David Martín is a Spanish photographer and dreamer living in Dublin, capable of eating a whole chicken in less than 8 minutes. Sadly, non of those hobbies or skills are paying the bills that why he is working in Sales for Getty Images. You can see more of his work on his Flickr.
– By Helen Victoria Murray
He had worn black that day. Normally a pale blue man, the black shirt burned a hole in his wardrobe. Like a cigarette burn marking out a misdemeanour, it was making him uncomfortable – as if he owed it something. It wasn’t really geared towards self-flattery. It did not match his eyes, it did not match his hair; it matched his mood.
And she’d worn green. A pale green jersey, which cynics would have said turned her sallow. And she was fair, yes. She was perfectly fair. But surely never sallow. The face, well it was symmetrical, you could say that for it, at least. But its expressions? Nondescript, half faded, as if toned to blend into the pattern on the wallpaper. Her intellect was watery. Addicted to thoughts about thinking, she was a dilute woman. He watched her from across the room, observed her trying to press her musings on the world, and was reminded of temporary tattoos. Childlike. The same transparent falsity.
But the hipbone…
The corner of his eye caught the hem of the jersey as it raised, a very slight amount. Her skin was exposed to the light. He saw the jutting angle of the bone, the smoothness of the skin. He saw her fingers extend, and graze it with badly broken fingernails. It was all it took.
In the unflattering overhead lighting, two screens flickered before him. On one, he watched his own extending hands. Something was wrong, something in the colours. The whites were too glaring, the darks too deep, the contrast too sharp on the eyes. He saw himself seize the hipbone, whirling it around and towards him, using it to mash it in amongst himself. The screen portrayed the frantic gnashing of him – animalistic and abhorrent, he watched the hipbone smash as she blacked his eyes and spat in his face. It made his skin creep inwards on itself in horror. And yes, the animal – himself – was withering now. He saw the hands, their sinewy knots grow soft and veined with blue, the nails blackening. Gradually, the grit set in and he watched himself become dust, all blown to pieces by her justified fury.
But the hipbone…
The action on the second screen moved slower, showing a steady, practised dance in which the hipbone featured. It was choreographed to perfection, every movement refined. Effective. The colours were warm and organic, something hazy blurred the motion. There was something captivating, almost mesmeric about the dance of biology: the hipbone melted, grew tactile, became like mercury in his hands.
Oh, that hipbone…
Everyone knows you can’t watch two screens at once. You get a migraine.
He stared at the floating screens until his eyes hurt, and when they flickered out, he was returned, slack-mouthed to the moment. That instant of dark clarity, whatever it had meant – was gone.
The remaining day was fuddled. Small sounds or light touches made him start. Night brought a welcome chance to clear his head. He lay, with the black shirt haphazard on the floor, and tried to recreate the vision of the hipbone, comprehend its meaning. All night he wrestled with the two scenes, trying to commit his mind to one or other. All night they played in tandem, flickering with the blink of his eyes.
Come morning, he was wearing blue again.
Helen Victoria Murray is a writer and poet from Glasgow, attempting to balance her literature degree with her literary aspirations. Find her on twitter @HelenVMurray.
– By Mary Róisín McGill
Des lay in the dark, wondering if he should chance it. Beside the bed, a sliver of light from his laptop slowly blinked like a lighthouse beam in the night. Across his chest lay Daisy, breathing softly, her slight arms wrapped around him as if he might be torn from her.
Des envied Daisy’s ability to completely surrender to rest in a matter of moments. He only ever managed a few agitated hours, during which the day replayed on an endless Technicolor loop, punctuated by faces hacked from magazine pages and online profiles, charging at him like a strange body-less army of vacant eyes and flat, grainy smiles.
His phone was on the kitchen table. If he were to get up, Daisy might wake – what would he say then?
He watched the fragile white light wink in the darkness, before finally reaching out to the screen, pushing it open just enough to see he had one new message from Pandora453.
With tiny movements he tucked the duvet around Daisy’s bare shoulders, manoeuvring her onto her back. Then he crept from their warm bed into the bathroom, its tiles icy beneath his bare feet, the laptop balanced on his palms like an offering.
Des met Daisy on the last bus very early one Sunday morning. She was only other person left apart from him. In a fit of boozy bravado he sat beside her, without ever thinking he might be imposing, that his sudden appearance might frighten her.
‘I’m Des,’ he said, taking her limp, unoffered hand in his.
Daisy pulled back, her red mouth curling downward.
‘Can’t you just leave me alone?’ she said, folding her arms over the bulk of her jacket, her thigh pressed against her ratty backpack.
After a moment he said, ‘look, I’m sorry if I’m bothering you. If you want to be left alone, I’ll leave you alone. If that’s what you want, that’s no problem… Is that what you want?’
Des meant to sound funny. Daisy studied him with wide-set, somnolent eyes before shrugging as if to say, ‘suit yourself’. In Des’s mind this was not the same thing as a ‘no’ and so he stayed.
Daisy had long butter-yellow hair, brittle to the touch with a blunt fringe she cut herself in front of the bathroom mirror, biting deeper into her lip with every snip. She smeared red gloss over her mouth and carried herself in a slightly round-shouldered stoop, as if the world was a weight she alone must bear.
When they started dating, Daisy liked to chat about her PhD research. Des, keen to impress her, filled her wine glass without taking his eyes off her face as if to say, ‘I’m present. I’m paying attention.’
‘You’re a really good listener,’ she said, picking up a pizza slice, tipping it toward her face. ‘Not everyone cares for the finer points of communication theory.’
‘What you do is really interesting to me,’ Des said, passing her a napkin, enjoying how serious his voice sounded. ‘The Internet is the biggest thing in the world right now.’
Daisy took a bite, thinking for a moment. ‘I’m not so sure it’s a good thing, the whole digital revolution. I mean, don’t get me wrong. It’s given me the opportunity to write my thesis but I wonder sometimes, about what it all means for us.’
Des locked eyes with Daisy, letting the moment stretch between them before leaning across the coffee table he’d rescued from the side of the street, kissing her for the first time with greasy lips that aimed for her mouth but got her nose.
Three weeks later she moved into to his place, a dive apartment above an Indian in Rialto where even the wallpaper stank of spice.
In the dark of the night Des thought, ‘I’m not a bad man, just a clichéd one.’
The man who he was with those women he met online, women whose real names he had no interest in ever knowing until Pandora453, was not the man who went home to Daisy, who brushed the hair off her forehead so he could kiss it, prepared dinner with her, side-by-side in their tiny kitchen or held her as she slept.
The other Des was all in his head, even as he plunged himself into another strange woman who was no longer just an avatar and yet, still was in a way. Though he felt himself grow harder inside her, it was never fully real to him and so, it was never enough.
But something about Pandora453 was different. They had a true connection, chatting for hours when Des was at work stacking whatever piece-of-shit bestseller made him rue not writing his own piece-of-shit bestseller this week.
He ducked in and out of the stockroom to message her with giddy fingers, the idea of her sending bolts of pleasure to his groin. Sometimes, Des felt a sting of actual pain when anything threatened to come between them.
The more time he spent with Pandora453, the more Daisy’s presence began to irritate him. He could hear her in the bedroom, typing furiously, not bothering to get dressed or even shower, leaving a trial of mouldy coffee cups in her wake.
‘You’re like a woman possessed,’ he said, when she gave him a sour look for daring to enter the feral den she’d turned the bedroom into.
‘It’s my PhD,’ she replied in a gobsmacked voice, as if no justification was necessary, as if by needing it explained to him Des was spectacularly, mind-bendingly thick.
When she said she’d be going out that evening to have dinner with her supervisor, he could’ve punched the ceiling with delight but instead, he reached for his phone.
‘What’s your plan?’ Daisy called, as she painted her lips in front of the bathroom mirror. ‘You can join us you know. You’d be very welcome.’
On the couch Des stretched, saying in a lethargic voice, ‘Arah no thanks babe. I’ve the match and a few cans to keep me company.’
Daisy made a face muttering, ‘well how can I compete with that.’
When she finally left, he bolted into the shower then doused himself in aftershave, pulling on the new shirt he’d hidden at the back of the wardrobe. He was standing in the hall texting Pandora453 when he heard lock tweak.
With reflexes he never knew he had, Des scrambled into the bathroom. He could hear her in the kitchen calling his name, explaining that her supervisor was sick.
‘I’m just having a shower!’ he cried, pulling the shirt off.
‘But sure the match is still on,’ Daisy said. He heard the pop and hiss of her opening one of his cans.
‘It wasn’t much a game,’ Des shouted, turning on the shower full blast, his heart beating like a jackhammer.
The opportunity, when it finally came, was not something Des forced. Rather the opposite: it was presented to him not quite on his dinner plate but alongside it.
‘I have to stay over on campus this weekend,’ Daisy said, glancing at him over her shoulder while draining a white hill of pasta, her cheeks ruddy from the steam, her buttery hair twisted into a loose bun. Des knew better than to be indifferent, so he slouched like a petulant little boy.
Daisy put the plate down in front of him and took a seat saying, ‘I know things haven’t been great between us but I promise I’ll make it up to you. I just need to get this part of my final report nailed. It’s the most important part. And I’m sorry for always going on about work but I’m nearly there now. I’ll shut up soon, I promise.’
She gave him a hug, squeezing him tight within her thin arms. He felt like an idiot then, like a royal jerk.
‘Can’t keep doing this Des,’ he thought, watching Daisy push her food around her plate, her brow creased with worries he couldn’t bring himself to ask about.
While Daisy filled the dishwasher, he tucked his phone into the pocket of his jeans and went into the bathroom.
Des sat in the booth, his eyes picking over the crowded diner aching for his first glimpse of her. Every time the door opened, the bells reminded him of Christmas.
Daisy would be getting the letter around now, pulling it out from where he’d left it, tucked into the edge of the pillow as she slept. He could imagine her pale face scrunching up, the kohl she never washed off her eyes seeping down her cheeks, her hands trembling as his words hit her heart. In frenzy, she’d probably stuff her things into some bin bags and lug them over to campus, never to return.
The bell jangled. When he spotted Pandora453, adrenalin flooded his veins like water from burst pipes. She was tall, slender, slightly stooped like Daisy but her shoulders and back descended into a graceful ‘v’ at her waist, accentuated by an old style mac neatly belted and speckled with rain.
As she slowly walked towards him, wearing the red bobbed wig and big black sunglasses they’d joked about, Des had the sense that they knew each other somehow, that this, despite the wrongness of it, was somehow made right by the sheer will of destiny.
She eased herself into the booth with a sigh, pulling the shades from her face and setting them down on the table along with her phone. Staring at her, Des felt winded. He had seen pictures in the trashy magazines Daisy liked to read in the bath but never in real life. Never like this.
The old woman’s face – for she was, despite everything, much older than Des had anticipated – was taunt, so plastic-like it glowed like an orb beneath the diner’s fluorescent light. Her eyebrows sat high and arched on her forehead as if she were perpetually surprised. Her eyes, red-tinged and wide, blankly regarded him. Her lips, two bulbous pillows, were too swollen to close fully so her breath made a faint, dry whistling sound as it passed through them.
When she pulled her face into a macabre grin, saying with sickening playfulness, ‘not what you expected, am I sweetheart?’ Des thought of Daisy. For the first time, in a very long time, he felt like he could cry.
Mary Róisín McGill is a web editor, talking head and writer who splits her time between Galway and Dublin. She regularly reviews books for RTÉ’s Arena and is the co-founder and co-editor of Irish feminist website Fanny.ie. Follow Mary on Twitter @missmarymcgill
Nick wore a waistcoat, as many intellectuals do when they live in the country. His floppy grey hair and silver-rimmed glasses weren’t my style, but at the food table I overheard him say he’d worked with Lindsay Kemp. I knew about Lindsay Kemp from David Bowie Black Book, the first biography I read as a teenager. Bowie made his theatrical debut in 1967 in Kemp’s mime Pierrot in Turquoise or The Looking Glass Murders.
This was 1995. Everyone at the party was still in the kitchen or upstairs doing coke. I was off the drink and feeling shy. I went to the sitting room and took a book off the shelf. Nick followed me. He introduced himself and asked what I was reading. I showed him the volume of poems by John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester. He knew Rochester by heart. He recited the twenty-three verses of Signior Dildo. Then he told me he had a house in the south of France; I could go and write there, any time I wanted.
At Violette’s one night, we met a guy who toured with Lindsay Kemp at the same time. He said Nick was Kemp’s favourite. Later, Nick says it’s because he was the one who always got Kemp his drink; he was his cupbearer, his Ganymede. There are photographs of Nick from that tour, taken on a cruise ship in Italy. He is wearing a brown suede bomber jacket and aviator shades. He has floppy blonde hair. He looks like David Bowie.
He writes about the dark-haired girl in the tartan jacket: lyrics for a song, or a poem, he’s not sure yet. Two days after the party, I am housesitting for Simone and James. They’ve gone to South Africa for Christmas. Through the letterbox comes a book called An Intimate History of Humanity: inside is a card saying, ‘Call me!’
I am chopping mushrooms when I fall in love with him. He is sitting at the kitchen table, drinking red wine and rolling a spliff by candlelight. His voice is soft, beguiling, almost a whisper. He is telling me a story about the kindness of strangers. The story is this: he was driving from France to England for his mother’s funeral when someone (a woman, perhaps?) was kind to him. There may have been a snowstorm. There may have been a missed boat, or train, or a breakdown on the motorway. I have no idea. Every time I hear him whisper this story into a woman’s ear, I forget another detail.
My only defence is idealism and naivity; I would like to add youth, but I was twenty-nine years old.
Raoul Vaneigem proposed a revolution of everyday life; Leonora Carrington apparently made a festival of it; Nick did both: he acted spontaneously, he was politically motivated, and he could make crisps and olives and a bunch of irises into a sumptious tableau vivant. He was beautiful naked. He had Iggy Pop’s body before the big workout, perfect sallow skin.
The first time I sleep with him, I’m spooked. I see the same-shaped face of a man who put me in hospital. The same hollow cheeks, the same vertical lines. These visual clues I will later pay attention to, but already I am in denial. I have met the man I am going to spend the rest of my life with. I want to marry him. I tell him so, our first weekend together. Hell, he wants to marry me, too.
My female friends are charmed. My male friends think I’m mad. This new man has two young children living with their mother in France. He has an ex-wife and a sixteen-year-old daughter in Devon. He is old, penniless, and he appears to be an alcoholic.
The first time he invited me to lunch, I cooked. He had six of us round to Miller and Virginia’s house, where he was renting a room. Miller was another art school friend. He bought a mansion with orchards when he was on a roll in the eighties, directing videos for Depeche Mode. He was now living like an minor aristocrat fallen on hard times, showing guests around rooms without furniture and pointing out the splendour of his mouldings. We were all seated at table. Nick went out to get a couple of ingredients he’d forgotten, and came back two hours later, drunk. At the end of the meal, I wrote Miller a cheque for Nick’s outstanding electricity bill.
We’re in his bedroom. He’s standing by the fireplace. He’s wearing a white cotton jumper, denims rolled-up at the bottom, and converse sneakers. He looks like a lesbian beatnik; like women I’ve bedded in the past. He’s smiling. He hands me a perfectly rolled spliff.
At his drawing table, he shows me plans for the play he is working on with Sarah Kane at The Gate. Kane’s new play is called Phaedra’s Love: a reworking of Seneca’s Phaedra, it becomes notorious for its violence; she calls it ‘my comedy’. She will commit suicide three years later, at the age of twenty-eight.
Nick has poetry collections stacked either side of his futon. I open one at a poem called Sheela-na-gig. This is fate. I am planning a novel based on these female exhibitionist stone carvings. What it’s about, he asks. I say, it’s a surreal erotic comedy about a bisexual performance artist who develops gigantic labia and becomes a reluctant serial killer when she starts to swallow people’s heads up into her vagina. I try to sound excited, but I’ve already said this two hundred times at parties. Nick says, is there a male version of Sheela-na-gig? I say yes, it’s called a Seán-na-gig.
James warns me off Nick. They’ve been friends since they were seventeen; they’re now forty-five. He’s friendly with Nick’s ex-partner, Jane, a former BBC costume designer. They all lived together in Soho when they left the Royal College. He tells me not to fall for Nick’s sob story about Jane having an affair with a local punk musician heroin addict half her age. They both had affairs, always.
Nick is spending most nights at my flat in Hampstead. While he is at work, I throw out all his waistcoats and shirts. He is stupified when he discovers this. He can’t believe my gall. He tells me the navy crombie I despise is worn by all lighting designers; or maybe all electricians, I can’t remember.
He is perfect naked, but I can’t cope with the seventies folk-singer. I want a French philosopher. I buy him black polo-neck jumpers, cashmere scarves and an Armani tweed jacket from the charity shop. The glasses go. He gets contacts so you can see his soft brown eyes. He slicks back his hair; it’s no longer grey, it’s silver. The teeth are bad, the look of the wrecked dope-smoker doesn’t ever entirely vanish, but it adds a touch of rock ‘n’ roll to him. He now looks like Jeremy Irons.
One evening, he runs a bath for me. I’m under the bubbles smoking a spliff when he walks in and hands me the latest edition of Vogue. What’s this, I say. I never buy women’s magazines. He says, you appear to be interested in fashion.
Before I met Nick, I wrote a film script most of my MA class thought was pornographic. One girl couldn’t read it. The film featured auto-asphyxiation, sado-masochism, and a man who bites lumps out of his own arm when he suffers attacks of sexual jealousy. It was based on my relationship with an experimental jazz musician. I found it embarrassing afterwards, how much I’d exposed myself.
I come back from Nick’s house in France without a written novel. I have sat by the fire for the winter reading every single issue of Art Forum magazine published in the seventies, and the biographies of Louis-Ferdinand Céline and Jean Genet. I have written dozens of starts to Sheela-na-gig, none of which go beyond a thousand words. My friend Saul, fresh out of the University of East Anglia’s Creative Writing MA, tells me I should publish a book of beginnings.
Nick is pissed off with me. That generation of Englishmen seems to have had a thing for Edna O’Brien. He says, I thought I’d met an Irish writer. He is a better writer than I am, which makes it even worse. He has a fine line in poetry and his letters to me are art. To inspire me, he reads aloud the work of Kenneth Patchen and B S Johnson and then he shows me the sentences on the page. There is one I remember about a leaf falling to the ground; the eye of a rabbit has seen it, build me such a machine.
I’ve just spent the day with Ralph Fiennes at a read-through for a film. He arrived at the door in the same outfit he wore in The English Patient; he says they let him keep the clothes. Nick rants about Ralph Fiennes. He tells me what I am doing is fluff. He is designing a virtual theatre for a London University. They are applying for Lottery funding. His theatre is politically committed; he wants to name it after John Berger. We drink wine and argue into the dark. Next morning the portrait I took of him is on the floor. The glass is smashed. I do not know if I smashed the photograph or if he did, to indicate that portaiture is worthless. Nick has devoted his life to radical theatre and avant-garde art. The only time he is interested in my work is when we do a Friedrich Dürrenmatt play called Frank V with members of Theatre de Complicite.
I am on a beach: the mean, stony beach in Hastings. It’s not cold, but I am displaying the first signs of hypothermia: I am shaking uncontrollably and I am disoriented. Olaf has gone to buy chips. He has driven me here so that I can keen by the sea like a good islander. Behind me are beached half-deck trawlers with ragged black bunting; they look like a fleet of anarchist boats. There are gulls flying over the shore. They’re squawking loudly. One breaks away from the flock and flies off on it’s own. The flock of gulls squawking loudly is Nick’s wedding party right now, chattering and drinking champagne. I’m the gull who’s flown off, solo. In the wake of my flight, he has speedily married a former children’s television presenter. All I know is she wears Doc Martens, has a very pretty face, owns her own home, has a gay father, and does PR for a museum. He says, she’s very spiritual: you would like her.
Seagulls always show up. They showed up in the sky above Kentish Town High Road at six in the morning when I walked it, unable to sleep. I pleaded on the phone with Nick to come home. I said I’m not ready; I can’t handle it; it’s too early in our relationship. I was hysterical. I telephoned so many times he turned off the phone. The man he spent the night with answered it the following day and handed it to him in bed. He was exultant when he came home. He told me it was my fault for encouraging him to explore his bisexuality. I said I meant as a couple, together. Not for you to go off on your own.
Sheila Mannix is from Youghal, Co Cork. Her work has been broadcast on RTE Radio 1 and has appeared in Cyphers, Southword, Poetry Now, Karnival, Microbe, Wurm im Apfel’s can can poezine, The Poetry Bus and the book Cork Caucus: on art, possibility and democracy. She last exhibited at the Black Mariah gallery in a group show curated by the SoundEye Festival. Her photography has been published in the French magazine L’Artiste and is on display at the Bodega and the Crane Lane in Cork. She was recently selected by Poetry Ireland for their ‘Introductions’ Series 2013. Check out Sheila’s website.
Marina And The Marine
– By Michael Naghten Shanks
And so just as I finish saying what it is that I want to say there are three beats of silence – beat, beat, beat – and she starts to open her mouth, but then I notice a bird sticking its head out from between her pink lips, its beady eyes blinking in the harsh light, and it jumps onto her protruding bottom lip, using it like a perch, and flaps a bit before flying onto the top of my head, and I look at her and she looks at me as if to say “Understand?” and a wind carries her away like sand over a dune, and then I feel the weight of the bird lift off of my head and I see it fly towards a tree where it perches itself on the lowest branch, within arms reach, and so I run to the tree, jumping and grasping, but I can’t get to it, and then I see all these other people jumping and grasping for things – balls, knapsacks, food, clothes, rifles, books – but then the bird flies past my face and up towards an open window of a building I had not seen was behind me, so I run in and up the staircase, two steps at a time, sometimes three, sometimes missing a step and falling, and I see the bird on the window ledge and just as I dive to grab it with both hands it swoops down and takes a shit on JFK and everyone in the cavalcade starts to scream and run around, and no-one notices the bird skipping along the grassy knoll because all of their eyes are zooming in on me, so I run back down the staircase and out into the street, but it’s empty – not a car, not a building, not a tree, not a blade of grass, not a person to be seen – it is just me, the bird, and a white nothingness that stretches on into the ether for eternity.
James O’Sullivan is a PhD candidate at University College Cork, where he studies cultural theory and transmission under Graham Allen and Órla Murphy. In addition to a variety of pieces as a journalist, he has had works of short fiction, poetry, photography and cultural criticism published. James is the founder of New Binary Press.
Josie was happy to look after Christopher’s child. But not on her own.
He’d said, “Back soon, Josie girl. Two hours, tops.” But that was years ago, and she hasn’t heard from him since.
She’d had no children of her own and this one was only a freckle past a newborn when he presented him to her, wrapped in a dirty blue bunny rug. Josie knew nothing about babies, her life had been hollow of them and so many other things until she met Christopher.
The baby was called Cabbage. She laughed at the time Christopher told her, but didn’t ask if this was his real name, and the baby had no words to tell her otherwise.
Cabbage has grown like his namesake but that is where any connection ends, everything else is as normal, as much as she would know. Except he stopped talking at the same time that Christopher left, and she is too far from help to ask for it.
He’s not well, Josie thinks. She wishes Christopher was here, for what does she know about childhood illnesses?
Cabby, as she calls him, is not outside chasing the chickens or playing with his dog, Sherpie, the little white terrier he loves so much. She sees him sitting on the armchair, the one with the flock coat that’s balding in places like an old man’s head.
Josie warms some milk on the stove, taking care that it doesn’t heat so much as to spill over the pan. She pours it into Cabby’s favourite mug, cradles it in her hands, feels the warmth ease the stiffness in her fingers. “Here you are lovely boy, milk to make you feel better.”
But Cabby is no longer in the chair. Placing the mug on the table, she shouts from the back door: “Cab, Cabby.’ She smiles, it seems like she’s calling an errant taxi. She brings her hands to her face then snatches them forward to focus. They look like her grandmother’s. She touches one hand with the other, traces the wrinkles, frowns. She was only twenty-five when Christopher brought Cabby to her.
Josie walks out into the farmyard. Everything looks the same but the trees have grown tall and the ducks and chickens have gone. Stolen, she thinks. Or taken by dingos. She squints towards the horizon, sees that the night is coming, wonders if she should set some traps. Her gaze draws around the fence-line, stopping at the old magnolia tree which, in contrast to everything else, is blooming. Soft apricot flowers like coupling butterflies are tip-massing on branches otherwise as barren as the earth. A breeze tickles her hair, sending it to cover her eyes, but she pushes back its greyness with fingers thinner than her memory.
Who was she calling? She feels the residue of something not right, something to which she cannot put a thought. Her stomach feels tight and her hands are shaking. Josie calls again, but this time not a name.
“Come on, come on now.”
A black cat with a white smudge on its nose stretches out from under a rusting car-body wreck, its claws driving the sand before them. It yawns, and walks a crooked path to her. She knows this cat, but she cannot remember what to call it. It follows her into the house and begins to scratch the old armchair in a rhythmic pawing. Josie takes the cup of milk and pours it into a bowl near the front door. She sits down, wraps herself in her arms and watches the cat drinking. Tiny flicks of milk spatter the floor like dandruff.
The pictures are clearer if she shuts her eyes, but then there is always the threat of sleep from which she fears she will never wake.
She rises and takes the cup to the sink, sees a note stuck on the fridge with a purple magnet. The cat’s name is Bobby, the note says, in a scrawl that is only decipherable by its size.
“Bob-by.’ She tries the name; her voice sounds empty, the syllables robotic, like a child learning to read. The cat looks up from the plate, there is milk on its whiskers and its eyes are staring. Josie turns away, reaches into the sink and sluices water through the mug, watching it swirl down the plug hole. She sees the greasy kitchen curtain, the edge of its faltering hem stuttering in the draught. The window behind is dirty and someone has written something in the grime. She lifts the curtain and reads: Turn off the stove. She stretches a bony finger and writes her name next to it: Josie. She leans back and stares. The writing is the same.
Then she writes: Christopher.
She closes her eyes and sees an image clearer than life.
“Josie girl, you have a photogenic memory,” he once told her. She recalls laughing. “Don’t you mean a photographic memory?” “No,” he said. “Photogenic, you remember the past more beautiful than it really is. Even the dark you turn grey.”
When she met Christopher she was attracted to him in a way she found hard to set to words. He was freedom and promise wrapped in a package. But she’d stopped trying to peel back the layers when she found nothing holding the structure.
Josie wipes tears from her eyes with the back of her arm and notices she is wearing her nightdress and dressing-gown. She wonders if it is morning and she has just got up. She rummages in the drawer until she finds what she is looking for. She pulls at the material on her sleeve. She wants to write: Go and get dressed but the fabric slips and the pen only writes the first word: Go.
Christopher was the man at the corner store. She saw him every time she went there with eggs to sell or cheques to cash. She has no eggs now and a woman brings meals to her house and puts them in her freezer. She reminds Josie of her chickens. She makes funny noises in the back of her throat. The last time she came, she kept shaking her head as well.
Then people came in two cars. Josie saw them coming. She hid in the bush- scrub surrounding her farm and waited, crouched like a dingo, swirling her fingers in the red dust, making circles that spiralled to nothing.
It was dark by the time she got home, and they had gone
Where was Sherpie? Cabby loved that little dog, he was always taking it for walks, she remembers. Maybe he’s gone for a walk with it now.
But no, Sherpie is dead. She closes her eyes and sees a picture of the terrier, its white turned red with blood.
Then she sees Cabby standing over the body. She quickly opens her eyes and sees him again in the chair. He is not well. That is why she made him the milk. Milk to make you feel better, my lovely boy.
It’s been so good since Cabby came, Josie thinks. The wonder of childhood is hers now.
He reminds her of Christopher. He looks like him, with his blue-green eyes and pale skin. His hair is as fair as Christopher’s was, with the same under-streaks like tiger’s stripes.
But now Cabby is gone again.
“Come out, my lovely boy. It’s too late to play.” She hears an old voice, wonders how it’s hers.
He was always a good boy, always happy, never making a fuss. But he’s been too quiet since his father left.
Christopher told her he’d adopted Cabby. It was a year after their wedding, not long after she’d been told she couldn’t bear children. She loved children, she said, when the doctor told her she couldn’t bear them. Doctor Willits had opened his eyes wide and gone silent, but Christopher had smiled at her. He knew her ways. He was the only one who ever had. And when he brought Cabby home she hadn’t questioned why she didn’t have to sign any papers. Why it had been so easy.
And when Cabby had grown more like Christopher every day, she’d laughed and said that’s what she’d heard, that adopted children often grew to look like the people who adopted them.
She recalls one day, when Cabby was just beginning to walk, an elegant lady came knocking on the door. Her breath smelled of alcohol and her fingers shook. She also had no manners, for she barged past Josie and demanded to see Christopher.
“Christopher’s at work,” Josie said.
“Not that one,” the elegant lady said. “The baby, Christopher.”
“My baby’s name’s Cabbage, but I call him Cabby.” Josie recalls saying.
The lady had collapsed onto the old chair; her shoulders were shaking and her face was red. Her hand was clutching her mouth and when she brought it away there was lipstick smudging her knuckles like blood.
“Christopher did say you were a bit simple. He told you the nickname I’d given the baby because he was growing like one. A cabbage that is. He couldn’t tell you the baby’s real name, I suppose.”
Josie was still trying to fathom why the lady thought she was simple. Simple meant easy. Her mother had told her ‘easy’ women were ladies of the night, but she hated the dark.
The lady continued. “I need to see my baby. I made a mistake saying I didn’t want him. Where did Christopher tell you the boy came from? The cabbage patch?” Once more the lady fell back into the chair. But this time her laughter took her to coughing until Josie went to her and banged her on her back. Then the lady looked at her strangely. “Perhaps..,” she said, “Perhaps…” Then she nodded to herself as if she was affirming an unspoken question.
Josie can’t remember how it ended that day. Maybe she’d got her gun, the one she uses for the dingos, and threatened the lady with it if she didn’t leave. Perhaps they had hugged and she’d let the lady see the baby.
Cabby had slept through it all. That much Josie does remember.
Josie lowers herself into the old chair. She strokes the soft fabric of the armrest, watches as the pile flattens this way and that. Her eyes close and the pictures come once again but she hears the words first.
Cabby’s words. Is he speaking to her again? But these words she’s heard before. They are not from today. How could she have forgotten them? They were the start of crying words, for Cabby and for Christopher.
“Mammy, Sherpie has blood on him, and he’s not moving.”
Josie had gone outside and found the little dog lying still, by the old magnolia tree. There was blood on him. Cabby was standing near him holding an axe.
“What have you done?” That was her voice.
“There was a dingo, mammy. I tried to get him. He ran over there.” She saw Cabby pointing, followed the line of his finger. Saw a tawny shape in the distance. There were two others matching it, and feathers scattered like snow, leading a trail back to the hen-runs. Then she saw the axe was clean.
Josie opens her eyes, pulls her dressing-gown around her and rises stiffly from the chair. There is something she wants to see. Outside, the moon is bright and the stars light a path that is strewn with potholes but Josie finds her way to the old magnolia tree. There, beneath its branches, blending with the fence, is a little cross. She remembers Christopher made that cross from a loose paling, and marked Sherpie on it with a burning twig. Now it’s as faded as her eyesight.
Cabby is crying. His sobs punctuate her mind in stabs. Then she hears Christopher’s voice. Josie closes her eyes to see his face. “Poor little bugger,” he says. “He really loved that dog.”
She tries to stop her answer but it comes like a flood. “Chris, why don’t you take him for a drive in the car? I’ll give him a drink of warm milk before you go. It’ll make him feel better.”
Now she hears the car doors slam. “Back soon, Josie girl, two hours, tops.”
She drops to the ground and once more the pictures come, but these have no words. Josie sees the police car with its flashing blue light, sees the policemen walking towards her. Sees herself, a young self, climbing into the car.
Then in a room full of whiteness, a man and a child lying together in death.
When Josie enters the house she walks on slow feet to the kitchen. There’s the note on the fridge. Her voice comes softly:“The cat’s name is Bobby,” she says. Then she glances at the kitchen window, the curtain is still drawn back: “Turn off the stove,” she says to her scribble, her words. Then she looks at her sleeve. Go, she reads. Go where, she wonders.
Josie finds her bedroom, sees the sheets pulled back, sees an impression of a body in the mattress. She climbs into it, being careful to match its form with hers. Then she pulls up the blanket and stares at the wall. She closes her eyes, lets the dreams come but shapes them to her memory with its photogenic lens. Even if she sleeps forever, she thinks, better asleep than this awake.And in the morning the sun will scrawl its shine, write its pictures of brighter days across her mind, lift the darkness to a paler shade of grey.
Myra King, an Australian writer, has written a number of prize winning short stories and poems. Her stories and poetry have been published in the UK, New Zealand, Australia and the US. Amongst other publications she has work in print and online, in Short Story America, The Boston Literary Magazine, Eclectic Flash, The Valley Review, Red River Review, Illya’s Honey Journal, San Pedro River Review, The Pages, and The Foundling Review.
She has a short story collection, City Paddock, published by Ginninderra Press. Her novel, Cyber Rules, was published by Certys UK in 2012. Royalties from her books have gone to help support The Creswick Light Horse Troop and Médecins Sans Frontières – Doctors Without Borders. Follow Myra on twitter.
– By Michael Phoenix
I walked into the library most days then. It was a horrid grey building of stones that had had the life sucked out. They were ugly and without sun from days drying in the desert. They didn’t reflect or withhold. They were undead, past decaying. It was worst in winter – Heavy and coated.
Inside was better. There were books. They smelt (the stones didn’t smell). And there were people. Beautiful girls. They wore denim jeans and red tops with their shoulders cutting out into that warm library air. Those bones. Like the sun through shards of glass. They walked up the stairs softly, and hung about in groups near the entrance, talking, and the words were in the distance of all their blue and green and black eyes.
I was studying Law. We were supposed to read all the books. No one did. I took one look at the names of their spines and turned away. I never looked back to that section. It was in a far corner of the place. A dead arm. The books were thick. The biggest and heaviest stones. Full of nothing. No thing. They could not rot.
I began to explore. There was a reference system. I went to the 800’s. I was listening to a lot of music at the time. I walked clicking my fingers when it was sunny. And sang when no one else was on the paths. The songs my father played on the piano – ragtime beat. I went to 811 just like that. Clicking my fingers. 11 was my lucky number. I wore it for the soccer team when we won the schools cup. Clicking my fingers. I scored twice. No one else in the row. I didn’t sing. It was too quiet in the library. I was shy. I didn’t have friends on the team.
811. 811. I looked at the names of the spines of the books there. They were different from the names of the law books. They were short and clear. And the names of the authors were bright. Some of them were written there in bold golden letters. The law books were all written by names like ‘Harris’ or ‘Barry’. Land owning english names. Though they said they were Irish. Names like ‘Roger Davis’ and ‘D.B Parsons’. None of them seemed to be women. Down near 811 it was different. That meant something. I took a book. 811 Poe. Poetry.
I kept going back to the 800’s. Every time they told us to take out some law book. It made sense to me. I walked in clicking my fingers. I looked at the girls. Sometimes I just said ‘hi’ to them as I went by even if I didn’t know them. Sometimes they said ‘hi’ back. Mostly they didn’t and I just went on clicking my fingers. When it was getting into spring I did that a lot.
The books I found led me to others. It turned out that Poe wasn’t the only poet in 811. He had friends. People he didn’t know. Other poets. They turned up all around him. It meant I got to hear about some even before I had heard of them. I never checked out beforehand which books were where. That wasn’t the point. They had to be discovered. But I remembered their names. They were hard to forget. Someone told me that they were false names. I didn’t think that could be true.
Sometimes I’d see the names of writers I had heard of. Sometimes they were great and other times they weren’t. It was amazing. I clicked my fingers as I went through the library. All those years. In the end I came to the last book. The last of the 811’s. 811 Pound. Ezra Pound. The greatest of all the names. Ezra Pound. I clicked my fingers.
By then I had started to whistle. I couldn’t sing so good but I had air in my lungs. People didn’t seem to mind the whistling. Other times when I had went down a path, here or there – singing, people heard and they didn’t seem to like it. No one said anything about the whistling. So I went on those walkways doing just that. Thinking ‘811 Pound’. Saying it over and over in my head.
By then they wouldn’t let me take books out. I had fines. I forgot to bring the books back. So I could only read them right there in the library. I carried Ezra Pound to a desk. I always chose the one’s that looked out the window. But sometimes they would all be taken. It was one of those days. The only seat was facing a pillar. I couldn’t see anything. Apart from Ezra Pound and to my left. A girl sat there. It turned out she sat there most days. She wrote on lined yellow paper and her handwriting was terrible. My teachers could never read my essays. My parents bought me a typewriter. The other’s all wrote neat and clear. I sat there with her and Ezra Pound and thought, ‘I bet they can’t read her essays neither’. She wore blue jeans. Her eyes were green. I would have sat beside here everyday from then on, but sometimes the seat was taken. Other times it was free but she wouldn’t be there. I wondered if something had happened. In the papers they wrote about people being hit by buses and people going missing. They wrote about young people leaving the country. I hoped that she was still there. I hoped that she hadn’t been hit by a bus or gone missing. Those days she wasn’t there. I couldn’t read at all. I just sat there hoping.
In the end Pound made me speak to her. Normally I didn’t speak much. Just said ‘hi’ here and there. But to her I said “Hello. My name is James” and then we went for a walk.
She didn’t know anything about the 811’s. I had to tell her all about them. She listened. Her eyes were green. She liked the sound of the things I told her. I talked a lot. It was sunny. I clicked my fingers. I couldn’t help it. She asked if I liked music. She played the piano. She wore blue jeans. Ezra Pound. I left him on the desk. The lake was full of resting gulls.
She told me it was her birthday one week from that day. I said it over and over in my head. I didn’t want to forget.
I had some money, not a lot. I decided to get her a present. I took the bus to town. It was yellow and I sat on the second floor. The bus driver had a strange mustache. The shoes of the man beside me were square. I didn’t take the bus much.
There was a bookshop on the quays. It was hidden behind the traffic. When you opened the door a bell rang. It was a high pitched kind of bell. I had been there before and looked at the books. They smelt different to the one’s in the library. There was a lady at the counter. She had round glasses and an old neck. I felt sorry for her. One day I would be old. I felt sorry for myself. She told me that she would be right back. Then she was. And Pound was with her. The book was clean. I thought that it didn’t look right. She told me that was the only copy. I bought it and walked home. I had no money left for the bus. But I didn’t mind. I clicked my fingers. I whistled. I felt strong.
There were always birds in late spring but people had exams. The library was full. I went there early that day. I wanted to be sure to get the seat beside her. When I got there I wrote inside the cover of the book. I said: no one can read my writing either. After that I didn’t know what to say. I hadn’t given many birthday presents. I bought my friend in primary school a football. We were 10. You didn’t have to write on a football. I didn’t know what to put. I wrote: love, James – happy birthday. Then I closed the book and pushed it to the far corner of the desk.
She didn’t come that day. Or the next. I kept her present in my bag. I didn’t know what to do with it. I walked around the library searching. I didn’t click my fingers the same way. Her name was Lucy. She wore blue jeans. She had green eyes. I couldn’t find her. Ezra Pound…
Michael Phoenix is a 22 year old writer from Belfast based in Dublin. He writes poetry, short stories, and has recently completed his first novel. He has been published in the 10th Anniversary Edition of the RedFez.
In Alice’s infinite wisdom, and after the success of our Beat Writers’ Issue, she allowed me to take the reins for a special issue of my own. So here it is, The Bohemyth’s special issue dedicated to and inspired by the work and life of Samuel Beckett.
I would like to thank each and every person who submitted their work. The standard and variation was incredibly high – a testament in itself to the influence of Beckett – and the decisions on what to select for publication was harder than I would have imagined. I believe the pieces we have chosen are a fitting tribute to the memory of Beckett and I hope you feel the same after you have read and reread each one.
In Jan Wilm’s flash fiction, Colm O’Shea’s short story, Eamon Mc Guinness’ personal essay, Kenneth Hickey’s short drama, Denis O’Callaghan’s painting, and Claire Tracey’s photography, I hope you will find something that stays with you and gets you talking.
I would like to thank everyone who helped to spread the word about this issue and I hope that you continue to do so.
Finally, I would like to thank The Bohemyth’s amazing editor Alice Walsh. Her passion and enthusiasm for encouraging new writers is only surpassed by her own distinctive writing. Her ability to do both continues to inspire me.
I hope you enjoy the issue. And remember: BECKETT IS THE WORD.
Photography – Claire Tracey lives and works in Dublin. She has previously lived in France, Italy and Singapore. She has also travelled throughout Asia, America, Canada and Europe. Claire is currently working on her first screenplay.
Snow. Why. Repeat. Why. One. Three. Two. Four. Five. Why. One draws the blinds and fills the room with moth light of morning. Heaviness in the bones. Five. Why. One lifts the hands to touch the lakecold plain of the snow window. The white sinking hourglass sand. One is suddenly old, too old for life over again, all of life an old memory, forever redrawn in a puppeteering mind, one is old overnight, one with oldness. Why.
One recalls the moments of old, like crystal stars in darkness, snow petals on the windowpane, blooming, dying. The hand, her starfish hand spread out against the windowpane, tiny little thing, and the white sinking hourglass sand. Mercury, like dust, like mould, forms cold, but soft, around the hand. The greying warmth enfolding her fingers, a giggle, her head turning from frozen memory, a lily blossoming from the darkness, the mercury print of fingers left against the windowpane. One breathes against the lakecold windowpane. Blooming, dying. Too much remains of too little.
Why. Snow. Five. One has been to the room, the last room, her smell on the air, tender as pastry scent on the wind on a day of hunger. The blanket, which safeguards her shape against time, some day it will have to be straightened. The mine field of playthings on the floor, thinly arrayed, the mind field ploughed out already by the impossible mornings to come. Alone with age. Nothing to be done. No more marrying, no more having of children, no more hearing the lull of the voice, tiny little voice, when she turned herself into voices, so as to be together in solitude. One looked quietly from the kitchen to the rectangle of sunlight on the floor in the hall, dust flakes floating, the hourglass sand settling on your daughter. One day you step into the rectangled light and see the cut that it makes in the floor as what it was, open grave of time, tiny little thing.
You have returned to the living room with the memory of her scent, flying into the void of memory altered, pure silence in the walls, in the clocks, in the dawning sky. You, sequestered in the void, hold still to memory devoid of words, devoid of time, falling from the night of your mind, like moth dust through the hourglass, and you hold death in your eyes, in your eyes behind your eyes, vast rooms of death, streamed with light glaring in your eyes as on a stage, a full moon of expectation, and you keep still. You touch her hair somewhere in that room, you take her hand somewhere on that stage, her hand moves with your hand onto the windowpane. A tiny cracked moon of a hand eclipsing an older sun, the lake cold windowpane against your palm. Your hand is alone, an image puppeteered in the mind, of the hand, the tiny little hand of dimpled knuckles on the windowpane. Blooming, dying. Repeat.
Why. Five years too late for returning, barren tides, holding hands in memory. You remember the call made together. Can you dial the last digits. A giggle. The number, dear. One. Three. Two. Four. Five. The giant receiver on the small sea shell ear. The waiting, the ancient waiting. Daddy. I dialled the dadgets. Breathe. Repeat. Alone, the number escapes you, you look it up, you dial, the last five digits like stabs, you wait, the receiver restored as of old. His voice, a question as from the wintry void itself. You exhale against the windowpane, his voice unknowing still, waiting in another world, against another light for news that is, already, ageing and eternal. Mercury evaporates. You answer. No. It’s just me.
Jan Wilm (*1983) teaches English literature at Goethe University Frankfurt. He lives in Frankfurt.
– By Colm O’Shea
The wait, the long wait. Longer than before, not as long as it will be but longer than before. Here, now, here, rain again, as before, softer than but rain all the same. Waiting here, in the dark, waiting. Waiting for the door to open and waiting for him to come out. Waiting here, not standing, tried that, seen, chased away. Not sitting, tried that, seen, stones thrown at me. Crouching now, here, waiting, crouching. Behind the bins, crouching, ready, waiting but ready. Ready for the door to open and for him to come out. Waiting for someone to see me and I can be off, gone, run, away. Waiting. Waiting for the door to open and I, me, here, waiting. He knows, when he comes, he knows now, he knew then, he knows what he did, when he did it, before he did it maybe but he knows what he did then, and he knows it now. He knows and that’s why. He knows and that’s why I wait. He knows what he did and he knows he must expect it, not expect me, he doesn’t know me, well he does, but he doesn’t know me well, well he does. He does know me. He doesn’t know me now. He’ll be expecting it all the same. The same thing maybe, maybe not, maybe not expecting it at all, got away with it so far so why not. No, he’ll be, he is, he’ll be expecting something. Deserves something. Stupid that, fucking stupid that. Deserve, deserve, deserve means nothing anymore, never meant anything. Used to tell each other, used to be taught, used to be told that deserve, deserve meant something, meant we earned it, whatever it was, good, bad or indifferent, we deserved it. Meaningless word now, I mean look at it, when you look at it, when you think about it, deserve, really, deserve, means nothing. No one, not me, not him, no one keeping track, keeping score, keeping a tally on it all, on us all, no one. No one to decide who deserves what, good, bad or indifferent, no one. But say it all the same, think it all the same. Why I’m here, deserve, he deserves and I’m here. I did, I allocated, I tallied, I kept score and I decided. No better than anyone else, my own flaws, my own faults, my own, all my own, mine own and no one else’s. But I kept score and I decided, oh yes I did, I decided that he deserved, that he deserved this, that he deserved this now, here. He deserved this then, when I waited, the time I waited, all the time, all the times I waited, he deserved this then too, all of these times or just once. He deserves this once and that will be the end of it, no more deserving for him, never, all gone. He’ll deserve and I’ll give, I’ll dole out, I’ll serve, I’ll. Me, does it count, does it deserve the name, that word again. Should be banned, deserve, like that old nun, that old nun that taught us the words, taught us the words and the rhythms and the rhymes, the alliteration and the assonance, taught us the metre, not the metres, that was someone else, gone, funny that, their faces gone, her’s still here. I’ll ask him if I have the chance, I’d ask him if I thought I had the time. Others, there had to be others, there were others, she, that old nun, no, not a nun, that former nun, she only taught us the words, nothing more, not that we needed more, not that I remember any of the rest of it. I remember the words though, I remember them, funny that all the same. At the time we hated them, we hated her, always going on, always nosing and pointing, hated the sight of her, dreaded her, dreaded the words. And yet, and yet now, all that remains, all that I can recall. Ask him if I get a chance. Who were the others. Think on that, think on that later when it’s finished, when it’s done. What was that anyway, why that, why her, why that old nun, that old former nun. Deserve, yes, that was it, deserve, hate that word, ban that word. Words she banned, no, only one word she banned, never cursed, never swore in front of her, swore plenty behind her back but never in front of her. One word she banned, one word, only word. Nice, only word she banned, only word she never let us use, never let us say. Silly then, stupid then, I mean, nice, nothing wrong with it, we thought, nothing. Nice, good word, does what it says on the tin word, nice, has its place and use it word, nice. See it now, nice. Hateful word, nice, understand it now. He was never the nice one, no, he was, the bad one, no, not exactly, not at the time, no, didn’t know that, weren’t aware of that at the time. If I knew then, if we knew then, no, no point, would have happened anyway, no. Think what I want, couldn’t have stopped it. No, I was the nice one, yes, cursed with being the nice one, ruined by being the nice one, yes, ruined everything, ruined it all by being the nice one. Could have been much more, could have had much more. Could have deserved, no, not that word. Much more, anything more, anything. Could have anything if I wasn’t the nice one. Ruined it all for me. Ruined it all for myself. Should have been worse, should have been a cunt, no, maybe. If I’d been a cunt I would have had more, I would have been more. No, had to be, was, no point in discussing it, debating it, was, is, am, will be, nice. Ignored, nice, always is, always will be. Looked at, passed over, considered for a little while, yes, it’s nice, isn’t that what they all say, what we all say, it’s nice I suppose, it’s nice and all that. Maybe it will do for, maybe it will do for someone else. Oh yes, it’s nice, I mean it’s harmless and invisible, it won’t cause any problems, but it’s just, it’s just. Oh, I don’t know. I mean it’s not good enough for me, you say, I say, we say. I mean it’s not good enough for me but may be someone else will look at it, I say, you say, we all say. Knew what she was on about, have to give her that, admit it now. Have to give it to her now, knew what she was on about. Ban that word like the other, means worse than meaning nothing. Ban it, ban them. Knew what she was on about that old nun, that former nun. When you think about it, I mean when you really think about it. No, no, not too much. Miss it all if I think about it too much. No, forget, put it aside, ask him if I get a chance. Won’t get a chance, never ask him. Still, think on it again, sometime, somewhere, forget. Just now, just here, now. Think, yes, know what I have to do, know what I had to do, do it now, do it here. Wait for, wait here for the door to open and, yes, wait, yes. Know it, have it. Have it in my hand. Cudgel, yes, have it in my hand, the cudgel. Waiting here for him now with the cudgel. Knows why, he knows why. Thought of more before. Thought of more, maybe the stick, maybe the knife, maybe the Hurley, no. Thought about the knife, no, can’t do that. Thought about the gun, no, can’t do that. Get a gun, me, no. No, nothing left except the cudgel. Has to be the cudgel. The sound, the name, says it all, no words but it says it all. Wait here, stand here, no, crouch here with the cudgel, yes. Deserves, no, merits, no, just being stupid now, pretending it’s not one thing or the other. Earned, maybe, maybe earned. Either way, anyway. The cudgel, me and the cudgel waiting here, waiting here in the alley for the door to open, waiting here and then. And then what, yes I know, yes I know, I know what will happen then, he knows what will happen then, should know, might ease the pain, no don’t be stupid. Just wait, wait. Listen for anything, listen for anyone. No one here, no one here except him. No him, not the him. The other him, the other him here now, looking over, standing over. On the wire, a crow now, a crow, he’s a crow now. Know it’s him, of course, has to be. Look, even now in the dark, look. The black eyes, the black cold eyes and the long beak. Looking down on me with the black cold eyes and the long narrow beak. Looking down on me and saying no, always saying no. He doesn’t know, of course he does, then why does he say no. Has to know the truth, why does he say no. Looking at me, looking at me crouching here with the cudgel and he says no. Not listening to him anymore. Used to listen to every word he said, we all did, every word. Not anymore. Words mean nothing now. His words mean nothing now. Ask him about it, if there is any time. Ask him, he should know. Thick as thieves, him, me. Were, best of friends if that means anything, if the words mean anything, not banned, allowable words, still, mean very little now, almost nothing. Still, yet. True, was, were, him, me. Yes, best of friends. Once. Now, no. Now, here, now I wait, crouching in the alley with the cudgel and the door will open and he’ll get what he. Should have told him, for old time’s sake, should have sent a message. Let him realise the truth, let him realise he can’t, no, he won’t, yes, he won’t get away with it. Let him know he can’t get away with it. He knows what he did, knows it, has to know that others know too. Has to know that I know it too. Has to know that he can’t get away with it. Don’t tell him all, shouldn’t have told him all if anything, no, no point. Wouldn’t have told him about the alley and me and the crow and the cudgel. No, wouldn’t have told him that. Surprise, like the old days, jumping out and shouting surprise. Like that time, that time in Wicklow, walking, him and me, in the dark. Walking ahead of the girls, young, much younger then, we all were. Walking in front of them in the dark, along the road going down to the village, yes. Knew, we knew, barely had to say a word about it, both knew. Hid behind the trees, me on one side of the road and him on the other. The road, the narrow dark road, trees overhanging, darker than dark hiding behind the trees until the girls walked by then jumping out and yelling, yelling something anyway, forget what it was. Ask him if I get the chance. Good times, thinking now, good times. Knew it then sure he did, sure I did, knew they were good times. Cudgel could have come from one of those trees, old enough, knotted enough, maybe, maybe not but maybe. Still, quiet, still. Crow given up on me, once more says no and leaves, flies, gone. Crow given up and gone, more pickings elsewhere. Maybe it doesn’t know, maybe it really doesn’t. Might have had rich pickings, man and a cudgel, good for crows, cracking open the shell and letting the meat out, letting it all out onto the alley. Crow might have liked that, no chance to ask him. Crouching here, waiting, yes the crow might have enjoyed it, me, the cudgel and him, yes. Light now, door opening, yes me and the cudgel, swinging, knows what he did, body coming out, light dimmed for a moment, light from inside blocked from coming out into the alley, held back, blocked. A body. A body stepping out into the alley, the alley, me and the cudgel, yes thing about it, swinging, looping, a looping arc, bringing it, bringing the cudgel crashing down. The body moving in the alley, the face on the body. Know the face, have seen the face, the cudgel swinging through the air, one long arcing swing. The face on the body, recognise it, know it. Ask it, could ask it all the questions I have, could do all that. Just think about the cudgel, just think. The body, the face, doesn’t see me. Say something, call out, ask it the questions, ask him the questions. No, just think, the cudgel, the swing, the crash, breaking the shell and the meat coming out. The face and the body passing by, walking away. Could ask, don’t ask. Could ask the man everything I wanted to know. He knows, he knows, he knows all, he knows what he did and if I ask he’ll know why I’m waiting here in the alley, standing, no, crouching in the alley with the cudgel. The body and the face are gone. He’s gone. The light returns, the dim light returns, the darkness returns, if it was ever anywhere else. The crow hasn’t returned but the darkness has. Waiting, crouching in the alley. Waiting in the alley with the cudgel because the door will open and he will step out into the alley. He will step out into the alley and he will know, and he knows what he did.
Colm O’Shea is originally from Leixlip, County Kildare. He currently lives in Dublin City where he works as a Civil Engineer. He was one of the winners, in 2012, of the inaugural Irish Writers’ Centre Novel Fair Competition. Check out his blog.
´I can´t write about him´ – Writing in the Silences: Beckett, Grief and Art
– By Eamon Mc Guinness
It started with reading the letter Beckett wrote to his friend and poet Thomas Mc Greevy in Paris after his father died. It opened up things for me and gave me the strength to start expressing myself in new ways. It was 2010 and I was doing an M.A in Anglo-Irish Literature and Drama in U.C.D. One of the modules was ´Beckett and Contemporary Irish Drama´. My father had died earlier in the year. I was teaching English in Spain when it happened, came back in June when the academic year had finished and threw myself into the masters in September. I read every book and article recommended. I spent hours in the library and would often be there when it opened. I didn´t know what else to do. If I stopped I didn´t know what would happen. I didn´t allow myself to properly think or write about what had happened to me and my family.
Beckett was 27 when his father William Beckett died aged 61 on 26th of June 1933. Beckett wrote to McGreevy in Paris on the second of July. That act itself was comforting; the writing of the letter was an important gesture for me. Putting pen to paper was a conserving act. When I returned to Spain after the funeral I gave myself daily writing tasks. I wrote long letters and e-mails to friends and family. Communication was vital. There is, I believe, an honesty and space to letters and I sought that out. Whenever I´d been away before my father and I exchanged letters and my time in Spain was no different and we wrote to each other regularly. In reality, I wrote anything just to keep myself busy. Quotes, shopping lists, dreams, memories, plans, regrets, books I wanted to read, song and film titles, places I wanted to go, to-do lists; anything.
Beckett´s letter to McGreevy is concise and direct. It also contains more overt emotion than I´d up to that point encountered in his work.
It opens with:
“Father died last Monday afternoon after an illness lasting just under a week, and was buried the following Wednesday morning in a little cemetery on the Greystones side of Bray Head, between the mountains and the sea.”
He then goes on to briefly describe his father´s death and the practical matters that needed to be taken care of. One of his main duties was to help his mother and respond to the “endless letters on her behalf”. His own uncertain future is alluded to: “My position of course is vaguer than ever”.
In the final paragraph he mentions some memories he has of his father´s final days, “joking and swearing at the doctors”, “in bed with sweet pea all over his face” and most poignantly his father´s assertion that “when he got better he would never do a stroke of work. He would drive to the top of Howth and lie in the bracken and fart”. I could relate to all of this. In the weeks preceding his death I would speak to my father regularly on the phone. I was living in Santiago de Compostela and would constantly see the relieved and joyous faces of pilgrims who had finished El Camino de Santiago. I told him that many people who had been sick would walk the Camino when they had recovered. We planned to do this together when the treatment was finished and he was better. He too promised that he´d never go back to work.
Beckett says that his last words were “Fight fight fight” and “What a morning”. I´ve racked my brain for three years but still can´t remember our last conversation or his final words to me. In a strange way that makes me happy, there was no ´final ‘conversation over the phone, no ‘goodbye’ moment. Our last chat was I´m sure filled with trivial matters; the weather, family, news from home and work. One thing that sticks out though and that I wrote down in a journal at the time was something he said to me. We were talking about friendship and falling out with people and he said “Eamon, there is no time to make enemies”. I don´t know why I wrote it down but I did. Beckett finishes the paragraph with the beautiful sentence: “All the little things come back – memoire de l´escalier.” The French phrase refers to, according to the footnotes, “an inspired afterthought that comes to one only after leaving, that is, on the stairs”. It was and is true; all the little things do come back, at unexpected and surprising moments.
This letter was read out at the start of class by Prof. Anthony Roche and needless to say it numbed me. Beckett was 27 when his father died, I was 24. His father was also 61. I´d been in a haze, working hard, and trying to avoid the pitfalls that accompany grief. I wasn´t drinking or going out much. My girlfriend and I were living in my family home and we were all supporting one another. Beckett´s letter brought me back to my own letters and writing in the weeks and months after my father´s passing. I tried writing poems and stories about him but they all ended in failure. I was, perhaps, too close to the incident. In his signing off Beckett heartbreakingly states: “I can´t write about him, I can only walk the fields and climb the ditches after him”. In a letter to a friend afterwards I remember writing about my dad: “I am always in his shadow”. I think of that line often and try to figure out what I meant by it but writing it made me feel better. The letter floored me and gave me the most intimate reading of Beckett´s work I could hope for and I began looking at his work from the perspective of ´not writing´.
That final line has stayed with me the longest and I return to it often. The next day I went to Prof. Roche´s office and he photocopied the letter for me. We then began speaking about death and expression, how or when a writer can begin to express certain topics. When does the grief settle and the expression become clearer, more objective and less filled with raw emotion? There was and is no concrete answer. For some, that expression comes quickly and clearly, for others more slowly and for some it never comes.
The final line is telling. Beckett has just written three paragraphs “about him” before telling McGreevy he “can´t write about him”. However, we know what he means, “write about him”, in poetry, prose or drama. Beckett´s work is full of allusions, glimpses, memories that linger, small incidences that remain in the unconscious and will not go away, the little things that “come back”. In Krapp´s Last Tape Krapp speaks of a lost love and wonders “What remains of all that misery? A girl in a shabby green coat, on a railway-station platform? No?” and later on “I lay down across her with my face in her breasts and my hand on her. We lay there without moving. But under us all moved, and moved us, gently, up and down, and from side to side.” Krapp is haunted by these images and returns to them constantly. The death of Beckett´s mother in 1950 is alluded to in both Rockaby and Krapp´s Last Tape.
In Rockaby we hear v reliving old memories:
“at her window
let up the blind and sat
quiet at her window”
Later, we hear:
“in the end went down
into the old rocker
where mother rocked”
Similarly, in Krapp´s Last Tape death and blinds are again referred to:
“I was there when the blind went down, one of those dirty brown roller affairs…I happened to look up and there it was. All over and done with, at last.”
The letter to McGreevy allowed me to write about things at my own pace, if at all. There was no pressure but simultaneously a reminder that these feelings would remain and would re-emerge again and again. It was the willingness and bravery of Beckett and other writers to mine, investigate and confront these memories and emotions from different artistic perspectives that was and is the most inspiring to me.
In my shock and sadness I saw grief everywhere in art. I returned to albums and songs that dealt with loss, most notably Bob Dylan´s ´Blood on the Tracks´, Beck´s ´Sea Change´ and The Streets´ ´Never Went to Church´. I actively sought them out. Czeslaw Milosz says: “When it hurts we return to the banks of certain rivers.” Everything was re-shaped and sounded different, as if seeing or hearing things for the first time. I saw Stephen Dedalus in Ulysses not as the portentous arts graduate with literary aspirations but as a lost child whose mother had recently passed away, who is wandering the city, going from one de-energising group of men to another. A case in point being his friendship with Buck Mulligan who dismisses Stephen´s grief in the ´Telemachus´ episode: “You saw only your mother die. I see them pop off every day in the Mater and Richmond and cut up into tripes in the dissecting room. It’s a beastly thing. It simply doesn’t matter”.
Bloom has himself suffered great loss. The suicide of his father, the death of his mother and the tragic early death of his son Rudy. Throughout the day he is constantly reminded of his suffering: “Something to hand on. If little Rudy had lived. See him grow up. Hear his voice in the house”. Soon after, in ´Lestrygonians´ Bloom says of Rudy: “Can’t bring back time. Like holding water in your hand”. Bloom has the wherewithal to walk away from groups (the newspapermen in ´Aeolus´ and the drinkers in ´Lestrygonians´) and his ability to keep his own company marks him out from Stephen. It is little wonder that it is Bloom who saves Stephen during his drunken escapades and brings him home to 7 Eccles St for a cup of cocoa.
What intrigued me most was the idea of mining and confronting one´s past. There are certain incidences and memories we constantly fall back on and remember, certain people we can´t quite forget. I became intrigued by artists who not simply revisited their pasts but allowed these references to reappear in their work again and again. To some it may appear futile or even easy to go over the same ground but I see it as an act of bravery. In John Mc Gahern´s work there is a constant re-examining of his childhood in which his mother died at a young age and he was brought up by his aggressive and domineering father. We see this theme in both his short stories and novels throughout his career and again in Memoir.
As we see with Krapp´s Last Tape and Waiting for Godot, there are different versions of the self constantly at play. Our old selves die, we improve in some ways and dis-improve in other ways but the key point is that certain memories remain. There is a willingness and an acceptance on the writer´s part to return to the moments that define us as humans and tackle them again with fresh perspective amidst new experience and more objectivity. What differentiates this mining from simple repetition is that the standards are high and never frivolous. Stephen Fry, speaking about music, said: “Listening to music may inspire an extraordinary emotional response, but extraordinary emotions are not enough to make music”. Essentially, when Beckett or McGahern re-examine a moment from their past it is not simply through emotional laziness but more so a desire to view that moment again through a prism of change and new experience, from a more mature vantage point. It is not enough to simply have these experiences and write about them, a poem about a dead father is no more valid than a poem about a lamp, it depends on the execution and this is what characterizes the great from the good in my opinion, that determination to return again to the defining moments that shape us and attempt to create great art from this.
For example, knowing that there is biographical detail in the works of Beckett, Joyce or McGahern doesn´t improve the work. It has to stand alone on its own terms. Being aware that Bruce Springsteen´s ´My Father´s House´ is a personal story doesn´t make it a better song. Similarly, in Guy Clark´s ´Randall Knife´ he sings honestly and directly about his father´s passing, using the knife as a metaphor for his loss. Knowing that Clark´s father owned a Randall knife doesn’t artistically advance the song but strangely adds even more pressure on Clark to write universally. There is an impetus with the great writers to take their experiences to the next level, where it becomes useful not just for the writer but for the reader or listener too. We see this also in Patrick Kavanagh´s ´Memory of My Father´, Raymond Carver´s ´Photograph of My Father in His Twenty-Second Year´ and with Seamus Heaney´s ´Digging´ and ´Dangerous Pavements´. They are not simply diary entries but nuanced and crafted poems that work on both a subjective and objective level.
It was Beckett´s letter which gave me the mental space to express myself. It allowed me to face things at my own pace. I have written many bad poems about my father´s passing but have also written some lines that I am extremely proud of. By simply writing and examining the silence I feel I have made some progress. Where will it end? Will it end? Everyday there are reminders, “all the little things come back”. For me it´s about remaining open to the experiences and feelings, being aware that something will re-emerge that will throw you off course, get you down and open up old wounds. Grief gets quieter and becomes consumed by life and daily routine. It´s rarely as loud as it was at first but the desire to express and examine those feelings is still as valid as ever. The oft quoted Beckett phrase from his 1983 novella Westward Ho: “Ever Tried? Ever Failed? No Matter. Try Again. Fail Again. Fail Better” encourages us to persevere both mentally and artistically.
People have different ways of dealing with grief but for me it is returning to the page, to the clichéd notion that art saves. I even question this at times. Does it save or merely distract us? Either way, I still see the desire to write in the silences everywhere. Dermot Bolger´s recent collection The Venice Suite was a masterly collection of poems he wrote following the sudden death of his wife Bernie in 2010. He said he didn´t remember writing them but wrote them in a daze on “multiple scraps of paper” and “barely legible lines scribbled on envelopes”. Bolger says: “Reshaping them into poems allowed me to confront that initial grieving process and try to imagine myself into the different life I now lead”.
The bravery to return to these memories inspires me. In my view, the great writers write in the spaces, tackle the silences and go to the dark places. Speaking about his life Beckett said “Nothing matters but the writing. There has been nothing else worthwhile…a stain upon the silence”. It was this silence that I wanted to explore, the ´not writing´ and emptiness that consumes us all. It´s seeing it as a part of the human condition and once that space is accepted it is like having the end of the story, the in-between is there to be filled, to be written in, walked in and loved in. There is a pervasive loss that everyone feels, that everyone will go through, a search for meaning, for stability in the world. Filling it up as best you can becomes not only a means of survival but also a duty.
Eamon is 27 and from Dublin. He has had poetry published in wordlegs and Bare Hands Poetry. He has been writing for the last few years and is currently working on a series of short stories and poems.
Observations on a Funeral (After Beckett)
A Short Dramatic Piece
– By Kenneth Hickey
DUM – A Man
DEE – A Woman
VOICE – An Unseen Male Voice
[The stage lights slowly come up on DUM sitting on a small wooden box, like an orange crate, slightly to the left of centre. He is dressed in pinstriped trousers and dark cardigan over a dull grey shirt. All his clothes are threadbare. His boots are worn and broken. He has a wooden bowl of gruel and a spoon in his hand. He stares straight ahead. DEE stands slightly to the right of centre in front of a small wooden box similar to DUM’s. She is dressed in a dark cardigan over a grey dress. Her clothes are equally threadbare. There are ladders in her tights. Her boots are worn and broken. Her bowl of gruel and spoon are at her feet. She stares straight ahead. On the floor in the space between them is an old fashioned black phone. From darkness to the stage lights being bright DEE begins to speak in a single rapid monotone delivery. Her speech is about three quarters the volume of normal delivery.]
DEE: Watching them walking, the shape, the curve, the movement of one step in front of the other down the streets, the eyes hidden behind cascading hair, the smile, the look, the not look, ignoring, pretending to ignore, the watching, all that’s hidden and not hidden, the lies, the make believe, the sun pushing through their fingers, the curve, the curve beneath, the curve beneath garment and coat, hidden, why hidden, hidden from watching, the futile attempt not to care, they all care, watching, nails painted, eyes painted, lips painted, nails, eyes, lips, the lips, oh the lips, the bounce, the twist, the turn, the half turn, glancing into windows to glance back, smiling half smiles, hidden, watching from the corner of eyes, wanted to be ignored so they can watch back, they lie, I lie, we lie, together lying, too clever, too clever for our own good, twirling the world on the tips of their fingers, impaling, pulling, dragging, catching me and dragging me after them around dark corners, gone, gone now, and me with them, the smell, oh the smell of them on the air after, after they have left me, perfume, the perfume they possess, left with me, the small crack, the crack of dark tongue darting, behind small teeth, too white, too white, darting, the darkness behind, inside, inside those glittering lips, glittering with the glitter they put there, the glitter I watch for, the glitter I want, inside there, and underneath, my imagination, the small, the tight, pink and red and black, holding back, taking back, all I want to see, these eyes no good for underneath, I think, I dream, I invent the underneath, where I cannot see, underneath, and there it lies, and the skin sucks me in, imagination gone again, the heels, the hair, the lips, oh the lips, closer, closer till the kiss, only the kiss, imagination, every one of them as they walk by, skin on skin, finger on skin, them, me, them, it all, all of it, and then the blink, the blink till it is gone, and then another one, the skin again, and the lips, and back again, underneath, inside, the lips, and I am gone, again, the heat, the touch, they move, touch them as they move, want, wanting to move closer, the touching…
[Taking up her bowl and spoon DEE sits on her wooden box. Long Pause. DUM and DEE both remain motionless for several moments and continue to stare straight forward as they speak.]
DUM: You start.
DEE: No it’s you.
DUM: How long have we been here ?
DEE: Too long.
DUM: Has the world fallen yet ?
DEE: To which world are you referring?
DUM: [Confused.] Which world ?
DEE: The world here or the world beyond ?
DUM: Oh… The world beyond of course.
DEE: I don’t know about that. I’d have to check.
DUM: Well would you ?
[DEE puts down the bowl of gruel and spoon, gets up and without looking at DUM takes her box and moves to stage right. Pause.]
DEE: Isn’t there a ladder? I think I remember a ladder.
DUM: There usually is.
DEE: Was there one last time?
DUM: I can’t remember.
[DEE steps up on the box and peers off into the audience. Pause.]
[DEE continues to strain to see into the audience.]
DEE: Well what ?
DUM: Has it fallen then ?
DEE: Hard to say.
DUM: But if you had to say ?
[DEE continues to stare out.]
DEE: There’s not much out there.
DUM: If you had to guess.
DEE: Then I’d guess it’s still falling.
[DEE climbs down from her box and crosses with it to her original position.]
DUM: Not quiet finished then.
DEE: Not quiet done.
[DEE sits down on the box, picking up the bowl and spoon before staring forward again.]
DUM: Time still remaining yet.
DEE: Time still left.
[Long pause as they continue to stare directly ahead and eat from their gruel.]
DUM: Have you begun the preparations ?
DEE: For what ?
DUM: The party.
DEE: The party ?
DUM: The weekly celebration.
DEE: It’s not a birthday party?
DUM: No definitely not.
DEE: [Animated.] Is that you, Petey? [Pause.] Petey is that you?
DEE: Let me go back. [Looking up into the rafters.] Is it okay to go back? Just a little bit?
[Pause. No response.]
DEE: The party ?
DUM: The weekly celebration.
DEE: It‘s not a birthday party?
DUM: No definitely not.
[Long pause as they continue to stare directly ahead and eat from their gruel.]
DEE: And who will come ?
DUM: Too what ?
DEE: The party.
DUM: Those which remain.
DEE: But who remains ?
[Long pause as they continue to stare directly ahead and eat from their gruel.]
DUM: My mother remains.
DEE: She left when you killed the dog.
DUM: His barking kept me awake at night.
DEE: You were right then…
DUM: …To kill the dog.
DEE: …If it’s what you wanted to do.
DUM: Have you washed the plates for the party ?
DEE: You threw them from the window.
DUM: After I killed the dog.
[Long pause as they continue to stare directly ahead and eat from their gruel.]
My father will come.
DEE: He left when you killed your mother.
DUM: Her complaining about the dog kept me awake at night.
DEE: You were right then…
DUM: …To kill my mother.
DEE: …If it’s what you wanted to do.
DUM: Have you polished the cutlery for the party ?
DEE: You threw them from the window too.
DUM: After I killed my mother.
[Long pause as they continue to stare directly ahead and eat from their gruel.]
DUM: My sister will come.
DEE: She left when you killed your father.
DUM: His complaining about my mother kept me awake at night.
DEE: You were right then…
DUM: …To kill my father.
DEE: …If it’s what you wanted to do.
DUM: Have you counted the chairs for the party ?
DEE: The chairs?
DUM: Hurry up dear and close the window.
DUM: Let me go back. [Looking up into the rafters.] Is it okay to go back? Just a little way?
[Pause. No response.]
Have you counted the chairs for the party?
DEE: You threw them…
[DUM turns to stare at the window, the point where DEE was looking form earlier. He is confused.]
DUM: [Unsure.] …from the window !
DEE: After you killed your father.
[Long pause as they continue to stare directly ahead and eat from their gruel.]
DUM: My wife will come.
DEE: She left when she found you in bed with your sister.
DUM: She was lonely after my father.
DEE: You were right then…
DUM: …To sleep with my sister.
DEE: …If it’s what you wanted to do.
DUM: Have you cleared the table for the party ?
DEE: [Confused.] You threw it…
[DEE stands and crosses to position at left where she stood on the box earlier and stares up at it confused.]
DUM: [Unsure.] …from the window.
DEE: After you slept with your sister.
[Long pause as DUM continue to stare directly ahead. DEE continues to stand and stare.]
DUM: Then my sister must come.
DEE: She left when you got the dog.
DUM: I’ve always wanted one.
DEE: Since you were a boy.
DUM: So I was right then…
DEE: …To get a dog.
DUM: …If it’s what I wanted to do.
DUM: Have you placed out the caviar for the party ?
DEE: You threw it from the window.
DUM: After I got the dog.
DEE: And so we eat gruel.
[DEE returns to sitting as before. Long pause as they continue to stare directly ahead and eat from their gruel.]
DUM: We’re the only true nihilists left then.
DEE: With our hollow cell…
DUM: Our dull defence…
DEE: …To guard us.
[Pause before the stage lights slowly fade to blackout. Pause before dim stage lights come up again on DUM sitting as before. DEE is standing as before. From darkness to the stage lights being less bright than before DEE begins to speak in a single rapid monotone delivery. Her speech is about three quarters the volume of normal delivery.]
DEE: Rooted, rooted to the spot, can’t move, can’t touch, they walk on with eyes, hair, lips, the curve, the slip, the slide, the slide, then the badness, it comes, comes inside, the anger, twitching, itching, eating, that badness, that jealousy as they walk, not looking, why don’t they look, the hardness of me, inside me, with me, too long, too long, take it away from me, take it, take them away, leave me alone with my inside words, inside thoughts, thoughts, inside, without them, without them, then gone, it is gone, thank god, thank them, and I am back, back to my watching, then the two of them, the him and the her, him, leave him, the her, him with her, testing the badness, the darkness just left me, testing, the him and the her, the laughing, the joking, the joking I can’t hear, don’t want to hear, but straining, straining to hear, I don’t want to, hear, the him and her joking, the him and her, the look, the glance, the touch of them, the children unborn between them, ignored now, more ignored than before, more ignored than completely, the him, the her, hands held, hands holding, together, the small dead leaves crushed beneath their feet, still testing, still holding, holding the badness back, the bitterness to spit into theirs, wanting what they have, wanting theirs, the him and the hers, wanting, pushing my eyes across the street, away from the him and her, back to them walking, the hers, the hers, with the walk, and the curve, the inside, the underneath, my imagination back, the badness gone for now, now, for now just the watching, the leather, the lace, the small things, the small things they wear, their colours…
[Taking up her bowl and spoon DEE sits on her wooden box. Long Pause. DUM and DEE both remain motionless for several moments and continue to stare straight forward as they speak.]
DUM: You first.
DEE: No it’s you.
DUM: And how long have we been here ?
DEE: As I said before, too long.
DUM: And have you checked ?
DEE: If the world beyond has fallen ?
DEE: I checked before so you’ll have to check this time.
DUM: You think I should ?
DEE: It is your turn.
[DUM puts down his bowl of gruel and spoon, gets up and without looking at DEE takes his box and moves towards thewindow at stage left.]
DUM: It would be better if there was a ladder.
DEE: It’s usually provided.
DUM: But not this time?
DEE: It would appear not.
[DUM steps up on the box and peers off into the audience. Pause.]
DEE: Well ?
[DUM continues to strain to see into the audience.]
DUM: Well what ?
DEE: Has it fallen then ?
DUM: Hard to say.
DEE: But if you had to say ?
[DUM continues to stare out into the audience.]
DUM: It’s a pretty grim view all round.
DEE: Try to get past it.
DUM: Then I’d say it’s fallen.
[DUM gets down from the box and crosses to his original position.]
DEE: Quite finished then.
DUM: Quite done.
[DUM sits down on the box and picks up his bowl of gruel again.]
DEE: No time remaining.
DUM: No time left.
[Long pause as they continue to stare directly ahead and eat from their gruel.]
DEE: No point in me beginning the preparations then ?
DUM: For what ?
DEE: The party of course.
DUM: The party ?
DEE: Our weekly celebration.
DUM: Oh that.
DEE: Yes that.
[Long pause as they continue to stare directly ahead and eat from their gruel.]
DEE: Because there’s no one left to come is there ?
DUM: No, no one left to come.
[DUM and DEE continue to stare out directly ahead and eat from their gruel as the stage lights slowly fade to blackout. Pause before dim stage lights come up again on DUM alone on stage standing before his wooden box. His bowl of gruel and spoon is at his feet. The other orange box is in the same position as before. From darkness to the stage lights being less bright than before DUM begins to speak in a single rapid monotone delivery. His speech is about three quarters the volume of normal delivery.]
DUM: The fall, the feel, the move as they move, it all, all on top of me, the boots, the boots that make them walk so tall, so small to me, the detail, but the boots that have me, trample all over me, all over me, trample me, longing to be stepped upon, squashed, made nothing by them, by those boots and their walking, nothing, the light cotton and the little Vs, all their little Vs, and back to the underneath, the unseen, there my mind rests, rests and pants, and pants and moans and rests, the underneath, the small dresses and the pale thighs, pale thighs leading to the underneath, the line, the move, the curve, forbidden but calling, forbidden calling me, calling, and little bags of tricks on their arms, little bags of tricks, and there is no talking, no words, just the watching, the silence, the unsaid, unsaid and silence, no talking, no need for words, they don’t look, pretending, not noticing my watching, my watching, loving the silence between us, between me and them, me and the hers, the hers with their movement and curves, the me and the hers and the watching, then she looks, catching my breath, she looks, the smile, the flick, the smile, the look, rooted, rooted as before I watch her watching, the smile, the flick, the curves, the lips, oh the lips, the inside, the underneath, the inside and underneath are smiling, imagination smiling, I shift, I twist, I turn, the her watching from across, across the street, stopped now, stopped, smiling, watching, I turn, ignore, am moving, moving, all bravery gone, washed into the darkness, but the underneath, the underneath, I cough, another appointment calls me.
[Pause. DUM sits down on the wooden box, picking up his bowl and spoon. Pause.]
[Long pause with DUM staring out at the audience before the stage lights slowly fade to blackout.]
Kenneth Hickey was born in 1975 in Cobh, Co. Cork Ireland. He poetry and prose has been published in Ireland, the UK and the United States. His writing for theatre has been performed in Ireland, the UK, New York and Paris. He has won the Eamon Keane Full Length Play Award as well as being shortlisted for The PJ O’Connor Award and the Tony Doyle Bursary. He is currently completing an MA diseratation on the late plays of Samuel Beckett, 1975-1983: Footfalls to What Where, at University College Cork. Follow him on twitter @kennethjhickey
Anjumon Sahin is pursuing her M.Phil degree in English literature from the University of Delhi alongside working as an Assistant Professor there. Writing and Photography are her two obsessions. She can be contacted at email@example.com.
It might have been the milk she took one sobering morning with her coffee, had the cow Mona or Luna only trespassed one springtime twilight into some other clover patch spattered with crepuscular mushrooms, that first sip taken too late, too early or on time, but taken; an hour later fresh chemicals burst little lit-up Catherine wheels in her tiger’s blood. She came up from Alabama in a box car, up from snake-coils of barbed wire, impossible circles flattened into cornfields, disemboweled cattle missing jawbones. A sideways county, Tuscaloosa, where the rain fell differently on account of the acid, and dead fish bobbed in the rivers like bottletops. She came all the ways up through Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas city, up and up but never surfaced, and I- I happened. Smack bang in the middle of her wild-child years, a daughter of harvest moons and whiskey in bars with men. Wild begat child.
Fatherless and on the move, she was my rock, my seesaw, my sandpit. She smelled of cigarettes and honey and something else I would have no knowledge of until passing out in a Wichita pool-hall at sixteen. Her corn syrup voice sang me Southern lullabies about guns and heartache and the people who did you wrong. And so I thank her. I thank her for LSD at five. For dinosaurs under the bed, enormous things going BUMP. For the first-hand exhibition of how not to grow up. I owe her my sight, which would come much later. It is possible to break circuits, unravel slipped stitches. Watch bone regenerate, make itself up again. And for new things to grow from nothing, from lost time, the taste of someone else’s spit.
My earliest memory is of waking up in a basket. The room is too bright. I can’t yet speak. A man I don’t know is tickling me. His face is a composite police picture of gapped teeth, bloodshot grey-blue eyes, sideburns, and a dirty blonde quiff. And I refuse. Minutes and minutes of impregnable stone silence, point blank refusal. I remembered it then in that pool-hall washroom, salt sweat freezing on my bare back in my little blue halter-neck, my tongue fizzing against the cistern, too big for my mouth; I remembered it was too bright, and how to fight.
Mine is a fixed star, here, now; hers wanders ever brighter, as with the dying ones. The outer shell blown away, the core still intact, cooling. Last I heard she’s living out of an RV, out of Columbus, Ohio. Bussing tables and singing honky-tonk in a dress gapped of sequins, like as if she’s exotic, like King Kong or those first Siamese twins. To err is human, but not only. We are more than the sum of our earthly mistakes. We are all star stuff, plasma and gravity. Some of us just can’t see it. Look up and count the stars, but wonder if those myriad glinting things are not the silver-scaled bellies of a thousand floating fish.
Tara White is an Irish writer and English Language teacher based in Dublin. She has a BA in English Studies from Trinity College Dublin and is currently receiving an MA in Creative Writing at UCD.
– By Micheal O’Flaherty
The wind came from the west, blowing up the cut of the river. It brushed by him as he stood on the riverbank, depositing on him its detritus and debris, sand and bits of fish and life and death that it had gathered on its passage from America across the ocean and in through Ballybunion.
How, how, how, he called trying to draw the cows to him.
They came slowly, taking their own sweet time, mocking his hurry. They trudged along their meandering path, its narrow line cut into the grass by their hooves, this passage that they decided was the best way to travel from field to the yard that they stuck to militarily in single, sedate, file. Eventually, he had the thirty two of them before him, headed for the yard, the whack of the plastic stick against his wellington urging them on.
There was a bit of give in the soil, the heel of his boot just breaking the surface of the grass. He imagined it releasing an aroma from somewhere, wafting up through the fissures in the ground. Maybe from below, from some hidden layer of mud, rock, mineral, laterite, saprolite, bedrock, whatever.
He looked at his watch. It was now a quarter to three and he was to meet herself at nine. It was going to be a close run thing.
Feckin Lazarus, he muttered. It’s all his fault. Holding the whole thing up. He’s no feckin help. About as much use as the real fella when it comes to dosing cattle. He was pretty sure there was no mention of Albex in Matthew or Acts or whatever.
He was always delaying his father, John, whenever he came over.
Hup, he smacked a straggler on the back. There was a satisfying sting in his hand from the impact and the cow scurried on a little, as much as a cow can scurry – inelegantly, all loose skin and swinging udder.
Feckin Lazarus. We were going grand ‘til he turned up. He never shuts that trap of his.
Earlier that morning
You’ll have a cup, Jack?
No, Mary, thanks. I just rose from the table.
Feckin Lazarus, Pat thought. You’d swear he’d been laid out.
Already, he could see his Saturday night slipping away. Possibilities, potentialities with Anne were drifting from his grasp. Admittedly, it was only a quarter to two in the afternoon and they were just finishing their dinner, but no good could come of having Lazarus help them out. The only part of that fella that ever got any exercise was his jaw.
Pat put his cup down on the table, his gavel of impatience, and looked across to his father, urging him to rise and get going for the farmyard.
Sure, Mary, I will have that cup after all. Some fuel for the job.
Any news, Jack?
Pat’s heart sank.
They were talking, of course, when he drove the last cow into the yard.
They broke into Joan Mac’s.
Won’t have gotten much there, I’d say.
They were lucky they didn’t get the business end of a 12 gauge.
She shot at you once, didn’t she?
That she did.
What was it over, again?
The bull broke into her heifers.
Ha! That’s right. I remember now.
She gave me a fair fright.
She told you she only fired to scare the bull out of the heifers.
That’s right. She nearly scared the shite out of me, though. I was picking pellets out of my hair for a week.
Lazarus snorted with laughter while John allowed himself a rueful smile.
She always had that gun handy.
True. Poor old Tommy Mac had a tough time with her.
She’s like an oul’ silage harvester, she chewed him up and spat him out.
And he was always so well dressed.
Always wore the three piece suite.
Three year he lasted with her.
T’was an ease to him in the end.
Was he sick? Pat asked, finally joining the conversation. Despite himself he had begun to listen to the two men, his father and his friend, talking in their easy patois, hypnotising him with their leisurely delivery.
No, they answered in unison.
Drive in the cows, five at a time, into the crush. Grab head; pull up. Stick the gun into the mouth past the tongue. Depress the trigger. Albex in. Fluke, worms shrivel and die before being shat out or something. Repeat by 31. Finished by a quarter to five. Not too bad.
Despite all that the milking didn’t begin until six.
Fierce cold, Mary. The hands are froze off me.
If you had done a bit of work … Pat thought.
Have a drop of tea.
It’s the stream. The stream’s bollixed. That’s why it’s so cold.
What stream? his father asked.
The river? Pat asked, wondering what the small body of water at the end of the Boundary Field had to do with the weather.
No. The one from Mexico.
Yeah. The Golf Stream. It’s gotten colder. Seen it on Discovery.
He now knew that it was unlikely that he would be on time for Anne. Would he even have time for a shower to scrub himself of the warm smell of cow shite or would he have to make do with a quick face and hand wash to expunge what he could of the aura of the land.
His father went into the parlour while drove the cattle into the collecting yard. There was only going to a few more seconds of peace before the dull, low whirr of the milking machine began. He breathed in the evening air, taking in the serenity, the shuffling of the cows’ hooves, the freshness of it all. Absorbing the farm. All that was at that point in time, at that moment, in that place before he joined his father in the pit.
The machine began and he began to drift away to his other world. The work was automatic. The honest labour of the good, work that did not trouble the conscience but, instead, nourished it. Fill the ration troughs, drive in the cows, wash their teats, dry them and put on the clusters. The twice-daily worship at the altar of the udder had begun once more.
They didn’t share much conversation, they didn’t have to. A look, a mutter or a movement was enough. The routine of the job was well established, like a dance they stepped about the pit, around the pipes and each other, away from the arses that dispensed shite and piss down on them. It never bothered his father, the puddle, as he used to call it. It, too, was honest and elemental. It was so dirty it was cleansing, the strong, sharp smell of the urine clearing his nose, the excrement soothing his hands. Clean dirt, he liked to call it.
The drone of the machine choreographed them, slowed down Pat’s thoughts until his hands and feet were able to work by themselves, until they slowed to the easy rhythm of the animals, the milk, the naturalness of it all.
He imagined himself in Paris, sipping a black coffee of some sort (he was more of a tea man) and smoking a cigarette, probably a Gitane. He thought of himself in Montmarte, lying on a bed in a tiny apartment with a black haired woman with a voluminous, curling bush, making love before setting out each day, canvas and brush in hand, to paint en plein air.
Time, freedom, two valuable commodities, neither of which could be bought. Time, to travel, to escape from the go round; freedom, to do just that. After finishing his masterpiece he would retire to some low-ceilinged bar and drink copious verres du vin and eat tarte au tatin until until one or the other of them made him vomit.
It was after eight when the machine was put out of its misery, the resulting silence hurting his ears after the two hours of constant assault. He was impatient to get going to Anne but the calves still had to be fed. Another half an hour, at least, plus wash-up. He banged the buckets as he got them lined up, ready for their feed, not so much in anger but frustration. He took out his phone, the white flag of surrender being unfurled, and began to hammer away on the keypad.
You go on, John said.
You go on, you’re in a hurry.
The calves …
I’ll do them.
You can’t. You’ll be here all night.
Sure and so what? I’m in no rush.
The motto of his life.
He put the phone away. He bent to the rest of the buckets and completed the line, all of them ready to be filled with the mixture of milk and hot water. He listened to the stillness, felt the coolness of the night’s air blowing through the dairy. Heard the wailing of the calves in their pens, calling for their feed. He watched the methodical way his father worked, filling the buckets.
I’m in no rush.
Time. What was it? Once it was gone it could never be recovered but there was always more of it to come. He took the phone out again.
It’s all right, he said as he texted. I’ll meet her later.
Message completed they went on their way, drawing the buckets across the yard. They were greeted by a wall of cries, of babyish shouting as they opened the door of the calf shed. They didn’t talk like he did with Lazarus, they didn’t need to. This was something else, filtered through the land, the animals, the weather. Once the calves were fed and the buckets were washed they walked across the yard to the house.
You’re late, his mother said when they came in the door.
Yerra, what of it?
You’ll get as bad as your father. He’d be late for his own funeral.
They sipped at their tea in silence. The satisfaction of a good day’s work easing their tiredness.
It was an easterly breeze from Siberia, across the continent, the Irish Sea and in across the country that brought the hail. It made a hard sound as it fell on the pine box, hammering it into the ground. He stood over it, oblivious to it beating on his head, his body, the cold it carried with it. He helped the diggers shovel some of the clayey soil into the hole but left them at it after a while. It was time to go home to the cows.
Micheal O’Flaherty is a librarian and writer living in Mallow, Co. Cork. He have previously had two westerns published under the pen name Mike Deane. Yee Haw! Check out Michael’s Blog and follow him on Twitter @michealof
– By Sinead O’Hart
I’ve nobody but myself to blame for all this. I’m the one who wanted to move away, to go right across the country. To go to a place where I knew nobody. I thought it would be a new start.
But of course everyone knows who I am. In what remains of my innocence, I hadn’t expected that. I really should have, though – the story was too good not to go all over. Crippled mother, dead son, absent father? It was redtop gold. Now the judgement of strangers wallpapers my life, glaring down at me from every passing eye. Every passing forehead wrinkles with cold, impersonal hatred. In every curled lip I see the message clearly: ‘I am better than you.’ I know it’s the truth.
And every photograph of Daniel’s face on the wall leers at me, like he knows too.
After his death, some of his classmates painted a mural at their school. They put him in the middle of the group. Tall and strong and smiling, he holds them all together like their cornerstone, their architect, their foundation. He looks like Christ in The Last Supper.
Realising how much he’s missed, by everyone but me, hurts worse than the razor.
He was supposed to honour me. He was supposed to protect me. He should have been my biggest fan, my best friend. The one who gave the warmest hugs and who loved in that specially protective way that only little boys grown big can possibly do.
Instead he… But I can’t say it, even now. The words just will not form.
And I couldn’t tell anyone – certainly not his dad. It wasn’t just the threats, though they did play a big part. It was the shame, too. Was it all my fault? Did I make him this way? Was it something I drank while he was in me? Something I ate?
Or maybe it boiled down to nothing more than this: one woman, incapacitated; one strong young boy, bored. Result: a scalded cancer of a family, lacerated and necrotic.
I can’t regret not calling the ambulance. I mean, I could’ve done it; my skinny arms might be too weak to fight, but they’re strong enough to pick up a phone. I still have my fine motor control, thank God. I could have done it. Instead I listened as he thrashed around on the kitchen floor, fighting for the breath that I prayed would never come. I wept as I prayed, but I prayed hard.
The world is a filthy enough place without a man in it like the one my son was becoming. The world has enough men like that.
And for all his strength, he was undone by a stray piece of food. Every Goliath has his David, I suppose. One mistimed breath over a chicken sub sandwich was all it took.
Well, that – and his mother pretending to be asleep in her wheelchair two rooms away.
Pretending not to hear.
Pretending not to be desperately, hatefully relieved.
But in a few minutes none of this will matter, anyway.
Nobody will even remember I was here. In this room. On this earth.
By the time the home help comes on her morning rounds, I’ll be gone.
I hope she won’t mind the mess.
Sinéad O’Hart likes words a lot more than they like her. The author of three (as yet unpublished) novels for young people, she is an active blogger, a regular commenter on writing.ie, and was longlisted for the Irish Writers’ Centre Novel Fair 2013. Follow Sinéad on Twitter @SJOHart
Dominic Corrigan lives in Sligo, Ireland. He holds an honours degree in Fine Art. His art has been exhibited throughout Ireland and also in New York at the Lockhart gallery. His next Solo exhibition is in The Model, Niland gallery, Sligo October . His work has been published or is forthcoming in, The Monkey Puzzle Press, Yemassee Journal and Out of Our Journal. Orio Headless, Bare Hands and Cerise Press spring 2013. Check out his website.
The secret of the universe is adrenalin. You can live without its rush for a while, but when it comes something ignites, flows. A rhythm hooks you out of your seat and onto the dance floor. Someone says I love you or let’s kill him.
Danny hadn’t felt anything much for a good while. Bought a house in the suburbs. Made money. Married Anna. But one night, one drizzly autumn night, he was driving back from his city centre office when something happened. My words aren’t good enough, for the something is not the kind of thing that might be conveyed by words like autumn and drizzly. I can only tell you that he’d pressed the search button on his car radio and it had flicked to the last minute of a song he loved. It hit him. The sly, sweet chemical of nostalgia (was it that, exactly?) swirled through his blood, welled up behind his eyes. People with frostbite only begin to hurt when they thaw out. No. That’s not it. Danny felt a cloying, acute, incurable wound that made him nostalgic for the last time he had felt such a feeling. That’s nearer. Would it help if I told you about how Danny felt before this night, this drizzly autumn night? He’d had such minor epiphanies before. The smell of toffee apples. His mother’s letters. Old photos But it had never lasted, had always quickly faded so that he might remember remembering, but wouldn’t feel anything much. But this one, this one on this drizzly night remained, getting stronger and stronger. Like heartburn. Like a hard-on.
As soon as he arrived home he rushed indoors and called to Anna. Without waiting for a reply he looked out the old box under the stairs where he’d shoved his vinyl albums. As soon as he found the record he put it on his old turntable. The scratch and hiss of sapphire on vinyl was exciting. It both put him at a distance and focused his attention. That’s not good enough. It made him painfully conscious of the past but only through his awareness of this moment. That’s too pompous. The words and music when they trickled through intensified everything. He listened to himself listening. He loved knowing that he had felt like this before. He forgot the last twenty years. Perhaps he had always felt like this, underneath it all. It was like wearing his older brother’s coat and walking the streets smoking his cigarettes. It was like getting off a train alone in a strange city, sharing someone’s bed for the first time. Life was all potential. Adrenalin. I cannot find a better word.
Anna, combing her unfashionably curly hair in the bedroom, heard the familiar music and felt something like a doom mixed up with panic. Why was he playing this record, now awakening things? It would end in tears. Perhaps he was drunk. I’m not doing Anna so well, am I? She did not really think about him in such clichés. But I am certain that she went down stairs, nonetheless, and planned to say something sensitive and touching and connected to their past. Instead she stubbed her toe on the door of the cupboard under the stairs.
‘Why have you left the cubby door open? I nearly killed my bloody self!’
‘Sorry. Just settling a bet. Steve said the words were ‘Acid, boots and tarts’ but I say it’s ‘Acid, booze and arse.’’
‘Acid, booze and arse, needles, guns and grass. Lots of laughs.’ That’s how it goes. You know it does. Why do men have to bet on everything?’
She went into the kitchen.
She went into the kitchen but she kept the door open and listened as intently as he did. He was going to shout something after her about women always picking on men, but the contrast between such banter and the delicacy of his feelings just then was too great. Anyway, he’d lied, you see, about making a bet (but you know that), lied simply to cover his exposure. Why should he defend men from her accusation when there were no men involved to defend? There wasn’t even a Steve in his office (but she knew that).
As he listened, he remembered them listening together, for the first time. She had said how beautiful (that was the exact bloody Laura Ashley word), how beautiful it was. Wow! All of it! He hadn’t agreed, had maintained a certain necessary masculine critical distance, even then. He’d said something about it being dated in its outlook. She needs to move on, needs more commitment (that was the exact radical bullshit word, commitment). He cringed. He remembered his words precisely and remembered that he had not believed them, even as he spoke them. Why hadn’t he echoed her words, created a shared moment with her? Why had he not given himself that delicious moment then so that they could share it now? He was thinking about calling through to her ‘I really loved this stuff’ when she shouted from the kitchen ‘You never liked this record anyway.’
‘No you didn’t. You said it was dated.’
‘Did.’ She knew that both of them would remember his exact words.
He was remembering how they had resolved it then by going for a couple of drinks in a funny little pub where the landlady had been all breathy and sweet with them and had kept smiling at them. They’d caught her mood. She had a funny little dog. Later on they’d giggled about her and her dog as they sprawled on the sofa in front of his Mum’s TV. He looked over towards the kitchen door. Was Anna also remembering that scene just now? He hoped not.
Needles, guns and grass. He had forgotten that line. As he heard it again, he couldn’t help shouting out ‘Hey, I never knew she’d been to Manchester!’ Why was he making cheap jokes when he was being thrilled, unbearably sensitised by the music? Just because it was unbearable. Unexpectedly, she replied with a loud laugh when he had been expecting a politically correct rebuke and another attack on what men always did. For her it was unbearable too? Perhaps.
He kept putting the stylus down on different tracks, parts of tracks. He loved the movement, the noise, the feel of it. He was trying to make it sounds as if he was writing down the words and had to keep repeating bits, but he liked the delicate weight of the pickup arm in his hand. Like a bird.
The scene on his Mum’s sofa had not ended it. Each week of their courtship they had become more intimate, had exposed more of their vulnerability or rather their pretended vulnerability. This is, after all, what lovers do, have to do, even when there is so little to expose. He felt a little sickly now and tried not to remember how they had used those tender confessions in rows, years later. It’ what couples do. But he could not forget how he had accused her of flirting with someone, ‘just like you always did with my brother.’ She could not help but retaliate by saying how often she’d noticed him looking at other women, how he’d even fantasised about women on album covers. Were they both now thinking of how those tender confessions had been betrayed?
I am on a lonely road and I am travelling. Yes, that was it. That was how he’d been. All his life. Even now in this cul-de-sac. Always travelling. Anna also heard the words. What piquant nuances they awoke. No, that’s not how she thought about it. She’s so hard to get right. Let’s see. She thought how comforting was the restlessness that those words evoked now and that she had felt then. That’s nearer. And she thought how comfortless was the peace that she had arrived at now. All this trash, she thought. Yes, all this trash (I’m getting her now) from the egg-rack in the shape of a cheerful chicken, the herbs and spices of the world set sitting on the kitchen shelf, the tea-cosy in the form of a twee country cottage. She picked it up and turned it inside out, preferring the tea-stained, grey interior. All this trash was a travesty of her ideas, her life’s significance. She could hire a skip and dump everything in it. She had a desire to run into the front room and hug her husband. She wondered if there were some words left to say that would make him want to take her off somewhere. Somewhere still to go.
He came into the kitchen, trying to hide his face as if this something that animated him was visible. And she did catch sight of something different about him but it made her recoil. Was it because the music had also changed her? Was this what she had waited for for so long? But then the urge to hug him returned, to bridge the years. She rushed her arms around him and made of her two hands a tight, girlish ball at the back of his neck, standing forward on her toes.
Danny squashed the side of his face against the side of her face and she could tell that he had ached for that hug. They rocked from side to side a little. But how long should they stay like this? Who breaks? What will end it? He pressed himself harder against her, lifted the back of her long skirt and slid his palms along her thighs. Could he really think that this was what it was about? So little imagination? She imagined him dragging her down to the kitchen floor and pushed him away. His body yielded to her shoving, but he kept his face buried in the side of hers, holding her head between his large hands like a football.
There was a metallic click in the front room and Danny turned towards it. ‘That’ll be the tape finishing. I’m recording it, you know, for Steve, to prove I’m right, I mean, about the words.’ More lies. He left the kitchen without ever having looked directly at her. He took the tape out of the machine and threw it on the coffee table. He would play it alone when he wanted to feel something. She wasn’t in it. Anna brought through his tea on a little tin tray that had ducks printed on it. He switched on the television with the remote, his tea on his lap. Maybe there would be some football on. Or a good film. A war film would be good, anything to shake off this unnecessary refinement of feeling, this presence of things that had so little to do with their lives, here, now. Really it was not so bad. He was coming down, back to banality. Where we all like to be. But then a crazy thought hit him. He called out before he had time to think about it. He called out ‘Hey Anna, why don’t we go dancing like we used to do?’
He heard the front door click and saw, through the bay window, Anna get into the car and drive away. He noticed that the tape he’d made was missing from the table. He ran to the garden gate, but could not see where she had gone.
She puts the tape into the car cassette player and turns it up loud. We don’t need no piece of paper from the City Hall keeping us tried and true. Love is the secret of the universe. She heads for the motorway, puts her foot down. Closes her eyes.
Stephen Devereux grew up near the Suffolk coast, its landscape figuring in much of his work. Most of his adult life has been spent in the North-West and the people and cityscapes of the north also loom large in his poetry. He write both traditional and contemporary poetry. He has contributed to many magazines, including: Acumen, Agenda, Ambit, Brittle Star, Borderlines, The Cannon’s Mouth, Carillon, Chimera, Coffee House Poetry, the Delinquent, Envoi, Iota, The Interpreter’s House, Other Poetry, Poetry Salzburg, Raindog, The SHOp, Seventh Quarry, Smiths Knoll, The Stinging Fly, Turbulence, The White Review. He has read at events and festivals, including supporting Felix Dennis on his Did I mention the Free Wine?tour. He has several poems on the Poetry Library, South Bank archive and has made recordings for them. He has been placed in several competitions including short listed for the Arvon Foundation Northern Short Story Competition, most recently, winner of the Slipstream Poetry Prize and runner-up for the Elmet Foundation’s Ted Hughes Prize (judge Liz Lochhead).
Just Another Day
– By Alvy Carragher
Silence is all she wants. There they are again, seagulls. They woke her at six with the shriek of birds trapped inland. It resonates. She knows how they feel, but that doesn’t make her anymore forgiving.
He sleeps through it all. Slurps, gurgles in his lumpish dreams. Always she lies staring at the back of him, the covers broken up in the folds of his legs as he curls away from her. She will never understand why he doesn’t hear the screaming of her mind.
“Did you sleep well?”
“Not really,” she replies.
“Look, I won’t be home, I’ve stuff to do this evening. Did you not post these yet?”
She sits scraping the fungus off the top of the yoghurt tub as he rumbles about. Perhaps he will eat it later. Maybe she can sandwich it somehow into the evening’s menu. She wipes the granite counter it looks like specks of stardust trapped beneath her cloth.
There is a constant stream of questions and he never waits for answers. Rifling through their post and then he hands her the paper.
“They’re looking for a cleaner down the road?”
“Do I look like a cleaner?” she asks.
“Bar-tending too, sure you’ve experience for that?”
“I hated it,” it sounds pathetic, whimpering.
He is gone. Out into the day, into his office where he taps answers to other people’s questions. Takes time to filter through answers. He has left his dishes gritty with cold porridge on the table.
She counts seconds. Checks Facebook and “likes” the lives of others. It’s been two hours. There is a dull ache in her lower back from sitting stooped over the screen. Time to apply for something she thinks, anything.
There they are again. Seagulls breaking the silence and their squawks strum through her. She googles places far from the coast, far from city-living. Her mind is in a desert, riding hissing camels across dunes with sand-storms for company.
The door slams and he is home.
“You didn’t post these?”
Those are his first words she thinks. That is the first thing on his mind.
“Is dinner not ready?”
That is his second thought she thinks.
“What did you do all day?” he asks.
She wipes the internet history. Google Images will not be constructive enough for him.
“The seagulls, they wouldn’t shut up,” she says.
“So what’s for dinner, did you do the shop?” he asks.
“I didn’t have time.” She wants to say. There is never any time.
Alvy Carragher is a Tipperary based 23 year old writer. An enthusiastic member of Dublin Writers Forum, she spends a lot of her free time attending poetry events and performing spoken word. She hopes to do a Masters in Creative writing and to someday be a published novelist, poet and short story writer. Check out her Blog and follow Alvy on Twitter.
During the last decade James has been fortunate to have his life on a pretty even keel and enjoy some very interesting and varied contract work. Hehas been able to do a fair amount of travelling while indulging in other things that interest him, such as photography and writing for business magazines. Check out more of his work here.
Last Year’s Child
– By Kenneth Duffy
Even with his mother’s sunglasses, the light becomes so excruciating that it drives him from the salon. The noise of the hairdryers drives him from the salon. The pink neon sign drives him from the salon. The stink of dry rot from the flat upstairs drives him from the salon. The condensation on the windows, the absence of his father, the burping of the water cooler, the twitching of Mrs.Greevy’s mismatched nostrils as his mother hoses the suds from her hair, his thoughts, his thoughts and his thoughts; all of these things drive him from the salon.
He runs. The church, the post office, the bus stop, the empty cinema, Harlow’s, Dempsey’s, Pinewood Lawns, the Garda station, the old handball alley, the FÁS office, Cherrylane Heights, Lidl, Maja Konopnicka pushing a buggy, the tinkers, the red bullock, the windy road, Tim Gallagher’s farm- their old farm; he runs and runs until the miles begin to stretch and overflow their banks. He runs until even the ridiculous energy of his stringy body begins to fail. Breath burns. Sinews burn. Muscles burn. Thoughts burn and burn until all that remains are ashes and Stephen can rest a while. His head aches but his head is a constant ache these days as his brain swells and pushes against the roughness of his skull. Writing, reading, sums, dates; all have begun to lose their wildness. All have begun to grow tame. Tuna. Magic tuna. Tuna. Someday soon. Tuna. Tuna. Tuna the magic food that makes you smarter. If only he had known sooner. Crack! Remedial classes. It had not taken long for the nickname to stick. In another hour the sun will touch the Earth and burn a hole right through Hannon’s bog and he will no longer need the oversized sunglasses which make him look like a gigantic ant. Retard. Crack!
He leans against the old washing machine that someone has dumped in the ditch. He fumbles one of the cans from his pocket. A white car with Dublin plates and a cracked windscreen appears from nowhere. It slows as it passes him. He hides the can behind his back. He waves but the driver does not see him. Soon the car is gone. He empties the can in two swallows and throws it into the brambles. Christ, his head! He pinches his arm just to distract himself from the pain. He bends double and forces himself to swallow the bitter spurt of vomit which fills his mouth. The tuna stays down with difficulty. His head aches but his head is a constant ache these days as his brain swells and pushes against the roughness of his skull. What is an element? An element. Come on, you know this one. An element? A perfect number, then? Or secondary industry? Or the French word for a strawberry. Why can’t he remember? Crack!
Retard. Crack! Soon he will remember. Soon all things will be made new. His T-shirt is too small for him but it is his favourite piece of clothing. Bee cool. It has a faded picture of a cartoon bee sitting in an igloo with a squint eyed Eskimo. It’s funny because the words mean something else. It was a gift from Adrian for his eighth birthday. Crack! He raises the T- shirt and winces. The rash is worse than ever. A blister ruptures beneath his probing and releases a tear which trickles down his belly and soaks into the elastic band of his underwear. A piece of skin comes away in his fingers. It is thick and rubbery, almost opaque. He pops it into his mouth. It tastes like tuna. He sees something in the raw skin that has been exposed, something metallic. He frowns. He can’t be sure. His head hurts. When he looks again, the metal has vanished. The light! Everything is so bright these days. He is grateful for his mother’s sunglasses.
The memory comes unbidden as it always does. Why does his brain do this to him? Is he not the one in charge? Once again, he is a toddler. His father is in the slurry pit. Oh, this is such a bad thought! Mercifully, Stephen has learned how to drive the bad thoughts away. He begins to crack his knuckles. Crack! The look of surprise as his father realises that he has begun to sink. Crack! His father growing frantic as he searches with his feet to find the bottom of the tank. Crack! His father’s mouth filling with slurry. Crack! Crack! Crack! His hands are numb by the time his brain agrees to leave the thought alone. He is no longer a toddler. He is not a child. He is not yet a man. His mother says that he is last year’s child. Next year’s man. Tim Gallagher still uses the tank in which his father drowned. It took two days to dredge the tank. Two days. The coffin was closed. Crack! Crack! Crack! Obedient brain. His head hurts.
He kicks at the dock leaves. His head hurts. He kicks and kicks again until the leaves are a pulpy mess.
After a minute his anger subsides. Patience! The change will take time. He must be patient while the tuna works its magic. He must be patient like that time when Adrian had brought him to the hide and they waited half the morning just to see the Harrier. Stephen had never really seen the bird, just a patch of lightness among the trembling leaves. He had lied when Adrian had asked him. His uncle had seemed so happy. Stephen still misses his Uncle Adrian. Maybe his father’s family was cursed.
He spies the empty can of tuna among the weeds. Tuna. Spitting a gob of salty phlegm, he straightens and looks towards the battered sky. Somewhere a blackbird is singing and somewhere else a bonfire is blazing. At first, Stephen thinks that the Fish is a hot air balloon, a stray from out of the castle at Cathnaspera. Rich Knobs with more money than sense sometimes drive down from the city and hire a balloon for the afternoon and then get wasted as they float over the lakes. Getting high, getting high; that’s what they call it. Oh, to be a Knob. Last summer, Stephen had spied on a crowd of them through the gap in the orchard wall. The cars! Man, the cars! Mercs, Beemers even an old E type with a bonnet the size of a pool table. And the women! Knobs can afford the very best women. Then again, Knobs are not retards. Crack!
As it moves closer, Stephen can see that the Fish is not a balloon; the fish is a fish. With one kick of its enormous tail, the great Tuna descends. The low sun makes the edges of each scale burn as bright as tungsten but then a cloud moves and the shadows deepen and the scales cool as quickly as if they have been doused with water. At first, Stephen is afraid. Then he is not.
The Tuna God is a mountain, an island, a continent, an entire world which hangs in the midge filled sky above Stephen Rooney. Tree sized gill flaps open with a sucking sound to expose a variegated pinkness which ripples obscenely and then falls still. Waxy fins twitch minutely and ceaselessly; the drafts created by their movement quickly dries the sweat on Stephen’s brow until it is no more a gritty crust. The Fish’s eyes are as tall as two Stephens standing one on top of the other. The unfathomable depths of the vast pupils are ringed by an iris of violent silver. Galaxies have ended as those unblinking eyes looked on.
For a full minute they do not move but merely look at one another, the Tuna God and the Retard.
“Who are you?” It is Stephen who speaks first.
“I am the Tuna God,” says the Tuna God. The Tuna God’s voice is that of Stephen’s father, or the voice with which Stephen imagines his father spoke. The blackbird falls silent and all of the many pains and shames and sorrows in Stephen’s body vanish.
Stephen nods. He considers kneeling before the Tuna God but instead he thrusts his hands into his pockets. His fingers close on another can of tuna.
The Tuna God does not move. Another Minute passes like this. From the main road come the tormented notes of some boy racer’s engine.
“Who am I?” Stephen removes his mother’s glasses and winces in the twilight.
The Tuna God shrugs in the way in which all fish shrug. “You are my son. Through you will all things be made new.”
“When?” Stephen vomits. The puddle of tuna steams gently among the weeds.
The Tuna God seems not to notice. “Soon, my son. All that is needed is the courage to swim.”
The great Fish cannot smile but Stephen knows that if He could, He would.
“Remember, my son.” The Tuna God allows Himself to be turned by the breeze. “Bee cool.”
Stephen drinks the juice from the new can as the Tuna God swims into the setting sun. He laughs out loud. It’s funny because the words mean something else.
“Did you get far?” Even though her mouth moves, Stephen can tell that his mother has already left for the day, that she is lost somewhere in the bottle of cheap vodka which she is trying to hide by the side of the couch. “There’s some dinner left in the oven. Pizza. It got a little burnt but sure you don’t mind, love. Do you?” His mother takes a slow motion swallow from her glass. Retard. Crack! Stephen can feel himself growing angry at the empty space beside his mother. Crack! His head has begun to pound again. Slurry. Crack! Tuna. The Tuna God. His father is the Tuna God. All things will be made new.
In the kitchen, Stephen checks to see if the cat has been fed. The cat is his responsibility. The bowl is empty. He roots in the cupboard beneath the sink. The cat food contains real tuna chunks. Stephen would have thought chunks was spelled with an x. Retard! Crack! He helps himself to a spoonful of the cat food as the cat looks on. Even though he doesn’t mean to, he eats half the can. His head hurts. He starts to cry. There will not be enough food for the cat’s breakfast. Oblivious to the pain it causes him, he scratches his belly. A strip of flesh as large as a saucer comes off in his hand. This one is too large to eat. He throws it into the bin and mops at the scorching constellation of bloody pinpricks left behind with some kitchen roll. The kitchen roll has pictures of palm trees on it. There is definitely something in the new skin, something hard, yet soft. Scales! Stephen is growing scales! Stephen is becoming a tuna. Stephen is becoming smarter. Stephen is not a retard. Stephen is…In the living room, Stephen’s mother knocks over her bottle. The cat winces. The time has come to swim. Stephen can hear his mother’s cursing. No matter. Soon she will be asleep and he will… For now he must bee cool. It’s funny because the words mean something else.
Tim Gallagher pretends not to listen as the doctor talks to Cathy Rooney about hallucinations and rashes and liver damage and kidney damage and mercury poisoning and tuna. Christ! How much tuna had the poor lad eaten? At least the guards have left. Stephen’s mother is drunk. She’s been drunk since the funeral. Tim can see that her hands have been scarred and scarred again by the frequent slip of scissors. The woman herself is just one big scar. Everyone knows that she’s in trouble with the bottle. The salon won’t last much longer. The other lady must be her sister. Hard to know if she is younger or older. She made good time coming down from the city. Then again, there’d be nothing on the roads at this hour of the night. It’s a good road too. The doctor looks sad and tired. The nurses look tired and sad. The family is cursed. Though they mightn’t believe it, everyone knows it. First the father. That slurry tank has always given Tim the chills. He should have filled it in when he first bought the place. Then there was the brother. Adrian was a lovely fella. Hard to believe that accident was four years ago now. The lorry dragged him for six miles before they flagged the driver down. Tim closes his eyes. And now the boy. Thank Christ for Queenie! Tim’s eyes jerk open. He reaches for a magazine with some young one in a bikini on the cover. Christ! His mind begins the loop once more. Queenie’s barking, the fumbling for trousers and boots, his wife’s whispers, how light the shotgun had seemed, the circle of torchlight bouncing off the walls of the sheds, the nakedness of the poor child; arms and legs like broom handles. Christ ! The look of rapture in Stephen’s eyes as he had lowered himself into the slurry tank. Tim had been to Lourdes when the auld one had started to lose her mind. He had never seen such ecstasy on those withered faces.
Kenneth Duffy is a science teacher in an Irish language school in Dublin. He lives in Wicklow with his wife.He restricts himself to no more than two cans of tuna per week.
– By Duffie
A long time ago on a far away planet there was a race of people called the Elementorians, the planet thrived for millions of years until two fell in love, the imbalance of their species led to chaos, they were opposites and were told to either separate or be banished from their planet, but their love was so strong they decided to leave together. The rulers of their planet were enraged by their choice and so imprisoned them in a far off galaxy to encircle each other until they died.
The two could only be with each other once every so many years, but the time was unbearable so they decided to create their own race which was allowed to love whoever they wished, here was born Earth, at first it was a dried up rock but eventually as they circled they formed it into a sphere but the planet was bear so the next time they were together they created from themselves 4 new Elementorians; Earth, Air, Fire and Water. In time the planet grew beautiful and life began to form, the Elemento’s combined themselves in many different ways to create even more of their race; Metal, Sand, Cloud and Rock, in time they created mountains and seas, deserts and forests. Soon creatures were born roaming the planets, but there was no passion in there mating and too much violence, so the original Elementorians combined their power to bring about the Humankind, they were to have no powers and to be all equal yet perfectly individual, each with their own mind and free will and to live short life spans.
Over time, the Humans got smarter, the Elementorians were all given names; the originals were called Sun and Moon. The planet had many vulnerabilities and the Humans suffered from them, some painful, deadly, some weren’t even noticeable but had long term effects. Over thousands of years their ability to adapt was proven and technology was getting more and more helpful. Medicine, housing, facilities, languages, education and transport were invented and progressively getting better.
The Humans had created several Religions, all which were mostly made from wishful thinking, there was only small parts that rung true in each theory. At the next Eclipse the Sun and Moon conferred with the first four Elemento’s and came up with an idea to grant one human a special ability every year. As they put this to action they noticed that the chosen humans didn’t even realise they had these abilities.
All seemed lost as the Humans didn’t believe such a thing existed, the Elemento’s were slowly dying out and were now desperate for Humans to take their place and used the stars to determine what magic was given; people born under the Zodiac signs for Air had power over air, people born under Earth signs had power of earth etc. Another problem arose; whenever a human claimed to have used their power they were shut away and called crazy by those who were afraid of what they didn’t yet understand.
With the Elemento’s slowly dying they lost control of their Elements. Tornados, Volcanoes, Tsunami’s, Tidal waves, Earth Quakes, Floods, animals becoming extinct or endangered, plants dying out, Avalanches and so on, the world was falling apart. So finally the Elemento’s got so desperate they came together in a Human form to prove to other Humans that this “magic” existed. Many people were frightened and ran away, others were curious and watched. Their authorities could do nothing watching as they bent their assigned Elements, explaining to them they could also do it.
Now, another Century later the world is thriving again, the Sun and Moon are worshipped as should and people freely use their abilities for good, sometimes evil but with their passion and strong will they overcome any obstacles that want to imbalance them. The Sun and Moon themselves used the still could not be with each other but smiled upon the Earth knowing that the other was doing so to, and watching them made time fly so it never seemed like an eternity before meeting anymore.
Danielle Duff, preferred name Duffie. 20 years old lives in the North West of England, aspiring novelist currently studying Creative Writing. Hobbies include everything. Very dry sense of humour, sarcastic most of the time. Unemployed by choice, to begin a career just for the money is a very unhappy career, living in poverty is preferred however currently living with Grandparents. Further plans until long term goal is achieved would be to keep learning new things, discover and see what is available and just live, laugh and love.
I don’t usually include an editor’s note but I decided to make an exception on this occasion. Thank you to everyone who submitted for The Beat Writers’ Issue to celebrate the birthday of Jack Kerouac, it has been a real labour of love. We are delighted to feature the work of Eddie Hearne, Caroline Healy, John P Brady, Andrew McEneff and David Levingstone.
As the title suggests to fully experience Eddie Hearne’s To Be Accompanied By Highway 61 Revisited this story should be read while listening to Bob Dylan’s fantastic sixth studio album. The story within a story aspect to Eddie’s piece works really well, he draws on the self-reflective nature of writing and the huge role real life experiences have to play in the writing process.
Caroline Healy’s work Omni(m)potent is a master class in originality, it is a very beautiful and thoughtful piece exploring relationships, subjectivity and internal dialogue. No Beat Issue could be complete without a strong female voice!
John P Brady’s Streets of San Francisco takes us right into the heart of Beat country where his narrator like a young Jack Kerouac goes in search of the elusive pearl, looking for the heart of Saturday night – you’ll have to read it to see if he finds what he’s looking for.
Andrew McEneff’s enthusiastic and inspiring essay The Lost Beat Generations of Ireland takes a look at what Irish literature has lacked to date and more importantly how that is changing!
David Levingstone’s wonderful photography provides the perfect visual accompaniment to these writings!
The Bohemyth has been up and running for nearly 5 months now – I want to take this opportunity to thank any one who has liked or shared a facebook post, followed us on twitter, favourited a tweet or retweeted a tweet – your support means everything.
To all of our writers, contributors and readers thank you for letting me be a part of this – without you there would no Bohemyth. I am constantly amazed and humbled by the talent and loveliness that shores up in The Bohemyth’s Inbox. You are all Cool Happy Genius Heroes!
xxx Bon Anniversaire Ti Jean xxx
Photography: David Levingstone is a photographer, art director and bearded man from Tipperary living in Dublin, more of his work can be found on Flickr. David currently works for Getty Images.
John Catskill was dozing in a Las Vegas hotel room. When he awoke, one eye first, tentatively, a blurred vision of two empty bottles of Corona, one half-full bottle of water, and a near to empty litre bottle of vodka on the bedside locker, unfurled the first memory in his mothball brain. It was a scene that was not lost on him. It would be framed like a snapshot in his mind. And it was these snapshots that he liked to ponder over, and airbrush, and adjust ever so slightly so that they’d resemble a sombre middle-America movie. His phone lay beside him on the pillow. He needed a soundtrack. Who better than Bob Dylan? To the opening bars of Like a Rolling Stone he pulled himself into a sitting position, reached for a hotel notepad, and a hotel pen, and began to write…
My stomach was doing pirouettes but the air-con felt good. My back was sunburnt. The very thought of how hot it was outside was draining the last drops of vapour from my already dangerously dehydrated body. How hot was it? Hot enough to bake bread maybe.
Which reminded me; Brown bread, with two hands removed in a desert grave. Or so I’d read in a newspaper yesterday. The story concerned a young Irish student who had gotten into trouble with the wrong people. They’d sawn off his hands for good measure.
The thought of it, I was half dead myself. I’d been travelling around for the past two weeks. I’d flown into San Diego from JFK, and then caught a bus to LA. After that I’d continued on to San Fran before renting a car and driving to Vegas. My clothes needed washing. I could have done with a shave but didn’t have the money for razors, not after last night, when I’d bet on black and it turned up green!
Thankfully I was going back to New York the next day.
John looked at the playlist. The next song was Tombstone Blues. He’d gotten his soundtrack right anyway. He sipped his water to stay on the right side of alive…
But last night, yes, last night. What a blast that was. It flew by like a rocket ship orbiting a strange neon planet. And when the little thing landed – the rocket ship that is – I found myself standing at the casino bar in the Flamingo. It was late, or to be more precise it was early; maybe hitting five in the morning. And there I was looking into the eyes of the sweetest little gal in all of Vegas.
We talked for a while about who knows what. I felt like I was fifteen years old again; tripping over those precious words that don’t come easy when you’re pursuing a girl like none you’ve seen before. Then to my surprise we stumbled onto books. It was my doing I suppose.
We began with Kerouac. We agreed on Kerouac. Everyone does though, don’t they? It isn’t cool not to. She was young, I thought innocent too, but she knew books. Who knew books at her age?
‘I’m reading Junot Diaz,’ she said.
‘You look a little Spanish,’ I said.
But for me it was the perfect way of getting around to it; after I’d typed Bukowski into her phone. What a name to spell when you’re sizzled. It must have taken me four attempts.
But yes, getting around to it.
‘I’ve written a book y’know,’ I said.
Her neat little fingers were locking her phone at the time. Fingers of an angel I might say if it wasn’t such a cliché. Ah to hell with it. They were the fingers of an angel. I was falling in love with those fingers. They could march up my chest in an early morning summer bed and tap me on the chin to say hello. At which point I’d smile and remind her about the time we met in a badly-carpeted casino in the melting heart of the Nevada desert.
That would be ten years from now. She’d be thirty-two and I’d be five years her senior. We’d have conducted a cross-country affair, married in a Colorado chapel, and be ready to bring a second beautiful child into the world – the beauty donated from her gene pool.
‘You wrote a book?’ she replied, swaying gently in front of me.
It was a question that I still wasn’t used to answering. It was my book, my beloved first self-publication, the inpouring of my soul, the outpouring of my grieving, written beneath a down-pouring of rain. And I remember her mouth when she said it, and her teeth too, such white teeth, smiling teeth, tipsy teeth, protecting her slender tongue, from which she rolled syllables so delicately I wanted to catch them and wrap them and sell them in a gift shop for things of such finesse.
‘Yeah,’ I laughed, seeing the funny side of it.
She was making me giddier than a sugar-fuelled little-leaguer. Where had she been for the last two nights? I thought. When I’d stumbled up and down the strip, half-blind from the neon lights and the free vodka they ply you with at the roulette tables. Where had she come from? She was the work of a love-struck artist. She was moulded from the clay of sacred soil and coated in the pairings of a golden harp.
Bob knew what John was talking about. Now he was singing about Queen Jane. She was his Queen Jane. John would have worshiped the ground she walked upon. He continued writing…
‘You really wrote a book?’ she said, her thin legs, wrapped in skinny jeans, planted now.
‘Yeah. Come ‘ere. Type this into your phone,’ I said.
She typed. I watched. They were definitely the prettiest fingers I’d ever seen. We waited. I knocked back another Washington apple skin. We were both beyond drunk. Her finer details were fading in my brain. Her face was still there but not in its entirety.
As John scribbled his stomach rumbled. His liver felt like a cleaner’s cloth being wrung dry of a barroom floors deposits. He tore off another page and continued to write…
‘That’s it?’ she said, leaning into me.
I nodded, and crossed my arms. I was as smug as a rosy-faced fat kid who’d just won at hop scotch.
She zoomed in. She enlarged the screen with two perfect fingers.
‘Can you see it?’ I asked.
With eyes squinted she read, ‘Diary of a Fallen Man.’
Just like that she said it, and upon hearing those words presented to me with such splendour I believed my life path to be altered forever. I felt like writing a new book. Something so full of romance they’d stack it with the chic-lit and erotica. She was inspiring me to go somewhere beyond pessimism, to a land filled with happy-clapping positivity.
On my travels I’d seen an old Cadillac deserted on a California desert road. That’s how I felt at the time. But not now, no, now I was re-energised, now we were zooming down the Pacific coast, polished and sleek, with the top down, a full tank of gas and my leather seats moulded to her slim frame and… what?
Cars, he thought. Track four; From a Buick 6. It was planted in his subconscious by Bob.
John was now feeding grapes into his mouth with one hand. He’d bought them in a general store in Death Valley. It was before he’d passed the Shady Lady Ranch whorehouse and laughed so hard he made grape juice in his nose.
He ripped another page from the pad…
‘I’ll read it in the morning,’ she said.
I could tell she was impressed. I mean who writes books anymore? I had a new shirt, Banana Republic jeans, and eighty dollar shoes. It wasn’t as if I looked like a writer. After all it was only part-time. By day I worked in a legal firm. Money came in and money went out. But there I was writing stories on Bally’s Hotel note paper.
Nothing about me made sense. I was living a double life. John Catskill didn’t even know who John Catskill was. But maybe he would, ten years from now.
Yes, ten years from now, drinking coffee in bed with Crystal. She told me her name was Crystal in an email she’d sent the previous night. I’d forgotten her name. I often did. I was a low life at times – But only when I was drunk.
Where was I? Oh yes, drinking coffee, in that same summer bed, with white bed sheets, and outside the Colorado crickets asleep.
Her fingers would march south then, to where my naked body is halved by a patchwork quilt. She’d give me those eyes. We’d make love twice. We’d come twice. It’s easy when you’re in love. There’s electricity. Then I’d tell her that in a different life we were high school sweethearts and that we kissed beneath the portable stand in the football field at the exact same time that Bob Dylan was writing Ballad of a Thin Man.
‘I think you’re really pretty,’ I told her.
She laughed. I was being too obvious.
‘You’re being too obvious,’ she said.
‘Am I?’ I replied.
Then she laughed some more and rocked towards me. I caught her before she fell.
‘What are you laughing at?’ I said, and accompanied her with a smirk of my own.
‘I don’t know,’ she said.
We both laughed. Washington apple skins will do that.
When she finally managed to say it she said, ‘I dunno, it takes a lot to laugh, it takes a train to cry.’
‘Are you quoting Bob Dylan?’ I asked.
‘Yes. But I don’t know why,’ she replied, her nose scrunched up from laughing.
I noticed it then, the crystal stud in her nose. If I’d remembered her name I would have made a smart remark about it. Instead, when we’d finished laughing, I asked her where her ancestors were from. They were Spanish she told me – which explained Junot Diaz – and she was some part Irish, some part Native Indian and a little Italian.
I told her she looked mostly Spanish and Native Indian. Her face was small and round and tanned. Her eye’s spun, but when they stopped they landed on mine, and lingered, and she smiled, and I ran my fingers along her arm, while her older sister who was soon to be married, and who was sitting on a stool at the bar, looked on disapprovingly.
But I didn’t care. They could all stare. Her hairdresser friend who said my hair was fine could stare. The girl with a nurse’s gait who wanted everyone to guess her age could stare. My travelling companions Sal Paradise and Nick Belane could stare. They were fictional of course. I travelled alone.
The barman who I tipped for putting an extra shot of alcohol in my Washington apple skin could stare.
I touched her arm and looked into her brown eyes and felt her skin smooth and warm. She did the same. She ran the back of her hand against mine, and for that split second we both knew. We were both in on it. The story was already been written by a young writer in a lonely Vegas sick bed.
John felt like he was ready to give up. There was no sense to it. If he couldn’t find a publisher then he thought he would just quit. But he continued to write. He might have been the first person ever to wake up with a hangover in Vegas and write a story about a Colorado beauty.
But the music lifted him. Highway 61 Revisited. It was upbeat and reminded him of a box of fire-crackers exploding.
The cleaner would most likely need to replace the note pad…
I had ideas about running away with her. I wondered if her parents would disapprove. Not that I’d give them reason too. I’d work the land, and drive a harvester, and every evening we’d sit down for dinner after I’d scrubbed my nails clean with the hard bristles of a nailbrush, and talk of how each other’s day went.
‘Are you here tomorrow?’ she asked.
I told her I would be.
She took her phone out of her pocket and I spelled out my email address.
‘Maybe we can meet up tomorrow?’ I said.
‘Definitely,’ she replied.
But it was Vegas. Anything could happen before that. I could wake up with the blues. Just like Tom Thumb.
John felt awful. It was a struggle but he moved the pen across the page. And on those small sheets of paper each memory was entrapped in ink and each moment engraved, like that moment when her friends stood to leave and she said had to go, and he went to kiss her cheek but she turned and gave him her lips.
And as Bob blew the last note on Desolation Row John Catskill did the only thing he could when he knew he’d never see her again.
He immortalised her in words.
Eddie Hearne, originally from Waterford lives and works in Dublin, Ireland. His short story In Dreams won the Irish Writers Centre Lonely Voice short story competition in August 2011. He is currently working on his debut novel entitled The Play (which can be read on authonomy.com) A lover of the short story form he has also put together a collection of short stories entitled Irish, American tales. When not writing he enjoys watching 1950’s movies, paying for his sins in the gym, frequenting Dublin’s many pubs and travelling. His favourite authors include Jack Kerouac, Hunter S. Thompson, Hubert Selby Jr. and Jim Thompson.
– By Caroline Healy
I am omnipotent.
I see everything. I hear everything. I know everything.
At times it can be quite a d
Take Shirley for instance.
The things I know about her; you wouldn’t believe.
You might assume that we are friends.
When you know everything about everything and
everyone, you would be surprised how hard it is to make friends.
It doesn’t bother me anymore, though. You get used to
Anyway, Shirley. Yes. Shirley, Shirley, Shirley.
I know she hates herself.
Wonders periodically why she even exists.
She hates herself with complete commitment.
The passionate dislike she feels for herself is in direct contrast to
the passion she feels for Dave.
Dave, Oh Dave, the love of her life, the light of her life,
the one person who makes her feel like getting out of bed in the
morning. Her reason for being. Dave. Dave. Dave.
Dave: who beats her, night after night, in their one
bedroom apartment, with a prosperous view overlooking the
Nobody else knows about this, of course.
Apart from Dave and Shirley.
Nobody but me, that is.
Knowing everything is loud sometimes and sometimes
I’m not sure which I prefer more.
Dave hits Shirley, Shirley loves Dave, Shirley hates
It’s simple really.
See in the corner there, the corner of the room, where
the walls meet at an almost perfect right angle, there is a beetle,
under the floor boards, pushing a crumb. It’s impossible to see
him, as he is sheltered beneath the timber, it’s impossible to hear
him as he is so tiny, but I know he is there.
It’s not only people and their loud pulsating that I know
about. It’s the colour of the couch, the exact feel of the leather,
the exact number of spoons in the drawer in the kitchen, the
make and model of the car in the front yard.
It’s all in the details….and sometimes detail is all.
At the docks a ship has come in, its cargo of fish reeks. Five
dockers work long hours to unload this catch. Kev, Timmy Small,
Peter, Big Johno and Frank; they chat amicably about the football, the
page three model in the Sun and the cuts to their wages. Then, when
their shift is over, three walk aimlessly to the pub to spend their pay
and two more go the long way home, along the train track. When they
are sure that no body is looking, they hold hands, whispering sweet
nothings to each other. I see you.
Whispers, stolen moments, beatings and beetles pushing crumbs.
sitting in the
at the fertility
clinic, her partner
afraid to tell
her that he
wants to leave
her. Afraid that
out his mouth.
he is, waiting to
see a black man
about making a
baby. A black
man; a fertility
specialist. It does
not sit right with
but me that
Jimmy is a little
racist. He is
like the sparing
skim of fresh
butter he puts on
his toast every
about the black
doctor, the skim of
butter or Jimmy‘s
reluctance to have
a baby. She is
what Jimmy said,
about the possibility of
having a defective
wrinkles her brow,
what does that
even mean? In he
heart of hearts she
knows what it
means, it means
that she is to
blame. A defect
from her; she is at
She is the one
who may not be
able to reproduce
and all she wants,
the only thing she
wants, is to be like
She hates Jimmy sometimes. He is normal, like
everyone else. But Miriam is too weak to stand up and tell
them what she really thinks. Tell them to leaver her alone.
It’s what she wants to do, I know because I can hear the
words reverberating around in her head.
Fuck off, fuck off, fuck off…all of you just fuck off!
I like Hannah the best.
If I chose to have a friend, it would probably be her.
She tells people exactly what she thinks.
She likes boys and girls, it’s not a matter of sex, it’s a
matter of SEX. She is not fussy and doesn’t discriminate. She
simply wants to fuck and when this happens, she chooses
whoever is most convenient. People might say she is afraid of
emotional commitment, I would argue that she is just honest.
She has a small flat on the ground floor of an old
She likes tea pots and mismatched crockery.
She has had a few steady boyfriends, none of them good
enough, each one a little more impotent at life than the next.
She wonders sometimes how she manages to gather such
a mish-mash of walking eunuchs around her.
She has recently started dating women but finds them
the same, needy, self-conscious, forever looking to input into her
I know quite a bit about Hannah, I spend a lot of time
Hannah has made spaghetti carbonara for tea, she thinks it
might be the type of thing that Dwane eats on a regular basis;
large bowls of carbohydrates. She doesn’t really have any
deeper interest in Dwane other than the fact that she thinks he
has a hot body. Everyone needs sex, right? And Hannah is no
I’m just an OBSERVER.
Dwane reaches for her.
I’m just an OMnI(m)potent OBSERVER.
I see everything.
I hear everything.
I know everything.
Except what’s going to happen next…..asdfjkl;asdfjkl;asdfjkl;a
Caroline Healy is a writer and community arts facilitator. She has recently completed her M.A. in Creative Writing at the Seamus Heaney Centre, Queen’s University, Belfast. She published her first collection of short stories, entitled A Stitch in Time in August 2012, having won Doire Press’s International Chapbook Short Story Competition. Her work has been featured in publications such as Wordlegs, Prole and the Irish Writers’ Centre Lonely Voice. Caroline is completing the edits to her second short story collection, The House of Water and is working on her second young adult novel entitled The Wolf Mirror. You can follow Caroline on Twitter @charliehealy8 and check out her wonderful website: www.carolinehealy.com
Streets of San Francisco
– By John P Brady
I turned and mounted the steep hill on Taylor Street. I was in San Francisco at last. I didn’t look back as the car disappeared behind me; we had spent every moment of the last 3 days together travelling from San Diego. They were good people but now our paths diverged. My road was another and I had to follow it.
I entered Amsterdam Hotel and proceeded to pay for my accommodation. The goth girl on the desk put on Stone Temple Pilots as I waited to check in. A French guy in a floral shirt scrambled around in the office behind her.
“Is that Soundgarden?” I asked her.
“No, it’s STP,” she responded.
“Same band,” I commented trying to rise her.
“Excuse me, you’re talking to a fan,” she defended.
And quite a lady she was – just my type, with an edge to her. I imagined her dancing seductively in a dark rock club. Her punk/rock/chick look persuaded me to ask her for some local knowledge.
“So where does a guy go to have fun in this town?” I asked in an unapologetically thick Irish accent.
She immediately scribbled on a map the location of all her favourite rock hangouts, describing each one to make sure my decision would be an informed one. Grateful, I thanked her and grabbing my guitar and bag, headed for the second floor.
I needed to wash so looking in the bathroom I found a bathtub with a shower. The bath was blocked and almost full of the vilest liquid I could have imagined. It wouldn’t have been wise to get in, so I showered standing on the edges, slipping as I went. Water overflowed from the bath and covered the floor.
Soon afterwards there was a knock at my door. The French guy from reception rushed into the room saying there was a problem in the kitchen. We looked into the bathroom to see the several inches of water that had collected on the floor ripple gently.
“Okay, we have a problem,” the he asserted.
Soon I was helping him attack the bath with a large plunger.
“Ah, is no good,” he sighed. ‘I worry for the kitchen.’
It was clearly a job for him. It was time to get out and see the city so I prepared to leave. The French guy wore an impressive 70’s shirt which I had to comment on.
“That shirt you’re wearing is superb,” I mentioned.
“Ah thees one! Somebody leave it behind and I just wear it!”
Well, as the Yanks say: “That’s how I roll!”
It was time to find these dungeons of rock that San Francisco proudly hid amidst its great hills and corners.
After a quick step down by Union Square I grabbed a quick slice of pizza and moved towards the party streets. Bums were everywhere. Some I thought had arrived into the city just like me with a little money and just fell on hard times. America really forgets its poor.
I saw a suitably underground bar and went in. It was packed with stoned punters who wore mostly black. Neil Young sang out proudly on the jukebox. “Be on my side/I’ll be on your side…”
The barman poured me ale and I searched for a seat. I saw room in a seedy corner by a pool table. I gestured to the guy sitting there to ask if it was okay to sit. He looked deep into space and completely ignored me. I sipped deep into my first beer in San Fran.
The guy next to me raised a hand suddenly and held it there, almost touching my head. I stole a glance to see what variety of maniac he was. He gestured to an unscrupulous character at the other side of the pool table that looked back menacingly. Obviously my choice of seat was not popular with everybody. He approached and stood over me staring fixedly with empty eyes. I decided it was time to move.
I passed the legions of “cool kids” who each wore more unusual clothing that the last. The bar appeared to be divided in two, stoned rockers one side, coked-up hipsters the other. I left for another bar.
I went out into the fresh San Francisco night and noticed the chill from the mist which descended over the bay each evening. I saw the Edinburgh Castle on my right. Outside to the left of the bar, sat six or seven teenagers. They were puffing on joints and taking photos of each other
“Hi Mom, I’m high,” said one girl while posing for her hairy friend’s camera.
To my right a circle of older punters was forming. One tall guy with grey hair stood fidgeting in his pocket.
“Are you on stage now, man?” one of the others asked him.
The grey haired man produced a dope pipe, and began puffing hurriedly. He grumbled to the affirmative.
The group of guys puffed on American style joints and miniature pipes on the main street as a homeless black crack-head looked on. His eyes screamed for a hit. The grey haired guy reached into his pocket and parted with a roach to cheer him up. The crack-head grasped it frantically and putting it in his mouth, tried to puff.
“No you have to light it first…wait a minute…there you go,” said the grey haired man.
A moment later they went inside the bar, leaving the crack-head swaying alone, puffing relentlessly. I followed along inside, intrigued.
The grey haired man walked to the stage and picked up a bass guitar with the authority of a true musician.
The music began and I leaned against a post drinking ale, totally captivated by what I saw. It was progressive and delicate, soft and strong. Hippies of all ages swayed to the music, others watched with reverence.
The music ended and I snapped out of my haze and went outside. During the road trip from the Mexican border, I had not been on my own even for a moment for 4 days and now the feeling was strange. I went back to where I was standing before watching an endless stream of hobos passing. A mixed group of fashionable mid-twenties in front of me looked to be deciding on their next move.
I used my shamelessly lost Irishman line once again.
“So where does a guy go to have fun in this town?”
“You have an accent!” a girl responded as the five of them turned around in unison.
“Where are you from?” another asked.
They were eager to show me the city.
“Come with us we’re goin’ out now!”
Moments later I was in the back of a Chrysler careering through the streets of San Francisco with Lia, a beautiful Persian-American girl, on my lap. This is it!
We arrived at a club and I soon realised that Lia, clearly the single girl of the group, knew everybody there. I was introduced to super good-looking girls who smiled broadly and snobby gay people who would barely talk to me.
This mass introduction lasted a few minutes before I lost everybody and stood alone again. I began to wander around what I realised was just another soulless R’n’B club which held only negative pretentious vibes.
I listened as the DJ played 40 seconds of a classic song before applying tasteless alterations then changing the track and repeating the process. I walked around and wanted to leave.
Lia was from Iran originally and she was a dynamic representation of Persian beauty. She was the only person from the group that I had made any connection with. She wasn’t exactly easy to talk to as she was fond of affecting a persona which she felt she needed for whatever reason. Crucially, I hadn’t seen her for the last 20 minutes. I walked around alone.
I had firmly decided to leave when suddenly she returned. She looked into my eyes and held my gaze. I felt compelled to get close to her.
She drank more and more and sensing that I was still sober she urged me to drink up. The temptation of Eve. We began to dance and any barriers that we had were now gone. When I moved to kiss her she resisted saying that she didn’t kiss guys that were leaving in two days.
The time passed and now it was just Lia, her friend, Karen and a guy she knew.
We went outside. Karen and the guy began making out with vigour. Lia kicked me in the leg in a playful, drunken fashion.
“You’re just here ‘cos you want a piece of American ass!” she shouted.
“I don’t want American ass,” I announced, “I want Persian ass.”
This promoted another installment of girly violence.
A few bruises later and we were in a taxi, Lia and I along with Karen and her guy.
We pulled up at an upmarket apartment block and I reminded myself that you never really know who you’re talking to outside a bar. It turned out that she owned her apartment, a well decorated, plush place within walking distance of the centre. Inside there was considerable comfort, soft tones and designer furniture, making her abode a pleasure to be in.
We sat on the couch. Still no love and it was getting late. Karen and the guy were dry-humping like animals right next to us. She reached into his pants and rummaged around. A few minutes later they got up and said they were leaving, going to her place apparently.
Lia put on the latest sensation, a Scottish group that had made a name in the US. We sat on the sofa as Lia continued casual conversation and gradually we began to make out.
She had a sofa bed which seemed less pressurised than going to her room, also it was nearer.
A peaceful night later and it was morning. We hit the make or break moment. If the conversation died here I was going for the door. But things went smoothly and soon we were heading out for morning coffee.
The day ran with huge momentum as Lia took me over to Haight-Ashbury the site of the great flower-power revolution. We shopped in the vintage stores, ate Mexican food in a noisy restaurant and became very fond of each other. When we arrived at the Downtown bus stop she lay back on the grass verge and lying over her, I kissed her tenderly.
During the crowded bus journey we barely took our eyes off each other. We then walked silently through the streets towards her apartment each moment uncertain. When we arrived she threw the door open without really offering an invitation. She didn’t need to. Then we were in the elevator, going up.
John P Brady is an Irish writer, journalist and teacher. He has had stories published in Roadside Fiction, The Galway Review and others More of his writing can be found at JohnPBrady.com. Originally from Ireland, he now lives in Sicily, Italy, where he teaches English and writes a blog about expat life. Follow John on Twitter @JohnPBradyIRL
The New Irish Beat – Photo by David Levingstone
The Lost Beat Generations of Ireland
– By Andrew McEneff
Ireland never produced a Beat Generation and it is for this reason alone literature in our country is still struggling to find its contemporary ecstatic groove. As America was giving birth to On the Roadin 1957 and the Beats were yo-yoing from coast to coast, from New York to San Francisco and back again, vastly rolling out freedom, individuality, polyamory, sex-parties, drugs, bebop and rock n’ roll – and spreading the Word of a new literature that deemed “The world is holy! The soul is holy! The skin is holy! The nose is holy! The tongue and cock and hand and asshole holy!” – we were sat at home by the fire, bog-sodden and Church-heavy, guilt-bound to the family and the sad green land, intoning very different prayers, isolated from each other and utterly terrified of ourselves.
As sun-kissed American minds surged forward, joyously and recklessly exploring the promises and challenges of their liberating adventures, our imaginations were being sadistically and systematically repressed, our very emotions and desires beaten out of us. Instead of producing proud, free-thinking, confident and wildly assertive men and women capable of giving voice to their profane beatific sensual desires, we produced a generation of insecure and fearful subjects who were emotionally, morally and artistically retarded. One critic looking back over this bleak time in our cultural history even felt justified in making the following comparison, “If Stalin and Zdhanov crippled a generation of Soviet writers with injunctions to map out a scenario of ‘Girl meets Tractor’, then DeValera and Corkery had their own subtler but no less rigid prescriptions for Irish writers.” The second Irish name that you mightn’t recognize is in reference to Daniel Corkery (1878-1964), an Irish Language revivalist, politician, writer and teacher. Corkery had three such prescriptions, “No writer could truly claim to be Irish unless his work contained three specific notes (i) Nationality, ( ii) Religion (Catholic, of course) and ( iii) and the Land.”
In Ireland Church-State time stood still. Life stood still. And in the shadows of a dominant rural Revivalism change in literature was slow, incredibly and painfully slow. Our tortured colonial history is in part to blame for this. We know that. We were humiliated and controlled and told we weren’t yet ready for the modern world, and we obeyed. There was the added complication that there was a need to find something essentially Irish to celebrate first, being only a newly free Republic, before the destructive up-rooting of a vertiginously Godless American Capitalism invaded us and damned our souls eternally. But because of this complex historical and cultural subjection there is an absence and a terrible silence in our literature of the gloriously alternative underground voice. We never got a whiff of the freedoms or a chance to fully embody for ourselves that great revolutionary spirit that was sweeping across other nations at that time. But maybe now is the time for life and literature here to be inspired by some of the Beat’s wild exuberance: to self-explore and experiment, on all fronts, in all areas. Watermark by Sean O Reilly and Notes from a Turkish Whorehouse by Philip O Ceallaigh were certainly steps in the right direction as is the best of Kevin Barry, but we need more! More! We need to go further! And yet some of the same insidious problems are reoccurring. In the fifties “Ireland as a society was imploding on a central vacuity. Economic stagnation and emigration which amounted to a ‘human haemorrhage’ of 500,000 persons between 1945 and 1961…” A young generation abandoned ship and they are doing so again. So it is deeply troubling to think that something similar might happen and that we are going to be similarly disinherited. But I really don’t want to be writing about another missed opportunity in ten or twenty years’ time.
And yet, there is cause for optimism in the present as even from our Dark-Aged past there have been one or two angelic exceptions that soared up against the odds. The total suppression of desire is an impossibility and if that is so it can only ever be thanks to the courage of individuals, necessarily isolated individuals: outsiders. The only novel that comes anywhere near to having a Beat flavour in Ireland is of course The Ginger Man by J.P. Donleavy. Written by an American and published in Paris by Grove Press in 1955, that horny and hilarious and critical book was banned in Ireland and the U.S.A. But after Donleavy there is only one writer that stands out in my mind that has carried something of the Beat ethos into an Irish context and it is to our greatest shame that his work is still being so unjustifiably ignored. If you’re reading this and the name Desmond Hogan doesn’t mean anything to you then you should get acquainted with his work, especially his short stories, immediately. Desmond Hogan has travelled. He has been on the road a very long time. He is our very own courageous solitary Beat itinerant visionary. Larks Eggs: New and Selected Stories and Old Swords will give you some idea of his beauty, value and worth. His work is rare and singular, exuberant and extraordinary, there’s the high modernist attention to formal innovation and linguistic brilliance coupled to a content obsessive in its detailing and documentation of nature, art, youth, popular-culture, sexuality, Beatific travels and the wild and free, dangerous and damaged characters that are encountered along the way. From his travel writings entitled The Edge of the City he writes, “In autumn of 1976 when I went to San Francisco from Dublin…By a Victorian house with an owlish face I found a diagram illustrating the horrors of Hell. I never really returned to Dublin after San Francisco. In a sense I wandered.” Two names from sixty years of ‘writing’ from this country? We need to start adding to the list. But we also need to read and to love and cherish and celebrate what has gone before us. And we need more! Our literature is still not the feast it promises to be. So maybe being belatedly Beat in this country has been a blessing in disguise because it is now, quite simply, up to us.
So the question is what would a Beat writing in Ireland look like? How would it sound? What utterances, both critical and affirmative, would it be capable of making about our culture and the way we choose to live in it? And what demands will it make of our youth and generation? In order to live differently, to think differently, to feeling differently, to live marginally and most importantly, to live energetically against the staggeringly life-denying and murderous prescripts of the moral majority, we have to become what Jack Kerouac sought in his friends, we have to become our own ‘courage-teachers’ and to find others out there who are trying to live the same mad crazy dreams. I mean my friends, your friends and all those other searchers and fellow seekers and travellers who we haven’t met yet, I mean seeing and listening and giving expression to the eternal recurrence in Dublin and throughout the world of “…the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars…” Now is the exciting time. And perhaps for the trip we could keep in mind some of Jack Kerouac’s own ideas on what you need and how-to-do-it from his significantly titled ‘Belief & Technique for Modern Prose’, “…Number 4. Be in love with yr life…6. Be crazy dumbsaint of the mind…9. The unspeakable visions of the individual…14. Like Proust be an old teahead of time…15. Telling the true story of the world in interior monolog…17. Write in recollection and amazement for yourself…19. Accept loss forever…24. No fear or shame in the dignity of yr experience, language and knowledge…28. Composing wild, undisciplined, pure, coming in from under, crazier the better…30. Writer-Director of Earthly movies Sponsored & Angeled in Heaven…”
Number 24 is something we could all really do with pausing on and feeling how deep it goes. No fear or shame in the dignity of our experience, no fear our shame about the language we use, and no fear or shame about our knowledge. The alcohol and drugs, the music and the parties don’t daunt us, not in the least, but sex and self-confidence and the terror and ecstasy of true individuality keeps us strangely at odds with ourselves and yet those are the original and most gratifying of all intoxicants. The beauty of our dirty angels in the street, our wild mad lives, our crazy mad stories and all the mad shit we get up to, the enthusiasm to live it creatively, to share girlfriends, swap boyfriends, the break-ups break-downs and break-throughs, the bleary eyes at five in the morning still hooked and reading life-changing lines and page after page of all those radically genius and mind-blowing books, the places we’ve been to and fallen in love with here and around the world, the heroes and heroines of the past and the present, and everything that presents the true promises of innocence and youth and experience, not as palliative diversions, but as real and alternative challenges to the pathology of normalcy that always has the power to corrupt us and wear us down, to break our fucking hearts. We can’t let ourselves be beaten again by circumstance or lack of self-confidence. But we have to be cautious, potential capture and traps are all about. As the angel-headed and exuberantly experimental militant philosopher Felix Guattari writes:
The way to have a lust for life, to maintain commitments, to forget
oneself is not simple or obvious. “What for?! has incredible power…
Is it worth trying to keep everything up, taking up the heritage of generations,
keeping the machine running… making Literature or art? Why not break
down, burst and leave it all in the lurch? That’s the question. Giving
way to it is always only so far away…
The answer of course is at the same time both personal and
collective. In life, one can only hold on to momentum. Subjectivity
needs movement, directional vectors, ritournelles, rhythms and refrains
that beat time to carry it along. The most singular and personal factors
have to do with social and collective dimensions.
I bought Felix Guattari’s book Chaosophy in City Light Books in North Beach San Francisco, my friend bought a copy of Desert Islands by Gilles Deleuze and we went into Vesuvios and read bits of them and drank and the words and being there made us ecstatic and happy. Afterwards we went wandering through Chinatown and then through the fast streets in a yellow taxi we rode all the way up to Haight Asbury as the city and bay turned to dusk. Up there were the remnants, the broken wreaks of the hippy-movement, the sad crazy insane ones who never broke out, who never got free, who got stuck and spun in the void. Origins change and weaken and become something else once they have been explosively discharged, but it’s only in retaining the best from the past and looking to the future that hope and optimism is continually regained. I took that book I bought there and those feelings with me back to Dublin and I do believe that something Beat, something philosophic, something explosively youthful and real is out there bubbling under our horizon: writers are out there cooking-up things that will add to the feast. It’s the Beat ethos and the inspirational energy and creativity of the Beats that we need here, to force us, to fuel the expressions of our desires, to start our own origins for different universes of reference, better and more precious than the ones that are being bought and sold in our faces and behind our backs. With self-generating momentum and with the help of different sources and encounters outside of ourselves we might inject some desperately needed newness and freshness into the content of Irish literature so that it no longer bears false witness to the contemporary problems that are specific to our time.
In his essay “Remember Jack Kerouac” William S. Burroughs says something that reminds us about something that perhaps we already know but are still too fearful to admit to ourselves, “What are writers, and I will confine the use of this term to writers of novels, trying to do? They are trying to create a universe in which they have lived or where they would like to live…Sometimes, as in the case of Fitzgerald and Kerouac, the effect produced by a writer is immediate, as if a generation were waiting to be written. In other cases, there may be a time lag…In any case, by writing a universe, the writer makes such a universe possible…Writers are, in a way, very powerful indeed. They write the script for the reality film…Now if writers could get together into a real tight union, we’d have the world right by the words. We could write our own universes…Writers could take over the reality studio. So they must not be allowed to find out that they can make this happen. Kerouac understood this long before I did. Life is a dream, he said.” Man, can’t you dig it? What dizzying joy those words should bring. I hope those words and what it all means makes you emotional and gives you courage and something of a feeling artistic responsibility. Imbue your creations with the feelings of growing forward into life and not backwards into death.
Irish fiction in the twentieth century has been quite conventional
in subject matter and technique, despite Joyce and Beckett and in
spite of what has been going on elsewhere in the world. Too much
is about Ireland, the sow that eats her farrow, about a priest-ridden
God-forsaken race…Too much is in the mould of a cosy realism. The
exceptions are too few and far between.
So the content of our literature has to change, and change utterly. It is still broadly speaking in a shameful state, and the great stuff seems to be little known or ignored. But it’s going to take great writers and great writing to give us what we so sorely need in this country. I know a lot of very good writers and soon some of them will be great, so I have hope. In The Stinging Fly, on wordlegs,The Bohemyth, Bare Hands Poetry, The South Circular and in the recently arrived Penny Dreadful to name but a few platforms there’s a new generation of writers coming to the surface and finding their voice. In our cultural imaginary there’s an on-going struggle for dominance for what will be the primary contents and expressions of our Post-Christian souls or for souls, read, our ethical substance. Some people will become the avatars of reactionary ideals; some will have the look and words of casual nihilism; some will be fashionably vacuous and so on and so on…they’ll all gravitate and find each other and their self-levelling groups and effect the world accordingly. My hope is that some of us are still revolutionary in spirit, that some of us are already saying and doing very un-commonplace things, creating a new gallery of beatific characters of the here and now that are being driven and given momentum by new precepts, affects and ideals about sex love poetry philosophy and freedom and the place at these have in our lives. There’s a crazy trip ahead of us and I’m already looking forward to meeting some of you on the road.
Andrew McEneff is a short story writer, essayist and film-maker living and working in Dublin. His short stories have been published in Commotions: New Writing from the Oscar Wilde Centre, ‘College Green’, Icarus: 50th Anniversary Edition and on wordlegs.com. He is working on a collection of short stories and two novels. This is his first published piece of non-fiction.
The Bohemyth will be publishing a special Samuel Beckett Issue in April to celebrate the birthday of the man himself – we are looking for photography submissions, short fiction and essays inspired by, referencing, associated with or somehow connected to the writings of Samuel Beckett.
To be considered for this issue please submit by the end of March. If you’re unsure of the suitability of your work for this issue, submit it anyway and let us decide.
We had the idea we’d play house. Make believe our happiness. I baked banana bread and you caught summer swallows that flew through the open kitchen window. I’d remark that it was early for swallows, pretending to know about the rhythms of such things.
When you got home the house stank of sweetness drifting from the kitchen and I’d listen to all the boy bravado. I made myself meek and mild and all the pleasing things that big men need. When the trees grew too close to the front windows you’d cut their branches, while I sat watching, making domestic declarations about the lovely cut I’d gotten from the butchers. In the pantry, I put a fuss of food and salted meats and washed your clothes by hand in the basin because there was more honour in it. In return you’d give me gifts of half-baked promises and wild notions.
We made savage messes, every way, in every room of that place. When you laid your hands on me, to lust, or rage, regardless, my body bucked, a lump lodging in my neck, another slowly swelling.
But you saw me those days, docile, beached in some forgotten, lonesome corner, counting kindnesses. The words fell blankly from me, shifting shape in empty air, and behind it all, I raged against every tender smallness.
You had built me a plywood front, painted pleasant enough, but soon the wood would warp, the paint peeled. If I could have worn you then, like we slept, gripping and crawling across each other, swallowing big blocks of square air. Those times you shuddered and we forgot the bad match, the bitter taste.
But those days were long days and thoughts turn to softer men. Men put together from bits of remembrances fleeting, flown. And from these, grew notions of grander things, of things said once by others sheathed in the blue night. While you sat fat, making sport of princely pomp, walking a tree-lined procession as our paper palace yellowed in the sun.
So starved the smallness of it. That smallness once curled and pressed softly against the inside of my breast, that choking and spitting then drowned in my gut. The petitions, hoarse, quivered in our throats, and though we longed and longed, we lost. And even then, when the light bled saffron along the line of your back, you took my hand in yours and I heard the bones break.
I went back to the house a few times but saw no sign you had been there. The pane glass was broken and I found bits of us scattered. But you left in a hurry, I think, not long after I did.
Patrick H. Fitzgerald is originally from North Co. Kerry. A Fine Art graduate of Limerick School of Art & Design, he has come to writing, through his visual arts background, experimenting with flash fiction and poetry. He has previously collaborated with artists writing work for performance art pieces. He is currently living in Australia, working on a collection of short stories.
– By Graham Conners
David was sat with his back against the wall, in the middle of telling Aisling and Emer some story that had happened years ago when I noticed Laura and how she held herself. She nodded along as he spoke, her lips curled into a soft, almost hesitant smile, her arms folded across her lap. She studied David’s face, watching him with a distracted, almost melancholic, attention and I was certain that it picked at the corner stone that held her together. As I watched her in the snug I knew that she hadn’t looked forward to this night. It seemed that she almost didn’t want to be here at all, as being here made things real. She turned away, catching my attention accidentally and looked at me for a moment, studying my face. I’d known Laura a long time and I saw a sadness she was trying to disguise. She smiled wanly, reaching out and slapping the back of my hand playfully, like I was a bold child. In that moment I felt that, for her, time was moving all too quick and she was afraid of wasting whatever little was left. I returned the smile and leaned in to her.
“I’ll give you a million quid for a smile.” And she did, her eyes flashing in the dim light. “Can I owe ya?” I asked and she nodded. I leaned in a little closer and she leaned in to me. “It’s going to be okay, you know.”
“Yup,” she said, winking at me softly before turning away, trying to slip seamlessly into the conversation. I watched her and knew that she was trying to avoid the reality that David would not be here tomorrow. And David would never be coming back.
I met David, through Laura, from coffee’s shared in the student centre, study days in the library and eventually nights out and weekends at festivals and such. At first I wasn’t sure of him, this fella with an accent that seemed to say all the right things. To the best of my knowledge he never offended anyone. No one ever said that David was a prick, or that he kept bad company. He held open doors, carried heavy things for the girls, remembered birthdays and always seemed to give the best advice going. He read books like they were going out of style and found it very hard to keep hold of them, always giving away his second hand paperbacks if you expressed so much as a passing interest in reading it. Jesus, he was so hard not to like that Laura and I fell out for a short time when I decided that I wasn’t going to like him, just to be different. Most of it was jealousy as he had, did and was everything I wanted or wanted to be. I left the room when he entered or poked fun at his opinions when he offered them. I soon learned that all I was doing was making an arsehole out of myself. Laura told me to cop on and stop being a prick, cornering me in Doyle’s one night out. She started to cry. Laura only ever cried over people she cared about. In that moment I wasn’t sure which one of us she cared about more, David or me, but seeing her cry was enough. Things changed after that.
I came back from the bar with the last round of drinks we’d ever have together. David had moved across into my seat and Aisling into David’s so I found myself sitting opposite them, on my own. David and Laura were sitting beside each other, talking between themselves. She was laughing and it seemed, though I couldn’t hear what they were saying, as if they were talking about things they would do tomorrow, or next week. They had found someway to enjoy whatever time was left and I could not begrudge them that. There’s a song that I use to sing at parties with the lyric ‘the heart is a package tangled up in knots someone else tied.’ I couldn’t help but smile at the two of them together and suddenly I found a new meaning in those words, it made a lot more sense. In that instant part of me wished I were David, even just for these last few minutes, as he seemed to fill her world. I remembered the days before he came along and I knew that things would never again be like that. I would never be able to fill that David-shaped hole in her life. No matter what I did, I’d never be David.
David had his bags packed and sitting in a tidy little knot at the foot of the stairs. He had donated the bigger things he owned to people he felt would use them best. I got a collection of books. The taxi was waiting, parked up on the street outside. Instinctively we all knew that the others in our group needed space. Emer sat in the sitting room, having said her goodbye already, vacantly watching something she had recorded during the week. Aisling and David shared their goodbyes in the kitchen. Laura and I waited in the hallway. I could hear them, Aisling warning him not to forget about us and to hurry back. What else do you say to someone that’s leaving?
I stood by the radiator, warming myself, Laura sitting on the lowest step of the stairs. She fidgeted with the tags on David’s bags, reading the stickers and the patches he’d sewn on over the years, tracing some roadmap of his time in Ireland. The kitchen door opened. David stepped into the shadows of the dim hallway. I straightened up and offered my hand. He took it and shook it, his deep brown eyes boring into mine and we said our goodbyes. Laura was listening, standing to face David as we had finished. She took two hesitant steps down the hallway, she was crying and he began to cry too. She could say nothing, could not say goodbye, her face red with tears as she tucked herself in under his arm and he held her and rocked her slowly forward and back, like a parent with a restless child. I looked away and I stepped up the hallway to the door, turning slightly to view them out of the corner of my eye. His big hands cupped her face, his thumbs wiping away her tears.
“You will see me again,” he said, his heavy voice coming like a whisper, tender and loving. He held her once more and they shook with sobs, David wrapping his great big arms around her little frame tighter, as if folding himself over her, protecting her. “You will see me again,” he said once more and released her, making for the doorway, towards me. “Goodbye Barry,” he said, pausing but a moment as he picked his bags from the floor. I offered to help but he declined it, saying he could manage. He did, taking the three bags with him out into the darkness. We watched him load up the taxi and climb in. He did not look back, or wave, and the taxi slowly pulled away and around the corner.
“Bye David,” I said to myself and to no one in particular as the taillights faded away into the darkness. And then he was gone, flitted away into the night.
She cried more that night as we sat in the kitchen, letting cups of tea go cold on the countertop, letting long drawn out pauses blossom between us. I held her, trying to reassure her that the world was still turning, that things weren’t over. She apologised to me, saying how she was acting like a child. I told her everything was fine and that I understood; it’s hard to lose someone you love. I wish my motives had been less selfish, but they weren’t. I needed to know, needed to know that she loved him. Laura looked up, taking her head off my chest, nodding so smoothly that it was almost invisible, but totally inevitable. She patted my chest and smiled, wiping at the tears on her cheeks and at the damp patches on my shirt. She apologised and broke away from me, taking her cup of cold tea and pouring it down the sink.
“Good night Bar,” she said and half smiled, squeezing my hand as she passed me. She closed the kitchen door over and I listened to the soft thud of her steps on the stairs until they faded away. Standing in the silence of the early hours I felt the ground shifting beneath me. I remembered what David had said to her; you will see me again. And I know she will, I know she will. I hope she does.
The Morning (Hers)
She was gone before 7.30am, leaving early for work. We passed on the landing as she was going and I asked her how she was. She said she was fine but I knew she was lying.
David had lived with us for nearly a year, a great silent hulk moving quietly about, talking about music or movies or about his confusion at an Irish person’s happy disposition in such as sunless country. David was from Trinidad and had followed some crazy idea of coming to Ireland in search of adventure. We laughed about that many times, telling him that if he wanted adventure to try walk through Temple Bar unmolested around 2am of a Saturday night. He never did, to the best of my knowledge. One night, years ago, with the rain sluicing down the windows in great torrents, he told me about home, about ‘his’ island as he called it. He had been home only once in four years, for his sisters wedding. In that moment I felt that David was running from something, as if he had let some gap develop and he regretted it. He rarely spoke of his family and when he did it was always of his mother. I once asked about his father, had he passed away? David replied with a simple, soft ‘no.’ Though I wanted to, I never pressed him on this, I never went fishing for more information. That evening he told me that he had been away for a long time and he felt maybe he was ready to go home.
Home, I always found it strange how he spoke of it. Home never seemed to be thousands of miles away but somewhere you could walk to, somewhere just around the corner that he could visit whenever he wanted. To me David held a little of his home inside him, stored in some jar or cubbie hole in his soul. He carried the sun and warmth with him and, though it was a kind of precious energy that kept him going, he was not afraid to share it with you. That was David and that was why people loved him.
The Morning (Mine)
Usually being the last to leave the house, I checked all the windows and doors were locked and secure. As I gathered my coat to leave I noticed the door to David’s room was open just a crack. He had not pulled it after himself, not sealed it shut with the finality of his leaving. I don’t know why but I looked in. The mat he had was gone, donated to someone or other. It was just that little bit too thick and often jammed the door in some strange position that was neither open nor closed. Now it opened freely and I peeped in, taking a moment, as if waiting for permission, before I entered.
I stood in the doorway and looked about me. The room was virtually bare, all the little bits and pieces that made David, David, were gone. His bed spread, his photographs, his magazines, his rosary beads; all packed away and vanished. And though the room was quite small, and David quite a big man, this empty space now seemed cavernous, hollow and absolutely different. It seemed like he had never been here at all and that is when I felt it, I felt this twinge in my chest that spoke to me of the brittle nature of people, of hearts and life and love. Here I was in a room in a house I’d lived in for four years and I felt like a stranger. I could claim no ownership over it; I felt an alien in this space as, no matter what this room became now David was no longer here, a study room or an office, this will always be known as David’s room. Where’s the old lamp for the sitting room? Try David’s room. Have you seen the suitcase? It’s probably in the wardrobe in David’s room. This will always be his room and now that he is gone it feels so wrong, like it shouldn’t be a room at all. It wasn’t just his room for a while, it was his room for life and as I turned away I felt that maybe it was the heart of the house if only for a short time.
As I left I spied something hanging on a hook just behind the door. It was a small tag from an old Christmas present, a smiling happy Santa looking out at me. It lifted my spirits and for some reason I reached to turn it over.
I read the words over twice and set the tag back in its place. This little piece of card had been too important to throw away, it said too much but still was too heavy to take with him, too rich in memories and emotions. I found myself crying and dried my eyes. I left the room, closing the door over. I stopped and listened to the wind outside running against the side of the house and heard his words in my mind, a smile catching the corners of my mouth.
You will see me again. You will see me again.
Graham Connors is thirty years old and has previously been published in wordlegs magazine, 30 Under 30 (both e-book and paperback editions), Allegory magazine, Under Thirty magazine, The Lit Garden, Link magazine and long-listed for the Doire Press International Chapbook competition. He is the founder and editor of Number Eleven Magazine as well as contributing editor for the Dublin Informer newspaper. He successfully staged his first play, ‘The Mortal Pitch’, in both Wexford and Dublin. He is from Gorey, in Co. Wexford but has lived in Dublin for the last ten years. Someday he’ll find his way back home.
The sea is brown at my back, the autumn breeze urging it against the rocks on which I sit. In front of me the rippling tide is black, then blue. The water looks gentle with the evening light tip-toeing on its surface. But I know beneath is strong, dark and cold.
I will not resist.
I will go willingly.
Lapping of the sea echoes pleasingly from under the rocks. Pleasing is the sound, soft on the ear. Pleasing too that my body will soon be down there. With the rats. And the worms.
A wretched business for whoever identifies me. They’d have to ask someone, wouldn’t they, to be sure? Would they ask Alan? I wonder, would they?
Alan. Great big block head on thick shoulders. A sour face. A landlord of the old school.
It’ll shake him up a bit alright, having to identify my body laid out on a slab. All blue and bloated. Recognisable yet unrecognisable. Alan, forced to have a good long look with eyes wide open before whispering, “Yes, that’s him.”
I can see his sickened face. The same face he has the rare time he does the dirty work and cleans sick from the stairs or lifts someone’s shit off the floor in the jacks.
His disgusted face makes me shiver with glee.
Stiffness claws at my back so I shift a bit but that starts my hip off, waking the untouchable dull pain that is never far away. So I just sit and wait for a little of the pain to go and a little more of the evening to pass.
A cargo ship with containers stacked tidy row upon row leaves Dublin Port for the mouth of the Liffey, one green light flashing her slow heartbeat.
An old pair nearing me now. With tanned skin, beige trousers, and plastic water bottles. Not paying me any attention at all so they’re not.
“How are yez? Nice evening!”
Nearly run, they do. Christ.
Ah, the tourists, where would this country be without them but?
Céad Mile Fáilte.
A father and son come cycling. The old feller nods. I nod back. The boy trails behind bumping on the uneven stones, forehead furrowed in concentration. “You’re playing a stormer, kid,” I tell him. “You’re flying.”
The Da smiles.
Alan has kids too. And a nice home, no doubt, with a comfy warm scratcher. But soon all he’ll see when he goes to sleep is me and my rotten face. There will be a stench. God, will there be a stench. It will give him nerves alright.
My gut suddenly lurches and my head is light. Pinpricks of heat circle my neck and rise in a fizzy rush to my face. Sure wouldn’t Alan be glad to see me dead? Aren’t I a problem to him? What would he care if I was out of the way? Unemployed barmen are two a penny these days.
I cover the sight of the world with my fingers, angered and embarrassed at my own stupidity. Because the only person they could ask to identify me body will be glad to see it.
Is there someone else they could ask?
No, not Sarah. It won’t be Sarah.
The cargo ship inches level with me. The Andromeda.
It’s not quite time. At the far end of the Wall I see blurry silhouettes fishing. But when they go it’ll be just me.
It could never be Sarah. You’d be a fool to think otherwise. And I never did. Not really. There’s the age, for starters. Sarah. Twenty-three years old.
The one time I’d lost the run of myself at her birthday drinks. If it hadn’t been a Sunday I wouldn’t have gone. But it was. On a Sunday, my day off, wearing my good clothes, not the usual faded trousers and old polo shirt. Sunday means Terry, all dressed up and with places to go, drowning in thirst.
I was only messing. Tried to give her a birthday kiss, is all. And that was all. We were mates.
The kiss was just banter. I know it was. But everyone else said otherwise, and when everyone else looks at you different to how you look at yourself, well, it clouds your thinking.
I know what they say.
I stand, unsteadily. The breeze cools my head and carries salt to my eyes and lips.
I walk to the edge.
The red-and-white towers of Poolbeg hide the steel and glass of the Docklands. In the low-rise houses of Clontarf opposite I see old Dublin, my Dublin.
New Dublin is everywhere. It even sparkles in the dark sky. Kite-surfers on Bull Island. At this time of evening. At this time of year. When I was young it was just fishing. Fishing and football.
Fifteen years I’ve been pulling pints for Alan. Five months Sarah has been behind the bar. Part-time. But she fills the place. As every other pub in town loses trade. The punters go for her like flies to shite. It’s the oldest trick in the publican’s book.
While me, after years of feeding and watering them – I’m just sick of people. I have the craic as always. Chat about the weather. Pass on racing tips. Compliment the women. But it’s all a lie. And maybe it shows. Maybe that’s it after all, just that and nothing more.
Maybe that’s why Alan put me on split-shifts. Open the bar at ten in the morning, work till four. Come back at nine for the few hours to close the night.
Leave Sarah alone.
Just ignore the others.
There’s not a lot you can do in five hours. By the time I walk home to the room in Finglas and catch my breath it’s nearly time to go back to the pub again.
I walk because I hate giving my money away to the buses or taxis and because I need to lose weight. I do be needing to lose weight. Now and then I’ll get into the hardness of having a salad sandwich instead of the usual fried pub lunch. Now and then I won’t lash six or seven pints into me while cashing up. Now and then I won’t drink on the job.
But it’s not easy. You go behind that bar with the worst hangover of your life and vowing to never drink again but after five minutes of pouring pints left right and centre, breathing sweat and farts, men and women stepping in off the street and shrugging the day off themselves so strongly that you can hear it hit the floor… after five minutes, you’ll be gagging for a pint, and the first chance you get, you’ll horse the drink into you.
Horse it into you.
An excuse, of course. Always an excuse. The good habits never last. It’s not Alan. It’s not Sarah. I wish them the best. I really do. It’s me. Failing the false dawns. Letting myself down. Struggling, fighting against my nature, my thoughts, my self. Always trying again. Always failing. Always excuses. I’m sick of nothing in this world like I’m sick of me.
I step forward –
“Fucking shite in the end, wasn’t it mister?”
The voice sprung from darkness sends my heart to my throat. I spin around. A boy of eleven or twelve, fishing rod in hand, stands there.
“Pure bollocks it was,” he says, his blue eyes piercing through the gloom. Then I notice the green and white football shirt.
“Rovers?” I say, tentatively.
“Yeah. I see you there every game mister, standing at the back. We were pure muck on Friday, weren’t we? Another missed penno in the car park end.”
It’s just me and him and the wind.
“You must be freezing in just that top,” I say.
“But I don’t feel it, mister,” he shrugs and walks away. “Don’t feel it.”
He leaves me alone on the edge.
Shamrock Rovers Football Club.
The cry of the seagulls above.
Passing the All American Laundrette on South Great George’s Street in winter and inhaling the hot soapy steam blowing from its air vents.
The smooth stone of Jim Larkin’s statue against my fingers.
Is that all there is? These solitary and fleeting touchstones of happiness in my city?
What more do you want?
Well then. It’s settled.
I take a careful step back and turn my back on the dark void of the sea.
Far behind me the green light of The Andromeda continues to strike its heartbeat, faint against the black canvas of the night.
Niall Foley has been harnessed as a barman, labourer, clerk, lecturer and journalist – and several other functions. He currently lives in Edinburgh, and is happiest when unshackled and alone in a room with a desk, some paper, and a pencil. Check out Niall’s website.
Pop Goes The Gun
– By Vikki Gemmell
Flecks of gold circle his irises, like blasts of sun in a blue sky; a detail I’m only just noticing. After three years of working together he’s still a mystery. He clinks his beer glass against mine.
“Cheers,” he says.
“This is good, you agreeing to come out for a drink with me. We can have a proper chat before you come over tomorrow. I think you get me; it’ll be perfect.”
I nod. “I’ve never done any… modelling… like this before.”
“All you need to do is stand there. I’ll have my paints and gun ready.”
“Gun?” I laugh nervously.
He laughs too and I smile, not exactly sure what’s so funny. His is a proper belly laugh.
He pinches my cheek. “You look pretty cute when you giggle.”
I look away, heat creeping up my throat. “How long have you been painting?” I divert attention back to him.
“As soon as I could pick up a brush,” he says. “It’s tough getting anyone to give a shit about it all. You know, Van Gogh didn’t sell a single painting until he died. I think he was onto something there.”
I survey him curiously. “I’m sure he would’ve preferred to have been around to see his success, don’t you think?”
“Sammy, Sam,” he winks at me. “It doesn’t always work like that. You’ll see…tomorrow, my dear.”
His flat smells of turpentine and ashtrays and something sweet… the odours concoct a potent mixture in my nostrils and shoot to my head. My head spins and I feel it’s slowly breaking away from the rest of my body; my neck is the string of a helium balloon and someone just untied it. I can almost feel my hair brushing against the ceiling… static electricity.
Static electricity is the real reason why I’m here and we both know it. I’m bored with my boyfriend. He’s bored with his girlfriend. He wants me to pose nude because it’s the fastest and easiest way he can think of getting my clothes off and it saves us having to make excuses to our consciences.
“In here,” He pushes a door open and I follow him inside.
My eyes don’t know which wall to focus on first. I blink then take a deep breath and focus on the one facing me. My face burns as I am confronted with wall-to-wall coverage of nude women posing like they are in pre-edited James Bond credits. No silhouettes here.
“D’you like them?” He sees me looking and I open and close my mouth, not sure what he wants me to say.
“Took me fucking ages. I used a different kind of paint for those ones so it was hard doing much detail.”
“Oh,”’ My throat collapses into my stomach. Not much detail? I can practically see the goose bumps along their inner thighs… I begin to feel panicky and stupid. Maybe he really does want to paint me naked. Like seriously. In detail… to add to his wall. Shit, shit, shit.
I turn to look at his other wall and see Andy Warhol prints, movie posters… a Trainspotting poster with him and his friends in place of the actors. He’s Renton. I look at another poster for Pulp Fiction and realise it’s his girlfriend, donned in a black wig, pouting. I try to decide if this is cool or just…weird.
“Sit down,” he says, motioning to his bed.
I perch on the end of his bed. I watch as he starts to sift through his CD collection.
“What kind of music you into?” he asks.
I shrug. “Rock. Alternative.” Did alternative exist anymore? It seemed everything alternative had gone mainstream. Even the kids hanging around town were confused; their eclectic wardrobes borrowing a piece of everyone in an attempt to look different, only to turn up and see fifty other people had had the same idea.
Nirvana blasts out from his stereo and I laugh.
“What’s so funny?” he yells in my face, as he dances around, an unlit fag between his fingers, his jeans slouching half way down his arse.
“I haven’t heard this in ages,” I say.
“What?” He cups his ear with his hand and smiles. I can still see his dimples even though he clearly hasn’t shaved for a while.
I smile back; my body begins to relax.
“Have you ever thought about dying?” He appears in my face again and I jerk back, unnerved by his abrupt question.
“Well, not exactly. I mean I’ve thought about death, but not, like, the actual act of how I’ll go…”
“Sammy, Sammy, Sammy,” he tuts, shaking his head. “All the interesting people are dead. I can’t wait to meet them all and party with them.” He lights his cigarette and laughs as he blows circles into the air.
“You could always hold a séance,” I shrug.
He ponders this seriously. We really don’t share the same sense of humour. I begin to wonder if he is so crazy that he is beyond a sense of humour…
“I don’t really believe in all that shit.” He waves a hand dismissively at me. He pulls out a bottle of whisky from his cupboard. “Ah, there you are my sweet baby.”
He takes an over enthusiastic swig and the liquid glides over his chin, dripping on to his t-shirt. He keeps drinking. I hold my breath along with him. How much whisky can you down in one go?
“Ahhh,” he gasps, pulling the bottle back down level. He burps loudly. “Here, have some.”
I take the bottle. Peer into the half empty gold pool. I take a swig. The roof of my mouth roars in protest. I feel every drop sail down the back of my throat, down, down, down, exploding in my stomach.
“You’re so cute,” he says. He sits down beside me and pinches my cheek.
“Thanks.” His eyes analyse every line and pore on my face.
“And sexy.” He brushes my hair back from my shoulder and his finger traces a circle around the delicate skin on my neck. Every inch of my body begins to pulsate, my lips are screaming Kiss me, kiss me.
“Just perfect. Hmmm…” He snaps his fingers and I blink. He jumps up and rushes over to his easel.
I swig some more whisky. Oh my God. Just kiss me for Christ’s sake… His jumping around is beginning to make me dizzy.
“Okay. Cool,” He begins to squeeze tubes of paint and colours squirt out onto a palette, like a melting rainbow. “Take your clothes off, Sam. Let’s get started.”
I swallow the whisky slowly. Uh oh. That doesn’t sound like the ‘Ooh baby. I want you,’ that I was expecting. He really wants to look at my body. Objectively. Fuck. I have cellulite. My boobs are too small…I look at the Bond Girls dancing across his wall. Their boobs are fantastic; their bodies acquaintances of the local gym.
“Uh, Scott…” I sit up; feel the nausea grip my tongue.
“Mmm?” He is mixing frantically, chewing on a paintbrush.
I am on the verge of saying I feel sick and want to go home. No lie there. But I seem to have lost the ability to speak.
“Come on beautiful. Smile for the camera.” He peers at me through the square he has constructed with his fingers.
I stand up. My hands are shaking so much I can’t unbutton my shirt properly.
“Would it help if I got naked too?”
“Umm…” He’s already thrown his t-shirt over his head, is climbing out of his jeans…
I laugh and quickly unbutton my shirt, slip off my denim skirt. Then the underwear… quick and painless, like ripping off a plaster. I glance over at him. He hasn’t taken off his boxers.
“Hey…” I protest, crossing my legs, hugging my chest.
“Don’t get all coy, Sammy!”
He bends down to open a box underneath his easel and I notice how smooth his skin looks, the slight muscles in his arms ripples on a flawless canvas.
I stand awkwardly, waiting.
He holds up a gun.
“What is that?” Asking the obvious. I think back to his comment in the pub last night.
“A gun,” He hands it to me and I forget about my nakedness. I hold the weight in my hand nervously.
I want to ask if it’s real. But I don’t want to know. “Why d’you have a gun?”
“For my art darling,” he says, nodding towards the Bond Girls. “All part of the little picture I’m painting.”
Of course. How stupid of me to think that he wouldn’t just add in some fake guns afterwards.
“Okay, strike a pose,” He lunges forward, pointing his fingers in an upside down v.
I hesitate, then point the gun; mimic his pose.
“Hmm…” He scratches his chin, scanning my body.
Don’t look at my bum. Don’t look at my bum.
“Bit more to the left.”
“Perfect!” He claps his hands and bounces back to his easel.
Twelve songs spin past. I’m getting a cramp in my shoulder. The gun’s getting heavier.
He lays down his palette. “Sam, do you know why I really asked you here today?”
“What d’you mean?” Hallelujah. I hadn’t read the signals wrong. He did want my body for a different kind of creativity. My thigh twitches.
“Take a break, sweetie. Sit down.” He walks over to me, motions for me to sit on the bed.
I sit down, laying the gun beside me. He crouches, facing me. I’m slightly disappointed that he holds my gaze. I try to stop my eyes from devouring his whole body.
“I think we get each other. I can see the same desire inside of you that’s inside of me.”
Waves of panic and anticipation wash over me as I follow his gaze to the ‘bond girls’ on the wall.
“Those other girls – they weren’t quite ready…”
He grabs my hand, grinning. A spark runs up my arm.
“Come on, it’ll be more dramatic and memorable in the living room. My best paintings are in there.”
I let him pull me up, my head spinning. He reaches behind me to pick up the gun.
“Are you going to paint me in the living room?” I ask, following him out the door.
“No, we’re moving on to the main event now,” he stops and touches me gently on the cheek. “The timing had to be just right. I feel ready now.”
A shiver tickles my spine. I’ve been ready for so long…
We walk down the hall and he turns to smile at me as he leads me into a large, sun filled room.
He shuts the door and he hands me the gun.
Biography: Vikki Gemmell lives in Scotland and has fiction published in Spilling Ink Review, Flashflood Journal and recently won third prize in the Multi-Story flash fiction competition. She is currently working on a Young Adult novel. Her observations about life can be found on her blog. Follow Vikki on Twitter @VikkiGemmell
The Bohemyth will be publishing a special Beat Writers’ Issue this March to celebrate Jack Kerouac’s birthday – we are looking for short stories, flash fiction, personal essays and photography inspired by, referencing, associated with or somehow connected to the writings of the Beat Generation.
Because ‘the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars…’
To be considered for this issue please submit by the 28th of February.
35 years? No, don’t be ridiculous! It couldn’t be. It simply couldn’t. Er, actually, hold on a cotton-pickin’ minute, I do believe it is 35 years to the season that I first saw not only my first life-changing gig, but the event that kickstarted a cultural revolution in my head. It was Iggy Pop, in London, at a venue that was then called the Rainbow Theatre but which is now a building belonging to the Brazilian Pentacostalist Universal Church of the Kingdom of God. Not to worry – a religious experience is a religious experience whatever the venue.
Back then, I had short hair, wore straight-legged jeans and Doc Marten boots. NME was my weekly bible of cultural reference points – anything that Charles Shaar Murray, Nick Kent, Tony Parsons or Julie Burchill recommended to read/see/hear I’d do just that. London is a mind-expanding city at any time, of course, but in 1977/78? Well, wasn’t that was a time and a place for a young lad to live in, his head spinning from the amount of music to experience and the sights to see.
Punk rock hadn’t yet leveled out to become a caricature of itself; there were no ostrich-coiffured punks strolling along King’s Road or Camden High Street tapping tourists for money. The music was the thing, and from my experience, at least, it was as close to the real deal anyone from a provincial Irish town could imagine. Seeing Iggy Pop headline in a major London venue at around the time when punk rock was at its most influential seemed just that little bit more exciting. And besides, what wasn’t to love about milling into the tube station at Finsbury Park with several hundred Stooges fans singing Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell?
Fact is, I recall that gig as if it were last night: from the early 70s, Iggy Pop had been given a new lease of life via his friendship with David Bowie, and Pop’s proto-punk band The Stooges had attained an enviable high regard from London’s leading punk rock acts. But it was as much Iggy as the music that the audience was into: I’ve never seen anyone before or since utilise their body as if it were pliable work of art. Bowie’s lyric from the Ziggy Stardust album track, Hang On To Yourself, about moving “like tigers on Vaseline” could have been written about Pop, for he slithered around, prowled, on that stage, barracking and beckoning the crowd to do things that, collectively, an audience really shouldn’t. There is something incredibly compelling about a performer that seems to care little about their physical well being; it’s a car-crash scenario that sucks you in, and when the performer is as fearless as Pop an element of genuine danger gets dragged kicking and screaming into a heady mix that includes potent rock music, stimulants of varying kinds and the sense that all of the audience are misfits or miscreants just like you.
I remember leaving the venue and walking towards the tube station, jostling my way past other fans, and thinking not only how invincible was my belief in the power of brilliant music, but also how invulnerable that belief made me feel. 35 years later I still feel the same (performing pop clowns notwithstanding), but I have often asked myself why is that the case? What is it about the live music experience that continues to scratch at what is clearly a severe itch?
Some might think that a person of my age (I’m over 50 and barely give it a moment’s thought, believe me) would be more suited to worrying about the watering of his indoor tomato plants than the scheduling on his wall chart as to whether he’ll go to Norwegian punks Honningen or Sea Sessions one night, or Plan B or Body & Soul the next. Frankly, I’m unsure why music can make a body seem as if it can withstand torture (no doubt neurological scientists and academics would know), but there is one thing I am absolutely certain of: try telling that to the vast majority of people my age or younger, and they’ll look at you as if you have two heads.
It’s as if once you reach a particular age, then certain pursuits you once held on to for dear life should automatically fade into the distance. And so when I’m asked about what I did at the weekend or last week I inhibit myself from expressing my true feelings. “I went to see a band,” I say. “Oh, which one?” they query. “Well, you might not have heard of them – they’re called [for example] Spook of the 13th Lock”.
You can immediately see their interest diminish as the lack of recognition registers. “Were they any good?”, they ask. Here is when I hold back, replying with a brief, “Yea, they weren’t too bad…”, when what I really want to say is something along the lines of how the band fuse post.rock, prog rock and psych rock with traditional folk idioms, occasionally enveloping songs with shrieks of feedback and Krautrock wig-outs. But I don’t. Instead I ask, “How’s the family?”
It’s a curse, unfortunately, that many people of a certain age/era think live music is the preserve of those so much younger; the amount of times I have heard people younger than me saying they’re too old for rock and pop music is something that causes me concern. Don’t they know what they’re missing? Clearly, the cut and thrust of a live gig experience that isn’t sitting down on chairs on a crisp lawn to watch Leonard Cohen (great though the man is) is something they should experience but don’t for fear of being discomforted. But, one supposes, in the same way that ardent gig goers to open-air festivals gradually transfer their bones from sleeping in tents to hotel rooms, so the live music experience mutates from one of excitement to indifference.
I don’t necessarily see it that way, and that’s not just because most gigs I go to I write about and get paid for my time and effort. No, the reason is because the live music experience – like theatre and other areas of performance art – is a vital component of contact with a sense of what’s real. In small spaces you can see it in the faces of the musicians and the audience – and there is no better sense of communion than with a crowd that, en masse, understands the music as well as the band. If the space is large, and if the band is good enough, then the size of the venue and the audience adds to the atmosphere. Whether it’s Whelan’s or Vicar Street or Croke Park don’t dare try to deny that a collective fit isn’t a sight that makes your eyes water and your mouth smile.
Like bands, however, the gig experience differs every time. Occasionally, gigs are awful and ordinary; other gigs, however, oscillate between good, great and out-of-this-world, and touch a part of the human system and spirit that creates what can safely be described as an eargasm.
Inevitably, it’s the latter that mean the most to me, and probably the least to those who have little or no interest in live music. And here’s the rub: there are, quite likely, people who are untouched by the effect that live music can provide or provoke. I understand that open-air festivals functioning under constant showers of rain, rivulets of mud and the promise of too many people under the influence have few benefits; I appreciate that people talking loudly behind your head, standing firmly in front of you, or shoving their way past you as they spill their beer over your footwear is not good for the notion of karma. Yet the blend of voice, music and words (truth, humour and some manner of sexuality and charisma, too) can be intoxicating. I don’t necessarily yearn to be impressed, or even thrilled skinny or driven delirious every time I venture into a small venue or an open-air barn, but I won’t say no to these if they happen.
I’ll be seeing you at the next few gigs, then? Bruce Springsteen, you say? Followed by Rihanna? Followed by a lower profile act you possibly haven’t heard of? Yep, I’ll probably be at those. You can’t miss me – I’ll be the compact 50-something guy with short hair, straight-legged jeans and Doc Marten boots. With memories of Iggy Pop in the back of my head and expectations of whoever’s on stage in front of my face.
Oh – and would you mind not stepping on my toes? Thanks.
Tony Clayton-Lea is an award-winning freelance journalist who writes on pop culture, movies and travel for a variety of publications, notably The Irish Times and Cara (Aer Lingus in-flight magazine). He lives in County Meath, Ireland. Check out more of Tony’s work at tonyclaytonlea.com ; follow him on Twitter @TonyClaytonLea
By Any Other Name
– By Jane Williams
On the night the man asks the woman to move in with him and she says yes – sweating curry, Lambrusco and dope; they exchange impossible vows. He promises never to leave her. She promises not to drive him crazy or tie him down. They joke about sex on tap. They make a pact to speak only the truth.
The kitchen blackboard is fixed to one wall. A window of permanent night. Tiny white shapes appear and disappear like stars that have nothing and everything to do with the man and the woman. They chalk their to do lists, phone numbers, quotable quotes. And once, after a discussion about not listening, about talking too much – the word embellishment. Scrawled in his handwriting, underlined twice. Who suggested a woman ruins her chances by talking too much? That a man is at his strongest when silent?
When, ten years later he uncharacteristically starts telling her how beautiful she is, she knows he has fallen in love. With someone else. No, this isn’t true. She knows nothing of this. Believes in everything to the contrary. Is this her problem? An irrational, unshakable belief that anything is possible? That will and wishing can make it so? Even in the face of rumour and recurring dreams – the woman tells herself they are meant for each other.
She asks him once. Just once. She’s heard other people ask. Namely actors in day time soap operas (what is it about daylight that makes the watching of soap opera so much less forgivable? As if we are only free to choose under cover of dark …).
What are they doing when she asks? What do they wear? Is it the beginning or the end of another day? Or does her question stop play somewhere in the middle? Perhaps they are in the kitchen. Heart of their home. Where they comfort eat, drink and smoke and call it decadence, hedonism, and sometimes, when they are feeling more hopeful – living the good life. Where they ponder the big questions. The big picture questions that take them away from themselves and each other a little further each time. Deep and meaningfuls in which they talk about respecting the rights of the individual. About love as a romantic construct. About timeout and space and the odd weekend away. From each other.
Perhaps he is standing in front of the old combustion stove at the end of the Blackwood table with the Rubenesque legs. The table he made with honest hands at technical college, years and relationships and so many conflicting truths ago. Maybe she is sitting, legs curled, on the velveteen couch she has learnt to stroke as if it were the family pet.
Are you having an affair? she asks. And he answers No, noI’m not having an affair – adding her name onto the end of the sentence like a full stop. Like the Monopoly card that reads: Do not pass go. And she doesn’t. If he flinches she cannot see it – but love as they say …
When she tries to leave, the word trust appears on the blackboard in both their hands. He stops kissing her on the mouth when they make love. They stop making love and start having occasional sad sex. She masters the art of crying soundlessly.
Sometimes, she half stirs from sleep in the middle of the night to sense him whispering in her ear. When she tells herself these whispers are declarations of love he has not yet found the courage for in naked light of day, she dreams of a much older woman telling her it is time she shed her fairytale skin.
Mostly she dreams of lesser men who try to woo her only with chocolates and flowers and of him walking toward her with the fuzzy smile of a middle aged hippy, taking her hand, leading her away toward a purer light. But sometimes she sits up suddenly in bed, still asleep, and starts screaming until he wakes and says her name and tells her to stop. Night Terrors, the doctors tell her. Pavor Nocturnus. Usually the sufferer has no memory of the episodes. But she remembers once, holding up by the roots of its thick and untamed hair, his decapitated head. Like a spoil of war.
Each day becomes a new part to try out for. A desperate misrepresentation of self. He tells her he does not like these inconsistencies. He is waiting for her many faces to fuse into the one he can call Beloved.
She tells him she has always been here. Waiting.
Hear me he begs. See me she counters.
The kiss as a symbol of all that is missing in their relationship, weighs heavily and draws the fatefully perfect memory of her first real kiss, at the electric age of thirteen. She’d heard all the first time stories. About a clashing of noses and teeth, slobbering tongues and always a hand bruising a new breast. About shallow depths and shelf life. But this is not how it is. The boy kisses her first on the cheek, a tender questing. When their mouths join and open together she is aware only of the seamless fluidity of the movement. The strangely validating familiarity of it. And how like coming home this falling together seems.
As a woman in bed she reads about sex as an industry. She learns that some prostitutes prefer to leave kissing, that most intimate of gestures, out of their working lives. Protecting sex acts from being mistaken for anything more personal by either client or worker. They say they are saving their kisses for their lovers. She tells the man this but he cannot see past the implied insult and they do not speak of it again.
The woman learns to kiss the man with her eyes when he comes home, with her hands as she waves him goodbye. She walks on her toes but makes fists of her hands.
Once, after throwing something heavy and hard at the wall behind his head, she learns that acts of self defence can lie dormant then break through out of context.
He retreats behind the invisible shield of his silence. She looks to the blackboard until its black eye stares her down and she knows their days are numbered.
A fog settles between them. It barely allows for the illusion that this a rough patch. That there is a clearing up ahead into which they can build a different life. The one they imagined before the drugs wore off and their bodies grew wary.
One day after a weekend away he comes to her in the garden and unexpectedly drops at her feet, burying his face in her belly, as if she is carrying their child. Holding him this way she wonders, not for the first time, how they will survive each other.
The end is not marked by any of the usual clichéd, tell tale signs: A lipsticked shirt collar. An earring caught under the back seat of the car – the glint of it alluring and misleading as fools gold. The expectant then disappointed breath (not her own) when she answers the phone.
In this new millennium it is the shared laptop that cannot hold its tongue. Emails slip through the deletion process revealing true love has another name, negating all that went before. In this way their worlds end and begin again. In an agony of truth: memories implode, hearts tick over, stars appear and disappear
Jane Williams is an Australian poet and short story writer living in Tasmania. Check out her blog.
Intro and Outrospection of a Latecomer to Narcissism
– By Ewan C. Forbes
Who is this man who stares out at me from these photos? He looks perennially happy, though sometimes this looks forced. His friends are my friends. And what friends they are. He looks comfortable in their company.
He is familiar yet distant. He is someone I could be said to have known my whole life, yet his face is as unfamiliar to me as those of my similarly introspective inner-city neighbours. I don’t know what it is but there is something I don’t like about him. He fills spaces I thought I inhabited, and he does so as a mirror inversion of those relatively few interactions with my own form I have committed to memory. Those encounters were the lie: this is the truth as the rest of the world sees it.
The man in the mirror was never me, and I would not recognise my symmetrically-challenged face in an uninverted form were I to pass myself on the street. I know this. From the photos.
” ” I sleep
” ” we be friends
” ” I get a job
” ” I lose weight
The drop-down options of despair compiled from the searches of those who we think of when we say everyone. Is this a mirror, an inversion of truth, or a photo? More optimism maybe. Lets explore the realms of possibility, together.
” ” make a star on earth
” ” live on mars
” ” still be friends
” ” trust the police
More exact maybe, more practical.
” ” I lose weight
” ” I make money fast
” ” she slap
” ” I stop eating
No! Rubbish! The whole world’s worth of information at our fingertips… and this? Again!
” ” you describe yourself
” ” I look bald
” ” you identify oxygen
” ” I look with a fringe
I push the laptop away. I don’t think a search engine is a mirror or a photo. Metaphors can only take us so far, and if either were apt I would be terrified.
` But the unfamiliar man in the photos was jarring too…
One more attempt.
” ” I know lyrics
” ” the world end
” ” I die
” ” I know
Ewan C. Forbes lives and writes in Aberdeen, Scotland. His work has previously appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Sand Journal (as Ewan Forbes), and in Digital Science Fiction’s Visions Imprint (as E. C. Forbes). Recent Google searches of Ewan Forbes and E. C. Forbes bring up Sir Ewan Forbes of Craigievar (who started life as Elizabeth Forbes-Sempill) in the former case, and a ‘California corporation engaged in the manufacture and sales of high-end erotic electrostimulation products’ in the latter. Ewan C. Forbes said to say hello and to wish you well.
Photography – Jane Riddell is a writer of contemporary fiction and an enthusiastic blogger, including penning letters from a Russian cat. In addition, she loves travel and photography. She is the proprietor of an editing service, Choice Words Editing. Jane holds a Masters in Creative Writing and her first novel, Water’s Edge, will be e-published by ThornBerry Publishing in Spring 2013. Check out Jane’s website. Follow Jane on Twitter @JaneRiddell
I learn through Facebook that Julia is dead. This from some guy I have never actually met. I stare at his profile picture for ages, communing with his image and the momentous message. Soon my newsfeed is buzzing with death, and we all form a group: Julia’s funeral arrangements. Although they are not calling it a funeral, but a valediction. I stop myself from posting something sarcastic.
It’s not going to be a religious ceremony, thank God. All that comfort of the litany makes me want to turn a blind eye to the gaping void; believe me, I know first hand just how terrifying that dark mouth is.
Julia’s dead, and I have stopped existing in a shared past, in our communal memory. There is now only my crappy recollections, and whatever is left in Julia’s extinct hippocampus — perhaps the memory of me like a hippo at campus (I was on the large side then), who the hell knows. She’s going into the ground in a cardboard box. Most of us won’t have a clue what to do. With the usual, at least you know to stand around looking sombre and repeat words after someone, and stand up and sit down in a clean room with a polished box. This alternative thing sounds totally like Julia (although it’s not an alternative to actually being dead, so I don’t see the point).
I never caught up with her again; she was never on Facebook. She had a profile, but no picture, she was inactive. She’s bloody inactive now anyway. Ha! I am not laughing. I’m driving, feeling the lumps grow all over me, from my stomach to my throat, to the aching cold sore that broke out last night. I wish I was going to see her. Even to see her body in death — her corpse, let’s not dress it up — would be something. The old traditions have it right: sit around the body and laugh and sing and talk, and make it have happened over and over, and then put the body in the ground. My phone bleeps and glancing down at the empty passenger seat, I read that Caroline has just checked in at Julia’s valediction.
Julia would not have believed how connected I am to the lives of others; the words ‘social’ and ‘networking’ are the last I would use about myself. I openly express my emotions and my whereabouts (my opinions always came for free): in other words, I update my status. It’s amazing the freedom that little box gives you (no offence, Julia). I never had this kind of help at college. I struggled with Julia, her openness, her romanticism, her offensive sentimentality. I felt more comfortable with Caroline, her sensuality not asking for declarations. I think Julia was waiting for the tortured creature inside me to crawl out and be known, a slick of repressed emotion oozing its way onto our sheets. She was waiting for me to learn emotional articulacy. Poor girl.
I remember us one evening side by side on the sofa. Julia sighed, turning towards me,
“You’re not talking to me.”
“I have been talking to you.”
“No, you haven’t. All you said was ‘how many metres square do you think that living room is?’ That is the best you can come up with.”
“Julia, we’re watching a home improvement programme. What do you want me to ask? What would a woman ask – ‘how do you feel about this living room extension?’”
She looked at me, a world of exasperation.
“You never, ever tell me how you feel.”
I didn’t know what to say, I truly didn’t. I expect she was thinking about her past romance, with Percy fucking Shelley.
I remember this conversation (poorly no doubt, there is no digital record), partly because this was the day that I slept with Caroline, and the day before Julia and I split up for good.
Caroline had been there later that evening looking absolutely gorgeous. She was drunk, so I imagine she had some excuse for betraying her best friend (although to be honest I’ve slept with quite a few best friends over the years, and none have seemed overly plagued by conscience). I was sober and had no excuse, and although I wasn’t eaten up by guilt afterwards, Julia spotted straight away that something was wrong, so I told her. Not a smart move it turned out.
I arrive and it’s very awkward as there is nowhere particular to go. Me and a few others are just standing around on this hill overlooking the sea. If Julia were here she would describe it beautifully. The sun is low, long beams of light, it’s cold. There are quite a few people here, all looking like they’ve arrived at a party with nowhere to put their coats. I’m sure there must be a few pairs of eyes on me, just like I’m scanning the crowd, trying to recognise some faces. Some stand out, instantly, from their digital selves. There’s Shane, knew him at college, one of Julia’s old mates. He’s a Facebook friend. He is married and his last holiday was in Mozambique (‘cool pics, hope you enjoyed’). He has liked a picture of me at a birthday party, and was sorry that I had the flu last month. No one has clocked me yet, or not enough to come up and say hello. And then I catch someone’s eye, some middle aged woman in one of those expensive proper coats; I look and see flickering underneath that it’s Caroline. She walks over, smiling.
Everyone fancied Caroline, she was stunning and clever and funny. I can see her profile picture hovering above her, off to the left, and it distracts me as I look at her physical self – lines, blotches, the roughness of anxiety when I shake her hand.
We don’t have the usual awkwardness as all that was broken when she friended me online. First my stomach turned over reading her full name, then unabashed curiosity, comparing how we’ve aged, and finally she became demythologised, an ordinary face posting on my newsfeed. The opening small talk is easier too, as I know that last week she had some dental work done, and she must know that I got pissed and embarrassed myself last Saturday night, she’s probably seen the clip of me Greek dancing with Dave. I know she works part time, is a strict vegetarian and likes sci-fi and apocalyptic movies. So we cut to the chase.
“It’s unbelievable, isn’t it?”
“She’s the first one of us ––”
“Makes you think ––”
“It does, I know. You’ve gotta just, like, make each moment ––”
I feel oddly comforted. I don’t have to ask how she’s been for twenty five years. The burden of communication is light. She leans in towards me,
“She’s the first real friend — you know what I mean — to die of it.”
This fact somehow unites us, like an amicable conspiracy.
“You know, statistically there’s bound to be another one of us here today who’s on the way to meet their maker soon.”
“Or meet oblivion.”
“Indeed, or meat oblivion,” she giggles, we both giggle, we guffaw. It is not at all funny.
I find I’m having too good a time and remember that I’m at Julia’s funeral and I should be a little more tactful. I try to say something deep.
“Julia was –– well, Julia was Julia.”
“Did you get over her?”
I change the subject.
“Did you guys stay best mates?”
“Nope. Didn’t see her after college. Didn’t hear from her for years until Facebook.”
“Yeah, me neither.”
“But she was inactive.”
We look at each other, the joke gaping at us from the proceedings at the front, and guffaw again.
Someone is signalling for us to gather round, and soon a quietness breaks out. I notice Gregoria standing beside the box, tall, pale. She is Julia’s daughter which comes as a surprise, she must be in her early twenties. She is about to read something. I hope and pray that it is not Stop all the Clocks (she would have to change all the pronouns anyway, it wouldn’t work). I have had enough weddings butcher great poetry, now this whole civil burial thing is opening another can of worms. Everyone waits, and Gregoria begins.
“It’s lovely to see so many old faces here, Julia would be pleased that you all came – although of course it doesn’t really matter to her now…” — a damp laugh rises in condensation — “but it matters very much to John.”
If my name weren’t so common I’d draw some conclusions about her marrying a John, but then, I’m most definitely a Johnny. John nods. Gregoria talks about Julia and suddenly she is there in front of me, fresh faced and gooey with love, laughing into my up close face.
I am back in our old rooms, smoking, the radio blaring, the sun hot on the windowpanes, years sprawled out in front of us. Julia is lying on the bed inhaling a cough, Caroline is sitting cross legged on the chair, posing. I see John beside her, his hand on her shoulder, possessive. We live in our own drama, of flirtation and deception and the full on depth of the future, aswim in all the mucky loveliness of twenty something angst and sex and fierceness.
I was healthy then. I didn’t have pills, medical bills, estimated remaining time.
I look at Gregoria (for god’s sake, Gregoria?) and I can clearly see Julia’s eyes, her dark brows. But as she turns to the side, the hand she lifts to her face, her profile, they are unmistakably mine.
Too late. It’s too late.
I have stopped listening to Gregoria, I have been watching her in slow motion, something like fear and happiness at my throat. But it’s time now to put the box in the ground. The small huddle of people gather more closely around the hole and I see they are going to play some music, and then I realise with a shock it’s going to have to be that song, one we listened to all that summer, and Julia is gone, gone, sloping ungraciously into the earth, and now the music plays and I don’t snigger and joke with Caroline because now I can’t ignore what’s happened to her, what’s happening to me. So I sing a song of love,
Ruth McKee has been shortlisted for RTE’s Francis MacManus Short Story Competition. She is working on her first historical novel. She is a PhD graduate in literature from Trinity College Dublin and lives in Skerries with her two small children and three cats. Follow Ruth on Twitter @RuthMcKee
Short Story: Seamus Gavara and the Fat Capitalist Pig
– By Patrick O’Flaherty
‘Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me.’
‘Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me.’
The class fell silent and bowed their heads like chastised pups. This only encouraged the two boys to sing louder, ‘Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me.’
The jaw of Mrs O’Brien – the religion teacher – now touched the floor. She tried to speak, then shook her head, burst into tears and ran out of the room. Seamus Gavara and his comrade Fiachra ‘The Beard’ Cassidy – les enfants terribles – had to find themselves a new school, but the events of that day forged a bond which would change the course of Irish history.
Seamus and Fiachra had been friends since the age of fourteen. Magnetically drawn to each other by John Player Blue cigarettes and their Rage Against the MachineT-shirts.
Together they would fight the machine to the death.
Throughout their teenage years they waged war against capitalism. They refused to wear watches, to recognise Greenwich Mean Time, buy Nike trainers or to eat in McDonalds. They were small but tenacious thorns in the arse of the multinational cartels. They demanded a new Ireland – a socialist republic – a proletarian utopia. Such was their anarchic reputations that even Joseph Higginsbottom – the Godfather of Irish Socialism – wouldn’t take their calls. He distanced himself from their seditious agitation.
Fiachra first came to international prominence as a member of a far-left Marxist revolutionary ornithological observation group in the Columbian jungle. Fiachra’s research led him into close contact with the terrible poverty of that continent and the massive gulf between rich and poor. Seamus joined Fiachra in South America on a J7 Visa from college. They bought a Honda 50 motorcycle and for twelve weeks rode around the beaches of Cancun and Rio de Janeiro observing the tremendous destitution of the indigenous people and the breath-taking beauty of the local bikini-clad women.
Seamus kept a diary of this historic trip, which later became internationally famous; it contained amongst other things a list of his many sexual conquests. He was known as ‘The Ginger Conquistador’ and the ladies found his freckled charms irresistible.
The adventure wasn’t without its struggles however as both Seamus and Fiachra suffered severe sunburn on their pale Irish skin and also fell victim to the scourge of intoxication in their undying efforts to help the South American people. This epic journey crystallised their egalitarian beliefs.
The Ireland of the Celtic Tiger years was a playground for the corporate mafia of the giant American multinationals. Like 1950s Havana, it was mired in corruption. It was Havana with potatoes and rain. A safe haven for the faceless conglomerates to wash their profits – a developer’s paradise, a brown envelope Shangri La.
Seamus and Fiachra wanted to rid Ireland of the cancer of greed, of the culture that spawned the fat Hibernian capitalist pig – Hiberno Vulgarianism. That pig had grown grotesquely plump during the now extinct Celtic Tiger. It had its snout in the filthy trough of property speculation; its ostentatious displays of wealth were vulgar in the extreme. It was time to put the pig on the spit.
Being nouveau riche hadn’t suited the Irish psyche. The Irish were used to centuries of famine, forced emigration, evictions, and good old-fashioned misery. The newfound affluence drove the natives instantly mad, which was only to be expected of an island of perennially oppressed peasants, some of whom were still living in mud huts until the late 1800s. But the mood of the people had darkened. The Teflon Taoiseach – the Irish Batista – Gertie O’Hern had been dethroned. The Emperor had no clothes.
The arse had fallen out of the country. The world was in turmoil, the bankers and the developers had fucked the people – big style – and the government had let it happen. The socio-political landscape was transformed. The people wanted change – they wanted blood. Now, twenty years after first standing up to the machine in the form of Mrs O’Brien, Seamus and Fiachra and their newly formed party – The People’s Party of the People (PPP) were ready to seize that opportunity.
Seamus Gavara had revolution on his mind but his ideological thirst was yet again quenched by a crippling weakness for the drink. He awoke with his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth. His body shook violently. A black beret nestled on his wild mane of ginger hair. His world was upside down.
‘Seamus, are you dead or alive in there? Do you know the time? Tis three o’clock, the day’ll be gone. You’re sleeping your life away,’ said Betty Gavara. Betty was Seamus’ long suffering mother, locally famous for her superlative scones, an open mind and an acerbic wit often sprinkled with sexual euphemisms of an adolescent nature. It kept her young at heart, and with a thirty-four year old ideologue son in the house, she needed to be.
‘Ya, ya, Jesus Christ I’m awake. Will you leave me alone woman?’
‘My heart is broke with that young fella,’ Betty said, throwing her eyes up to heaven.
Seamus jumped up out of the bed, staggered around looking for the clothes that he had on before tentatively venturing out of the burrow that was his room. He met Betty in the hallway. She was upside down and speaking in tongues. He looked down upon her undulating double chin and attempted to decipher her utterances. Betty shook her head and wondered where did it all go wrong for her. She wondered what the fuck was she after rearing? She went back into the refuge of her kitchen to the soothing sounds of RTE Radio One to make a fresh batch of scones.
Seamus, now terror stricken by his fragmenting mind galloped towards the front door, past the reflection of his head high red Doc Marten boots in the hall mirror.
‘I’m headin mam, good luck, talk later,’ he shouted, as he ran out the door.
He emerged to a sky of lush green fields, populated by black and white Friesian cattle that were upside down happily chewing the cud. They were surrounded by lines of grey stonewalls. An ethereal lawn of white cumulus cloud covered the ground in front of him. Brambles, whitethorn and blackthorn hedges, horse chestnut and tall slender ash trees hung perilously from the sky in complete disregard to Isaac Newton’s theory of gravitation. The Fire Brigade rescued a meowing dog from an ash tree. Crows and finches glided over little fluffy clouds to the sound of barking horses at 30,000ft. A line of chattering neighbours passed the house walking on their hands. The road moved beneath stationary cars like a travelator in an airport departure gate.
To Seamus, this had all the hallmarks of a CIA operation – sensory manipulation – a classic mindfuck. They must have spiked him with hallucinogenic drugs. Seamus had seen the film The Men Who Stare at Goats. He knew what those fuckers were capable of. He wasn’t going to crack. The Bay of fucking Pigs he thought. Maybe they got to Fiachra? Fiachra and the CIA? Seamus ran over the various scenarios in his head. Nobody could be trusted. He needed to pull himself together. He took a deep breath and tried to reassure himself – just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.
America – the cheerleader of free market capitalism had been the sole superpower since the demise of the Soviet Union but the capitalist system was on its knees. China was a monolith and America was crippled by its debt due to its ill-fated Middle Eastern campaigns of imperialist aggression in the aftermath of 9/11. The Western civilization was in decline, soft centred and bloated. Seamus and Fiachra studied the great Roman, Mayan and Aztec empires, all of which imploded and crumbled making way for new and hungrier powers to emerge. Powers like India and China.
The PPP were ready to exploit this new reality.
Ireland was a key battleground because of its proximity to Europe and its importance as a corporate centre. The extreme austerity measures imposed by the troika of the EU, IMF, and the ECB had led to the disillusionment of the people.
The PPP made their move with a campaign of Blitzkrieg electioneering. Their posters were omnipresent, quoting Mao underneath the letters PPP, ‘A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first few steps.’ The people had turned to the People’s Party of the People and the revolution would be televised on TG4 as a party political broadcast after Sergio Leone’s classic western Once Upon a Time in The West.
Seamus made contact with the Chinese secret service under the cover of a takeaway restaurant ‘The Dragons Belly,’ in Rathkeale, Co Limerick. He walked up the red neon-lit curried steps of the entrance, opened the door and walked towards the counter. A young girl sat watching a Chinese game show on a television mounted on the wall.
‘I’ve an order in for a Mr Kung Po.’
‘Gavara, Seamus Gavara.’
‘Ah Mr Gavara, we’ve been expecting you. Welcome to the belly of the dragon. Pleeze come with me.’
Seamus lifted the countertop, walked underneath the television to the sound of a clapping Chinese audience into a back room where he met the man known only as, Chang.
The PPP used their burgeoning political power base to make representations to the Minster for Offense about the building of a Chinese missile defence base at Shannon Airport. In return the Chinese promised significant inward investment – a major project in Tipperary involving the construction of a satellite city as a European base for the Chinese companies. This project would create thousands of jobs and would forge a co-operative bond between Ireland and China. The local TD Mickey Maowry had played a pivotal role in the development due to his extensive contacts in the Asian business community.
Mickey Maowry was known as a man to get things done and was wildly popular amongst his constituents despite high profile scandals involving the awarding of lucrative licenses for massage parlours and the illegal importation of Rhino horns into the greater Tipperary area. Officially announcing the project, Mickey Maowry told the Tipperary Enquirer:
‘After several years of hard work and personal sacrifice I have delivered
this project for the good people of Tipperary who have stood by me during this campaign of vilification by the national media. I would also like to thank my long suffering wife Pamela, my sons John, Johnny, Pa, Patrick and Paddy, Mickey and Mickey Junior, my daughters Bridie and Bride and our Labrador Blacky. They are my rock and without them I would be just a lonely hardworking bachelor politician without a family or a dog. Thank you.’
The Chinese had extensive interests in Africa and in the mineral rich Australian outback. Their hunger for resources was insatiable. Their tentacles were truly global and Ireland was next for Chinafication.
It was during these turbulent times that Seamus met Saoirse. A sultry brunette, tall and elegant with a smouldering sexual allure. She was a force of nature for which Seamus had no resistance. He melted beneath the scorching flame of her ferocious eroticism.
Saoirse had travelled the world after college working casually in bars and restaurants. She liked to dance and drink in a narcotic haze. She exploited her erotic capital. Saoirse was wild as the wind but still found time for her volunteering and charity work, including a month long spell at an orphanage in New Delhi. Her father Sean had a top job in Googlesoft, Ireland and he bankrolled her decadent lifestyle in between her ephemeral periods of gainful employment.
Seamus fell helplessly under Saoirse’s spell. They hit the bars and nightclubs. They feasted on each other in an alcohol-drenched banquet of depravity. The world around them blurred into an inconsequential mass.
Meanwhile, the Chinese had begun construction of the base at Shannon and the satellite city outside Thurles.In the July electionsFiachra and the PPP’s newest apparatchik, Mickey Maowry, were elected on the first count helping to win the party an overall majority.
At a White House press conference the American President and the leader of the Tea Party administration Mitt Palin spoke about the Chinese presence in Shannon, ‘The Irish and the American people always had a special relationship, a shared history of struggle and endurance. We will stand by our friends in Ireland. This is an act of aggression, a threat to democracy and to the free world.’
There were high-level leaks about a covert invasion and CIA funding for the far-right anti-immigration party – The III ‘Irish Ireland for the Irish.’
Seamus had become increasingly paranoid. He saw CIA agents at every corner – old women pushing trolleys in supermarket car parks, street cleaners sweeping the roads, parked taxi drivers. They were everywhere, always seeming to avert their gaze whenever he tried to look them in the eye. Falling silent when he walked into a room. He moved into a new apartment with Saoirse and checked it daily for bugs and cameras. He checked light fittings, ashtrays, picture frames, clock faces. Even the fruit bowl, ticking them off a list as he went.
Saoirse was worried. He was distant and had a glazed look in his eyes. She decided to confront him.
‘Seamus are you alright? Is there something on your mind?’
‘You’re not yourself. You’re very quiet with me. Did I…do something?’
‘I’m sorry Saoirse, it’s just with the PPP and the negotiations with the Chinese, things are mad lately. That’s all. I’m just…a bit stressed out. I’m grand.’
‘You don’t look grand. You look off your fuckin game.’
‘It’s those CIA fuckers…fuckin with my head.’
‘What…are you talking about Seamus?’
‘Mind control, sensory manipulation, Project MK-ULTRA, the Men That Stare At Fuckin Goats. At my mothers house…the bastards. She’s nothing to do with this.’
‘Calm down hunny…it’s ok. Breathe…talk slowly.’
‘They must have spiked me the fuckers. After the Rage Against the Machine concert I woke up and everything was upside down. I was trippin out. You saw what the Russians did to Litvinenko. Poisoned the cunt. With his tea. His fuckin tea. Polonium-210. They’ll get me too.’
‘Don’t you remember Seamus? The acid? We took the acid after the gig. Remember? Got it from Tim O’Leary in town. Larry in the Sky with Dinosaurs? Seamus calmed down a little after their talk. He still thought that the CIA were somehow involved but he kept it to himself. The less she knew the better, for her own sake.
The PPP were monitoring Seamus’ erratic behaviour. Nobody could jeopardise the Party. Fiachra distanced himself from Seamus and had taken to smoking big Cuban cigars. He was elected president of the PPP.
Seamus was now only a peripheral figure in the Party he built but he didn’t care. All he wanted was Saoirse. He loved her so much he took a manufacturing job in Googlesoft to help pay the rent of their apartment. Saoirse’s father Sean pulled a few strings and got him the gig. They settled into a quiet life of debauched domesticity.
Saoirse took up ballet after watching the film Black Swan. Seamus purchased his first watch to observe GMT because his overlords at Googlesoft demanded strict adherence to the clock. Betty would drop over fresh scones to supplement their Big Mac meals.
‘Mrs Gavara, is it yourself?’
‘Saoirse, how many times have I told you? Call me Betty.’
‘Sorry…Betty. Come in.’
‘I’ve some fresh scones for ye. Where is he, where’s my boy?’
‘He’s working overtime. He’ll be home at seven.’
‘I don’t know what you’re doing to him. I’ve never seen him so happy. You even got him working. I thought he was still one of those antichrists, marching and protesting and that. We’ll have to keep you Saoirse.’
‘They’re anarchists Betty.’
‘Sure, they’re all the one, aren’t they?’
‘ I’m going nowhere Betty. I love him. He’s a heart of gold. He’s idealistic and…vigorous.’
And with that, both women laughed heartily.
Life was blissful, well; it was until Saoirse choked on that chicken bone.
If there were any lessons to be learned from this inglorious expiration it would be to avoid dancing while eating a chicken leg. In a Swan Lake finale Saoirse choked while practicing after the day’s ballet class as Seamus dozed in front of the T.V after a feed of drumsticks. Saoirse never could sit still. Seamus hit the bottle.
The Chinese intent on world domination bought Googlesoft. A drunken Seamus was at his evening Mandarin course when he heard that Sean and the entire board had been sacked and the Union shut down. Overnight wages were quartered and working conditions deteriorated. A heartbroken Sean jumped from a tenth floor window of the Googlesoft HQ killing himself and a RTE News reporter in the process.
The PPP had consolidated its power through emergency constitutional reform. Everything changed overnight. Ireland became a one Party State with Fiachra as its figurehead but everybody knew the man known only as Chang really ran the country. Ireland was now closer to Beijing than Boston.
Seamus was drinking three bottles of whiskey a day. He lost his job. He wouldn’t open the door to Betty. He was skin and bone.
Some months later an American journalist interviewed him about his history in the PPP. Seamus criticised Fiachra and the betrayal of the PPP’s original ideals. He was immediately arrested and sent to the Curragh internment camp. Witnesses claim he mounted one final protest outside the office of the camps commanding officer, comrade Zhan, where he shouted pro-American, pro-democracy slogans. He was promptly executed by firing squad.
But Seamus lives on. His organs were harvested and it’s rumoured that a Shanghai millionaire has one of his kidneys and is doing well.
Patrick O’Flaherty is from Limerick, Ireland. He has previously been published in The Moth magazine and in theNewerYork. His writing is an involuntary response to the chaos of his mind, to the insanity, absurdity and the beguiling beauty of the world around him. Folow Patrick on Twitter @PaddyofNazareth
Photography: Brian Bennett is an actor and theatre-maker from Dublin, Ireland. He is currently working on his first novel and a feature script to be filmed next year. He is also working on a photography exhibition entitled ‘Blue’. Follow Brian on Twitter @brianbennett84
I’m red-wine drinking, mirror checking, window stalking, waiting for Oli to arrive and its driving me insane. I arrived home from work in the city less than an hour ago but I’ve taken a shower, shaved my legs – just in case anything happens- ironed my white see-through (but not too see-through) shirt, caught the six o’clock headlines, hoovered the living room carpet and because I simply did not have time to do them, I’ve thrown all the dirty dishes into the basin and hidden it in a cupboard. Well, I don’t want him to think I’m a slob.
And now I’m waiting. I’m listening to Oasis. Loud. Oli likes them too which is great news. I pad up to the window, adjust my stockings a little higher, smooth my skirt back into position. Great, you look great. Slowly peep between slatted verticals hoping to spy his Golf GTI pull onto my driveway. It’s a lovely car, sporty. His other car is back home in Iceland. I can’t remember what it is, must have been too tuned in on his husky accent to catch that part. He doesn’t drive too fast. I like that.
Where is he? I said anytime; he said seven. It’s already half past and I swear I can hear the tick tock of an oversized grandfather clock I don’t own in my head, chiming out the minutes, the seconds until he is here and I’m pulling open my front door, a flushed, generous smile on my face. My tummy growls. I should have snacked I knew it. My head feels slightly woozy and I know I’m going to be drunk if I have another glass. We are going to this chic Icelandic restaurant in town. It’s beside the graveyard. I’ve been but Oli hasn’t. It was my idea; he didn’t even know it existed. You get to cook your own meal if you want to, they bring you these square slabs like miniature tombstones, but unlike cold dead stone, these have been deep-oven heated. You choose fish, fowl, game from the menu – I’m going to have duck, I think then cook it at your own table, by candle-light. An up-market in-door barbeque. I love it. The chef is married to Bjork’s sister, I’m not kidding.
When his frown turned to a smile, I could tell Oli was happy I’d suggested that. A taste of home. He frowns quite often and I’m never sure quite what he’s thinking. I think I talk too fast for him to keep up. Or sometimes he doesn’t believe what I’m telling him.
What if he’s not coming? What if he comes and he doesn’t bring a condom? What if he comes and he does bring a condom? I’ve never been nervous like this before. But that’s Oli, for you. He’s different. Sincere. Respectful.
We only met two weeks ago. Is that all? It seems so much longer. He calls every night and we laugh and chat effortlessly. I remember it took me all my time to say his name correctly: Olafur Jonsson. The Jonsson part was alright, clearly, but Ola-fur? Ol-a-fur. When he says it for me in his deep accent, it sounds normal and I turn pink and flick my hair off my neck. So now I just call him Oli and he doesn’t seem to mind.
What he seems to mind about a lot is how we met in a gay club. I really can’t understand what the fuss is all about. It’s hardly the 1970s. He wanted to know what I was doing in there.
“Never mind me,” I scoffed, “what were you doing in there?” It transpired that we had both gone with a gay friend, the club was open later and we could have more drinks and a little dancing too. I am not suspicious of him in the least; after the way he kissed me so thoroughly in a quiet booth, I do not think he is gay. I’m not so sure exactly what he thinks about me.
Two days later, he took me out to lunch and we munched foccacia and soberly discussed jobs and music and I asked him all about Iceland. A cheek-peck kiss goodbye. There were night-time dates; we wanted to see more of one another. After a week, an amazing prawn croissant and several well-creamed frapucinnos, Oli made his move. I had wondered where the arduous man of our first encounter had been hiding, replaced by such a gracious gentleman. Second thoughts about me? Not quite what he ordered?
But then it happened. Okay, it almost happened. He took me to his immaculate flat.
“My neighbour runs an interesting business. It’s the burial for dogs,” he told me. “She makes a lot of money. It’s based on an old Viking tradition.’
When Oli removed most of our clothes, I noticed his hairy chest. He would have made a fine Viking, not only was he blonde and hairy chested but his strange silences and intensive stares seemed to define what I imagined a real Viking to be like. I half expected him to grunt, hauling me down until I fitted into him: having his wicked way with me. Burning villages. Preparing for battle. Taking women forcefully.
I’m getting turned on again. I wish he’d hurry up.
We’d kissed and rolled around the floor of his everything-its-place living room. Then we’d stumbled down the hallway and kissed and rolled around his pristine-clean double bed. Flushed, and perspiration drenched, I felt tropical fever hot. Panting for breath. Gasping in anticipation.
And then a sudden flattening heart-rate, a cease-fire of action, a change of mood when he said “Do you mind if I ask you a personal question?” into the clammy darkness.
‘Go ahead,’ I squeezed out, my voice small and tight.
“Have you had many one-night stands?”
“Do you carry a condom?” An unexpected giggle escaped me.
“No,” I said, fighting to disguise my amusement. It wasn’t that I found his question so absurd; it was the weight of his tone, his school teacher sterility.
“Do you?” I ventured.
“Usually,” there was an uncommon emphasis on the ‘s’, his accent sounding more foreign somehow. “I didn’t think I’d need one tonight.”
I liked his answer. A surge of respect swept through me. I nestled closer; chest hair tickled my side. He must like me, more than just another girl, another conquest.
“Do you use condoms?” An interrogation; a flicker of irritation ignited. I felt his clean shaven face pressed into my arm, spied the shape of his clothes in the dusky half light, not scattered randomly but folded, sensibly on a chair. I disliked the implication of my being unclean, somehow.
“It depends,” I said, carefully, “different if you’re in a relationship, isn’t it?’ I waited for his reply.
“Yes, you’re right.’ I imagined sighing out loud, relieved and feeling pleased as if I’d passed some kind of test. Oli squeezed me against him. “Let’s go to sleep now.”
The next time we were alone, the same thing happened. But I couldn’t stop laughing when he asked, “Have you got any plastic bags tonight?” in that sincere, foreign voice of his. He laughed with me when I told him, “No?”
As I drifted off into frustrated sleep, I wondered if he felt intimidated by me or if he had some kind of problem, surely not at his youthful age……why go so far and stop…did he simply want to be sure of me? Were all Icelandic men cautious and willful? Could I be learning a lesson here?
I’m red-wine drinking, waiting for Oli to arrive and it’s driving me insane.
Scots-born Alison U Miller writes poetry and prose. She studied English Literature at the University of Aberdeen. In 1996 she won the Alan Spence Creative Writing award and prizes in Lanarkshire Writer of the Year. Her poetry and articles have been published in The Scotia Bar Poetry Anthology, The Evening Times, Gloss Magazine and Orlando Sentinel. She completed her first novel Jaded Genes whilst living in Florida and is searching for a publisher. It’s a gritty, character driven story about identity and family turmoil. Curtis Brown called her writing ‘mature and well written’. Alison considers it not a bad starting place. Follow Alison on Twitter @MillerMatters
Short Story: The Autumn of Youth Summer Camp
– By Paddy Doherty
Seville; Spring 2012.
The sun sheepishly slips away to another part of the world. We’re drinking on Helen’s terrace. She’s just moved into a new apartment with a German girl, an English guy and a Danish guy. The Dane is geeky looking, and seems disconcerted by our presence as he lurks from cupboard to cupboard in the kitchen. He strikes me as the type of guy who hates living with other people, someone deeply frustrated with his house-mates’ lack of respect for the house. He probably just wants to cook and clean and go to sleep, and maybe get up early at the weekends to take pictures of churches and castles and whatever other shite has been left lying around from years ago.
The German girl and English guy, who none of us have met before, are quite sociable. They pitch in with their opinions every now and then, especially when the subject turns to travelling. The English guy is getting on my nerves a little because he keeps going on about Hong Kong and New Zealand and a million other places that he’s been and attempted various different extreme sports.
Travel broadens the mind, and lengthens the anecdote.
‘I did a sky dive in Mexico, I never thought I’d have the balls, but I did it! I nearly shit myself though!’
Oh yeah? Well I went canoeing in Galway once, and I did shit myself! Beat that, dickhead!
The German girl is sitting in a nice blue dress, cradling her legs from the breeze. We’re all sprawled across the terrace on blankets laid out by Helen. She always prepares for company in this way; providing crisps and crackers and other unnecessary nibbles. She’s made some tortilla omelette for us as well, and is telling our friend Anthony that it’s not that difficult to make. Anthony’s either genuinely interested in this or doing a very good job of feigning it.
Helen’s also wearing a dress, but hers is red, and she’s wearing navy tights to go with it. I sense she’s a little put off by the presence of her new German housemate, because even though there’s not much between them, the German is definitely prettier. Helen’s still very cordial though.
Ken and Linda have come along for the first time in a while as well, but it’s not long before they slip back into couple mode, kissing and fondling like we’re not even in the room. It always annoys me when couples act like this. It’s not just because I’ve never had a boyfriend, or a proper one at least, it’s because it looks pathetic and childish the way they just hang out of each other like monkeys from a tree. Whenever anyone speaks to Ken, Linda immediately starts stroking his hand defensively or cuddling up to him like she’s marking her territory, and I’m thinking it’s only a matter of time before she squats over him and takes a piss.
Anthony has a funny story to tell about one of his students saying the alphabet but I can’t be bothered to listen to it. I’m hungry and wondering when we’re going to leave, or whether Helen is going to rustle up something else for us to eat. I go out into the kitchen to get another litre of beer from the fridge. Helen follows me and starts saying how nice it is that we’re all together again and that we’ve been really bad for meeting up recently. I nod and agree, but as we’re talking, I’m making snide internal remarks about her – calling her a cunt and the like. She’s talking about how this is the type of night she’s been needing for the past few weeks; just a few close friends and a few beers and a few bottles of wine and a chance to find out what’s been happening with everyone. This annoys me because she’s always going on about this in one way or another, everything revolves around the group. She seems to want this idyllic social life like something from a coffee ad or some American sitcom. I reckon she’s one of those girls who grew up wanting to be in the cast of Friends; to waste away in the Central Perk Cafe retelling the same old stories again and again until there’s no life or truth left in them whatsoever.
We go back outside and I put on my hoodie and take my warmer shoes out of my bag to put them on. Anthony has a story about a guy from home that did something once and we’re all listening to that. I get bored and start watching Ken and Linda fidgeting with each other and I’m wondering whether they’re just counting down the clock until it’s reached a respectable time to leave. Helen has waited for Anthony to finish his story so that she can talk about one of the first drunken nights we had together. We listen and count the embellishments, but no one says anything or refutes her claims except for Anthony – who claims not to remember any of it. She is prepared for this, however, and quickly rebukes his challenge by reminding him of ‘the state he was in that night!’
The German girl has stopped listening, and I’m staring at her now, wondering what she really thinks of us. But I remember at the same time that most people probably aren’t as judgemental or as cynical as me, and I’m reminded that this is something my mother once said about me when she’d thought I wasn’t listening.
Drab conversations float from person to person but they always make their way back to Helen or Anthony. Helen’s trying to make plans for us all for the following weekend; month; summer; year; and has a few ideas for things to do after that as well. I nod along half-heartedly at her proposals and make vague commitments that I have no intention of honouring. I look over at her English housemate again and wonder if I’ll be drunk enough to fuck him later, or whether he’ll be drunk enough to try it on with me. I can’t decide if I’ll bother my arse with him and think about how it might just be easier to pick up a horny Spaniard in whatever club we end up in.
Helen tries to get everyone to agree to a festival in June before our contracts finish. Anthony says he’s definitely going to go, but Linda reckons that her and Ken have other plans and aren’t that into festivals anyway, because of all the mud and rain and music. They drift out of the conversation again and Ken starts kissing her neck. Helen’s housemate says he doesn’t think he’ll be able to go and reminds us that he’ll be home by then and that he’s not actually a TEFL teacher. His company have just sent him here for six months because his job is really exciting and allows him travel around the world whilst making shit loads of money. And he’s fucking amazing at it but still down to earth enough to hang around with a couple of native-speaking English-teaching imbeciles.
Eventually it’s twelve o’clock and there’s talk of the neighbours complaining and that it might be time to leave. Then Anthony mentions that Harry is in town and that he might meet up with him. The others all say something to the tune of: Harry! I haven’t seen him in ages, what’s he up to? But the truth is we haven’t seen Harry for a long time because Harry has found a better group of people to hang out with and hasn’t wanted to see us. He had only hung out with us out of necessity, when we were all at that hostel together where we first met.
Anthony might be the only one holding onto the notion that they’re still friends, because Helen certainly knows, and is unenthusiastic about meeting up with him for precisely that reason. Nothing depresses her more than the thought that our little fuckwit posse might not necessarily be thecool gang.
That’s what expat life is like in a nutshell, a fucking summer camp.
Ken and Linda couldn’t care less. They only hang out with us so that they can tell their workmates that they met up with friends at the weekend and didn’t just walk around the city holding hands like a pair of love-struck idiots. The two newbies have nothing to say about Harry, and I suspect they might be forming a similar impression of us and soon joining him at the fringe of our little group. I cringe when I think of the word group and how it sounds so much like Helen and the way she obsesses over our social life.
Helen mentions that a few Spanish guys she met one night are going to Malandar, and that we should go there because the music is always good: ‘you can have a dance and a cheap drink; plus some of Pablo’s mates are fucking fit!’
When we get there it’s the same old story; la misma mierda. Helen goes off with one of them and Anthony has gone to meet friends at a gay bar, which he never invites anyone to, because, for some reason, he’s not quite come to terms with his sexuality, and probably hasn’t even come out of the closet back home. Ken and Linda abandon ship and I’m stuck with the German girl and Helen’s house mate, and they’re stuck with me.
The music is really loud and rocky and people keep bumping into me, but none of the guys that do are interested in talking. I down my third whiskey and coke before realising I’ve got no more money, so I start dancing with Helen’s housemate in the hope he’ll buy the next one. He tells me his name again and I try to memorise it: Alan, Alan, Alan; but I just end up calling him Dave instead. He is polite and dances with me a little, but I soon realise that he’s actually into the German girl. He keeps looking past me at her while we’re dancing. I move in closer to him and flash a hand over his cock, but just as I’m about to try to kiss him, I admit to myself that he’s not really interested, so I fuck off outside for a cigarette even though I don’t smoke.
The first guy I ask says he doesn’t have any, but then a fat friend of his offers and so I start talking to him. He puts his arm on the small of my back as he crouches to listen. This is all the encouragement I need. The second time he does it, I pull him over to the wall and start groping and kissing him with enough tongue to ensure that he knows he’s getting laid tonight if he just comes back with me, which he does.
When I get him home he doesn’t want to waste much time with foreplay. He pushes my head down to his cock for a blow job. I deliberately apply too much tooth so that he will want to have sex instead, which he does.
He’s too heavy when he’s on top so I manoeuvre out from underneath and mount him, grinding and grinding until I feel him inside me. I ask him if he’s cum already, but he says nothing. I get off and he starts touching himself to harden up, but then I discover that he just wants to masturbate over me, so I let him cum on my chest and try to remember exactly when guys stopped wanting to have sex and started wanting to just ejaculate on things instead. Then he falls asleep and I take out my vibrator and give myself an orgasm with that, all the while thinking about how it’s funny that the orgasms are quicker and vastly more reliable with it, but there is still something about having that weight on top of you. When I’m finished I check the time on my phone and see a message from Helen which says:
Where are you?
Paddy Doherty, 25, is a native of Longford currently living in Seville. His stories have appeared in the Irish Independent, Boyne Berries, The South Circular and Writing4all Anthology. Check out Paddy’s Blog.
I’m worried sick about the ice age. I’ve marked it on my calendar. They say that aeroplanes will fall into frozen seas and that all the oak trees will go extinct and that humans will scavenge in the blinding snow to survive. We will freeze, they say, but I’m not worried about that. About freezing. I’m not the type. When I was a little girl, when there was still rape seed in the fields and frogspawn in the ponds and white teeth in most people’s faces, I found a lady dead on the street. Killed by the cold. Curled up still like a heap of clothes. No, I’m not worried about that.
There are less buses every day. There was a time when London rolled on a red set of wheels, when one could step from bus to bus without ever touching the ground. A time when buses rode nose to tail all across London. So close you’d swear they were red carriages on a single, tangled, city wide train. Nowadays you have to wait in the cold for the buses. Yesterday I waited an hour. There will be more waiting during the ice age. Mark my words.
I haven’t slept in a bed for twenty years. The very suggestion of it seems absurd to me now. I sleep sitting up. I dream as much as anybody. I fidget and I flicker and I wake up as confused as everyone else. We build bathrooms and decorate them with steel and glass and clean them with bleach and water and think it something civilised but really we’re just animals shitting in a corner. There are women in the tabernacles who can sleep with their eyes open. Some who can sleep hanging upside down. I can only sleep on the number 171 bus.
The 171 is the oldest running bus service in the nation. It runs between Holborn station and Bellingham Catford bus garage. It was here when Saint Pauls still stood. When the Thames flowed. I try to imagine the 171 back then and I wonder if I would’ve recognised it, running on petrol, being ridden by people who drank tap water and ate animals and passed saliva to one another with their mouths. They should cut this bus in half and have it dragged by dogs. They should do it if it helps. I would work my fair shift dragging it if it helps.
Sometimes the buses die in the road. Their engines give out and their lights blink out and all the passengers look to one another in the darkness. In the ice age the dead buses will form glaciers and crawl along their routes driven by the ice. In the ice age people will have to learn to walk again. God knows they will have to try.
There are bus graveyards out there in the country. No one goes to the country. Only criminals and murder victims and bus drivers towing dead buses along the narrow roads. It is dark in the country at night. Real darkness. The light has abandoned the country like everything else, it crowds in glowing tenements and squats in squalid lamp posts. The light has moved to the city.
Sometimes I dream that the 171 picks me up from my home, that I open my curtains and it is there outside waiting, turning its wheels nervously, shrieking its horn like a baby bird. Sometimes I dream that the 171 is my home, not one particular 171 but all of them, a fleet of homes all hung with the same wall paper and rattling with identical antiques. Sometimes I don’t dream at all and eight hours of living escapes me in blackness and droning, eight hours lost as though it were shaken loose out of my pockets.
I’m worried sick about the ice age. I can think of little else. They say that the whole world will lose its fingers and that men and women will walk on stumps for feet and that we will shiver for the rest of our lives. But I’m not worried about that. There was a time when people could touch one another without fear of infection, a time before gloves and gas masks when strangers would brush their lips across each other’s faces and lovers exchanged fluids without vaccination. No I’m not worried about that.
There are less buses every day. Eventually there will be none. The last bus will have a route that takes in most of London, it will stop at every house and pick up everybody and it will be the only moving thing on the road, steering through untouched snow and navigating the traffic jams of dead and dark and frozen buses. When the last bus dies all the bus lanes and bus timetables and bus shelters will die too. When the last bus dies it will leave a nation standing in the cold, checking their watches, hailing their arms at the approaching ice age.
I haven’t slept in a bed for twenty years. When the last 171 has gone I won’t sleep at all. I will wander the bus lanes awake. I will try to sleep on other buses, whichever there are left but it won’t do any good. There will be a pair of headlights on in my head. A horn sounding indefinitely. Before the sickness people used to sleep in the same beds. Children. Couples. I can’t imagine it. They kept fish alive in glass containers and they buried each other whole in boxes in the ground and they slept in one another’s beds. Sometimes when I wake up on the 171 there are other passengers sitting nearby. They look at me as though I might be dead. I’m not. I’m not dead.
The 171 is the oldest running bus service in the nation. There is a plaque in Holborn and in Bellingham Catford bus garage commemorating its longevity. It was here when the buses had aisles of two seats side by side and people would sit next to each other with their legs touching. It was here when people still tried to talk to god. When people meant it when they said god forsaken, god damned or god only knows. It was here back then. If I was made of bus parts I would donate my body to keep the 171 running. I would donate it without question.
Sometimes the buses die in the road. It’s happened to me before. To a bus I was riding. Once it happened when I was asleep. I woke up in the darkness. I tried to open the doors and when I found that I couldn’t I went back to my seat and tried to sleep. I wasn’t sure but I think there was someone else on the bus too. I think there was something breathing. I couldn’t be sure. In the ice age we will make the dead buses our homes. We will forget they ever moved.
There are bus graveyards out there in the country. No one goes to the country. There is only snow and bones and foot prints in the country. It is where things go to die. I should like to find a bus graveyard. God knows I should like that. Somewhere a dead fleet of 171 stands rusting. I could make a home there in the rust. I could learn to see in the darkness. Learn to live in the bitter cold. I could.
Sometimes I dream that the 171 is alive, that it is old and kind and that it is dying. I know that if the 171 could give promises it would never break them. I know that I could trust it with my life. Sometimes I dream that I am riding the 171 years and years and years ago, when there were still swimming pools and dragonflies and before all the birds were culled and when the ice age was just a joke people told over dinner. Sometimes I dream of that and the light in those dreams is always thin and pale and the air in those dreams always smells of orange trees and the time in those dreams always passes so quickly but nobody is worried. Nobody is worried about anything.
Tom Offland lives in London. He is twenty four and a half years old. He writes on the bus to and from work. His favourite bus is the 171. He blogs at http://happyhealthynormal.tumblr.com/
By Brian Bennett
As a young boy I moved to a house
by the sea
by the trees
and by the shadow of myself far out in the water.
In the lands
in the trees
and reflected upon myself through passing tides
there was a shadow.
I watched a reflection of myself on the water
as it danced under moonlight on the surface.
A thousand years went by and nothing.
One thousand years more then something.
It changed and glowed while the water ebbed and flowed.
Then one night by twilight
after shouting to the sky with all my might
I realised I was the same as him, as her, as them and
as the silent breeze that flowed over the water which I swim.
I was not dead nor did I die another death for
my soul sat comfortably in me as he did, she did, or they did.
Except I was the one with breath.
It’s a hard thing to love oneself.
To be forgiven for that which was taken as easily as you gave it.
But it’s not impossible.
And the people who came and stayed in that house by the sea all left after a time. Then more came. And more left after a time. All in all it was always me. By the sea, by the trees, with the tide taking me, day to day for what seemed an eternity. But not to me.
And when I had forgotten how to swim someone showed me. And when I had forgotten how to climb someone showed me. And when I had forgotten how to sit and be still, I showed myself. And with that act the last of him, of her, of them finally left and what did I find? Myself – shadowed upon the water. And a river and trees and a house by the sea where the people who stayed are still staying right with me.
And on the very last day I’ll be there
watching the coming light with an engulfing stare.
And the lands before me formed by the lands behind
will be shaped by the place in which I did reside.
And I’ll have no mask behind which to hide
for my face will be bare and my eyes close to blind.
And my home, here, at this very time will be close to bursting with the coming sight of a man made God shown up by the light.
And it reaches us, this impasse in the day, when orange turns yellow and black turns grey. People fall where they come, if they come and they may, with silence all laughed for the joke as they say.
These city’s streets are young and they are old with whimpering souls scared from stories that were told.
This is not a statement of intent nor an observation regarding my youths lament but a thought or question or dialogue or hope for myself and mine and you and yours and whomever may be watching while they listen, while they read.
In the farm lands
in the lakes
in the lanes
off tenement squares
in the playgrounds
in the parks
in the fields
off country roads
old men are dying.
Young girls can’t stand
their own thoughts and
young men seem to have forgotten.
We still swing from tree to tree as if it’s not us, oh it’s you but not me. As if we were never here in the times before time. As if we’ve never seen the time before now. Here. Where we are. Where we come from. Where we’e going.
Old women still sit and knit and talk of it.
A little buttercup cradled in arms, from star to star swung gently as if in all the endless reaches, in all the spiraling arms, it’s the only thing that matters. The only reason for myself and mine and you and yours and all of ours to walk these streets. Which we own. Which were built for us. By us.
We are living and we have lived and we are held up for what we will live.
Not by ourselves but by that what we wish to see, by that which we wish to feel, to kneel, to kiss, to caress and to bless. To make a holy of nothing as if it’s the most desired of all homely truths. Mine and yours and ours and theirs.
This is life. This is how it is. How dare you ask? How dare you live?
I have lived. I am living.
My soles are burnt from kicking burning bridges. From bitches and fiends and friends and dicks ripping at seems for late night flicks. And I flicked. And in return I was flicked. And I wanted to do it. And I wanted it. And I’m here. Living. And that’s there. It has lived. And I’m here, living. While that’s there, living.
And I’ll fuck you all as I’ve fucked you all for the Earth is very big and the universe very small and our streets are buckling under the weight of nostalgia. These streets are buckling under the weight of nostalgia and I’m here living unbeknown to you all. Watch me. Watch what I do. I mimic the rest of us as they mimic us too. The Earth is unbeknown so they’ll never catch us. They can’t and they won’t. I swear to you all that they don’t know. No one knows. It’s unknown. But that is OK. The unknown. It’s unknown so why fear it? Why demolish and sink that which is much higher than you and me and this and that and the knowledge of this and the knowledge of that doesn’t make me any happier. It doesn’t put a smile on my face. Are the things you pray to smiling on their face?
And as we fall there will be no catch, no lock on the door that was always there before, no safety net to save us from what we fret, or hand with a slap for our trousers stained wet.
Bone dry. When we fall we will be bone dry. There is nothing to fear for us when we die.
When I thought of him, and her, and they way before I had stood on a porch as the sun went down. With friends, and family, and you in surround, it could not compare or know what was in my heart except me, myself, and I. And with that the sun and the sky, the green grass growing and the later night lie, I had slept. Content in myself for what I truthfully felt. I slept a sound sleep. Content in myself as the one that I seek.
And it reaches us, this impasse in the day, with thoughts of ourselves and what they find who’s to say.
I am not the day, neither are you. Nor the night either, green grass sky blue. They are of another thing, of another dream that will take care of itself and we’ll see as we’ve seen.
It’ll be aright. It’ll be alright. When love finds the love it was supposed to find. When I’m not looking for my sacrosanct sin. When different colour flags are held by different colour skin. When I see all too clearly that which some can’t see. When I give myself over to such uncertainty. For certainty is holding us up, this buttercup and me.
A buttercup. That’s all you pray too. A thing of beauty. And it is beautiful I know and the buttercup is still there but if the buttercup was brought down to the base of man, would I dare say that it’s not?
It all doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things but a pebble in an ocean in a land made of time. But for some the pebble’s all and for them that’s the find.
Why do you build up the buttercup? When all you have to do is think it down? It messes you around and then worst of all it never answers when you say it will. What I’m saying is; the thing you’ve named as buttercup doesn’t answer you nor should it because that would be ridiculous no? For a plant to talk but we know they do talk. They do sing and react to our vibrations exact. To the tone of our tongue and the singing song sung. And that’s enough. It should be enough.
That should be the starting point.
On the very last day on Earth
as the sun sets and becomes
nothing but brilliant light.
I will walk North. Head first into it.
And be fine. And be OK.
Because I’m not in my knees
for the light kneels to me.
In this city and others beyond, around kitchen sinks, chatter that chitters in the time hereafter will destroy young girls, young men, for how much and how long cannot be echoed and viewed along the lines that we know for we view them all wrong.
I am not my father nor my mothers woes. I am a man unto myself with many made foes. The hardest of all when uttering a call is for myself to answer. Is for myself to answer myself. And find what I find. And hear what I hear and see what I see and with that comes the knowledge of you unto me.
I’m sick of fearing that which is unknown. The beauty is in the seems, in the joy, how it’s sown. I’m sick of adhering to you and myself, to the glory of it and the glory of wealth.
Is this what I am? The sum of a man is how much he works, how much he can earn, what can he buy not what can he learn? If you could control your death, and live a long life, in the final moments what would you answer when asked, “What are you here for?”. If you think that thought and really think that thought then the questions that arise can emancipate closed eyes. The light once dim now begins with a flicker. But if, with that light you’re driven away, then turn back around and get on your knees quicker.
On the very last day on Earth
as the sun sets and becomes
nothing but brilliant light.
I will walk North. Naked and free.
Exposed to this world that’s for you and for me.
And what my skin endures will change how I walk, how I see and I feel, and that is our burden but I certainly won’t kneel. I will spread my arms open for the engulfing light, a shimmer cascaded and I’ll know I was right. But this certainty is uncertain and with that, the question is wrong, for none of us know and that was right all along.
Brian Bennett is an actor and theatre-maker from Dublin, Ireland. He is currently working on his first novel and a feature script to be filmed next year. He is also working on a photography exhibition entitled ‘Blue’. Follow Brian on Twitter @brianbennett84