The light unravels outside, spills in the windows, across the floor of the hotel bar. The carpet has become golden with day. What’s it trying to prove? We order another round. I’ve switched to whiskey. It’s more formal. You’re telling me about yourself, like an American would.
-In the eighties, you say, I built skyscrapers in Manhattan.
In the eighties I needed to know that, for the kids on the street who pointed and laughed and said you have no da, you have no da, the kids whose fathers came home and painted purple the eyes of their mothers, the bitter tang of chips and booze on the their tongues, the fucking indifference of the world in their ribcage somewhere. Twanging away, rattling around, bouncing off those bones, playing them like the keys of a xylophone. This dismemberment of maleness. But if I’d known, I could say, me Da’s in New York and he’s building skyscrapers. Fucking skyscrapers. And what’s your da building? A car park, maybe. A shopping centre near Cabra. Maybe his week revolves around the dole office, the promise of a few hours queuing in the blue air for a handful of notes and a trip to the bookies on the way home. My Da, single-handedly building skyscrapers. So high and bright, the sunlight twinkling off the glass, the sky fucked by them, these huge things. Single handed. My Da.
-Well, that’s interesting, I said. And I was interested, maybe somewhat impressed. Pictures of workers on a lunch break, perched on a crossbeam, the vista of New York below them popped into my head. I pictured you there, lunch pail beside you, among the other Irish and Polish and Italian lads. Putting down a real legacy, something that will last and be a source of wonderment for years to come. Something even as it’s being demolished will be a spectacle.
-After that, I went residential. Huge gated communities in Massachusetts.
Somehow there was more money to be made in these prosaic sprawls than in five hundred feet tall skyfuckers. Less magic, more money. Isn’t that always the way? And suddenly I’m disappointed, as if you’ve let me down somehow. As if this is your crime, your talk of millions.
The Irish would never, not even from your generation, bandy digits about with such insouciance. I never have money. I don’t know what it’s like. I know, for example, I couldn’t afford these drinks you’re paying for, the largesse of your tab. Or those chinos that hang elegantly off your slim hips. Or the Ralph Lauren shirt. The heavy gold watch. I couldn’t afford it, I wouldn’t want it.
Maybe things are different for you in America. Here old peoples’ maturity is earned in boredom and submission, and worn across the ordinance of their faces. The American male’s greatest misfortune has been an abundance of choice, the niggling doubt you may have bought the wrong thing, perhaps imparted too much of yourself in that television. Oh, you went with the Sony? Yes, I went with the Sony, what’s wrong with the Sony? There’s nothing wrong, per se. I just went with the Samsung. The fear, the fear.
-What about you, you ask. What about me. I’m ordinary, in the way everything is ordinary. It’s a struggle. It’s a succession of minor failures and harsh lessons, this life. It’s a grind. I read French philosophers and complain to walls life is meaningless. That’s me.
-I read a lot. I listen to music.
You see, that’s disappointing. Small. There’s no genre to me. I’ll listen to anything. I don’t mind, I’m just looking to be moved, and it’s the notes that do it. But seeing as you’re asking, I’m an Arcadia man, before the Power Station. Beatles before Stones. While we’re on it, Paul before John. Beethoven over Mozart. Mozart’s just pop music. Right?
You nod. You tell me how you used to hang on Baggot Street as a youngster, still in school. How you’d sneak in to O’Donaghues and sit there during the epic, legendary sing songs with all the greats. Luke Kelly and Anne Briggs and the like. I picture the yellow walls, the smoke an indoor nimbus and the porter on the tables and the mouths open, the decayed teeth and the singing and the singing, and I wish I’d been there, part of something. There’s nothing here nowadays. No scenes.
-Have you ever mentioned me to your other kids?
-No, I have not. I’ve meant to you know, you say, and rest your head on a folded hand for a second, with some intense middle-distance staring that tells me how difficult it is for you. –When I left here. A pause. –I really felt as if I couldn’t come back. It took years. Then my mother became ill. I came back for the funeral.
Great, another family member I didn’t even know I had bites the dust. Corpses are piling up. I’m beginning to think it’s me.
-And then I saw the country was changing. It wasn’t the same grey, hopeless place I left.
You left me to no hope?
-Have you brought them over? Your other children.
-Sure. Ellen met her husband over here, if you can believe that.
Hold on, my sister, prowling for men in my hometown. Perhaps…
-I will tell them. When we’re all together.
-I’d like to, I start. And then I pause and try the intense inward looking, as you have done. But you misread it or disregard it and plough on, telling me how it’s hard to get them all together with the various ex-wives involved, some less accommodating than others.
-Lana never had any more children? You ask. Lana, my mother. Her death left me orphaned on this continent. Precipitated our meeting. I shake my head. -I was sorry to hear…
-It’s fine. She was sick for a while, so it was a blessing.
I’ve said those words to Lana’s friends repeatedly over the last few months. Save your sorrow. Her life was a painful, the end was a release. But whose suffering ended that day? Mine or hers?
You mumble something about how she was a good woman, and you’re sure she made a good mother, but it’s numbing to me. You stretch, the bad leg, the one with veins that had to be removed, wince almost imperceptibly. You flick an eye towards your watch, and pick up your glass, the ice melted. You swirl it around and neck the remains with a calm finality. You’re telling me this meeting is over, as you must have done hundreds of times before in board rooms across the East Coast, discussing the millions and billions required to shelter humans and their belongings.
-I’m glad we did this, you say, and manage to make it sound almost like you mean it. Here in your hotel, your itinerary didn’t even need to change. To get from the plush, combed velour of the couch here in the bar to your suite is a mere matter of a few steps to the gilded elevator, even after your operation.
-I’ve never been here before, I say uselessly. –It really is as nice as they say, I add, for extra uselessness.
-I stay here every time I’m back.
All those times, and where was I?
A regal twist of your wrist and the waiter’s at your shoulder. You place your tumbler on his tray.
You stand and I stand and we’re separated now by only a couple of feet of foot-deadening pile. We admire each other for a moment. I’m taller than you, broader, but you still have your hair and mine is a chimera, wisps plastered across an all too exposed pate. Grandfather, mother’s side, was a chromedome. Not your fault. Your shoes are polished, my Adidas leak. You’re lithe, an animal quality, as if always poised, even with the stick to aid your recovery. We shake hands. I give it everything I have, but yours is rock solid.–It really was good to see you.
-And, uh. You. And I wonder, should I say anything else. What else does one say? –Maybe I’ll drop into you when I’m in America.
-Sure, you say, with a wide, over-bright smile and a twinkle that says: as if that will happen, and I wonder, briefly, if the bank would be quite so accommodating with their pre-approvals now, post-crash, and sure, isn’t it worth a go. Get out a few grand, head to America, meet the family. Try again. Try life again. Fail life again. Fail it better, American style.
-If you’re ever in New Hampshire, you start. But then you stop, and look out the window at the park across the road, the suffusion of golden evening light. Summer in Dublin, its last breaths. The autumn closing in on us, every syrupy sunset coming earlier and earlier. There’s a look that travels across the smooth, soft sheen of your face, as if something simple has occurred to you. Something so simple and so true, something that’s been there for ever and you haven’t noticed. You’re still holding my hand, and suddenly you grasp me. I grasp back, I don’t know what else to do, and when you fall, you pull me down too. I disentangle myself. You’re convulsing, mouth opening and closing, no sounds in there. A waiter reacts quickly. He drops to his knees and listens to your breathing and thumps your chest. I too am on my knees, leaning over.
-I need some space, says the waiter. –Please.
-He’s my dad, I say. The words I have never uttered previously. They sound strange, too weighty, as if unearned by me. The waiter pummels your chest.
Someone else from the hotel runs over. A man returning from the gym who’s a veterinarian offers his help. An ambulance is on its way. I watched your face turn blue, a strange hue of polished cobalt. The bustle of hotel staff removes me from your side, and I have to stand, stumbling backwards, falling into a chair as I watch. Within ten minutes the paramedics are there, which is impressive. I imagine they had a special hotline, places like this, with their exclusive clientele of the wealthy and the privileged. There’s overdosing junkies on Thomas Street being ignored right now. And rightly so. Here is a son of Erin, a captain of industry, who did more than the gombeens he left behind here on this sod. He left, he conquered. He accumulated a few wives, as they do over there, and seven children, upon whom he dotes, and a business portfolio, of which he’s equally proud. He won. He deserves his life.
The paramedics are working furiously. Some other patrons are down the back of the bar, looking on idly. The barman hasn’t stopped pouring drinks. I go to him, and ask for another whiskey. He pours silently, freely, not using the little pewter measure. He nods at me, and I back. I upend the tumbler and suck it all down at once. –Stick it on the tab, I say.
There’s nothing for me to do here. I’m no undertaker. I leave. They don’t notice me, any of them. The paramedics are wheeling in a gurney, less enthusiastically now. Outside is dark. Hours must have passed. I take your gold Rolex from my pocket and check the time. I think of the funeral. I wonder will it be here or in America. I’d like to go to America. Start again. Start life again. Maybe get it right this time.
Dara Thomas Higgins is a writer and musician based in Dublin. He currently writes screenplays for State Broadcaster RTE and plays bass guitar for Ireland’s premier psycherock group The Jimmy Cake, among others. @Diplah
My husband is deaf. Once, he asked me if snow made a sound when it fell, and I lied. We have been married 11 years today, and I am leaving him.
He is in the bakery on the corner where it is warm and they know him well. He will return within the hour to our apartment with a box full of little cakes which he ordered especially for this day. He will walk through the door and toss his keys into the little ceramic bowl on the hall table. I am the only one who ever hears the sound of the keys as they fall into the bowl. He will place the cakes on the second shelf of the fridge and seek me out, but I will be gone.
There is a violent rip in the couch. A giant piece of leather hangs off the armrest like a tongue. It has ruined the couch, but we never bothered to get it repaired. Just like us. One violent rip has divided us forever. We love each each other differently now; we just remind each other of what is missing. Each time we look at each other, an inexorable ache rises up from deep inside both of us. It is tangible. It pollutes the air between and around us. We have almost completely stopped looking at each other. Instead, we look through each other, or behind each other, or around each other. The ashtray is empty and now only decorative in function, and it tempts me to smoke again. My lungs are hollow and empty and long for the weighty, constricted feeling of being a smoker; just to feel something, anything. Just to feel a feeling that isn’t interminable, unresolved sorrow.
He plays the piano every day, and I am taking it with me. It was made in 1783 in Prague. It sits quietly in the corner now, poised for exile. We’ve moved home three times in eleven years, and each time, the piano goes out of tune when it enters a new environment, as if it were afraid of change. My husband once told me that in the darkness of its body, deep in its belly, there is a piece of him which is living secretly, breathing, pulsating, fed by scherzo and allegro. I am taking the piano for exactly this reason. Inside, quiet as dust, a part of my husband anticipates resurrection, while I have given up completely. I do not want him to have the benefit of resurrection when I know I will never experience such merciful relief.
He is watching the fat baker squeeze the icing in the shape of tiny red hearts onto the little cakes that we are supposed to share with our friends tonight, in celebration of our anniversary. He once told me that he loved me because I was the only thing he could hear. He can feel the vibrations of the piano strings through the soundboard, but I am inside him, he said. I am a song soaked into each bone of his secret body where the world has never been able to wander.
The fat baker is packaging the cakes. He places them delicately into a pink box, tying it up in white ribbon with a flourish. I want to leave before my husband returns, otherwise I will be swayed by the sadness in his eyes and have to wait yet another year. I am running out of years. I have to be on my way to the airport; the piano movers should have been here half an hour ago. I do not want my husband to find them struggling on the stairs with a part of his soul. I want no scenes.
I have already burned all the photographs; they made a crackling sound and set off the smoke detector, which I promptly smashed. He won’t need it because he is deaf and it gives off only a minute vibration, too mild for him to notice. I have written down all the reasons why I am leaving, and I am overcome with a sad longing for the world, to be a part of it again, because I have not spoken to anyone for weeks. I must go now, I can’t wait for any more tomorrows. My feet barely touch the ground as I take a final sweeping look around the apartment. My heart is in my mouth. I can feel it throbbing and taste the pulse.
For some unknown and annoying reason, the moment we met fills my mind. He was giving a recital. I was with friends, eager to see and hear this deaf pianist, like a sort of modern-day Beethoven. I felt like a voyeur, not really caring about the music, but fascinated by the idea of this man. He played several pieces, but the only one I recognised was Chopin’s Nocturne op.9 No.2, with its beautiful, discordant notes. And I was mesmerized by the way he played. It was as if he was listening to every single note, his head bent towards the keys, his eyes half-closed. His fingers dancing like little ballerinas, so delicate and long and elegant. After the show, I went up and introduced myself. I couldn’t resist. I wanted to hear if he could speak at all. It was crass and nosy of me, but he could speak; with palpable strain and effort, he forced out a melody of muffled sounds in an awkward staccato rhythm. I complimented him on his Chopin rendition, and he told me it was his favourite, that he played it every single day. He invited me for a glass of wine. We went to a wine bar, one of those little places that plays quiet but lively jazz in the background, dimly lit by candles on each table. It was there that he asked me the question whether or not snow made a sound when it fell. He wrote it on a napkin, and underneath his question, I wrote, “Yes. It sounds like angels falling”. But of course, he would never hear an angel fall. It was an in impossible answer to an impossible question. But he took my hand immediately, and tears filled his eyes. And he said “Thank you”, with his stunted, strangled voice. A trickle of red wine stained the napkin as we continued our evening. I kept that napkin for years. But today, I burned it with the photographs.
Albert Camus suggested that we would not love if there was no lack within us, but we are offended by a similar lack in the other. Expecting to find the answer, we only find the duplicate of our own problem. And, as a result, we become disgusted, disappointed, and try to flee from the other in an attempt to flee from ourselves also. Inside my husband, outside him, all around him, is the duplicate of my problem. I can never be free, I know that, and I know I can never flee from myself; but I can at least flee from his hopefulness, from his will to force life to go on, which only serves to exacerbate my own emptiness.
The piano movers arrive. They are brusque and professional and ready to get on with the job. They manoeuvre the antique piano down the winding staircase of our apartment building with cautious, studied movements. As they make their descent, the door to an apartment on the second floor opens, and a frail Russian woman called Ida who has lived in the building for over thirty years puts her hand on my arm and looks concerned. She sees my eyes, she sees the panic and the longing. She wants to know has there been any news. She always wants to know has there been any news. There is never, and there will never be, any news. I am also escaping from her. I am escaping from the constant questions, the pitying looks, the awkward silences, the stilted conversations on the stairs or outside her apartment door. I tell her, babbling, making no sense at all, that my husband is in the bakery buying little cakes iced with tin red hearts, and I have to be in the taxi on my way to the airport before he returns. I tell her it is our eleven year anniversary and I am leaving him. This makes her gasp; her eyes water, and she lets me go, offering some support or strength or affirmation with a slight squeeze to my shoulder.
I shut the front door of the building behind me. I have no bags, except for a small handbag which contains my passport, my aeroplane ticket, some money, and the address of my new home written on a scrap of paper. I don’t want to take anything with me. Just the piano.
He was playing it the moment the phone rang, eight years ago. A little girl had been found, lying on the wrong side of the footpath, face-down on the road, blood seeping through her little blue coat. Our phone number was in her bag, in her little notebook with the birds and the rainbows on the cover. She had wandered from school. Whoever hit her, whoever killed her, just drove off and left her there. The driver was never found. Her ponytail was sticky with dirt and blood. A tiny bird, broken and forgotten. She was there one minute, perfect and small and dressed so smartly in her little blue coat, and gone the next. He was playing the Chopin Nocturne when I hung up the phone and went to find him. With shaking hands I spoke to him, my fingers trembling as I made the shapes of the letters because I could not speak. My mouth would not work, my tongue dry and lifeless in my mouth. He never played Chopin again.
I can see his face now, as he enters the apartment, and sees the space where the piano once stood. I can imagine the emptiness that will follow him around. I can imagine him sitting him at the edge of our bed, her photo, the only photo I didn’t burn, in his hands, as he too remembers the night that he asked me if snow made a sound when it fell. He makes his way to where the piano used to be, and, sitting on the stool which I left behind, he holds his hands out in front of him, poised over the no-longer-there keyboard. Closing his eyes, he mimes Chopin’s Nocturne op. 9 No. 2.
The pink box of little cakes iced with tiny red hearts sits forgotten on the bed, her photograph beside it.
Originally from Omagh, Co. Tyrone and presently living in Cork City, Sorcha Fogarty completed a PhD on “The Affirmative Nature of Impossibility in Jacques Derrida’s Work of Mourning” in 2010, and spent several years teaching Undergraduate English in University College Cork. She has previously had academic articles, based on Jacques Derrida, published on The Literary Encyclopedia, an online journal. She has spent the past six years teaching Creative Writing in various libraries around Cork City, and presently works as an Assistant Librarian, while continuing to teach Creative Writing.
If a bar is not kept at all times moist to the touch it will grow feral, dangerous.
Think of it as a type of sessile organism, a compact colony surviving only on the odd sobs of stout and the dead skin of patrons.
This particular bar has pulled the fibres from the knit of my jumper and planted them upright in the mahogany so that they sway like sea creatures. Poor thing must have been starving.
It’s St Stephen’s day morning and I’m consulting the paper. First meet is 11.
I use an inch-long pencil to circle names. My first pick is a tip from the radio, 6/1.
Neil returns from the bathroom preening with dull satisfaction. His paper wagging beneath his arm like the tail of one of those strange fish that sticks to the bellies and backs of sharks.
I can see his picks, circled with red pen so that his choices cannot not be easily erased or forgotten.
He pays for his drink and while he does I catch the contents of his wallet – a loyalty card for the only barber in town and a balance of cash for the day, all big notes. His bank cards are at home. He knows better.
We leave and walk to the bookmakers, two doors down, last year it was five.
Neil is shorter than I am and going bald in the most unfortunate of ways, thinning in strips instead of patches. This doesn’t seem to bother him. He lets it grow until it’s unbearably mossy.
He has pale pocked skin and a sturdy crest of a nose. Sometimes when you call to the house for him, his brother will answer and tell you that Neil is out the back breaking blocks with it.
Right now he has the look about him of someone confident, canny.
The bookies is packed and has the visual palette of a stuffed ashtray. It smells of insoles and devastated carpet.
The only female here is the cashier, Joanna. She has the kind of calm in her eyes that you see in nurses and first responders.
Once on the carpet Neil doesn’t respond to verbal signals. He will not discuss picks or winnings. Men are invisible in this place.
At 2 o clock I tell him that I’m hungry. He seems agreeable. This must mean he’s up.
We go back to the pub and eat vegetable soup, crumble in soda bread that’s thick as scones. We have a carvery lunch and a pint of free cordial each. There is discussion of Ibiza.
He tells me that he’s going to get a job in the new year, that he’d like to come with us on the holiday. Says though, that it’s hard with the Mother the way she is. I sympathize, but secretly I know that if it wasn’t this it would be something else. Neil has the sort of mind that subconsciously seeks labyrinths. It’s not broken, it just does what it does with a ruthlessly efficiency.
He’s never been out of the country. He’s never eaten pasta or drank barista coffee. To my knowledge he has only ever been to the cinema that one time with school. He likes football and playing poker online, thinks he’s better at both than he is.
We step outside for a smoke. I rub my belly and tell him what the Father told us over Christmas dinner.
He told us that when he was thirteen years old his Dad organized a job for him in a plant nursery somewhere between Aherlow and Lisvernane. They supplied food and accommodation for the summer and a couple of quid would go back home.
The meals weren’t much, spuds and bacon, mustard from a tube if they had it. Breakfast was porridge and tea without milk or sugar.
He told us that he would be so hungry that by lunchtime he would start to eat chips of wood from the handle of his shovel and in bed at night he would sometimes chew the feathers from inside his pillow.
The story has Neil shaking his head, ”Different times.” he says.
Back in the ashtray the smell has evolved to include the bizarre body odours of farmers fresh from the field.
It’s not wholly unpleasant. It has a spicy quality to it, something cheap splashed against a hairy throat on the way into town.
Later myself and Neil huddle in the doorway as a heavy shower leathers the blanked out windows. Threads of rainwater drop from a clogged-up gutter and clap against the pavement. Even the smoke we’re blowing wants nothing to do with the weather, it circles our faces, seeks shelter in our pores.
Neil is about as happy as Neil gets. Tells me he’ll put the deposit down on Ibiza tomorrow, maybe he’ll even get a deal in the sales.
When the bookies close we make our ways back to the pub. Neil keeps walking.
I pat his back dutifully, offer to buy him a drink, curried chips if he’s hungry. He doesn’t answer me, just carries on down the street, trans-illuminated by a connect-the-dot forest of birches wrapped in fairy lights.
Once inside, I go to the bar, run my hand across its skin. It feels dewy, fed. I knock it once to see if it answers, thumb the vinyl-like groves in the wood. A voice comes; I order a stout.
I think of Neil, walking alone in the country dark. I bet he’s starving.
Paul Whyte is an emerging Irish writer. Originally from Tipperary, he currently lives in Dublin with his wife and two children, where he is working on his first short story collection – Brazen Head. Paul has been writing for about 10 years. He works mostly on speculative literary fiction.
We found it in the corner of a bric-a-brac shop. The crib was smooth and wooden and boxy, a rectangle on rockers, and it was filled with dozens of discount scatter cushions. We loved it the moment we saw it.
It was delivered on a Sunday. We carried it, laughing, in the seagull-screech afternoon as the wind blew the hair into our faces and we tripped over cobbles and brushed past green carnations, up the little path to our house.
“We’ll never get it inside!” we hooted. “We’ll have to cut it in two!”
But we didn’t, of course, although we did end up bent double with laughter when we tried to get it up the stairs.
For a while it lived on the first floor, covered by a sheet, as we feathered the room around it with fresh paint, new carpet and triangles of rainbow-coloured bunting. We liked to go up there early in the mornings and watch through the steam from our mugs as the sparrows hopped on the window sill and the breeze ruffled the sheet like it was trying to look inside.
We held hands, and for now the secret was ours.
Three months later, it happened, so we took the crib downstairs. This time it caught on every corner and dug into our limbs, until one of us could not hold up the end properly and our hands slipped and we lost control. It slid, carelessly, all the way down and landed with a crack. For a moment we looked at it, immobile at the bottom of the stairs, one rocker broken and hanging limp. We replayed the sound of the crack in our heads. Then we picked it up and put it on end in the large cupboard under the stairs, and we snapped off the broken rocker and put it inside.
We pushed it back, squashing everything behind it, and closed the door.
Like swans we tucked away our heads and let our bodies get on with the business of living. Calmly we took down the rainbow bunting; quietly we packed up the clothes and linen. But our composure exhausted itself before we could get to the understairs cupboard, and as time passed our grief gathered like dewdrops around the only thing we had not dealt with. The crib sent out ripples, lapping us softly every time we passed the cupboard door, until we could not even look at it. One of us tried to tell the other that it was just an empty box, something which only carved up air, but that did not work at all – it was an empty box, it carved up the air.
Then one day one of us said, “I need something.”
“Then go and get it,” said the other. “What are you looking at me for?”
“It’s under the stairs.”
Even though we knew where it was, we searched the whole house first and even rooted through the car. A turtle dove watched us, purring in the highest branches of a tree. At last we went back inside and stood in front of the understairs cupboard.
We took each other’s hands and it was a surprise and a comfort.
The thing we were most afraid of was that it might have changed somehow. Perhaps it had tilted forwards and would come tumbling out on top of us the moment we opened the door. Perhaps it would be bigger than we remembered, or worse, smaller.
But when we opened the door it was exactly as we had left it, standing on its end, the broken rocker inside, framing an emptiness, but not one that wasn’t familiar to us already. In fact, seeing it again felt like alighting on a branch; at last we had something to push off against.
We pulled everything out of the cupboard and found what we needed. Then we put the crib back in, right way up, and filled it with everything that had been crammed behind it. Now when we closed the door it didn’t feel like a weight against our hands, and when we walked past there was no need to curve our steps towards the far wall. Brushing against the handle was no longer the worst thing in the world.
We allowed our caged grief to take flight, until it was time again.
One of us had an idea and did not know how to tell the other. One of us stood in the upstairs room – repainted, refurnished, refilled – and knew that something had to go in the empty corner. In the end, when we spoke, one of us decided the what and one of us decided the where.
We took the crib out from under the stairs and emptied it of everything but its own broken rocker. Then we carried it back to the upstairs room, and it bumped into edges and the soft parts of ourselves until we had it upside down on a sheet, helpless, belly exposed. We had never seen it like that before, and even as it stirred our pity, we found ourselves hating it.
We wondered whether we were angry enough to claw the thing apart with our bare hands.
“Why don’t we do it like this?” asked one of us.
“It would be better this way,” said the other.
The screws were old and rusted, but with enough force they could be turned. We detached the second rocker and began to take out the screws that tightened the sides to the base, but we saw straight away that it would not be so easy. Ridges of hardened opaque glue squeezed out of the seal between the base and the rest of the wooden frame, and we ran our fingers along them and pecked at them with our nails. But we carried on anyway, one of us dropping loose screws onto the sheet, the other putting them into a little dish. Of course, even when the last screw was out, the structure still held fast.
“Why would anybody glue this?” asked one of us.
“They probably never expected it to be taken apart,” said the other.
We attacked the seam with screwdrivers, which we jabbed into the glue and worked and worked so that we could get the points between the two pieces of wood, and then we levered up and down and side to side, mashing the wood and pulping the dried glue, loosening the base enough that we could force our fingers into the join and really wrench and tear until, finally, it came apart.
We sat back, breathless, on our heels.
“Do you think we’ve damaged it?” asked one of us.
“Let’s go and have lunch,” said the other.
When we returned there was a collared dove standing on the window sill, cooing and bowing its head. Now and again it paddled its little feet like it was excited about something. When we opened the window it flew away.
The frame of the crib now became our work table; we laid the base across it and trimmed off the ruined edges with a jigsaw, and then we cut the base into strips which became the shelves, secured with nails and glue. The old screws, some scattered on the floor, some collected neatly in the dish, all ended up in the bin. The crib’s old rockers became an unexpected decoration, added to the top of the new bookcase like deliberate wooden moulding.
When we had finished we stood it upright and examined our creation; the product of our plan, hatched. It bore the scars of our work, certainly, but it was sturdy, perhaps even sturdier than before. To begin with it was difficult not to see it as a bottomless crib standing on end, but as we stared at it we stopped seeing the shape of what it had been and began to see it in its most basic elements – pieces of wood, nails and glue – like looking at a word for so long that it loses its meaning and all that’s left are the empty letters.
Right then we wanted nothing more than to fill the shelves with books, but it had to be left to dry. So we went downstairs and out into the garden with mugs of tea, and the air was so crisp the steam looked like feathers. We stood among the violets and looked up at the open window. A breeze stirred the curtain and we knew it was setting the glue.
“Do you remember when we thought we would have to cut it in two to get it through the door?” asked one of us.
“I remember it all,” said the other.
We held each other’s hands as a distant cuckoo started to call.
Clare Diston is a freelance writer and editor through her business, Human Voices. She received her MA in Creative Writing in 2011 and she loves reading (and writing) literary and science fiction. She blogs about all things books at www.50ayear.com. This is her first fiction publication.
“I’m fine. Honestly. My folks are coming over later so I won’t be on my own. Go on. You’ll be late.”
I left Angela to rest up, her body still getting used to itself after the miscarriage. Everything had changed so quickly. Last week, we had been living a life of plans, talking about the arrival of a baby who was in fact already in our bed, inside of Angela; a little nineteen-week-old grapefruit. But what can you say when there’s no heartbeat? When the scan shows indecipherable black and grey shading and the baby is still there but without that pulsing, characteristic pattern that is supposed to last a lifetime? I was full of questions, trying to talk my way out of things, but Angela just settled into a profound, personal realisation that was inaccessible to me. That deep wisdom of the body once it knows, truly knows, that everything has changed.
As we sat at home, waiting for the tablets to work, I texted my sister: “We’ve lost the baby. Can you tell people?” We sat through the unreality of trying to find something decent on TV, of having run out of bread, of drying some spare pyjamas for Angela in case she needed to go back into hospital, which she did, for a D&C later that day. I phoned my boss and said that I had a vomiting bug and would be out for a couple of days, instinctively knowing not to tell the truth. The following days were filled with the practicalities of medicine, and that closeness you find between two people who have been through a lot together.
The world seemed stubbornly normal as I made my way back in to work. It was autumn and Dublin looked well; the leaves turning the colour of Georgian bricks.
“Here he is! The only man to catch morning sickness when his wife is pregnant – how’s your bump Ger?”
“Hi folks. Thanks for your sympathy. Don’t come too close, I’m not sure if I’m entirely over it.”
“So brave. What a pro. Here he is back after only three days in his Superman pyjamas.”
The first morning at the office filled itself with routine: looking through the end-quarter numbers before they were sent to the West Coast; querying payments made while I was out; clearing annual leave for the girl who worked for me. Little pieces of normality that I operated by remote control from inside my grief.
At lunchtime, I passed on an invite to go for a curry with the others, answering them with a pantomime pat of my supposedly recovering stomach. Once the office quietened down, I logged out and left for a walk. Outside, the bockety streets were full of that midday busyness: people texting their lunch dates to say that they were running late, something had come up; charity fund raisers flirting for Africa; and Italian students in puff jackets walking five abreast, full of continental obliviousness.
I stopped outside the National Gallery. For months it had been barricaded by hoardings during its renovation, but now, like me, it was slowly beginning to engage with the world again. It appealed to me as a safe place where a person could go and look like they were doing something, even if they were not really taking anything in.
The lobby was busy with tour groups and people with bags being told that they would need to use the cloakroom. The Perspex donation box stood awkwardly, half full with unfamiliar currencies. I decided to rent a recorded audio guide to insulate myself from the chatter and close off my interior world. I put the old-style foam-covered headphones over my ears and clipped the device onto my belt. It was still set to German so I had to fiddle around and find the English setting, but it played automatically once the language was selected.
“The National Gallery first opened in 1922, after the Parliament building had been bombed, leading to a reorganisation of city centre properties under the control of the State . . .”
The crowds were all drawn to the big names on show at the visiting exhibition of Art from the Low Countries, so the rooms of lesser known Irish art were pretty quiet – mostly rural scenes and large landscapes. The audio guide explained that Irish landscape paintings typically devoted an unusually large amount of space to the sky: the mercurial weather providing the variety and drama that painters loved.
“Number 41. This painting depicts working men stopping for lunch. Their dark skin and weathered clothes indicate that they may have been day labourers, or Journée men . . .”
Standing still, my arms hung loose and my body felt torpid. I needed some rest, but I also knew that I needed to begin the process of rejoining the world. Any more time in that house and I would have become too sad.
“ . . . Notice how the woman to the rear of the painting, wielding the soup ladle, stares straight at the viewer.”
-She looks sad. On her own among all those men.
“That’s because she is sad. She’s wearing a black scarf over her head, which indicates a family bereavement.”
-Is one of the men her husband?
“Unlikely. Perhaps her husband has died and her sadness is because she must work among other men in his absence.”
-That’s a powerful interpretation.
“What do you think?”
-I think she might just be exhausted to the point of sadness.
“No. 59. This portrait depicts the Earl of Longford, James Hassekemp, with his hunting dogs. The landscape in the background alludes to his Dutch protestant heritage and the style of the Dutch masters . . .”
-Is he famous?
“Only in the sense that he was rich in the nineteenth century and so his history is recorded and his family name remains in the area.”
-Is that the only reason his picture is here?
“Do you feel drawn to him?”
-I don’t know. I’m not sure. I think I like the painting though.
“It’s well executed, but somewhat stiff. Why do you like it?”
-It’s just so big. He looks so tall.
“Why is that important?”
-It makes him look substantial. Unaffected by things.
“Number 73 is titled ‘Woman with a Guitar and Tears’. This is by Irish painter Lily Oster, who travelled and studied throughout Europe and who was married to the famous sculptor, Daniel Bard.”
-Why tell me who her husband was?
“He is very famous, and the better known.”
-He always will be if you keep describing her like that.
“It’s a Cubist painting. Do you know what that is?”
-I think so. I mean, I know it’s modern art and it’s made up of shapes and different perspectives and all that. I wouldn’t be able to tell it from other schools of abstract art, but I know as much as I need to.
“How does the painting affect you?”
-It’s ok. Only ok. On a different day I might feel engaged intellectually, but the way I am today it just sort of washes over me.
“Does the fact that she is crying mean anything to you?”
-I suppose it’s meant to mean something, but to me it just looks, I don’t know. Just a painting. I’m not getting anything from it.
“Some say she looks like a sad Mona Lisa.”
-Let’s move on. “The next one is number 80. We can skip this if you want.”
“I thought it might upset you.”
“Because of your baby.”
-My little grapefruit.
“We don’t have to do this one if you don’t want to.”
-Tell me about the painting.
“It’s by Ulick Grey. It’s called the ‘Child’s Wake’. It was his last painting and was unfinished at his death. The child and the adult figures were done by Grey, but the details of the room had to be completed by one of his students. This is the first time it has been shown here.”
-I haven’t seen it before.
“Grey mostly painted landscapes. Even though it’s not particularly well executed, the choice of subject is original and profound, which makes it arresting.”
-I see what you mean. The child’s face is wrong though, isn’t it?
-It looks like it’s sleeping, rather than dead. It’s too peaceful.
“How should it look?”
-I don’t know. But not too peaceful.
“What about the mother figure?”
-She’s not difficult to do. Everyone knows what a heartbroken mother looks like.
“And the father?”
-He’s not looking at the child.
“Why do you think that is?”
-I think I know.
-At some stage he will have to choose the exact moment to pull the blanket over the child’s face.
“Should we move on?”
-I have to go back.
“Can’t you stay? There are two more rooms on this floor.”
-I can’t. I wish I could bring you with me.
“They won’t let you.”
-What would happen?
“I don’t know. I don’t know how things work from your side.”
-I’ll just bring you back. I suppose I have no way of knowing if I’ll get you the next time I come here.
“I guess not.”
I returned the audio guide at the counter, where a woman with a steel grey bob hung it among the others, without breaking off the instructive conversation she was having with some tourists. It was hard to see exactly where she had hung it or to tell which one I had given her.
Stepping outside into the street again, my ears felt the cold. Things seemed calmer now, with a few people here and there, making their way with an easy randomness. A school tour passed by, the children each holding hands with the kids in front and behind them, looking like a string of cut-out paper dolls.
I was in no mood to go back: not yet ready to accept that part of returning to normal was getting back to doing the things that I didn’t want to do. I sent two texts:
“Hi love. Am taking a half day. See you in an hour xx G.”
And to my boss:
“We lost the baby. Can you tell people?”
Ronan Hession is an emerging writer based Dublin – his work has previously appeared in The Honest Ulsterman. As Mumblin’ Deaf Ro, he has released three albums of storytelling songs. His third album Dictionary Crimes was was nominated for the Choice Music Prize.
In the corridor beside the gantries, she hid with her hands in Oliver’s shoes. She leaned right down, till her cheek was on the carpet, feeling the spread of her fingers where his toes would be.
Downstairs, on stage, the performance was coming to the end of Act I. She sighed, sat back up, and put the shoes back under where the rest of his Act II costume was hanging. She liked to stay here during the show, officially as costume designer ready for quick changes. In this small theatre building they were renting, nothing was soundproofed. No one wanted it to be their footsteps or their conversation that threw off a whole performance. The actor’s voices created a silence that was like a spell; complete and unbreakable. For this, she thought anyway, Oliver’s voice was the most effective because he made it softer. She felt like he understood the potential of the building, forced it to breath in time with him by drawing back just a little. Under this spell, no one could ask her what she was doing with shoes on her hands; no one was supposed to walk this way at all. In this silence, her secret, her adoration, breathed with the building, with Oliver.
She followed his lines on her script:
Malachy: I want you with me Niamh! When you go, I want you with me.
Niamh: But where can we go? What’ll we do when we get there?
Malachy: We’ll go as far as we can. I want to beat those fucking rain clouds Niamh. I can’t take more cold! If we try to leave now, it’ll be hours before anyone notices. We can disappear, and no one will even know it. Maybe no one will even mind, in the end Niamh.
She loved how Oliver said “Niamh”, with two syllables, like Nee-Uv.
She didn’t, though, like the play all that much. It was sentimental and new, and the director was a fretful angry man; David. He came to every rehearsal in the same denim jacket and sat there with his laptop out, covered in the stickers you get from Amnesty International when you sign a petition in the street. She’d seen him, peering over that screen, leering at Molly. Molly was playing Niamh, and Niamh seemed some kind of fantasy for him, following Malachy all the way around the world with her dark hair and her sweet, quick heart only to die on a tiny boat in the night in an unfamiliar sea. David screamed and shouted and ran things over by an hour, or cut them short when everyone had got up at 7am. She hated him for his cruelty, but more for what he had written into life. It was only the second night, and already rumours about Molly and Oliver were falling off the stage and into the real world.
She waited until she heard the murmur of the crowd before standing up and tucking her script away back into her bag. Molly was the first up the stairs from backstage at the bottom of the corridor.
“How’s it going?”
“Alright I think, bit low energy maybe”, Molly replied, taking the tights she was holding out to her and starting to pull them on under her skirt.
“It sounded good from here anyway”. She held out the rest of the costume.
“Thanks a million Laura” Molly said, and turned towards the dressing room. Laura watched her go for a moment. Molly was tying her hair up; she hoped she hadn’t been on stage this whole time with that bobbin on her wrist.
“Could you give me a hand with this?” Oliver. Laura had made him a shirt for Act II, but had put the fastening very high up on the neck by mistake, so that it was hard to do up yourself. She nodded.
He was taller than her, and now she was eye level with his chin, feeling his breath on her hands. Laura felt lately like there was a flood that followed her, that she was only ever just about ahead of. Here, she felt it rise, coming to rest just under her nose as she did the fastening. He lifted his chin to give her space, and she wanted to throw her arms around his neck and lift herself up, away from the flood, up to his height where it couldn’t get her. She took a small, extra second, and stood back from him. The water sank a little.
“There” she smiled.
“Thanks!” he said, and bounced away down the corridor. The water drained down the stairs after him. She smiled to herself that he didn’t feel the need to check his costume in the mirror.
She heard a shout for their five-minute call, and watched the rest of the cast traipse past her, back downstairs. The lights went darker, and she sat back down and took her script out again.
There was never much of a routine before the play started, always a lost pair of shoes, or a new tantrum from David. No one really noticed then, except Laura, how late Oliver was on the fourth night. Ten minutes until open, her breaths were coming shallow with worry, and David stormed into the corridor. He seemed not to notice Laura, but she felt like he knew someone was watching. He was performative, like an angry person in a film, pacing around on his phone
“Fucking nothing!” he screamed, and kicked the piping running along the wall. “Molly!”
Molly came out to the corridor then. Laura liked Molly. They had been in the same class at college. They always commented nice things on each other’s pictures on instagram. Once they had run into each other leaving the library and gone for a drink and Molly had cried about her sick cat to her.
“I can’t get through to Oliver, have you heard from him?”
Molly shook her head.
“If he doesn’t show up in the next like two fucking minutes then I’m gonna do his part tonight. Just to give you a heads up”.
Laura saw real fear cross Molly’s face at the thought of acting across from David, of acting in love with him.
David could no more do this to Oliver than to Molly. He was too cruel to stand where he stands, say his words in his clothes.
She gathered Oliver’s costume up, waited until the cast came out and started downstairs, before slipping into the middle of them, four pins in her mouth so that she’d look like she had a task to do. Downstairs, she got changed in the dark backstage, rolling up the legs of the trousers, pulling the shoelaces as tight as she could, pinning the shirt at the back to make it fit better. The fire announcement began as she stuffed her hair into his hat, patting around the edges for strays. She could hear David stomping around upstairs, and hoped that he’d still care enough about the play to stop making noise soon.
She waited for Oliver’s, or Malachy’s, first scene, running over his lines in her head. She knew them perfectly. She had studied them like they were sacred the past few days, had come to far more rehearsals than she really needed to hear Oliver say them. Her hands shook with worry, with the burden of filling his place, with disgust at the thought of David standing in these shoes.
She felt a hand on her shoulder and turned around. David was there, with the rest of the cast peering at her from behind him. Without waiting for even a gesture from him, she turned and slipped on stage, too early for her scene, and paced at the back. As she became Malachy , her anxiety dissipated. She was safe here, in Oliver’s place, holding something precious for him.
The performance went completely smoothly. They heard from Oliver at the interval; he had been knocked off his bike and had a concussion and a broken ankle. He was safe, and she imagined Molly texting him later about what had happened, and him seeing her name and imagining her in his clothes.
Oliver couldn’t come in the next day. When Laura arrived, Molly and David were screaming at each other. She waited in the corridor, with his costume clutched to her chest. She heard a door slam and footsteps and Molly rushed into the corridor. She said that David had left, that we were to run the show ourselves tonight.
“Thank you so much Laura”. They hugged, the bundled costume caught between them.
The same thing happened the next few nights, until David seemed to give up on the whole production. He stopped even watching, spending the whole show smoking on the balcony and then only going downstairs at the very end to collect his praises and his ticket takings. The cast was grateful to her for creating such a distance between them and David. Every night they flocked around her, chatting, asking for help with their hair, laughing with her. She thought all the time of Oliver, wondered what he was hearing about what was going on, if he was curious enough to come watch, feeling that same flood rising and falling around her.
She still changed backstage in the dark for every show. She preferred it to be dark; it made it easier to forget herself, to inhabit Oliver. On stage, she tried to copy everything, his accent, his gait, squinting slightly to change the shape of her eyes, and always looking out, past the yellow lights, to where he might be in the audience. As she walked home and as she fell asleep every night she thought of nothing but his eyes on her.
On the thirteenth night, the second last, she changed as usual in the dark. As she was tightening the lace on her shoe, it snapped off in her hand. She had pulled too hard and it was only cheap and elastic. The break pinched her skin a little. She tested the shoe; it was very loose, much too big for her. She tucked the raw end of the lace inside and stood up as the fire announcement came on.
As she stepped out, gripping the inside of the shoe with her toes, she went closer to the edge of the stage than usual, so she could see better beyond the lights. The audience was small tonight; he was not there. The weeks’ worth of hoping and getting nowhere weighed heavy on her; she was tired. It was her line but she waited, let the silence grow. She walked out of step with Oliver’s blocking, and took her hat off, feeling her hair fall down around her shoulders. She didn’t pay much attention as the scenes passed her by, always looking outwards, wide-eyed.
She turned, at last, to Molly:
Malachy: I want you with me Niamh! When I go, I want you with me.
She stepped forward, and left her loose shoe behind. She used her foot to loosen the other one.
Niamh: I can’t leave here, what will I do? Where will we go?
As she spoke, Laura untucked and unbuttoned her shirt. She faced forwards at centre stage. Molly was backing away, until she was outside the line of the lights, almost off stage.
Malachy: As far as we can. I want to beat those fucking rain clouds Niamh.
Laura felt herself begin to shout. The rest of her clothes began to come away. They were not hers and they didn’t fit her. They slipped off without her trying.
I cannot take more of the cold. If we try to leave now, it’ll be hours before anyone notices.
Laura stood on stage naked, the trail of the costume behind her, staring
straight into the yellow lights above her.
We can disappear and no one will even know it! Maybe no one will even mind, in the end.
Iseult Deane is 20 years old and a third year English and Philosophy student at Trinity College Dublin. She has lived her whole life in Dublin. She works in a cinema at the moment but likes theatre a lot more and would like to be a costume designer.
A woman, blonde, blue-eyed, glides down a white-sand beach. Waves crash. Sea breeze tousles her long tresses. Her translucent sarong flutters. Her tiny white bikini covers very little. Her thigh muscles ripple with each graceful step.
A man, chiseled, bronzed, pads toward her across the wet, white sand. He wears a confused expression. Breakers roar. His unbuttoned white tailored shirt whips in the wind. Close-up: pecs, abs, face, abs, pecs. From neck to navel, sweat droplets bead and run.
A jaguar, lithe, limber, races through the lush jungle beyond the beach.
Cue the strings.
The woman and man embrace in slow motion against a backdrop of tumultuous surf. His fingers dance up her spine. Her lips gnaw at his stubbly chin. “Passion.” He holds her cheek in his hand. She wraps an arm around his waist. “Pleasure.” He brushes her locks out of her eyes. She paws his tight rump. “Destiny.” They tumble into the sand in a passionate heap.
Sunlight refracts through sea spray. Surf pounds the beach. From the edge of the jungle, a jaguar preens and roars.
“Fugue. The new fragrance. For men.”
A woman, chiseled, bronzed, pads across the wet, white sand. Her unbuttoned white tailored shirt whips in the cold tropical wind. It’s snowing. Close-up: breasts, abs, face, abs, breasts. From neck to navel, goosebumps.
A man, blonde, blue-eyed, plods down a white, snowy beach. He wears a confused expression. Waves crash soundlessly. Cold wind tousles his long tresses. His translucent sarong flutters. His tiny white bikini covers very little. His thigh muscles ripple with each plodding footfall.
A jaguar, loose-limbed, lissome, races up the snow-covered sand in a red Alfa Romeo Spider. The top is down. He sports Ray-Bans.
Cue the harps.
The woman and man embrace in slow motion against a backdrop of gathering storm. Her fingers dance up his spine. His lips gnaw at her stubbly chin. “Passion.” She holds his cheek in her hand. He wraps an arm around her waist. “Pleasure.” She brushes his locks out of his eyes. He paws her tight rump. “Destiny.” They tumble into the accumulating powder in a passionate, shivering heap.
Sunlight refracts through blowing snow. Ice crystals form in the surf swell. The jaguar spins donuts around them in his bright red convertible, roaring.
“The new fragrance for men: Fugue.”
A blonde, blue-eyed ski bunny glides down a snow-covered slope. A thick crust of ice glistens on the surface of a mountain lake. A cold wind tousles the long tresses trailing from her stocking cap. Her white bikini covers very little. Her thigh muscles ripple with each graceful turn.
A man, chiseled, bronzed, pads toward her across the wet, white slope carrying hot toddies. He wears furry boots and a confused expression. His unbuttoned white tailored ski jacket whips in the icy wind. Close-up: pecs, abs, face, abs, pecs. From neck to navel, goosebumps.
A jaguar, svelte, supple, races up the snowy shore in a red Alfa Romeo Spider. The top is down. He sports a snow-leopard suit and Ray-Bans.
Cue the banjos.
The woman and man embrace in slow motion against a backdrop of snow-covered mountains. His mittens dance up her spine. Her chapped lips gnaw at his numb, stubbly chin. “Passion.” He holds her cheek in his mitten. She wraps an arm, blue with cold, around his waist. “Pleasure.” He slides off her stocking cap, pawing at her sweaty, matted locks. She pokes him in the tight rump with the handles of her ski poles. “Destiny.” She loses her balance, and they tumble into a heap of poles and skis and awkward, icy passion, hot toddies spilling in the snow.
Wind whips powder into stinging clouds. Ice on the lake creaks and moans. The jaguar in the snow-leopard suit adjusts his Ray-Bans, revving the engine of his bright red convertible and roaring.
“Men: The new Fugue. For fragrance.”
A blonde, blue-eyed farmer’s daughter splashes up out of a river. Summer sun carries the secret scent of tilled loam. Snow-capped mountains tower over the valley. She wrings out her long tresses. Her tiny, non-existent white bikini covers very little. Her thigh muscles ripple as she lies back in the soft riverbank grass.
A man, chiseled, bronzed, pads toward her across a fallow field. He wears a confused expression. Cicadas hiss and rattle. His unbuttoned tailored white overalls flap and sway in the warm wind. From neck to navel, sweat droplets bead and run.
A jaguar, spry, lithesome, races through the cornfields on a red Alfa Romeo tractor. The top is down. He sports a straw hat and Ray-Bans. In his paw, a .12-gauge shotgun.
Cue the fiddles.
The farmer’s daughter and man embrace in slow motion against a backdrop of cornfields, river, and snow-capped mountains. Her spine dances down his fingers. His stubbly lips gnaw at her chin. “Passion.” She holds his hand against her cheek. He wraps a sweaty waist inside her arm. “Pleasure.” She brushes his eyes out of her locks. He rumps her tight paws. “Destiny.” They tumble to the grass in a disheveled heap.
Sunlight refracts through dust clouds. The cicada clatter swells. The straw-hatted jaguar barrels toward the lovers at full throttle, adjusting his Ray-Bans, cocking his .12-gauge, and roaring.
“New. The fragrance for men. Fugue.”
A woman, blue-eyed, blonde, glides down a bright, white street. Cars crash. Fetid subway wind tousles her long tresses. Murky late-autumn sunlight casts a glare on mountains of snow-capped dumpster garbage. Her translucent thigh muscles flutter. Her tiny white bikini covers very little. Her sarong ripples with each graceful step.
A man, bronzed, chiseled, pads toward her across the wet, white sidewalk. He wears a confused expression. Traffic roars. New Yorkers, too. His unbuttoned white tailored shirt whips in the fetid subway wind. Close-up: pecs, abs, face, abs, pecs. From neck to navel, raindrops bead and run.
A jaguar, limber, lithe, races through the concrete jungle, blowing stoplights and cutting off cabbies, in a red Alfa Romeo Spider. The top is down, despite the drizzling rain. He sports Ray-Bans and can’t see where he’s going.
Cue the jangly electric guitars.
The woman and man embrace in slow motion against a backdrop of rush hour road rage. His fingers dance up her spine. Her lips gnaw at his stubbly chin. Drivers honk, bleat, and make obscene hand gestures, then someone throws a bottle, which explodes in a spray of jagged glass. “Passion.” He holds her cheek in his hand. She wraps an arm around his waist. Rats squeak and scurry, gazing at the lovers from their snow-capped mountains of dumpster garbage. “Pleasure.” He brushes her locks out of her eyes. She paws his tight rump. A divorced secretary in a no-nonsense gray skirt and glowing white Reeboks shoves them accidentally-on-purpose and yells, “Get a room!”, face plastered with disgust and envy. “Destiny.” They tumble to the filthy, glass-shattered pavement in a passionate heap.
The trickle of rain turns to sleet. The air feels cold and greasy. The jaguar stands upright on the hood of his red Alfa Romeo Spider, Les Paul sunburst in his paws, a Marshall stack big as a bus behind him, strumming jangly power chords and roaring.
“Fugue for men. The new fragrance.”
A woman, bronzed, chiseled, pads down a wet, white sidewalk. Traffic roars. Mimes, too. Her unbuttoned white tailored shirt whips in the sweet spring wind. Close-up: breasts, abs, face, abs, breasts. From neck to navel, sweat droplets bead and run.
A man, blonde, blue-eyed, glides down a bright, white street. He wears a confused expression. Buses hit delivery trucks hit cars hit motorcycles hit mopeds hit bicycles hit pedestrians. The unfamiliar wail of Parisian sirens. The wind off speeding emergency vehicles tousles his long tresses. His translucent sarong flutters. His tiny white bikini covers very little. His thigh muscles ripple with each graceful step.
A jaguar, lissome, loose-limbed, races through the concrete jungle in a red Alfa Romeo Spider, spinning around the Arc de Triomphe and slaloming down the Champs Elysées, a smoldering Gauloise between his lips. The top is down. He sports Ray-Bans, a jaunty-angled beret, and a crooked smile.
Cue the accordions.
The woman and man embrace in slow motion against a backdrop of other women and men and women and women and men and men embracing in slow motion. His spine dances up her fingers. Her stubbly chin gnaws at his lips. “Passion.” She holds his cheek in her hand. She wraps her waist inside his arm. “Pleasure.” She brushes his locks out of his eyes. Her tight rump slides beneath his paws. “Destiny.” They tumble into the tulips in a passionate heap, along with at least two other couples.
Sunlight refracts through Gauloise smoke. The warm breeze carries the scent of daffodils, crêpes, and fresh espresso. In his bright red convertible, the jaguar barrels down the steps of Sacré-Coeur, smashes through the Louvre, and drives straight up the Eiffel Tower, roaring, “Sous les pavés, la plage!”
“Fragrance: The new Fugue. For men.”
A woman, blonde, bronzed, glides down a giant golden dune. Sunshine assaults her. Hot, arid wind tousles her long tresses. Her translucent kaftan flutters. Her tiny white bikini covers very little. Her thigh muscles ripple with each graceful step.
A man, chiseled, blue-eyed, pads toward her across the sandy void. He wears a confused expression. The wind howls through a bleached human skull. A javelin sand boa constricts around a wayward goat. The man’s unbuttoned white tailored shirt whips in the wind. Close-up: pecs, abs, face, abs, pecs. From neck to navel, sweat droplets bead and run.
A jaguar, supple, svelte, races up and over the vast dunes in a red Alfa Romeo Spider. The top is down, despite the blowing sand. He sports Ray-Bans and a turban. He sips sweet mint tea.
Cue the ouds.
The woman and man embrace against a backdrop of spitting camels, endless sand, and empty sky. His fingers dance up her spine. Her lips gnaw at his stubbly chin. It’s 120 degrees, and there’s no shade. “Passion.” He holds her cheek in his leathery hand. She wraps a sunburned arm around his waist. The blue dome of sky stretches and shimmers. “Pleasure.” He brushes her locks out of her eyes. She paws his tight rump. On the horizon, an enormous sandstorm rages. “Destiny.” They tumble down that golden dune in a flailing, passionate heap.
The roiling wall of sand blots out the sun. The wind carries the scent of recent slaughter. The jaguar presses a button, transforming his bright red convertible into a bright red coupe in which to weather the storm. Sand and wind hammer the windshield. He preens in the lighted vanity mirror, roaring.
“Fugue. The new fragrance. For men.”
J. T. Townley has published in Harvard Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Prairie Schooner, The Threepenny Review, and other magazines and journals. His stories have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net award. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia and an MPhil in English from Oxford University, and he teaches at the University of Virginia. To learn more, visit jttownley.com.
Amy Kennelly is an amateur photographer from Kerry currently on a voyage of self discovery, like Eat, Pray, Love but supplemented by a job in customer service.
Future Bohemic Boyfriend
– By Brianne Kohl
I know you are out there, spinning so free in the universe, just waiting for the day I’ll ride into your life on my 1984 Shwinn World Sport fixie with the retro pink and white lettering. I’ll braid my hair loose like a mermaid and wear a Che Guevara T shirt even though I spent years thinking he was the lead singer of Rage Against the Machine. But, you won’t care, future try-hard-boyfriend. Because, you couldn’t find Cuba with google maps and a prayer.
When I meet you, you’ll be in your late 20s/early 30s. You’ll be sporting a full lumberjack beard but dress like you are auditioning for an episode of Happy Days. You’ll have a neon green Vespa LX 150 scooter that you’ll ride to your job as a barista at the local non-corporate coffee shop, Counter Culture.
“Four-stroke single overhead camshaft!” you’ll say.
You will be good with your hands. A grease monkey underneath it all just like my Dad was. Your fingernails will always be rimmed in engine oil and dirt, even when you scrub them clean. You’ll carry that roasted smell of freshly ground coffee beans in your shaggy brown hair. Sometimes, I’ll think if you would just shake your head like a dog, beans could fly out onto the floor.
On the weekends, you’ll be a drummer in a post-post modern Band of Horses cover band. People will flock to you, eager for that nearness of you. You’ll know the difference between essential and non-essential hygiene and even though you’ll have no political or religious objection to antiperspirant, you won’t bother using it. I won’t notice this at first, because we’ll meet in the Autumn, just as the leaves start to turn orange and red and the nights have a slick coolness about them.
You’ll have a slightly crooked front tooth, cocked to the side like a swinging door. I’ll feel it with my tongue every time I kiss you. On our first date, we’ll meet up in a parking lot and share a PBR and a Parliment. I’ll get chilly so you’ll lend me your gray fitted hoodie. It will almost be too small but I’ll squeeze it around me, stretching it tight against my chest. I’ll run the zipper up to my mouth and suckle the metal pull tab. I’ll love you that quick.
I’ll start spending my nights at yours. We’ll stay up late, listening to Elephant 6 and Neutral Milk Hotel on vinyl. People will begin to expect us at all the wrong-for-the-right-reasons shows in Cobble Hill. You’ll get jealous when I get friendly with that noise scene musician we’ll meet outside Derby’s but I’ll only be friendly with him because he’ll know my room mate’s sister. His music will be marginal, squawking baby toys spun against radio transmission wave noise. It will be borderline in all the right ways, even if we can’t stand to listen to it for long. You and I will make up over a couple of gin and tonics, leave the noise behind and head home. As you slide into me that night, your weight pressed down on my hips like a clamp, I’ll smile up at you and think of him.
You’ll hate my room mate. She’ll hate you even more. We’ll start to argue about what to do when your lease is up. You’ll barely be able to afford your little one man pup-efficiency in Bushwick. So, we’ll start to talk about getting our own place together, someplace that belongs to you and me and no one else.
“Williamsbug,” I’ll say.
“Metro North Railroad,” you’ll say. You’ll have this need to track your life like a hobo on the side of a freight train as the ground conveys passed your heels. I’ll narrow my eyes in confusion. “Hastings-on-Hudson,” you’ll say. “The city’s been over run. We need someplace new. Someplace a man can get a real job.” All I can think is, “What the hell would we do in Westchester?” But you’ll fucking love it, all that roving hipsturbia and I’ll begin to tick off the moments, rolling my eyes and sighing, until you lose interest.
You’ll get fired from Counter Culture because of a pissy missive you’ll blog, decrying all the wrong ways customers order coffee. “They don’t even fucking know what a Machiato is!” you’ll cry out, throwing a spoon into the sink. It will clatter against my nerves and I’ll hope I hid my Starbucks cup far enough into the trash can so you’ll never see.
We’ll start to plan a community garden that we’ll never build. You’ll get a job at the local co-op. You’ll start dreading your hair, just two long tufts at the base of your skull. I’ll have dreams of running past you with scissors, cutting that gnarled bark of hair from your head. You’ll forgive me for throwing out your ratty black Bel Biv Devoe Tshirt – you’ll leave it at my place and I’ll think its a rag because of the threadbare holes in the back. We’ll sit outside on the front stoop and you’ll feed me beautiful fresh cherries in the Spring. I’ll spit the pits back out into your hand.
I’ll get pregnant and miscarry and never tell you, blood as ripe as those cherries, that fragile pit lost forever as I cry on the toilet.
I’ll fall deep into a hole, so deep that I won’t be able to see your face peering down at me. You’ll get confused and with the confusion, you’ll start to get a little mean. I’ll start to get a lot distant.
“You’re a shitty musician,” I’ll say.
“I can’t STAND you right now,” I’ll say.
“Trendslut,” you’ll say.
After a while, you’ll stop peering down into my hole and I’ll stop looking up.
It will take us a long time, too long, really, to admit it will be too late for us. You’ll send me a text, maybe. Or, I’ll get one of your co-workers at the co-op to pass along the message. But, we’ll close that door and I know you’ll be out there, spinning around and away. I’ll eventually find my way out to Hastings-on-Hudson – housing will be so much more affordable in the sprawl. And, I’ll think of you, of your battered Doc Martins hanging out over the rusted rails, every time I take the 9:06 into Grand Central.
Brianne M. Kohl is a fiction writer who has lived all over the United States but currently resides in Chatham County, North Carolina. Her work has been published in Black Heart Magazine, Ohio Edit, Crack the Spine Literary Magazine, Corner Club Press and in ‘In the Hardship and the Hoping: Poems of Northeast Ohio by JB Solomon Editions. She was the best fiction recipient from Bop Dead City’s 2013 Summer Fiction Contest. Her work and musings can also be found at www.briannekohl.com.
Joyce and Me
– By Anna Byrne
It was in Oxfam’s, in the used book area. Section M to P. That’s where it happened. Later, when I went through things, I realized I’d already read some of her short stories. This book however, had a Getting to Know the Author section in the back, including a personal profile, a segment entitled Writing with Words and a photograph. The photo showed a woman with dark curly hair and large, soulful eyes, staring off camera. And right then, I knew there was something about her that would change my life. Joyce Carol Oates.
Before. That’s a word people used alot in Ireland. Before, guys would proudly write their number on the back of their ATM stubs and pass them out among the waiting ocean of high heeled, sun bedded women. Before, people were marching up the property ladder and buying five hundred euro dogs at the weekends. They were thronging the bar, fifty euro notes fluttering like miniature flags heralding our fiscal wisdom. I had a good vantage point, my circumnavigation in the employ of the eating and drinking establishments of Cork city almost complete at that time.
Now. That was a different story. Now, people lecture bitterly about household tax and the pitfalls of buying to rent, and get thrown out for smuggling in their own Tesco vodka. Now, no one bothers to print out their bank balance because they’re all either bankrupt or on the dole. Or just gone. If Galway is Ireland‘s graveyard of ambition, then Cork is the wake, with everyone sitting around, drinking too much and lamenting about somebody that went too soon.
In bed that night, John snoring beside me, I reread Joyce Carol Oates Writing with Words. I copy out the main points.
She doesn’t own a computer but works longhand and then on a typewriter.
She writes in silence.
She does not read, watch or listen to anything trashy. Life is too short.
I set up a small desk from Argos in the tiny room of our apartment underneath the stairs. I unpack the notebooks I have kept under the bed. They are full of the word Idea printed and then circled, and then the idea written underneath. Privately, I have harboured the ambition of being a writer for years. As a child, I had written a story about a hedgehog that was published in a book of children stories for children, by children. I place this, entitled Rainbow Days, on the desk. Since then there had been a dry spell.
I don’t really understand what happened. After school everyone dropped into their places, so sure they were the right fit. I started a course in web design, decided it wasn’t for me and moved to Cork with a vague notion of saving money to go traveling. I met John at a party. It made sense that we’d move in together. I’d sit back and listen to him and his friends talk about how to roll a perfect joint, and watch as they tried to master it. They talked about taking ten pills before they even ‘gotta tingle offa them.’ I had a job, money. I was even skinny because I usually didn’t eat at the weekends. Things were good.
But then one day I was taking a glass from the cupboard and I noticed it was cloudy looking. I held it up to the light and I saw how dirty it was. I took out the other glasses. They were the same. Then I collected the mugs from around the sitting room. Their insides were stained dark brown. I tried scrubbing at them but it made no difference. I started to sweep. How had I not noticed how the floor sloped in the kitchen before? I went out to the tiny back garden, where I thought the mop bucket would be, and saw the pile of sodden rubbish bags. I realized I didn’t have a mop bucket, or a mop. My head got this funny buzzing feeling. I got my keys and jacket and went outside. It was late morning and the sound of children echoed along the narrow street. I walked down the hill past St. Finbarr’s Church, crossed the South Mall with a vague notion of Oliver Plunkett Street and on the way I walked into Oxfam’s and found Joyce.
In work, at Ned’s Irish Fusion Bar and Restaurant I’m on the early shift with Iris. Iris is American. She’s outstaying her visa here because she’s having an on/off relationship with the drummer from the local heavy metal band Rancid Corpse. She is what my mother would call brazen. She pokes at the blueberry muffins in the pastry basket. I polish forks and imagine Joyce Carol Oates and her morning routine: wandering through her house to the study, coffee cup in hand. Do her friends call her Joyce, or JayCee? I think probably just Joyce. I conjure up a chance encounter we’d have; how we’d end up, somehow, going for a coffee. I’d hand the sugar to her, call her Ms. Oates, and by the end of our first cup she’d look me in the eye and say, Just call me Joyce.
Iris is waving at me.
‘You’re in another world Sarah.’
She bends her neck, shouting at the ceiling in mock frustration.
‘God, this is so boring.’
Twisting her lip ring she calls out the old game.
‘Okay, if you had to, had to choose: Simon Cowell or Perez Hilton?’
I smile vaguely.
‘What’s going on with you?’ she asks.
I just shake my head and kind of float off; what I imagine Joyce would do.
I search the library for her books, then the bookshops. I line them all up on my desk. I underline the sentences of Joyce‘s that I can identify with most and stick them on the desk, the wall, the bathroom mirror. I stick one on the front door so I can read it before work. John comes up behind me, puts his hands on my shoulders.
‘What’s this?’ he asks. I try not to wince when he touches me. I try to remember why I fell for him. He had a car. With a sub woofer. He brought me to Mondello race track when we were going out first. He still has it. The sub woofer, I mean. We haven’t been getting on recently. If I’m honest, part of it is because I know that Joyce wouldn’t like my boyfriend. She wouldn’t say it, but I’d know.
She’d have that intuition, that he would let me down and then one night, after something unspeakable, I’d arrive at Joyce’s house with the words ‘I had nowhere else to go,’ and she would take me in, no questions asked. She’d draw me a bath. Then, in the morning over coffee, she’d offer me the spare room.
Things would go from there. Joyce would see herself in me. I’d be like her little sister. I’d discover her love of ginger tea, spicy Mexican food. Her abhorrence for bananas since eating a rotten one when she was three years old. We’d go to book readings. I’d read her latest manuscripts while she paced in the next room, finally coming to the door where I would look up at her and smile.
After her book readings we’d go out for dinner. Somewhere small we could talk. She’d look at me with those soulful eyes over a plate of tacos with extra jalapeños and say ‘Oh Sarah. Don’t waste that talent.’
No, she wouldn’t. She’d never say something so twee. She’d quote maybe, something from her favourite authors, Joyce or maybe Dickenson.
Understanding. There would be an understanding between us. Joyce and Me. Me and Joyce.
I’m in work, thinking about a trip Joyce and I could take on the Trans Siberian express when Ben, the manager, asks me to come into the office. His office is cramped and smells of that aftershave all male bar managers seem to use. His shirt stretches when he sits down. I can see the outline of his bellybutton. He scrapes the stubble just under his chin and asks me if everything’s ok. Everything’s fine, I tell him.
‘Your mind isn’t on your work anymore.’
I can’t answer that, so I just look at him, around him. I know Iris has said something. Yesterday I refused to gossip about a story leaked on the internet that said John Travolta is gay. She was shocked. Ben rakes the remaining hair on his balding head with a chubby hand.
‘Sarah, things are difficult, I’d appreciate if you could – pull together with me. Will you do that?’
I nod my head.
Then everything starts to move to the edges of the page. John tells me he is going on a football trip with the lads, a something Cup or other. Finally, another of Joyce’s keys to writing accomplished – silence. At this point, I have shunned my computer, don’t have to worry about what people are saying on Facebook, or who is emailing me. I head to work on Monday morning to find a notice on the window that Ned’s Fusion Bar and Restaurant has gone into liquidation – apparently people don’t want to spend ten euro‘s on chicken wings anymore. Smiling widely, I go straight back to the flat and my desk and write like a demon in longhand. I write so much that I can’t keep track of it all. The phone rings and rings until I send a group message that I got a cheap package holiday to Lanzarote and then shut the thing off. Sometimes I wake up in there. Sometimes when I wake up I spend hours trying to figure out the tangled web of writing across the pages that carpet the floor. Sometimes I‘m sitting there and just thinking of the door, the door that is opening and staying open the more I write and it’s only when the motor on the fridge clicks on that I say ‘thank you,‘ and start writing again. The house is cold. I shiver, make a cup of tea. The milk lumps in the cup. I laugh at that. This is real writing, I think. In a jubilant mood I scrape coins off the mantelpiece and go out to the shop for milk. It is there, standing in line, holding a pint of milk, that I see the poster.
I walk across Parliament bridge, down South Mall and into the library. The event is confirmed by the librarian. I walk back across Parliament bridge. My legs are trembling and I buy a chocolate bar for sugar and find a bench by the river beside a homeless man .
Joyce will be coming to my town! She will read in the library for the literary festival, in four days time. I look at the pamphlet the librarian handed to me. In it is a photograph of Joyce. She is looking upwards, her chin resting on her palm. I could swear her eyes are green. The homeless man beside me hawks up a gob of phlegm. It sits on the pavement like a rejected oyster. I close my eyes, chewing slowly.
It is true.
I am going to meet her.
The next few days I spend in preparation. I hear the door bell but it seems far away, like the shouts I imagine coming through the letterbox but I don’t answer them; I don’t have the time! I re read all of the quotes, paste some that have fallen off back on the walls. I try to remember what I want to ask Joyce, but there’s so much, I don’t know where to start. So I copy more of her quotes into a notebook and write my questions beside them.
On The Day, as I have referred to it in my notebooks, I get up early. I’ve been so busy I’ve forgotten about clothes. I manage to find an almost clean wool jumper and a pair of leggings I have to just quickly wipe down with a wet cloth.
Outside it’s the usual summer weather, the sky a cloudy marbled glare that hurts your eyes. I make my way down the small steep hills. At this time of the morning it’s just the same few delivery men and street people shuffling along. The library isn’t open yet so I wait outside. I peer back across the river at the derelict government building and the vegetarian restaurant that shoulders it. Finally, the library opens and I follow the woman inside. I watch her set out chairs, a small desk and microphone. I settle into one of the chairs. I change seats several times. I double check my notebook. I study the photo of Joyce, the same one that was on the poster. It has been blown up and sellotaped onto the wall. I like it.
Soon another librarian arrives with flasks of tea and coffee, a plate of biscuits. People trickle into the library, elderly people at first, then someone with a camera. They congregate around the tea and biscuits. I can’t believe people can fathom eating and drinking at a time like this. I read the leaflet about the literary festival but can’t get past the first sentence. I breathe deeply, in through my nose, and out my mouth. I stand; try to shake some of the energy out of me. The librarian is making a special fuss over a small, thin, elderly lady with short hair. Someone beside her carries a sheaf of pages and a laptop. She must be a benefactor of the library, I think.
I must be staring, because the librarian turns to me and nods in the direction of the old woman.
‘This young lady was especially keen to meet you.’
I watch; an uncomprehending observer.
‘Ms. Oates. I assumed you were waiting here for her this morning.’
I look at the librarian and back at the old woman.
‘Ms. Oates was just talking about her new collection of short stories. She’s just published them on Amazon.’
Ms. Oates nods. Her eyes aren’t soulful. And they’re not green, they’re brown.
‘Tell me,’ she says. ‘Are you a Mac or a PC person?’
A single, trembling biscuit crumb clings to her lip.
Originally from Ireland, Anna Byrne is a writer and filmmaker. She focuses her work on the female experience, and recently travelled to Iceland to work on a short experimental film. She is currently working on a short experimental documentary set in Berlin and her first novel.
Carolyn Meredith loves exploring the world through the lens of a camera and sharing her stories. She is a travel and photo opportunist and hopes to stimulate others to adventure and creativity through her work and her relentless tales of personal exploits. She grew up in England, and now lives and works in America.
– By James Claffey
Under a split infinitive sky where the frozen bodies gather dust in early mornings, there’s a strange bird doing a dance. It’s feathers ruffle and the tips of its wings rotate in opposite directions. This is not a mating dance. This is not a love song. This is not a train wreck by the side of a sinewy river of muddied water. The bird takes a short hop towards a mound of rock, only to find a waiting snake inside a discarded bag of toasted croutons. We are the snake and the bird, my love. The dance of death reminds me of the day we sat on the grass at Dolores Park, the fog slowly burning off, your sandals wet with dew, and fresh from your lips, the accusation that I’d been stringing you along. I fingered the lint in my pocket, the lump of ring in tissue paper, too. Right when I was about to ask you a serious question the brakes shifted on a child’s stroller and the mother screamed as her baby gathered speed and put some distance between them. Back to the present cold circumstance, and your accusation is only a memory, less real than the coiled snake, less painful than the frozen dead.
James Claffey hails from County Westmeath, Ireland, and lives on an avocado ranch in Carpinteria, CA with his family. He is the author of a collection of a short fiction, Blood a Cold Blue. His website is at www.jamesclaffey.com.
– By Shaunagh Jones
On a street, there’s a lamp that saturates the pavement with a hazy, gold light. The cobbled road is lined with townhouses, each with a different coloured door and an elegantly looped number. You stop under the lamp and notice the house in front of you has a burgundy door. At the window, two suited men are talking animatedly and you’re sure one was in a film you saw the other week. Leading man handsome. They’re too immersed in their conversation to notice you. Behind them, a waiter hurries from group to group with long stemmed glasses and squat crystal ones with whisky sluiced into them. A child sits in the corner of the room, rolling a toy car around the floor, largely ignored. You notice a woman who has her back to the window and her flash of red hair. You think it’s her, but when she turns around you realise your mistake. To calm your heart’s quickening thud, you focus on a group of women in dresses of onyx velvet and ruby silk who are laughing. From where you’re standing it’s like watching a silent movie.
The doorstep has a row of empty champagne bottles beside it. You remember Sarah, and how she insisted on placing a brown sugar cube in her glasses of champagne; mostly because she liked to watch it eaten up by the bubbles. You tried it because she wanted you to, and because everyone in her circle was drinking sugar-infused champagne. You said you liked it so you could be one of them, but really the sugar and cold made your teeth ache. You excused yourself from speaking to a heavily perfumed Chanel-suited woman and walked endless corridors in search of the bathroom. On the way, you noticed a porcelain vase decorated with copper red flowers and remember the newspaper reports that detailed the vase’s heritage and the vast price it fetched at auction. You opened various doors and found rooms decorated with diamond embossed rugs and rococo paintings. The low hum of conversation could be heard through the corridors so, not wanting to be caught intruding, you hurried along. Finally, you locked yourself in the bathroom before pouring the contents of the champagne glass into the toilet.
Returning, you noticed Sarah had a lopsided drunken smile and knew it was time to leave. At home, you tried to recount a joke told to you that night, but you couldn’t remember the punch line. Sarah laughed anyway and whispered ‘Oh, you,’ onto your lips.
You concentrate on the icy cold, trying to halt your thoughts. It’s eleven o’clock and it went dark hours ago. The windows of the house with the burgundy door are illuminated and none of the revellers inside pays you any attention. It must seem strange though: a man standing outside a house just watching those within. You look on the wrong side of dishevelled.
The door of the house opens and a woman stumbles out. Her dress is sequinned and her legs look too bare. Her make up is smudged; purple lipstick is plastered outside the lines of her mouth like a child’s drawing. She places a cigarette between her lips and fidgets with the clasp of her bag. She fishes for a lighter but can’t seem to find one. Then she looks up and says:
‘Hey. Got a light?’
You’re startled and Sarah’s face floats before you once again. The simplicity of the woman’s greeting and the sense she has somewhere better, more exciting, to be reminds you of Sarah. Every time there’s a jolt behind your rib cage. You say you’re sorry because you don’t have a lighter. Sarah made you quit smoking. There’s arsenic and formaldehyde in those things.
The woman in the sequinned dress nods and then points upwards. ‘That’s like an eye,’ she says and walks shakily away into the December night. You resist the urge to run after her to give her your coat or ask her name. There’s frost crystallising on the windows and the coat was a gift. Something you want to hold on to. Then you glance up to see what she was referring to and it’s the Victorian lamp post. The beam it omits is like a spotlight on you; a halo on the ground. Not quite an eye.
You aren’t even sure how you came to this street, looking in on a scene that used to be so familiar. But you’re not one of those people anymore. You can’t forget the day your manager called you into the office and hissed: ‘There’s been some indiscretions in the accounting. Could you perhaps explain them?’ Sarah was long gone by the time they announced the verdict in court, but you still looked out at the benches hoping to see her one final time, not really listening to what the judge said. Now, the whisky you drink is blended and when you swallow it down, you hear the guilty verdict clearly. You force yourself to empty the glass and then another, because it makes you sleep. The only time you can’t think about what you’ve lost.
You urge yourself to move your numb legs. So you start to walk away and after a few steps you hear the door opening again. You try not to look back, but you can’t stop yourself. You want one last glimpse into a world that’s forgotten you. Two people are standing under the lamp post. There’s a woman with bobbed black hair and she’s clutching a bouquet of winter flowers to her chest; red roses with sprigs of holly intermingled amongst them, stark against her white dress. She has a man’s tuxedo jacket draped over her shoulders. The man who owns the jacket clasps her face in his hands and says something you can’t hear, although you find yourself trying to. She laughs and flicks her hair in a move that’s both rehearsed and charming. They start to make their way up the street towards you.
The woman with the black bobbed hair stumbles slightly and grasps her companion’s arm to steady herself. He gently swings her round to face him and she brings her mouth to his. You hope the man knows he’s lucky.
The pair untangle from the warmth of each other and they walk in the direction of the city centre; towards the bars that serve cocktails consisting of exotic spirits; towards the nightclubs that need a membership to enter; towards those streets that you used to walk along in your bespoke suit while Sarah grasped your hand. There’s small part of you that thinks you will again someday. You cling to that hope like it’s a ledge of a building you’ve slipped off. Aware of the weight of your worn cashmere coat you take one final look at the house with the burgundy door, and then you too walk towards the city.
Shaunagh Jones is a short story writer. She recently completed a Creative Writing MLitt at the University of Glasgow. Follow her on Twitter @JonesShaunagh.
Eamonn Stewart was born in Belfast. He is twice winner of the Irish National Children’s Poetry Competition. He trained as an advertising photographer and worked as focus-puller. He has been published in various magazines and some anthologies. His poem Bluebagopolis was nominated for the Pushcart Prize. He has worked as the director of photography on student films. His most recent publication was in The Centrifugal Eye Magazine, where a poem and photo essay were featured.
– By Boris Gregoric
Walking out in the morning, a Sunday out of the concrete-and-mortar boxes, past the Mexican looking white church in the suburbs, to the suburbs, over to the meadows, across the wild rye, the narrow gauge railway track, behind the barracks, the shacks, past the dirt yard in which two men in bib overalls putter with the rusty VW beetle — one, under the chassis, prone on the oilcloth and the other shifting the knob of the transistor radio as we hike by, the last few uniformly red tile, brick and mortar one-storey houses, the dogs barking like mad—that perpetually unfinished look of the Croatian brick and mortar homes — two Sunday hikers heading out, swimming almost, Jonah and the fields were the Whale is to receive them into his vast bowels gladly. Another shack, abandoned in the field, next to it a vintage pedal oxidizing splendidly but huge black tires in place, the odd paint job unfinished halfway — the three hues of sienna catching the casual glance. Onward. Three or four chicken scurrying out on no man’s land, clucking about the hard, patchy ground. What can they find?
“When was the last time you saw free-range chickens?”
“Hm, I guess at my grandmother’s, in the country, many years ago…”
Onward, down the ravine, over to the other side, past an air-raid bunker hidden amid the tall wild grasses —‘Beware, Minefield!’ —a lonely sign warned but that the war happened long ago, by now most if not all minefields have been cleared; the life had returned to normal —whatever the normal might be.
Onward, parallel the telegraph poles that always seem so full of promise of the far-off places. And it will be good to disappear. Southern Hemisphere beckons. Never to have to return to the ugly mews and the gray city.
“Don’t you love the telegraphic poles? They remind me of totems,” he said.
“Totems schmotems” she laughed.
“You can almost hear the wires buzzing the news of nothing new under the sun.”
“The wires buzzing I love you.”
“Yes, me too. Let us rest for a bit, here, on the mossy eiderdown, tickled by sun and stars let us watch the gentle drift of the faraway clouds.”
They laughed like two children. These were days before the ozone layer depletion.
They laughed together, getting up, holding hands, and there they went again, over a fallow field, another one, releasing the sweaty hands, the heat rising, he saying, the fallow fields are my favorite fields. Hey, look at the anthill. Giants, aren’t they? Like a fairy tale… he said. Or she said. Down the dirty path to the bottom of the grass gully:
“Nothing like a gully in the middle of nowhere.”
“Like two Spanish explorers!” she said. It made him smile, the childish enthusiasm of the adventure.
“Just so. Like two intrepid Spanish explorers.”
Where the famous Cortázar, the oversized head on the narrow shoulders brimming with various fantastic ideas, would perhaps have discovered bones of the slain conquistadors — the hungry ghosts of the dead in the field of a mindless massacre — shall we say, soldiers in their prime, their last thoughts of their faraway Spanish señoritas — of those faraway days of wine and roses — the old continent explorers find only that noon shadows are to get longer, that a host of sparrows flitters carelessly in the bush, that a thrush might be heard with a song, or that a crow would certainly start to craw its disturbed cry from the telegraphic totem they had left behind. A Sunday in the summer celebrated by the rise of crickets chirping, always quick to upstage cicadas that could not sing, but rather complained with their nonmusical, calling song. Onward, to the top of the gully, where they heard a locomotive whistle in the distance, the whistle so full of promise of the far-off place. Would they only at least climb up to the path, that lead still farther away, toward the levee in the dusty fields.
“Looks like a concrete pillbox.”
“Should we peek inside?“
“Why? You’ll find rats, or some old syringes.”
“What a memorable day, Borsky,” she said.
“Yes, Mia, indeed.”
Yes, always having such a good time together, Borsky thought, no matter where they went on Sunday afternoon field trips and excursions — to the zoo, to botanical gardens, to Sugar Mountain, to Cold Mountain, to the moon or, to the lighthouse in the field of wild rye. And it is maybe time to have it revealed halfway through, the lighthouse — for that’s where they were actually headed. To the lighthouse. Yes, that Lighthouse. Because, every Sunday walkout in a sense is but a walkout to the lighthouse in the field of wild rye.
On the embankment, she stooped low to pick the jolly white daisies, and then — adding to a posy — the salvia-like purple starflowers. How Whitman would have trilled at the sight and sound of bumblebees buzzing around the posy in Mia’s hands, and small yellow butterflies flittering over the huge dandelion head-towers ready to be puffed off with the slightest caress from the warm, lazy stream of air.
“These are huge,” Mia said. When the soft blow of the air scattered some fluff, Borsky made as if to chase the fuzz, and Mia twittered: “Mind you catch your luck that way!” And then Borsky, made a wry face: “Oh, yes, the luck is caught so easily.”
“Borsky, what if we were attacked by a pack of stray dogs?”
“We’d fight back.”
“How hard would we fight?”
“We’d fight tooth and nail, dear. And some of them would have their skins handed back to them.”
“Would anyone, in the case they tore us to pieces, find our bones down in the ravine?”
“People are bound to find you sooner than later, dead or alive, Borsky said. He thought for an instant of a dog trauma he had as a child when a German shepherd tore off the back on his breeches and bit him badly.
“There’s a famous Austrian writer who walked all across Europe. Handke is his name. Once in the south of France a pack of stray dogs attacked him.”
“Oh, I think in Provence, he was making pilgrimage to Mt St.Victoire —the Cézanne’s mountain. ”
“Talking of strays, there’s a mutt!”
It was true, a pitiful, sad-eyed tan colored mutt with most of his tail missing, quickly scurried off in the bulrushes that they were passing by, scared of his shadow, the creature seemed.
“A scrawny little thing…” Then, swiftly, out of nowhere, a pair of riders came cantering from the gully which they have explored. Would they make them yield on the narrow embankment? A snatch of words reached Mia and Borsky’s ears. What is the point in me telling youagain? —the man was saying to the woman. As they stopped on the level part, the riders dismounted, and taking over the leather halters, they decided to continued on foot in the opposite direction from Mia and Borsky.
“My father used to be a rider too,” Borsky said.
“Yes, Josie. He even took part in the horse jumping tournaments. I think he was pretty good..”
“I can quite see him.”
“Yes, in his youth he was svelte. Very prim.”
“What about it —what kind of sport is that?”
“Simple, Mia, astride of your horse you try to jump as many bars, hedges, brick walls as you can. Then, one day, you’d be ready for the Olympic Games.”
“The Olympic games?,” she laughed, “I haven’t seen fifteen minutes of them in my entire life.”
“Then, you haven’t missed much.”
“Your dad was a lot like you though.”
“How would you know? You have never met him.”
“Somehow, the way you describe him…quite a dreamer.”
“Writers are dreamers too, you know,” Mia said. His eyebrows arched.
“What makes you say that?
“The way they make up things we say or think…never really taking part in life, always observing it from the sidelines…”
“Yes, the writing game seems to be the sidelines.”
“Do you mind what I am saying? You might us it against me in one of your future plays.”
“Don’t worry. The best part is always left out of plays.” They laughed, and walked on. Walking readily over to the meadows, to the sun and the clouds in the endless Sunday afternoon. And already back past the grazing chickens, the rusty behemoth of a tractor, the red bricked houses, the men now gone from the court, away from the skeleton of the VW beetlesitting on cinder. Honk, honk, the honking gander; the barking dogs, finally the asphalt in the setting sun. once more, across the fallow fields. The scattered group of lads kicking the football; the sound of carpet trashing, the car claxon honking, the stooping week-end gardeners hoeing in the tidy cottage parcels of squash, string beans, turnips, tomatoes, what not ¾back in the rectangular prison world of high rise mews.
Here’s to the lyrical genius of a weekend gardener in rubber garden shoes hauling a plastic bucket of bright cadmium green. And to another, in wooden clogs, with a watering can, without hesitation, knowing what to do. Borsky and Mia have entered the elevator, six, seven stories up, and were already at the buzzer.
“Oh, it’s you guys. Come on in, we’ll have a drink.”
“We were in the are, so decided to swing by, briefly…”
“You are welcome. What were you up to?”
“Went for a little hike.”
“Terrific. Where at?”
“Past the church, across the tracks.
“Over those fallow fields.”
“Oh, yes. Astrid and I do go that way sometimes…”
“And you –what’s with you, Peter?
Peter wore a paisley tee with big letters on his chest: God Is Harvesting. Hemp.
“Nothing. Astrid is gone to see her parents. Fixing myself a spaghetti dinner and watching French film. Just started.”
In the room the metal shades were still drawn low, making the room dark and cool. A slow, deliberate film set in the 1880’s French countryside seemed like a perfect summer fare. While Peter puttered in the kitchen fixing iced tea, they sat at the sofa and watched the movie.
“A quiet and peaceful life then,” Mia sighed.
“It seems so, doesn’t it. I’d love to teletransport to the 1880’s,” Borsky said.
“I’d probably go to that period too,” Peter added returning with the glass pitcher of bright yellow libation. “This film is like the most beautiful tableau vivant,” Mia said. Pero had now joined them, and soon he made and passed the joint, its fragrance quickly permeating the small space. Peter’s uncle had problems with kidney stones, “Nothing worked for him” Peter said, ‘until he started drinking huge quantities of bearberry tea.” “The what?” “Bearberry.” “Does it really work?’” “He says it does.” “What about your aunt Louise?” “The therapy is only making her feel worse.” Peter said. “Does she still smoke?”
“She does. She said it helps ease the anxiety if not actually pain,” Peter said.
“Marijuana is good for her.”
“Marijuana is good for everyone.”
“In moderation, yes.”
It lasted quite a long time, the French countryside, and by the time the film finally ended Mia said, “Eight o’clock already. We better hit the road, Borsky.”
“Better hit the road, before the road hits you.” Peter giggled. They all felt lighthearted. Their muscles convulsed with laughter. It could have been triggered by anything anyone had said.
“Ha ha ha, hoo, hoo, hoo, better hit the road” they shook, and after an exchange of hugs, of unrelated verbal excursions and asides —the parting words petered out and the couple stepped in through the sliding elevator metal door while Peter happily hummed behind their backs:
“So long, farewell, Auf wiedersehen, good night…”
And the two echoed from inside the elevator: “…we hate to go and leave your pretty sight, but sun has gone to bed so long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodbye!”
Boris Gregoric is a Croatian-American short story writer, visual artist, translator and language tutor. The author of five books of short fiction, he has translated prose and poetry between English, Croatian and Slovene. This is his blog.
A Hate For Waiting
– By Sophie Fenella Robins
He stood by the open front door tapping his feet, his brow knitted like a worn down woollen jumper. He always hated waiting,
“I think it’s because of my childhood” he said, “when I was a child, my mother was waiting for my father to return from the war. I think she passed her anxiety onto me.”
Anxiety inherited like hair that goes frizzy in the rain. I imagine her pacing over loose floorboards that creak and keep my father awake. Whispers over neighbour’s fences about Mrs Jenkins now left alone forever. The dreaded fallen uniform, hangs like an empty shell, calling memories of what has been lost. Faded photographs that look like the past, remind my father of his mothers worry. Grey bricks crumble with the memory of a national downfall. I listen in with ears from the future, and wonder what it felt like to wait for bombs to drop over St Paul’s.
Waiting for delayed flights to summer breaks in Greece caused severe tension in his neck. He had a patch of dry skin on the outside of his index finger, caused by a bad habit of biting the skin. Skin erodes like pebbles on a beach. With his hands behind his back and his shoulders hunched, he paced, back and forth, back and forth, starring at the arrivals board. I prayed for our plane to arrive, because I could see how much waiting pained him. The airport air thick with tired sighs, waited with us, like a silence asking to be broken. We didn’t speak, exhausted by the effort of waiting. We didn’t move, tied to our seats for fear of missing the flight. We didn’t breathe, breathing felt like too much of a distraction.
The train is late and I feel my feet tapping. I begin to pace, back and forth, back and forth. The 09.28 has been delayed by two minutes. Two minutes feels like a life time. Anxiety creeps up my spine and causes my teeth to grind. I have a hate for waiting, inherited like hair that goes frizzy in the rain.
Sophie Fenella Robins writes poetry and prose for the stage and the page. She graduated from The Royal Court Young Writers Program in 2006, she then went on to study English Literature and Drama Studies at The University of Sussex. In 2012 she graduated from Central School of Speech and Drama with a masters in Performance Practices and Research. She is the co-founder of Portmanteau Performance Company and the The Patchwork Paper. She has also been short listed to be the Young Poet Laureate for London. Follow Sophie on twitter @sophiefenella
Jenny Hauser is from Berlin and stumbled into Dublin via Kuwait, London and Cork but is impressed with where aimless wandering can get you. She is a journalist and PhD student of media studies at DIT. Photography has been her consistent sidekick since she was a teenager and she studied film and photography in London after leaving school but before she knew what she wanted to be when she grew up. More photos can be seen on her criminally neglected blog and she can be found on Twitter @jenny_hauser.
– By E.M. Reapy
Our youngest child, Patti, came bawling through the door, her plump face red, dribble bubbling from her mouth.
My instinct seized my gut as I rushed over to her and asked, ‘What is it, honey?’ trying to keep the alarm from my voice. My husband Bill stayed in his chair but watched us intently.
‘Cooper- And – Justin Beiber,’ she said, struggling to get the words out. ‘Cooper and Justin Beiber, they- they-‘ And then she broke down.
‘Where are they?’ I asked.
She pointed to the wall behind me and I knew she meant the garden. I scooped her up in my arms and kissed her fair curls a couple of times, shushing and cooing her. I walked out to through the sliding doors in the kitchen. The day was marshy, grey clouded but dry for the moment.
Cooper was to the left of a crow, his paw clawing the fat, awkward looking bird, Justin Beiber was to the right and took swipes from that side. The cats wailed like pained babies and the disorientated crow cawed deep and mournful.
‘Oh Jesus,’ I said and shielded Patti’s head. I took her back inside. ‘Daddy, come out here for a minute,’ I said and Bill paused his TV show.
‘She alright?’ he asked me as he rose.
‘Yeah. But we have a situation.’
I gave Patti my phone to play around with and promised we’d be back to her in a minute.
I took Bill’s hand and ushered him to the garden. The cats had grown bored. Cooper leapt onto the wall and patrolled around. Justin Beiber skulked on the grass while the crow, like he was headless, rather than half headless, flapped and cocked erratically, blood making his breast shiny and reddening the dewy grass around him.
‘It’s awful,’ I said.
Bill nodded at me and gave my palm a gentle squeeze.
‘The bird, it’s not fair is it? We need to stop the misery.’
I could feel emotion threaten up my chest to my throat. I didn’t like crows, little pricks that woke me up most mornings, even before Patti did with her hopping and cuddling and playing. They squawked demented as early as 5am sometimes, before the night had even lifted. But this little one had been destroyed by our pets, by the creatures that we fed and allowed roam our house and snuggle up beside us on the couch.
Bill inspected the bird but didn’t touch it. ‘How will I do it?’ he asked and I shrugged.
‘Just do something, hit it with a stick or something?’
‘Ah no, I can’t do that. What if Patti caught me? No,’ he said. He took a deep breath and bunched the bird into his hands. I was shivery.
The cats eyed us from different angles of the garden.
He went to one of Patti’s sand buckets. It was filled with Irish summer rainwater.
‘Sorry birdy,’ he said and plunged it into the bucket. The crow didn’t put up too much of a fight but then again Bill had strong worker’s hands. I dread to think of me trying to drown it, its wings flittering and protesting, me screaming, flittering and protesting.
Bill put the dead bird beside the bucket and said, ‘I’ll get a shovel, will I?’ and went to get a shovel.
Cooper and Justin Beiber sprang over to sniff at the bird.
The choke in me changed shape.
Cooper strutted towards me and purred against my leg. I recoiled and nudged him away with my shin, ‘Go away,’ I said but he rubbed, clinged, his furry heat on my skin.
I tried again to shoo him away before using my foot,
and into his face.
EM Reapy is from Mayo, has an MA in Writing from Queen’s University, Belfast. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee and edits wordlegs.com . In 2013, she was awarded an Arts Council Literature Bursary for her debut collection. She is the Irish representative for PEN International’s New Voices Award and directs Shore Writers’ Festival in Enniscrone. Follow her @emreapy
The Mask of Ophelia
– By K.S. Moore
The stage is closed up but dressed up in loud gold curtains. The only figures visible are marble formed, lazy operators, leaning against pillars. Behind the scenes are murmurs, sideways looks and put downs. All is a flurry of preparation, hair scraped, make up on. Nobody has time.
Martha has less than most; the fear has stolen it all. She sits, tense and shivering at her dressing table, a mug of steaming black coffee beside her. She hasn’t even begun to apply her make up. Her hands are too clammy.
Leonardo hovers, offering comfort or condemnation. He is sly, ever watchful and yet she is addicted to his company. They first met at the auditions for ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream‘. He was the obvious choice for Puck with his diminutive stature and wicked edge.
She had harboured dreams of playing Titania but was eventually cast as Mustardseed. The role was better than it appeared. The production was a blend of drama and ballet and she was given extra dialogue and a solo dance. She had hated the colour of her costume though; a shade of yellow that fell somewhere between bile and peanut butter. She had felt ugly and not good enough.
Looking back, she had been blessed, cast in a role that did not place her under too much pressure but still up there on the main cast list. Everyone told her she had stolen the show. The critics called her and Leonardo ‘the stars of tomorrow’, whereas the actress playing Titania was labelled ‘frigid’ and ‘disconnected’.
When Martha had been chosen to play Ophelia in ‘Hamlet‘ she had felt beyond ecstatic. But the madness and despair of the role must be catching. She can almost feel the water closing over her head. It had taken hold in the dress rehearsal as Hamlet struggled to remember even one line of his soliloquy. His fragility was unnerving, as were his heavy lidded eyes.
When he asked her to ‘get thee to a nunnery’ she felt like racing straight there. But she is imprisoned in this role.
Steering her senses back to the present, she sees Leonardo advance towards her, a hip flask in his hand.
“This will take the edge off.”
But she is too afraid the alcohol will rob the shine from her performance, make her sluggish and inclined to slur. Jerkily, she shoots out a hand to stop Leonardo. She catches him mid-pour and the liquid trickles out onto the carpet. It smells like her Father’s going out jacket, slightly chemical, with a hint of the outdoors.
She listens, detached as Leonardo curses and leaves to find a rag. She is usually distraught when he is angry with her but tonight she is untouchable. She is still immobile when he returns to furiously scrub at the carpet.
“I’m not giving up on you!”
A few members of the chorus, butterfly in. They feign concern, giving themselves an excuse to be present. Both Martha and Leonardo know they care for nothing but their own aspirations. Leonardo glowers until they all drift away, leaving only the sickly union of their perfumes.
The word signals the start of the rescue operation. Leonardo swoops on the foundation, measuring out the exact amount required for each cheek and for Martha’s high forehead. He dots, blends and expands, taking the reddish hue from her skin, replacing it with a pale sheen: the mask of Ophelia.
His next task is to darken Martha’s eyes. They are green and watery but by the time he is finished they are vibrant, enormous. He has swirled black and silver eyeshadow, given her eyes shape with incisive dark eyeliner and finished the look by attacking her eyelashes with mascara. She now resembles a doll. All her features are exaggerated and there is no life in her eyes. She has still not woken up.
“The dress Martha, where is the dress?”
Leonardo’s words have become a hiss and Martha feels no compulsion to answer him. She is lost in memories of triumphant moments, spontaneous outbursts of applause, encores and cheers. If only she could take back the control from these memories. She has been that person. She can be her again. But before she can complete the transformation, she is drowning in cloth.
Leonardo has found the dress and is forcing it over her head. For the first time since sitting down at the dressing table she moves, feels slippery, like the first catch of the day. She doesn’t know whether she is complying or fighting but she cannot sit there like a dummy. Halfway through the struggle, she realises it is Ophelia she is resisting.
When it is over, she looks at herself in the mirror. She resembles a bride from the Romantic Gothic era, doomed to be wedded to a monster. The parallels are accurate. The stage has become her enemy and she is an innocent all over again. She understands now, that the dress has become her catalyst. It is terribly significant, symbolic of Ophelia’s purity and trust.
Leonardo attempts to remove her from the chair. He has long sharp fingernails like a girl. She winces but stays put. Her bare shoulders are fraught with red and she feels like the sacrifice has already begun.
Leonardo is stronger than he looks. He hauls her up, out of the chair and her eyes take in the dull colours of his costume, a peep of cream shirt, a laced brown topcoat and black felt hat. He is like a drab garden bird, nothing like his flamboyant appearance in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. She wonders if tonight will be a step down for him.
At last, she is standing, although swaying slightly. She is glad she didn’t take the drink. She feels otherworldly enough. She opens her mouth to say she will not go out there, but Leonardo speaks first.
“You are going out on that stage. Do you hear me? This is your big chance!”
The moment she realises he is serious, she hears the gong of her own heart, gathering speed until it is battering her from the inside. She has no idea how to quiet it, so moves forward in its pounding company. Leonardo is not touching her, yet she can feel his presence at her back and knows he will not allow her to turn.
She finds herself in the wings, regarding the action on stage, wondering how it can ever include her. She is incapable of speech, has no fight left and cannot even run away.
“Martha, it’s you, it’s Ophelia!”
Leonardo nudges her out from behind the curtain. Her heart is wilder than ever. At least she cannot see the audience. The lighting is so acute, all their faces blend into a silver mush. She finds herself wandering towards it as the floor tilts up.
She’s going down.
K. S. Moore was one of the FlashMob 2013 finalists, with her story: ‘Old and Free’. She also had a piece called ‘Bones’ selected for publication in National Flash Fiction Day’s FlashFlood Journal. A poem of hers will appear in the Winter issue of Welsh literary magazine: The Seventh Quarry. She has a background in publishing and ran a company called ‘Young Welsh and Poetic’ between 2005 and 2008. During this time she published pamphlets and full collections by young writers and produced four poetry collections of her own. She blogs at: ksmoore.com and has had articles published at Irish magazine site: Writing.ie. Recent achievements include performing her poetry at Waterford Writers’ Weekend, and being awarded a place on Artlinks Clinic Mentoring with Grace Wells. She is also the Clonea & Rathgormack Correspondent for The Munster Express.
‘We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.’
– Oscar Wilde
And what beauty do you find there in the stars? What is it that sustains your soul when all around you crumbles to ruin? What is the magic that makes it all worthwhile? We at The Bohemyth want to know!
We will be publishing a special Oscar Wilde Issue on the 16th of October (Oscar’s birthday!). We are looking for photography submissions, short stories, flash fiction and one act plays inspired by, referencing, associated with or somehow connected to the writings of Oscar Wilde.
To be considered for this issue please submit by the end of September. If you’re unsure of the suitability of your work for this issue, submit anyway.
Dicey O’ Donnell, mother of two, lover and taker of great imagery! These images were taken at the beautiful Borgo di Tragliata, wedding venue and working organic farm in the Roman countryside. A joy to saunter around in 30 degree heat snapping vibrant colours, playful shadows and intricate details. She’s going to move there and set up camp among the sunflowers…
We Can’t Go Home
– By Jacky Ievoli
We walked up and down the strip that summer. Our heels turned black as our feet hit the road, despite our flip flops. They stayed stained that whole summer. The sand, the sea, the scrubbing in the shower. The black of the road was stubborn. It marked us. It showed the miles we had walked. The sun beat down, bringing out our freckles, lightening our hair and darkening our skin. We rolled the waistband of our shorts to expose as much of our legs as we could. We didn’t want tan lines to traverse our thighs. Our taut stomachs exposed, our breasts barely filling our bikini tops. Our hair hung in salty waves down our backs, hers brown and mine blonde. Her green eyes danced in the sunlight and gold flecks appeared when she smiled. My brown eyes were always the same color. I wished they would dance in the light like hers.
“We can’t go home until we get up to twenty.”
I nodded. She was older. She had already been kissed by a boy. I looked up to her. Twenty. Yesterday it was fifteen. Five more? In one day? I wanted to say that maybe we should shoot for seventeen. Seventeen seemed more reasonable. Two more than yesterday seemed like a reachable goal. But five more? I wondered how far we would have to walk to get five more. I longed to go to the beach, to strip off my shorts, grab my board and hit the waves. Let the salt water crash over me and the current take me where it would. But I was getting kind of old for that, she had said. The boys won’t like me if I keep that up, she had warned. My flip flops were bothering my feet. I needed to wriggle my toes in the sand.
“Don’t look down at your feet! You gotta look up!”
I lifted my head. I watched her as she twirled her hair between her fingers and sashayed her hips. How did she do that? I looked down at my own hips as I walked. They stayed stubbornly in place. I tried to watch her out of the corner of my eye, but I could only see the side of her. I slowed my pace. I walked just behind her. I was mesmerized by the swaying of her hips in time with her steps. I tried to watch her feet, her legs, her thighs to try and figure out what part of her made her hips wiggle like that. But I was perplexed. It seemed like something you should just know how to do. As a woman. How to make your hips move in the way that made boys stare. I guess that’s why boys didn’t stare at me. I was somehow deficient. They could tell by the way I walked.
I high-fived her as the car speeding by us honked its horn. We almost had as many beeps as we had yesterday. I checked the next street sign. We weren’t even as far as we were yesterday when we hit fifteen. It was a game for her. How many beeps could we get and how many blocks did we have to walk to get them. It wasn’t like she didn’t have people staring at her everywhere we went and it wasn’t like there weren’t tons of boys who would take her out for ice cream come Friday night. And it wasn’t like boys didn’t tell her how pretty she was every chance they got.
It was. Well, I don’t know what it was. I think maybe it had to do with needing something quantifiable. She could count how many boys she kissed. But then she’d be easy. So that summer, she counted the number of boys who beeped at her as they drove by her in their cars. She said us, but she meant her. I was just there for the company.
“Do you think we can get to twenty before we reach the boardwalk?”
The boardwalk was the end of town. There was another town after it, but it was the end of our town. And as far as I was concerned, it was the end. I didn’t want to walk any further than the boardwalk. If we stopped at the boardwalk, got an ice cream and turned around, it would seem less… pathetic. We weren’t counting beeps. We were going to the boardwalk for ice cream.
“Maybe.” She paused and looked me up and down. “Pull your shoulders back. Don’t slouch. Stick out your chest.”
I looked down at the triangular shaped fabric on my chest. It was flat. The fabric and my chest.
“Like this.” She pushed out her boobs and her butt and continued walking.
The next two cars honked at her. She threw back her head and laughed.
“We can definitely get twenty before the boardwalk.”
We went out every night that summer. Her breasts had come on, but mine stubbornly stayed put. I was the smart one, everyone said. I was on my way to law school and I’d find a smart, handsome boy there who would run his family’s law practice one day. I’d just smile. It wasn’t worth it to explain that I was going to school because I wanted to be a lawyer, not because I wanted to marry one.
We stayed out until last call and then we’d lay on the beach until the sun rose. I knew there was a lot of hard work ahead of me, so I relished my last chance to be carefree. Sometimes there was a boy. Sometimes it was just us. On those nights, she’d hold my hand and tell me about the boy she was going to marry. The dark circles under our eyes when we went in for our lunch shifts marked us. We had been out late. I’d lay next to her in the sand on those nights when there was no boy and I’d tell her that she’d find him soon.
“Tomorrow we can’t go home until I find him.”
I’d nod. The movement would grind the sand into my scalp, making it impossible to wash it all out, making little grains of sand fall from my hair during my shift the next day.
I still hadn’t kissed a boy. All the boys wanted to kiss her. I guess some girls would get mad, but I didn’t really see what the big deal was. I had watched her kiss plenty of boys on the beach. I didn’t see what the fuss was all about. I didn’t think I wanted a boys lips mashed up against mine, his breath smelling of rum and Cokes. That was what everyone was drinking that summer. Rum and Coke. I didn’t drink soda. And rum made my head spin. So I had cranberry juice and seltzer.
“With vodka?” The bartender would ask.
“Just a lime.” I’d say and pray that she didn’t hear me.
He’d look at me funny and shrug, dropping a lime wedge into the pink liquid.
“What do you think of that guy?”
She’d grab my arm as I was leaving the tip for the bartender. She was always forgetting things like leaving the tip, so I was always doing it for the both of us.
I never had to look at him. I knew what he looked like. Tall. Dark hair. Pretty smile. Always the same guy.
“I’m gonna go talk to him.”
“Go for it.”
I’d stand by the bar sipping on my drink, watching her mesmerize the guy. I always felt kind of sorry for the guy. He had no defences against her and even if he did, I don’t think he’d want to use them anyway. She was pretty. No. Sexy. In that Brigitte Bardot way of sexy. The full lips, the bedroom eyes, the curves. And the hair. She had Brigitte Bardot hair. I reached up and touched my own chin length, choppy bob. Definitely not Brigitte Bardot hair. I looked down at my narrow frame. Definitely not Brigitte Bardot curves.
I guess that’s why I always stood there waiting and watching. I didn’t have it. That it that made the boys want to talk to you. To kiss you. So I’d stand and sip my drink and watch her talk to the boy. Some nights she’d come over with the boy and we’d go to the beach and we’d all talk until she decided she wanted to kiss him. Sometimes she never decided she wanted to kiss him and she’d turn to me and talk until he got the hint. Sometimes she left him in the bar. Ladies room, she’d say. She’d leave him standing there holding her half-finished drink and wondering later if she were even real. But he had the drink. So she must have been real…
“Do you really think I’ll find him one day?”
I reached for her hand as we lay under the stars.
“I know you will.”
She sighed and curled up next to me, laying her head on my stomach. I ran my fingers through her hair.
“We should go home.”
I never knew what clock she used or what would compel her to go home. I never asked what magic rule she followed on those nights.
We stopped going out every night the night she met him. Or I stopped going out every night. She kept going out. But now with him. She met him on the beach.
“Hey.” He had said.
She pretended to be asleep in her chair.
“Oh sorry.” He had been embarrassed.
“It’s okay.” I tapped her arm to ‘wake her’ and pointed up at the owner of the voice.
“Sorry to wake you up. I just had to say hi.”
He just had to. Why did he just have to? I wanted to ask him what she had done to make him just have to. What sorcery was it? They made plans to meet that night after our shift ended.
“Come with me?”
I didn’t want to go with her to meet him. I didn’t see the point. Nobody likes to play the third wheel.
Whatever magic she had wasn’t just for the opposite sex. After one drink she whispered for me to go home if I wanted to. So I left her with the boy who couldn’t take his eyes off of her.
We walked down that church aisle together, arm in arm, me and her. Her parents said she was too young. Her parents didn’t approve.
“You hardly know this boy.” They had said.
“So don’t come.” She had told them.
And so they didn’t. Her parents, it seemed, were under her spell too.
“But who will walk you down the aisle?” I had asked.
I didn’t want this wedding to happen but I didn’t know how to tell her that. I thought maybe if I tripped her up…
“Well, why not?”She put her hands on her hips. “You’re my best friend. Why shouldn’t you give me away?”
When she put it like that, I couldn’t see a counterargument. She was my best friend. And I was giving her to the boy she was going to marry. It hit me then. She’d be his. She wouldn’t be mine anymore. I linked my arm in hers and walked her up to the altar that fall. Summer was just fading. We had daisies in our hair and held the last of the day lilies in our hands. Only a few friends came. Even fewer family members were there. Mostly everyone just shook their heads.
Why would such a pretty girl throw away her whole life on a boy she had only just met on the beach? Well that’s just it. She was a pretty girl. And she wasn’t much else. And the yellow specks would only dance in her eyes for so long, and she only had so much magic dust in her pouch. She had to find him before it was too late. And if he wasn’t quite right, well, he’d do. At least she wouldn’t have to go out every night. And at least she wouldn’t be alone.
After the cake and the dancing, I went back to the little bungalow we had shared. It looked empty with all of her stuff gone.
Most of my stuff was gone too. I had moved it to my small apartment by the law school. But some stuff remained. We had paid the rent through to Christmas.
I don’t know why. We both knew we wouldn’t be there come Christmas. But it was cheap. And I think we felt sorry for the landlord, who we knew would have trouble renting it in the off season when all the summer people left. So we kept it. And I escaped there on weekends when I needed solitude. It would make a great writer’s retreat. If I were a writer. I sighed and unzipped my dress. She had picked out a frothy pink silk slip dress for me.
“Pink was always your color.” She had said.
I’ve always hated pink. But she was the bride. And I’d have my revenge one day. Lime green. She’d look lovely in lime green. I chuckled as I let the dress fall to a puddle on the floor. I stepped out of it and pulled a shirt from the dresser over my head. She found him. That was all she ever wanted, was to find him and to marry him and to have a baby. I admired her conviction. That marriage and baby was all she needed in life to be happy. A part of me wished I was a bit more simple. I wanted a lot of things. A baby, yes. But so many more things before that. I moved the curtains so I could see the stars. When she’d be kissing a boy, I’d be staring at the stars thinking of all the places I wanted to see and wondering if my dreams were more numerous than the stars. I laughed. I bet she wondered if she could kiss as many boys as there were stars. She’d never kiss another boy again. I sobered at the thought. That was it for her. There’s be no more boys and no more first kisses and no more only kisses. She was so young. I was so sad for her. I had so many firsts out there waiting for me.
I had given my best friend away in marriage, but I still hadn’t kissed a boy. I could buy a drink legally, but I didn’t know how to make the boys go wild or how to press my lips up against another’s. Maybe now that she was married, she’d tell me her secrets. I let the curtains fall and pulled back the sheets on the bed. Maybe I’d say hi to that boy in my criminal law class. I could ask him for the notes for the day I missed. I was stopped from crawling into bed by a knock on the door. Who could that be? I opened the door and saw my friend’s tear-stained face. Her wedding gown was ripped, barely hanging on her body.
She collapsed on me and I closed the door behind us.
“I can’t go home!”
After studying British fiction and writing about the courtship novel, Jacky Ievoli left the romance behind and traded her Austen in for legal briefs. She currently works for a law firm, turning lawyer’s legalease into English that people can understand, not actually want to read, but at least understand. She lives in Turtle Bay and loves watching people’s faces as they try to figure out where exactly that is.
– By Tom Offland
Have you done it?
This will be the last one, thought the man and he unpacked his tools. I’m not doing this again. Green leather gloves and garden wire and plastic bags and dishwasher solution and aluminium scourers. I’m not doing this ever again. Six tins of Danish lager and a ring bound folder and a bag of nails and two steel capped boots and a cordless drill and a half gram of cocaine and blue overalls and a black satchel and a house brick. The man slapped shut the boot of his car and leant his head on the window in meditation. Come on, he said quietly to himself, come on come on come on come on come on come on. And the glass steamed a little under his breath.
What do you mean, you haven’t?
When the man reached the iron gate he turned around one last time to check on his car and then passed through the arch into the garden. Spider webs and potting string and English Ivy hung from the trellises. Crickets squatted in the grass. The man picked his feet carefully past the blind snails and broken garden tiles. The daffodils nodding furiously as he brushed past. A plastic windmill turned on a bamboo stick and a plastic woodsman waved his axe and a plastic spruce tree bristled and two plastic singing birds revolved around the breeze. God, the man said, and pulled his cap on tighter.
I don’t care if there are laws!
The man followed the flower beds and the stinging nettles and the punctured footballs and the slug pellets and the pale half oranges and he found the house. At the door he dropped his satchel behind his feet and felt around in his pockets for his identification. A paper wasp fumbled in the leaves around the door. Another dropped out from between the bricks and drifted away towards the road. This is it, he said, rubbing his nose with the back of his hand. This is the one. A note beside the door buzzer read, PLEASE KNOCK, and the man closed his eyes for a moment and then knocked his knuckles against the wooden door. This is the one, he said.
What do you mean I have to do it?
The door opened and the man bent his knees and hoisted his bag over his shoulder and tried to appear professional. Look professional, he thought, holding his identification out before him. Look professional. There was a woman in the doorway, bunching her hair back into a pony tail. I’m here about the animals, the man said, and he felt the corners of his mouth twitching and he worried about his breath. The woman looked at the man’s identification and at the man’s face and at the man’s overalls and at the man’s steel capped boots and over the man’s shoulder and she stepped aside so as to let the man inside her house. They’re upstairs, the woman said, they’re on the children’s beds. The man stood in the doorway looking up the stairs. They’re on the bunk beds, the woman said.
I can’t do it!
The woman walked ahead of the man through the house, waving her hands and making a clucking noise with her mouth and stopping occasionally to pluck stray strands of black cotton and specks of thread from the carpet and the man followed slowly in his socks and cradled his boots and his satchel against his belly and tried to look at every picture on the wall. Prize cattle and chewed pencils and scavenging crows and thatch cottages burning down. It’s a lovely house, the man said. Racehorses kicking free and galloping riderless from their stalls and dogs walking on two feet and empty office blocks and empty beaches and dried up swimming pools and family portraits taken in dark rooms. Upstairs, the woman paused beside an open bedroom door and waited for the man. They’re in here, she said, pointing through the doorway and biting her lip and itching her forehead and studying the buttons on her shirt so as not to meet the man’s eye.
The man unpacked his tools gently in the corridor. The woman watched him, crossing and uncrossing her arms and she asked him if he had done this before and he smiled in answer and he felt as if he might throw up. The man slipped on his boots and buttoned his overalls and turned off the lights and crept across the bedroom. At the bottom of the beds the man stood and held his breath and listened and could hear the animals moving on the mattresses above. This will be the last one, thought the man, and he climbed the rungs of the bunk bed ladder slowly through the darkness. Eight or nine or ten gorillas stirred on the top beds. The man struggled to count them in the gloom. They stared at him with big black eyes and they paced the beds in fear.
Have you done it, the woman said as the man emerged from the bedroom. No, the man said, and he tried to touch the woman’s hand. What do you mean, you haven’t, the woman said. There are laws, the man said. I don’t care if there are laws, the woman said. And the man took a deep breath and closed his eyes and said if the woman wanted the gorillas dead then she would have to do it herself, and that he would remove them afterwards and that he would tidy up all the mess. And the woman said, what do you mean I have to do it? And the man started crying and he said that it was the law. And the woman said, I can’t do it! I can’t! And the man lifted a beer out of his satchel and offered it to the woman and the man tried to touch the woman’s hand and the man said, we can drink a beer together before it happens. And the woman said, I can’t!
Tom Offland lives in London. He keeps a blog here.
Amy Kennelly from Kerry via Dublin quit her job earlier this year to go on an adventure. She is currently living in a shed in Sydney surrounded by hipsters.
The street art pics are all of good vibes Amy found while wandering around Melbourne on a blustery winter day. She shot the heron on a beach at sunset while drinking wine and eating fish and chips. To her left (out of shot) were a couple taking their wedding pictures.
Interview With A Campfire
– By Brian Coughlan
The photograph on the front of the paper is of a dog shaking hands with a prominent politician. I repeat a dog shaking hands with a politician. What the newspaper did next set the tone for the whole day. Sporting tight brown trousers and dainty black shoes it emitted a sound akin to upholstery being ripped apart. There was a very faint quiver but no apology – not even an acknowledgement of the fact. While I muttered with indignation a sulpher-like stench engulfed the carriage.
The photograph on the front was still of a dog shaking hands with a politician. It was standing up tall on its hind legs and looking disdainfully at the future leader of this country. It was a very unusual dog – a cross between a Labrador and a Poodle. There were names underneath. I was more interested in the dog’s name but the writing was too small to make it out.
For the remainder of the journey I was troubled by my complete lack of enthusiasm. I got off at a small deserted station and walked into the town. The morning sun cast an orange light across cars and trees and buildings. Walking past the window of a man’s outfitters I noticed a mannequin in the window. It reminded me vaguely, of someone. It was the likeness of a young man with short black hair and a piercing gaze. His head tilted at an unusual angle – it may have been incorrectly screwed on – and his hands were frozen in karate-chop positions. I could not for the life of me figure out who he reminded me of.
On arrival at the factory I found the place deserted. There were clearly people working there – the car park was full but there was nobody at the security hut and no sign of activity behind the gates. I thought I could hear a dull repetitive thudding noise off in the distance but when I stopped to listen for it –it was no longer there.
A red button, sticking out like an erect nipple needed to be pressed – so I pressed it. A woman’s plaintive voice told me to wait for the buzz and then push the gate. I waited for the buzz. Nothing happened. So I had no option but to press the red nipple again. She came over the speaker. I did not push until I heard the buzz and when I heard the buzz I pushed but the thing still wouldn’t move. So I had to press the nipple again. Eventually a woman came out of a building walked swiftly towards me and pulled the gate open.
Without so much as a glance in my general direction she turned on her heels and walked away smartly, her large behind swerving from side to side, back towards a red brick building at the end of a series of concrete paving slabs. I was admitted to an empty waiting room furnished with a row of drab plastic chairs along the walls and a low coffee table in the middle, smothered in old dog-eared magazines. My eye roved from one barren wall to the next. It was a depressing shit-hole of a place.
After a long time sitting there I very nearly fell asleep. Out of nowhere another small plump woman in a smart suit appears in the doorway with a clip-board clenched to her bosom. I am perkily instructed to follow her. We walk up two flights of stairs and down a long dimly lit corridor at the end of which I am asked to wait in a small room of just a single chair. According to her they are nearly ready for me. The clock high on the wall across from me says eight forty-nine.
I watch time go past with the jerky, continuous movement of a red plastic hand as it stops – then carries on – past each tiny gradation. After precisely six minutes and thirty eight seconds I stop watching the clock but when I close my eyes I can still picture that red hand jerking along in a steady monotonous onslaught.
She comes back and leads me into a boardroom, a long narrow room with a long narrow table down the center of the room and a number of chairs pushed in neatly all along it. It is a really nice table, dark wood, expertly polished, smooth to the touch. I hear the sound of footsteps coming down the hallway and then the door of the room opens.
I rise from my chair to exchange handshakes with a HR woman who looks like an ostrich; long neck, black beady-eyes and short cropped haircut – puffball body encased in a power suit; and with the Technical Director – dead-ringer for an Albino Gorilla; thick-set and in a grumpy mood. The ostrich does the introductions and starts waffling on about the company. There’s a large window in the space above their heads and I gaze out through it. Beyond the walls of the factory there are fields made green by that still strong morning light. I can see a small figure walking its dog and throwing a stick-like object for the dog to retrieve; probably a stick.
So tell us a little bit about yourself?
If you were to ask my ex-wife I’m a demon of some sort; a cruel and sadistic schemer who doesn’t give a damn about his children. She accuses me of walking away from my responsibilities and not giving her the credit she feels entitled to – for the great job she’s done raising the kids. If you ask my friends they will tell you that I am unreliable and absent when needed – that I cannot be depended on, that I drift away all too easily. But they don’t really know me at all. That’s the thing. I keep myself hidden from view. In reality I am the reincarnation of St. Stephen. I know it’s incredible but what do you want me to tell you – a bunch of made-up lies and make-believe? I only found out myself last month through a series of visions I experienced at my hot yoga class.
The Ostrich is very happy with my answer. She grimaces with a smile and writes a few notes on my CV. She has a hole in her tights just above one knee. What is she writing down I wonder? And why hasn’t she made reference to or even glanced at my tonsure yet?
The albino gorilla takes off his glasses and deftly wipes them with a little cloth he has conjured, most likely from his anal passage. It’s a little yellow cloth imprinted with the name and address of his optician. He slides them back on in a remarkably gentle fashion and puts the little cloth back where it belongs. He glances down at his belly and removes a few bits of fluff from his tie.
So why did you leave your last job?
Because they did not want to hear the truth – that’s why. They subjected me to a show trial in front of other executives and representatives from HR and they sentenced me to be stoned to death. I brought up the whole ‘he who hath not sinned bit’ and the stones started flying so I hid under the board room table and used the Managing Director as a human shield to get the hell out of there. But you know something it’s like I always say – was there ever a prophet that they didn’t try and execute? You know what I mean? I’m just going to take a drink of water here at this juncture.
The gorilla nods his head in agreement. I’m giving him another one of those textbook answers. They are a basic requirement – any hint of individual thought is exterminated by stock answers to stock questions. He produces a banana and peels it gently as I continue to wax lyrical about the benefits of gaining experience in a multitude of different settings. As he lovingly devours the banana his ostrich colleague buries her head in the sand of ignorance. I already know the job is mine if I want it.
What motivates you to do a good job?
Money motivates me. Not unlike every other person who gets up in the morning when they don’t want to, travels into work at a job they dislike and stays working all day with this great pretence that it’s really not that bad once you get into it. Some people even buy into the whole business and enjoy repeating the company slogans and admonishing those who ignore them. I’m here for the hard cash Ms. Ostrich. Next question please.
What are your strengths and what are your weaknesses?
My strength Mr. Gorilla is that I can’t stand other people. I hate the fucking sight of them. I hate people and I hate work and I hate clocking-in and clocking-out and pretending. More than anything I hate pretending to be interested in the field of work I find myself wandering around in. So you see by not giving a shit it actually helps because it gives me the cold dispassionate eye one needs to survive in this kind of environment. And I can tell an asshole when I see one which is what you clearly are. I can well imagine taking orders from you and never doing things up to your expected standard. How long would it take for us to fall out I wonder? A month, two months…who knows. My weaknesses are too numerous to mention but I’ll have a go; I’m lazy, I don’t listen, I hate taking orders, I am un-sociable and prone to bullying people when they bug me…that’s all I can think of right now.
Stephen why should we hire you?
For a brief moment I am inexplicably thrown by the question. My mouth opens and then closes without a word passing my lips. I stare into those two sets of expectant eyes and I do not know what to say. Nothing! There is not one word in my mind that presents itself for usage. They are shying away from the act of bravery. They seek safety in the silence of the crowd. Instead there is an excruciating stillness in the room where the ticking of the wall clock becomes deafening. I am the mannequin. I am the dummy in the shop window; it reminds me of myself. Then I hear myself vomit out the following:
I believe that I have the relevant experience to do the job. I believe that I’ve proved myself more than capable in the past. I believe I would be an excellent addition to the team here at this well-regarded company. I am excited at the prospect of learning more and growing both as an individual and as a team player within this exciting organization and who knows? I think I would make a really significant contribution to the company and bring renewed success through my hard work and results-based dynamism.
The Ostrich nods her head emphatically and locks eyes with the Gorilla who shrugs his shoulders as much as to say ‘I’ve no objections’. The Ostrich thanks me for coming in to see them and she keeps smiling at me now. Well done for answering all the questions in a way that has meant we can tick all the boxes. Well done for making our lives that little bit easier. Well done for telling us nothing that we need be concerned about. Well done.
‘How soon can you start?’ asks the gorilla in a dour voice.
I’m gazing out through the large window above their heads. Beyond the walls of the factory there are fields made green by the now grey morning light. I can see a small figure being mauled by a dog. I jump to my feet and send the chair toppling over.
‘Look what’s happening out there!’ I shout.
Brian Coughlan lives in Galway where he works as a screenwriter and part-time pharmaceutical industry employee. He also writes short stories and the occasional poem.
Summer at Maghermore
– By Alan Walsh
It was early and no one was anywhere near the shore but for an old man sat against the rock nearest the tide, draped in a long towel, who watched out for the light to break. It was still a little like night to venture out and he sipped from a flask he had brought to warm him at that hour. The first call of gannets had woken two surfers inside of their camper van and they sat, with tea, and watched the old man, wondering why he was out alone so early and on such a remote stretch of beach.
“He’s trying to kill himself,” one surfer said.
“Why do you say that?”
“No one would arrive out here so early. He’s working up courage, drinking from that flask, maybe rum. He seems unsteady.”
“Then why did he change into that swimsuit? Why the towel if not to dry off?”
“Who knows what occurs in the mind of a suicide? Maybe he wishes to seem normal, like it might look an accident.”
They crouched behind the wheel of the van with the light off so as not to be noticed in all of the silence and darkness. The only thing to move was the low branch stooped over the old man’s rock and the loose strands of seaweed in the breeze. The gannets and gulls began to circle more frequently and the light began slowly to come in. When the water was lit well enough to make out, the old man folded his towel down into the bag where he had packed his clothes and placed his flask on top of the rock beside it. He began walking out toward where the water washed the first pebbles on the shore.
“There, he’s going to do it. We can’t just allow it to happen.”
“He doesn’t look anything like drunk. He’s just testing the temperature.”
They both silently got out of the van to watch from the shade, keeping sure to remain very still. The old man stood a while with the water reaching only his ankles. He adjusted his shorts, tucked up underneath where his belly hung, and crouched down to place his hands into the foam. He brought water up to rinse through his hair and down his face, doing this a number of times. He ventured out a little deeper, knee deep and then to his waist, and allowed the tide lap his belly and upper arms while he looked out at the sky gradually changing colours.
“Where are you going?”
“I’m going down there. It’s probably even a crime to stand by and watch someone kill themselves, doing nothing.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about. He’s just taking a dip.”
The man craned his knees to have the water cover his chest and then wash over his shoulders. That early it was still cold enough to throw you off if you didn’t take enough care. He went through this motion a couple of times, then finally dunking his head the whole way under to come up again wet all over. Sure of his footing now and far enough from the shore, he pushed forward into a forearm stroke, letting the water catch his weight under the belly and kicking hard as he could manage it. It churned water high in every direction, his strokes weren’t quite timed to replace one another in the water and his kicking legs weren’t strong enough to breach the surface and push him on. He floundered sideways, unable to bring his following arm round in time to keep afloat and kicked down to touch the bottom again. He stood a minute out as far as the water reaching his shoulders and took a few heavy breaths. He washed some more of the tide through his hair. Bending his knees further, he let the tide lap up to his lips and nose and pushed off again, horizontal to the shoreline, this time with greater effort and more foam thrown up about him. His legs kicked harder and he forced his arms on through the water ahead. But he was already off course, and soon heading diagonally out from the tide to where the bottom began to slope off. The push and thrashing soon tired the old man. He quit to stand still a while again, but he had ventured a little far out of his depth. His shoulders dipped under quickly to his surprise, taking his head down under as well and he had to reach right away into another forward splash, even out of breath, to make it in close enough to shore to touch down.
“He doesn’t know about us. He thinks he’s all alone out here. He can’t even hardly keep afloat. It’s still almost dark and there’s no one for miles.”
“He’s teaching himself to swim.”
“Why would anybody do that at this hour, miles from any possible help? At that age.”
“Maybe that’s why he’s out here.”
“He’s well into his eighties easy. He was unsteady getting out there across the stones to start off with. Hazard to himself. There have to be laws against people acting out of recklessness with their own well being.”
“There aren’t any people out in the water at this time. No one to pay him any attention back on shore either, to get unduly worried. He can concentrate freely.”
The old man was back down into another stroke, this one a little sharper, tighter to the line of the tide. He seemed not to kick as much froth up around him either. A number of gulls had settled on the moving surface, content to drift and watch. He only made a couple of feet along before having to touch down again and catch his breath. He knew he was doing it all wrong, that his timing was off, he was pushing too hard and without any grace. Stood deep in the tide, he tried to figure out how to better it with his next go. He waded out a little deeper and practiced moving just his arms, each over the shoulder in turn, slowly as he could, for imagined in this lay the key. Then, remembering what he had seen others do, he began rolling his head from side to side in the water, breathing in one side and out the other. He stood in place and did this a little while. The younger surfer watched him, shaking his head. The man took another breath and lunged forward again, this time in the opposite direction. Again, he kicked up a lot of froth and began to stray diagonally outward, but it seemed a little more contained a motion than before. He couldn’t maintain it for very long and hadn’t gotten the breathing right. He lacked the strength to keep stroking any length and had to stop to again pretty soon. The younger surfer shook his head some more.
“You know he’ll be back out here tomorrow morning.”
“He looks that type.”
“And we’ve taken the place up by Maghermore. So we won’t be here.”
The light had by then come in enough that the rock, the trees and camper van and both men were clearly visible and the old man, seeing them, wet his head one final time in the foam and began to stride his way back into shore through the water. He reached the stones and collected his bag and his flask from the rock, made his way back up the shingle slope and past the camper van, saluting the surfers with a nod as he went. Both of them nodded in return.
In a little while, they had suited up and prepared the boards, they’d locked up the van and headed down to the shore themselves. It was still early but the waves were starting to come in a little harder and break with more force. They paddled out far enough and caught what they could, but the waves weren’t as lively as they had been earlier in the month. That was why the younger surfer has suggested moving on up to Maghermore, where it was said to be rougher. They had planned to pass the summer there but had left it too long. He brought his board out past the furthest rock and let the sea rise and drop him until he felt there was enough in it to try and make it back in on. Each time he did it, though, it tapered off and he was left wishing he had left it longer. A few of these and he had given up. He relaxed and watched his partner fight to drag some life out of the waves, sometimes even getting a little. He sat on the surf board, flat on the surface of the water, and thought about that old man, wondering if he’d be out there the following morning and if he’d ever succeed in teaching himself to swim. It was too dead to surf. He paddled back into shore and lit a fire back by the van. He dried himself off and began to prepare breakfast.
Alan Walsh is a 36 year old Writer and Designer who has just finished his third novel. He has been published in The Moth, Outburst and The Illustrated Ape among other magazines and has written for Magill magazine and Film Ireland. He is currently involved in a graffiti project with hurls and an unlikely illustration project with Irish superheroes. Follow Alan on twitter.
Kerstina Mortensen is an Irish-Danish graduate of History of Art and German, Trinity College Dublin. She writes, paints and photographs, and has had work published in Icarus, The Attic and the Trinity Journal of Literary Translation. Check out her blog.
– ByYaseena McKendry
You rest in my arms, peaceful, quiet.
We’ve done this before in the months since you were born, sitting together along the
edge of the sand dune, looking out to sea.
I lean down and kiss your temple. Your skin is damp from your sweat, your curly
hair matted to your head in sections. The wind gathers around us, brushing against our
bodies and teasing you from sleep. I breathe in the salty air wishing it was warm enough for
a swim. I have a feeling you’d love the water, just like me. I’ll teach you when you’re older
and we’ll sneak out here just the two of us in the summer, away from mom and dad.
You look up at me, your eyes wide and curious. Your eyes were the first sign that
something was wrong, but I didn’t understand then. The midwife, who had been with mom
through her delivery, held you in her arms, careful and tentative. She looked down at you
for a long while, anxious as if she knew something she didn’t want to say out loud.
Everyone was talking, the stillness that had come over each of us while mom was in
delivery, broken now that you were there in the room– all of a sudden as if you always had
The midwife told mom and dad your eyes were too small, pressed too flat against
your face. Your nose was the same and later, when the doctors saw you, they said that it
would be hard for you to breathe, that you might need surgery one day.
Your body moves restlessly in my arms and I look down at your face to see if you’re
about to cry. Your eyebrows, fair even though your hair is dark, scrunch together and I run
my fingertip along the slope of your nose and you stop fussing.
My lips are chapped and I feel them stretch as I smile at you, the skin cracking with
the effort. I’ve held you each day since you were born, taking you with me where ever I go.
You like the beach best though, you’re always more peaceful when we’re out of the house.
I look out towards the ocean, watch the waves as they curl, changing from navy blue
to teal and then white as they turn in on themselves. It’s getting dark out and soon we’ll
have to go back inside. I don’t want to leave this spot, to go back to the house and listen to
the pressing quiet.
Mom used to call our cottage the perfect beach home. A getaway for us all when the
city got to be too much. I remember watching dad stain the deck a bright blue to match the
ocean. The siding such a crisp white it used to hurt my eyes when the sun shone against the
slats. Now the whole place looks neglected, forgotten. It’s been years since we’ve visited
the beach but mom thought having you by the water would be peaceful. A chance for
everything to calm down is what she said to dad.
The screen door is ripped now, the frame leaning off its hinges. Our deck used to be
bold. Now the colour has dulled and the paint is worn down. I can’t walk on it in bare feet
anymore or the paints chips scrape off and catch in my skin. Our house is one of the only
ones on this side of the beach. I used to love the privacy. When I was little I could yell and
scream and run as far as I wanted without annoying the neighbours. Now at night I hear the
wind slam against the walls and the rain hit the tin roof and all I want is to look out my
window and see light. Some sign of life that says we aren’t the only ones trapped here,
marooned away from every other sign of life.
I burrow my feet in the sand and wiggle my toes. I dig them deeper, finding the cool,
sticky darkness of the beaches underworld and try not to think of the tiny bugs crawling
around underneath the surface. Your little hand, so small and fragile breaks free of the
blanket I’ve wrapped you in. Your arm swings uncontrolled, luxuriating in the freedom of its
escape. I feel your fingers graze my face and lean closer to let you pet my cheek. You want
to sit up, I can tell by the look in your eye and the way you’re craning your neck to see
more. I raise you in my arms, bending my knees, letting your head rest against them like a
pillow. I brush your hair across your forehead, smoothing it back against the softness of your head. I take care not to brush the spot that’s so sensitive, your ‘soft spot,’ mom calls it.
She worries for you. She cried when you were born. She wonders if things would
have been different if she hadn’t been so desperate for another baby. Something to hold the
pieces of our family together. She wonders what might have happened if you’d been born in
a hospital. I tell her not to think of it. She had me at home.
I watched her hold you for the first time. She sat folded on the bed. Her legs splayed
outwards, spread wide and apart like they were no longer part of her body. Her arms looked
heavy as they held you. She was silent. She looked down at you, a frown on her face. I
stood in the doorway, leaning against the chipped white frame, the paint folding itself into
the threads of my sweater as I shifted, ripping from the wall and disintegrating into bits
when I moved. I watched them fall to pieces on the ground. I knew I’d have to sweep them
Mom called to me, told me to take you. To hold you tight. She needed to rest. I took
you in my arms that first day, scared and unsure. I didn’t understand what was happening,
why everyone was so quiet, so still. I looked down at mom. I didn’t know how to hold you,
how to make you comfortable. She wouldn’t look at me though, so I turned to the midwife,
ready to give you to her. She smiled kindly. Her sunken eyes looked me over, assessing,
measuring me. She motioned with her arms for me to cradle your body. I moved and your
head swayed, like it wasn’t properly attached to your neck. You made a funny sound, a wet
hiccup, and I looked down at your face for the first time. I guess I understood then, the
quiet. My mind went still. I wasn’t worried anymore. Your eyes were closed, your tiny hands
fisted by your cheek. I could feel my hands trembling, but the rest of me felt calm. I looked
at mom, but she had turned her back to me. I nodded at the midwife and walked with you
towards the door. Turning, I watched as mom moved her head into the downy softness of
the pillow, her eyelids growing heavy as the tears pooled in her eyes, falling into the sheets.
Her pallor scared me and sickened me at the same time. I didn’t want you to see her like
that. I wished you could have known her the way she was before her and dad started
stealing bits of each other.
I found dad in the kitchen. He was leaning against the counter, sipping at a drink. His
eyes told me everything I never needed to ask him. He didn’t know if he could love you.
I liked the quiet of those first few days. It wasn’t like at home before you came
along. Doors weren’t slamming; dinner wasn’t tense with ugly words being thrown across
the table. I could eat my food without feeling like I’d be sick later. It took me a few days to
realize that the absence of noise was worse than the shouting. The silence grated on me,
made my skin tingle with everything I could hear that wasn’t being said.
They called you special. I knew you were, but not for the reasons they gave. You
weren’t a test like mom believed. You weren’t a punishment that dad couldn’t understand. I
knew their thoughts and I was determined to protect you from them.
I lie in bed tonight, like I do most nights wondering if you’re all right in the next
room. If you’re sleeping soundly or if mom’s snoring keeps you awake. I think about dad
sleeping on the couch, why he thinks I’ll believe his lie. He said it’s to give mom peace at
night when she feeds you but I know that it’s because he doesn’t want to be around her
anymore. He doesn’t want to touch her. I think he blames her for you.
Too old to have another one – I told her…she was too old. Whole things a mistake.
He didn’t know I was standing behind him.
I don’t understand how he could blame her though, when half of you is dad and half
of you is mom. I wonder about that extra part. The doctors said you weren’t supposed to be
born with it, it isn’t right, it causes problems. Like the hole in your heart and the fact that
you won’t be able to see clearly and they said your hearing isn’t so good either. You can
always hear me though. I whisper softly in your ear and you smile at me. You know exactly
what I’m saying.
Mom coughs in the next room. It’s kind of a snort, like she rolled over and had to
catch her breath from the effort. I rise, pitching the blankets off my legs. I hear you start to
cry and I move away from my bed treading carefully on the floorboards so they don’t creak
and wake anyone up. I cross the hall and push lightly against mom’s bedroom door. She’s
standing at your crib, looking down at you as you stir within your blankets. The light from
the hallway skims the ground, slicing through the floor and lighting mom’s feet as they peek
out from beneath her nightgown. I notice for the first time how bony and frail they look. She
turns and catches me staring and I shrug, moving further into the room. I reach her side
and she looks down at me for a moment. I want her to smile, to touch my hair, smooth it
back from my face like she used to. She just stares blankly.
It’s okay momma, I’ve got her.
She does smile then. It’s faint and barely recognizable, it could have been a facial
spasm really, but I want it to be a smile. She pats my arm as she turns away towards the
bed. I don’t watch as she climbs beneath the covers. I turn to you and lift you gently into
my arms. You settle immediately and I feel better. I wrap you in your blanket and then step
slowly towards the door, closing it with my free hand. I take the stairs carefully and as I get
closer to the bottom I begin to feel the ocean breeze against my legs as it seeps through
the open windows. My skin tingles, the hair on my arms rising. Dad isn’t on the couch when
we pass. I hear the fridge door slam shut and turn the other way heading for the back door.
Outside I walk along the sand, each step guided by the cold glow of the moon. It’s
full tonight, brighter than most nights. I find our spot and settle carefully with you in my
arms. You’re awake now but I know how to get you back to sleep. I start humming at first,
the words mom used to sing to me stuck at the back of my throat.
Twinkle, Twinkle little star, how I wonder what you are…
My voice cracks slightly when I finally get the words out. You smile at me though, so I keep
singing. I kiss your head and smooth your cheek. I place my lips against your ear,
whispering, and you hear me.
Yaseena McKendry has an undergradute degree from Concordia University where she majored in Creative Writing and minored in Irish Studies. She went on to pursue a masters degree in Dublin, Ireland where she recently received an MPhil in Creative Writing from Trinity College Dublin. While studying at the Oscar Wilde Center, Yaseena worked with her classmates as one of eight editors to publish an anthology of their work. An excerpt of her first novel, currently in progress, was published in the anthology, A Thoroughly Good Blue: New Writing from the Oscar Wilde Centre. Check out Yaseena’s blog.
The Irish Father
– By Daniel Connell
“That is what you are. That’s what you all are […] all of you young people who never served in the war. You are a lost generation. You who have seen nothing of great pain, nothing but l’ennui and money woes. You are a lost generation.” Me in conversation with myself this morning.
This particular morning I was sad, as was the case with most mornings at the end of last winter. It wasn’t an abrasive or sharp sadness, but a dull one that sat from my jawline to my diaphram. I always thought it was because my dog had passed away earlier that winter. That was something that hurt me deep in my chest, much like being winded constantly. Anyway, I took the chance to take the day off college, sit around in my bedroom and do nothing in particular. The nearlyspring sun settled its way through my beige curtains. It gave the room a warm glow.
As I lay around looking at the television, I grew bored and hungry, which were the only things that would have stirred me to get up that day. After about two hours of growing hunger my stomach felt as though it had bottomed out. The sun had passed over my house and my room was now in the shade. There was a wall around four feet away from my window blocking out most of the light, and that made it damp and uncomfortable outside of my duvet. The sun would be glaring into my kitchen by now.
After I had stretched and struggled and nearly blew out all the blood vessels in my head I got up. I dressed into yesterday’s dirty clothes and got dizzy from stretching more. My dad probably heard me and shouted my name and something mumbling after, as he does when he is checking to see if I’m still in.
He sat with my niece Lucia at the kitchen table and he was clearly frustrated with her as she liked to act out all the time if there wasn’t sufficient attention put on her, as fouryearolds do. He was probably too old to mind kids, as he had already had four of his own, and he was pushing fiftyfive as a manual labourer. Surely he deserved his days off when they came around and they were all too frequent these days.
He had actually been working for most of his life, it was all he knew. He told me before that he had worked since he was around 12 or 13. That was the old Ireland. A labourer, a bricklayer, a handyman where he can be. And me, an arts student that doesn’t feel the need to go to college most of the time. But still, he seemed quite proud, proud that he can offer me and my siblings a more privileged and relaxed life of college, part time jobs and a bedroom each. All of these things were unavailable to him, which always made me sad and proud at the same time.
There is never much dialogue between us; it is more of a quiet understanding of mumblings, and affirmative grunts and nods, but I could tell that he was in a better mood than normal, though he was evidently agitated with Lucia’s lack of attention.
The kettle had boiled and I poured the boiling water into the coffee granules with two sugars. It sounded like fizzing, shifting sands and stank like bad coffee does. He began to speak to Lucia as I went over to the countertop behind them and sat on it with my legs dangling, and I began rubbing my eyes orgasmically.
“Look, Lucia, here, stop, look,” he sputtered. She was quick and strong in her messing.
“Gwandad, I’m bored. Put on the telly,” she said, with her unformed R’s.
“Look, watch this.” As I looked up with blurred vision he took up a piece of plastic that was shaped like an oval. It was one of those tops of the Persil or Ariel bottles that you use to fill full of washing detergent. He began to draw its outline onto a sheet of blank paper.
“Look, it’s easy Lucia, you just draw the shape and then colour it in. Now watch.”
He took up a few of the colouring pencils and began to draw lines waving through the shape, each line a different colour. Then he drew another outline of the same shape and began colouring it in with arching lines, each line a different colour. He repeated this many times, and each one became more intricate and colourful from what I could see. It seemed as though he had really been drawn into it. Lucia just watched with her chin in her right hand, balancing on my dad’s lap and the kitchen table.
He had finally got her attention and she was enjoying it.
“Can I have a go? Gwandad, gimme the pencils.”
He let Lucia take control and she attempted to do the same. Her attempt was good, but she then began to scribble through it violently trying to colour it in. Then she proceeded to scribble off the page and onto the place mat.
I could see a glint in my dad’s eye. There was some sort of sorrow that he showed. Drawing those shapes and enjoying it so much; it was only a distraction from his everyday labours. Labours that were scarce to come around these days, to his selfish shame. He just stared at the paper as Lucia began to ruin the place mat, but it didn’t matter. She always did that and everything in our house was wrecked from her anyway.
“Ah here,” he said in his loud voice, “don’t…stop…Lucia! Stop!”
She threw down the colours in her hand and he let her go out of his lap and then ran off into the living room with a skip and jumped onto the couch where some kid’s programme was on, probably Cbeebies or whatever it was called.
As she left, so did I. As I jumped down from the counter my dad noticed me there, and half embarrassed looking he picked up the drawing and said “not bad?” or something to that effect, then laughed throwing his drawings down onto the glass table.
I went into my bedroom where it was quite cool then as the sun had reached well over my house. At that point and I began to flick through different day time tv, Jeremy Kyle, Auction Hunters, and drifted into a boring comatose. I pictured Lucia did the same as me, and my Dad was probably still sitting at the kitchen table, looking at what he had created.
Daniel Connell is a 21 year old student studying English and is in his final year. He is a Dublin-based writer, usually through the medium of poetry and prose.
The intention of The Bohemyth’s Bloomsday issue is to celebrate Ulysses, James Joyce and the strange and wonderful city of Dublin. For the streets of Dublin are paved with something finer than gold, they are paved with the stories of the ones who walk them. James Joyce knew this better than anyone.
We whisper our stories to the trees in Stephen’s Green. We tell them to ourselves as we ramble along our way. We shout them at each other over pints in the pub. We cry them into the river. We scream them at the sea. We bury them where we can. We set them free where we can’t.
Once upon a time all of the stories of Dublin were gathered together and popped inside an empty old bottle of Guinness. It bobbed off down the Liffey. Inside were stories of love lost as soon as won, salvation and hope, moments lost and memories gained, some stories were made of songs and some were made with tears, but all were made with the heart. Then the bottle broke apart and all the stories fell out. Most were washed away, downstream and out into Dublin Bay.
We went fishing off Dun Laoghaire pier and caught a few that were still swimming about there.
Here are some of the stories we were lucky enough to catch. We hope you like them as much as we do.
We hope you love Dublin as much as we do!
– Alice Walsh
Photography: David Levingstone is a Photographer, Art Director and bearded man from Tipperary living in Dublin, more of his work can be found here. David currently works for Getty Images.
– By Laura Cleary
Last night I dreamt.
Dreamt I was found.
Love found me. There.
In that dream.
In a doorway.
Maybe nine was too early.
But I’d been awake since six. The sun had been shining in through my bedroom window. The birds had started hours before, they were in full chorus by then. I had lain there, playing the dream back over and over. By half past seven I was fully dressed and ready to go. The house was still as a tomb.
Ten to nine and there are three of us at the bus stop. A young Romanian woman, her buggy, me.
There’s a baby in the buggy. I’m sure that there is. I just can’t quite tell. All the puffed pink vinyl, femur-thick frame. It’s like a grounded spaceship next to her Romany skirt. I wonder whether the velvet is uncomfortable. If it itches. If it soaks up the damp, rain, piss, swinging as it does so close to the ground. I hope she doesn’t see me staring at her buggy. Or at her hemline.
The bus arrives late.
The woman boards first. Well, her buggy, the baby, then her.
I stand alone in the doorway. The driver is the old man that used to drive the bus to DCU. Years ago, back when I’d been in college. The driver that had asked to see my student ID every time he punched my ten journey ticket. The same one I’d bought from him the Monday before.
I stood in the doorway.
Then paid the fare.
Nine was too early. But it meant an empty seat in every direction.
The dark side of the bus in Naas is the bright side on the way to Dublin. And it’s bright this morning. We’re having a June for a change.
The bus follows the slip road’s curl out of Naas. Holds my window to the sun. I open the case and put them on. The case is much sturdier than the glasses. Two skulls safe inside a motorcycle helmet. I bought them back when I still worked in the shop. A spree on store discount. Two Calvin Klein bras and a pair of Chanel sunglasses.
The bus twists into Johnstown. Swans through and out. Past Kill. Rathcoole. Over the spot Veronica Guerin was shot. Under the speed cameras Da had us watch. Arches round the Red Cow and on to the Long Mile. Through Bluebell. Inchicore. Bless myself past the statue of Our Lady and wait for the first breath of air born of concrete.
Drink in the length of the Liffey. Wave to the sunlight buoyed between ripples.
Bridge after mismatched bridge.
A man in a blue Puffa jacket raises his fist in the air. A woman in worn runners and a rain jacket shuffles over to him. They stand very close together, crossing and uncrossing palms.
Nine was too early.
We stop at O’Connell Bridge.
I offer to unload the Romanian lady’s buggy but she hands me the baby instead. She smiles at me. The baby. Smiles and winds her little fingers in my hair. The lady says thank you and takes the baby back. Straps her into the spaceship. Tiptoes away.
All of the doors on Bachelor’s Walk are closed.
O’Connell Street isn’t a pleasant walk but I love to make it anyway. I love all of it. Bulletholes in statues’ breasts. Weather burned faces beneath them. Piss pooled on the streets. The layer of old Dublin laid on top of store fronts.
The Hugh Lane is open. I’m sure of it. It’s quiet in there. Restful. Nice coffee shop. I round the corner, pass the Writers’ Centre. I must have walked too fast. Its door is closed too.
I stand there, still for a few minutes. Turn around. Walk back the way I came.
It isn’t warm enough to sit in the Garden of Remembrance. I walk around it anyway. Remember taking my sister to see it years ago. She didn’t know the story of the Children of Lir. She took pictures of the sculpture while I told her what I could remember. Which wasn’t much. It’s even less now. Really just that the girl’s name was Fionnuala. That she looked after everyone else. Well, that and they were swans. For ages. It’s one of the Sorrows. I forget how many there are.
I leave the garden and turn down onto Parnell Street, through the birdshit and sunshine. Cross over onto Moore Street. Fresh flowers, fresh fruit, fresh fish, y’alrigh’ luv? Two for a tenner, lovely arndey? Isn’ir only glowrious ou’? Der yar luv Goblesha. Enjoydesun t’day luv shure itcouldbe raynin t’mara, wha?
I wave and walk on. Shop shutters are beginning to rise.
Weave through flocks of young girls on Henry Street. Making sure not to look right at them. They’re wearing tights they think are leggings. I know by the raised gusset outlining each twelve year old pubis. I don’t look. I can’t. They’d stride up to me just like they’re striding now, shouting about how I’m some fuckin’ sick lezzer ye bleedin’ queer paedo my da’s just ourathe bleedin’ Joy an’ he’ll fuckin’ come down here a bather ya watchin’ my arse ya sick queerass lezzbeen.
Duck into Arnotts. The piped music and designer handbags are soothing. Wander through aware that it’s only half one. There’s a bagel stand at the back, wedged between Menswear and Abbey Street. A turkey bagel for every day I worked here. The seat beside the far door is empty. Drape my coat there while I order.
The windows have been washed. The passers by can see and the door opens out. Perhaps Love will pass. Maybe this is the doorway.
They bring my order too quick.
Green tea, plain bagel, toasted, butter, jam. Just me and Huck Finn.
This is my third time through. It’s like going home. It’s more home than Naas. Like here. Maybe that’s it. A viscous Mississippi, the greasy Liffey beyond. Jim on the run, my cousin’s five years. Snakeskins, NAMA. Sivilization.
A second green tea.
I usedn’t feel able to get up and order seconds. Then one day, here, on my break I saw a mother send her eight-year-old son to the counter. He almost turned purple waiting at the register. But then he turned around and came back with hot chocolate.
A third green tea. The pen is for marking out passages but the Grangerford’s feuding doesn’t keep my napkin bare.
lOVe loVe LovE
I leave.The chair opposite me is bare. I need it to work. Need love to find me. Want love to find me. Sitting by the doorway. Want love to. Want to be found. Wantwantwant—
There’s a bar across the street. I used to go there often back when I worked here. It’s still bright out. There’s no football today, so it should be quiet. No washed out T-shirts. Bookies’ slips. Deep swallows. Roaring at the screen.
An empty seat in every direction. I sit in view of the door. Just in case.
Liffey street is just beyond the glass. It’s fluid, Liffey street. Moves at a constant pace. If it stops, it smells. It’s gorgeous to watch. Even abandoned shopping trolleys caught up in the current.
Soda water and a chicken stir fry. Too salty and over far to quick. A gin and tonic. A man in white pants walks past on his way to the bathroom. Huck won’t tell me about Buck Grangerford’s murder. I’m glad Jim’s okay. Another gin. It’s still bright out. I’m sure it’s getting later. Liffey Street flows strong. Another gin.
Huck and Jim begin to swell, then sink. They soak into the river and pull apart like tissue paper. I mark the page and fumble for my jacket.
“You can’t be leaving?”
The man in white pants stands beside me, smiling. He is short, grey haired, shirt collar unbuttoned to the order of wealth. Not that common these days. This side. Anymore.
Uninvited, he sits down. He strikes me as the type of man to put his voice into a sneeze. The type of man to decide when companions cross the street. The type of man to explain things.
I tell him I have to leave soon. That there’s a bus in ten minutes. He hands a green banknote to the waitress holding my bill.
“Wait for the next one?”
I hold my breath. Ten seconds pass. I take off my coat.
Two more gins.
He tells me he’s a businessman. CEO of a web design firm that specialises in translation software. You know when you enter a website for any big cosmetics brand a stack of different flags unfurl across the screen? You click on your own nationality to understand what to buy.
They deal with that. Dior, Clinique, Chanel. I run my fingers along my sunglasses case.
He asks about me. Maybe I’m hopeful. Or maybe it’s the gin. But I tell him. Everything. Mammy. Home. The Baby. Why not?
It doesn’t matter at this stage.
I don’t matter at this stage.
He listens. Says I’m remarkable. Surviving alone in a home like that. He tells me that living in a place where no one believes in you makes for remarkable people. Most of the time.
I think I’m supposed to ask about him.
I ask does he have children. He admits to a grown up son. Attending Rutkers in New Jersey. Was eager to leave home (Colorado) after his mother died. Car accident, 2010. Drunk driver. Killed instantly. Very tragic. Very tragic indeed.
I ask him is he enjoying Dublin. He says he hasn’t had the chance yet, looking at me from under his eyebrows. He reaches across under the table. Hooks a fingertip into my waistband. Grunts softly, just loud enough for me to hear.
There’s a bus in ten minutes. It’s still bright outside. He insists on walking me. I notice on standing that he’s shorter than me. A green note to the waitress. His hand on my waist.
We join Liffey Street, are carried over the Ha’Penny Bridge. I tell him about the time I ran, drunk, across it. That I didn’t notice the change from long steps to short ones. That I skidded the whole way down and didn’t fall.
He tells me I’m remarkable. I tell him he already said that.
I point down a laneway into Temple Bar. Tell him there’s a Lebanese restaurant he should visit there. A great gallery right beside it. He asks me to show him. I say it’s just a couple of steps on, but he insists. We turn down the laneway and he pulls me aside. Against a metal door. The rust nips at my shoulders.
Morning came with yellow light filling the room. A taste of dried wine on the tongue. Strips of plastic window shutters giggling in the breeze. The song of city cars playing on a distant street. A beautiful bleached blonde with a face full of nordic edges lying nude on the bed, sheets hanging from her and the boy. Him smelling orange and sweat and rubber, sitting up to look on the ground, and seeing a carpet awash with books, clothes and scribbled paper. The girl is smiling at him now. He wants to say a silly thing, but he just kisses her and keeps the ideas in his throat. What would you do? The boy is shy baby Cormac (me).
“Here,” two Camels ready between her fingers “Your roll-my-owns make me sad.”
I try to explain I’m a student and too socialist to bother working, and all the rest.
“You are such veal. Light the fugging cigarette and appreciate good things.”
I do. We puff. We tip ash into an empty cider can. I’m lying there dumbfounded.
“This room smells like poison.” she says. That’s her thing. When a word is clear in a sentence she swaps it for poison. Example: Motherly poison. I poison books. Late at night a man and woman can make poison. And so on.
“Cormac,” she says. “I couldn’t remember it for a second.”
Someone knocks on the door.
“Go away!” she pulls the sheets over us. “And my name really is Alice.”
Alice, lying in to me. Her face beneath my neck. Her voice coming up muffled from the pillow.
“Tell me a story.”
“Any story. Just tell me anything.”
“Once upon a time there were two alcoholics in a bar. A boy and a girl alcoholic. Dublin. The town he was born in. They could have been in any other place, but they were both in this one bar. The boy was there by pure chance, with his friend Barry, who left to work in America this morning.
(the girl hasn’t yet told me how life got her to The Globe Bar)
The boy was outside smoking his rollies when she appeared, and she stood crooked in the door. A man was in her way. A big man with a big beard who told a story about some war and the way it made you feel after so broken and sorry and everybody was listening to him because he had a hard voice and a big jaw. It’s a wonder she didn’t take him home instead!”
“People don’t hmmprff in fiction, Alice. Unless they hmmprff in real life. Unless women really do sigh and roll their eyes sometimes. But anyway, forget that old bore. The boy pointed at the crooked girl and said that the man’s stories turned women into statues. And that was enough to get her chatting. Boy and girl went inside and danced, her lost her, but he found her again. Outside, smoking her Camels. He saw the burns on her arms from the café and made a joke about razor blades. She said she got her marks playing Fight Club.
‘I’ll play with you,’ he said ‘Give me a punch and then I’ll give you one.’
They couldn’t in front of the doorman. They walked to the unlit corner of the street. She hit him on the left cheek.
‘And now it’s your turn’ she said. So he took her and kissed her. When they walked back Barry laughed at the red stains on his mouth. But he didn’t mind.”
She lifts her head from the pillow, her blond hair falling down and resting on my face. I’m in a hair cocoon. I feel lips.
“I’d read that. The tale of Alice and Veal.”
“I’d call it Alice at the Globe if I ever wrote it. Doesn’t that sound like Fitzgerald? Alice at the Globe?”
“It’d make a fine short story.”
“Well,” I pause for just one moment “Maybe it could be a novel”
Cormac Buchmann is a 22 year old writer of fiction living in Howth, Dublin. He drinks Karpackie and rolls cigarettes from rejection letter paper. He can also fold them into little hats.
Sitting With A Stranger In A Busy Café
– By Sophie Meehan
The vegetable moussaka is nice but vegetable moussaka is just what people on Come Dine With Me make when there’s a vegetarian over. He keeps hrrmphing behind his paper, so that’s what a hrrmph sounds like, I’d only seen it written down. RAIN TO EASE TODAY BUT WILL BE BACK and a fireman carries a small pink girl through a puddle. There’s a smudge of soup under the headline, the bowl is as big as his head. He has one of those professions that make grown men look like they’re wearing a school uniform, I think it’s the navy jumper. Go ahead plenty of room he says but the face buried means he doesn’t want to talk. The mashed potato has cheese in it which I don’t understand.
There’s a dingle at the doorbell, it must be a mother and a daughter, because she’s translating Shoes! Yes your shoes are lovely, they sparkle just like you do. Lunch! Yes we’re going to get you some food now, it’s closer to dinnertime though. I wonder if he’ll check what I’ve written when I go to get some cake, he probably wants me to go away. Everyone here is very trusting with their Marks and Spencers shoppers, but he’ll probably feel crippled with responsibility, coat-minding wasn’t part of the agreement and now he’ll have to stay put in the 3-7 minutes between chocolate and cheesecake. Doesn’t look like he’s going any time soon though, he’s getting his money’s worth out of that soup, all the way to the sports section.
He has a ring on his finger but it doesn’t look like a wedding ring. I bet he can feel me reading the back of his paper, he probably regrets his openness but it would be rude to move now. Elsewhere, this sponge is so spongey is feels like I’m cleaning raspberry sauce off the bathroom floor. I wonder if people think we’re a father and daughter who through comfort or discomfort are beyond communication. I wonder if he has a daughter. Maybe he had a childless marriage which divorced because they’re both financially independent, and now he lives in the Docklands which has changed a lot since his day but most of the old gang are still around, snooker on Wednesdays, no, Thursdays, and he’s planning his first trip to Thailand because he wants to get some warmth in his bones.
Sophie Meehan studies English and Spanish in Trinity. She wants to be a writer when she grows up, she also wants to have a dog and live in Sandycove. Sophie writes poetry, prose and theatre, she has been published in Icarus and THE SHOp and wrote and directed Does Anybody Ever as part of ABSOLUT Fringe Festival 2011. Follow her on twitter @someehan
At least I Have Her Love The City She Loves Me
– By Angela Finn
Yeah because after a night of no sleep we walk north to Clontarf past Pigeon house towers rising sun-glow platinum yellow flushes of first love making my heart pound into Saint Annes Park by the milky green pond Italian pavilion not like Dublin at all we lie on the cold stone steps morning bird song you singing your new lyrics then Janes Addicition Im done with Sergio treats me like a ragdoll you unbutton my blouse softly singing Red Hot Chilli Peppers the city like my only friend is the city I live in city of Angels smell of night leaving earth glistening green pond water frothy white scum sound of early tide lapping notsofaraway feel my stomach ribs breasts take me to the place I love take me all the way tweeting birds sky haze dissolving at least I have her love the city she loves me lick my face lips kiss me sparkly sun on olive green water under the bridge downtown is where I drew some blood eat breakfast through the cafe window glittering periwinkle sea eggs benedict oozing yolk starry eyes silver leaking teapot tea tastes of chlorine milk brown sugar crystals feet entwined fluttering belly take me to Cowper Road Victorian house brick red facade santaupe steps hot June midday drifting in and out of sleep squashed in single bed speakers amplifiers bass guitars posters waking fucking smoking end of spliff from your shirt pocket take me to the place I love take me all the way yeah yeah yeah in twilight we surface one drink at Bruxelles snoggers everywhere Pygmalion smells of sewage Long Hall mirrors reflect starry eyes sing try again tomorrow Im gonna kick tomorrow kick tomorrow summer city noise shrinks to quiet almost midnight drunken howls opposite University Church pinned against rusting iron railings dusty branches scratch my neck my bare shoulders Jane says Ive never been in love lonely as I am together we cry Yeah.
Angela Finn lives in Dublin. In 2012 she was shortlisted for Francis MacManus story award and was runner up in the RTE Penguin short story competition. This year she came third in the Fish Publishing short memoir contest and had two pieces of short fiction broadcast as part of RTE Arena’s New Planet Cabaret creative writing course.
One Good Eye
– By James Conor Patterson
At some indeterminate point in the day, when Dylan Ruddy could hear nothing at all, he opened his eyes with a slow scratch against the light in the room and felt it fade from above and around him with unnatural quickness. He couldn’t remember being asleep.
There was the sound of a clock ticking and it sent echoes through the wooden boards and coursing cell-like across the entire infrastructure of where he lay so that he imagined lying in a colony of locusts. He was aware of a single red candle dripping in the hearth.
The slightest manipulation of light from a glimmer of the wick, or even rising and falling with the fluctuations of a shallow breath kept the room moving in a constant swim of changing dark and as he adjusted further, he noticed alterations in the room’s fragrance between black coffee and burning wood.
Dylan lifted himself carefully onto one elbow and looked quietly around him. Barely daring to cough or stretch a tendon for fear of disturbing the atmosphere, he could see that what little light there was seemed to come almost entirely from the candle burning in the fireplace. Any remaining light was filtered sparingly through the black window on the side furthest from the hearth. He could also make the shape of a black plinth on the opposite side about a dozen feet from where he lay. Something which, when he squinted hard against the scant amber of the low flame, revealed a wooden bar with brass taps and a gaudy footrest. He had no idea how he had got there.
‘That was an awful fall you took’ someone said to him, ‘you’re lucky the wife and the two boys were here to help me get you up the stairs.’
Dylan didn’t move. He had presumed, up to then, that he was merely alone and that the room would reveal itself over time; or by deciding what may or may not have happened in order that he might end up on this strange floor at this strange hour; in a dark and strange and empty city pub with no boots or hat or coat on.
The floor itself was black and white and two-tone marble in a pattern that slithered quite everywhere and drew attention to the bright red velvet on the walls. It had done its best to make him uneasy before any voice had revealed itself beneath the dark, but now he was shocked completely into stunned silence. He didn’t know where he was.
The immediate fear he felt was that he hadn’t located a door and he had the strange urge that any access to where he was seemed at once both impossible and perfectly natural. He tried to locate the voice and looked to the corner nearest the window. A man leaned out from the dark in a wooden chair with a ladder of pipe-smoke climbing about him into the yellowing roofspace. He was wearing a greatcoat over some long-johns and spoke with an accent that Dylan couldn’t account for. Perhaps he was foreign.
‘Where am I?’
‘On the floor of a public house asking a strange man with a pipe where you are.’
‘Not to worry. I’ll tell you in a moment when you’re feeling a bit better.’
The man’s words seemed to come from the inside shell of a shared lung and Dylan could see that, underneath a peaked cap with silver badges that shone bright like teeth against the window and the moon, he had only one eye. The socket rang out against the featureless wax-bent drip of his skin and he could feel it watching him the same as if it were the eye of any number of gamblers he knew. Or the men he’d see with unnatural movement in the ring, who lurched hawk-eyed into the path of an oncoming throw without ever being hit and the hands of their opponents all the time by their sides as they slumped onto the mattress and the bell rang Time.
‘I had a fall?’
‘Where was that?’
‘On the street’ replied the man, getting up and pointing. ‘Down there.’
‘Did you see it happen?’
Dylan paused. ‘I wasn’t in here was I?’
The man shook his head, ‘No.’
He came over to Dylan and sat down heavily on the floor beside him. He carried a round cushion taken from somewhere in the dark and his bare feet were stretched out, twitching like dog-eared hares snuffing at a vegetable patch in spring. His back was against the wall where the fireplace lay and he motioned to a black plastic and glass pot that stood out on the hearth with two empty cups on either side of it.
‘You should have some.’ He said, ‘Black preferably. I can’t think of anything more suited to a fall and rescue mission.’ He smiled and shook his head as he poured out twice, ‘And quite a fall it was.’
‘I’d say you met more than your match today with a move like that.’
The man looked at him from behind one clear, blue eye and lifted a hot cup off the floor. ‘Not like that.’
‘I suppose not.’
‘Tell me though… would you never think about stopping?’
‘I have’ said Dylan. ‘Sometimes I have, but I don’t have much in the way of income, and there’s not a whole lot for me to go back to, you understand.’
‘Why do you ask?’
‘No reason. I just thought you could use a bit of sage advice from a man who’s seen this sort of thing before.’
He pointed up to his empty socket and winked with his one good eye.
He laughed ‘No, not me. Someone else. I’d just seen it so many times that I got tired of it and plucked my one good eye out with a teaspoon.’
‘Only codding’ he said, ‘Some people took it a number of years back in a bit of a tiff… I was trying to help them out of a jam…’
‘I’m sorry to hear that.’
He waved his hand. ‘Not to worry…’ he smiled, ‘it happens.’
Somewhere out the window Dylan could hear the grumble of a motorcycle, low and still and spreading across the warmth of the room like a sleepless man. He imagined it calling out over the dark dormant lawn of a suburban back-spread and the dogs speaking in monosyllables through the nooks of trees and up the sides of houses. There was a white rectangle rising sharp against a nameless black void, and an open garage revealing itself; a garage that would receive the shuddering bike and close back up into nothing once again. All was silent.
‘Listen’ the man said, ‘do you have somewhere you can go?’
‘And a wife and kids in the same bargain I presume? A bit like myself…’
‘Well then…’ he said, standing up, ‘put on your coat there. Get your boots and hat, shake my hand and make your way home this very minute. I’m sure your family think you’re dead along with the rest of the world.’
Dylan shifted his shoulder-blades and stretched his back as he moved up onto his hands and said quietly, ‘I’m not sure they’ll have me.’
‘They’ll have you.’ The man said.
‘How do you know?’
He smiled, ‘I know a lot of things.’
Back out in the street it had gotten cold. Dylan turned the collar of his coat up and buried his chin beneath it, slouching down against the frost as he went and the harsh wind up the Liffey from Dublin bay promising new snow if he didn’t get a move on and do what the stranger had asked.
He was walking now, believing that people would never fully appreciate the uncanny complexity of night until they had embarked upon a lone walk like this one: A walk across the deserted heart of a city street at three o’clock in the morning, for it taught a man everything he needed to know about human frailty. That everything was quite frantic, alive and urgent before a certain hour in the day seemed only to enhance the absolute absurdity of boundaries and social conduct and nothing deflated hubris for Dylan quite like the frozen dark of a city street laid out like the interior of a cobbled valley; vast and silent.
The street where he stood was completely empty; all except for a single white square a thousand feet from the city floor. Perhaps, he thought, there was a cleaner working late in the upper portion of an office building; someone dealing with the fallen staples and accumulation of the day’s debris. The relics of men and women who were likely now at home in their beds. Men and women, indeed, who could be lying dead in the city morgue.
The change from daylight to dark and the passage of time in general brought much that was unexpected and Dylan considered that really the only tangible reality at all was that beacon of light he watched shining several stories into the night sky. A light that, before tonight, he had known absolutely nothing about.
James Conor Patterson is a 24 year old Irish poet and short-story writer who, over the past few years has seen his work published in a number of publications including: Cyphers; Wordlegs; The Poetry Bus; Southword; Bare Hands; The Open Ear; Outburst; The QUB Writers’ Journal (Queen’s University Belfast); The Bell (University College Dublin); and Full-Stop (UL, University of Limerick). He will also be featured in the Autumn issue of The James Dickey Review, based in Virginia (U.S.A.)
In 2012 he was featured in the Wordlegs ‘30 Irish Writers Under 30’ e-book publication and also in its print anthology which was published in November by Doire Press. He currently lives in his home-town of Newry, Co. Down. Check out his blog and follow him on twitter.