poison.” she says. That’s her thing. When a word is clear in a sentence she swaps it for poison. Example: Motherly poison. I poison books. Late at night a man and woman can make poison. And so on.
“Cormac,” she says. “I couldn’t remember it for a second.”
Someone knocks on the door.
“Go away!” she pulls the sheets over us. “And my name really is Alice.”
Alice, lying in to me. Her face beneath my neck. Her voice coming up muffled from the pillow.
“Tell me a story.”
“Any story. Just tell me anything.”
“Once upon a time there were two alcoholics in a bar. A boy and a girl alcoholic. Dublin. The town he was born in. They could have been in any other place, but they were both in this one bar. The boy was there by pure chance, with his friend Barry, who left to work in America this morning.
(the girl hasn’t yet told me how life got her to The Globe Bar)
The boy was outside smoking his rollies when she appeared, and she stood crooked in the door. A man was in her way. A big man with a big beard who told a story about some war and the way it made you feel after so broken and sorry and everybody was listening to him because he had a hard voice and a big jaw. It’s a wonder she didn’t take him home instead!”
“People don’t hmmprff in fiction, Alice. Unless they hmmprff in real life. Unless women really do sigh and roll their eyes sometimes. But anyway, forget that old bore. The boy pointed at the crooked girl and said that the man’s stories turned women into statues. And that was enough to get her chatting. Boy and girl went inside and danced, her lost her, but he found her again. Outside, smoking her Camels. He saw the burns on her arms from the café and made a joke about razor blades. She said she got her marks playing Fight Club.
‘I’ll play with you,’ he said ‘Give me a punch and then I’ll give you one.’
They couldn’t in front of the doorman. They walked to the unlit corner of the street. She hit him on the left cheek.
‘And now it’s your turn’ she said. So he took her and kissed her. When they walked back Barry laughed at the red stains on his mouth. But he didn’t mind.”
She lifts her head from the pillow, her blond hair falling down and resting on my face. I’m in a hair cocoon. I feel lips.
“I’d read that. The tale of Alice and Veal.”
“I’d call it Alice at the Globe if I ever wrote it. Doesn’t that sound like Fitzgerald? Alice at the Globe?”
“It’d make a fine short story.”
“Well,” I pause for just one moment “Maybe it could be a novel”
Cormac Buchmann is a 22 year old writer of fiction living in Howth, Dublin. He drinks Karpackie and rolls cigarettes from rejection letter paper. He can also fold them into little hats.
Sitting With A Stranger In A Busy Café
– By Sophie Meehan
The vegetable moussaka is nice but vegetable moussaka is just what people on Come Dine With Me make when there’s a vegetarian over. He keeps hrrmphing behind his paper, so that’s what a hrrmph sounds like, I’d only seen it written down. RAIN TO EASE TODAY BUT WILL BE BACK and a fireman carries a small pink girl through a puddle. There’s a smudge of soup under the headline, the bowl is as big as his head. He has one of those professions that make grown men look like they’re wearing a school uniform, I think it’s the navy jumper. Go ahead plenty of room he says but the face buried means he doesn’t want to talk. The mashed potato has cheese in it which I don’t understand.
There’s a dingle at the doorbell, it must be a mother and a daughter, because she’s translating Shoes! Yes your shoes are lovely, they sparkle just like you do. Lunch! Yes we’re going to get you some food now, it’s closer to dinnertime though. I wonder if he’ll check what I’ve written when I go to get some cake, he probably wants me to go away. Everyone here is very trusting with their Marks and Spencers shoppers, but he’ll probably feel crippled with responsibility, coat-minding wasn’t part of the agreement and now he’ll have to stay put in the 3-7 minutes between chocolate and cheesecake. Doesn’t look like he’s going any time soon though, he’s getting his money’s worth out of that soup, all the way to the sports section.
He has a ring on his finger but it doesn’t look like a wedding ring. I bet he can feel me reading the back of his paper, he probably regrets his openness but it would be rude to move now. Elsewhere, this sponge is so spongey is feels like I’m cleaning raspberry sauce off the bathroom floor. I wonder if people think we’re a father and daughter who through comfort or discomfort are beyond communication. I wonder if he has a daughter. Maybe he had a childless marriage which divorced because they’re both financially independent, and now he lives in the Docklands which has changed a lot since his day but most of the old gang are still around, snooker on Wednesdays, no, Thursdays, and he’s planning his first trip to Thailand because he wants to get some warmth in his bones.
Sophie Meehan studies English and Spanish in Trinity. She wants to be a writer when she grows up, she also wants to have a dog and live in Sandycove. Sophie writes poetry, prose and theatre, she has been published in Icarus and THE SHOp and wrote and directed Does Anybody Ever as part of ABSOLUT Fringe Festival 2011. Follow her on twitter @someehan
At least I Have Her Love The City She Loves Me
– By Angela Finn
Yeah because after a night of no sleep we walk north to Clontarf past Pigeon house towers rising sun-glow platinum yellow flushes of first love making my heart pound into Saint Annes Park by the milky green pond Italian pavilion not like Dublin at all we lie on the cold stone steps morning bird song you singing your new lyrics then Janes Addicition Im done with Sergio treats me like a ragdoll you unbutton my blouse softly singing Red Hot Chilli Peppers the city like my only friend is the city I live in city of Angels smell of night leaving earth glistening green pond water frothy white scum sound of early tide lapping notsofaraway feel my stomach ribs breasts take me to the place I love take me all the way tweeting birds sky haze dissolving at least I have her love the city she loves me lick my face lips kiss me sparkly sun on olive green water under the bridge downtown is where I drew some blood eat breakfast through the cafe window glittering periwinkle sea eggs benedict oozing yolk starry eyes silver leaking teapot tea tastes of chlorine milk brown sugar crystals feet entwined fluttering belly take me to Cowper Road Victorian house brick red facade santaupe steps hot June midday drifting in and out of sleep squashed in single bed speakers amplifiers bass guitars posters waking fucking smoking end of spliff from your shirt pocket take me to the place I love take me all the way yeah yeah yeah in twilight we surface one drink at Bruxelles snoggers everywhere Pygmalion smells of sewage Long Hall mirrors reflect starry eyes sing try again tomorrow Im gonna kick tomorrow kick tomorrow summer city noise shrinks to quiet almost midnight drunken howls opposite University Church pinned against rusting iron railings dusty branches scratch my neck my bare shoulders Jane says Ive never been in love lonely as I am together we cry Yeah.
Angela Finn lives in Dublin. In 2012 she was shortlisted for Francis MacManus story award and was runner up in the RTE Penguin short story competition. This year she came third in the Fish Publishing short memoir contest and had two pieces of short fiction broadcast as part of RTE Arena’s New Planet Cabaret creative writing course.
One Good Eye
– By James Conor Patterson
At some indeterminate point in the day, when Dylan Ruddy could hear nothing at all, he opened his eyes with a slow scratch against the light in the room and felt it fade from above and around him with unnatural quickness. He couldn’t remember being asleep.
There was the sound of a clock ticking and it sent echoes through the wooden boards and coursing cell-like across the entire infrastructure of where he lay so that he imagined lying in a colony of locusts. He was aware of a single red candle dripping in the hearth.
The slightest manipulation of light from a glimmer of the wick, or even rising and falling with the fluctuations of a shallow breath kept the room moving in a constant swim of changing dark and as he adjusted further, he noticed alterations in the room’s fragrance between black coffee and burning wood.
Dylan lifted himself carefully onto one elbow and looked quietly around him. Barely daring to cough or stretch a tendon for fear of disturbing the atmosphere, he could see that what little light there was seemed to come almost entirely from the candle burning in the fireplace. Any remaining light was filtered sparingly through the black window on the side furthest from the hearth. He could also make the shape of a black plinth on the opposite side about a dozen feet from where he lay. Something which, when he squinted hard against the scant amber of the low flame, revealed a wooden bar with brass taps and a gaudy footrest. He had no idea how he had got there.
‘That was an awful fall you took’ someone said to him, ‘you’re lucky the wife and the two boys were here to help me get you up the stairs.’
Dylan didn’t move. He had presumed, up to then, that he was merely alone and that the room would reveal itself over time; or by deciding what may or may not have happened in order that he might end up on this strange floor at this strange hour; in a dark and strange and empty city pub with no boots or hat or coat on.
The floor itself was black and white and two-tone marble in a pattern that slithered quite everywhere and drew attention to the bright red velvet on the walls. It had done its best to make him uneasy before any voice had revealed itself beneath the dark, but now he was shocked completely into stunned silence. He didn’t know where he was.
The immediate fear he felt was that he hadn’t located a door and he had the strange urge that any access to where he was seemed at once both impossible and perfectly natural. He tried to locate the voice and looked to the corner nearest the window. A man leaned out from the dark in a wooden chair with a ladder of pipe-smoke climbing about him into the yellowing roofspace. He was wearing a greatcoat over some long-johns and spoke with an accent that Dylan couldn’t account for. Perhaps he was foreign.
‘Where am I?’
‘On the floor of a public house asking a strange man with a pipe where you are.’
‘Not to worry. I’ll tell you in a moment when you’re feeling a bit better.’
The man’s words seemed to come from the inside shell of a shared lung and Dylan could see that, underneath a peaked cap with silver badges that shone bright like teeth against the window and the moon, he had only one eye. The socket rang out against the featureless wax-bent drip of his skin and he could feel it watching him the same as if it were the eye of any number of gamblers he knew. Or the men he’d see with unnatural movement in the ring, who lurched hawk-eyed into the path of an oncoming throw without ever being hit and the hands of their opponents all the time by their sides as they slumped onto the mattress and the bell rang Time.
‘I had a fall?’
‘Where was that?’
‘On the street’ replied the man, getting up and pointing. ‘Down there.’
‘Did you see it happen?’
Dylan paused. ‘I wasn’t in here was I?’
The man shook his head, ‘No.’
He came over to Dylan and sat down heavily on the floor beside him. He carried a round cushion taken from somewhere in the dark and his bare feet were stretched out, twitching like dog-eared hares snuffing at a vegetable patch in spring. His back was against the wall where the fireplace lay and he motioned to a black plastic and glass pot that stood out on the hearth with two empty cups on either side of it.
‘You should have some.’ He said, ‘Black preferably. I can’t think of anything more suited to a fall and rescue mission.’ He smiled and shook his head as he poured out twice, ‘And quite a fall it was.’
‘I’d say you met more than your match today with a move like that.’
The man looked at him from behind one clear, blue eye and lifted a hot cup off the floor. ‘Not like that.’
‘I suppose not.’
‘Tell me though… would you never think about stopping?’
‘I have’ said Dylan. ‘Sometimes I have, but I don’t have much in the way of income, and there’s not a whole lot for me to go back to, you understand.’
‘Why do you ask?’
‘No reason. I just thought you could use a bit of sage advice from a man who’s seen this sort of thing before.’
He pointed up to his empty socket and winked with his one good eye.
He laughed ‘No, not me. Someone else. I’d just seen it so many times that I got tired of it and plucked my one good eye out with a teaspoon.’
‘Only codding’ he said, ‘Some people took it a number of years back in a bit of a tiff… I was trying to help them out of a jam…’
‘I’m sorry to hear that.’
He waved his hand. ‘Not to worry…’ he smiled, ‘it happens.’
Somewhere out the window Dylan could hear the grumble of a motorcycle, low and still and spreading across the warmth of the room like a sleepless man. He imagined it calling out over the dark dormant lawn of a suburban back-spread and the dogs speaking in monosyllables through the nooks of trees and up the sides of houses. There was a white rectangle rising sharp against a nameless black void, and an open garage revealing itself; a garage that would receive the shuddering bike and close back up into nothing once again. All was silent.
‘Listen’ the man said, ‘do you have somewhere you can go?’
‘And a wife and kids in the same bargain I presume? A bit like myself…’
‘Well then…’ he said, standing up, ‘put on your coat there. Get your boots and hat, shake my hand and make your way home this very minute. I’m sure your family think you’re dead along with the rest of the world.’
Dylan shifted his shoulder-blades and stretched his back as he moved up onto his hands and said quietly, ‘I’m not sure they’ll have me.’
‘They’ll have you.’ The man said.
‘How do you know?’
He smiled, ‘I know a lot of things.’
Back out in the street it had gotten cold. Dylan turned the collar of his coat up and buried his chin beneath it, slouching down against the frost as he went and the harsh wind up the Liffey from Dublin bay promising new snow if he didn’t get a move on and do what the stranger had asked.
He was walking now, believing that people would never fully appreciate the uncanny complexity of night until they had embarked upon a lone walk like this one: A walk across the deserted heart of a city street at three o’clock in the morning, for it taught a man everything he needed to know about human frailty. That everything was quite frantic, alive and urgent before a certain hour in the day seemed only to enhance the absolute absurdity of boundaries and social conduct and nothing deflated hubris for Dylan quite like the frozen dark of a city street laid out like the interior of a cobbled valley; vast and silent.
The street where he stood was completely empty; all except for a single white square a thousand feet from the city floor. Perhaps, he thought, there was a cleaner working late in the upper portion of an office building; someone dealing with the fallen staples and accumulation of the day’s debris. The relics of men and women who were likely now at home in their beds. Men and women, indeed, who could be lying dead in the city morgue.
The change from daylight to dark and the passage of time in general brought much that was unexpected and Dylan considered that really the only tangible reality at all was that beacon of light he watched shining several stories into the night sky. A light that, before tonight, he had known absolutely nothing about.
James Conor Patterson is a 24 year old Irish poet and short-story writer who, over the past few years has seen his work published in a number of publications including: Cyphers; Wordlegs; The Poetry Bus; Southword; Bare Hands; The Open Ear; Outburst; The QUB Writers’ Journal (Queen’s University Belfast); The Bell (University College Dublin); and Full-Stop (UL, University of Limerick). He will also be featured in the Autumn issue of The James Dickey Review, based in Virginia (U.S.A.)
In 2012 he was featured in the Wordlegs ‘30 Irish Writers Under 30’ e-book publication and also in its print anthology which was published in November by Doire Press. He currently lives in his home-town of Newry, Co. Down. Check out his blog and follow him on twitter.
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.
– 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.
– 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
– 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.