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.

Marie Mac Sweeney

*

Rations.

Here’s that dream again.  I’m mounting those polished steps.  I’m skating along the refectory floor.  I eye the tables, food the nuns and boarders have left behind, entire slices of bread, an uneaten sausage, the gooey tops of hard boiled egg, oceans of cold toast.  Soon I am at the other end of the dining area, moving towards a glass panelled door into the school.  The arrangement is odd, our having to pass through the dining hall on the way from the cloakroom to our classrooms – but that’s how it is in this building that has grown, from one large old house into the renowned establishment known as St Nennoc’s Secondary School for Girls.  Nennoc was a virgin of course, and all the nuns embrace that particular abstinence, but they don’t go without their food.  You wouldn’t expect them to, would you?  The ache of an empty stomach!  Too much torment on top of all those other deprivations.

 

I should have eaten the food.  It was there, for the taking.  I’d need to be quick, of course, and covert, but I should have taken the food. The odd fact is that Sister Benedict organised the long-term loan of a cello for me.  That made it possible for me to remain a member of the school orchestra for five years.  I played Brahms, Mozart and Schubert, often on a groaning stomach, but no one ever offered me food.  Maybe I should have asked for the food. Why did I not plead for food for my empty belly and my struggling mind?

 

My dream trails after each morsel.  The kitchen.  There is a bin there, made of white enamel.  The discarded food crowds into it and remains until Adam comes.  It goes with him to the pig yard at the far side of town.  Those pigs grow fat on my uneaten food.  In my dream I am waving my arms about, beating them off for the last delicious morsel.  One animal rams me so hard I fall into their muck.  Sister Immaculata holds out a hand and pulls me out, but she is laughing. I smack her full on the face.

 

Brightness comes from a high slit in the wall. I try to understand the geometrical pattern before I realize it is composed of bars.  A man opens a door, jabs a slice of bread and a mug of watery tea towards me.  I am acutely aware of the famine in his brown eyes. There is only a blade’s width between his breath and mine.  I fiddle with my Child of Mary medal until he retreats, locking the door.
“How do you plead?”  The voice is stormy, accusatory.

“Hungry, sir.”

Light from a stained glass window spills across the judge’s flushed face.   I trace a jade green beam until it targets his nose.  He hisses with anger.

“You’re a thief, girl, is that not so?”  He is chewing gum.

I believe the whole truth should be told only in the last extremity.  We are not there yet.  “Only from a pig,” I explain.  “But not even from her ‘cos she upended me.”

His scorching voice sears the courtroom.

“I see. A pig.” And as an aside to Sister Immaculata who is sitting in the front row with seven companion sisters – “this ‘girl’ – he holds the word out as if on a pair of disinfected tongs – “this ‘girl’ is calling you a pig.”

My tummy is rumbling so much I cannot contradict him.  As I watch the judge toss the chewing gum around in his mouth I begin to salivate.  The sisters share some chocolate biscuits between them and I moan.  A woman at the back of the crowded court opens a wrapped sandwich and I shout out.  Soon I am in a holding cell.  It is brighter than the gaol, and a bit warmer.

 

That noise.  That boisterous chatter.  It filters towards me through a narrow pipe.  It is the jury.

“Sure, isn’t the poor child hungry?”  That sounds like an old lady.

“A cheeky hussy!  Did you hear the way she spoke to the judge?”  He is elderly, full of his own importance.  More bluster.  I hear crisp packets crinkle, the crisps collapse into mouthfuls of mushy fried potato.

“Look at this.  See here, look at this.”

A rustling newspaper.

“There’s a report here.   One in four children goes to school or to bed hungry.  See, it’s all here.”  His voice rises.  This one sounds young and eager to persuade.

“She assaulted a nun.”  Ponderous, judgemental.

“But she was hungry.”

“That was yesterday.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Yesterday.”

“You have to understand that the report was referring to ….”

There is a clumsy silence.  The restless breathing of twelve people surrounds me. They are older than I am and well nourished.

Soon the jury chairman declares his authority.   “I’d like to wind this one up soon,” he suggests.  “After all, it’s almost time for lunch.”  He sniggers.  Several voices agree.

“That report our young friend has mentioned – that is for today,” he continues.  “But the prisoner before us tried to steal food yesterday. I repeat yesterday. We have to judge her according to the date and facts of the case.  I say she is guilty.”

“And she assaulted a nun”.

“She was hungry.”

“She assaulted a nun.”

“She was planning to steal from the convent.”

“She could have asked for bread.”

“She was afraid to ask for bread.”  The young man brings his fist hard down on the table.  “And she shouldn’t have to ask. Her parents shouldn’t have to ask.  Her father works.  Her mother looks after four children.  Her family should have a wage adequate to their needs. They should be able to properly feed themselves.”

“An adequate wage,” echoes the old lady, but the other voices are draining away.  I want to shout back at all of them, but I’m still asleep.  I dream me a rasher of bacon and two slices of fried bread.    

*

Biography

Marie MacSweeney was born in Dublin of Kerry parents. She writes poetry and short stories, and also had two radio plays produced by RTE. Published in several journals and anthologies, she is a winner of many awards for her short stories and poems, including the Francis MacManus Short Story Award, The Bookwise Short Story Award, the Phizzfest Poetry Award, David Burland Award and the Kells Poetry Award. Two poetry chapbooks were published by Lapwing. These are ‘Mother Cecily’s Music Room’ (2005) and ‘Flying During the Hours of Darkness’ (2009). The latter also includes her translation of the great ‘grief poem’ Caoineadh Airt Úi Laoghaire. Marie has also published ‘Our Ordinary World and other Stories’ and ‘Letters from a Recalcitrant Woman’. An E-book, containing poems and stories, ‘Cooking for Galileo’ is her most recent offering. She has broadcast many radio scripts and written essays for the Historical & Archaeological journals of both Meath and Kerry. She lives in Drogheda by the Boyne.

 

 

 

Deirdre Sullivan

*

PINNIPED

Water’s not for drinking, it’s for living in. For living in. Land’s for being awkward. Mating, molting. Waiting till a coming threat has passed. It is, at best a temporary haven. Huddle on it like a gang of bears and then go back.

You don’t sense when he sees you.

You had always assumed that there was something in you, that would sense it. The dull throb in your blubber for a shark, the hub-bub in your gut when storms approach. The body nature gave you can sense danger. It always had. It always did before. But looking back, you don’t remember anything but snuggling in a pile. The warmth of necks, the soft gape of a stomach flat on stones. Unfurl from the blanket of your body. Stretch out foreign limbs, and miss your whiskers. How can something sense things without whiskers? And maybe that was your mistake.

It doesn’t have much weight. This thing you’re in. It doesn’t have the heft. It can’t survive. It’s cold and you climb back. Pull who you are back over you. But it was there. You stretched it. It was seen. And that’s enough.

They don’t do courtship displays, these things. They wait and steal the pieces of your body you slough off sometimes to stretch in sun. The water’s life. The land is just for mating, danger. Smelling. You do not need to smell things underwater. It’s salt and life and warmth and depth and blood. The tangy tastes make nostril breath redundant.

You dove that day, you emptied half your lungs to climb down deep inside the haven hearth of ocean. Your flattened heart was steady going home. The welcome dip of entering a place that you belong to, that belongs to you.

Of coming back.

You think of it sometimes. On cotton stuffed with feathers. Listening to breath and blinking eyes. You pant to calm you down. It’s all too much. The part of you that made you yours is hidden. Somewhere in the house, it’s folded up. It isn’t very big. You are a female, small and compact. Round. You miss your fins, the front ones and the back. What you have now is slower, more specific. He follows you, and eyes you as you move. He took you home. As though you were a shell, a fish, a bottle. He taught you to perform tricks and tasks. Social and personal. Your captor keeps you busy. Sometimes you show him teeth. He thinks you’re smiling.

Near-sighted in dim light, you did not see him. Fingers out to grab the meat of you. And that was the beginning. You didn’t know. You heard no tales of this beneath the ocean. Land’s another place away from Shore. The ones who disappear are eaten up. If you return, a welcome without question. This thing you know but you can’t find a way from here to there. To where you need to be. And it has been so long. Since you felt whole.

You call to them sometimes from in the kitchen. Your warble voice shapes proper ocean tongue. Not flaccid codes for things you do or want. He does not like your language and he quiets you with eyes and grunts and hands. Eyes fill ocean water in the night. It pools but it is not enough to claim you. You need more meat. You need it on your bones. To calm and soothe. To claim you, happy, home.

*

Biography

Deirdre Sullivan is a young adult writer. Her short story collection, Tangleweed and Brine (Fairytale retellings) will be released in September of this year, and her previous work has been shortlisted for the CBI award, the BGEIBA, and the EU prize for literature. Her short fiction has previously been published in Banshee, The Irish Times (online) and The Galway Review.

Colin Watts

*

Hoarfrost

I remember telling you I was getting set in my ways. ‘Too much of this,’ I said, ‘and not enough of that. We should go on a journey.’

‘I’ll follow you to the ends of the earth,’ you said. ‘I’ll follow in your footsteps as if you were famous.’

‘I am famous,’ I said, ‘but only among two or three people.’

‘That’s enough for me,’ you said.

‘I’ll look after you,’ I said.

‘Thank you,’ you said and we set off.

We headed north, using a compass that came free in a packet of cornflakes.

‘How will we know when we get there?’ I asked.

‘I’ll know,’ you said.

You wore your jungle hat and your flower festival wellies. I wore my survival kit. You looked like a garden in summer. I looked like one in winter.

By the time we got to the edge of the city it had started to snow.

‘Now I can follow properly in your footsteps,’ you said.

We came to a pinewood, with trees planted so close and rising so high and straight, that nothing grew between them. Normally you can hear birdsong and the wind whispering high up and far away. That day, all we could hear was our own footsteps, crunching on dead pine needles. It grew dark as we walked deeper into the wood and the snow piled up on the canopy above. We started to sing The Teddy Bears’ Picnic, but our voices leaked into the ground, so we sunk into silence. I wanted you to hold my hand, but the trees made us walk in single file.

Suddenly they were flashing by us, as if we were flying through the wood. Up in the canopy, ice-maidens were singing, though the birds stayed silent. Then we were outside, the wood flying off, shaking itself like a wet dog, showering us in a flurry of snow. We watched it disappear over the horizon, hurtling through a black and white rainbow, leaving in its wake a plume of scarlet smoke. The snow fell away, leaving us the wind, a meadow thick with hoarfrost, and low clouds hurtling by.

We were alone in the meadow, except for a massive pink sofa. I helped you up. The sofa was warm and dry.

‘If you look after me, you said, who’ll look after you?’

We slept for a time like cats, our limbs curled around each other. You purred in your sleep. When the light began to decay we knew we had to move on. My compass whirled as I held it out, then twisted my hand until it pointed me due north across the frozen meadow. You trod in the slightly famous footsteps I made in the hoarfrost. The compass gave off a steady incandescence, enough to guide us once the light had gone. To keep us going we plucked and ate the hoarfrost. It tasted of whatever we wanted it to. You had caviar and champagne; I had bacon sandwiches and tea. We never tired and never felt the cold.

After many days, or was it weeks? we found ourselves back at the sofa.

‘Do you think this is the ends of the earth?’ you asked.

‘This may be one of them,’ I said. ‘I’m sure there are many others. Up there.’ I pointed to the clouds. ‘Over there.’ I waved my arms across the meadow. ‘Back the way we came. You should know,’ I said. ‘You said you would know when we got there.’

I know,’ you said. ‘But I wanted to make sure you did too.’

I realised I didn’t believe you, and that was when you started to fade. I tried to hold you, but you became ever more insubstantial, my hands clutching at air.

‘Who will look after you now?’ you asked, as you flattened to the merest outline. Then there was nothing left of you but a whisper of champagne breath, condensing into ice fragments and carried away on the wind.

*

Biography

Colin is seventy three, married, with grown up children and has lived in Liverpool for many years. Publications include two poetry collections in print and short stories on-line and in magazines and anthologies. He’s had plays performed in and around Liverpool.

He cycles everywhere and cultivates a quarter of an allotment. He is a long-standing member of the Dead Good Poets Society and co-runs a regular Story Night at The Bluecoat Arts Centre in Liverpool.

Facebook: Colin Watts

Twitter: Colin Watts @FentimanW

Website: http://www.colinwatts.net

 

 

Erica Goodman

*

Letters to an unfinished, unsatisfying love

I still spend so much of my time thinking of how we could be together, imagining how our lives could meld into each other. I imagine coming home to you, to lie in bed beside you each night, and how we would get to know each other. I imagine bringing you across the ocean to my homeland, driving you around to see the still lakes and green pines, to sweat in the summer heat and play board games while drinking wine with my family. I imagine having you all to myself, all of your affection, and your attention.

I think about the beginnings of our own family and what our child would look like. A baby in a bear coat, tucked into a pram, as we take her on chilly walks through the park, near the wild and unpredictable sea. I think she would be a beautiful baby girl. And you would love her until your heart exploded. I would become second best, as she would be your new favourite. But that’s okay – because you were always a bit distant from me anyways. I would realize, painfully, that I never quite had you all to myself, that I yearned for a child only to be closer to you – and that it never quite works out that way.

Regardless, she would make me feel close to you, in a way that you and I alone could never do. I would keep her close as a way to hold on to you. I would give her everything I wanted, but couldn’t get, from you. I wanted a rock, a container, someone to hold me – physically and spiritually – in allowing me to express wholeheartedly, ME. Perhaps you have been doing just that the entire time. I have thrown so much at you – keeping secrets about my past, avoiding confronting you when I was upset, threatening suicide, panic attacks from overwhelming anxiety that I could not explain to you.  Am I expecting too much? Or am I entitled to more? Do I deserve more? Maybe the things that I want are what you can’t give me. Maybe the things that I want are not what I need. Whatever it is, you have undeniably helped me to grow.

I will contemplate over and over again what it is that I want and will still be unsure. In my head and in my heart, I have never been more confused. You won’t give me what I really crave – the affection, the attention. Yet I cannot get enough of you. This in between state of ours, our cycle of being close and then distant, pulling away and then coming together, is possibly what I relish in. I want to feel the passion, the pain of not being able to separate myself from you – but I want you to feel it too – and be in it with me. I want us to be together, as you yell at me how you love me, push me down to keep me from leaving. Make it difficult, make it messy. Let your emotions fight for me.

I don’t know if I’m ready for you. Ready to be settled, stable and easy, with you. Are we only holding on because it’s easy? Or because we can lie to each other and to ourselves and keep it easy? Each time you think we are in a good place, a happy place, I feel unhappy, ready to cause sabotage. I need your reassurance that you are happy with me. I need it constantly. I need it harshly. Remind me of my own self-worth. Stop your niceties and throw me in the gutter. Then pick me back up again and tell me that you love me. That you’ll always be there for me. And I will continue to sacrifice my life for you, believing that I am in the right place.

*

Biography

At heart, Erica is a traveller, a yogi and an artist without a medium. Her life isn’t defined by boundaries. That is, not by what work she does, or what country she lives in. She has always loved to write, and it draws itself to her when she needs deep expression. We don’t know where in the world she is now… a good chance not in Canada where she is from. Hopefully she is somewhere walking in Big Nature, practicing how to love in this world, and continuing her mission to express her discoveries to the rest of us.

Z.G. Tomaszewski

*

Northport, Michigan

We walked all day along the channel where a chain of ice islands bobbed and the lighthouse swayed in the side-winding snowfall, reeling in its line then casting again and again until finally its beam froze out on the horizon.

She asked what ground we were standing on—snowy ice or sand? How could I answer when the wind wasn’t in my favor? The lighthouse turned away, the dark blossoming.

“Manifestation,” she whispered.

We knew how it would be.

A zephyr flew in from the Arctic and swung its heavy shoulder blades our direction. What both of us wanted we didn’t allow: to hold one another on that northern shore. Instead, we tucked our hands deeper in our pockets and with whatever consolation angled in and rubbed elbows to cut the cold wind.

She left me to reach for a crow, swooping down to pick its windless body up and hold it, framed wingtip to wingtip across her chest.

I threw a stone into the Canadian Shield.

She said, “Its integrity remains.”

She rocked the crow’s shadow in her arms, I spun the camera around and focused its eye on the spell of light being emitted, tapped finger to snap and capture the shape of the next breath, but the lake hissed and nipped at my shoes.

The picture: blurry, half-bird, and my disappearing act.

*

Biography

Z.G. Tomaszewski works at the Great Lakes Commonwealth of Letters and is a maintenance man, additionally he helps organize Lamp Light Music Festival. Tomaszewski is the author of All Things Dusk, winner of the International Poetry Prize, chosen by Li-Young Lee, and a forthcoming chapbook, Mineral Whisper (also poetry)New writing appears in Inverness Almanac, Briar Cliff Review, RHINO, The Cortland Review, diode, and Terrain.org, among others.

Enigma Tsiako

*
The Lust Chapter                             

Her lips resembled clay pots abandoned in the open furnace of scorching sun. Trails of salt lakes ran dry on her cheeks; ashing her face with tears long cried. Her back was bare as was every surface of her skin. Tracks covered her all over, marking cracks left every time they stretched her too thin. She was a sorry sight; so sorry that it required the skills of a seasoned diplomat to render an effective apology. But yet she appealed to me despite the pity of her state. It was her eyes; like pools of an oasis they beaconed hope. So slowly I approached to enquire about her plight, with the careful trepidation my mother warned me to exercise when approaching strangers or dirty infested bums. But she didn’t feel like a stranger to me, nor did I think of her as filthy. In fact with every step I took closer to her she felt like a long lost friend; like a distant cousin I have seen ages ago. ‘Hello, are you alright’ I asked her in a whisper, afraid that a loud voice will shatter her already fragile state. She looked up at me, opened her mouth in response but only a tiny croak came out. She seemed to choke on a bolus of Adam’s apple as a cough squeezed its way through the constriction to clear her throat. “Water, please! I’m parched” she begged.

This was the beginning of a life-long friendship as she told me her story. She was a beauty queen, a natural and her name was Jade. Jade because she was always a shade of green; full of life and colour. She was always bright and vibrant; they said she dined on rainbows and wined on the freshest springs. Her beauty brought her an abundance of love; or so she thought. Basking in the love bestowed on her she gave and gave of herself and all they did was take and take some more. Her colourful petals they plucked off and proved their love to maidens worldwide while she remained with no bloom. Her limbs they chopped off to keep warm while she remained barren in the cold and full of gloom. And while they were at it, they soiled her floors and trashed her streams. It seemed all the love had gone, and in the last chapter she served to quench their lust. They took what they needed from her and forgot about her needs. After they have sapped her of all her beauty and wealth they left her to crack; like clay pots abandoned in the open furnace of scorching sun. I held her close and promised to love her.  Yesterday I went to see her just like every day since we met; to give her a glass of water and be a good friend. I’m happy to say Jade is recovering; she is grinning again. A little love goes a long way, especially in the lust chapter.

*

Biography

Enigma Tsiako is a creative young writer and performing artist from Botswana, Southern Africa. She is a poet, comedian and stage actor with a passion for writing.

Enigma studied English literature briefly in secondary education and carried her love for word play to University of Botswana with the Writers Workshop. Her artistic pursuits have carried her from home to South Africa, Swaziland and the USA.