Natalia Godsmark; Da Capo

Da Capo

Sarah

I sit in the church hall, listening. The soloist is singing over the hum of chattering guests: “Ave Maria…gratia plena…”

My heart is racing like the staccato beat of a metronome. But it’s not from nerves; my day has finally arrived.

I close my eyes and take in a long, deep breath. The scent of wild flowers woven through my hair fills my nostrils.

A choir joins the soloist and I open my eyes, blinking back the brightness of the day.

Linda hands me my glass of champagne. “One more sip for luck!”

I take a gulp and the bubbles fizz on my tongue.

“Are you ready?” Dad asks. He holds out an arm and I take it, pulling myself up and giggling.

“As I’ll ever be,” I say with a wink. He guides me to the huge wooden doors and they open with a percussive bang. And as the Wedding March begins I see my Jonathon turn, and a warm, happy smile spreads across his face.

 

Jonathon

             Married… My goodness. Married! Well if that doesn’t draw a line under things, I don’t know what will. 

I had allowed myself one final glance at her before Sarah arrived. One peep. Imagined it was her walking up the aisle. That it would be her wrapped in my arms tonight. She was wearing scarlet lipstick – she knew I loved that. And a dress that fit her curves so snugly I had to avert my eyes, for fear I might give myself away.

            The choir was silenced and the organist began to play the Wedding March. Sarah looked beautiful, of course. But it was never her looks that I objected to.

She just…wasn’t Isobel.

I got through the vows, a Cheshire cat grin plastered across my face. You proposed, I remind myself. You set all this in motion.

I remember her face when I told her. Remember the blink of surprise and then the smile, all teeth and red, juicy lips.

“I hope you have a very happy life together,” she had said, without a hint of hurt, regret, or anything to suggest she didn’t mean exactly what she said.

So that is what I plan to do.

 

Sarah

            The crescendo of the babbling guests is broken when my husband stands to deliver the Groom’s speech and the best man tings on a glass with a teaspoon.

“Thank you all for coming today, to join my wife (ha ha!) and I on this very special day. Those of you who know us well know we met studying music at Nottingham Uni. Those of you who know me well know singing is my strength; speeches have never really been my forte (ha ha!) Probably because my jokes always fall flat (ha ha!)…”

            Jonathon’s face is the picture of happiness. I hope when we have children they favour him in looks; his smiling eyes, his square jawline and his wide, handsome grin.

            When the speeches and wedding breakfast is over, he pulls me from my chair to cut the cake with him. His eyes glisten as he places his hand over mine around the handle of the knife.

            And then it’s time for the first dance. My friend, Maya, sings ‘The way you look tonight’. Jonathon chose it. Said it would describe how he knew he was going to feel on the day; that I would be beautiful. Hand in hand, we glide towards the stage and begin our slow dance. The pools of his deep brown eyes lock on my own and I feel as though I am the only person in the world that matters to him.

            “I love you,” I say, and he kisses me softly and slowly on the lips. Our guests cheer wildly, dragging me back to the moment.

            In music, there is a term ‘da capo’ that means ‘from the beginning.’ It is written as a directive to return the musician to the start of the score and repeat what he has just played.

If this day was a piece of music, I would write da capo here.

*

Biography

Natalia Godsmark recently resigned from her day job as a Compliance Officer in an Asset Management organisation (but she’s a much more interesting person than that makes her sound). She has a one year old and is currently trying her hand at writing flash fiction and short stories. In April this year, she was longlisted for the OhZoe Rising Talent Award with two children’s story manuscripts.

Brian Dunster; The Tangram Enigma

The Tangram Enigma

It began with a retired astronomer discovering a comet on a direct course for Earth. He never really retired but officials really wish that he had after identifying the ball of fire and doom. Over the many days the world leaders were presented with very few options on dealing with the crisis at hand. Fearing they would make the wrong decision they decided to let the public choose. They swore to honour and uphold the people’s vote, no matter the outcome. But this was a world that thought “Boaty McBoat Face” and “Trainy McTrain Face” were great names for transportation vehicles. If the politicians had any mercy they would have just blown up the planet then and there. At least that way it’d save a major embarrassment.

Three options where put before the population of our once round planet.

Option One: Send a team of highly experienced, highly skilled, astronauts to the surface of the comet, plant an explosive device deep inside its belly, and detonate from a safe distance. This plan was given a sixty five to seventy percent chance of working. And was suggested by the Hollywood elite.

Option Two: Send several nuclear warheads into space and blast it to pieces. If it didn’t completely destroy the comet it would limit the damage to the planet. Some planet was better than no planet at all. This plan was given a meagre thirty three percent probability of success. But of the three options it was voted the second most favourite.

Option Three: Calculate the precise point of impact of the comet, dig a massive hole to the other side of the planet, then simply let the comet fly through. It was nicknamed “Holey McHole Face.” It had a minus infinity chance of effectively avoiding disaster but won by a staggering three quarters of the vote. The voting turn out was the highest in the world’s history and all the experts agreed that they wish it hadn’t been.

Before the hole had even reached the core of the planet (which they never fully figured how to bypass) the comet struck. Its destructive power was amplified by the giant crater we had provided it with. It caused the core to erupt and the Earth shattered into pieces. Billions died. It was absolute chaos. At least, that’s how the elders tell it. I wasn’t even born then. All I have ever known is this flat piece of rock we call Plana Petram. You can see the edge from every direction if you’re high enough. But I’ve never been that high. There’s only one building with that kind of view and if you’re smart you’d avoid it completely.

We were never told any other story other than the one the Governingmen taught. They tell us Plana Petram was formed by The Goods and gave Manly Men the power to rule. One Manly Man in particular, President Comfort. People forget what he looks like now. He’s not one for making appearances. But he has been in charge for as long as I’ve been alive. Before even. He resides in the tallest building at the centre of Plana Petram inside The Ministry of Stuff and Things.

It is here Governingmen deal with all the important issues that face our world. We’re not quite sure what they are but we’re told it’s extremely tedious and that there is seldom time to worry about the problems of the people, such as hunger and medicine.

But there has been a growing distaste towards our Governingmen as of late. People are sick and tired of the lack of attention they receive. But they better be careful for what they wish for. The Governingmen may not care about the everyday woes of us common folk, but they do have an interest in what we are up to. Those who were caught preaching tales of a round Earth were either mysteriously murdered or suspiciously killed. But those who managed to survive and are brave enough to tell their stories to whomever will listen, do so because they believe that we are only but one Plana Petram. In fact, they believe there are seven in total. They call this The Tangram Enigma.

I have been around for three hundred full moons. This world is the only one I have ever known. But the idea that there are other pieces of rocks like ours fills me with excitement. I can’t stop imagining them out there, floating about in space, perhaps thinking the same things we are. I wonder what their world looks like? Are the people a somewhat similar shape? Do they

tell the same stories of a round Earth? Do they worship the same Goods or different ones, or none at all? I have a dangerously curious need to find these answers. But I need to do it quietly, and away from the ever watchful eyes of the Governingmen. That is why, as of tomorrow, I start a new job inside the Ministry of Stuff and Things. There is no better place to find the truth and no better place to stay under the radar, right under their very own noses.

*

Biography

Brian has an itch… A mighty big itch. But it is no ordinary itch, oh no. It’s an itch for storytelling. Brian creates for a living. He can not see himself doing anything else. He has spent the last ten years building a portfolio of work, producing short films, music videos, and short stories. Brian studied film and television in IADT Dun Laoghaire and since graduating in 2011 has been evolving and honing his skills ever since.  He has won awards for his work, winning Best Student Film at the Kerry Film Festival ion 2011, and has showcased several other projects in numerous festivals across Ireland, including the Jameson International Film Festival and Cork Fastnet Film Festival, to name but a few. Keep up to date on his Facebook page – https://www.facebook.com/dunsterpictures and check out some of his work on Vimeo – https://vimeo.com/briandunster

Aviva Treger; What Came Out Of The Box

What Came Out Of The Box

He carried the head of Stooky Bill along clifftop paths yellow with gorse, above the beach where dinosaur footprints claw the rocks.

He thought about Genesis; he dropped his Woodbine and crushed it underfoot. Uncoiling his tie, he thought,

‘What if, in the beginning, on his first attempt, God’s creations…failed to work?’

The idea filled him with hope.

On that new morning, shadows then sunlight bled through the glen – silver evolving to gold.                                       

***

In a green glade, a chime of water pattered from a wall of old stone, curving like the dark side of a half-moon. Droplets glinting reminded him of the diamonds he once tried to invent from an alchemy of base elements. The memory made him sit  and rake his hair.

Hush descended and the rhythmic plink of the water swelled. The world basked in a lush soporific lull. Insects circled in shafts of light.

***                                                      

From his knapsack he wrenched the head of Stooky Bill and propped him up in the moss amongst the butterflies.

Bill’s features kindled forming bulbous scowls and glowers. In a rasp like a dry susseration of kicked leaves, a crackling became words.

‘You…set fire to my hair’, he said. ‘You scorched me.’
The Inventor yawned and slid off his shoes, massaging his feet in their pneumatic undersocks.

‘Haha’, he replied. ‘Experiments go wrong.’

He gurned a silly grin as compensation.
Bill growled for a while then he said,

‘When you’re not looking…I’ll have revenge – an eye for an eye’.

He leered.
The Inventor scratched his peeling sunburn. He recalled the human eye he once took possession of – to study how it worked, how it saw, if it could be fabricated and a new one invented.

He sighed.

‘And one day’, he said, ‘I’ll succeed’.

He bit his lip and his face dissolved.
‘I know the future’, said Bill. He lurched forward, his grimace distorting.

‘…and I guarantee your success’.

His voice sharpened and heightened: sly, zealous and hammy.

‘But out of your box of tricks you’ll summon a devil’, he said.

‘A putrifyer of minds…an un-stitcher of decency…a swindler of time…’
The Inventor chomped on his luncheon meat sandwich. He interrupted, tutting.

‘How can you know anything?’ he said.

‘You’re not alive’.
Bill’s chin plummeted.

‘I know secrets’, he said.

‘They would shock you.’

He seethed and jolted.

There was a pause and the trees shimmered. Over the cliffs, the sea dragged in shingle with the waves. A whirling murder of crows brawled across Fairlight Glen.

***

The Inventor rose and scooped his palms under the spring. He snatched up the clunky head of Stooky Bill and eyed him – the singed hair and the cracked cheeks. He fought an urge to sling him far into the copse, but instead he cooed.

‘Will you help me?’, he asked.

Bill’s lips twisted into a rictus.

‘Will you do exactly as I say?’ he answered.

***

At that moment, the sun vanished and the glade dimmed to a monochrome. A gust of wind snaked through the undergrowth; the giant ferns flustered. The air smelt feral – heavy with intent. The Inventor hurried off up the hill just as a silver veil of rain descended.

When the first flash of lightning blinded the landscape, he was out in the open meadow.

Stooky Bill wriggled, still in his grip, biting for attention.

‘If you want inspiration’, he said, ‘deep profound inspiration, my advice is to get struck by lightning.’
The Inventor snorted.

‘How ridiculous’, he said.

And yet he stopped. He peered up into the downpour, into the pewter sky where a window of ivory light revealed the hidden realms. From it, a crepuscular beam captured him in pearlescence and for a moment he thought he saw moving figures in the glow – angels or ghosts.

He shut his eyes and prayed to the deity of brainstorms, the god of invention. He exhaled with a theatrical whine and spread his arms wide – slavish, a willing initiate. As the wind whipped and the rain spattered and thrashed, he waited for revelation.
But nothing happened. Over the English Channel, opaque lightning skimmed the horizon far away. The Inventor slouched home, with his tweed suit sopping and the beginnings of yet another cold.

***

For a long time afterwards, Stooky Bill refused to speak and increased his puckish tampering with the instrument dials in the workshop. The Inventor continued his experiments frequently having to check the safety of his settings. Then one day, out of the blue, Bill reanimated and addressed him.

‘Do you want to remain a failure all your life?’ he said.
The Inventor made an O shape with his mouth.

He replied, ‘What the hell have you been doing with my equipment?’

‘I’m trying to help you succeed’, said Bill.

The Inventor scoffed at this. He chewed his fingernails.

‘It’ll cause an accident’, he muttered.

Bill continued in a pompous tone.

‘I suggest a new beginning, John’, he said.

‘A renewal of our efforts. I’m taking charge of the experiments now’.

The Inventor balled his fists. His face flushed. He glared at his shoes.

Then he roared. He grabbed Stooky Bill by the throat and squeezed. He shouted obscenities. He hurled him against the wall with a savage thwack and stormed from the room.

***

The next day, he returned. As the door swung open, the workshop seemed different: fresher, with a keen new clarity like the green smell of foliage after rain. He searched for Bill but his box was empty. He fetched James instead to sit under the lights.

The tests continued as normal but the electricity kept flickering on and off; so the Inventor examined the plugs and wires – and that’s when it happened. A crackle juddered the rig, a venomous hiss of a spark; and the next thing he knew, he was hammered across the floor to the opposite end of the studio, thrust backwards through space by a thousand volts.

As he lay howling, the angels from the portal of ivory sky seized him. They whispered and whirred; they exhaled sibilate cryptic knowledge over him like a crystalline mist. They bound him tightly with a crisp bolt from the blue and anointed him with eminence.

‘I’ve been initiated’, he raved, and in a hoarse bark, he cried out again and again for Stooky Bill; then he sobbed until he laughed.

***

Afterwards, the Landlord of the building inspected the damage. He surveyed the workshop with a thunderous face.

‘Your demonstrations are unsafe’, he said.

The Inventor gestured with bandaged hands, his voice febrile, frenzied.

‘But I’m doing very important work here’, he said.

‘I’m sending moving pictures through wireless – this machine is called a televisor. It will change the world’.

The Landlord stared at his equipment – the tea chest, the bicycle lights, the darning needles and the hat box. He grimaced through his moustache.

‘He’s a lunatic’, he thought.

Then he asked, ‘Why are you holding the head of a ventriloquist’s dummy?’
The Inventor tittered.

‘This is Stooky Bill’, he replied, ‘my effusive muse.’ He hugged Bill like a puppy.

‘He’s made me see the light!’ he said.

‘And in return, wooden though he is, I’ve promised Bill a gift – that he’ll become the world’s first

televised actor’.

He screeched with glee.

‘Him! An actor!’

The Landlord stiffened. He reached into his coat pocket.

‘Sir, I must evict you before there’s another catastrophe’, he said.

‘Here’s official notice’.
He placed an envelope on the table, half in the light, half in the shade; and on it, bold handwriting spelt out a name – John Logie Baird.

A gleam of pale sunshine touched the Inventor’s cheek, reflecting off the rim of his glasses as his smile waned. And then the scene faded – in colour, in brightness, in sharpness, in contrast, until all that remained was a dark grey mist in a hopeless storm, dissolving away into a single white dot.

*

Biography

Aviva Treger was born in Hastings. She studied Ancient History at UCL then later trained as an actor with Questors Theatre in Ealing. She’s a new writer, with two short stories published in her first year – ‘Wake Up To Yourself’ and ‘Unturn This Stone’ both appear in story anthologies: their genres are sci-fi and speculative fiction.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Aviva-Treger/e/B01MSS5CE4/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/16117082.Aviva_Treger

https://www.facebook.com/aviva.treger/about?lst=658070915%3A658070915%3A1500139235&section=bio&pnref=about

Cathal Gunning; Trinkets

Trinkets 

In his eyes the medals themselves were little more than trinkets, the small scraps of hard shiny things which magpies would retrieve, according to David Attenborough, to impress their prospective mates. He never gave voice to this view, knowing too well the reaction it would augur; vague but passionate protests informing him that medals meant bravery and valour and honour, that they represented in their featherweight physical presence some ineffable something which mattered in deep, philosophical terms. Lightweight medals were, he’d be told, rendered heavy by the meaning attached to them. The Jesuits were right, though; you couldn’t take it with you, macabre as the thought may have been. For all practical, rational intents and purposes, communion was wafer-meal and medals were merely trinkets. The war, commemorative jewellery aside, was a leaden weight all of its own, and each alone knew whether it left them proud and honourable or empty of anything other than nightmares of abetment.

As a result of his dim view of them the medals spent the early years of their lives—the later years of his—sitting at the bottom of a thin-wood sock drawer, safely entombed away from imaginary thieves. An ideal army man would have no trouble tracking down these thieves to retrieve his honours, but he was getting old, his chest weighing him down when he walked, his gait stooping. He never knew whether he would bother to retrieve the medals if they were to go missing; he never wanted to know, uncertain what the trinkets meant to him and unsure what he wanted them to mean. What meaning he was intended to gleam from them.

When he died, the medals became his youngest son’s, taken from one drawer to be ferreted away into another, the charity-shop beech-wood dresser too big and imposing for a one-storey starter home bedroom. The bedroom was overstuffed, its space stolen by both the dresser and a double bed big enough for two and too small for a third. The move came after the baby and the medals, like so many other trinkets over the years, went missing somewhere along the line. Some evening when they were out, a rare treat during the baby’s first year, the medals were stolen away, the earache squawk of a car alarm ignored by anonymous neighbours, the medals missing along with the no-cash which young parents keep at home, a handful of costume jewellery earrings, a half-dozen syringes, and a car radio, invaluable back then. The pile of erstwhile belongings, an odd mix, was deposited on the forest floor inside the thick woods at the foot of the Wicklow mountains.

The medals were stashed at the foot of an oak, overgrown and towering, blotting out any rumours of sunlight and the rattling persistence of rain. Over time they grew worn, mildewed, the skin of thin gold wearing grimy with age. There were great intentions to retrieve the medals, to resell them for far more than their former owners thought they were worth, to pawn metal into money and opportunities, the freedom to leave. The handful of syringes, though, were filled with insulin, pig’s insulin back then, great unfiltered quantities of it. The mistake was obvious a second too late, a gift which looked too good to be true and was. The medal thieves never did get a chance to return to the woods, sitting and succumbing to hypoglycaemia, the shivering mix of dry-mouth lethargy and a hot-temple tension headache, muscles feeling numb and atrophied as they watched the light of a living room fade into murky, single colour stillness.

The medals sat, eventually knotted over by tenacious weeds, coated by dewy moss and settled into the earth. The forest was a reprieve in winter and summer alike, from torrential downpours and muggy heat respectively. The medals were side-stepped and tripped over by two generations of dog walkers and underage drinkers, by awkward first shifts and newlyweds, by divorcees and last chance widowers. They sat undisturbed for years, precious metal reclaimed by the scattered rocks and piles of overgrowth.

The forest was scheduled for demolition when he visited, and he was surprised to find himself discomfited by the empty darkness of the fairytale woods, still as large and looming as he remembered it being when he was a boy. He grew up near the woods, or so he had been told; he was too young to remember when they moved, when a rash of recent robberies unnerved his parents, convincing the young couple this was no place to raise a child. If they lost anything of value, they never mentioned it, though very little was of value to them, his mother reminding him “You can’t take it with you”, a phrase which never sat right with him.

Peering into the depth of the woods, he wished he hadn’t brought his youngest. At six, she was old enough to explore, roaming far enough and covering ground fast enough to get lost, but too young to find her way back. She was already leading the charge, stumble-running through the uneven floor of the forest, little footsteps just missing the protrusions of rock and tripwires of tree root-piles. She stopped before the first clearing, her magpie-eyes distracted by something shiny. He winced, walking to her in brisk steps, hoping she was reaching for the glossy gold of a King crisp packet and not the sharp point of a half-crushed discarded can of Dutch.

She picked it up before he could pick her up and walk her away, a little handful of gold, lighter than it looked, its surface tarnished but unmistakeably real precious metal. He frowned, following her eyes to the pile in front of her. They could have been real for all he knew, a discarded handful of commemorations, gold plated and weather-beaten, or they might have just been convincing costume jewellery, the same as the earrings beside them. Trinkets, worth whatever they meant to you.

*

Biography

Born in Blackrock, Cathal now splits his time between Dublin and Mayo. In university, he authored opinion pieces and satirical cartoons for the University Observer and film criticism for the College Tribune, and was selected for UCD’s career mentor programme. He contributed “Malahide” to online collective ‘Snakes of Various Consistency’, and he is an editor and co-founder of the online poetry, non-fiction, and literature collective ‘Cold Coffee Stand’ (www.coldcoffeestand.com). His story “Hearts/Sinews” was short-listed for the Hennessy New Irish Writing competition and his poetry has been published in The Rose Magazine (‘Hark’, Issue 4). His debut novel ‘Innocents’ will be published by Solstice on September 30th, 2017. Excerpts from ‘Innocents’ have been short-listed for the 2015 Maeve Binchy Award and the Cuttyhunk Island Writer’s Residency.

Marc Nash; Exege(ne)sis

Exege(ne)sis

In the beginning was the word and the word was God

In the beginning was the wor(l)d and the word/world was go(o)d

In the beginning was not the world, because God was supposed to have created it. Not in any procreative, progenerative way, since there was no conjoining of the sexes in reproduction, unless you buy into the male-female polarities of light/darkness, earth/sea, sky/ground.

The word or the world could not be good, since there was no other moral being yet extant to judge and pronounce upon it thus. If the Divinity is pronouncing his own work as good, it’s a little unbecomingly arrogant of such a numinous Being to do so. Blowing his own trumpet as it were and we all know where trumpets and the number seven can lead don’t we Jerichoans?

In similar vein there could not have been the word in the beginning, sine there was no one around to utter it (other than the Divinity uttering a ‘shezam’ or similar conjuration word). In certain Far Eastern theologies, there is a primordial sound, the moment of its first striking being the act of creation itself, from which all life and energies with their vibrations stem.

And God said, Let the earth bring the living soul after its kind; the beast and the thing moving itself and the wild animal of the earth after its kind; and it was so.

There is no capitalisation of ‘earth’ gainsaying the investing of gender in the manner of a Gaia and yet this is followed by an immediate polarity of the (higher) living soul and the (base) beast. ‘After its kind’ suggests the generations reproduced through sexual procreation and this is of course the (spare) bone of contention in The Garden Of Eden. 

The word ‘after’ has been interpreted as ‘according’, that is within its delineated phylum, genus and species type. Genetic groupings are demarcated, yet allowing for theological prohibitions on ‘pure’ and ‘unclean’ animals that seem to cross several classificatory elements and forms the basis of the Jews’ Kashrut dietary laws. They wouldn’t eat animals that seemed to diverge from recognised groups in no matter how superficial a manner.

‘The thing moving itself’ undermines its own theological dialectic. One interpretation has this being worms and other legless creatures crawling along the ground (the snake of course was not thus shaped until God ripped its legs away in Eden). Modern science also suggests the primary existence of single cell creatures, clustering together into slightly larger aggregates. So something that superficially resembled an eye, though of course lacked for a developed retina and cortical and synaptic brain to function as oracular, clumped together with some cells that provided a degree of locomotion across the ground. Incrementally in time, the aggregation grew in sophistication and the eye was able to link up to specialist cells to facilitate it to ‘see’, the brain and central nervous system wired up the muscles so that the animal could walk and the rest is Natural History.

But what of language? That first word? In the beginning was the word and the word was Gravity. G-Force.

Of course the first enunciated word was nothing as complex and intricate as ‘gravity’. Yet without gravity there would in all likelihood have been no first language, no opening gambit, no referential system at all. For as mankind evolved in among that confusing welter of sense experiences in his environment, there were a few things he noticed followed rigid patterns.

rain always fell down on their heads

mountains always pointed upwards

their spears and rocks would always eventually touch down on the ground

as would their urine (men only)

trees grew vertically

while their shed leaves tumbled back down to earth

birds flew higher than men’s heads

scorpions crawled at men’s feet

avalanches and waterfalls crashed deafeningly descendently

volcanoes belched their fire and smoke ascendantly

Ergo a brace of things man could stake his tongue with. Up was skywards and down was plunging towards their feet. From this they were able to extrapolate words such as here, there, right, left, near, far, under, over. Me and you as in a spatial configuration. Us and them. “My God good, your god no good”. Heaven and the abyss. They didn’t just admire mountains, now they scaled them through shared language enabling co-operation and teamwork and preparation of resources. Upwards ever upwards. Eventually they would tunnel and mine beneath the earth and quarry metals and powering fuels. And all thanks to gravity establishing a few regular ground rules.

In the beginning was the logos and the logos was G-d.

If the Greek word ‘logos’ means the unifying principle of the world, then it cannot truly be translated as ‘Word’. For words partition, categorise and define. Words undermine the monistic, the belief in the one, for they introduce and encourage relativism.

In the beginning was the end of the world. And the world was begun (conceived) and ended (divided and dissevered) by the word.

Sheelagh Russell-Brown; Time Was

Time Was

            A lilac bush still grows upon the spot, its roots dug deep into the rubble.  If you look closely, you’ll see some tiny cogs and wheels, some bits of gilt and glass.  Look closer still and fluttering in the breeze but pinned down by the stone are ivory pages, covered with words in crimson ink.  It seems this is not fertile soil, and yet the purple blossoms scent the air.     

            The purple blossoms scent the air where once the builders worked, placing stone on stone until a house grew from the ground, its roots deep in the soil.  They worked each day from rising sun until the sun had set, and yet they did not know for whom they worked.  Only that each Saturday there was their pay in envelopes of ivory with their names in crimson ink. 

            Stories grew up as well with each layer of stone that was laid.  Stories of its beginning and of its predicted end.  Of who had been the first to clear the spot, the first to build up a city round it.  Of why this little piece of barren land had since then stood empty all those years until the builders came there with their tools.  Of how a pile of stones had then appeared, a pile that seemed to grow no smaller till the last stone had been placed.

            But no one knew how long it had been there.  No one knew when it had begun.  They had no “once upon a time” with which to start their tales, nor any “happily ever after” for their endings.  The stories grew like the lilac bush whose first budding no one could recall.  As if the stones had waited in the earth for the first to fit their edges side by side, to fill the seams with caulking that would hold them all together, to make a tale that grew so seamlessly no one could see the builder in the end.  The stories piled upon each other as if digging down into the earth and reaching for the sky.  The days passed into nights and nights to days, but time stood still while the stories were being told.

            It grew tall as a tower.  A clock was placed upon its top. Then it was done.

            When it was done, they came.  The people who wished to live inside though no word had gone abroad outside the little corner of the town in which it had grown.  Grown like the lilac bush that suddenly appeared beside it in full spring bloom though it was almost winter.  Two people took the rooms that day, one to move in and one whose story awaited her leaving, and all the floors above stood empty.  Empty like hours waiting to be filled with inspiration. They were not to be let, it seemed, but just to stand as if in expectation.

            Two people came and took the rooms.  A woman with skin like ivory parchment, the veins beneath showing like crimson ink.  Her eyes, though wide and seeming open on the world seemed also not to see what was all about her, no flicker of awareness in them.  No sign of noticing until she was inside and sat herself at the desk that had suddenly appeared, growing from the floor as though rooted there.  There were some notebooks on the desk, a set of pens, a well of crimson ink.  No one knew just when they had appeared or who had put them there. She sat and then she wrote.  But the stories stayed inside the earth and floated in the sky that changed from day to night and then to day again.  They waited in the purple blossoms outside the glass.  The branches of the lilac bush tapped against the window above the desk as if asking for admission.  And still she wrote.  Her eyes were fixed upon the pages that filled the books, the books that then were set aside, another in their place, waiting for stories that would not come.  Only the names, the seeds of stories.

            She sat and wrote through all the seasons, the lilac tapping at the glass as blossoms and then leaves fell to the ground outside, as rain and sleet and snow traced paths upon the glass and winds rattled the panes within their frames.  And then the door stood open, and she was gone.  Some leaves of ivory rose upon the wind, with crimson tracings on them.

            A little man appeared a few days later, a little man round as an egg, whose spindly legs could hardly hold him as he toddled through the door.  He carried a clock in his chubby fingers, along with a bag of tiny tools for working with tiny gears and cogs.  Inside, some shelves were set, growing from the walls like lichen on a tree.  The windows had been shuttered, the only light from lamps set about and their reflection in the glass of all the clocks that were brought into the room and then were carried out again as men and women, and children too, would come and go and take their stories with them.  The lilac still tapped against the glass, asking for the shutters to be opened.  The shutters remained closed, the tapping competing with the sound of ticking and of chimes, of chains being pulled up, of wooden cuckoos calling to wooden mates.  Like the sound of a death watch beetle, it persisted in its pleading for admission.  Until the door stood open once again.  

            The birds made nests inside the branches, inside the cracks between the stones, above the clock set in the roof.  They lined the nests with bits of ivory paper, traces of crimson words upon the scraps.  They picked up tiny shining cogs and decorated the nests that sparkled in the sun with all their glitter.  And springs and summers, falls and winters passed, till loosened by the wind and rain, the stones that held the room within had fallen one by one.  The only sound the ticking of the death-watch, the scratching of the lilac branches against the glass.  The stories that rose upon the wind as it whispered among the stones.

*

Biography

After having taught at an international high school in the Czech Republic for seven years, Sheelagh Russell-Brown is now a lecturer in English literature and a writing tutor at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.  Her research interests are in nineteenth- and twentieth-century British and European literature, the portrayal of the Roma in art and literature, and the foregrounding of marginalized female roles in neo-Victorian literature.  She has been published in The Fem e-magazine, in Abridged poetry and art magazine, and in Tales from the Forest e-magazine, and will have a short story published by TSS in November of this year.  She has also won second prize in the first Irish Imbas Celtic Mythology Short Story Contest, and was shortlisted for the second Irish Imbas contest, as well as for the 2016 Fish Publishing Short Memoir Competition.  She is a contributor to Backstory e-magazine, to Understorey e-magazine, and to Historical Honey.

Mitchell King; The Fairy With The Turquoise Hair

The Fairy With The Turquoise Hair

Our father and I live in a house full of goggles. Goggles on the couch, the counter, the floor, the chair, goggles on the stairs. Our father purchases a new pair every week. Some are heat seeking. All are night vision. In his spare time he tinkers with magnets and forked willow branches. At night he takes these and walks along the cross-roads. He always finds water, he never finds the dead.

On the existence of Dreamed things after the Dreamer is deceased there is little scholastic work. There are reported cases of Dreamed jewelry lasting upwards to a hundred years after the Dreamer has passed, but that the thing has ceased to exist or that it has been lost to time is indeterminable. In Maine there is a woman with turquoise hair. The locals claim that she has lived in the same house for at least 60 years and has not aged a day over 35. She is a Living Dream.

“Do the hands look familiar to you?”

“It’s singular.”

“What?”

“It is the same hand every night. So it is the same hand just…repeated.”

“Do you recognize the hand?”

“No.”

“That’s strange.”

“Why?”

“Because I do.”

I left the table and looked out the window. It is spring and some of the hands are finally rotting. Butterflies are attracted by the smell.

*

Biography

Mitchell King is a runaway witch living in Kansas City. Someday he hopes to colonize the moon.

Diana Powell; Triptych/Collage/3 Maidens

Triptych/Collage/Three Maidens

Triptych – a set of three pictures or panels, usually hinged, so that the two wing panels fold over the larger central one.  Often used as an altarpiece.  O.E.D.

Collage… an art form in which compositions are made out of pieces of paper, cloth, photographs, and other miscellaneous objects, juxtaposed and pasted on a dry ground.  O.E.D.

Maiden… a young unmarried girl, especially when a virgin.  Three – Elin, Alice, Gwawr.

Elin:  Triptych.  We have one panel each.  It is hinged, but all the panels measure the same.   For we are the same – equal – though our stories are different.   We would not want one to have favour over the others.

 It will not be used as an altarpiece.  The vicar would spurn and shame it.  It is a story of love, earthly love; and of customs and beliefs that the Church has long worked hard to bury deep or drive away.

Alice:  three collages, one for each of us, done by each of us, telling our own particular story.  Collage – some think there is nothing to it, that it is a children’s game of sticking bits and bobs onto a piece of paper;  a schoolchild’s pastime, to hang on the wall around the classroom, for smirking parents to admire and claim.  Some think it doesn’t deserve the name of art.   And, true, we are not skilled painters, and we borrow the skills of others, and make use of what nature gives us – leaves, feathers, flowers;  an abundance of treasure left for us to forage and farm.    So, yes, we acknowledge a melange of talents and materials.  But we also assert that there is art in an idea, and the interpretation of a story.  A concept brought to life – that is what we have here.

And isn’t it so much better than a photograph, or picture?  For you can touch the rises and the depths, the substance, as if your fingers are wandering amongst it.  You can feel the texture and the shape, then reach down into the essence, as if you are entering the story of the picture. As if you are there…

 

Gwawr:  Maidens then, but maidens no longer.  No, not now, of course not now, after all these years gone by.  For it was a long time ago that it all began, in that past when we were young, and carefree, and summers lasted forever.   Now, we are neither one thing or another, lost in the age of in-between.   Longer in tooth, wider in girth, greyer in colour.  No longer those peachy girls who played and plotted and loved together.  But not yet there with the Old Women in the Square, dried up, spat out, bitter.

But we are still together – that much can be said, for sure.  Still three.   Three.  Three it always was, three it has always been, will ever be. Woven, linked, inseparable, entwined – call it what you will.  Three, for ‘happy ever after’…

 

Yet…

… things shared, held in common, amongst us, yes –  but also things different, both in the triptych, and in our lives. So themes are interwoven, yet parts stay separate;  stories are shared, but with secret chapters;  trusts are held close, then wilfully abandoned.

So…

… a photograph of a place at the centre of each panel – but each of somewhere different.  A valley, but a different valley – Grwyne-fechan, fawr, Ewyas.   A tree in each, its roots at the bottom, the branches stretching up and round, to twine throughout the whole picture.  But not the same tree – birch, oak, ash.

… words flowing in a fluent, scrolling script, but different words for each.

 Mementos, souvenirs, relics, kept for all this time, in boxes, drawers and cupboards.  Under the bed;  under the underwear;  tucked behind.  Hidden. Till now.  ‘Look at this!   And this!  Can you believe it?   Remember?’ Laid out, picked over, chosen.   Mine, yours, hers.  One for you, and you and you.  Two for you, three for you.  On and on and on.  This, that, the other.

Three beds.   Oat-straw;  leaves of mountain ash, mixed with the seeds of a spring fern;  mattress of maidenhair.  All the same size, all just as comfortable – no Goldilocks dilemma here.

Three seasons, one for each –  Spring, Summer, Autumn; colours tuned to each.   And in each, a different Spirit Night, Ysbrid Nos, when strange things happen, futures are revealed, and ghosts walk abroad.  Three Spirit nights, three festivals, three fires.  Three ways of knowing – rhamanta;  divination;  dewiniaeth.  And we chose to lift the veil ourselves – no need for witches or conjurors!  Ignoring what we were told by those who thought they knew better; the reverend in his pulpit;  the teacher in the school.   Our mothers and aunts in the kitchen… who had, we knew, done these things themselves when they were our age, all those years ago.  But, of course, they, like us, did not listen.

So…

 

… three stories.

Three loves.

Three collages.

One.  Two.  Three.

Let us look at Elin’s first.

 

Elin’s Collage.

A sliver of birch bark.   A dried flower – a yellow cowslip, chosen over a blushed May.  It could have been either.  Or both.   A sixteenth birthday card.

The words of Ruth.  Ruth, chapter one, verse sixteen.   Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee:  for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge:  thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.  As if I attend to the reverend and vicar, as if I believe in the Word.

 A valentine!  I have placed the card itself, still having it after all these years, kept in my box of treasures beneath the bed. A valentine he had made himself, even writing the poem; a verse of exquisite charm, the letters of his name wrought into it, so that I would know it was him, even though he shouldn’t say.  

The season is May – to show when we first stepped out together.  May Eve, the Spirit Night chosen for me.  Nos Calan Mai, the hours before May Day.  So, here are nature’s signs of that fulsome time of year. 

The colours are the greens and whites and pinks – the growth and the May blossom.  The puzzle of abundant hedgerows looking as if they have been kissed by winter again, while others are snagged with fairy jackets, made by the lambs pushing through them for pastures new.

What else?

A ribbon from the maypole we danced around the next day.   (Yes, I kept a strand of that, too!)

A spiral of dried apple-peel. 

A D drawn in silver glitter.

Mistletoe…tea leaves…  See!  Feel!

 

Alice’s.

These are my colours, dappled and speckled with contrasting hues.  A bright summer medley, with shades of midsummer flowers – the pink of the wild rose, and yellow for  honeysuckle tumbling over cottage walls.  Blue skies, fluffy cotton-wool clouds. (Real cotton-wool, of course).  It is a picture of the heart of the year.

 He had made me more than a valentine!  He had made me a love-spoon, the most intricate design, with hearts and keys and chains.  But I cannot put that on my collage – too large and too heavy – even if I had it…  So I have cut a picture, instead, and glued it in its place.

A random throw of sequins, standing for glow-worms, leading the eye to St. John’s favourite flower.  Yellow, again.

A ladder cunningly wrought from yarn, let down from a stencilled window.

Valerian, the cat’s sleep potion, dried, and powerless, with time.

A dice.  Yes, a real dice, fixed firmly in the centre, meaning  ‘a throw of the dice’;  one, two, three…six.   Six lads I could have had, six for me to choose from.  Six, who wanted me above all others – me, the prettiest girl in the valley, and all the Mountains round.  But I was the one who didn’t know which she wanted, who couldn’t decide and didn’t care. Eeny, meeny, miny, mo.   Or the flick of the wrist, a throw of the dice, pick this, that, or the other…that’s all it meant to me.

Gwawr.

Mine speaks of autumn, the time of All Hallows.   Hallowe’en.  Nos Galan Gaeaf…when he first stepped forward from the flames.  So it is coloured in the tints of the falling.  Oranges, reds, browns.   Leaves grace the corners, picked from the ground, blown by the giants’ breath.  An orange sycamore, yellow oak, red rowan,  against the black background – chosen for that darkest time of the year. The time of the spirits, coming back into the open, coming to play with our hearts, and wreak havoc with our souls.

Mine speaks of… But I won’t tell you more.   I will keep it secret till it is my turn to tell.

 

Elin.   That summer, when we had all turned sixteen…

Alice.  But it had started before the summer… it was in the air all that year.

Gwawr.   Yet surely it was Spring when it truly began…

Elin   Except we called it summer then – May Day, the first day of summer.  Calan Haf, Calan Mai.

So…that summer, spring, season …  Call it by any name you want.   I remember, we all remember.  We talk about it still. And have made this triptych for it.  One, two, three.  Like the stained glass window above the altar, shards and facets are stuck together, to make our picture story (not so different from an altarpiece, after all.)  A story of that time…of then.  Let us begin.

 

*

Biography

Diana Powell lives and writes in the far west of Wales. Her stories have featured in a number of competitions, including the 2014 PENfro (winner), 2016 Sean O’Faolain (long-list), and 2016 Cinnamon Prize (runner-up). They have also appeared in several print publications, including The Lonely Crowd and Crannog. She is currently working on a novella, due to be published in the Spring of next year.

Fiona Perry; Circumnavigation

Circumnavigation

“How much longer will I be allowed to stay here?” I asked myself before shooing away the question in favour of surveying the scene before me, savouring it like satisfying sips of sweet, hot tea. It was the well-organised, tidy bedroom of a new mother. A fully stocked change station rested against a wall and the air was laced with the carnal scents of breast milk and waxy cradle cap.

I could see my daughter, bathed in the bluish light of early dawn, sprawled across the bed, all postpartum plumpness and flushed cheeks. More mature and rounded than I remember her, she looked like a big brazen, unfurled summer flower. Her baby daughter lay nestled in a standing Moses basket, arms beautifully outstretched and bent at the elbow, fully surrendered to sleep. She was fascinating; stark white skin, mini aquiline nose and hair as black as rook feather. Our family blood was coursing luxuriantly through her minute veins. I cast my eyes over her long fingernails and the small patches of dry skin on her hands. Overdue. Reluctant to leave the sanctuary of a warm womb.

I heard the click, clap and whoosh of a boiler flicking on. Water trickled into pipes and moaned its way into concertina radiators, filling the room with dusty heat. The child’s legs jolted for a second before she squirmed and settled, chewing toothlessly at her fist. 

*

The electric element hissed as the potatoes boiled over, spilling snowy froth onto the stove top. I sighed as I turned off the ring, grabbed a dish cloth and mopped up the mess. I am not fit for this today. As I squeezed the sponge free of starchy sludge under the running tap, I fixed my gaze on Geraldine. She was sitting, staring open-mouthed at the wall mounted TV, a newspaper open in front of her on the table. She had been extravagantly ignoring me for the last twenty minutes. I strode over and turned off the TV before returning to the kitchen area. She began reading.

            I banged the fry pan on to the stove, dropped in a slice of lard and watched it turn from white solid into colourless liquid before adding sliced onion.

            Our usual cosy kitchen ritual, which involves my hovering over Geraldine and giving her lots of detailed instructions, had been disrupted because she had walked off, unceremoniously, as I was asking her if she could slice the onions thinner and into crescents rather than circles.

            “The Church is in some trouble,” she piped up, tilting her head towards the TV, referring to the last news article.

            “It’ll take more than a few bad apples to harm the Church,” I said draining the potatoes over the sink, “it will weather the storm alright.”

            “But it’s more than that, isn’t it?” she said, rubbing the back of her head in a small circular motion with her middle finger as if massaging the words out, “terrible crimes were covered up. Even now, those poor people continue to be abused by the Church’s denials.” Observing her closely, I thought, that barnet could use a hairbrush, she looks like she’s been dragged through a hedge backwards.

            “It’s not in our gift to judge these things. We trust in the Holy Spirit at work in the Church. It’s the best we can do,” I said, vigorously mashing the potatoes. I bashed the masher on the side of the saucepan to release the remnants of potato clinging to it and replaced the lid on the pot. I was momentarily distracted by a small twitch that had appeared on my upper cheek.

            Geraldine opened her mouth trout-like to respond but then seemed to think better of it. She drew a long, loud breath instead and changed the subject, “What’s the step ladder doing in the hall?”

            “Your father is going to have a look in the roof space when he comes home. There is a dripping sound above the spare room, even on dry days.”

            “I’m surprised you can hear anything over the racquet of the knitting machine.”

            “I hear it when I’m seaming,” I said, in an unintentionally shrill voice. The sound had been a source of irritation for a whole week and Lorcan still hadn’t made time yet to look into it.

            She turned her attention to the paper again.

            I began to slice a cabbage on the bench which divided the kitchen and dining room so I could take surreptitious looks at her. She had lost weight. Her long face was pale and blank, it depressed me. She wasn’t the vivacious, robust girl that left here after Christmas to return to University. Her shoulders were slightly rounded. Had they always been like that?

            It dawned on me that tertiary education was transforming my daughter in peculiar ways. Merely thinking about this caused a hot throbbing pain behind my eyes. It didn’t help that her ludicrous words from last night were also churning over in my head; “Well, I have a bit of news. I would like to drop out of Medicine and read History instead.” Just like that.  She said it in the same tone of voice a normal person might say, “I think I’ll have the Battenberg instead of the iced finger.” I knew we should never have let her study in England.

            Now she was even questioning her faith. I wanted to scream at her that life is not supposed to be easy. Every temporal problem is not easily solved. It’s is not a perfect institution but the Church is our only chance of salvation.

             None of this was to be discussed- yet. I had been given my orders by Lorcan before he left for work, “Say nothing. We’ll talk about it when I get home. Leave that child be,” he instructed, followed by something about ‘too tight a leash’ and ‘live her own life’.

            I hadn’t fully grasped it all. I had switched off while he was still talking, as I do, when he gets all high and mighty. 

            I placed the cabbage in a colander and gave it a good wash.

            This is the fear and hurt you face when you have an only child. All of your eggs are in one basket.

*

Biography

Fiona’s short stories and poetry have been published in The Irish Literary Review, Spontaneity Magazine, Into The Void, Dodging The Rain and Skylight47 amongst others. She grew up in Ireland but has lived most of her life in England and Australia. She currently lives near a volcano in New Zealand. Follow her on Twitter @Fionaperry17.

Kelly O’Brien

*

DNA

She remembers the sky was yellow as the sun set slow and low over suburbia. She sat at the kitchen table, the house growing dark around her, last bits of light filtering down through the hall from the glass-paned door. The tea on the table was cold.

Upstairs she could hear her brother moving through the rooms; the soft thumps of boxes on the floor, the low whine of wardrobes being opened and then closed indefinitely. She walked up the creaking stairs towards him. The carpet was a strange shade of brown, slightly bleached from the sun and patterned in a way that clung tightly to a time she had never lived in. It reminded her firmly that the house was most definitely not her own.

“How is it going in here?” she asked, reaching down to turn on the bedside lamp. He hadn’t noticed the darkness creeping in.

“Almost done.” He said, turning to look at her. In the yellow lamp-light she could see particles of dust floating through the air, years of dust her brother had raised by his stomping through the small upstairs of the small house.

She leaned against the door frame as he reached up to the top shelf of the press and pulled down a pile of towels. He dropped them onto the bed and held one up to the light.

“I think I can see you through this, it’s been washed that many times.”

She exhaled a laugh and reached out to feel the threadbare towel. “Bin?” she asked.

“Bin.” He agreed, dumping them into an already-full bin liner.

“Good luck getting that down the stairs.”

He grinned at her quick and bright and he was suddenly seventeen again. “What are you talking about? I’m a master.”

She shook her head and moved across the landing, checking the empty rooms. The smell was the same, slightly musty, like the windows were never really opened, and slightly sweet, like powdered make-up.

She opened the drawers of the dresser in the box room, making her way down towards the floor. In the last one she found a hairbrush she had used as a child. There were still hairs stuck between the thistles and she pulled one out, considering it. She wondered if she should feel something but all she felt was a strange sort of detachment from this piece of DNA that used to be a part of herself. She let the hair go and closed the drawer, walking into the next room and dropping the brush into the bin bag.

“Is that yours?” Her brother asked, glancing over at her.

“No. It’s nothing.”

He didn’t reply, picking up one of the full bin-bags so that she couldn’t see his face. “I’m going to start bringing these out to the car.”

She nodded, walking over to the window where the sun was dipping beneath the rooves of houses that stretched out row upon row. In the distance there was smoke rising up and drifting into the lowering dusk.

As a child she had played down the back of the garden, behind the tall foliage so she was hidden away, out of sight, out of mind. Granny would call them for dinner and they would run up the garden path, tumbling over one another like baby animals dying to be fed.

Time has strange ways of moving and in that movement she felt its waves rush all over her and she was neither here nor there, a child nor an adult but somewhere so inevitably in-between. This was not home anymore. In the evenings after dinner they would lie on the floor on front of the television until they were bleary-eyed and ready for bed. She felt bleary-eyed now as the top of the sky turned purple. She wondered where they all went, scattered like seeds in different parts, or like ashes. They had never been tied by blood and that’s what runs thickest of all, she thought, watching her brother on the street below, loading up the car. She ran her finger along the edge of the windowsill, picking up dust. That’s what used-to-be too. At least she wasn’t alone, feeling like she left her residue everywhere she went. It was a messy business.

When the car was packed they stood in the purple darkness. In the empty hallway she felt displaced, disconnected. She had been a child here. They had been children here. There were once heads on pillows and bare feet down the hallway and piles of laundry so high they would topple over onto the carpet and the folding would begin again. It didn’t seem as though it had ever happened, as though any of it was real. In the dark hall she could barely see the threshold between her and the kitchen, one room blended into the other.

“Ready?”, he asked her. He was still there, the single thing in her life that confirmed who she had once been, that her life had been anything other than what it was right now. She looked up at him, his face blurred in the darkness. “Yes.”

They closed the door, double-locking it for safe-keeping. In the car the back seats were loaded with bags but they stopped off at a dump, throwing them into the skip, where the old baggage looked like everyone else’s old baggage. When the car was empty, her brother pushed the seats back into place so it looked like nothing had ever been there and then they drove.

In the morning they were far away from the suburbs, out near the sea where she felt like she could breathe. It was early and her brother was in bed, the air still cool as the day dawned over the sand dunes. She stepped out onto the deck with two mugs of tea, handing one to Granny and sitting down beside her. The sky was yellow as the sun rose and she thought about what it meant to come home.

*

Biography

Kelly O’Brien is a third-year undergraduate in Trinity College Dublin and is studying English.