Claire Loader

Undercurrents

We met at the Tip Head, where we always went, out to the rocks that stretched like hands into the sea, huge chunks of hard earth that screamed defiance at the ocean.  The dark swirling waters crashed against its base as we made our way cautiously around the small beacon, sitting then in our usual spot, back to the town, surrounded by the waves.   It felt like we were on the edge of the world out on those rocks, even though we knew we were simply looking at Australia, out there somewhere past the horizon, staring back at us with her heat and her yellow sand beaches. 

I pulled a joint from my pocket, my hand searching in the other for the lighter I hoped I’d put there.  I lit the twisted end and huddled back into my hoodie, our legs touching briefly as we sought a pretence of warmth. 

It was a pity Shane was gay, I thought, remembering back to that awkward scene in high school – a mixture of too many beers, of too much denial.

“Shane, we have known each other forever, why are we not together?  You know I love you.”

“Meg”.  There had been a long pause, as if his tone was trying desperately to tell me before he did. “You know I’m gay.”

Maybe I had known, but that didn’t stop me from lying back on the bed and nearly choking in my own snot and tears.

I took a long drag as I watched the tops of the waves peak and trough, their white heads disappearing into the deep undercurrent below.  “So, I was listening to a podcast the other day.  About how language is literally the foundation to our reality.”

Shane’s hand suddenly appeared in front of me, his fingers coaxing the joint from mine. “What do you mean?”

 “Like, this idea that our world is limited to the words we use.  That words are like code, like on the Matrix, you know?  All that green shit running down on the screen.  That what we experience is the result of some sort of binary code.  Literally mind before matter. ”

Shane laughed.  “So, you’re saying that not only am I stuck in this shitty little town, I’m stuck inside my own shitty vocabulary now is it?”

I started giggling as the smoke swirled and danced around us, mixing with the sea spray and my own giddiness with it. “But Shane spoke English good, no?”

We laughed into the roar of the water, the stones slowly curling in to embrace us.

“Well, we could be optimistic too, ya know.  Maybe it means we have the power to rewrite things.”

“What, you turn into a hot guy and we escape this town on Gandalf’s pony, is it?”

I punched him, swiping the remainder of the joint, chuckling into its tiny blaze.  “Or you just be less of a dick.  Can’t be too hard to write that code, can it?”

He punched me back and laughed.  Our shoulders leaning softly against each other as we both sat in our own thoughts.   My body drifting into the same miasmic rhythms of the water before us, as words lost their meaning and my mind floated out to sea.

*

Biography

Claire Loader was born in New Zealand and spent several years in China before moving to County Galway, Ireland, where she now lives with her family.  A photographer and writer, she was a recent finalist in the Women Speak poetry competition and blogs at www.allthefallingstones.com. Her work has appeared in various publications, including Crannóg, Dodging The Rain, Tales From The Forest and Pendora.

 

N.K. Woods

Limited Vocabulary 

The unpredictability of fate saw me factor punctures, toilet breaks and tantrums into our journey time to the airport, so we arrive far too early – but better to sit in the car for an hour than risk being late. Whispering, we decide to park for a while in the lay-by opposite the runway. Minutes pass in silence, but the relentless parade of planes is hypnotic to watch and I savour the calm, knowing that it won’t last much longer. I glance back, between our seats, to check on Anna. She needs to wake soon so we can tackle the post-nap whimpers in privacy, but the coming day will be long and I can’t bring myself to disturb her peace.

‘You did great, getting her into that dress,’ says Simon, softly. ‘I was ready to give in and let her wear leggings. But she looks perfect, not that it matters. I mean…’ His voice trails off but I don’t press him to continue. Instead I take his hand in mine and hold it tight, only letting go when Anna finally stirs.   

‘Si?’ Her small voice is doubtful, verging on scared, and we both twist around. She frowns at Simon’s suit – the unfamiliar outfit that transforms him from uncle to stranger.

‘Hey, sweetheart,’ he says.

When recognition replaces drowsiness and her frown fades, I gently rub her arm. ‘Wow – that was some nap. My turn now.’ I pretend to yawn and fake a noisy snore.

There’s a pause when the mood could go either way, but then she giggles. ‘I’m hungry.’

That’s one problem I can solve. ‘Me too! So, we have crackers, bananas and raisins.’

‘Hate bananas.’ A frown accompanies the statement but she doesn’t hesitate before adding, ‘I’ll give them to Daddy.’

The words shoot from her mouth like flares, and I look to Simon for help.

‘Anna, remember what Mum said before she left?’ He speaks very slowly, as if his throat is sore, but his eyes never leave her face. ‘Last night, she told you about it again when she rang to say goodnight. Remember – she’s bringing Dad home?’

A plane taxiing along the runway is more interesting than us and she ignores the question. Further delicate probing fails to elicit any reaction, although she’s been told everything – in simple terms.

I stare at Simon, unsure whether to spell things out or leave that job for his sister. 

‘What’s that?’ squeals Anna. She kicks the back of my seat while squirming for a better view.

The burst of excitement is startling, but we follow her eye-line and see movement on the grassy strip beyond the wire fence.

‘Hares,’ replies Simon, ‘like superhero rabbits. They love this place.’

She watches them, and we watch her. She makes up stories about them, and we listen. These empty minutes could be filled with something more substantial than raisins and nonsense talk, but that’s how we pass the time.

And then Simon starts the engine, shaking his head expressively as we fall in with the traffic.

We travel in silence but at a red light Anna mumbles to herself. On the second attempt she speaks with more confidence. ‘Cat.’

I expect to see a stray animal outside, but quickly realise she’s sounding out the slogan on the van beside us. ‘Well done. Longer than cat though.’ I spell out catering and explain what it means.

It doesn’t take long to reach the main airport junction, where another red light makes us wait to turn left. The first word on the signpost pointing down the side road is cargo, so when she says car, I repeat the process – spell and explain.

Then my eyes begin to swim; I clamp them shut, blocking out the next word on the board.

‘Mor,’ she says, enjoying her new game. The fragment is repeated when I fail to play along, and a wobble enters her voice. ‘You have to finish it!’

Simon answers for me, but only when the signpost is no longer visible. His tone is flat and low as he works through the letters, but mortuary is a hard word to spell at any age.

*

Biography

N.K. Woods lives in Kildare and has recently completed a Masters in Creative Writing.

Colin Watts

Last Things, Lost Things

My dearest Carol,

How are the old bones? Creaking and groaning like mine, no doubt. Skeletons in an empty cupboard, eh? How odd that we revere those of our ancestors as though they still lived; how we preserve the fossilised remains of dinosaurs and mammoths as precious relics. Remember how excited we were at getting hold of that that final hoard of tusk and horn, the way it fell almost unbidden into our hands. How ironic then for us to lock it away in trust for the grandchildren we didn’t have; not knowing, as we do now, that we never would.

I remember so clearly the day our Last Things Project began? I’m sure you do, too. What great shots we both were, even at the beginning. Like our first kiss, bagging those red kites was magical, though the flesh, as I’m sure you recall, was a little stringy. Not at all like your sweet lips, call me sentimental if you will! Ah, but those nests of rare humming-bird fledglings we served on the Project’s tenth anniversary. Each one wrapped in its own little feather coat; so tender, so sweet. How poignant for each of our guests to be sucking the marrow from one of the most beautiful creatures ever to grace God’s earth. Such moving tributes. Such gratitude for nature’s bounty. Oh those yesterdays, when nature still had bounty left to give; when her miracles seemed boundless and endless; when we still had faith in a divine being who would step in and save us from ourselves before we reached the tipping point.

Remember that year we made our pilgrimage to California. Weren’t we the lucky ones to find the oldest known surviving Redwood? It’s that one, I said, and that one it was, confirmed by the official counting of the rings. I say luck, but intuition distilled from the experience of a lifetime might be nearer to the truth. Too bad that special auger recommended by top arboriculturists should have become irrevocably wedged, only a few seconds before it would have been withdrawn and our hopes realised or dashed. A thousand dollars-worth of equipment; we couldn’t just leave it there, could we?

Though each of our expeditions has given us the privilege of communing intimately with a different one of God’s creations, for me it was that final Scandinavian trip that was the culmination of our Project. A true triple whammy, I’m sure you’ll agree. Firstly, the trip north from Oslo in that tiny jet, draining our life’s savings for those last precious drops of aviation fuel, from what was left of the aptly named black gold market, along with our hunting permits. And then to be able to put out of their misery one of the last herds of reindeer, their lives poisoned by the parasites that were thriving in the warming air. It was an act of kindness in my opinion, though I couldn’t stop the old hunting instinct rising up, sitting targets though the desperate creatures were. And I can’t help thinking that those last few Sami herders, ravaged by poverty, disease and alcohol, might have wanted us to deal with them in the same humane way we dealt with their ravaged herds. And then to return to our wooden eco-hut and stand there, hand in hand, among the last humans on earth to glimpse the Aurora Borealis, only hours before the permacloud rolled in and hid it permanently from sight. A triple whammy indeed! Now, we can do nothing more than to pray to the God who has abandoned us for its miraculous return. As the storm clouds gather pace, we can only be thankful to have been able to purchase such wonderful memories of Mother Nature’s bounty.

My dear, this may well be the last time I am able to get in touch. I would love to be with you at the end, but given how little time we have left, I think we must give thanks to glorious lives well-lived and lay our Project well and truly to rest.

 

I miss you so much.

Your ever-loving Phil.

 

*

Biography

Colin is seventy five, 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.colin-watts-poetry.com/

Clodagh O’Connor

Trading Tales

How ugly he was, his oddly split tail hanging down from the rock where he sat, his soft dark hair lifting in the wind, strange bumps on his face.  The lure of his song was too strong to resist though, she had to answer it with her own. She swam closer to the shore, letting their combined sounds wash over her. He saw her and beckoned her closer. Fearful, but curious, she swung up beside him and he gazed at her with wonder.  Her seaweed hair hung around a flat-featured face, her tail curled under her and she met his stare directly.

“So the stories are true”, he said. “Are there other mer-folk like you?”

“Dive with me and see them”, she replied, leaping into the water. He followed her without hesitation and together they descended. Long before they reached her kingdom the man turned and swam to the surface. She followed and held him afloat as he fought to regain breath.

“It is too far for me”, he explained, when he could speak once more, “Will you not come to my palace?”

“I cannot move upon land as you can”, she said “but I will return to this rock to meet you tomorrow and we will share stories of our kingdoms.”

For many weeks they shared their stories. They grew accustomed to each other and no longer thought the other strange or ugly. Their sadness grew stronger at each parting, until one day the mermaid said, “I will find a way to come to your world”.

She left him then, diving into the depths where the sea-witch lived.  The deep sea was cold and dark, but the mermaid could see faintly glowing pearls lighting the way to the caves she sought. The witch smiled to see her approach.

“What is it that you desire, my child?”

“To walk among the earthbound, to be with my love.”

“Why leave your home, my dear, when your prince could come here? I wish to meet him. Put this over his head and he will breathe under the water as we do.”

The mermaid took the round object in her hands in wonder. She hesitated then and asked, “What do you require for payment?” The witch replied, “I would see this prince of yours, bring him here when you find him.”

The mermaid immediately swam back to the rocks, but the prince was not there. For many days she haunted the shore, singing sadly at the place where they met, but no answering music came to her. In despair, she returned to the sea-witch and asked for a spell to bring the prince to the shore.

“You want to see him, dearie? Just look into my scrying pool.”

The mermaid’s gills contracted as she caught sight of her beloved dancing with an earthbound princess. He was holding her close as they spun gracefully around a great hall. He had never held her in such an embrace. The witch watched her changing expressions with glee, but simply said, “Your love will be on the shore tonight. Remember to bring him to me.”

She heard his song as soon as she surfaced by the rocks. She swam to him and presented the witch’s gift. He slipped it over his head and together they dived deep. A great sense of unease came over the prince as they approached the sea-witch’s cave, it was only then that he discovered he could neither speak nor hear.

The witch stood over the mermaid and forced her to look once more into the scrying pool. “See how your love gazes deep into the eyes of that princess, how can he love you with your flat face and sharp teeth? He will not leave the beauties of his land for the roughness of the sea.”

The mermaid was swayed by the witch’s words; accepting gifts from such a creature put her under her power. The witch pressed her advantage and handed a small trident to her. “One stab through the heart,” the malicious creature whispered, “and he will be yours forever.”

The prince held out his hands as she approached him, seeing the weapon, but trusting his love. The mermaid gazed deep into his eyes, raised the trident high and slashed twice. Gashes opened in both sides of his throat, the mermaid ripped the covering from his head. As his legs transformed into a sleek tail, he took his first breath as one of her kind.

*

Biography

Clodagh O’Connor has been an aspiring writer since age 8, but only really starting to scribble now (in her 50s). She also writes haiku, has two sons and one husband, is interested in telecoms, likes maths and makes origami boxes.

 

Sheena Power

A Glass Coffin

Black as ebony, white as snow. That was me. I’m turning grey now. My skin is pale as ever except where liver spots cluster, mottling my hands. I am turning into an old toad. And no kiss can make me a princess again. I was Snow White, I was those three things: black hair, white skin, red mouth. And that, I see now, was all I was.

The Queen at least had her witchcraft – she had an interest. In the evenings I waste candles going through her books. Odd snatches catch me – to thwart an adulterer, break an acorn in two and hide half under each party’s pillow, and so long as ’tis so, the lovers never can meet – but I was never schooled to concentrate. I find it hard going, to turn myself into a scholar.

If I were clever, I would not envy my lady-in-waiting so much. Olivia is gold, like morning sunlight. Her skin glows with rose-petal youth. When she joins me at the mirror, I look away. I try to care more about books than beauty, and I wonder how I would feel if I had her heart cut out.

It is the famed mirror, yes. The Queen did not care for mirrors when first she came here. I think my father admired that, but the courtiers talked. It is said you can trap a witch in a mirror, and there were whispers that the new Queen avoided them from fear. So my father gave her this one, knowing its magical properties would intrigue her. I don’t believe he knew its real power. He loved her, after all.

My prince, the king, looks put out at breakfast. “I found an acorn in my bed,” he snaps at his man as they enter the room. “Have we squirrels for chambermaids?”

He sits, and then I do, Olivia drawing out my chair. His eyes focus above my head, and he smiles. In the mirror opposite, she blooms more lovely than ever. Perhaps, perhaps a kiss could restore me to beauty. Were kisses to be had.

For all that she was a murderer, the Queen wrote an elegant hand. To enter her diary is to enter her mind, and oh, what a marvellous mind it was. Filled with herb-lore and alchemy and astronomy, peopled with philosophers and poets and travellers. I dally there, as in a wondrous country.

What caused my step-mother to turn from the grandeur of her magic to the paltriness of envy? Her dreams shrank, over the years – I see this, in her later journals. A soul as large as the night sky, curled up like burnt paper. And what ate away at my step-mother, has kept me meek and biddable. We were both, in our way, captured by the thought that we were nothing but pretty reflections in a glass.

“His Royal Highness awaits your Majesty.”

“I… will dine in my private quarters.” She asks if I am unwell. I shrug, not caring what reason she gives. I find as his love falls away from me, my own dissipates like vapour. I see him clearly now. The door closes. I resume my reading.

In the margins are scribbled spells. To become beautiful; to become invisible. These opposites jolt me, and I pause to decipher them. To become invisible, destroy the m… maiden? No. The mirror.

I lay down the journal. There is the tail of an idea, sly and elusive, almost such that thinking on it will scare it away. Instead, I feel.

I feel the weight of beauty, weighing more the more it slips from me. But even in youth, it felt a kind of carapace, defining my limits – a transparent coffin. I was black hair, and white skin, and no more. And no, the mischief was not done by others thinking me so – it was done when I figured beauty as the sum of myself.

When I explore the world in her books, I feel… excited, happy. I see this only now, in hindsight, because when I am immersed there I do not notice how I feel – I am transparent to myself. I become invisible. Instead of seeing myself, I see the world. And it fills me with curious heady pleasure.

To be invisible to others is a charm beyond my powers – at least, it is they who decide whether or not to see me. But to be invisible to oneself. There is a thought. Is this the spell I have been seeking?

*

Biography

Sheena Power is an illustrator from Dublin. Her work ranges from dragons on the cover of JRR Tolkien: the Forest & the City, to Christmas cards for scientists. Although she draws for a living, her real love is writing. Her stories Aurelia Aurita and On the Matter of Dublin’s Gargoyle Population were published in Tales From The ForestA Cloak As Red As Blood was published in Enchanted Magazine, and Queen was shortlisted for the 2015 Allingham Award and subsequently published in Boyne Berries.

Elizabeth Gibson

Noelle

The ice is so hard and cold and the arena spins around and around, so white and shiny and yet so technicolour: turquoise and pink, cyan and red, artificial and unloving in a way she should be used to but never will be. They tell her that her name means birth, call her Natalia or Natasha. They shift around her, eyes trained and hungry, watching jump after jump, spin after spin and they say, you could be Russian. You are good enough. You will go somewhere. Where? Who knows. But somewhere.

We’re going to a new town in November, Maman says. Avignon. What? Doesn’t Papa live there now? Does he? I don’t know. Anyway, don’t worry, angel, they have a rink. You will get your practice. You will still be a superstar, my darling.

She laughs sadly. She flicks a tendril of hair from her eyes and it falls straight back. She slumps over the packing as if she has given up. The world seems to be getting darker. The rink doesn’t even look light or white any more. Black spots dance before Noelle’s eyes and blinking doesn’t make them go away.

The water is so bright and blue. The Rhône, they call it. It is like a sapphire. It feels like winter here. In the city it never did, especially not when Noelle was standing on a field of ice. It felt like she existed outside of the world, in a strange, loud, flashy season that never changed. Here she walks into silence as thick as wind. She crouches by the tall grass, sees fish darting and birds hopping on the bank that falls away from her feet. The trees are brown and gold and orange – earthy colours. Or earthly. She’d forgotten they could be real. She breathes out. She settles under the famous, broken bridge, legs crossed. She is chilly. There is no one there. She stays.

It is in December that he arrives: a tall goat-like thing, scraggly and smug. He is not malevolent, she can tell. He doesn’t talk much. He just tells her it is getting colder.

Five days a week the new rink swirls around her and blurs her senses. She lands more jumps than ever before and they cheer. New them. Same noise. Same eyes. Same loss of anything that matters. More darkness. More and more and more.

Winter creeps on and the Rhône freezes. She slips to the bank every night after practice. Under the bridge she curls, knees tucked under her chin. The ice on the river glimmers silver and gold in the late sun. He is there, and he dances around her, his long green scarf clinging to him like a vine as he smirks at her skates and sings softly, hypnotically. Words from some other place and time.

“Go on. Go on. I want to see you.

Go on. It will hold.”

Right. Axel. Good. Land. Hand in the air, don’t touch the ice. It stings, so cold like the edge of a can. Sharp. Head up. Arms out, now spin, gracious. Yes. One leg up, good, now loop, now flip. Excellent. Keep going. Hear your heart crying out, feel your blood washing inside your face in a way it never has, feel the momentum, the motion, the pulse, as you go round and round, round and round, everything building and burning as if preparing for the moment

when it all will stop.

*

Biography

Elizabeth Gibson was announced as a New North Poet at the 2017 Northern Writers’ Awards. Her writing has appeared in CakeThe Cardiff Review, The CompassCreative ReviewInk, Sweat & Tears, Litro and The Poetry Shed. She edits Foxglove Journal and the Word Life section of Now Then Manchester, tweets @Grizonneand blogs at http://elizabethgibsonwriter.blogspot.co.uk.

Anne Goodwin

I Want Doesn’t Get 

I wanted cheesecake and a chocolate fountain but I didn’t want to pop the button on my best black skirt. I wanted a bronze plaque on a bench beside the bowling green and souvenir service sheets on embossed paper with a photo at the front.

I wanted a poem in the paper but my sister thought it sentimental and swapped it for prose. I wanted rosewood with brass handles but she insisted plywood would suffice. I wanted lilies but my sister didn’t want the smell.

I wanted a spa with a grand conservatory but my sister booked the function room at the local pub. I wanted “Abide With Me” but my sister can’t abide it. I don’t want an argument but I’m sick of being overruled.

I want doesn’t get our mother used to say, so I tucked my wants away while awaiting my reward. I watched my sister get, and plenty, so why did I miss out?

I would’ve wanted to go to college if I’d got the grades. I would’ve wanted a white wedding if anyone had proposed. I would’ve wanted to travel if I wasn’t so scared. I would’ve wanted my own life if Mum hadn’t wanted me in hers.

I want a glass of sherry but I’m drinking tea. I don’t want to be trapped in a corner by my mother’s friends from church. I want someone to ask how I’m feeling as if they really want to know. I want to be born again in my sister’s skin.

I want her to forget where she left her handbag. I want her not to notice her keys have gone astray. We both know she can’t get into her penthouse apartment without them. She can’t unlock her brand-new coupé.

I want her not to guess where I hid them. But I want doesn’t always get. So I’m learning to generate my own getting. It can’t be difficult; my sister’s done it all her life.

I don’t care whether she learns anything in the process. I don’t care if she finds her keys or not. But she’ll have to dig deep to retrieve them. Because I wanted to bury them within the folds of our mother’s shroud.

*

Biography

Anne Goodwin’s debut novel, Sugar and Snails was shortlisted for the 2016 Polari First Book Prize. Her second novel, Underneath, was published in 2017. “I Want Doesn’t Get” will appear in her short story collection, Becoming Someone, on the theme of identity launches on Facebook on November 23rd, 2018, where the more people participate the more she’ll donate to Book Aid International. A former clinical psychologist, Anne is also a book blogger with a particular interest in fictional therapists.

Website: annegoodwin.weebly.com

Twitter @Annecdotist

 

Natalia Godsmark; The Finale

The finale

 

Sarah

I sit in the waiting room, listening.  The cacophony of sounds resonates like a badly rehearsed orchestra:

The mezzo-piano hum of computers,

The strident tick-tocking clock,

The discordant phone ringtones,

The rhythmic banging of doors as doctors and nurses hurry through.

Every now and then the hospital receptionist softly calls out her melodic solo: ‘Mr. so-and-so please.’

 

When my name is sung I glide, andante, across to my husband, who looks lost and confused.  Music used to be his life.  I suppose it still is…in some ways. 

“All seems to be well, Mrs. Miller.”  The doctor addresses me, his tone implying finality.

 

I put my arm around Jonathon’s shoulders as I used to hold my cello.  He seems to have shrunk so quickly.  He was once a handsome man; his dark eyes so passionate; his hair so thick. And he held himself confidently.  Now, he’s like a frightened boy; his eyes wide and bewildered, his hair sparse and he hunches over.  I guide him down the corridor, his faltering steps out of sync with the hospital’s rhythm. 

 

The clouds outside are black and angry.  Thunder crashes above us before the rain begins to fall and my husband starts, his eyes darting around, seeing everything and nothing all at once.  They settle on me and I pull him close as we complete the short walk home.

 

Our house is warm and cosy when we enter and an expression of relief floods Jonathon’s face.  I sit him in his chair and he watches me, as though I am about to serenade him. I prepare our evening meal and he tunelessly hums an aria to himself. He once knew every word. 

 

Matthew lollops into the kitchen and pulls out a packet of crisps from the snack drawer.  His hair is unwashed and his clothes are scruffy.  He used to be such a happy child, always smiling.  Not anymore. He flits in and out of our world, his life contrapuntal to ours, perhaps like any 18 year old, though he seems even more distant since Jonathon’s rapid decline.  They don’t say a word to each other, and as I slice and rinse and boil, I sink into a melancholic state of lethargy, listening:

The metrical chomping of my son’s teeth,

The whine of the boiling kettle,

The popping of the bubbles in the saucepan.

 

Only my husband’s gentle refrain reminds us of how things once were.

 

Matthew
Mum and Dad are back from the hospital.  Good.  I’m hungry. 

My friends say I’m not, like, sympathetic enough. That I should spend more time with him, or I’ll regret it later. 

But they don’t know what it’s like. 

 

He used to be a cool dad.  A bit embarrassing at times with his unfunny jokes and, well, his random dress sense, but he was always up for a laugh. 

 

She used to be alright too.  Typical mum, telling me off and stuff, but I dealt with it.  Now she hardly ever says a word to me.  She probably thinks I’m, like, disloyal for not wanting to spend every minute with a man who’s losing his mind.  Who knows though?  It’s not like she ever talks about it.  She cooks for him, cleans for him, works 8 hours a day to pay for him and soon, they say, he may not even recognise her.  What’ll happen then?

 

I can’t – I don’t want – to cope with it.  And soon I won’t have to. Just got to get through the summer. Then I’m off to Edinburgh uni.  Get as far from London as possible.  She’ll let me.  She wants me to be happy, and that’s what’ll do it. 

 

He won’t even notice I’ve gone.

 

Jonathon

Ave Maria
Gratia plena
Maria …

I can’t remember what goes next.  Maria plena?  Is that it?  “Sarah what’s the next line? … Yes, I thought so.”

 

I don’t remember a lot of things anymore.  Don’t know –

 

We’re eating dinner now.  Sarah’s cooked my favourite.  I love chicken.  “Sarah, I love chicken.”  She’s smiling at me, nodding.  She takes my hand and rubs it. 

 

Loud noise.  Too loud.  Sarah says, “It’s ok, it’s just the doorbell.  Just the doorbell.” 

She says, “Matthew, go and answer the door.”  He does.  Sarah stays with me and rubs my hand.

 

Sarah

Matthew clomps back into the kitchen fortissimo, with his girlfriend Lucy at his heels.  She flashes an awkward smile at me and ignores Jonathon altogether.  The kids speak to each other about the coming weekend while Matthew shovels forkfuls of food in his mouth and chews with his mouth wide open.

 

Jonathon looks at me not saying a word. 

 

In a sudden movement that causes Jonathon to flinch, Matthew stands up, his chair legs scraping loudly on the floor.  “We’re off. I’ll be home around midnight,” he says. He doesn’t wait for us to respond.

 

Jonathon and I resume eating. When we have finished, I guide him back to his chair in the living room and it doesn’t take long before a piano calm fills the room interrupted only by his occasional snores.

 

And now I wander about my big, empty house; a house that once used to be so full of life, of energy, of happiness.  But more noticeable than the emptiness and worse, by far, is the

 

silence.

*

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.

Róisín Power Hackett; A Sub-Sub Librarian

A Sub-Sub Librarian  

(A cut-up text using Hermann Melville’s ‘Moby Dick’)

 

I promise nothing complete; A dreadful storm comes on the world, a great hurricane, typhoon, blood and thunder for what seemed ages piled on ages. Afterwards the sun shining, steam smoking, melting icebergs. People were worried to death. Oh, the world! This system would not proceed, the ruins of burnt ground were lost, worn and wrinkled to the swelling flood. What a multitude of things, both large and small, were lost beneath the green fields gone, north, east, south and west devoured. All creatures were lost, lifeless, neither the unicorn, caterpillar nor butterfly were living, and oil energy, buried. Indeed, hundreds of men had been so killed. Thus, the breaking-up of iceberg, wrapped the outer world in water. There was nothing, nothing but water. Drowning mountains became island. Thus, poverty-stricken people, with disease and little or nothing, survived the flood, found ships and mountainous island peaks to pile themselves upon. After sunset the world was now wrapped in outer darkness. People proceed to curiously carve settlement, to set down a little domestic peculiarity on highland, making wigwam and hammock upon the hill-side blue, with a view of making the world a small degree civilised. Nevertheless, ere long, the divers went down under the sea, picking up whatever they could clutch. Thus, the earth puffed out great clouds of fire among the islands, the gold brow plumbs the blue in this practical world. All the candles that burnt round concluded in technical mechanical devices. Meanwhile, imperial island King Emperors conquered the watery world. The island people had metropolitan superiority over the sea-peasant. So, life dropped in to its place, the system returning. Consider all this, the masterless ocean overruns the globe, the sea’s landlessness, no shadow of tree, the watery loneliness of life, the continual repetition of fish as food, the fresh water low and consequently death from starvation, conflict with seas or winds, to live in the open air, that wild madness was life. So, man may brag of science and skill, and however much, in a flattering future, that science and skill may augment, the sea will insult and murder him. Yet we resumed business, the oil business of whaling. The Chief Harpooner reigned supreme. Civilised ocean kings and empires set up whale departments, wherein blubber-boilers, butchers and harpooners reaped harvest of spermaceti and ambergris.

 

After half a century of cutting up the fresh blubber, spiralising and boiling out manufactured sperm oil and eating whale-steak you will find few whales in the lawless seas. Exploring expeditions happened. People dived and discovered, at the bottom of the sea, the Tuileries beneath the yellowish incrustations overgrowing the gardens of the deep, a marble sepulchre with the silken pearl coloured membrane, glossy as bridal satins. The curious internal structure was lung-celled honeycombs. The seamen swam through libraries through the long Vatican in the subterraneous monument, avenues of books, the ancient authors Ptolemy, Shakespeare, Spinoza, Goethe, Edmund Burke… Those who have written a book, spoken a speech, poet, philosopher and artist, bethink yourself between them. There’s all sorts, an inexhaustible wealth of spices, and silks, and jewels, and gold, and ivory, amber, antique crystal goblets, a bottle of Bordeaux, old Orleans whiskey, hermaphroditical Italian pictures, a great telescope, canes, umbrella-sticks, and handles to riding-whips.  There are mountains of these fine things, chambers of darkness, a hopeless, endless twinkling romantic landscape, the expression of the madness of men. Seal up any human thing supposed to be complete, retained in that reservoir of air, with all the paintings of Europe and Grecian sculptures. A gallery a thousand fathoms beneath the sunlight.

 

All those fine things, which to me seem important, were granted to the classic scholar, the Sub-Sub, who must catalogue them, to cultivate a historical record of mankind, the sub with an elated grandeur and hard work makes the basis for a regular system of all sorts of things with departments, subdivisions and folios to attempt a clear classification of mankind and nature and every strange, half-seen, gliding, beautiful thing. She lived and worked in the inglorious bowels of the earth at the bottom of the deep ocean. She penetrated far into the interior and found many a gem. Dwelling in the blackness, silent, with one candelabra soon leads to a white, silken creature whose lulled into such an opium-like listlessness. There’s no soothing touch of human being for her in the deep. Each sub remained in this situation until death. They then renewed their sub – one is subsequently brought down and adieu to you.

 

Meanwhile, the whale fishery was near out of oil and ambergris. The intense greenness of the sea, empty of whales, the fire burning low, tormented to madness, the whalemen, violently hunted the highly prized spermaceti, the universal commotion to secure the whale oil by every boat in hot chase was riotous. Thus, human bloodshed, was to take hold of the world, as people had the fear of death, as oil and bloodthirsty pirates chased, seemed only intent on annihilating. Every boat continued her cruising, but that common decency of human kind was almost wholly gone. While Imperial Emperor and King had ships of floating furniture, had their customary dinner of Persian sherbet, their ivory-inlaid table and Ottoman, could take a glass of wine, had gold and silver, royalty, grandeur, for some there is no life, except that rocking life imparted by the sea. To have whale-bone den, cod and mackerel, a candle, boat-knife, sea charts, compasses, rifles, to be alive at all events was great and suicides a not uncommon thing. Inward they turned upon the soul, to lose oneself in such inhuman solitude.

 

Threading its way out from among battle came the poet Star, sailing in the old craft, nimble as a cat, she is amphibious. She did not use whale oil, but blazes fire out of the branches she grows from the odorous cedar on her island, a few green sprouts, full of hope and fruition.  With concern for the great whales of the sea, keeping them living and breathing was her business. A poetical Pagan, purposely living green, and the soft feeling of the human sprawling about, sailing out, out, off from mankind to all the ends of the earth. Star would take care of earth and whale and endeavoured to prevail upon this system of the wolfish world. Thus, by day to be sailing through boundless fields of blue water in a new-made world, and when dusk descended, the starred and stately nights seemed the warmly cool, clear, ringing, perfumed, overflowing ball-room of the whole world. After several years dancing through a calm tropical sea, her boat and whales, tranquilly swimming through the water, she had explored seas and archipelagos. In representing the whale, Star was enemy of the harpooner. The evil-blazing continued more savage on a fierce run. Star sailing away, from the chase with the herd, the small tame cows and calves to the old South Sea. Every year she went to the lovely island, her Aoraki, by the vivid green of old Cockatoo Point. Star took care, planting a great tree or two, while taking wood. The harpooners, they were running, rushing through the water with a vindictive sort of leaping towards her on the old Zealand sea. Star parts eastward from the islands one transparent blue morning. I take it from the books, she kept account of sea-life. But ere long from the vivid sunlight, sat Star rocking beneath the counterpane lounging on the chair in her South American poncho she slid to a grand snoozing dream, ornamented at the edges with little tingling waves. The counterpane was of patch-work, full of odd little parti-coloured squares and triangles and this gown on Star, looked for all the world like a strip of that same patchwork quilt, you could hardly tell it from the quilt, they so blended their hues together. Thus, temporarily blurred, unseen, but this ignorant infernal harpooner, suddenly he came upon the boat full of the fire of the hunt. She saw and lightening-like in movements, swings the rifle from the wall. Still, she’s over-manned. Those butchers killed lifeless the only starry dream, quickly they toss Star overboard in that mid-day sea azure. These harpooners found log-books, they were submerged with me, the last person down, a sub-sub trapped, in this darkened labyrinth. They killed the herd of whales to yield good oil. But sooner or later inevitably the last drop was gone, and without any oil battle kept kicking at this world. Man was doomed and made mad, and cannibalistically developed.

 

The end of it, I do not know. As bubbles that swim on the beaker’s brim, a powerless panic methinks, the round watery world has become white, and that great mass of human death floats on and on. I say I, myself, will slid off into death. So, fare thee well and adieu to you.                 

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Biography   

Róisín Power Hackett is an Irish visual artist, poet and art writer. She has a BA History of Art and Fine Art (Paint) and an MA in Art in the Contemporary World, an art writing masters, both from the National College of Art and Design in Dublin. She has been published in The Runt, The Bohemyth, Rise and Repeal (Abortion Rights Campaign) MagazineThe Weary Blues, Glitter StumpPamphlet Magazine (Netherlands), Skylight 47, Mama Grande Press, Word Legs, Minus 9 Squared‘s Anthology, Minus Nine Squared. Róisín has also published essays, articles and reviews on contemporary art. More of her work can be found here https://roisinphackett.wordpress.com/

Christopher Branson; She Would’ve Been A Ballerina

She would’ve been a ballerina

 

In spite of everything they told themselves, from the day of her funeral to their final hours of old age, she never would have been a ballerina.  Her life wouldn’t have worked out like that.  It wasn’t who she was.    

It’s true, there was grace in those limbs, such elegant grace.  When she danced she was like blossom on the breeze.  Twenty-five kilos going on weightless.  And so delicate in her motion.  Every gesture soft as silk. 

Of all the bodies to be smashed by a truck.    

But what they couldn’t possibly have known is that this body was destroyed in its absolute prime, its season of greatest beauty.  Puberty would have been unkind, you see, hardening her frame, thickening its movement.  Caged its fluidity.  No more would those muscles melt into music. 

It’s true that she’d always loved to dance, and this love would not have left her.  A thousand times she dreamed of dancing the ballet with poise and abandon.  But she never could have made it.  She lacked the character, the blinkered discipline required for someone to break their body like that and turn it into art.  She was just too happy to dominate herself, too sunny and laid back and in love with her friends.  She never would’ve sacrificed the pleasures of her teenage years. 

And if she’d lived to see those years she would have rebelled soon enough.  Recoiled at the mean constant pressure, at her mother’s crazed dream of realising her own failed dream, and at her father’s dumb consent.  She would have broken with their wishes sooner or later.  One day the first crack would have appeared – a drag on a cigarette, maybe, or a mouthful of cider or a kiss with a boy – and the whole facade would have come crashing down.  There’d have been more cigarettes and a lot more cider, then vodka, and wine; in time there’d have been joints and pills, perhaps cocaine; and there’d have always been boys, a constant plague of boys throughout her teenage years, some treating her well, but most misusing her.  Nothing too unlike any other teenage rebel, all told, but her parents’ upset and admonishment and rage would have seethed and swollen, it would have festered until it became a rearing, unsleeping despair that would have antagonised her wildness still further.  And by the time she’d have reconciled with her folks, years later, the dream of the ballet would have long been forgotten.  All she’d retain from those teenage years would be a memory of failure and self-loathing that would haunt her for the rest of her days. 

But of course she died before any of this played out, killed one sunny morning on the way to school by an exhausted man driving a truck.  Gone like that.  Ten years old. 

Nothing can make sense of how she died, of course, but people can’t live with nothing.  They need something to go on with.  Some kind of story to tell.  At her funeral they were already groping for one, her relatives and friends and teachers.  They ate buffet food and drank tea and looked at each other out of sore eyes and hoped that something would come catch their falling souls.  And though there were no words to explain her death, they found they could at least dream on about the life she might have had, about where she might have studied and where she might have lived. 

As they talked over ham and cheese sandwiches and slices of quiche, their speculation over what might have been gradually condensed into a communal vision of what would have been.  The tale they were telling reverberated between them with growing conviction, hardening until at last it became a kind of truth, a description of who she really was.  So that, in a certain sense, she was reborn on that day of her burial, reborn into a narrow perfection she could never have embodied in waking life. 

She would have been a ballerina, you see, that’s what they all concluded that day of her funeral and then repeated to themselves again and again throughout the years. 

In time it even came to console her parents.  It’s what they always wanted, after all, what they’d dreamed of, though on the day of the funeral her they weren’t at all ready for this talk.  The abyss was too deep.  They couldn’t bear to take their eyes off the girl they’d kissed goodbye only a few mornings earlier.  As if she wouldn’t really be gone so long as they didn’t forget a single detail about her.  It was too soon to think about the future she’d lost.

Over time, however, that shattering, faithful image of their little girl became subsumed by something they could actually live with.  In those first weeks and months after her death, months of raw loss, a fragment of time would come rushing back to them, resurrecting her before their eyes as if from nowhere, and with tears they’d recall some glad moment of her life.  That’s when they began to say it to themselves, as the moment receded and they remembered she was dead.  She would’ve been a ballerina. 

And for years afterwards, when her mother or father were alone, and they’d find themselves sobbing without provocation, suddenly weeping at the sink or on the toilet or in the shower, they’d think about the ballerina she would have been.  They’d daydream about it going home on the bus. 

And above all it was something they said when they were all together, her parents and all of her family and friends.  They invoked it whenever her memory was conjured at a wedding or a christening or some other reunion, when a mention of her name lodged itself in the space between them so that silence followed and their hearts shivered at her presence.

She was a lovely dancer, someone would say.  What a wonderful ballerina she would have been.

And as her parents’ unconquerable sadness only grew with age, lining a million tiny folds inside their heavy hearts, and as their minds flooded with memory as they approached their death, the crutch of those saving words became relied on more and more.  They repeated them to each other night by night before the TV and, after her father died, her mother muttered them to herself as she lay awake in bed, she said them to every visitor she had, no matter how many times they’d heard it all before.  And when her own death drew near and she was moved to the hospice, she told all of the nurses there, too, she told them they reminded her of her daughter, Did you know I had a daughter? she’d say.  Only she wouldn’t have been a nurse, my Jane, she would’ve been a ballerina. 

Only the truth is, she wouldn’t have.  Her story was never going to turn out like that, which I guess is another way of saying that the story I’ve told isn’t hers at all.  Really it’s the story of how her true self was covered over and lost, how that deluded tale about the ballet came to conceal the person she was.  Although on the other hand maybe it tells you all you need to know about her.  About how she made people feel and what she meant to them.  And above all the love and levity she infused in them when they saw her dance, and the devastation they felt after she was gone.  And if the fantasy of the ballet helped them cope with her death, well, she would have been the last to want to deprive them of that.  She wasn’t that sort of person, you see.

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Biography

Christopher Branson was shortlisted for the 2016 Impress Prize for New Writers and has stories published in The Ham and The Writing Disorder.  He is close to completingFool, a comic novel about a young man trying to recover from a profound love affair that never happened.  Prior to focusing on fiction, he wrote a doctoral thesis on Nietzsche.  He lives in London.  @tarkovskysdog