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
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.
Knees slightly bent, head tucked in between outstretched arms, and hands clasped together. I shiver and take a breath; there’s no one else around but me in my polka dot bikini top and khaki shorts. The sun has only just glimpsed out from behind the Cuillin’s and the earth hasn’t yet warmed to the day ahead. As my toes curl round the edges of the rock I push off from my stance and inhale one last time before cool air becomes freezing water. I hear the thunder of falling streams hitting rock from further up the pools before the shape of noise changes in my ears and I hit the glassy blue of the deep well that only a moment before I looked down upon. If these hills could speak, surely they would remember me?
Cocooned within the icy spray, I kick further down into the well. Three hundred and sixteen days have passed since I was last here yet nothing about this ancient place seems to have changed. I touch the rocks as I swim around – testing to see if they’re really there – the rough edges confirm that I can’t be dreaming. Foam from the waterfall fills the surface of the water above me and I adjust my direction so I don’t break from the water directly in its path. If Cal were here he’d push me under, only to rescue me from the weight of the water a moment later.
I re-surface and catch my breath. The cool morning air descends and clings to my skin making it tingle. I hold onto the ledge beside me and get my bearings – the morning rays capture Skye, and the Glen in all their beauty. Coming back here could have been a mistake but the morning sun has lightened my head of the heavy thoughts that had washed their way in.
Following the path I’ve already made I plunge again; this time looking around, checking the ridges of the underwater rock to see if there’s something I missed the last time I made this swim. But there are no secret caves, or darkened corners to explore. The sun – climbing higher into the sky now – has made beams of light transcend the water and filter down into the well. Everything is lit anew. I don’t want to break for air but I never was as good as Cal at holding my breath and I can feel the beginnings of a burning sensation as my lungs cry out for oxygen. I rise again to the top and perch my goggles on my head. Blinking back the sunlight I am startled to see a man looking down upon me from the ridge. Cal standing, camera in hand, coaxes me as I lap around in the pool –
‘C’mon, look up at me. You never look into the camera’.
I ignore him and instead goad him to join me, ‘You won’t feel the cold once you’re in.’
‘Yeah but I’ll feel the cold the whole time I’m getting ready to go in! Do you think I’m as mental as you are?’
I laugh and splash about a bit, ‘You’re such a woose… I mean seriously, bringing me all the way up here under false pretences that you’re going to come in and have a romantic swim with me. I’m hurt.’ I do my best puppy-dog eyes and petted lip and for a second I can see on his face that I’ve got him but I ruin it by laughing again and he breaks into a smile…
‘Are you all right down there?’
The voice shakes me from the memory. I look up to see the man standing on the ledge.
‘What?’ I ask, not quite sure If I caught all he said.
‘Is everything OK? It’s a cold morning to be swimming in the Pools.’
His voice is deeper than Cal’s. I can’t quite make out his features from the way the morning sunshine is bouncing around the Glen. I adjust my position slightly to get a better look at him,
‘I’m fine thanks. It’s not cold in here.’
I can see now that he’s not very tall, probably about 5’6’’ at the most, greying slightly or is that just the light? I can’t tell if he’s carrying a little weight round the middle or if he just has multiple layers of clothing on to fend off what must be the beginning of a cold walk taking in the Cuillin’s.
‘We just caught sight of something in the water as we were passing and wondered what it was; we were a bit startled to find someone out swimming.’
He nods behind him as he says the word ‘we’ and a woman emerges from behind the bank. She smiles down at me, but her eyes tell me she’s as baffled as her husband over my morning dip. I smile back and turn my attention back to the man,
‘Oh, don’t worry about me… I always come up here for a swim.’
They look briefly at each other, assessing this new information. The man quips,
‘In November? We thought we were mad… ah well, good luck to you. You’re braver than me.’ And off they both walk, half-laughing, half-talking.
I pull myself out of the water and sit on the rocky ledge beside the heap of clothes I left minutes before. My teeth chatter as I wrap a towel around my body and squeeze the remnants of water from my hair. I stand but the platform is only high enough to see what’s immediately around me. I scoop up the clothes and slide on my flat pumps, the inside of my shoes become soaked and I squelch as I walk. I climb the shanty dirt steps that have been battered into the ground over the years. The man and woman come into view, heading towards Sgurr an Fheadain, probably just to take in the beauty of it than to climb. They are almost dots on the landscape now. Snow is scattered upon the tops of the hills and a cool wind makes its way down the valley.
I walk alongside the pools, further up the path – I know which pool I’m looking for but can never remember if it’s second or third last…
‘How far up are you going?’ Cal shouts between pictures.
‘I’m going to the deepest one, and you’re coming in too.’ I look over my shoulder and smile at him as he makes his way up the path behind me. The rush of falling water grows louder as I come to the place. The climb down is trickier here – the steps steeper, and less secure. I leave the clothes at the top and use my hands to steady me as I climb down. Just as I reach the bottom Cal is above me.
‘You’re insane’, he says as he starts making his way down too.
‘No, we’re insane.’ I correct him, ‘C’mon just jump in. You’ll regret it if you don’t.’
He takes the last step down and reaches the platform closest to the pool. The spray from the waterfall hits the back of my bare legs and makes goose pimples appear on my skin. Cal looks around, assessing the pool – it’s deeper than the others – the water is clear, the underwater arch teases as it rises just slightly above the surface of the water, it whispers as water laps against the rock.
‘God… okay. But I’m telling you if I get hypothermia I’m holding you responsible.’
‘Yes!’ I do a little dance of victory as he kicks his shoes off.
I dive first – the coolness of the water flooding my senses and making my heart surge – the archway is ancient and stunning. I swim through touching the underside of the stone as I pass. How many others have done the same and felt the unexplained connection to this natural landscape? I rise to the top and burst out from the water to wait for Cal.
‘C’mon, hurry up – we haven’t got all day!’
Cal stands, watching me.
‘What if I dive from higher up?’ he asks,
‘Why would you want to do that when you haven’t even been in yet?’ I reply, slightly confused but he’s an excited school boy now and I’m just one of the guys, egging him on in his head,
‘It’ll be fun. Look how deep it is! You do it too.’
Before I can say anything he’s darting back up the steps towards the higher ridge beside the waterfall.
‘Cal, I think that’s a stupid idea…’
But he’s not listening or he can’t hear me over the fall of water. The pool is deep but that’s a high jump. I try and work out the depth he’s likely to fall from such a height. I drop under for a second and check the bottom of the pool – it’s not smooth. Every surface is a point, a crag; rougher than the beauty of it lets you believe.
‘Cal… Just come back down and dive from here.’
‘What? I can’t hear you.’ He’s at the top now, arms folded in front of him, shoulders hunched from the cold.
‘Come. Back. Down.’ I say louder, emphasising every word.
I don’t like the angle of the rocks below him, I don’t trust what lies directly beneath the waterfall, concealed by the froth and foam as the water sprays in all directions.
It’s too late, he leaps but in his haste the dive isn’t right – he’s overshot the angle, almost somersaulting but not even managing that. Instead his head is at an odd juxtaposition with his body, his arms splayed out to the sides as if he’s trying to correct himself mid-air but can’t manage it. He hits the water and he’s gone… seconds pass. I panic. I dive under the water and kick hard in his direction. I can see the shape of his body as it slowly floats to the surface and I know instantly that something isn’t right. I reach him just as his body reaches the surface but he’s limp and unconscious. I turn him onto his back so his head is above the water and pull him away from the harshness of the waterfall that’s only centimetres from him. There’s no blood, no clue as to what I’m trying to fix.
Even with his weightlessness I can’t get enough purchase to do much except shout for him to wake up. I edge him to the side of the pool and attempt to lift us out of the water but I can’t. Minutes pass, I can’t find a pulse on his neck but I’m not even sure if I’m checking the right place. I scream for help – there’s nothing but a heavy echo from the wide open space. As time passes I grow colder, shivering from my lack of movement. My arms grow tired from the effort of keeping Cal at my side while the rush of the water around us tries to pull him away.
He doesn’t move, doesn’t flinch. I hug him to me and pray; pray for help, pray he’ll be OK, pray that I won’t die here with him – the two of us becoming entwined by the pull of the water as it cascades from one pool to the other. Eventually a man and his wife come by, snapping holiday memento’s as they go…
At last the memory has surfaced, a tear runs down my cheek and I brush it away with my hand. The water will wash away the sadness but the echo of that morning will play out in the landscape for eternity. Knees slightly bent, head tucked in between outstretched arms, and hands clasped together. I shiver and take a breath; there’s no one else around but me. The cold, crisp November morning has kept the visitors away. If only these rocks could speak, the stories they’d tell. I dive again.
Kirsty Fraser currently resides in Glasgow with her cat Buttons. She studies Media & Communications by day and by night she blogs on New Hellfire Club and Sabotage Times about all things music. She writes short stories and poetry, that in the most part, only her bin gets to read. In an attempt to change that she’s currently writing her first collection of short stories – she hasn’t figured out how it ends yet. Check out Kirsty’s music blog.
– By Cal Ashton
He drew hard on his pint. Madeline frowned. The third sigh in ten minutes left him hunched over like an inflatable leaking air.
“What is it Tom?”
The sigh was heart-rending and lasted a full twenty seconds, rising and bursting from his pursed lips. His fingers crept around the pint glass again as if to lift it…but just stayed wrapped around it, unable or just not caring enough to lift it.
Each breath left his body, but wasn’t replaced. He hadn’t breathed in now for an hour. All his air was leaving him.
His brain air left first, his mind had shut down three days ago. Neglect had left it numb and rusty. Seized up. The banality of an undemanding job, no challenge, even in conversation with his work colleagues, all too shallow to communicate and when he got to his own office he never talked to anyone anyway. Except Dave, the Doorman. But a “Hello” that had dissolved into a murmur, then a grunt, then a conciliatory nod of the head, then brief eye contact, had finally collapsed into a non-physical act whereby Tom would only react if Dave wasn’t there.
And Dave was always there.
Home was empty, a chair so long and so familiar there he couldn’t describe it to you if asked him, even if he did answer he would say it was just, y’know, a chair, kinduh greeny grey-blue red thing. Nice. There.
TV was on. Unless he fell asleep, woke up again , realized it was on, turned it off and went to sleep again.
One shop, never-changing for never-altering tinned food.
And now – a heart unused beat out the air, pushed smaller and smaller amounts of blood to the vital areas, even then, it forgot why. The heart had never raced since long ago. Not even reflexively. If Tom tripped, Tom fell. He didn’t stop himself. The adrenalin breathed out of him 3 days ago. There was only his self left. And he breathed it out now.
“Tom, what is it?”
Tom looked at Madeline through half opened eyes. 3 day stubble dotted his see-every-day-of-it lined 42 year old face. The curly hair, the thin grey lips. The hollow cheeks.
The next sigh blew out the light in his eyes.
His hands dropped to the table, still surrounding the glass of half drunk lager. The next sigh drained all the colour from his skin. He was pale to translucence, fish scale grey. He breathed out his lungs. The noise was a low rushing puncture now, like a gas ring hissing unlit. He breathed out his powdered bones and his body deflated into a skinsack, a bag, a film across the table. As his body dropped forward his face never touched the table surface. He breathed away his skin and left on the table, chair and floor were only his hair and clothes.
Tom had not-lived himself out of existence. No-one cared. He had made sure of it. Not deliberately, he just had. Death by torpor.
Cal Ashton is a redhead but accepts the term ginger. A Scot, he has wandered from Germany to Australia and is currently in Hong Kong. Cal has had work published many years ago in Shanghai Metrozine, That’s Beijing and Oxford University Student magazines and has performed in numerous plays in numerous dark basements and international schools throughout Europe and Asia. Check out Cal’s website.
Midnight Shadows, Passing
– By David McVey
Everybody hates me, thought Kyle, just because my hair sticks up in that funny way and Im shy of girls and I havent had a job since I left college.
He had snaffled a good handful of his mums stash of sleeping pills; enough to do the job, anyway. But what about the mess, the scene? He’d probably puke before dying and if it got on the carpet or bedclothes mum would be raging. And she’d hate all the hassle – police, ambulance, undertakers. How much did a funeral cost nowadays? Even if nobody came?
And then Kyle thought about Derryburn Wood. Nobody went there except dog-walkers and daft wee boys who wanted to get drunk and there would be nobody there at night. He could slip out, find a hidden spot, pop the pills and die quietly. No one would be inconvenienced, no one would mind the mess.
It was nearly twelve and there was a bright moon. Kyle pulled on a capacious hoodie, transferred the sleeping pills to a pocket and took a bottle of spring water to wash them down. He was about to leave the bedroom for the last time when he noticed that the duvet, which hed been lying on, was crinkled and untidy. Mum would go mental. He shook it smooth before creeping quietly downstairs in case he woke her, and then disappeared into the cooling night to die in Derryburn Wood.
A ship of light swept over the horizon of the dark trailing a wake of silence. Jane had missed the last bus.
It had already been a hard evening, involving what Sally from work had called a break-up date. She had arranged to meet Scott in a charmless chain pub called the Goblet and Wishbone on an edge-of-town trading estate. While Scott fetched the drinks, Jane had reflected on the meanness of her reason for ending things: Scott was just too nice.
He held doors open for her. He bought her flowers (too many some bunches went straight into the green bin). He was open about his feelings and considerate about hers. He loved children; before long thered be a marriage proposal with a view to starting a family. He was generous, sharing, thoughtful, someone who wanted to share his life fruitfully – with someone else.
Jane didn’t. Not yet, anyway. Scott was 30, which explained a lot. She was still only 24 and wanted the free, fun-loving life a bit longer. And yet, even when she told Scott the cold truth, he had managed to be gracious.
I didn’t see this coming, he said, with the puzzled facial expression of a gentle forest creature that had misplaced some nuts, but I appreciate your honesty and courage in telling me.
Get angry, Jane had thought. Why do you never get angry?
Scott left soon afterwards but Jane had remained behind, drinking. Only when the last bus was due to abandon this desolate urban periphery did she emerge, only to see it disappearing down the ring-road. Bus drivers just want to get home too, she thought. She’d drunk a lot and it moved her to be reasonable. Like Scott.
She considered phoning for a taxi, but it was a dry, breezy night in May the sun had barely gone down and while it was a long way by road to her home on the Glenturlie Estate it was just a mile or so through countryside. A footpath ran from the ring-road between fields to Derryburn Wood; soon after the path re-emerged from the wood, you saw the first houses of the estate. There was a moon riding high in the sky and surely on a Tuesday night there would be no feral fourteen-year-olds giggling round a bottle of tonic wine in some dark corner? She clicked across the ring-road in her heels and crunched onto the gravel farm track that marked the beginning of the path.
Reverend Rab Soutar needed to pray. He needed God to hear him, and to know that he had been heard. There was always something unsatisfying about praying in the manse; nothing to do with Carol or the children, just the sense of being enclosed. A ceiling wouldn’t prevent words reaching an omnipotent God but it could inhibit the person doing the praying.
Glenturlie Parish Church was a pleasing modern building of plain harling with some pinewood panels; large windows in the ceiling brought the sun into the morning service. The estate it served was large, sprawling and rich. The church was rich, too; Rab ministered to lawyers and GPs and lecturers and high-powered IT execs, their wives, husbands and children. There were always funds for repairs to the church building or crèche equipment. But Rab tried to open the congregations hearts and minds to mission, to bringing Christ to the lost, to serving the poor and despairing and hungry. There were many needy folk, locally, albeit on the other side of town. His sermons were met with nods and smiles but little else. The church was determined to keep its hands clean.
Rab craved prayer. He would go to a quiet spot in Derryburn Wood and pour out his soul to the Lord, seeking His will for Reverend Rab Soutar and for Glenturlie Parish Church. He would pray also that God would lead him, personally, to troubled souls that he could help.
The moon blinked between trees as Rab entered the wood. Away from the sodium-bathed streets, darkness embraced him and stars upon stars gleamed from the velvety sky, an infinity of tiny lights that spoke to him of the limitless, unimaginable reach of God. He decided to pray where a small patch of grass bounded the path. He took off his Craghopper cagoule, laid it on the ground, and knelt on it.
This is SHITE! yelled Jason, hurling a newly-emptied lager can into the unseen undergrowth. Its dark. We cannae see anything. What are we doing here, man?
Chill, man, I just thought it would be cool, said Connor, all spooky and that. I didnae think it would be so cold and dark.
Jason softened when Connor admitted his error. It’ll be a magic place to come when we plunk off school, though. Naebody from the council will find us here.
Connor detached the plastic carrier bag of drink from the branch on which he’d hung it and they began to pick their way along the path using the faint light from their mobiles. Then Jason stopped. Thats weird, man. Do you hear that?
Naw. No at this time of night, surely…
The path led past some pine trees to an open glade wanly lit by the moon. Just off the path they sensed a dark, stooping figure no, a kneeling figure muttering away to himself. Show me your will… lead me in your ways… soften our hearts towards the weak…
He’s mental, whispered Connor.
It’s pure scary, man, lets go.
They ignored the path and clattered off through the trees. Dimly, they saw the lights of the Glenturlie Estate and ran towards them, the branches clawing as they went. They only stopped running when they reached a scruffy field bordering the estate.
I left the bag, said Connor.
The bag with the drink. I dropped it when we saw the mad guy.
This was a great idea. Jason trudged away towards the lights of town.
This is life, Jane thought as she entered the wood. She was warm from the gentle climb through the fields but it felt good. Pity about her shoes; they were ruined. She switched on her mobile to light the path a little.
Kyle inhaled the mouldy breath of the wood. There was peace, here, quietness. And then, just ahead of him, he heard a muffled tattoo of running feet on the soft woodland floor. Two shadows fled past through sparely-filtered moonlight.
Not far along, on the same path, he saw something bright that shifted and crinkled gently in the breeze; a plastic bag. He picked it up and peered inside; a half-full bottle of Buckfast and a few cans of multipack lager. Well, they’ll help, Kyle thought, they’ll deaden the pain.
More footsteps, behind him this time. They stopped.
He turned to see a young woman, wearing a light raincoat over a short dress, and smart, high-heeled shoes. He edged closer to get a clearer view.
Don’t hurt me, said Jane.
It’s all right, said Kyle, I wont. He nodded at the plastic bag. This isn’t mine. I found it.
He sounded nice, thought Jane, well-spoken. What a shame he was out on his own, drinking. Id better be getting along, she said.
Yes. Midnight walk?
Yes. Just going home.
He watched as she disappeared into the gloom. Even struggling with those heels, there was a grace about her. If she was the last person he’d ever see, he hadn’t chosen badly.
He crawled into the midst of a cluster of rhododendrons and felt in his pockets for the tablets. He sat on a dry stump of wood, remembering that mum always said you could catch something from sitting on something damp. He reached into the carrier bag for a can and wished he hadn’t brought the water. It seemed a waste, now.
Rab stood up and retrieved his cagoule. A night of victorious prayer. Now and then he had heard voices, whisperings, the sound of passing feet. Distractions sent by the Enemy? If so, they had failed. Rab glanced at his watch; quarter to one. The night would soon be compromised by the first dirty grey light. He set off for the manse.
Connor followed Jason into the Glenturlie estate, where all the poshies lived, but then turned towards the path that led back into Derryburn Wood. He couldn’t leave that drink behind.
Just as he entered the wood he met an attractive young woman who was coming the other way. Ignoring his Hi, doll! she continued speaking into her mobile; I’m sorry to phone so late, Scott, and I’m sorry about tonight. Can I see you tomorrow? Lucky Scott, whoever he was; she had nice legs and that, though she shouldnae have walked through the wood in those heels.
He hadn’t gone much further when he met a middle-aged man wearing a cagoule and a tweed bunnet. They both stopped.
Can I help you, young man? Im Reverend Soutar of Glenturlie Parish Church.
Aye. Have ye seen a plastic bag somebody might have dropped?
Kyle lay down; the damp didn’t worry him, now. He just felt warmth and peace and silence as the faint smell of rhododendron blossom fought with the mouldiness. He was hidden from sight in this lonely woodland place. Would anyone ever find him?
The minister guy had tried to convert Connor so he had pulled away and scampered into the wood. When he got back to the place there was no sign of the carry-out but at least the mad guy had gone. A strong gust of wind blew in from somewhere, penetrating even the sheltered places, the kind of wind you got at scary bits in horror films. Behind those big bushes, something rustled. A plastic bag?
There were steely bars of light in the sky now but it was still deep-dark among the bushes. There was his carry-out, though. Someone had definitely been at it, just two cans left and no sign of the Buckie.
Connor turned and saw something dark and still on the ground. He looked at the silent shape for a long time and wondered what it was. The light seemed a long way away.
David McVey worked for many years at the University of Paisley, but he has also been a grouse beater, a tax officer and spent one miserable Saturday night stocktaking at a B&Q. He has published nearly 100 short stories and hundreds of non-fiction articles. David enjoys hillwalking, visiting historic sites, reading, telly, and watching football, especially his hometown team, Kirkintilloch Rob Roy FC and the Scotland national side. Check out David’s website.
Dominic Corrigan lives in Sligo, Ireland. He holds an honours degree in Fine Art. His art has been exhibited throughout Ireland and also in New York at the Lockhart gallery. His next Solo exhibition is in The Model, Niland gallery, Sligo October . His work has been published or is forthcoming in, The Monkey Puzzle Press, Yemassee Journal and Out of Our Journal. Orio Headless, Bare Hands and Cerise Press spring 2013. Check out his website.
The secret of the universe is adrenalin. You can live without its rush for a while, but when it comes something ignites, flows. A rhythm hooks you out of your seat and onto the dance floor. Someone says I love you or let’s kill him.
Danny hadn’t felt anything much for a good while. Bought a house in the suburbs. Made money. Married Anna. But one night, one drizzly autumn night, he was driving back from his city centre office when something happened. My words aren’t good enough, for the something is not the kind of thing that might be conveyed by words like autumn and drizzly. I can only tell you that he’d pressed the search button on his car radio and it had flicked to the last minute of a song he loved. It hit him. The sly, sweet chemical of nostalgia (was it that, exactly?) swirled through his blood, welled up behind his eyes. People with frostbite only begin to hurt when they thaw out. No. That’s not it. Danny felt a cloying, acute, incurable wound that made him nostalgic for the last time he had felt such a feeling. That’s nearer. Would it help if I told you about how Danny felt before this night, this drizzly autumn night? He’d had such minor epiphanies before. The smell of toffee apples. His mother’s letters. Old photos But it had never lasted, had always quickly faded so that he might remember remembering, but wouldn’t feel anything much. But this one, this one on this drizzly night remained, getting stronger and stronger. Like heartburn. Like a hard-on.
As soon as he arrived home he rushed indoors and called to Anna. Without waiting for a reply he looked out the old box under the stairs where he’d shoved his vinyl albums. As soon as he found the record he put it on his old turntable. The scratch and hiss of sapphire on vinyl was exciting. It both put him at a distance and focused his attention. That’s not good enough. It made him painfully conscious of the past but only through his awareness of this moment. That’s too pompous. The words and music when they trickled through intensified everything. He listened to himself listening. He loved knowing that he had felt like this before. He forgot the last twenty years. Perhaps he had always felt like this, underneath it all. It was like wearing his older brother’s coat and walking the streets smoking his cigarettes. It was like getting off a train alone in a strange city, sharing someone’s bed for the first time. Life was all potential. Adrenalin. I cannot find a better word.
Anna, combing her unfashionably curly hair in the bedroom, heard the familiar music and felt something like a doom mixed up with panic. Why was he playing this record, now awakening things? It would end in tears. Perhaps he was drunk. I’m not doing Anna so well, am I? She did not really think about him in such clichés. But I am certain that she went down stairs, nonetheless, and planned to say something sensitive and touching and connected to their past. Instead she stubbed her toe on the door of the cupboard under the stairs.
‘Why have you left the cubby door open? I nearly killed my bloody self!’
‘Sorry. Just settling a bet. Steve said the words were ‘Acid, boots and tarts’ but I say it’s ‘Acid, booze and arse.’’
‘Acid, booze and arse, needles, guns and grass. Lots of laughs.’ That’s how it goes. You know it does. Why do men have to bet on everything?’
She went into the kitchen.
She went into the kitchen but she kept the door open and listened as intently as he did. He was going to shout something after her about women always picking on men, but the contrast between such banter and the delicacy of his feelings just then was too great. Anyway, he’d lied, you see, about making a bet (but you know that), lied simply to cover his exposure. Why should he defend men from her accusation when there were no men involved to defend? There wasn’t even a Steve in his office (but she knew that).
As he listened, he remembered them listening together, for the first time. She had said how beautiful (that was the exact bloody Laura Ashley word), how beautiful it was. Wow! All of it! He hadn’t agreed, had maintained a certain necessary masculine critical distance, even then. He’d said something about it being dated in its outlook. She needs to move on, needs more commitment (that was the exact radical bullshit word, commitment). He cringed. He remembered his words precisely and remembered that he had not believed them, even as he spoke them. Why hadn’t he echoed her words, created a shared moment with her? Why had he not given himself that delicious moment then so that they could share it now? He was thinking about calling through to her ‘I really loved this stuff’ when she shouted from the kitchen ‘You never liked this record anyway.’
‘No you didn’t. You said it was dated.’
‘Did.’ She knew that both of them would remember his exact words.
He was remembering how they had resolved it then by going for a couple of drinks in a funny little pub where the landlady had been all breathy and sweet with them and had kept smiling at them. They’d caught her mood. She had a funny little dog. Later on they’d giggled about her and her dog as they sprawled on the sofa in front of his Mum’s TV. He looked over towards the kitchen door. Was Anna also remembering that scene just now? He hoped not.
Needles, guns and grass. He had forgotten that line. As he heard it again, he couldn’t help shouting out ‘Hey, I never knew she’d been to Manchester!’ Why was he making cheap jokes when he was being thrilled, unbearably sensitised by the music? Just because it was unbearable. Unexpectedly, she replied with a loud laugh when he had been expecting a politically correct rebuke and another attack on what men always did. For her it was unbearable too? Perhaps.
He kept putting the stylus down on different tracks, parts of tracks. He loved the movement, the noise, the feel of it. He was trying to make it sounds as if he was writing down the words and had to keep repeating bits, but he liked the delicate weight of the pickup arm in his hand. Like a bird.
The scene on his Mum’s sofa had not ended it. Each week of their courtship they had become more intimate, had exposed more of their vulnerability or rather their pretended vulnerability. This is, after all, what lovers do, have to do, even when there is so little to expose. He felt a little sickly now and tried not to remember how they had used those tender confessions in rows, years later. It’ what couples do. But he could not forget how he had accused her of flirting with someone, ‘just like you always did with my brother.’ She could not help but retaliate by saying how often she’d noticed him looking at other women, how he’d even fantasised about women on album covers. Were they both now thinking of how those tender confessions had been betrayed?
I am on a lonely road and I am travelling. Yes, that was it. That was how he’d been. All his life. Even now in this cul-de-sac. Always travelling. Anna also heard the words. What piquant nuances they awoke. No, that’s not how she thought about it. She’s so hard to get right. Let’s see. She thought how comforting was the restlessness that those words evoked now and that she had felt then. That’s nearer. And she thought how comfortless was the peace that she had arrived at now. All this trash, she thought. Yes, all this trash (I’m getting her now) from the egg-rack in the shape of a cheerful chicken, the herbs and spices of the world set sitting on the kitchen shelf, the tea-cosy in the form of a twee country cottage. She picked it up and turned it inside out, preferring the tea-stained, grey interior. All this trash was a travesty of her ideas, her life’s significance. She could hire a skip and dump everything in it. She had a desire to run into the front room and hug her husband. She wondered if there were some words left to say that would make him want to take her off somewhere. Somewhere still to go.
He came into the kitchen, trying to hide his face as if this something that animated him was visible. And she did catch sight of something different about him but it made her recoil. Was it because the music had also changed her? Was this what she had waited for for so long? But then the urge to hug him returned, to bridge the years. She rushed her arms around him and made of her two hands a tight, girlish ball at the back of his neck, standing forward on her toes.
Danny squashed the side of his face against the side of her face and she could tell that he had ached for that hug. They rocked from side to side a little. But how long should they stay like this? Who breaks? What will end it? He pressed himself harder against her, lifted the back of her long skirt and slid his palms along her thighs. Could he really think that this was what it was about? So little imagination? She imagined him dragging her down to the kitchen floor and pushed him away. His body yielded to her shoving, but he kept his face buried in the side of hers, holding her head between his large hands like a football.
There was a metallic click in the front room and Danny turned towards it. ‘That’ll be the tape finishing. I’m recording it, you know, for Steve, to prove I’m right, I mean, about the words.’ More lies. He left the kitchen without ever having looked directly at her. He took the tape out of the machine and threw it on the coffee table. He would play it alone when he wanted to feel something. She wasn’t in it. Anna brought through his tea on a little tin tray that had ducks printed on it. He switched on the television with the remote, his tea on his lap. Maybe there would be some football on. Or a good film. A war film would be good, anything to shake off this unnecessary refinement of feeling, this presence of things that had so little to do with their lives, here, now. Really it was not so bad. He was coming down, back to banality. Where we all like to be. But then a crazy thought hit him. He called out before he had time to think about it. He called out ‘Hey Anna, why don’t we go dancing like we used to do?’
He heard the front door click and saw, through the bay window, Anna get into the car and drive away. He noticed that the tape he’d made was missing from the table. He ran to the garden gate, but could not see where she had gone.
She puts the tape into the car cassette player and turns it up loud. We don’t need no piece of paper from the City Hall keeping us tried and true. Love is the secret of the universe. She heads for the motorway, puts her foot down. Closes her eyes.
Stephen Devereux grew up near the Suffolk coast, its landscape figuring in much of his work. Most of his adult life has been spent in the North-West and the people and cityscapes of the north also loom large in his poetry. He write both traditional and contemporary poetry. He has contributed to many magazines, including: Acumen, Agenda, Ambit, Brittle Star, Borderlines, The Cannon’s Mouth, Carillon, Chimera, Coffee House Poetry, the Delinquent, Envoi, Iota, The Interpreter’s House, Other Poetry, Poetry Salzburg, Raindog, The SHOp, Seventh Quarry, Smiths Knoll, The Stinging Fly, Turbulence, The White Review. He has read at events and festivals, including supporting Felix Dennis on his Did I mention the Free Wine?tour. He has several poems on the Poetry Library, South Bank archive and has made recordings for them. He has been placed in several competitions including short listed for the Arvon Foundation Northern Short Story Competition, most recently, winner of the Slipstream Poetry Prize and runner-up for the Elmet Foundation’s Ted Hughes Prize (judge Liz Lochhead).
Just Another Day
– By Alvy Carragher
Silence is all she wants. There they are again, seagulls. They woke her at six with the shriek of birds trapped inland. It resonates. She knows how they feel, but that doesn’t make her anymore forgiving.
He sleeps through it all. Slurps, gurgles in his lumpish dreams. Always she lies staring at the back of him, the covers broken up in the folds of his legs as he curls away from her. She will never understand why he doesn’t hear the screaming of her mind.
“Did you sleep well?”
“Not really,” she replies.
“Look, I won’t be home, I’ve stuff to do this evening. Did you not post these yet?”
She sits scraping the fungus off the top of the yoghurt tub as he rumbles about. Perhaps he will eat it later. Maybe she can sandwich it somehow into the evening’s menu. She wipes the granite counter it looks like specks of stardust trapped beneath her cloth.
There is a constant stream of questions and he never waits for answers. Rifling through their post and then he hands her the paper.
“They’re looking for a cleaner down the road?”
“Do I look like a cleaner?” she asks.
“Bar-tending too, sure you’ve experience for that?”
“I hated it,” it sounds pathetic, whimpering.
He is gone. Out into the day, into his office where he taps answers to other people’s questions. Takes time to filter through answers. He has left his dishes gritty with cold porridge on the table.
She counts seconds. Checks Facebook and “likes” the lives of others. It’s been two hours. There is a dull ache in her lower back from sitting stooped over the screen. Time to apply for something she thinks, anything.
There they are again. Seagulls breaking the silence and their squawks strum through her. She googles places far from the coast, far from city-living. Her mind is in a desert, riding hissing camels across dunes with sand-storms for company.
The door slams and he is home.
“You didn’t post these?”
Those are his first words she thinks. That is the first thing on his mind.
“Is dinner not ready?”
That is his second thought she thinks.
“What did you do all day?” he asks.
She wipes the internet history. Google Images will not be constructive enough for him.
“The seagulls, they wouldn’t shut up,” she says.
“So what’s for dinner, did you do the shop?” he asks.
“I didn’t have time.” She wants to say. There is never any time.
Alvy Carragher is a Tipperary based 23 year old writer. An enthusiastic member of Dublin Writers Forum, she spends a lot of her free time attending poetry events and performing spoken word. She hopes to do a Masters in Creative writing and to someday be a published novelist, poet and short story writer. Check out her Blog and follow Alvy on Twitter.
I don’t usually include an editor’s note but I decided to make an exception on this occasion. Thank you to everyone who submitted for The Beat Writers’ Issue to celebrate the birthday of Jack Kerouac, it has been a real labour of love. We are delighted to feature the work of Eddie Hearne, Caroline Healy, John P Brady, Andrew McEneff and David Levingstone.
As the title suggests to fully experience Eddie Hearne’s To Be Accompanied By Highway 61 Revisited this story should be read while listening to Bob Dylan’s fantastic sixth studio album. The story within a story aspect to Eddie’s piece works really well, he draws on the self-reflective nature of writing and the huge role real life experiences have to play in the writing process.
Caroline Healy’s work Omni(m)potent is a master class in originality, it is a very beautiful and thoughtful piece exploring relationships, subjectivity and internal dialogue. No Beat Issue could be complete without a strong female voice!
John P Brady’s Streets of San Francisco takes us right into the heart of Beat country where his narrator like a young Jack Kerouac goes in search of the elusive pearl, looking for the heart of Saturday night – you’ll have to read it to see if he finds what he’s looking for.
Andrew McEneff’s enthusiastic and inspiring essay The Lost Beat Generations of Ireland takes a look at what Irish literature has lacked to date and more importantly how that is changing!
David Levingstone’s wonderful photography provides the perfect visual accompaniment to these writings!
The Bohemyth has been up and running for nearly 5 months now – I want to take this opportunity to thank any one who has liked or shared a facebook post, followed us on twitter, favourited a tweet or retweeted a tweet – your support means everything.
To all of our writers, contributors and readers thank you for letting me be a part of this – without you there would no Bohemyth. I am constantly amazed and humbled by the talent and loveliness that shores up in The Bohemyth’s Inbox. You are all Cool Happy Genius Heroes!
xxx Bon Anniversaire Ti Jean xxx
Photography: David Levingstone is a photographer, art director and bearded man from Tipperary living in Dublin, more of his work can be found on Flickr. David currently works for Getty Images.
John Catskill was dozing in a Las Vegas hotel room. When he awoke, one eye first, tentatively, a blurred vision of two empty bottles of Corona, one half-full bottle of water, and a near to empty litre bottle of vodka on the bedside locker, unfurled the first memory in his mothball brain. It was a scene that was not lost on him. It would be framed like a snapshot in his mind. And it was these snapshots that he liked to ponder over, and airbrush, and adjust ever so slightly so that they’d resemble a sombre middle-America movie. His phone lay beside him on the pillow. He needed a soundtrack. Who better than Bob Dylan? To the opening bars of Like a Rolling Stone he pulled himself into a sitting position, reached for a hotel notepad, and a hotel pen, and began to write…
My stomach was doing pirouettes but the air-con felt good. My back was sunburnt. The very thought of how hot it was outside was draining the last drops of vapour from my already dangerously dehydrated body. How hot was it? Hot enough to bake bread maybe.
Which reminded me; Brown bread, with two hands removed in a desert grave. Or so I’d read in a newspaper yesterday. The story concerned a young Irish student who had gotten into trouble with the wrong people. They’d sawn off his hands for good measure.
The thought of it, I was half dead myself. I’d been travelling around for the past two weeks. I’d flown into San Diego from JFK, and then caught a bus to LA. After that I’d continued on to San Fran before renting a car and driving to Vegas. My clothes needed washing. I could have done with a shave but didn’t have the money for razors, not after last night, when I’d bet on black and it turned up green!
Thankfully I was going back to New York the next day.
John looked at the playlist. The next song was Tombstone Blues. He’d gotten his soundtrack right anyway. He sipped his water to stay on the right side of alive…
But last night, yes, last night. What a blast that was. It flew by like a rocket ship orbiting a strange neon planet. And when the little thing landed – the rocket ship that is – I found myself standing at the casino bar in the Flamingo. It was late, or to be more precise it was early; maybe hitting five in the morning. And there I was looking into the eyes of the sweetest little gal in all of Vegas.
We talked for a while about who knows what. I felt like I was fifteen years old again; tripping over those precious words that don’t come easy when you’re pursuing a girl like none you’ve seen before. Then to my surprise we stumbled onto books. It was my doing I suppose.
We began with Kerouac. We agreed on Kerouac. Everyone does though, don’t they? It isn’t cool not to. She was young, I thought innocent too, but she knew books. Who knew books at her age?
‘I’m reading Junot Diaz,’ she said.
‘You look a little Spanish,’ I said.
But for me it was the perfect way of getting around to it; after I’d typed Bukowski into her phone. What a name to spell when you’re sizzled. It must have taken me four attempts.
But yes, getting around to it.
‘I’ve written a book y’know,’ I said.
Her neat little fingers were locking her phone at the time. Fingers of an angel I might say if it wasn’t such a cliché. Ah to hell with it. They were the fingers of an angel. I was falling in love with those fingers. They could march up my chest in an early morning summer bed and tap me on the chin to say hello. At which point I’d smile and remind her about the time we met in a badly-carpeted casino in the melting heart of the Nevada desert.
That would be ten years from now. She’d be thirty-two and I’d be five years her senior. We’d have conducted a cross-country affair, married in a Colorado chapel, and be ready to bring a second beautiful child into the world – the beauty donated from her gene pool.
‘You wrote a book?’ she replied, swaying gently in front of me.
It was a question that I still wasn’t used to answering. It was my book, my beloved first self-publication, the inpouring of my soul, the outpouring of my grieving, written beneath a down-pouring of rain. And I remember her mouth when she said it, and her teeth too, such white teeth, smiling teeth, tipsy teeth, protecting her slender tongue, from which she rolled syllables so delicately I wanted to catch them and wrap them and sell them in a gift shop for things of such finesse.
‘Yeah,’ I laughed, seeing the funny side of it.
She was making me giddier than a sugar-fuelled little-leaguer. Where had she been for the last two nights? I thought. When I’d stumbled up and down the strip, half-blind from the neon lights and the free vodka they ply you with at the roulette tables. Where had she come from? She was the work of a love-struck artist. She was moulded from the clay of sacred soil and coated in the pairings of a golden harp.
Bob knew what John was talking about. Now he was singing about Queen Jane. She was his Queen Jane. John would have worshiped the ground she walked upon. He continued writing…
‘You really wrote a book?’ she said, her thin legs, wrapped in skinny jeans, planted now.
‘Yeah. Come ‘ere. Type this into your phone,’ I said.
She typed. I watched. They were definitely the prettiest fingers I’d ever seen. We waited. I knocked back another Washington apple skin. We were both beyond drunk. Her finer details were fading in my brain. Her face was still there but not in its entirety.
As John scribbled his stomach rumbled. His liver felt like a cleaner’s cloth being wrung dry of a barroom floors deposits. He tore off another page and continued to write…
‘That’s it?’ she said, leaning into me.
I nodded, and crossed my arms. I was as smug as a rosy-faced fat kid who’d just won at hop scotch.
She zoomed in. She enlarged the screen with two perfect fingers.
‘Can you see it?’ I asked.
With eyes squinted she read, ‘Diary of a Fallen Man.’
Just like that she said it, and upon hearing those words presented to me with such splendour I believed my life path to be altered forever. I felt like writing a new book. Something so full of romance they’d stack it with the chic-lit and erotica. She was inspiring me to go somewhere beyond pessimism, to a land filled with happy-clapping positivity.
On my travels I’d seen an old Cadillac deserted on a California desert road. That’s how I felt at the time. But not now, no, now I was re-energised, now we were zooming down the Pacific coast, polished and sleek, with the top down, a full tank of gas and my leather seats moulded to her slim frame and… what?
Cars, he thought. Track four; From a Buick 6. It was planted in his subconscious by Bob.
John was now feeding grapes into his mouth with one hand. He’d bought them in a general store in Death Valley. It was before he’d passed the Shady Lady Ranch whorehouse and laughed so hard he made grape juice in his nose.
He ripped another page from the pad…
‘I’ll read it in the morning,’ she said.
I could tell she was impressed. I mean who writes books anymore? I had a new shirt, Banana Republic jeans, and eighty dollar shoes. It wasn’t as if I looked like a writer. After all it was only part-time. By day I worked in a legal firm. Money came in and money went out. But there I was writing stories on Bally’s Hotel note paper.
Nothing about me made sense. I was living a double life. John Catskill didn’t even know who John Catskill was. But maybe he would, ten years from now.
Yes, ten years from now, drinking coffee in bed with Crystal. She told me her name was Crystal in an email she’d sent the previous night. I’d forgotten her name. I often did. I was a low life at times – But only when I was drunk.
Where was I? Oh yes, drinking coffee, in that same summer bed, with white bed sheets, and outside the Colorado crickets asleep.
Her fingers would march south then, to where my naked body is halved by a patchwork quilt. She’d give me those eyes. We’d make love twice. We’d come twice. It’s easy when you’re in love. There’s electricity. Then I’d tell her that in a different life we were high school sweethearts and that we kissed beneath the portable stand in the football field at the exact same time that Bob Dylan was writing Ballad of a Thin Man.
‘I think you’re really pretty,’ I told her.
She laughed. I was being too obvious.
‘You’re being too obvious,’ she said.
‘Am I?’ I replied.
Then she laughed some more and rocked towards me. I caught her before she fell.
‘What are you laughing at?’ I said, and accompanied her with a smirk of my own.
‘I don’t know,’ she said.
We both laughed. Washington apple skins will do that.
When she finally managed to say it she said, ‘I dunno, it takes a lot to laugh, it takes a train to cry.’
‘Are you quoting Bob Dylan?’ I asked.
‘Yes. But I don’t know why,’ she replied, her nose scrunched up from laughing.
I noticed it then, the crystal stud in her nose. If I’d remembered her name I would have made a smart remark about it. Instead, when we’d finished laughing, I asked her where her ancestors were from. They were Spanish she told me – which explained Junot Diaz – and she was some part Irish, some part Native Indian and a little Italian.
I told her she looked mostly Spanish and Native Indian. Her face was small and round and tanned. Her eye’s spun, but when they stopped they landed on mine, and lingered, and she smiled, and I ran my fingers along her arm, while her older sister who was soon to be married, and who was sitting on a stool at the bar, looked on disapprovingly.
But I didn’t care. They could all stare. Her hairdresser friend who said my hair was fine could stare. The girl with a nurse’s gait who wanted everyone to guess her age could stare. My travelling companions Sal Paradise and Nick Belane could stare. They were fictional of course. I travelled alone.
The barman who I tipped for putting an extra shot of alcohol in my Washington apple skin could stare.
I touched her arm and looked into her brown eyes and felt her skin smooth and warm. She did the same. She ran the back of her hand against mine, and for that split second we both knew. We were both in on it. The story was already been written by a young writer in a lonely Vegas sick bed.
John felt like he was ready to give up. There was no sense to it. If he couldn’t find a publisher then he thought he would just quit. But he continued to write. He might have been the first person ever to wake up with a hangover in Vegas and write a story about a Colorado beauty.
But the music lifted him. Highway 61 Revisited. It was upbeat and reminded him of a box of fire-crackers exploding.
The cleaner would most likely need to replace the note pad…
I had ideas about running away with her. I wondered if her parents would disapprove. Not that I’d give them reason too. I’d work the land, and drive a harvester, and every evening we’d sit down for dinner after I’d scrubbed my nails clean with the hard bristles of a nailbrush, and talk of how each other’s day went.
‘Are you here tomorrow?’ she asked.
I told her I would be.
She took her phone out of her pocket and I spelled out my email address.
‘Maybe we can meet up tomorrow?’ I said.
‘Definitely,’ she replied.
But it was Vegas. Anything could happen before that. I could wake up with the blues. Just like Tom Thumb.
John felt awful. It was a struggle but he moved the pen across the page. And on those small sheets of paper each memory was entrapped in ink and each moment engraved, like that moment when her friends stood to leave and she said had to go, and he went to kiss her cheek but she turned and gave him her lips.
And as Bob blew the last note on Desolation Row John Catskill did the only thing he could when he knew he’d never see her again.
He immortalised her in words.
Eddie Hearne, originally from Waterford lives and works in Dublin, Ireland. His short story In Dreams won the Irish Writers Centre Lonely Voice short story competition in August 2011. He is currently working on his debut novel entitled The Play (which can be read on authonomy.com) A lover of the short story form he has also put together a collection of short stories entitled Irish, American tales. When not writing he enjoys watching 1950’s movies, paying for his sins in the gym, frequenting Dublin’s many pubs and travelling. His favourite authors include Jack Kerouac, Hunter S. Thompson, Hubert Selby Jr. and Jim Thompson.
– By Caroline Healy
I am omnipotent.
I see everything. I hear everything. I know everything.
At times it can be quite a d
Take Shirley for instance.
The things I know about her; you wouldn’t believe.
You might assume that we are friends.
When you know everything about everything and
everyone, you would be surprised how hard it is to make friends.
It doesn’t bother me anymore, though. You get used to
Anyway, Shirley. Yes. Shirley, Shirley, Shirley.
I know she hates herself.
Wonders periodically why she even exists.
She hates herself with complete commitment.
The passionate dislike she feels for herself is in direct contrast to
the passion she feels for Dave.
Dave, Oh Dave, the love of her life, the light of her life,
the one person who makes her feel like getting out of bed in the
morning. Her reason for being. Dave. Dave. Dave.
Dave: who beats her, night after night, in their one
bedroom apartment, with a prosperous view overlooking the
Nobody else knows about this, of course.
Apart from Dave and Shirley.
Nobody but me, that is.
Knowing everything is loud sometimes and sometimes
I’m not sure which I prefer more.
Dave hits Shirley, Shirley loves Dave, Shirley hates
It’s simple really.
See in the corner there, the corner of the room, where
the walls meet at an almost perfect right angle, there is a beetle,
under the floor boards, pushing a crumb. It’s impossible to see
him, as he is sheltered beneath the timber, it’s impossible to hear
him as he is so tiny, but I know he is there.
It’s not only people and their loud pulsating that I know
about. It’s the colour of the couch, the exact feel of the leather,
the exact number of spoons in the drawer in the kitchen, the
make and model of the car in the front yard.
It’s all in the details….and sometimes detail is all.
At the docks a ship has come in, its cargo of fish reeks. Five
dockers work long hours to unload this catch. Kev, Timmy Small,
Peter, Big Johno and Frank; they chat amicably about the football, the
page three model in the Sun and the cuts to their wages. Then, when
their shift is over, three walk aimlessly to the pub to spend their pay
and two more go the long way home, along the train track. When they
are sure that no body is looking, they hold hands, whispering sweet
nothings to each other. I see you.
Whispers, stolen moments, beatings and beetles pushing crumbs.
sitting in the
at the fertility
clinic, her partner
afraid to tell
her that he
wants to leave
her. Afraid that
out his mouth.
he is, waiting to
see a black man
about making a
baby. A black
man; a fertility
specialist. It does
not sit right with
but me that
Jimmy is a little
racist. He is
like the sparing
skim of fresh
butter he puts on
his toast every
about the black
doctor, the skim of
butter or Jimmy‘s
reluctance to have
a baby. She is
what Jimmy said,
about the possibility of
having a defective
wrinkles her brow,
what does that
even mean? In he
heart of hearts she
knows what it
means, it means
that she is to
blame. A defect
from her; she is at
She is the one
who may not be
able to reproduce
and all she wants,
the only thing she
wants, is to be like
She hates Jimmy sometimes. He is normal, like
everyone else. But Miriam is too weak to stand up and tell
them what she really thinks. Tell them to leaver her alone.
It’s what she wants to do, I know because I can hear the
words reverberating around in her head.
Fuck off, fuck off, fuck off…all of you just fuck off!
I like Hannah the best.
If I chose to have a friend, it would probably be her.
She tells people exactly what she thinks.
She likes boys and girls, it’s not a matter of sex, it’s a
matter of SEX. She is not fussy and doesn’t discriminate. She
simply wants to fuck and when this happens, she chooses
whoever is most convenient. People might say she is afraid of
emotional commitment, I would argue that she is just honest.
She has a small flat on the ground floor of an old
She likes tea pots and mismatched crockery.
She has had a few steady boyfriends, none of them good
enough, each one a little more impotent at life than the next.
She wonders sometimes how she manages to gather such
a mish-mash of walking eunuchs around her.
She has recently started dating women but finds them
the same, needy, self-conscious, forever looking to input into her
I know quite a bit about Hannah, I spend a lot of time
Hannah has made spaghetti carbonara for tea, she thinks it
might be the type of thing that Dwane eats on a regular basis;
large bowls of carbohydrates. She doesn’t really have any
deeper interest in Dwane other than the fact that she thinks he
has a hot body. Everyone needs sex, right? And Hannah is no
I’m just an OBSERVER.
Dwane reaches for her.
I’m just an OMnI(m)potent OBSERVER.
I see everything.
I hear everything.
I know everything.
Except what’s going to happen next…..asdfjkl;asdfjkl;asdfjkl;a
Caroline Healy is a writer and community arts facilitator. She has recently completed her M.A. in Creative Writing at the Seamus Heaney Centre, Queen’s University, Belfast. She published her first collection of short stories, entitled A Stitch in Time in August 2012, having won Doire Press’s International Chapbook Short Story Competition. Her work has been featured in publications such as Wordlegs, Prole and the Irish Writers’ Centre Lonely Voice. Caroline is completing the edits to her second short story collection, The House of Water and is working on her second young adult novel entitled The Wolf Mirror. You can follow Caroline on Twitter @charliehealy8 and check out her wonderful website: www.carolinehealy.com
Streets of San Francisco
– By John P Brady
I turned and mounted the steep hill on Taylor Street. I was in San Francisco at last. I didn’t look back as the car disappeared behind me; we had spent every moment of the last 3 days together travelling from San Diego. They were good people but now our paths diverged. My road was another and I had to follow it.
I entered Amsterdam Hotel and proceeded to pay for my accommodation. The goth girl on the desk put on Stone Temple Pilots as I waited to check in. A French guy in a floral shirt scrambled around in the office behind her.
“Is that Soundgarden?” I asked her.
“No, it’s STP,” she responded.
“Same band,” I commented trying to rise her.
“Excuse me, you’re talking to a fan,” she defended.
And quite a lady she was – just my type, with an edge to her. I imagined her dancing seductively in a dark rock club. Her punk/rock/chick look persuaded me to ask her for some local knowledge.
“So where does a guy go to have fun in this town?” I asked in an unapologetically thick Irish accent.
She immediately scribbled on a map the location of all her favourite rock hangouts, describing each one to make sure my decision would be an informed one. Grateful, I thanked her and grabbing my guitar and bag, headed for the second floor.
I needed to wash so looking in the bathroom I found a bathtub with a shower. The bath was blocked and almost full of the vilest liquid I could have imagined. It wouldn’t have been wise to get in, so I showered standing on the edges, slipping as I went. Water overflowed from the bath and covered the floor.
Soon afterwards there was a knock at my door. The French guy from reception rushed into the room saying there was a problem in the kitchen. We looked into the bathroom to see the several inches of water that had collected on the floor ripple gently.
“Okay, we have a problem,” the he asserted.
Soon I was helping him attack the bath with a large plunger.
“Ah, is no good,” he sighed. ‘I worry for the kitchen.’
It was clearly a job for him. It was time to get out and see the city so I prepared to leave. The French guy wore an impressive 70’s shirt which I had to comment on.
“That shirt you’re wearing is superb,” I mentioned.
“Ah thees one! Somebody leave it behind and I just wear it!”
Well, as the Yanks say: “That’s how I roll!”
It was time to find these dungeons of rock that San Francisco proudly hid amidst its great hills and corners.
After a quick step down by Union Square I grabbed a quick slice of pizza and moved towards the party streets. Bums were everywhere. Some I thought had arrived into the city just like me with a little money and just fell on hard times. America really forgets its poor.
I saw a suitably underground bar and went in. It was packed with stoned punters who wore mostly black. Neil Young sang out proudly on the jukebox. “Be on my side/I’ll be on your side…”
The barman poured me ale and I searched for a seat. I saw room in a seedy corner by a pool table. I gestured to the guy sitting there to ask if it was okay to sit. He looked deep into space and completely ignored me. I sipped deep into my first beer in San Fran.
The guy next to me raised a hand suddenly and held it there, almost touching my head. I stole a glance to see what variety of maniac he was. He gestured to an unscrupulous character at the other side of the pool table that looked back menacingly. Obviously my choice of seat was not popular with everybody. He approached and stood over me staring fixedly with empty eyes. I decided it was time to move.
I passed the legions of “cool kids” who each wore more unusual clothing that the last. The bar appeared to be divided in two, stoned rockers one side, coked-up hipsters the other. I left for another bar.
I went out into the fresh San Francisco night and noticed the chill from the mist which descended over the bay each evening. I saw the Edinburgh Castle on my right. Outside to the left of the bar, sat six or seven teenagers. They were puffing on joints and taking photos of each other
“Hi Mom, I’m high,” said one girl while posing for her hairy friend’s camera.
To my right a circle of older punters was forming. One tall guy with grey hair stood fidgeting in his pocket.
“Are you on stage now, man?” one of the others asked him.
The grey haired man produced a dope pipe, and began puffing hurriedly. He grumbled to the affirmative.
The group of guys puffed on American style joints and miniature pipes on the main street as a homeless black crack-head looked on. His eyes screamed for a hit. The grey haired guy reached into his pocket and parted with a roach to cheer him up. The crack-head grasped it frantically and putting it in his mouth, tried to puff.
“No you have to light it first…wait a minute…there you go,” said the grey haired man.
A moment later they went inside the bar, leaving the crack-head swaying alone, puffing relentlessly. I followed along inside, intrigued.
The grey haired man walked to the stage and picked up a bass guitar with the authority of a true musician.
The music began and I leaned against a post drinking ale, totally captivated by what I saw. It was progressive and delicate, soft and strong. Hippies of all ages swayed to the music, others watched with reverence.
The music ended and I snapped out of my haze and went outside. During the road trip from the Mexican border, I had not been on my own even for a moment for 4 days and now the feeling was strange. I went back to where I was standing before watching an endless stream of hobos passing. A mixed group of fashionable mid-twenties in front of me looked to be deciding on their next move.
I used my shamelessly lost Irishman line once again.
“So where does a guy go to have fun in this town?”
“You have an accent!” a girl responded as the five of them turned around in unison.
“Where are you from?” another asked.
They were eager to show me the city.
“Come with us we’re goin’ out now!”
Moments later I was in the back of a Chrysler careering through the streets of San Francisco with Lia, a beautiful Persian-American girl, on my lap. This is it!
We arrived at a club and I soon realised that Lia, clearly the single girl of the group, knew everybody there. I was introduced to super good-looking girls who smiled broadly and snobby gay people who would barely talk to me.
This mass introduction lasted a few minutes before I lost everybody and stood alone again. I began to wander around what I realised was just another soulless R’n’B club which held only negative pretentious vibes.
I listened as the DJ played 40 seconds of a classic song before applying tasteless alterations then changing the track and repeating the process. I walked around and wanted to leave.
Lia was from Iran originally and she was a dynamic representation of Persian beauty. She was the only person from the group that I had made any connection with. She wasn’t exactly easy to talk to as she was fond of affecting a persona which she felt she needed for whatever reason. Crucially, I hadn’t seen her for the last 20 minutes. I walked around alone.
I had firmly decided to leave when suddenly she returned. She looked into my eyes and held my gaze. I felt compelled to get close to her.
She drank more and more and sensing that I was still sober she urged me to drink up. The temptation of Eve. We began to dance and any barriers that we had were now gone. When I moved to kiss her she resisted saying that she didn’t kiss guys that were leaving in two days.
The time passed and now it was just Lia, her friend, Karen and a guy she knew.
We went outside. Karen and the guy began making out with vigour. Lia kicked me in the leg in a playful, drunken fashion.
“You’re just here ‘cos you want a piece of American ass!” she shouted.
“I don’t want American ass,” I announced, “I want Persian ass.”
This promoted another installment of girly violence.
A few bruises later and we were in a taxi, Lia and I along with Karen and her guy.
We pulled up at an upmarket apartment block and I reminded myself that you never really know who you’re talking to outside a bar. It turned out that she owned her apartment, a well decorated, plush place within walking distance of the centre. Inside there was considerable comfort, soft tones and designer furniture, making her abode a pleasure to be in.
We sat on the couch. Still no love and it was getting late. Karen and the guy were dry-humping like animals right next to us. She reached into his pants and rummaged around. A few minutes later they got up and said they were leaving, going to her place apparently.
Lia put on the latest sensation, a Scottish group that had made a name in the US. We sat on the sofa as Lia continued casual conversation and gradually we began to make out.
She had a sofa bed which seemed less pressurised than going to her room, also it was nearer.
A peaceful night later and it was morning. We hit the make or break moment. If the conversation died here I was going for the door. But things went smoothly and soon we were heading out for morning coffee.
The day ran with huge momentum as Lia took me over to Haight-Ashbury the site of the great flower-power revolution. We shopped in the vintage stores, ate Mexican food in a noisy restaurant and became very fond of each other. When we arrived at the Downtown bus stop she lay back on the grass verge and lying over her, I kissed her tenderly.
During the crowded bus journey we barely took our eyes off each other. We then walked silently through the streets towards her apartment each moment uncertain. When we arrived she threw the door open without really offering an invitation. She didn’t need to. Then we were in the elevator, going up.
John P Brady is an Irish writer, journalist and teacher. He has had stories published in Roadside Fiction, The Galway Review and others More of his writing can be found at JohnPBrady.com. Originally from Ireland, he now lives in Sicily, Italy, where he teaches English and writes a blog about expat life. Follow John on Twitter @JohnPBradyIRL
The New Irish Beat – Photo by David Levingstone
The Lost Beat Generations of Ireland
– By Andrew McEneff
Ireland never produced a Beat Generation and it is for this reason alone literature in our country is still struggling to find its contemporary ecstatic groove. As America was giving birth to On the Roadin 1957 and the Beats were yo-yoing from coast to coast, from New York to San Francisco and back again, vastly rolling out freedom, individuality, polyamory, sex-parties, drugs, bebop and rock n’ roll – and spreading the Word of a new literature that deemed “The world is holy! The soul is holy! The skin is holy! The nose is holy! The tongue and cock and hand and asshole holy!” – we were sat at home by the fire, bog-sodden and Church-heavy, guilt-bound to the family and the sad green land, intoning very different prayers, isolated from each other and utterly terrified of ourselves.
As sun-kissed American minds surged forward, joyously and recklessly exploring the promises and challenges of their liberating adventures, our imaginations were being sadistically and systematically repressed, our very emotions and desires beaten out of us. Instead of producing proud, free-thinking, confident and wildly assertive men and women capable of giving voice to their profane beatific sensual desires, we produced a generation of insecure and fearful subjects who were emotionally, morally and artistically retarded. One critic looking back over this bleak time in our cultural history even felt justified in making the following comparison, “If Stalin and Zdhanov crippled a generation of Soviet writers with injunctions to map out a scenario of ‘Girl meets Tractor’, then DeValera and Corkery had their own subtler but no less rigid prescriptions for Irish writers.” The second Irish name that you mightn’t recognize is in reference to Daniel Corkery (1878-1964), an Irish Language revivalist, politician, writer and teacher. Corkery had three such prescriptions, “No writer could truly claim to be Irish unless his work contained three specific notes (i) Nationality, ( ii) Religion (Catholic, of course) and ( iii) and the Land.”
In Ireland Church-State time stood still. Life stood still. And in the shadows of a dominant rural Revivalism change in literature was slow, incredibly and painfully slow. Our tortured colonial history is in part to blame for this. We know that. We were humiliated and controlled and told we weren’t yet ready for the modern world, and we obeyed. There was the added complication that there was a need to find something essentially Irish to celebrate first, being only a newly free Republic, before the destructive up-rooting of a vertiginously Godless American Capitalism invaded us and damned our souls eternally. But because of this complex historical and cultural subjection there is an absence and a terrible silence in our literature of the gloriously alternative underground voice. We never got a whiff of the freedoms or a chance to fully embody for ourselves that great revolutionary spirit that was sweeping across other nations at that time. But maybe now is the time for life and literature here to be inspired by some of the Beat’s wild exuberance: to self-explore and experiment, on all fronts, in all areas. Watermark by Sean O Reilly and Notes from a Turkish Whorehouse by Philip O Ceallaigh were certainly steps in the right direction as is the best of Kevin Barry, but we need more! More! We need to go further! And yet some of the same insidious problems are reoccurring. In the fifties “Ireland as a society was imploding on a central vacuity. Economic stagnation and emigration which amounted to a ‘human haemorrhage’ of 500,000 persons between 1945 and 1961…” A young generation abandoned ship and they are doing so again. So it is deeply troubling to think that something similar might happen and that we are going to be similarly disinherited. But I really don’t want to be writing about another missed opportunity in ten or twenty years’ time.
And yet, there is cause for optimism in the present as even from our Dark-Aged past there have been one or two angelic exceptions that soared up against the odds. The total suppression of desire is an impossibility and if that is so it can only ever be thanks to the courage of individuals, necessarily isolated individuals: outsiders. The only novel that comes anywhere near to having a Beat flavour in Ireland is of course The Ginger Man by J.P. Donleavy. Written by an American and published in Paris by Grove Press in 1955, that horny and hilarious and critical book was banned in Ireland and the U.S.A. But after Donleavy there is only one writer that stands out in my mind that has carried something of the Beat ethos into an Irish context and it is to our greatest shame that his work is still being so unjustifiably ignored. If you’re reading this and the name Desmond Hogan doesn’t mean anything to you then you should get acquainted with his work, especially his short stories, immediately. Desmond Hogan has travelled. He has been on the road a very long time. He is our very own courageous solitary Beat itinerant visionary. Larks Eggs: New and Selected Stories and Old Swords will give you some idea of his beauty, value and worth. His work is rare and singular, exuberant and extraordinary, there’s the high modernist attention to formal innovation and linguistic brilliance coupled to a content obsessive in its detailing and documentation of nature, art, youth, popular-culture, sexuality, Beatific travels and the wild and free, dangerous and damaged characters that are encountered along the way. From his travel writings entitled The Edge of the City he writes, “In autumn of 1976 when I went to San Francisco from Dublin…By a Victorian house with an owlish face I found a diagram illustrating the horrors of Hell. I never really returned to Dublin after San Francisco. In a sense I wandered.” Two names from sixty years of ‘writing’ from this country? We need to start adding to the list. But we also need to read and to love and cherish and celebrate what has gone before us. And we need more! Our literature is still not the feast it promises to be. So maybe being belatedly Beat in this country has been a blessing in disguise because it is now, quite simply, up to us.
So the question is what would a Beat writing in Ireland look like? How would it sound? What utterances, both critical and affirmative, would it be capable of making about our culture and the way we choose to live in it? And what demands will it make of our youth and generation? In order to live differently, to think differently, to feeling differently, to live marginally and most importantly, to live energetically against the staggeringly life-denying and murderous prescripts of the moral majority, we have to become what Jack Kerouac sought in his friends, we have to become our own ‘courage-teachers’ and to find others out there who are trying to live the same mad crazy dreams. I mean my friends, your friends and all those other searchers and fellow seekers and travellers who we haven’t met yet, I mean seeing and listening and giving expression to the eternal recurrence in Dublin and throughout the world of “…the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars…” Now is the exciting time. And perhaps for the trip we could keep in mind some of Jack Kerouac’s own ideas on what you need and how-to-do-it from his significantly titled ‘Belief & Technique for Modern Prose’, “…Number 4. Be in love with yr life…6. Be crazy dumbsaint of the mind…9. The unspeakable visions of the individual…14. Like Proust be an old teahead of time…15. Telling the true story of the world in interior monolog…17. Write in recollection and amazement for yourself…19. Accept loss forever…24. No fear or shame in the dignity of yr experience, language and knowledge…28. Composing wild, undisciplined, pure, coming in from under, crazier the better…30. Writer-Director of Earthly movies Sponsored & Angeled in Heaven…”
Number 24 is something we could all really do with pausing on and feeling how deep it goes. No fear or shame in the dignity of our experience, no fear our shame about the language we use, and no fear or shame about our knowledge. The alcohol and drugs, the music and the parties don’t daunt us, not in the least, but sex and self-confidence and the terror and ecstasy of true individuality keeps us strangely at odds with ourselves and yet those are the original and most gratifying of all intoxicants. The beauty of our dirty angels in the street, our wild mad lives, our crazy mad stories and all the mad shit we get up to, the enthusiasm to live it creatively, to share girlfriends, swap boyfriends, the break-ups break-downs and break-throughs, the bleary eyes at five in the morning still hooked and reading life-changing lines and page after page of all those radically genius and mind-blowing books, the places we’ve been to and fallen in love with here and around the world, the heroes and heroines of the past and the present, and everything that presents the true promises of innocence and youth and experience, not as palliative diversions, but as real and alternative challenges to the pathology of normalcy that always has the power to corrupt us and wear us down, to break our fucking hearts. We can’t let ourselves be beaten again by circumstance or lack of self-confidence. But we have to be cautious, potential capture and traps are all about. As the angel-headed and exuberantly experimental militant philosopher Felix Guattari writes:
The way to have a lust for life, to maintain commitments, to forget
oneself is not simple or obvious. “What for?! has incredible power…
Is it worth trying to keep everything up, taking up the heritage of generations,
keeping the machine running… making Literature or art? Why not break
down, burst and leave it all in the lurch? That’s the question. Giving
way to it is always only so far away…
The answer of course is at the same time both personal and
collective. In life, one can only hold on to momentum. Subjectivity
needs movement, directional vectors, ritournelles, rhythms and refrains
that beat time to carry it along. The most singular and personal factors
have to do with social and collective dimensions.
I bought Felix Guattari’s book Chaosophy in City Light Books in North Beach San Francisco, my friend bought a copy of Desert Islands by Gilles Deleuze and we went into Vesuvios and read bits of them and drank and the words and being there made us ecstatic and happy. Afterwards we went wandering through Chinatown and then through the fast streets in a yellow taxi we rode all the way up to Haight Asbury as the city and bay turned to dusk. Up there were the remnants, the broken wreaks of the hippy-movement, the sad crazy insane ones who never broke out, who never got free, who got stuck and spun in the void. Origins change and weaken and become something else once they have been explosively discharged, but it’s only in retaining the best from the past and looking to the future that hope and optimism is continually regained. I took that book I bought there and those feelings with me back to Dublin and I do believe that something Beat, something philosophic, something explosively youthful and real is out there bubbling under our horizon: writers are out there cooking-up things that will add to the feast. It’s the Beat ethos and the inspirational energy and creativity of the Beats that we need here, to force us, to fuel the expressions of our desires, to start our own origins for different universes of reference, better and more precious than the ones that are being bought and sold in our faces and behind our backs. With self-generating momentum and with the help of different sources and encounters outside of ourselves we might inject some desperately needed newness and freshness into the content of Irish literature so that it no longer bears false witness to the contemporary problems that are specific to our time.
In his essay “Remember Jack Kerouac” William S. Burroughs says something that reminds us about something that perhaps we already know but are still too fearful to admit to ourselves, “What are writers, and I will confine the use of this term to writers of novels, trying to do? They are trying to create a universe in which they have lived or where they would like to live…Sometimes, as in the case of Fitzgerald and Kerouac, the effect produced by a writer is immediate, as if a generation were waiting to be written. In other cases, there may be a time lag…In any case, by writing a universe, the writer makes such a universe possible…Writers are, in a way, very powerful indeed. They write the script for the reality film…Now if writers could get together into a real tight union, we’d have the world right by the words. We could write our own universes…Writers could take over the reality studio. So they must not be allowed to find out that they can make this happen. Kerouac understood this long before I did. Life is a dream, he said.” Man, can’t you dig it? What dizzying joy those words should bring. I hope those words and what it all means makes you emotional and gives you courage and something of a feeling artistic responsibility. Imbue your creations with the feelings of growing forward into life and not backwards into death.
Irish fiction in the twentieth century has been quite conventional
in subject matter and technique, despite Joyce and Beckett and in
spite of what has been going on elsewhere in the world. Too much
is about Ireland, the sow that eats her farrow, about a priest-ridden
God-forsaken race…Too much is in the mould of a cosy realism. The
exceptions are too few and far between.
So the content of our literature has to change, and change utterly. It is still broadly speaking in a shameful state, and the great stuff seems to be little known or ignored. But it’s going to take great writers and great writing to give us what we so sorely need in this country. I know a lot of very good writers and soon some of them will be great, so I have hope. In The Stinging Fly, on wordlegs,The Bohemyth, Bare Hands Poetry, The South Circular and in the recently arrived Penny Dreadful to name but a few platforms there’s a new generation of writers coming to the surface and finding their voice. In our cultural imaginary there’s an on-going struggle for dominance for what will be the primary contents and expressions of our Post-Christian souls or for souls, read, our ethical substance. Some people will become the avatars of reactionary ideals; some will have the look and words of casual nihilism; some will be fashionably vacuous and so on and so on…they’ll all gravitate and find each other and their self-levelling groups and effect the world accordingly. My hope is that some of us are still revolutionary in spirit, that some of us are already saying and doing very un-commonplace things, creating a new gallery of beatific characters of the here and now that are being driven and given momentum by new precepts, affects and ideals about sex love poetry philosophy and freedom and the place at these have in our lives. There’s a crazy trip ahead of us and I’m already looking forward to meeting some of you on the road.
Andrew McEneff is a short story writer, essayist and film-maker living and working in Dublin. His short stories have been published in Commotions: New Writing from the Oscar Wilde Centre, ‘College Green’, Icarus: 50th Anniversary Edition and on wordlegs.com. He is working on a collection of short stories and two novels. This is his first published piece of non-fiction.
We had the idea we’d play house. Make believe our happiness. I baked banana bread and you caught summer swallows that flew through the open kitchen window. I’d remark that it was early for swallows, pretending to know about the rhythms of such things.
When you got home the house stank of sweetness drifting from the kitchen and I’d listen to all the boy bravado. I made myself meek and mild and all the pleasing things that big men need. When the trees grew too close to the front windows you’d cut their branches, while I sat watching, making domestic declarations about the lovely cut I’d gotten from the butchers. In the pantry, I put a fuss of food and salted meats and washed your clothes by hand in the basin because there was more honour in it. In return you’d give me gifts of half-baked promises and wild notions.
We made savage messes, every way, in every room of that place. When you laid your hands on me, to lust, or rage, regardless, my body bucked, a lump lodging in my neck, another slowly swelling.
But you saw me those days, docile, beached in some forgotten, lonesome corner, counting kindnesses. The words fell blankly from me, shifting shape in empty air, and behind it all, I raged against every tender smallness.
You had built me a plywood front, painted pleasant enough, but soon the wood would warp, the paint peeled. If I could have worn you then, like we slept, gripping and crawling across each other, swallowing big blocks of square air. Those times you shuddered and we forgot the bad match, the bitter taste.
But those days were long days and thoughts turn to softer men. Men put together from bits of remembrances fleeting, flown. And from these, grew notions of grander things, of things said once by others sheathed in the blue night. While you sat fat, making sport of princely pomp, walking a tree-lined procession as our paper palace yellowed in the sun.
So starved the smallness of it. That smallness once curled and pressed softly against the inside of my breast, that choking and spitting then drowned in my gut. The petitions, hoarse, quivered in our throats, and though we longed and longed, we lost. And even then, when the light bled saffron along the line of your back, you took my hand in yours and I heard the bones break.
I went back to the house a few times but saw no sign you had been there. The pane glass was broken and I found bits of us scattered. But you left in a hurry, I think, not long after I did.
Patrick H. Fitzgerald is originally from North Co. Kerry. A Fine Art graduate of Limerick School of Art & Design, he has come to writing, through his visual arts background, experimenting with flash fiction and poetry. He has previously collaborated with artists writing work for performance art pieces. He is currently living in Australia, working on a collection of short stories.
– By Graham Conners
David was sat with his back against the wall, in the middle of telling Aisling and Emer some story that had happened years ago when I noticed Laura and how she held herself. She nodded along as he spoke, her lips curled into a soft, almost hesitant smile, her arms folded across her lap. She studied David’s face, watching him with a distracted, almost melancholic, attention and I was certain that it picked at the corner stone that held her together. As I watched her in the snug I knew that she hadn’t looked forward to this night. It seemed that she almost didn’t want to be here at all, as being here made things real. She turned away, catching my attention accidentally and looked at me for a moment, studying my face. I’d known Laura a long time and I saw a sadness she was trying to disguise. She smiled wanly, reaching out and slapping the back of my hand playfully, like I was a bold child. In that moment I felt that, for her, time was moving all too quick and she was afraid of wasting whatever little was left. I returned the smile and leaned in to her.
“I’ll give you a million quid for a smile.” And she did, her eyes flashing in the dim light. “Can I owe ya?” I asked and she nodded. I leaned in a little closer and she leaned in to me. “It’s going to be okay, you know.”
“Yup,” she said, winking at me softly before turning away, trying to slip seamlessly into the conversation. I watched her and knew that she was trying to avoid the reality that David would not be here tomorrow. And David would never be coming back.
I met David, through Laura, from coffee’s shared in the student centre, study days in the library and eventually nights out and weekends at festivals and such. At first I wasn’t sure of him, this fella with an accent that seemed to say all the right things. To the best of my knowledge he never offended anyone. No one ever said that David was a prick, or that he kept bad company. He held open doors, carried heavy things for the girls, remembered birthdays and always seemed to give the best advice going. He read books like they were going out of style and found it very hard to keep hold of them, always giving away his second hand paperbacks if you expressed so much as a passing interest in reading it. Jesus, he was so hard not to like that Laura and I fell out for a short time when I decided that I wasn’t going to like him, just to be different. Most of it was jealousy as he had, did and was everything I wanted or wanted to be. I left the room when he entered or poked fun at his opinions when he offered them. I soon learned that all I was doing was making an arsehole out of myself. Laura told me to cop on and stop being a prick, cornering me in Doyle’s one night out. She started to cry. Laura only ever cried over people she cared about. In that moment I wasn’t sure which one of us she cared about more, David or me, but seeing her cry was enough. Things changed after that.
I came back from the bar with the last round of drinks we’d ever have together. David had moved across into my seat and Aisling into David’s so I found myself sitting opposite them, on my own. David and Laura were sitting beside each other, talking between themselves. She was laughing and it seemed, though I couldn’t hear what they were saying, as if they were talking about things they would do tomorrow, or next week. They had found someway to enjoy whatever time was left and I could not begrudge them that. There’s a song that I use to sing at parties with the lyric ‘the heart is a package tangled up in knots someone else tied.’ I couldn’t help but smile at the two of them together and suddenly I found a new meaning in those words, it made a lot more sense. In that instant part of me wished I were David, even just for these last few minutes, as he seemed to fill her world. I remembered the days before he came along and I knew that things would never again be like that. I would never be able to fill that David-shaped hole in her life. No matter what I did, I’d never be David.
David had his bags packed and sitting in a tidy little knot at the foot of the stairs. He had donated the bigger things he owned to people he felt would use them best. I got a collection of books. The taxi was waiting, parked up on the street outside. Instinctively we all knew that the others in our group needed space. Emer sat in the sitting room, having said her goodbye already, vacantly watching something she had recorded during the week. Aisling and David shared their goodbyes in the kitchen. Laura and I waited in the hallway. I could hear them, Aisling warning him not to forget about us and to hurry back. What else do you say to someone that’s leaving?
I stood by the radiator, warming myself, Laura sitting on the lowest step of the stairs. She fidgeted with the tags on David’s bags, reading the stickers and the patches he’d sewn on over the years, tracing some roadmap of his time in Ireland. The kitchen door opened. David stepped into the shadows of the dim hallway. I straightened up and offered my hand. He took it and shook it, his deep brown eyes boring into mine and we said our goodbyes. Laura was listening, standing to face David as we had finished. She took two hesitant steps down the hallway, she was crying and he began to cry too. She could say nothing, could not say goodbye, her face red with tears as she tucked herself in under his arm and he held her and rocked her slowly forward and back, like a parent with a restless child. I looked away and I stepped up the hallway to the door, turning slightly to view them out of the corner of my eye. His big hands cupped her face, his thumbs wiping away her tears.
“You will see me again,” he said, his heavy voice coming like a whisper, tender and loving. He held her once more and they shook with sobs, David wrapping his great big arms around her little frame tighter, as if folding himself over her, protecting her. “You will see me again,” he said once more and released her, making for the doorway, towards me. “Goodbye Barry,” he said, pausing but a moment as he picked his bags from the floor. I offered to help but he declined it, saying he could manage. He did, taking the three bags with him out into the darkness. We watched him load up the taxi and climb in. He did not look back, or wave, and the taxi slowly pulled away and around the corner.
“Bye David,” I said to myself and to no one in particular as the taillights faded away into the darkness. And then he was gone, flitted away into the night.
She cried more that night as we sat in the kitchen, letting cups of tea go cold on the countertop, letting long drawn out pauses blossom between us. I held her, trying to reassure her that the world was still turning, that things weren’t over. She apologised to me, saying how she was acting like a child. I told her everything was fine and that I understood; it’s hard to lose someone you love. I wish my motives had been less selfish, but they weren’t. I needed to know, needed to know that she loved him. Laura looked up, taking her head off my chest, nodding so smoothly that it was almost invisible, but totally inevitable. She patted my chest and smiled, wiping at the tears on her cheeks and at the damp patches on my shirt. She apologised and broke away from me, taking her cup of cold tea and pouring it down the sink.
“Good night Bar,” she said and half smiled, squeezing my hand as she passed me. She closed the kitchen door over and I listened to the soft thud of her steps on the stairs until they faded away. Standing in the silence of the early hours I felt the ground shifting beneath me. I remembered what David had said to her; you will see me again. And I know she will, I know she will. I hope she does.
The Morning (Hers)
She was gone before 7.30am, leaving early for work. We passed on the landing as she was going and I asked her how she was. She said she was fine but I knew she was lying.
David had lived with us for nearly a year, a great silent hulk moving quietly about, talking about music or movies or about his confusion at an Irish person’s happy disposition in such as sunless country. David was from Trinidad and had followed some crazy idea of coming to Ireland in search of adventure. We laughed about that many times, telling him that if he wanted adventure to try walk through Temple Bar unmolested around 2am of a Saturday night. He never did, to the best of my knowledge. One night, years ago, with the rain sluicing down the windows in great torrents, he told me about home, about ‘his’ island as he called it. He had been home only once in four years, for his sisters wedding. In that moment I felt that David was running from something, as if he had let some gap develop and he regretted it. He rarely spoke of his family and when he did it was always of his mother. I once asked about his father, had he passed away? David replied with a simple, soft ‘no.’ Though I wanted to, I never pressed him on this, I never went fishing for more information. That evening he told me that he had been away for a long time and he felt maybe he was ready to go home.
Home, I always found it strange how he spoke of it. Home never seemed to be thousands of miles away but somewhere you could walk to, somewhere just around the corner that he could visit whenever he wanted. To me David held a little of his home inside him, stored in some jar or cubbie hole in his soul. He carried the sun and warmth with him and, though it was a kind of precious energy that kept him going, he was not afraid to share it with you. That was David and that was why people loved him.
The Morning (Mine)
Usually being the last to leave the house, I checked all the windows and doors were locked and secure. As I gathered my coat to leave I noticed the door to David’s room was open just a crack. He had not pulled it after himself, not sealed it shut with the finality of his leaving. I don’t know why but I looked in. The mat he had was gone, donated to someone or other. It was just that little bit too thick and often jammed the door in some strange position that was neither open nor closed. Now it opened freely and I peeped in, taking a moment, as if waiting for permission, before I entered.
I stood in the doorway and looked about me. The room was virtually bare, all the little bits and pieces that made David, David, were gone. His bed spread, his photographs, his magazines, his rosary beads; all packed away and vanished. And though the room was quite small, and David quite a big man, this empty space now seemed cavernous, hollow and absolutely different. It seemed like he had never been here at all and that is when I felt it, I felt this twinge in my chest that spoke to me of the brittle nature of people, of hearts and life and love. Here I was in a room in a house I’d lived in for four years and I felt like a stranger. I could claim no ownership over it; I felt an alien in this space as, no matter what this room became now David was no longer here, a study room or an office, this will always be known as David’s room. Where’s the old lamp for the sitting room? Try David’s room. Have you seen the suitcase? It’s probably in the wardrobe in David’s room. This will always be his room and now that he is gone it feels so wrong, like it shouldn’t be a room at all. It wasn’t just his room for a while, it was his room for life and as I turned away I felt that maybe it was the heart of the house if only for a short time.
As I left I spied something hanging on a hook just behind the door. It was a small tag from an old Christmas present, a smiling happy Santa looking out at me. It lifted my spirits and for some reason I reached to turn it over.
I read the words over twice and set the tag back in its place. This little piece of card had been too important to throw away, it said too much but still was too heavy to take with him, too rich in memories and emotions. I found myself crying and dried my eyes. I left the room, closing the door over. I stopped and listened to the wind outside running against the side of the house and heard his words in my mind, a smile catching the corners of my mouth.
You will see me again. You will see me again.
Graham Connors is thirty years old and has previously been published in wordlegs magazine, 30 Under 30 (both e-book and paperback editions), Allegory magazine, Under Thirty magazine, The Lit Garden, Link magazine and long-listed for the Doire Press International Chapbook competition. He is the founder and editor of Number Eleven Magazine as well as contributing editor for the Dublin Informer newspaper. He successfully staged his first play, ‘The Mortal Pitch’, in both Wexford and Dublin. He is from Gorey, in Co. Wexford but has lived in Dublin for the last ten years. Someday he’ll find his way back home.
The sea is brown at my back, the autumn breeze urging it against the rocks on which I sit. In front of me the rippling tide is black, then blue. The water looks gentle with the evening light tip-toeing on its surface. But I know beneath is strong, dark and cold.
I will not resist.
I will go willingly.
Lapping of the sea echoes pleasingly from under the rocks. Pleasing is the sound, soft on the ear. Pleasing too that my body will soon be down there. With the rats. And the worms.
A wretched business for whoever identifies me. They’d have to ask someone, wouldn’t they, to be sure? Would they ask Alan? I wonder, would they?
Alan. Great big block head on thick shoulders. A sour face. A landlord of the old school.
It’ll shake him up a bit alright, having to identify my body laid out on a slab. All blue and bloated. Recognisable yet unrecognisable. Alan, forced to have a good long look with eyes wide open before whispering, “Yes, that’s him.”
I can see his sickened face. The same face he has the rare time he does the dirty work and cleans sick from the stairs or lifts someone’s shit off the floor in the jacks.
His disgusted face makes me shiver with glee.
Stiffness claws at my back so I shift a bit but that starts my hip off, waking the untouchable dull pain that is never far away. So I just sit and wait for a little of the pain to go and a little more of the evening to pass.
A cargo ship with containers stacked tidy row upon row leaves Dublin Port for the mouth of the Liffey, one green light flashing her slow heartbeat.
An old pair nearing me now. With tanned skin, beige trousers, and plastic water bottles. Not paying me any attention at all so they’re not.
“How are yez? Nice evening!”
Nearly run, they do. Christ.
Ah, the tourists, where would this country be without them but?
Céad Mile Fáilte.
A father and son come cycling. The old feller nods. I nod back. The boy trails behind bumping on the uneven stones, forehead furrowed in concentration. “You’re playing a stormer, kid,” I tell him. “You’re flying.”
The Da smiles.
Alan has kids too. And a nice home, no doubt, with a comfy warm scratcher. But soon all he’ll see when he goes to sleep is me and my rotten face. There will be a stench. God, will there be a stench. It will give him nerves alright.
My gut suddenly lurches and my head is light. Pinpricks of heat circle my neck and rise in a fizzy rush to my face. Sure wouldn’t Alan be glad to see me dead? Aren’t I a problem to him? What would he care if I was out of the way? Unemployed barmen are two a penny these days.
I cover the sight of the world with my fingers, angered and embarrassed at my own stupidity. Because the only person they could ask to identify me body will be glad to see it.
Is there someone else they could ask?
No, not Sarah. It won’t be Sarah.
The cargo ship inches level with me. The Andromeda.
It’s not quite time. At the far end of the Wall I see blurry silhouettes fishing. But when they go it’ll be just me.
It could never be Sarah. You’d be a fool to think otherwise. And I never did. Not really. There’s the age, for starters. Sarah. Twenty-three years old.
The one time I’d lost the run of myself at her birthday drinks. If it hadn’t been a Sunday I wouldn’t have gone. But it was. On a Sunday, my day off, wearing my good clothes, not the usual faded trousers and old polo shirt. Sunday means Terry, all dressed up and with places to go, drowning in thirst.
I was only messing. Tried to give her a birthday kiss, is all. And that was all. We were mates.
The kiss was just banter. I know it was. But everyone else said otherwise, and when everyone else looks at you different to how you look at yourself, well, it clouds your thinking.
I know what they say.
I stand, unsteadily. The breeze cools my head and carries salt to my eyes and lips.
I walk to the edge.
The red-and-white towers of Poolbeg hide the steel and glass of the Docklands. In the low-rise houses of Clontarf opposite I see old Dublin, my Dublin.
New Dublin is everywhere. It even sparkles in the dark sky. Kite-surfers on Bull Island. At this time of evening. At this time of year. When I was young it was just fishing. Fishing and football.
Fifteen years I’ve been pulling pints for Alan. Five months Sarah has been behind the bar. Part-time. But she fills the place. As every other pub in town loses trade. The punters go for her like flies to shite. It’s the oldest trick in the publican’s book.
While me, after years of feeding and watering them – I’m just sick of people. I have the craic as always. Chat about the weather. Pass on racing tips. Compliment the women. But it’s all a lie. And maybe it shows. Maybe that’s it after all, just that and nothing more.
Maybe that’s why Alan put me on split-shifts. Open the bar at ten in the morning, work till four. Come back at nine for the few hours to close the night.
Leave Sarah alone.
Just ignore the others.
There’s not a lot you can do in five hours. By the time I walk home to the room in Finglas and catch my breath it’s nearly time to go back to the pub again.
I walk because I hate giving my money away to the buses or taxis and because I need to lose weight. I do be needing to lose weight. Now and then I’ll get into the hardness of having a salad sandwich instead of the usual fried pub lunch. Now and then I won’t lash six or seven pints into me while cashing up. Now and then I won’t drink on the job.
But it’s not easy. You go behind that bar with the worst hangover of your life and vowing to never drink again but after five minutes of pouring pints left right and centre, breathing sweat and farts, men and women stepping in off the street and shrugging the day off themselves so strongly that you can hear it hit the floor… after five minutes, you’ll be gagging for a pint, and the first chance you get, you’ll horse the drink into you.
Horse it into you.
An excuse, of course. Always an excuse. The good habits never last. It’s not Alan. It’s not Sarah. I wish them the best. I really do. It’s me. Failing the false dawns. Letting myself down. Struggling, fighting against my nature, my thoughts, my self. Always trying again. Always failing. Always excuses. I’m sick of nothing in this world like I’m sick of me.
I step forward –
“Fucking shite in the end, wasn’t it mister?”
The voice sprung from darkness sends my heart to my throat. I spin around. A boy of eleven or twelve, fishing rod in hand, stands there.
“Pure bollocks it was,” he says, his blue eyes piercing through the gloom. Then I notice the green and white football shirt.
“Rovers?” I say, tentatively.
“Yeah. I see you there every game mister, standing at the back. We were pure muck on Friday, weren’t we? Another missed penno in the car park end.”
It’s just me and him and the wind.
“You must be freezing in just that top,” I say.
“But I don’t feel it, mister,” he shrugs and walks away. “Don’t feel it.”
He leaves me alone on the edge.
Shamrock Rovers Football Club.
The cry of the seagulls above.
Passing the All American Laundrette on South Great George’s Street in winter and inhaling the hot soapy steam blowing from its air vents.
The smooth stone of Jim Larkin’s statue against my fingers.
Is that all there is? These solitary and fleeting touchstones of happiness in my city?
What more do you want?
Well then. It’s settled.
I take a careful step back and turn my back on the dark void of the sea.
Far behind me the green light of The Andromeda continues to strike its heartbeat, faint against the black canvas of the night.
Niall Foley has been harnessed as a barman, labourer, clerk, lecturer and journalist – and several other functions. He currently lives in Edinburgh, and is happiest when unshackled and alone in a room with a desk, some paper, and a pencil. Check out Niall’s website.
Pop Goes The Gun
– By Vikki Gemmell
Flecks of gold circle his irises, like blasts of sun in a blue sky; a detail I’m only just noticing. After three years of working together he’s still a mystery. He clinks his beer glass against mine.
“Cheers,” he says.
“This is good, you agreeing to come out for a drink with me. We can have a proper chat before you come over tomorrow. I think you get me; it’ll be perfect.”
I nod. “I’ve never done any… modelling… like this before.”
“All you need to do is stand there. I’ll have my paints and gun ready.”
“Gun?” I laugh nervously.
He laughs too and I smile, not exactly sure what’s so funny. His is a proper belly laugh.
He pinches my cheek. “You look pretty cute when you giggle.”
I look away, heat creeping up my throat. “How long have you been painting?” I divert attention back to him.
“As soon as I could pick up a brush,” he says. “It’s tough getting anyone to give a shit about it all. You know, Van Gogh didn’t sell a single painting until he died. I think he was onto something there.”
I survey him curiously. “I’m sure he would’ve preferred to have been around to see his success, don’t you think?”
“Sammy, Sam,” he winks at me. “It doesn’t always work like that. You’ll see…tomorrow, my dear.”
His flat smells of turpentine and ashtrays and something sweet… the odours concoct a potent mixture in my nostrils and shoot to my head. My head spins and I feel it’s slowly breaking away from the rest of my body; my neck is the string of a helium balloon and someone just untied it. I can almost feel my hair brushing against the ceiling… static electricity.
Static electricity is the real reason why I’m here and we both know it. I’m bored with my boyfriend. He’s bored with his girlfriend. He wants me to pose nude because it’s the fastest and easiest way he can think of getting my clothes off and it saves us having to make excuses to our consciences.
“In here,” He pushes a door open and I follow him inside.
My eyes don’t know which wall to focus on first. I blink then take a deep breath and focus on the one facing me. My face burns as I am confronted with wall-to-wall coverage of nude women posing like they are in pre-edited James Bond credits. No silhouettes here.
“D’you like them?” He sees me looking and I open and close my mouth, not sure what he wants me to say.
“Took me fucking ages. I used a different kind of paint for those ones so it was hard doing much detail.”
“Oh,”’ My throat collapses into my stomach. Not much detail? I can practically see the goose bumps along their inner thighs… I begin to feel panicky and stupid. Maybe he really does want to paint me naked. Like seriously. In detail… to add to his wall. Shit, shit, shit.
I turn to look at his other wall and see Andy Warhol prints, movie posters… a Trainspotting poster with him and his friends in place of the actors. He’s Renton. I look at another poster for Pulp Fiction and realise it’s his girlfriend, donned in a black wig, pouting. I try to decide if this is cool or just…weird.
“Sit down,” he says, motioning to his bed.
I perch on the end of his bed. I watch as he starts to sift through his CD collection.
“What kind of music you into?” he asks.
I shrug. “Rock. Alternative.” Did alternative exist anymore? It seemed everything alternative had gone mainstream. Even the kids hanging around town were confused; their eclectic wardrobes borrowing a piece of everyone in an attempt to look different, only to turn up and see fifty other people had had the same idea.
Nirvana blasts out from his stereo and I laugh.
“What’s so funny?” he yells in my face, as he dances around, an unlit fag between his fingers, his jeans slouching half way down his arse.
“I haven’t heard this in ages,” I say.
“What?” He cups his ear with his hand and smiles. I can still see his dimples even though he clearly hasn’t shaved for a while.
I smile back; my body begins to relax.
“Have you ever thought about dying?” He appears in my face again and I jerk back, unnerved by his abrupt question.
“Well, not exactly. I mean I’ve thought about death, but not, like, the actual act of how I’ll go…”
“Sammy, Sammy, Sammy,” he tuts, shaking his head. “All the interesting people are dead. I can’t wait to meet them all and party with them.” He lights his cigarette and laughs as he blows circles into the air.
“You could always hold a séance,” I shrug.
He ponders this seriously. We really don’t share the same sense of humour. I begin to wonder if he is so crazy that he is beyond a sense of humour…
“I don’t really believe in all that shit.” He waves a hand dismissively at me. He pulls out a bottle of whisky from his cupboard. “Ah, there you are my sweet baby.”
He takes an over enthusiastic swig and the liquid glides over his chin, dripping on to his t-shirt. He keeps drinking. I hold my breath along with him. How much whisky can you down in one go?
“Ahhh,” he gasps, pulling the bottle back down level. He burps loudly. “Here, have some.”
I take the bottle. Peer into the half empty gold pool. I take a swig. The roof of my mouth roars in protest. I feel every drop sail down the back of my throat, down, down, down, exploding in my stomach.
“You’re so cute,” he says. He sits down beside me and pinches my cheek.
“Thanks.” His eyes analyse every line and pore on my face.
“And sexy.” He brushes my hair back from my shoulder and his finger traces a circle around the delicate skin on my neck. Every inch of my body begins to pulsate, my lips are screaming Kiss me, kiss me.
“Just perfect. Hmmm…” He snaps his fingers and I blink. He jumps up and rushes over to his easel.
I swig some more whisky. Oh my God. Just kiss me for Christ’s sake… His jumping around is beginning to make me dizzy.
“Okay. Cool,” He begins to squeeze tubes of paint and colours squirt out onto a palette, like a melting rainbow. “Take your clothes off, Sam. Let’s get started.”
I swallow the whisky slowly. Uh oh. That doesn’t sound like the ‘Ooh baby. I want you,’ that I was expecting. He really wants to look at my body. Objectively. Fuck. I have cellulite. My boobs are too small…I look at the Bond Girls dancing across his wall. Their boobs are fantastic; their bodies acquaintances of the local gym.
“Uh, Scott…” I sit up; feel the nausea grip my tongue.
“Mmm?” He is mixing frantically, chewing on a paintbrush.
I am on the verge of saying I feel sick and want to go home. No lie there. But I seem to have lost the ability to speak.
“Come on beautiful. Smile for the camera.” He peers at me through the square he has constructed with his fingers.
I stand up. My hands are shaking so much I can’t unbutton my shirt properly.
“Would it help if I got naked too?”
“Umm…” He’s already thrown his t-shirt over his head, is climbing out of his jeans…
I laugh and quickly unbutton my shirt, slip off my denim skirt. Then the underwear… quick and painless, like ripping off a plaster. I glance over at him. He hasn’t taken off his boxers.
“Hey…” I protest, crossing my legs, hugging my chest.
“Don’t get all coy, Sammy!”
He bends down to open a box underneath his easel and I notice how smooth his skin looks, the slight muscles in his arms ripples on a flawless canvas.
I stand awkwardly, waiting.
He holds up a gun.
“What is that?” Asking the obvious. I think back to his comment in the pub last night.
“A gun,” He hands it to me and I forget about my nakedness. I hold the weight in my hand nervously.
I want to ask if it’s real. But I don’t want to know. “Why d’you have a gun?”
“For my art darling,” he says, nodding towards the Bond Girls. “All part of the little picture I’m painting.”
Of course. How stupid of me to think that he wouldn’t just add in some fake guns afterwards.
“Okay, strike a pose,” He lunges forward, pointing his fingers in an upside down v.
I hesitate, then point the gun; mimic his pose.
“Hmm…” He scratches his chin, scanning my body.
Don’t look at my bum. Don’t look at my bum.
“Bit more to the left.”
“Perfect!” He claps his hands and bounces back to his easel.
Twelve songs spin past. I’m getting a cramp in my shoulder. The gun’s getting heavier.
He lays down his palette. “Sam, do you know why I really asked you here today?”
“What d’you mean?” Hallelujah. I hadn’t read the signals wrong. He did want my body for a different kind of creativity. My thigh twitches.
“Take a break, sweetie. Sit down.” He walks over to me, motions for me to sit on the bed.
I sit down, laying the gun beside me. He crouches, facing me. I’m slightly disappointed that he holds my gaze. I try to stop my eyes from devouring his whole body.
“I think we get each other. I can see the same desire inside of you that’s inside of me.”
Waves of panic and anticipation wash over me as I follow his gaze to the ‘bond girls’ on the wall.
“Those other girls – they weren’t quite ready…”
He grabs my hand, grinning. A spark runs up my arm.
“Come on, it’ll be more dramatic and memorable in the living room. My best paintings are in there.”
I let him pull me up, my head spinning. He reaches behind me to pick up the gun.
“Are you going to paint me in the living room?” I ask, following him out the door.
“No, we’re moving on to the main event now,” he stops and touches me gently on the cheek. “The timing had to be just right. I feel ready now.”
A shiver tickles my spine. I’ve been ready for so long…
We walk down the hall and he turns to smile at me as he leads me into a large, sun filled room.
He shuts the door and he hands me the gun.
Biography: Vikki Gemmell lives in Scotland and has fiction published in Spilling Ink Review, Flashflood Journal and recently won third prize in the Multi-Story flash fiction competition. She is currently working on a Young Adult novel. Her observations about life can be found on her blog. Follow Vikki on Twitter @VikkiGemmell
35 years? No, don’t be ridiculous! It couldn’t be. It simply couldn’t. Er, actually, hold on a cotton-pickin’ minute, I do believe it is 35 years to the season that I first saw not only my first life-changing gig, but the event that kickstarted a cultural revolution in my head. It was Iggy Pop, in London, at a venue that was then called the Rainbow Theatre but which is now a building belonging to the Brazilian Pentacostalist Universal Church of the Kingdom of God. Not to worry – a religious experience is a religious experience whatever the venue.
Back then, I had short hair, wore straight-legged jeans and Doc Marten boots. NME was my weekly bible of cultural reference points – anything that Charles Shaar Murray, Nick Kent, Tony Parsons or Julie Burchill recommended to read/see/hear I’d do just that. London is a mind-expanding city at any time, of course, but in 1977/78? Well, wasn’t that was a time and a place for a young lad to live in, his head spinning from the amount of music to experience and the sights to see.
Punk rock hadn’t yet leveled out to become a caricature of itself; there were no ostrich-coiffured punks strolling along King’s Road or Camden High Street tapping tourists for money. The music was the thing, and from my experience, at least, it was as close to the real deal anyone from a provincial Irish town could imagine. Seeing Iggy Pop headline in a major London venue at around the time when punk rock was at its most influential seemed just that little bit more exciting. And besides, what wasn’t to love about milling into the tube station at Finsbury Park with several hundred Stooges fans singing Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell?
Fact is, I recall that gig as if it were last night: from the early 70s, Iggy Pop had been given a new lease of life via his friendship with David Bowie, and Pop’s proto-punk band The Stooges had attained an enviable high regard from London’s leading punk rock acts. But it was as much Iggy as the music that the audience was into: I’ve never seen anyone before or since utilise their body as if it were pliable work of art. Bowie’s lyric from the Ziggy Stardust album track, Hang On To Yourself, about moving “like tigers on Vaseline” could have been written about Pop, for he slithered around, prowled, on that stage, barracking and beckoning the crowd to do things that, collectively, an audience really shouldn’t. There is something incredibly compelling about a performer that seems to care little about their physical well being; it’s a car-crash scenario that sucks you in, and when the performer is as fearless as Pop an element of genuine danger gets dragged kicking and screaming into a heady mix that includes potent rock music, stimulants of varying kinds and the sense that all of the audience are misfits or miscreants just like you.
I remember leaving the venue and walking towards the tube station, jostling my way past other fans, and thinking not only how invincible was my belief in the power of brilliant music, but also how invulnerable that belief made me feel. 35 years later I still feel the same (performing pop clowns notwithstanding), but I have often asked myself why is that the case? What is it about the live music experience that continues to scratch at what is clearly a severe itch?
Some might think that a person of my age (I’m over 50 and barely give it a moment’s thought, believe me) would be more suited to worrying about the watering of his indoor tomato plants than the scheduling on his wall chart as to whether he’ll go to Norwegian punks Honningen or Sea Sessions one night, or Plan B or Body & Soul the next. Frankly, I’m unsure why music can make a body seem as if it can withstand torture (no doubt neurological scientists and academics would know), but there is one thing I am absolutely certain of: try telling that to the vast majority of people my age or younger, and they’ll look at you as if you have two heads.
It’s as if once you reach a particular age, then certain pursuits you once held on to for dear life should automatically fade into the distance. And so when I’m asked about what I did at the weekend or last week I inhibit myself from expressing my true feelings. “I went to see a band,” I say. “Oh, which one?” they query. “Well, you might not have heard of them – they’re called [for example] Spook of the 13th Lock”.
You can immediately see their interest diminish as the lack of recognition registers. “Were they any good?”, they ask. Here is when I hold back, replying with a brief, “Yea, they weren’t too bad…”, when what I really want to say is something along the lines of how the band fuse post.rock, prog rock and psych rock with traditional folk idioms, occasionally enveloping songs with shrieks of feedback and Krautrock wig-outs. But I don’t. Instead I ask, “How’s the family?”
It’s a curse, unfortunately, that many people of a certain age/era think live music is the preserve of those so much younger; the amount of times I have heard people younger than me saying they’re too old for rock and pop music is something that causes me concern. Don’t they know what they’re missing? Clearly, the cut and thrust of a live gig experience that isn’t sitting down on chairs on a crisp lawn to watch Leonard Cohen (great though the man is) is something they should experience but don’t for fear of being discomforted. But, one supposes, in the same way that ardent gig goers to open-air festivals gradually transfer their bones from sleeping in tents to hotel rooms, so the live music experience mutates from one of excitement to indifference.
I don’t necessarily see it that way, and that’s not just because most gigs I go to I write about and get paid for my time and effort. No, the reason is because the live music experience – like theatre and other areas of performance art – is a vital component of contact with a sense of what’s real. In small spaces you can see it in the faces of the musicians and the audience – and there is no better sense of communion than with a crowd that, en masse, understands the music as well as the band. If the space is large, and if the band is good enough, then the size of the venue and the audience adds to the atmosphere. Whether it’s Whelan’s or Vicar Street or Croke Park don’t dare try to deny that a collective fit isn’t a sight that makes your eyes water and your mouth smile.
Like bands, however, the gig experience differs every time. Occasionally, gigs are awful and ordinary; other gigs, however, oscillate between good, great and out-of-this-world, and touch a part of the human system and spirit that creates what can safely be described as an eargasm.
Inevitably, it’s the latter that mean the most to me, and probably the least to those who have little or no interest in live music. And here’s the rub: there are, quite likely, people who are untouched by the effect that live music can provide or provoke. I understand that open-air festivals functioning under constant showers of rain, rivulets of mud and the promise of too many people under the influence have few benefits; I appreciate that people talking loudly behind your head, standing firmly in front of you, or shoving their way past you as they spill their beer over your footwear is not good for the notion of karma. Yet the blend of voice, music and words (truth, humour and some manner of sexuality and charisma, too) can be intoxicating. I don’t necessarily yearn to be impressed, or even thrilled skinny or driven delirious every time I venture into a small venue or an open-air barn, but I won’t say no to these if they happen.
I’ll be seeing you at the next few gigs, then? Bruce Springsteen, you say? Followed by Rihanna? Followed by a lower profile act you possibly haven’t heard of? Yep, I’ll probably be at those. You can’t miss me – I’ll be the compact 50-something guy with short hair, straight-legged jeans and Doc Marten boots. With memories of Iggy Pop in the back of my head and expectations of whoever’s on stage in front of my face.
Oh – and would you mind not stepping on my toes? Thanks.
Tony Clayton-Lea is an award-winning freelance journalist who writes on pop culture, movies and travel for a variety of publications, notably The Irish Times and Cara (Aer Lingus in-flight magazine). He lives in County Meath, Ireland. Check out more of Tony’s work at tonyclaytonlea.com ; follow him on Twitter @TonyClaytonLea
By Any Other Name
– By Jane Williams
On the night the man asks the woman to move in with him and she says yes – sweating curry, Lambrusco and dope; they exchange impossible vows. He promises never to leave her. She promises not to drive him crazy or tie him down. They joke about sex on tap. They make a pact to speak only the truth.
The kitchen blackboard is fixed to one wall. A window of permanent night. Tiny white shapes appear and disappear like stars that have nothing and everything to do with the man and the woman. They chalk their to do lists, phone numbers, quotable quotes. And once, after a discussion about not listening, about talking too much – the word embellishment. Scrawled in his handwriting, underlined twice. Who suggested a woman ruins her chances by talking too much? That a man is at his strongest when silent?
When, ten years later he uncharacteristically starts telling her how beautiful she is, she knows he has fallen in love. With someone else. No, this isn’t true. She knows nothing of this. Believes in everything to the contrary. Is this her problem? An irrational, unshakable belief that anything is possible? That will and wishing can make it so? Even in the face of rumour and recurring dreams – the woman tells herself they are meant for each other.
She asks him once. Just once. She’s heard other people ask. Namely actors in day time soap operas (what is it about daylight that makes the watching of soap opera so much less forgivable? As if we are only free to choose under cover of dark …).
What are they doing when she asks? What do they wear? Is it the beginning or the end of another day? Or does her question stop play somewhere in the middle? Perhaps they are in the kitchen. Heart of their home. Where they comfort eat, drink and smoke and call it decadence, hedonism, and sometimes, when they are feeling more hopeful – living the good life. Where they ponder the big questions. The big picture questions that take them away from themselves and each other a little further each time. Deep and meaningfuls in which they talk about respecting the rights of the individual. About love as a romantic construct. About timeout and space and the odd weekend away. From each other.
Perhaps he is standing in front of the old combustion stove at the end of the Blackwood table with the Rubenesque legs. The table he made with honest hands at technical college, years and relationships and so many conflicting truths ago. Maybe she is sitting, legs curled, on the velveteen couch she has learnt to stroke as if it were the family pet.
Are you having an affair? she asks. And he answers No, noI’m not having an affair – adding her name onto the end of the sentence like a full stop. Like the Monopoly card that reads: Do not pass go. And she doesn’t. If he flinches she cannot see it – but love as they say …
When she tries to leave, the word trust appears on the blackboard in both their hands. He stops kissing her on the mouth when they make love. They stop making love and start having occasional sad sex. She masters the art of crying soundlessly.
Sometimes, she half stirs from sleep in the middle of the night to sense him whispering in her ear. When she tells herself these whispers are declarations of love he has not yet found the courage for in naked light of day, she dreams of a much older woman telling her it is time she shed her fairytale skin.
Mostly she dreams of lesser men who try to woo her only with chocolates and flowers and of him walking toward her with the fuzzy smile of a middle aged hippy, taking her hand, leading her away toward a purer light. But sometimes she sits up suddenly in bed, still asleep, and starts screaming until he wakes and says her name and tells her to stop. Night Terrors, the doctors tell her. Pavor Nocturnus. Usually the sufferer has no memory of the episodes. But she remembers once, holding up by the roots of its thick and untamed hair, his decapitated head. Like a spoil of war.
Each day becomes a new part to try out for. A desperate misrepresentation of self. He tells her he does not like these inconsistencies. He is waiting for her many faces to fuse into the one he can call Beloved.
She tells him she has always been here. Waiting.
Hear me he begs. See me she counters.
The kiss as a symbol of all that is missing in their relationship, weighs heavily and draws the fatefully perfect memory of her first real kiss, at the electric age of thirteen. She’d heard all the first time stories. About a clashing of noses and teeth, slobbering tongues and always a hand bruising a new breast. About shallow depths and shelf life. But this is not how it is. The boy kisses her first on the cheek, a tender questing. When their mouths join and open together she is aware only of the seamless fluidity of the movement. The strangely validating familiarity of it. And how like coming home this falling together seems.
As a woman in bed she reads about sex as an industry. She learns that some prostitutes prefer to leave kissing, that most intimate of gestures, out of their working lives. Protecting sex acts from being mistaken for anything more personal by either client or worker. They say they are saving their kisses for their lovers. She tells the man this but he cannot see past the implied insult and they do not speak of it again.
The woman learns to kiss the man with her eyes when he comes home, with her hands as she waves him goodbye. She walks on her toes but makes fists of her hands.
Once, after throwing something heavy and hard at the wall behind his head, she learns that acts of self defence can lie dormant then break through out of context.
He retreats behind the invisible shield of his silence. She looks to the blackboard until its black eye stares her down and she knows their days are numbered.
A fog settles between them. It barely allows for the illusion that this a rough patch. That there is a clearing up ahead into which they can build a different life. The one they imagined before the drugs wore off and their bodies grew wary.
One day after a weekend away he comes to her in the garden and unexpectedly drops at her feet, burying his face in her belly, as if she is carrying their child. Holding him this way she wonders, not for the first time, how they will survive each other.
The end is not marked by any of the usual clichéd, tell tale signs: A lipsticked shirt collar. An earring caught under the back seat of the car – the glint of it alluring and misleading as fools gold. The expectant then disappointed breath (not her own) when she answers the phone.
In this new millennium it is the shared laptop that cannot hold its tongue. Emails slip through the deletion process revealing true love has another name, negating all that went before. In this way their worlds end and begin again. In an agony of truth: memories implode, hearts tick over, stars appear and disappear
Jane Williams is an Australian poet and short story writer living in Tasmania. Check out her blog.
Intro and Outrospection of a Latecomer to Narcissism
– By Ewan C. Forbes
Who is this man who stares out at me from these photos? He looks perennially happy, though sometimes this looks forced. His friends are my friends. And what friends they are. He looks comfortable in their company.
He is familiar yet distant. He is someone I could be said to have known my whole life, yet his face is as unfamiliar to me as those of my similarly introspective inner-city neighbours. I don’t know what it is but there is something I don’t like about him. He fills spaces I thought I inhabited, and he does so as a mirror inversion of those relatively few interactions with my own form I have committed to memory. Those encounters were the lie: this is the truth as the rest of the world sees it.
The man in the mirror was never me, and I would not recognise my symmetrically-challenged face in an uninverted form were I to pass myself on the street. I know this. From the photos.
” ” I sleep
” ” we be friends
” ” I get a job
” ” I lose weight
The drop-down options of despair compiled from the searches of those who we think of when we say everyone. Is this a mirror, an inversion of truth, or a photo? More optimism maybe. Lets explore the realms of possibility, together.
” ” make a star on earth
” ” live on mars
” ” still be friends
” ” trust the police
More exact maybe, more practical.
” ” I lose weight
” ” I make money fast
” ” she slap
” ” I stop eating
No! Rubbish! The whole world’s worth of information at our fingertips… and this? Again!
” ” you describe yourself
” ” I look bald
” ” you identify oxygen
” ” I look with a fringe
I push the laptop away. I don’t think a search engine is a mirror or a photo. Metaphors can only take us so far, and if either were apt I would be terrified.
` But the unfamiliar man in the photos was jarring too…
One more attempt.
” ” I know lyrics
” ” the world end
” ” I die
” ” I know
Ewan C. Forbes lives and writes in Aberdeen, Scotland. His work has previously appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Sand Journal (as Ewan Forbes), and in Digital Science Fiction’s Visions Imprint (as E. C. Forbes). Recent Google searches of Ewan Forbes and E. C. Forbes bring up Sir Ewan Forbes of Craigievar (who started life as Elizabeth Forbes-Sempill) in the former case, and a ‘California corporation engaged in the manufacture and sales of high-end erotic electrostimulation products’ in the latter. Ewan C. Forbes said to say hello and to wish you well.
Photography – Jane Riddell is a writer of contemporary fiction and an enthusiastic blogger, including penning letters from a Russian cat. In addition, she loves travel and photography. She is the proprietor of an editing service, Choice Words Editing. Jane holds a Masters in Creative Writing and her first novel, Water’s Edge, will be e-published by ThornBerry Publishing in Spring 2013. Check out Jane’s website. Follow Jane on Twitter @JaneRiddell
I learn through Facebook that Julia is dead. This from some guy I have never actually met. I stare at his profile picture for ages, communing with his image and the momentous message. Soon my newsfeed is buzzing with death, and we all form a group: Julia’s funeral arrangements. Although they are not calling it a funeral, but a valediction. I stop myself from posting something sarcastic.
It’s not going to be a religious ceremony, thank God. All that comfort of the litany makes me want to turn a blind eye to the gaping void; believe me, I know first hand just how terrifying that dark mouth is.
Julia’s dead, and I have stopped existing in a shared past, in our communal memory. There is now only my crappy recollections, and whatever is left in Julia’s extinct hippocampus — perhaps the memory of me like a hippo at campus (I was on the large side then), who the hell knows. She’s going into the ground in a cardboard box. Most of us won’t have a clue what to do. With the usual, at least you know to stand around looking sombre and repeat words after someone, and stand up and sit down in a clean room with a polished box. This alternative thing sounds totally like Julia (although it’s not an alternative to actually being dead, so I don’t see the point).
I never caught up with her again; she was never on Facebook. She had a profile, but no picture, she was inactive. She’s bloody inactive now anyway. Ha! I am not laughing. I’m driving, feeling the lumps grow all over me, from my stomach to my throat, to the aching cold sore that broke out last night. I wish I was going to see her. Even to see her body in death — her corpse, let’s not dress it up — would be something. The old traditions have it right: sit around the body and laugh and sing and talk, and make it have happened over and over, and then put the body in the ground. My phone bleeps and glancing down at the empty passenger seat, I read that Caroline has just checked in at Julia’s valediction.
Julia would not have believed how connected I am to the lives of others; the words ‘social’ and ‘networking’ are the last I would use about myself. I openly express my emotions and my whereabouts (my opinions always came for free): in other words, I update my status. It’s amazing the freedom that little box gives you (no offence, Julia). I never had this kind of help at college. I struggled with Julia, her openness, her romanticism, her offensive sentimentality. I felt more comfortable with Caroline, her sensuality not asking for declarations. I think Julia was waiting for the tortured creature inside me to crawl out and be known, a slick of repressed emotion oozing its way onto our sheets. She was waiting for me to learn emotional articulacy. Poor girl.
I remember us one evening side by side on the sofa. Julia sighed, turning towards me,
“You’re not talking to me.”
“I have been talking to you.”
“No, you haven’t. All you said was ‘how many metres square do you think that living room is?’ That is the best you can come up with.”
“Julia, we’re watching a home improvement programme. What do you want me to ask? What would a woman ask – ‘how do you feel about this living room extension?’”
She looked at me, a world of exasperation.
“You never, ever tell me how you feel.”
I didn’t know what to say, I truly didn’t. I expect she was thinking about her past romance, with Percy fucking Shelley.
I remember this conversation (poorly no doubt, there is no digital record), partly because this was the day that I slept with Caroline, and the day before Julia and I split up for good.
Caroline had been there later that evening looking absolutely gorgeous. She was drunk, so I imagine she had some excuse for betraying her best friend (although to be honest I’ve slept with quite a few best friends over the years, and none have seemed overly plagued by conscience). I was sober and had no excuse, and although I wasn’t eaten up by guilt afterwards, Julia spotted straight away that something was wrong, so I told her. Not a smart move it turned out.
I arrive and it’s very awkward as there is nowhere particular to go. Me and a few others are just standing around on this hill overlooking the sea. If Julia were here she would describe it beautifully. The sun is low, long beams of light, it’s cold. There are quite a few people here, all looking like they’ve arrived at a party with nowhere to put their coats. I’m sure there must be a few pairs of eyes on me, just like I’m scanning the crowd, trying to recognise some faces. Some stand out, instantly, from their digital selves. There’s Shane, knew him at college, one of Julia’s old mates. He’s a Facebook friend. He is married and his last holiday was in Mozambique (‘cool pics, hope you enjoyed’). He has liked a picture of me at a birthday party, and was sorry that I had the flu last month. No one has clocked me yet, or not enough to come up and say hello. And then I catch someone’s eye, some middle aged woman in one of those expensive proper coats; I look and see flickering underneath that it’s Caroline. She walks over, smiling.
Everyone fancied Caroline, she was stunning and clever and funny. I can see her profile picture hovering above her, off to the left, and it distracts me as I look at her physical self – lines, blotches, the roughness of anxiety when I shake her hand.
We don’t have the usual awkwardness as all that was broken when she friended me online. First my stomach turned over reading her full name, then unabashed curiosity, comparing how we’ve aged, and finally she became demythologised, an ordinary face posting on my newsfeed. The opening small talk is easier too, as I know that last week she had some dental work done, and she must know that I got pissed and embarrassed myself last Saturday night, she’s probably seen the clip of me Greek dancing with Dave. I know she works part time, is a strict vegetarian and likes sci-fi and apocalyptic movies. So we cut to the chase.
“It’s unbelievable, isn’t it?”
“She’s the first one of us ––”
“Makes you think ––”
“It does, I know. You’ve gotta just, like, make each moment ––”
I feel oddly comforted. I don’t have to ask how she’s been for twenty five years. The burden of communication is light. She leans in towards me,
“She’s the first real friend — you know what I mean — to die of it.”
This fact somehow unites us, like an amicable conspiracy.
“You know, statistically there’s bound to be another one of us here today who’s on the way to meet their maker soon.”
“Or meet oblivion.”
“Indeed, or meat oblivion,” she giggles, we both giggle, we guffaw. It is not at all funny.
I find I’m having too good a time and remember that I’m at Julia’s funeral and I should be a little more tactful. I try to say something deep.
“Julia was –– well, Julia was Julia.”
“Did you get over her?”
I change the subject.
“Did you guys stay best mates?”
“Nope. Didn’t see her after college. Didn’t hear from her for years until Facebook.”
“Yeah, me neither.”
“But she was inactive.”
We look at each other, the joke gaping at us from the proceedings at the front, and guffaw again.
Someone is signalling for us to gather round, and soon a quietness breaks out. I notice Gregoria standing beside the box, tall, pale. She is Julia’s daughter which comes as a surprise, she must be in her early twenties. She is about to read something. I hope and pray that it is not Stop all the Clocks (she would have to change all the pronouns anyway, it wouldn’t work). I have had enough weddings butcher great poetry, now this whole civil burial thing is opening another can of worms. Everyone waits, and Gregoria begins.
“It’s lovely to see so many old faces here, Julia would be pleased that you all came – although of course it doesn’t really matter to her now…” — a damp laugh rises in condensation — “but it matters very much to John.”
If my name weren’t so common I’d draw some conclusions about her marrying a John, but then, I’m most definitely a Johnny. John nods. Gregoria talks about Julia and suddenly she is there in front of me, fresh faced and gooey with love, laughing into my up close face.
I am back in our old rooms, smoking, the radio blaring, the sun hot on the windowpanes, years sprawled out in front of us. Julia is lying on the bed inhaling a cough, Caroline is sitting cross legged on the chair, posing. I see John beside her, his hand on her shoulder, possessive. We live in our own drama, of flirtation and deception and the full on depth of the future, aswim in all the mucky loveliness of twenty something angst and sex and fierceness.
I was healthy then. I didn’t have pills, medical bills, estimated remaining time.
I look at Gregoria (for god’s sake, Gregoria?) and I can clearly see Julia’s eyes, her dark brows. But as she turns to the side, the hand she lifts to her face, her profile, they are unmistakably mine.
Too late. It’s too late.
I have stopped listening to Gregoria, I have been watching her in slow motion, something like fear and happiness at my throat. But it’s time now to put the box in the ground. The small huddle of people gather more closely around the hole and I see they are going to play some music, and then I realise with a shock it’s going to have to be that song, one we listened to all that summer, and Julia is gone, gone, sloping ungraciously into the earth, and now the music plays and I don’t snigger and joke with Caroline because now I can’t ignore what’s happened to her, what’s happening to me. So I sing a song of love,
Ruth McKee has been shortlisted for RTE’s Francis MacManus Short Story Competition. She is working on her first historical novel. She is a PhD graduate in literature from Trinity College Dublin and lives in Skerries with her two small children and three cats. Follow Ruth on Twitter @RuthMcKee
Short Story: Seamus Gavara and the Fat Capitalist Pig
– By Patrick O’Flaherty
‘Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me.’
‘Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me.’
The class fell silent and bowed their heads like chastised pups. This only encouraged the two boys to sing louder, ‘Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me.’
The jaw of Mrs O’Brien – the religion teacher – now touched the floor. She tried to speak, then shook her head, burst into tears and ran out of the room. Seamus Gavara and his comrade Fiachra ‘The Beard’ Cassidy – les enfants terribles – had to find themselves a new school, but the events of that day forged a bond which would change the course of Irish history.
Seamus and Fiachra had been friends since the age of fourteen. Magnetically drawn to each other by John Player Blue cigarettes and their Rage Against the MachineT-shirts.
Together they would fight the machine to the death.
Throughout their teenage years they waged war against capitalism. They refused to wear watches, to recognise Greenwich Mean Time, buy Nike trainers or to eat in McDonalds. They were small but tenacious thorns in the arse of the multinational cartels. They demanded a new Ireland – a socialist republic – a proletarian utopia. Such was their anarchic reputations that even Joseph Higginsbottom – the Godfather of Irish Socialism – wouldn’t take their calls. He distanced himself from their seditious agitation.
Fiachra first came to international prominence as a member of a far-left Marxist revolutionary ornithological observation group in the Columbian jungle. Fiachra’s research led him into close contact with the terrible poverty of that continent and the massive gulf between rich and poor. Seamus joined Fiachra in South America on a J7 Visa from college. They bought a Honda 50 motorcycle and for twelve weeks rode around the beaches of Cancun and Rio de Janeiro observing the tremendous destitution of the indigenous people and the breath-taking beauty of the local bikini-clad women.
Seamus kept a diary of this historic trip, which later became internationally famous; it contained amongst other things a list of his many sexual conquests. He was known as ‘The Ginger Conquistador’ and the ladies found his freckled charms irresistible.
The adventure wasn’t without its struggles however as both Seamus and Fiachra suffered severe sunburn on their pale Irish skin and also fell victim to the scourge of intoxication in their undying efforts to help the South American people. This epic journey crystallised their egalitarian beliefs.
The Ireland of the Celtic Tiger years was a playground for the corporate mafia of the giant American multinationals. Like 1950s Havana, it was mired in corruption. It was Havana with potatoes and rain. A safe haven for the faceless conglomerates to wash their profits – a developer’s paradise, a brown envelope Shangri La.
Seamus and Fiachra wanted to rid Ireland of the cancer of greed, of the culture that spawned the fat Hibernian capitalist pig – Hiberno Vulgarianism. That pig had grown grotesquely plump during the now extinct Celtic Tiger. It had its snout in the filthy trough of property speculation; its ostentatious displays of wealth were vulgar in the extreme. It was time to put the pig on the spit.
Being nouveau riche hadn’t suited the Irish psyche. The Irish were used to centuries of famine, forced emigration, evictions, and good old-fashioned misery. The newfound affluence drove the natives instantly mad, which was only to be expected of an island of perennially oppressed peasants, some of whom were still living in mud huts until the late 1800s. But the mood of the people had darkened. The Teflon Taoiseach – the Irish Batista – Gertie O’Hern had been dethroned. The Emperor had no clothes.
The arse had fallen out of the country. The world was in turmoil, the bankers and the developers had fucked the people – big style – and the government had let it happen. The socio-political landscape was transformed. The people wanted change – they wanted blood. Now, twenty years after first standing up to the machine in the form of Mrs O’Brien, Seamus and Fiachra and their newly formed party – The People’s Party of the People (PPP) were ready to seize that opportunity.
Seamus Gavara had revolution on his mind but his ideological thirst was yet again quenched by a crippling weakness for the drink. He awoke with his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth. His body shook violently. A black beret nestled on his wild mane of ginger hair. His world was upside down.
‘Seamus, are you dead or alive in there? Do you know the time? Tis three o’clock, the day’ll be gone. You’re sleeping your life away,’ said Betty Gavara. Betty was Seamus’ long suffering mother, locally famous for her superlative scones, an open mind and an acerbic wit often sprinkled with sexual euphemisms of an adolescent nature. It kept her young at heart, and with a thirty-four year old ideologue son in the house, she needed to be.
‘Ya, ya, Jesus Christ I’m awake. Will you leave me alone woman?’
‘My heart is broke with that young fella,’ Betty said, throwing her eyes up to heaven.
Seamus jumped up out of the bed, staggered around looking for the clothes that he had on before tentatively venturing out of the burrow that was his room. He met Betty in the hallway. She was upside down and speaking in tongues. He looked down upon her undulating double chin and attempted to decipher her utterances. Betty shook her head and wondered where did it all go wrong for her. She wondered what the fuck was she after rearing? She went back into the refuge of her kitchen to the soothing sounds of RTE Radio One to make a fresh batch of scones.
Seamus, now terror stricken by his fragmenting mind galloped towards the front door, past the reflection of his head high red Doc Marten boots in the hall mirror.
‘I’m headin mam, good luck, talk later,’ he shouted, as he ran out the door.
He emerged to a sky of lush green fields, populated by black and white Friesian cattle that were upside down happily chewing the cud. They were surrounded by lines of grey stonewalls. An ethereal lawn of white cumulus cloud covered the ground in front of him. Brambles, whitethorn and blackthorn hedges, horse chestnut and tall slender ash trees hung perilously from the sky in complete disregard to Isaac Newton’s theory of gravitation. The Fire Brigade rescued a meowing dog from an ash tree. Crows and finches glided over little fluffy clouds to the sound of barking horses at 30,000ft. A line of chattering neighbours passed the house walking on their hands. The road moved beneath stationary cars like a travelator in an airport departure gate.
To Seamus, this had all the hallmarks of a CIA operation – sensory manipulation – a classic mindfuck. They must have spiked him with hallucinogenic drugs. Seamus had seen the film The Men Who Stare at Goats. He knew what those fuckers were capable of. He wasn’t going to crack. The Bay of fucking Pigs he thought. Maybe they got to Fiachra? Fiachra and the CIA? Seamus ran over the various scenarios in his head. Nobody could be trusted. He needed to pull himself together. He took a deep breath and tried to reassure himself – just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.
America – the cheerleader of free market capitalism had been the sole superpower since the demise of the Soviet Union but the capitalist system was on its knees. China was a monolith and America was crippled by its debt due to its ill-fated Middle Eastern campaigns of imperialist aggression in the aftermath of 9/11. The Western civilization was in decline, soft centred and bloated. Seamus and Fiachra studied the great Roman, Mayan and Aztec empires, all of which imploded and crumbled making way for new and hungrier powers to emerge. Powers like India and China.
The PPP were ready to exploit this new reality.
Ireland was a key battleground because of its proximity to Europe and its importance as a corporate centre. The extreme austerity measures imposed by the troika of the EU, IMF, and the ECB had led to the disillusionment of the people.
The PPP made their move with a campaign of Blitzkrieg electioneering. Their posters were omnipresent, quoting Mao underneath the letters PPP, ‘A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first few steps.’ The people had turned to the People’s Party of the People and the revolution would be televised on TG4 as a party political broadcast after Sergio Leone’s classic western Once Upon a Time in The West.
Seamus made contact with the Chinese secret service under the cover of a takeaway restaurant ‘The Dragons Belly,’ in Rathkeale, Co Limerick. He walked up the red neon-lit curried steps of the entrance, opened the door and walked towards the counter. A young girl sat watching a Chinese game show on a television mounted on the wall.
‘I’ve an order in for a Mr Kung Po.’
‘Gavara, Seamus Gavara.’
‘Ah Mr Gavara, we’ve been expecting you. Welcome to the belly of the dragon. Pleeze come with me.’
Seamus lifted the countertop, walked underneath the television to the sound of a clapping Chinese audience into a back room where he met the man known only as, Chang.
The PPP used their burgeoning political power base to make representations to the Minster for Offense about the building of a Chinese missile defence base at Shannon Airport. In return the Chinese promised significant inward investment – a major project in Tipperary involving the construction of a satellite city as a European base for the Chinese companies. This project would create thousands of jobs and would forge a co-operative bond between Ireland and China. The local TD Mickey Maowry had played a pivotal role in the development due to his extensive contacts in the Asian business community.
Mickey Maowry was known as a man to get things done and was wildly popular amongst his constituents despite high profile scandals involving the awarding of lucrative licenses for massage parlours and the illegal importation of Rhino horns into the greater Tipperary area. Officially announcing the project, Mickey Maowry told the Tipperary Enquirer:
‘After several years of hard work and personal sacrifice I have delivered
this project for the good people of Tipperary who have stood by me during this campaign of vilification by the national media. I would also like to thank my long suffering wife Pamela, my sons John, Johnny, Pa, Patrick and Paddy, Mickey and Mickey Junior, my daughters Bridie and Bride and our Labrador Blacky. They are my rock and without them I would be just a lonely hardworking bachelor politician without a family or a dog. Thank you.’
The Chinese had extensive interests in Africa and in the mineral rich Australian outback. Their hunger for resources was insatiable. Their tentacles were truly global and Ireland was next for Chinafication.
It was during these turbulent times that Seamus met Saoirse. A sultry brunette, tall and elegant with a smouldering sexual allure. She was a force of nature for which Seamus had no resistance. He melted beneath the scorching flame of her ferocious eroticism.
Saoirse had travelled the world after college working casually in bars and restaurants. She liked to dance and drink in a narcotic haze. She exploited her erotic capital. Saoirse was wild as the wind but still found time for her volunteering and charity work, including a month long spell at an orphanage in New Delhi. Her father Sean had a top job in Googlesoft, Ireland and he bankrolled her decadent lifestyle in between her ephemeral periods of gainful employment.
Seamus fell helplessly under Saoirse’s spell. They hit the bars and nightclubs. They feasted on each other in an alcohol-drenched banquet of depravity. The world around them blurred into an inconsequential mass.
Meanwhile, the Chinese had begun construction of the base at Shannon and the satellite city outside Thurles.In the July electionsFiachra and the PPP’s newest apparatchik, Mickey Maowry, were elected on the first count helping to win the party an overall majority.
At a White House press conference the American President and the leader of the Tea Party administration Mitt Palin spoke about the Chinese presence in Shannon, ‘The Irish and the American people always had a special relationship, a shared history of struggle and endurance. We will stand by our friends in Ireland. This is an act of aggression, a threat to democracy and to the free world.’
There were high-level leaks about a covert invasion and CIA funding for the far-right anti-immigration party – The III ‘Irish Ireland for the Irish.’
Seamus had become increasingly paranoid. He saw CIA agents at every corner – old women pushing trolleys in supermarket car parks, street cleaners sweeping the roads, parked taxi drivers. They were everywhere, always seeming to avert their gaze whenever he tried to look them in the eye. Falling silent when he walked into a room. He moved into a new apartment with Saoirse and checked it daily for bugs and cameras. He checked light fittings, ashtrays, picture frames, clock faces. Even the fruit bowl, ticking them off a list as he went.
Saoirse was worried. He was distant and had a glazed look in his eyes. She decided to confront him.
‘Seamus are you alright? Is there something on your mind?’
‘You’re not yourself. You’re very quiet with me. Did I…do something?’
‘I’m sorry Saoirse, it’s just with the PPP and the negotiations with the Chinese, things are mad lately. That’s all. I’m just…a bit stressed out. I’m grand.’
‘You don’t look grand. You look off your fuckin game.’
‘It’s those CIA fuckers…fuckin with my head.’
‘What…are you talking about Seamus?’
‘Mind control, sensory manipulation, Project MK-ULTRA, the Men That Stare At Fuckin Goats. At my mothers house…the bastards. She’s nothing to do with this.’
‘Calm down hunny…it’s ok. Breathe…talk slowly.’
‘They must have spiked me the fuckers. After the Rage Against the Machine concert I woke up and everything was upside down. I was trippin out. You saw what the Russians did to Litvinenko. Poisoned the cunt. With his tea. His fuckin tea. Polonium-210. They’ll get me too.’
‘Don’t you remember Seamus? The acid? We took the acid after the gig. Remember? Got it from Tim O’Leary in town. Larry in the Sky with Dinosaurs? Seamus calmed down a little after their talk. He still thought that the CIA were somehow involved but he kept it to himself. The less she knew the better, for her own sake.
The PPP were monitoring Seamus’ erratic behaviour. Nobody could jeopardise the Party. Fiachra distanced himself from Seamus and had taken to smoking big Cuban cigars. He was elected president of the PPP.
Seamus was now only a peripheral figure in the Party he built but he didn’t care. All he wanted was Saoirse. He loved her so much he took a manufacturing job in Googlesoft to help pay the rent of their apartment. Saoirse’s father Sean pulled a few strings and got him the gig. They settled into a quiet life of debauched domesticity.
Saoirse took up ballet after watching the film Black Swan. Seamus purchased his first watch to observe GMT because his overlords at Googlesoft demanded strict adherence to the clock. Betty would drop over fresh scones to supplement their Big Mac meals.
‘Mrs Gavara, is it yourself?’
‘Saoirse, how many times have I told you? Call me Betty.’
‘Sorry…Betty. Come in.’
‘I’ve some fresh scones for ye. Where is he, where’s my boy?’
‘He’s working overtime. He’ll be home at seven.’
‘I don’t know what you’re doing to him. I’ve never seen him so happy. You even got him working. I thought he was still one of those antichrists, marching and protesting and that. We’ll have to keep you Saoirse.’
‘They’re anarchists Betty.’
‘Sure, they’re all the one, aren’t they?’
‘ I’m going nowhere Betty. I love him. He’s a heart of gold. He’s idealistic and…vigorous.’
And with that, both women laughed heartily.
Life was blissful, well; it was until Saoirse choked on that chicken bone.
If there were any lessons to be learned from this inglorious expiration it would be to avoid dancing while eating a chicken leg. In a Swan Lake finale Saoirse choked while practicing after the day’s ballet class as Seamus dozed in front of the T.V after a feed of drumsticks. Saoirse never could sit still. Seamus hit the bottle.
The Chinese intent on world domination bought Googlesoft. A drunken Seamus was at his evening Mandarin course when he heard that Sean and the entire board had been sacked and the Union shut down. Overnight wages were quartered and working conditions deteriorated. A heartbroken Sean jumped from a tenth floor window of the Googlesoft HQ killing himself and a RTE News reporter in the process.
The PPP had consolidated its power through emergency constitutional reform. Everything changed overnight. Ireland became a one Party State with Fiachra as its figurehead but everybody knew the man known only as Chang really ran the country. Ireland was now closer to Beijing than Boston.
Seamus was drinking three bottles of whiskey a day. He lost his job. He wouldn’t open the door to Betty. He was skin and bone.
Some months later an American journalist interviewed him about his history in the PPP. Seamus criticised Fiachra and the betrayal of the PPP’s original ideals. He was immediately arrested and sent to the Curragh internment camp. Witnesses claim he mounted one final protest outside the office of the camps commanding officer, comrade Zhan, where he shouted pro-American, pro-democracy slogans. He was promptly executed by firing squad.
But Seamus lives on. His organs were harvested and it’s rumoured that a Shanghai millionaire has one of his kidneys and is doing well.
Patrick O’Flaherty is from Limerick, Ireland. He has previously been published in The Moth magazine and in theNewerYork. His writing is an involuntary response to the chaos of his mind, to the insanity, absurdity and the beguiling beauty of the world around him. Folow Patrick on Twitter @PaddyofNazareth
Photography: Brian Bennett is an actor and theatre-maker from Dublin, Ireland. He is currently working on his first novel and a feature script to be filmed next year. He is also working on a photography exhibition entitled ‘Blue’. Follow Brian on Twitter @brianbennett84
I’m red-wine drinking, mirror checking, window stalking, waiting for Oli to arrive and its driving me insane. I arrived home from work in the city less than an hour ago but I’ve taken a shower, shaved my legs – just in case anything happens- ironed my white see-through (but not too see-through) shirt, caught the six o’clock headlines, hoovered the living room carpet and because I simply did not have time to do them, I’ve thrown all the dirty dishes into the basin and hidden it in a cupboard. Well, I don’t want him to think I’m a slob.
And now I’m waiting. I’m listening to Oasis. Loud. Oli likes them too which is great news. I pad up to the window, adjust my stockings a little higher, smooth my skirt back into position. Great, you look great. Slowly peep between slatted verticals hoping to spy his Golf GTI pull onto my driveway. It’s a lovely car, sporty. His other car is back home in Iceland. I can’t remember what it is, must have been too tuned in on his husky accent to catch that part. He doesn’t drive too fast. I like that.
Where is he? I said anytime; he said seven. It’s already half past and I swear I can hear the tick tock of an oversized grandfather clock I don’t own in my head, chiming out the minutes, the seconds until he is here and I’m pulling open my front door, a flushed, generous smile on my face. My tummy growls. I should have snacked I knew it. My head feels slightly woozy and I know I’m going to be drunk if I have another glass. We are going to this chic Icelandic restaurant in town. It’s beside the graveyard. I’ve been but Oli hasn’t. It was my idea; he didn’t even know it existed. You get to cook your own meal if you want to, they bring you these square slabs like miniature tombstones, but unlike cold dead stone, these have been deep-oven heated. You choose fish, fowl, game from the menu – I’m going to have duck, I think then cook it at your own table, by candle-light. An up-market in-door barbeque. I love it. The chef is married to Bjork’s sister, I’m not kidding.
When his frown turned to a smile, I could tell Oli was happy I’d suggested that. A taste of home. He frowns quite often and I’m never sure quite what he’s thinking. I think I talk too fast for him to keep up. Or sometimes he doesn’t believe what I’m telling him.
What if he’s not coming? What if he comes and he doesn’t bring a condom? What if he comes and he does bring a condom? I’ve never been nervous like this before. But that’s Oli, for you. He’s different. Sincere. Respectful.
We only met two weeks ago. Is that all? It seems so much longer. He calls every night and we laugh and chat effortlessly. I remember it took me all my time to say his name correctly: Olafur Jonsson. The Jonsson part was alright, clearly, but Ola-fur? Ol-a-fur. When he says it for me in his deep accent, it sounds normal and I turn pink and flick my hair off my neck. So now I just call him Oli and he doesn’t seem to mind.
What he seems to mind about a lot is how we met in a gay club. I really can’t understand what the fuss is all about. It’s hardly the 1970s. He wanted to know what I was doing in there.
“Never mind me,” I scoffed, “what were you doing in there?” It transpired that we had both gone with a gay friend, the club was open later and we could have more drinks and a little dancing too. I am not suspicious of him in the least; after the way he kissed me so thoroughly in a quiet booth, I do not think he is gay. I’m not so sure exactly what he thinks about me.
Two days later, he took me out to lunch and we munched foccacia and soberly discussed jobs and music and I asked him all about Iceland. A cheek-peck kiss goodbye. There were night-time dates; we wanted to see more of one another. After a week, an amazing prawn croissant and several well-creamed frapucinnos, Oli made his move. I had wondered where the arduous man of our first encounter had been hiding, replaced by such a gracious gentleman. Second thoughts about me? Not quite what he ordered?
But then it happened. Okay, it almost happened. He took me to his immaculate flat.
“My neighbour runs an interesting business. It’s the burial for dogs,” he told me. “She makes a lot of money. It’s based on an old Viking tradition.’
When Oli removed most of our clothes, I noticed his hairy chest. He would have made a fine Viking, not only was he blonde and hairy chested but his strange silences and intensive stares seemed to define what I imagined a real Viking to be like. I half expected him to grunt, hauling me down until I fitted into him: having his wicked way with me. Burning villages. Preparing for battle. Taking women forcefully.
I’m getting turned on again. I wish he’d hurry up.
We’d kissed and rolled around the floor of his everything-its-place living room. Then we’d stumbled down the hallway and kissed and rolled around his pristine-clean double bed. Flushed, and perspiration drenched, I felt tropical fever hot. Panting for breath. Gasping in anticipation.
And then a sudden flattening heart-rate, a cease-fire of action, a change of mood when he said “Do you mind if I ask you a personal question?” into the clammy darkness.
‘Go ahead,’ I squeezed out, my voice small and tight.
“Have you had many one-night stands?”
“Do you carry a condom?” An unexpected giggle escaped me.
“No,” I said, fighting to disguise my amusement. It wasn’t that I found his question so absurd; it was the weight of his tone, his school teacher sterility.
“Do you?” I ventured.
“Usually,” there was an uncommon emphasis on the ‘s’, his accent sounding more foreign somehow. “I didn’t think I’d need one tonight.”
I liked his answer. A surge of respect swept through me. I nestled closer; chest hair tickled my side. He must like me, more than just another girl, another conquest.
“Do you use condoms?” An interrogation; a flicker of irritation ignited. I felt his clean shaven face pressed into my arm, spied the shape of his clothes in the dusky half light, not scattered randomly but folded, sensibly on a chair. I disliked the implication of my being unclean, somehow.
“It depends,” I said, carefully, “different if you’re in a relationship, isn’t it?’ I waited for his reply.
“Yes, you’re right.’ I imagined sighing out loud, relieved and feeling pleased as if I’d passed some kind of test. Oli squeezed me against him. “Let’s go to sleep now.”
The next time we were alone, the same thing happened. But I couldn’t stop laughing when he asked, “Have you got any plastic bags tonight?” in that sincere, foreign voice of his. He laughed with me when I told him, “No?”
As I drifted off into frustrated sleep, I wondered if he felt intimidated by me or if he had some kind of problem, surely not at his youthful age……why go so far and stop…did he simply want to be sure of me? Were all Icelandic men cautious and willful? Could I be learning a lesson here?
I’m red-wine drinking, waiting for Oli to arrive and it’s driving me insane.
Scots-born Alison U Miller writes poetry and prose. She studied English Literature at the University of Aberdeen. In 1996 she won the Alan Spence Creative Writing award and prizes in Lanarkshire Writer of the Year. Her poetry and articles have been published in The Scotia Bar Poetry Anthology, The Evening Times, Gloss Magazine and Orlando Sentinel. She completed her first novel Jaded Genes whilst living in Florida and is searching for a publisher. It’s a gritty, character driven story about identity and family turmoil. Curtis Brown called her writing ‘mature and well written’. Alison considers it not a bad starting place. Follow Alison on Twitter @MillerMatters
Short Story: The Autumn of Youth Summer Camp
– By Paddy Doherty
Seville; Spring 2012.
The sun sheepishly slips away to another part of the world. We’re drinking on Helen’s terrace. She’s just moved into a new apartment with a German girl, an English guy and a Danish guy. The Dane is geeky looking, and seems disconcerted by our presence as he lurks from cupboard to cupboard in the kitchen. He strikes me as the type of guy who hates living with other people, someone deeply frustrated with his house-mates’ lack of respect for the house. He probably just wants to cook and clean and go to sleep, and maybe get up early at the weekends to take pictures of churches and castles and whatever other shite has been left lying around from years ago.
The German girl and English guy, who none of us have met before, are quite sociable. They pitch in with their opinions every now and then, especially when the subject turns to travelling. The English guy is getting on my nerves a little because he keeps going on about Hong Kong and New Zealand and a million other places that he’s been and attempted various different extreme sports.
Travel broadens the mind, and lengthens the anecdote.
‘I did a sky dive in Mexico, I never thought I’d have the balls, but I did it! I nearly shit myself though!’
Oh yeah? Well I went canoeing in Galway once, and I did shit myself! Beat that, dickhead!
The German girl is sitting in a nice blue dress, cradling her legs from the breeze. We’re all sprawled across the terrace on blankets laid out by Helen. She always prepares for company in this way; providing crisps and crackers and other unnecessary nibbles. She’s made some tortilla omelette for us as well, and is telling our friend Anthony that it’s not that difficult to make. Anthony’s either genuinely interested in this or doing a very good job of feigning it.
Helen’s also wearing a dress, but hers is red, and she’s wearing navy tights to go with it. I sense she’s a little put off by the presence of her new German housemate, because even though there’s not much between them, the German is definitely prettier. Helen’s still very cordial though.
Ken and Linda have come along for the first time in a while as well, but it’s not long before they slip back into couple mode, kissing and fondling like we’re not even in the room. It always annoys me when couples act like this. It’s not just because I’ve never had a boyfriend, or a proper one at least, it’s because it looks pathetic and childish the way they just hang out of each other like monkeys from a tree. Whenever anyone speaks to Ken, Linda immediately starts stroking his hand defensively or cuddling up to him like she’s marking her territory, and I’m thinking it’s only a matter of time before she squats over him and takes a piss.
Anthony has a funny story to tell about one of his students saying the alphabet but I can’t be bothered to listen to it. I’m hungry and wondering when we’re going to leave, or whether Helen is going to rustle up something else for us to eat. I go out into the kitchen to get another litre of beer from the fridge. Helen follows me and starts saying how nice it is that we’re all together again and that we’ve been really bad for meeting up recently. I nod and agree, but as we’re talking, I’m making snide internal remarks about her – calling her a cunt and the like. She’s talking about how this is the type of night she’s been needing for the past few weeks; just a few close friends and a few beers and a few bottles of wine and a chance to find out what’s been happening with everyone. This annoys me because she’s always going on about this in one way or another, everything revolves around the group. She seems to want this idyllic social life like something from a coffee ad or some American sitcom. I reckon she’s one of those girls who grew up wanting to be in the cast of Friends; to waste away in the Central Perk Cafe retelling the same old stories again and again until there’s no life or truth left in them whatsoever.
We go back outside and I put on my hoodie and take my warmer shoes out of my bag to put them on. Anthony has a story about a guy from home that did something once and we’re all listening to that. I get bored and start watching Ken and Linda fidgeting with each other and I’m wondering whether they’re just counting down the clock until it’s reached a respectable time to leave. Helen has waited for Anthony to finish his story so that she can talk about one of the first drunken nights we had together. We listen and count the embellishments, but no one says anything or refutes her claims except for Anthony – who claims not to remember any of it. She is prepared for this, however, and quickly rebukes his challenge by reminding him of ‘the state he was in that night!’
The German girl has stopped listening, and I’m staring at her now, wondering what she really thinks of us. But I remember at the same time that most people probably aren’t as judgemental or as cynical as me, and I’m reminded that this is something my mother once said about me when she’d thought I wasn’t listening.
Drab conversations float from person to person but they always make their way back to Helen or Anthony. Helen’s trying to make plans for us all for the following weekend; month; summer; year; and has a few ideas for things to do after that as well. I nod along half-heartedly at her proposals and make vague commitments that I have no intention of honouring. I look over at her English housemate again and wonder if I’ll be drunk enough to fuck him later, or whether he’ll be drunk enough to try it on with me. I can’t decide if I’ll bother my arse with him and think about how it might just be easier to pick up a horny Spaniard in whatever club we end up in.
Helen tries to get everyone to agree to a festival in June before our contracts finish. Anthony says he’s definitely going to go, but Linda reckons that her and Ken have other plans and aren’t that into festivals anyway, because of all the mud and rain and music. They drift out of the conversation again and Ken starts kissing her neck. Helen’s housemate says he doesn’t think he’ll be able to go and reminds us that he’ll be home by then and that he’s not actually a TEFL teacher. His company have just sent him here for six months because his job is really exciting and allows him travel around the world whilst making shit loads of money. And he’s fucking amazing at it but still down to earth enough to hang around with a couple of native-speaking English-teaching imbeciles.
Eventually it’s twelve o’clock and there’s talk of the neighbours complaining and that it might be time to leave. Then Anthony mentions that Harry is in town and that he might meet up with him. The others all say something to the tune of: Harry! I haven’t seen him in ages, what’s he up to? But the truth is we haven’t seen Harry for a long time because Harry has found a better group of people to hang out with and hasn’t wanted to see us. He had only hung out with us out of necessity, when we were all at that hostel together where we first met.
Anthony might be the only one holding onto the notion that they’re still friends, because Helen certainly knows, and is unenthusiastic about meeting up with him for precisely that reason. Nothing depresses her more than the thought that our little fuckwit posse might not necessarily be thecool gang.
That’s what expat life is like in a nutshell, a fucking summer camp.
Ken and Linda couldn’t care less. They only hang out with us so that they can tell their workmates that they met up with friends at the weekend and didn’t just walk around the city holding hands like a pair of love-struck idiots. The two newbies have nothing to say about Harry, and I suspect they might be forming a similar impression of us and soon joining him at the fringe of our little group. I cringe when I think of the word group and how it sounds so much like Helen and the way she obsesses over our social life.
Helen mentions that a few Spanish guys she met one night are going to Malandar, and that we should go there because the music is always good: ‘you can have a dance and a cheap drink; plus some of Pablo’s mates are fucking fit!’
When we get there it’s the same old story; la misma mierda. Helen goes off with one of them and Anthony has gone to meet friends at a gay bar, which he never invites anyone to, because, for some reason, he’s not quite come to terms with his sexuality, and probably hasn’t even come out of the closet back home. Ken and Linda abandon ship and I’m stuck with the German girl and Helen’s house mate, and they’re stuck with me.
The music is really loud and rocky and people keep bumping into me, but none of the guys that do are interested in talking. I down my third whiskey and coke before realising I’ve got no more money, so I start dancing with Helen’s housemate in the hope he’ll buy the next one. He tells me his name again and I try to memorise it: Alan, Alan, Alan; but I just end up calling him Dave instead. He is polite and dances with me a little, but I soon realise that he’s actually into the German girl. He keeps looking past me at her while we’re dancing. I move in closer to him and flash a hand over his cock, but just as I’m about to try to kiss him, I admit to myself that he’s not really interested, so I fuck off outside for a cigarette even though I don’t smoke.
The first guy I ask says he doesn’t have any, but then a fat friend of his offers and so I start talking to him. He puts his arm on the small of my back as he crouches to listen. This is all the encouragement I need. The second time he does it, I pull him over to the wall and start groping and kissing him with enough tongue to ensure that he knows he’s getting laid tonight if he just comes back with me, which he does.
When I get him home he doesn’t want to waste much time with foreplay. He pushes my head down to his cock for a blow job. I deliberately apply too much tooth so that he will want to have sex instead, which he does.
He’s too heavy when he’s on top so I manoeuvre out from underneath and mount him, grinding and grinding until I feel him inside me. I ask him if he’s cum already, but he says nothing. I get off and he starts touching himself to harden up, but then I discover that he just wants to masturbate over me, so I let him cum on my chest and try to remember exactly when guys stopped wanting to have sex and started wanting to just ejaculate on things instead. Then he falls asleep and I take out my vibrator and give myself an orgasm with that, all the while thinking about how it’s funny that the orgasms are quicker and vastly more reliable with it, but there is still something about having that weight on top of you. When I’m finished I check the time on my phone and see a message from Helen which says:
Where are you?
Paddy Doherty, 25, is a native of Longford currently living in Seville. His stories have appeared in the Irish Independent, Boyne Berries, The South Circular and Writing4all Anthology. Check out Paddy’s Blog.
Photography – Claire Tracey lives and works in Dublin. She has previously lived in France, Italy and Singapore. She has also travelled throughout Asia, America, Canada and Europe. Claire is currently working on her first screenplay.
We walked down Harcourt Street, ding-ding of a tram, past the Unitarian Church “Love is the doctrine of this church”, bla, bla, bla, onto Grafton Street, flowers love, I grab a bunch of chrysanthemums and hand her a crumpled tenner.
– These are for you.
– Beautiful, she said.
We ducked into Neary’s, the barmen in dickey bows, and slunk into the back corner.
– What will you have?
– A glass of Guinness, she said.
– A pint and a glass please.
– The wife not with you today?
– She’s dead.
I have been married for two years but it’s a sorry, dull affair. Two weeks ago I caught my wife masturbating over a copy of Men’s Health. I watched her fumble the pages, trying to build a rhythm, a wave. I thought it pathetic. She visits the gym every day. She takes classes such as krav-maga and pre-pregnancy pilates. It was the first time I’d ever seen her masturbate. I didn’t even know she did. She seemed awkward and apprehensive about it, like it was her first time. I don’t know where she got the copy of Men’s Health, it seemed old, from the dentist’s waiting room perhaps.
I went to the toilet, always just enough time to do so before it settles.
– Fine bit of stuff you have out there, the man beside me said.
– Found her in the Iveagh Gardens. She said Edvard Munch visited her in a dream and told her to pursue me.
– Hmmm…who you shouting for in the match later?
– I’ve no interest.
I picked up the two drinks and sat down beside her, the chrysanthemums were spread out on the stool across from us, like a bunch of little, white fists.
– Are you French?
– How did you end up in Dublin?
– What do you think about this Parnell business, the barman asked an elderly man at the bar.
– It was his family’s wishes, bloody De Valera’s fault.
On the one o’clock news protestors could be seen outside Glasnevin cemetery. The locals from the Gravediggers watched through the gate, hands greasy from toasted sandwiches.
– I tracked a flock of starlings to Ireland and lost them. Then I stayed, she said.
She sipped her glass of Guinness, her fleshy lips under the head. She half closed her eyes as she drank. I took a cool mouthful. Always pleasant to be reacquainted, nothing worse than a bad one, chocolate, coffee, mother’s milk.
In Dundrum a woman – nude but for two Tipperary bottles strapped to her back, filled with nitroglycerin – ran around the shopping centre. She shouted “I’m gonna blow the fuck out of this place”. The last sighting of her was in Boots. Boots had been evacuated.
– My Mary lives out in Dundrum, said the man from the toilet.
No one replied. I thought of my mother and her distaste for Christmas and my father face down on the kitchen floor, half way through a lamb sandwich. The cat licked the butter off the tiles beside him while customers shouted in the bar for more porter.
– What would you like to do today? I asked.
– Whatever you would like to do.
She was a nice size, smaller than me in all areas but fleshy with taut, sallow skin, European, classy. I attended French classes and the more verbs I conjugated and conversations about booking hotel rooms in Marseille I had, the more I aspired to a brief affair with a Francophile.
– Another pint and a glass there please.
I have fumbled through the last 6 years, bounced from indecision to regret to self loathing, repeated rotten lies about the future to myself and listened to everyone but myself.
The Belgian picked them up and paid for them. I gulped the second back. I tapped the side of my glass. She looked at the walls and the thick green carpet and took gentle sips from her glass. I could smell dry roasted peanuts, earthy.
– Some fella’s swimming around the pond in the Green, a broad man said as he walked in the door.
– Will you bring me to a gallery? she asked.
We finished our drinks and made for the new gallery, down Grafton Street, crowds gathered around a man standing still on the street, people wait on buses on Nassau Street, Romanian gypsies outside the car park on Andrew’s Lane, rain, Dame Street, more people, more buses, Christ Church bells, vinegar soaked chips, junkies climb over the fence of St. Auden’s church, children calling us “cunts” on Thomas Street, toilet rolls for sale on Meath Street, the heavy air around Guinness’s, smells like Weetabix tastes, the top of the hill, down the hill and up the hill to the new gallery, colonial and white.
When I wake up beside my wife all I want to do is get up.
There was a special exhibition on dedicated to new Irish artists. The first floor featured pictures of a fat woman in the nude. One of the outside galleries featured a room full of hand sized stones with miniature name badges like big stone, funny stone, moody stone, flirty stone, diligent stone, accountant stone. The information on the sidewall indicated that visitors were free to walk among the stones, as if you were at a party. The Belgian mingled. She stood in a section of the room where the artistic stones seemed to congregate, between actor stone and interpretative dancer stone and delighted in their pleasure.
She laid her hand on my upper back as we walked and rubbed the part where my spine becomes my neck.
In the basement café we ate carrot and fennel soup with a cardamom seed bread.
– Why didn’t you get the ham? she asked.
– I have a pork aversion.
In Paris I ate andouillette sausage. I later read that “The faeces-like aroma of hot andouillette can be attributed to the common use of the pig’s colon (chitterlings) in this sausage, and stems from the same compounds that give faeces some of its odours.”
I had to buy cigarettes afterwards to remove the taste from my mouth. It was a taste that mints could not remove. In L’Olympia that night the music was rhythmic and jazzy and the lights looked like fireflies but I burped throughout with each one tasting of faeces.
She slurped her soup. We drank two quarter bottles of red wine. Lyric FM played in the background. I always loved Variation d’Apollan, she remained silent while it was on.
In general, Paris is not as clean as I would like. In Spring there are rats everywhere, undeterred by the rain, bigger than those in Dublin.
She stroked the side of my face and smiled at me. It was an uncomfortable situation. I didn’t know if Belgian’s were by nature affectionate. I got a bit of an erection but it may have been because I was warm, comfortable and tipsy. She smiled at me. I looked back at her. We left.
A breeze blew down the quays and the Belgian clung to me. She was warm and I could feel her breasts through her coat press against the side of my arm. She ran her hand down my spine on the inside of my jacket, on the outside of my sweater. The Liffey was a strange colour, a rich maroon, like thick carpet from the 80s. My erection piped up again. A pack of stray dogs walked out of St. James’ Gate.
I asked her to wait outside my apartment block on Wood Quay as I had to return home. I opened the letterbox outside my apartment. There was a letter from Martha, she is penniless in Costa Rica and wants me to follow her there. I wonder is your face still round and pretty. People used to ask me was there any Asian in you as your eyes were ever so slanted, a mother from Hong Kong perhaps or a father from Singapore? They were both from Crumlin. I put the letter into my pocket and ran up the steps to my apartment. I brought Maria a lump of coral from the mantelpiece, which she appreciated.
– Where did you get it?
– The Perhentian islands.
I went there on my honeymoon, my wife brought lacy underwear, it was sexy the first night but became repetitive and tiresome after a while, as things often do unless you’re a dog or a parakeet.
Four birds flew by and hit the widows of the hotel on Fishamble Street, all within seconds of each other. They slid down the panes, their little skulls cracked, two writhed on the ground, the Belgian looked at me. I stood on their necks.
– It’s what your meant to do, I seen it on a wildlife program before.
She wept a little.
– I know, she said.
We swung through the small bar door of the Lord Edward and perched on two high stools beside the long mirror and facing the frosted glass windows.
– Two Jamesons please, drop of water.
She wiped her tears with the cuff of her coat. I thought of the Origin of the World, thick and hairy, warm and odorous. Corbet was wasted on animals. We sipped our Jamesons and I listened in to other people’s conversations.
– First Parnell then your one in Dundrum, then the young fella in the Green.
– It’s the drugs Colm.
How much would a ticket to Costa Rica be? I could fly there and help Martha and she would come back in tears, vulnerable, weak and pliable.
The Belgian invited me back to her apartment. It is in the basement of a Georgian house along the canal. She pays no rent in exchange for doing the housework for an elderly woman. The old woman was still up, she stared blankly at me, her catheter bag reflected specks of light around the tastefully decorated room. Maria made coffee in a percolator. On TV women and children fought outside Glasnevin cemetery, she kissed my neck, the coffee bubbled and the lid tapped, the police were called in, she kissed under my ear, the percolator tipped over and I could hear the coffee being burned on the hotplates of the small cooker, the women beat the children but the authorities moved in to support them, the airforce commenced flour bag drops to disorientate the women and the children scampered around them. They bit their thighs.
In the evening the old woman likes a taste of honey. The Belgian took a small pot from the press and dunked the bulbous head of the honey spoon in, she turned it in the pot, the old woman held her head back and the Belgian drizzled honey in a long thin stream into the woman’s mouth, some of it fell on the side of her mouth.
– Would you like some? the Belgian asked.
The old woman turned her head to me. There was honey on her chin. She disapproved.
– Sure, I said.
I held back my head and the Belgian spun the honey into my mouth. I heard a gurgling noise from the wheelchair beside me as the old woman protested. I lapped at the honey as it fell into my mouth in a long, endless, golden brown line.
It is six in the morning. The Belgian is lying naked on her back with the sheets only covering her feet. I look into her black knickers on the ground. They have that small stain that all women’s knickers seem to have that looks a bit like ear wax and outside the window thousands of starlings fly aimlessly in nauseating black waves.
Ross Weldon lives in Dublin and has participated in courses with Some Blind Alleys. He has previously had work published on Some Blind Alleys – the online journal and in Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine.
Modern Version of Molly Bloom’s Soliloquy: Mrs Penelope B
– By Eithne Reynolds
Yes because he never did a thing like that before as to say he doesnt love me yes I know in my heart he loves me so why cant he admit he made a mistake O yes because what about the twelve red roses he bought me just last month I was so surprised getting flowers out of the blue because hes never done anything like that before either and it was Thursday and he waltzed into the kitchen with this enormous bouquet of red roses and he kissed me ever so gently on the lips just brushed my lips with his and there I was in the middle of preparing dinner with my hands smelling of onions and my hair everywhere and he handed me the roses and I felt a rush of passion I hadnt felt since our first days together and he said that they were just because he loved me and I felt like an awkward teenager and I was trying to clean the onion off my hands and I wanted to laugh and cry at the same time because the time wasnt right and place wasnt right O I want roses over a romantic dinner but he thought I was crying because I was happy and I was happy but well does that matter anymore because two weeks later he dropped the bombshell
O yes it was Friday night and I had cooked him his favourite dinner because we had the night alone together and I had set the table in the dining room with the fire lighting and I kept going in and out to check that everything was perfect and it was perfect until seven o clock came and he wasnt even home and then eight and I hate ringing him on his mobile because it looks like Im being needy or checking up or naggy so I left it and I sat by the fire watching the candles burn down and I didnt even get up to wipe the candle grease that had fallen on the good tablecloth that his mother had given us and then he arrived at nine and the two candles were burnt out and I didnt say anything even though I could have said so much and he didnt notice my hair or anything God even Mike in the vegetable shop noticed it when I went to get the stuff for the dinner yes what can I get you Mrs B he said nice hair cut Mrs B must be something important going on in your house tonight Mrs B and I said yes the kids are away so Im having a bit of a party fair play to you Mrs B he said and he didnt ask me how many were invited to the party and I didn’t say that it was just for the two of us but he noticed my hair anyway and Im disappointed that himself didnt notice it but I didnt say anything because I didnt want to spoil the moment although in actual fact it was spoilt anyway and I thought God he doesnt even seem to be hungry because he never lifted the lid off the pot to peek inside like he usually does when he comes in hungry
O I was starving anyway and it was actually nearly ten by the time we sat down and he played with the food for a few minutes and he kept staring at the grease marks from the candles on the table cloth and I suppose it was annoying him but I didnt care at that stage and I knew he had something on his mind and I thought to myself that maybe he had lost his job or something with the recession and the way things are in the bank and I kept saying to myself that werent we lucky we hadnt invested in that apartment on the Costa del Sol after he got the promotion last year yes you know how things go round in your head but he hadnt lost his job and then wait for it he said this in his matter of fact sort of way that he wanted to move out and that he had no where to live yet but he was still looking No he didnt love me anymore and he was sure I could see that and we were both young and he thought we should allow each other space to be free and then the room began to spin and I could hear my voice somewhere in the distance high pitched the way he hates it calling him a liar but I was suddenly scared O what are you saying I asked this foolish question and he put his fork down and left the dinner untouched the lovely dinner I had spent hours preparing but I continued to swallow each mouthful without even tasting what I was eating
God dont let him see that youre upset I kept telling myself to smile and to keep eating and dont let him see any tears and if he thinks hes free hell come back like they all do because they are all the same men are and so I kept eating and he looked at me and I felt he was saying to himself God no wonder shes as fat as she is she should just stop eating for a few minutes and listen to me but I was eating desert before he spoke again and his voice was softer now and I hated that pitying tone and he said you know I really am so sorry he whispered it like he was mortified and then he said the most stupid thing like he really didnt want to hurt me but he had to go and live his life and I just kept smiling afraid to look up in case his eyes were cold and then Id know he was right when he said he didnt love me and that there was no mistake about it so I poured him his coffee and continued to smile and he asked me if I had nothing to say me who has an opinion on everything and I told him no I didnt have anything to say except that he was a liar and he said he wouldnt have the coffee
yes because Saturday was our girls morning out in Bewleys and it wasnt until I met the girls that I finally broke down when I went to tell them what happened and how could he say that I asked the girls repeating it over and over and how could he be so wrong and what about the red roses Yes red roses are for passion and love so he must love me and it was a real puzzler for us all and then Marjorie says what everyone is thinking and I knew Marjorie would be the one to say it because shes a real bitch that maybe he has another woman and maybe he felt guilty thats how she tried to explain it away and maybe it was one last effort to see if and O I cant let Marjorie finish Yes Marjorie is mistaken just as he was wrong when he said we should split up
O and he says hes going in three weeks yes but its such a pity because everyone says we always look so happy together and that we are the best fun and I wish they were right and I hope he gets someone who will dance attendance on him the way I do but I close my eyes every night while lying beside him and I wish on the stars to make him stay and that maybe he really does love me and I often wonder why he has decided to go O yes I often wonder in these lonely nights how we could share babies and children and teenagers and even parents dying yet we cant talk through a problem before it destroys everything and I wonder maybe if I tell him that Ill never curse again then maybe he will stay or maybe if I tell him he is the best husband ever and if I say that he was right about all the little things I said he was wrong about or maybe if I say he was right about some little things like that then maybe he will admit that he was wrong when he said he didnt love me O yes and then maybe when I ask him if he will ever be able to love me again he will take me in his arms and he will draw me towards him and he will hear my heart beat wildly and then yes he will say yes he will Yes.
Eithne Reynolds is a writer living in Dublin. She is a graduate of Trinity College Dublin where she studied English Literature. In 1994 she obtained a scholarship to The James Joyce Summer School which gave her a great love of Joyce’s work. She has just completed her debut novel White Roses. Check out Eithne’s blog.
Language of the Birds is an art installation of 23 waterproof books suspended above the street near the famous Jack Kerouac Alley. The Jazz mural was painted to represent the presence of Jazz in San Francisco before the Beat movement and Jack Kerouac.
The first thing I think of most mornings is that I am still alive. I haven’t died from the cold, been beaten up or robbed as I try to sleep in this doorway. I can’t remember how many weeks I have been sitting and sleeping here. Most people hurry past and ignore me. Averting their eyes, looking ahead, clasping their car-keys, gripping their Skinny Lattes, their shopping bags or their mobile phones. Mostly, I feel invisible.
My sleeping place is the entrance to a video-store, long since closed down. Inside, a pile of letters, flyers and free newspapers lie scattered on the carpet-tiled floor. All of the shelves are empty, save for a shattered DVD box or two. Scarlett Johansson gazes wistfully from a yellowing sun faded poster on the wall. The walls inside are pock-marked with balls of Blue-Tack.
The road is busy. On warm days the smells of exhausts and melting tar transports me to a London street. I never beg. I did not have a breakdown. Nor was I a professor of Old English who could speak seven languages. I try to keep clean and presentable. I wash myself in the toilet of the ESSO petrol station nearby. The Estonian workers there are very kind and never refuse when I ask for the key. Sometimes, they will hand me a bag of food that has passed its sell by date. We don’t speak to each other much, but there is a sort of camaraderie all the same.
When you sit in a doorway all day, one of the first things you notice are people’s ankles. Fat ankles, skinny ankles, white ankles, swollen ankles, varicous-veined ankles. Don’t talk to me about socks or scuffed shoes. Middle-aged men wearing flesh coloured socks with sandals. Women with vermillion painted toe-nails and fissured heels. I always notice scuffed shoes. They always remind me of Saturdays when I was younger. Our shoes would be lined-up sentry-like on the kitchen table. We all wore black shoes. Two brushes – one for the polish and one for shining. My father would say “Spit costs nothing. I want to be able to see my face in them” and we would energetically shine our shoes, making sure to cover the table with sheets of Friday’s Irish Press.
Nighttime brings a different rhythm. I turn into the door, away from the traffic’s searching lights. I check my few possessions. My transistor radio, books and family photographs. The photographs are creased and cracked. I say ‘Goodnight’ to my parents – both now long dead. I don’t know where my sisters are. I put my paper money in my shoes. I zip up my sleeping bag. I wear my radio headphones to block out the noise. I say ‘Goodnight Scarlett’ and shut my eyes to be lulled to sleep by the static in-between stations.
Eoin Devereux is from Limerick. He teaches at University of Limerick. Eoin is the author of a number of best-selling academic books including Understanding The Media published by Sage (London) in 2007. He is the co-editor of the book Morrissey: Fandom, Representations and Identities. ‘Goodnight Scarlett’ is his first flash fiction story.
The smell of sulphur tickled my nose. The match died again before it got to lick the cigarette.
‘Here you can’t even light the thing you dozy bastard, I thought you said you’d smoked before, I’ll fucking light it’.
Spiggy ripped the Silk Cut Purple and with it part of my lip from my gob. He lit a match and cupped it around the cigarette with one eye shut like he thought he was a hot shot cowboy or something. He thought he was so fucking cool because of all his big brothers but everyone knew Spiggy was the runt of the litter and they didn’t give a fuck about him. He knew it too – the night they kicked him about the place on the green after they’d drank a bottle of vodka over in the church field. Yeah he knew it when he lay face down in the gravel with a mouth full of blood. But he’d forgotten about that now that they weren’t around, he thought he was the shit again, he really did.
He handed me his lit cigarette in a way you could tell he’d practised to death. He grabbed it from his mouth so the hot part was nearly sticking in the palm of his hand and then he sort of flicked it over like a magician pulling a rabbit out of his arse.
‘Yeah I have’.
I ground the have down to dust and took the cigarette like it was a weapon. I put it in my mouth but some of the smoke drifted up past my nose stinging my eye and making it water. I swallowed the grey air. The top of my skull came off like a hat and all of me was rising up in steam escaping out of the top of my head. The fag was my grandfather who’d died of lung cancer all rolled up and I was smoking him, smoking the cancer out of him while he turned to ash. The yard started spinning, my head started sweating and Spiggy was laughing saying I was gone green and that I was the first ever cunt to pull a whitey on a cigarette.
And when he caught sight of my eye watering he really went for it.
‘Wait a second are you crying ya daft cunt? You fucking are and all! Brilliant just fucking brilliant! Pussy Power really living up to his name. That’s just perfect that is. Oh wait until I tell the boys in school about this, piss themselves so they will’. He rubbed his hands together like he’d just scored the winning point in the All Ireland.
The invisible hand of a boxer’s coach gently tilted my chin back making me look upwards at the window and that was when I saw him standing there statue still, hands in his pockets. I tried to focus because I couldn’t read what his face wrote. He just stared beyond the yard like he couldn’t see me. I was a ghost his eyes had no way of ever falling on. I looked behind me but there was nothing there. I turned back and he was gone. I dropped the fag. It swallowed the wet ground. I vomited in the drain. Spiggy the little shit pissed himself laughing again. I wiped the sick away from the corner of my mouth with the sleeve of my school jumper, all the while looking up to where he had been.
Spiggy said something I didn’t hear. Then he said ‘Fuck this for a game of soldiers I’m off home, see ya later Pussy’. I slammed the door on him. It was bad enough being called it by anyone but I just couldn’t take it from Spiggy the miserable little prick. I could hear him shouting, ‘Ooh ooh ooh someone’s in a bad mooohood’, like one of the stupid bitchy girls in our class. Arsehole.
I went up to my room and lay on the bed shaking trying to smell the clean of the bed sheets. When I sat up the mirror said my face was all white and my hair was wet from sweat. I brushed my teeth three times and still felt yellow ill inside. I wondered if I had cancer now. I felt like it. I spat thick splats of dirty cigarette tar phlegm into the wicker waste paper basket. It landed on a rotten apple core that mildewed at the bottom of the bin, growing sporey fur on the half snapped broken wicker latticed pieces. I stood stooped over like a question mark with my hands on the front of my hips and my head bent over filling up with my cancer swimming blood. A string of spit hung from my mouth to the dead apple. Rotten brown apple core cancer growing inside of me, spreading into the half snapped broken wicker latticed pieces of my lungs.
I kissed my hot cold head against the glass and I watched the world grow navy while people and leaves blew down the hill and I thought about how Spiggy had been acting the prick for months now. Ever since I’d gotten tall. He had always called me Paddy but since I’d gotten the height he started calling me Pussy like everyone else. When the world was more black than navy Mam called me for dinner. I sprayed myself in the deodorant she’d bought me last Christmas then ran downstairs.
‘Sit down love you look tired I made your favourite, Shepherd’s Pie’. She smiled. Her eyes looked tired.
Joe was parked with his nose just about touching the table. He had dirt on his face and was playing with his peas. He threw one at me and said ‘Shepherd’s Poo’ putting his hands to his mouth like it might stop him from saying the bold words that had already come out. I gasped pretending to be shocked and my mother said ‘Stop that Joseph’. I wished Joe could stay like a little pea forever and not become a shit smoking lying guilty fuck up of a son like me.
He came in and said nothing. He melted butter on his spuds and listened to the news on the radio. He didn’t look up. Maybe he was in a bad mood because he hated mince and she had made my favourite. After dinner she said she was going to the library with Joe and to pick Annie up from Irish Dancing and would I mind washing up. I kissed her on the cheek and told her not at all. She smelt like powder make up made of flowers. I thought he’ll say something when she’s gone. When it’s just the two of us. He read yesterday’s paper and drank his black tea like I wasn’t even there. He never looked up even when I took the dirty dinner plates from the table. I watched my hundred selves looking up at me from all the little suds bubbles in the sink. Why didn’t he say anything?
I drank a cup of sweet milky tea and watched Home and Away. Mam came back with Joe and Annie, they had gotten me red lace liquorice in the shop. After she put them to bed she made herself a hot water bottle.
‘Night love, don’t stay up too late’.
‘I won’t I’ll just watch The X-Files. Mam is everything okay with Dad? He seemed to be in bad form earlier’.
‘Your father is just under a lot of pressure at the moment Patrick, things are tight. We just need to be a bit understanding of his moods’.
‘Okay night Mam’.
When I woke up the next morning the taste of cancer on my tongue was gone. I went to meet Spiggy at the bollards to walk to school in the rain. Through the circle of my parka I could see his marble dead hands covered in cuts and scrapes. He never had a coat. When I looked up I saw he had a black eye. He wasn’t cocky anymore. He was quiet and I felt bad for him so I gave him my last piece of liquorice and we walked to school together saying nothing.
We were doing history. It was the only good thing we ever did because sometimes it was about battles and chieftains and high kings. Mrs O’Boyle was telling us how you can tell how old a tree is by counting its rings when Mr O’Neill walked in and went over to her desk. He held his clip board up so they could talk behind it in whispers. There was no need though because they were talking in Irish and no one understood them anyway. It seemed like it might have been serious. I wasn’t really interested but you could tell some of the girls were. I just looked about the ground of dark carpet and school bags and saw that some of their legs dangled from their chairs but mine didn’t.
Then Mrs O’Boyle said ‘Patrick will you go with Mr O’Neill please?’ When she said Patrick it jolted inside me and made my face hot because I was the only Patrick in the class. I knew I must have been in trouble. Fuck maybe they knew about the smoking. Fucking Spiggy must have been shooting his mouth off.
Mr O’Neill did small talk as we walked down the corridor asking me what Mrs O’Boyle was teaching us. I told him about the tree but fucked up the explaining of it. He smiled at me which made me wonder if I was in trouble at all. When we got to his office he said ‘Patrick have a seat’. He sat behind his desk with his hands clasped together like he was praying and tipped the steeple of his fingers against his bum chin a couple of times sighed uncomfortably and said ‘There is no easy way to say this Patrick I’m afraid it’s not good news, your father, he eh… he passed away this morning’. He glanced down at the stapler on his desk solemnly.
I wondered if Mr O’Neill had any top teeth at all, you only ever saw the bottom ones.
He just sat looking at me from beneath his eyebrows that were bunched together like the elastic part of an old worn sock.
I didn’t know what Mr O’Neill wanted me to say. I looked down at the stapler on his desk solemnly.
‘I can run you home I’m sure you just want to be with your mother.’
I backed away and edged for the door. I didn’t like the thought of going in Mr O’Neill’s car – there’d be more small talk and some horrible smelling air freshener and somebody might see me or he might try to hug me.
‘Ah no it’s okay Mr O’Neill, really sure it’s just around the corner I’d be quicker walking’.
‘Patrick it’s no trouble at all I’d really be much happier if you’d just let me run you home I know this must be an awful shock’.
‘No no I’m just going to walk thanks’.
I bolted for the front door of the school that was meant only for the teachers. I put my head down and my hands in my pockets and didn’t look back in case he was following me.
The rain had stopped and the sun had broken through in the time since I had gone to school and he had died. It was a different day. Old women with scarves wrapped around their old heads rolled their old women trolleys down the Main Street. How normal the world seemed. The world he was no longer a part of. Could he see me? Why hadn’t he said anything? Did it feel like a stitch like you’d get in PE when they make you do laps of the field until your lungs and throat hurt or was it like a knife in the heart and how long did it last for? My lunch was still in my lunchbox in school, it’d go all moldy and shite. I went into the shop. I thought about the word lolly pop then walked out with one in my hand. Then I thought that maybe it’s only real sometimes. It was like it was probably real in Mr O’Neill’s office when he was being all grey faced and it’d definitely be like it was real if I went home and saw Mam, but so long as I just stayed out wandering about it’d be like I was only on the mitch. But Annie, Joe, Mam. My milk at school, would someone drink it or would it be left on the counter after lunch to sour over the weekend? I better go home in case he was looking down. Jesus was he always going to be watching me now?
The front door was open, there were people standing about talking. I brushed past them. I didn’t know who they were. They looked at me, their mouths all open and nothing coming out. A woman that looked like my mother was sitting on the couch, my aunt Margaret’s hands were wrapped around her hands that were wrapped around a mug. She stared at the ground without looking at it. Smoke streamed up in ribbons from the wick of her head. She moved her gaze slowly up to meet mine. Tears of wax tumbled out of her hopeless red eyes. The lead of what was left of my heart fell down cementing my feet to the ground because I knew then that she was gone too.
My aunt Margaret said ‘Come and sit with your mother Paddy we’ve all had a terrible shock’.
I didn’t want to go and sit with her because she wasn’t like my Mam anymore she was a broken egg shell. This wasn’t like our home anymore. It was all wrong. I just wanted to run down through the church field and off over the cliffs or down the beach or someplace wide open and empty and not dark and huddled, filled with people whispering sniffling death. Fuck him for dying on us. Fuck all of this. But I didn’t run. I stayed in case he was watching.
The afternoon drifted on, I made ten thousand cups of tea for nosy people who all knew my name and were sorry for my trouble. My uncles, who we never saw, came and told me I was the man of the house now. It wasn’t so bad until Annie lay sobbing on his dead chest like a baby elephant. Joe just looked down at the Velcro on his shoes and never said a word. I sat up all night doing the wake staring at his pissed off white face.
I wished I was small and weedy like Spiggy then they wouldn’t have asked me to do it. It wasn’t him. It was the trunk of an old oak tree that was resting on our shoulders between my uncle and me. Out in front of us I could see the roots all dangling down with muck and clay on them. It looked like the time Annie got her dinner all in her hair. No I couldn’t think of Annie now. We were just carrying the tree to put it back in the ground someplace else. That’s why it still had its roots. It wasn’t cut so we couldn’t tell the age of it. You can only tell the age of a dead tree. It was fine when I thought it was a tree. I had the right rhythm of walking with uncle Sean and the others at the back. But when I told myself that it wasn’t him and that it wasn’t a coffin – that was when it started because that was how I knew it was him.
I didn’t want that little prick Spiggy or any of the others to see me crying.
Later in the day after the tea and sandwiches and strangers were gone the doorbell rang for a little too long. When I went to the door there was Spiggy bouncing a football.
‘Alright Pussy sorry to hear about your Dad, I know he was a bit of a bollocks but I guess he was still your Dad and all, fancy a game of ball?’
I grabbed him by the scruff of his runt neck and pinned him to the flagstones. I pounded on him, kicked him until he was just snot and blood and spit. I just kept going at him.
‘You’re just a boy Spiggy, a stupid and weak boy! I’m a man now Spiggy, a fucking man, so no I don’t want to play ball!’
I kicked him when I said the words boy, stupid, weak, boy, man, man, no, play and ball.
I did it because Spiggy was weak. I did it because I knew it wasn’t an old oak tree and because I was a ghost his eyes had no way of ever falling on.
Cut You Down Like An Old Oak Tree was short listed for the Fish International Publishing Short Story Prize 2011/2012 and long listed for the Over The Edge New Writer of The Year Award 2011. Alice Walsh is the Editor of The Bohemyth.
Flash Fiction: Purge
– By Clodagh O’Brien
I always knew where things stood. Then suddenly I didn’t. The world turned inside out. There was now more land than sea, horizons of dust that held no comfort. Life was wearing me.
There were no screams. Instead it was a violent silence too heavy to shrug off. His admission stranded me, carried me out past myself to an unrecognisable place that belonged to nowhere I had been. He apologised with finality. A sorry not seeking anything but release. He dismissed all we owned. It was a purge, everything we had built thrown away. Its very existence tainted by bearing my fingerprints.
Someone waited; a shadow in the car. The engine hummed like bees. He wished me luck, a goodbye thick with relief. My cheek burnt from where his lips had been. He left with less than he came, handed all trace of me back. Long after they had gone I stood, each breath a dewy patch on glass. Day bled into night, the sky a bruised canopy.
Clodagh O’Brien writes short stories, poetry and is working on the rickety bones of a novel and screenplay. Her work has appeared in Wordlegs, thefirstcut, ‘The Blue Staircase and Other Short Stories’ anthology, Best Poems of the Phizzfest, Bare Hands Poetry and ‘Gods & Monsters of Tomorrow’ anthology. You can follow her work and musings on her blog and follow her on Twitter @wordcurio.
Flash Fiction: The Call of the Sea
– By Christina Murphy
Maybe she will come search for you, here in the cold. But maybe she is not real, only a dream, someone to cherish in the isolation that feels like drowning. You used to swim long distances once and were afraid of drowning—of what might come from the waves and drag you to the bottom, your lungs giving out, no more air and the horrible darkness descending. The undertow met your fears and carried you out in a panic more physical than you ever imagined fear could be.
She saved you, lifted you into her boat, the Seraphim, and drew your fears from you like a fever breaking. That was real, wasn’t it? Here in this barbaric cold that has damaged your hands and split open your frozen lips, does it even matter if she was real? The cold is real—you know that. With your one eye that remains, you see blood coming from your hands, frostbitten in purple and mangled red. Only one eye focuses; the other is like a glacier blurred with ice lines and small blue veins. You feel your frozen eye throbbing with each heartbeat.
Where is she? Where are you that she cannot find you? If your tongue could move, you would call out for her. You must believe she is coming. You try to pry your tongue loose with your fingers but the taste of blood is pooling in your mouth. You cannot speak as ice crystals form about your lips, making each breath even more painful.
The snow has almost covered you now. It falls in such soft patterns gently against your skin. When the wind blows, the snow feels like waves from the sea, and you sense the rushing tides.
You hear her calling to you. So close. So close!
You stretch out your arms and begin swimming toward her, your freezing heart filling with bitterness and regret.
Christina Murphy’s stories have appeared in a range of journals and anthologies, including A cappella Zoo, PANK, Word Riot, and LITnIMAGE. Her fiction has twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and was the winner of the 2011 Andre Dubus Award for Short Fiction. Follow Christina on Twitter @Christinamurph1