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Creative Writing Ink October 2017 Winner

Thursday, November 9th, 2017

Winner: Anne Walsh Donnelly

It’s okay not to be okay

 

It’s not okay when my temples are clamped by a vice

shoulders list under a bag of slack

prune heart is stuffed with dead marrow

tongue turns ice-cream to grit

and I dream of drowning in white water rapids.

 

It’s not okay when people duck down

the hardware aisle in Tesco

to avoid meeting me at the checkout

or my doctor writes

I’m off work because of a virus

 

It would be okay if I could share my story

show you the crumpled autumn leaf on the pavement

and you would walk with me towards the first bud of spring.

September 2017 Winner

Thursday, October 19th, 2017

Seapoint Road

Jane McNamara

We’ve been here a year. Longest we’ve spent in any house. I’m still fascinated by it. I can’t quite believe it’s mine: an upstairs of my own, a bedroom for the children and a master bedroom for me and Paddy. What a strong feeling that idea had – a master bedroom – I am a mistress now. Not a maid of all trades in a drafty old barn of a place, stuck in the backside of Tipperary. Curtseying to an auld one. ‘Penny looking down on a ha’penny,’ as my mother said.
I opened my modern window. It was one pane; split into three panels and looked smart from the outside. The windows opened out. All you had to do was pick up the bar from the catch on the inside. No pushing and shoving up of belligerent sash windows that wouldn’t budge or listening to internal strings snap and shriek. At the end of my new garden was a mid height wall with a box hedge, in a row of boxed hedges. Broken only by small gates like commas, separating all the neighbours. In a new place the planners called suburbia. I stood by the window watching the icy green sea of the Malahide coast breaking on the shore like fizzing baking soda.
My daughters called like gulls to one another from the outside garden. Gusts of wind caught their voices like dusters and billowed the sound out, so it felt like they were surrounding me. My heart contracted when I looked at them. So many moves over their small lives, beds with no blankets, dinner tables with no food. Until I found my window. The house covered me in comfort, as though I were encased in down. Paddy gone to work and my girls giggled on the front lawn. I could taste happiness like sweet wafer, stuck to the roof of my mouth like communion on a Sunday.
My gate swung open. A stranger walked right up to my front door. I felt like a fuse someone had lit. Rage burned a hole in my insides. The Repo man. I knew it was him from the cheap houndstooth suit. A tight bowler hat wedged on his head and a badly put together great coat. Some hangover from the Emergency he thought gave him gravitas. It made him look like a blackened poker as he walked by the guillotine cut box hedges. He picked up the knocker on the letter box and rat-tat-tatted it like he was a favoured uncle. Looked at me as though I was a skivvy in my own home.
I didn’t answer the door. Stared at him through the window instead and called out from the top panel.
‘What do you want?’ I asked.
‘Man of the house, please.’
He might have said please, with his greased moustache that made him look like a talking lump of lard, but the only thing he sounded pleased with was himself.
‘Done a runner has he?’
‘Excuse me! Who do you think you are?’
My surroundings swung away from me. Fear rose up my throat and dropped my bottom lip, but wouldn’t let me speak.
‘I’ll have to ask you to move, ma’am. Take your belongings and leave.’ He had raw boned hands and kept his first two fingers tucked into his jacket. I could see these fingers moving, as they worried something in his pocket.
The air caught in my lungs and crystallised. An icy numbness had started in my head and was travelling down my body. This wasn’t the Repo man. The words had a well worn groove inside my mouth. ‘What has he done now?’
The man took the token he had been moving around his pocket out. A casino token.
‘Mr Clavin lost at cards in the Kildare Street club. He put this house down as collateral. Mr Clavin was all but blackened in the club recently, so my employer asked me to ensure the smooth transition of the house. You’ll have to leave, ma’am. You and the little ones.’
He nodded towards my girls. They stood straight like a row of damp mops glistening hair hanging down. A flat resignation kept them still.
‘Mr Clavin’s a civil servant, isn’t he, ma’am?’
I nodded. My husband worked in the Department of Finance and managed the Nation’s burgeoning new money. I would have laughed, if not for the thought of the children, boxes and shame I would be trailing to my mother-in-law’s house in a couple of hours.
‘Perhaps I should go and find him at his place of work? If you would prefer?’
I shook my head. I didn’t want a beating as well as an eviction. ‘Give me until 4pm.’
The man nodded and walked away.
‘Play,’ I said to the girls in a dry voice. I held my sobs in check and put them with the other unshed tears. This wasn’t the first time we had moved.

CWI August 2017 Winner

Monday, September 11th, 2017

Every Music Has A Diminuendo

By Marvel Chukwudi Pephel

A man is listening and nodding to a toccata on an icy hill.
He forgets he must get down on a toboggan,
He somehow forgets the journey ahead,
And so enjoys the moment.
If he is unlucky, a sudden wind
Will blow him to death
Before his music ends.
This is how life is,
This is how we sometimes forget that the music
Of youthfulness
Fades.
This, sadly, is how the music of life
Moves from a crescendo to a diminuendo.
This is how a body fades to dust…
And bones.

Creative Writing Ink July 2017 Winner

Monday, August 7th, 2017

Fear of Fatherhood

Kevin Doyle

I attempt to yell again from the bottom of my throat, and I do try, but the words get stuck in my Adam’s apple. I’m so stiff it feels like I’m wrapped in a Mummy costume, my arms pinned by invisible bandages. My stomach feels like a washing machine on full blast, swishing around and around, with fear. I’m sat bolt upright; my skull lying against my bed headboard. I know I’m paralysed but I continue to attempt movement again but it’s a fruitless exertion. I watch the back of my chicken legs retreat towards the landing in small steps, with my four-month-old daughter Sarah over this person’s shirtless naked shoulder, my shoulder. I can’t turn my head to any side, but I know my wife isn’t in the room to make this nightmare safe instead of sinister. Thirteen years together attracts this knowing telepathy. I can’t see Sarah’s light blue eyes that are like the sky in Spain on a thin aired summer’s day amid the darkness of this early April three thirty morning. I can imagine they are full of their usual positive innocence but with a drop of haunted distress in them. I wish her eyelashes, so similar to a baby spider’s legs, would attack that stranger, and poison him.

There’s a sudden immense white flash, like someone with the biggest camera in the world has just pressed the click button. Bleary-eyed, I just about see amongst my black and white spotty vision, my daughter being thrown over the bannisters with a force similar to a gym goer throwing a medicine ball to the floor with full force. The other me, vanishes out of sight.

I finally screech, my lips no longer feel superglued together. I break free from the prison of my bed. I sprint to the bannisters, and look down over them. The stairs have disappeared, but Sarah is floating in mid-air around a darkness that must only have been ever seen in space. But, there’s no bright stars or colourful planets here. The speed of her descent picks up just as fast as left over minuscule food bits washing down a sink with the tap on full blast. She keeps whirling around and around, her eyes shut, towards a twirling black hole. She vanishes.

The stairs return to normal as I take them two at a time. The kitchen door is open. But, it’s day time now. My Dad is sitting on our wooden kitchen chair with a black leather seat as a cushion, munching on a chocolate digestive biscuit, and drinking black coffee. This other me who threw my daughter into the unknown hole, is sat opposite him in the other kitchen chair. A forcefield is blocking me entering the room. No matter how many times I run at it, I bounce off it. Beyond the kitchen, out in the back garden, I can see Sarah’s legs kicking. She’s flat out in the grass that’s growing an inch by the second. My vision stays on her. My ears eavesdrop to the conversation in the kitchen.

‘We’ll bring her to Spain,’ Dad says, with a smirk knowing somewhere inside himself that’s going to annoy me but make him happy.

‘Bit early for that, Dad, she’s only four months old,’ I reply, shoulders curved, my eyes wandering towards anything but his eyes.

‘And what about schools?’

My stomach clenches.

‘Jesus, Dad. Haven’t thought about it.’ I sigh through my nose, it sizzles in my chest, burning it.

‘You’ll have to register her for something as soon as possible, places fill up fast.’

‘You’re right, Dad. Will get on it.’

‘It’d better be a proper school and not one of these new age Educate Together nonsense.’

The other me doesn’t reply to him.

Another white flash, this one softer, and I’m back into the realism of this early morning. I open the kitchen back door which leads onto my garden. I look everywhere for my daughter, but I can’t see her. The grass is at a normal length, trimmed down from the terrifying growth I’m sure I witnessed only moments earlier. I check the shed, every bin, and through every gap that’s available. I find nothing. Blood rushes from my body and fills my outer skin with ripe tomato rage. I see something in my peripheral vision in the sky. It’s a red winged bird the size of a young child, with a slither of yellow across the bottom of his wing. This feathered foe with small sharp button eyes holds my daughter from her vest as delicate as a lioness holding cubs with her mouth. After many more glides of taunting and teasing around the dark sky, he gives up and sits on top of the chimney on a house diagonal to mine, without Sarah in his rotten beak. The bird puffs out its chest like a bodybuilder, and flies into the darkening empty night. I drop to my knees, and cover my face with my palms, crying hysterically into them. My shoulders jumping up and down, a spasm has just erupted in them. Getting up from the moist grass, I spot Sarah. She’s on the window ledge upstairs in my bedroom. Her violent cries can be heard through the thick window pane.

I dash back into the kitchen, through the hallway, and stomp the soles of my feet up the stairs, going so fast my legs burn. That flash of white light is back, more like car headlights beam on full blast than a camera this time. After my vague vision turns back to normal, my bedroom is a café.

I’m with my work colleague Lauren, who’s a year from retirement. I watch this other me, again in astonishment, from my bedroom door.

‘Ah, that’s a beautiful picture, David,’ Lauren says, eating a scone with lumps of butter mixed in with jam.

‘Thanks, how’s your grandchildren?’ I say, leaning forward as she searches through her phone for pictures of them.

‘Jessica’s talking about boys. Getting boobs. And she got her first period last week. Painful.’

I sup on my overly expensive peppermint tea. The hot water burns but soothes my throat. I’ve never self-harmed, but that’s the closest I’ve ever got to it.

‘There she is from five years ago at a Halloween party.’ Lauren extends her right arm straight out to my face, and continues to eat her scone with a fork in her left hand.

‘Fantastic,’ I say, with a smile.

‘You lose them around eleven,’ Lauren looks up at me, abandoning her food.

‘What do you mean?’ I reply, my eyebrows squeezing together.

‘You’re their superman for now. But, at that age. Eleven, maybe twelve. They turn towards their friends, teachers. Anyone but you. Enjoy it while she’s still so small.’

I take out a picture of my daughter under the table, to confirm her innocence. I stare into her smile. It reminds me of a warm apple pie, it makes my tummy feel warm, fuzzy and soft. Her cheeks could be confused with a marshmallow when pressed on with a thumb if blind folded. I rub my index finger on the screen, and twinkle her nose.

‘Teenage boys are the worst,’ Lauren says.

I can only see her dyed blonde hair now, her eyes firm in her mini laptop.

‘What do you mean?’ I hope my voice doesn’t sound confrontational.

‘The twenty-four hours’ access to anything, no matter the content, has their brains ruined and they expect. It was just a kiss behind a tree in my day. They swarm around teenage girls like bees to honey.’

*****
My alarm clock goes off. It’s six thirty am. I move the over powerful heavy sheets off me that should be banished until the winter comes. I make my way over to the basket attached to our bed. My daughter Sarah is waking from her sleep, her little eyes trying to open wide. Her head turns to the side towards her mother. She begins to open her eyes. The faint urine smell mixed with the rubber from her nappy suggests she needs a change, and the blue tick right down the middle confirms this intuitional suspicion. I lift her up over my shoulder, and I whisper into her ear that she’ll always be mine and nobody, or anyone or anything is going to take her away from me, ever. I change her nappy, wipe her soft skin with a baby wipe. She’s fresh, again.

‘Child snatcher,’ my wife says.

Sarah begins to scream for food. My wife, with squinting eyes from lack of sleep, scoops her up from the changing mat, by the neck, and shovels a bottle into Sarah’s mouth. The process is done as easy as fitting a key into a lock. I lay my head against my pillow. I’m about to check the news on my phone but this morning, I leave it aside. I close my eyes and put my hands interlacing behind my head. Recalling. That other me.

Creative Writing Ink June 2017 Winner

Friday, July 14th, 2017

Metamorphose

m.nicole.r.wildhood

We travel at all times: days, sets of nights skewered
by earnestly buzzing suns on metal trees
days already half worn with expectation
of all the time in the world.

We walk home perched on the lip
of believing that this is all there is
or this is all there should be
or this must be just the very beginning.

Remember the sounds.
Remember faces.
It is past time to grab the home bus.
Looking back is a pastime

of the regretful – no better dancing partner! keeps time
perfectly always before you
like you could make something of its emptiness
if only you weren’t yourself.

May 2017 Winner

Monday, June 5th, 2017

LOOKING FOR HAPPINESS (SHOPS)

Marvel Chukwudi Pephel

Who knows how to peel lies from the tongue
Or how to wash weighty grief from the soul?

In the dark, a wife hears her heart pour
Like the sink tap she forgot to close –
It’s a mixture of lies and fears.
She knows the man is out again sharing part of her
With strange women.
But she must not tell herself it is true.
In the morning when she goes to the grocery store
Or the Chinese restaurant down the street,
She feels everything she haggles price for is Happiness.
She cuts the meat gently, afraid it might be her heart.
She pours enough sugar into the pastry,
Because she knows, subconsciously, that Happiness
Ought to be sweet.
She would do this for a long time
Until she comes to a point where she must either find real Happiness
Or learn how to spoon-feed the man
With the delicacy of collected lies.

Creative Writing Ink March 2017 Winner

Friday, April 21st, 2017

Wine

Kevin Doyle

Entering the local shopping centre with my mother, the breezy air conditioner above the entrance feels like the warmth from a hot water bottle as it hisses down on me. As we make our way towards our destination which is Tesco at the back of the centre, Mam pushes the trolley as she comments that the clothes shop beside the butchers has been doing the same closing down sale for a full six months and they’d want to get a move on with it or else it’s just a big fat lie in order to make a few extra quid. I side glanced at her as she made that comment. Mam must’ve got a few encouraging remarks on her new hairdo in work because she’s in good form today. She usually has a general sadness about her, so when there’s even a sniff of something joyful coming out of her mouth, I listen to her like an eager therapist properly does with their most troubled client. There’s no real aliveness in her though, most of the time. And, the truth is, the only real vibrancy I’ve ever seen from her was when she picked up the phone a Saturday morning about two years ago, and shouted into it, ‘you can keep him, you whore.’ Dad’s clothes in a black bag were thrown from the top window soon after the slam of the phone. Dad shouted at her from the garden that she must’ve got that from Coronation Street or something, no wonder I’m leaving he said, because all you do is watch tv anyway. I can’t look at that soap opera in the same way ever since that infamous day. It’s like driving by an old house you used to live in. It just feels wrong.

We potter around the various aisles until we come to the real reason we are here. She checks out the special offers on the shelf ends in the off-license section. She has a golden rule passed on from her sister that the bottle must have a deep hole at the bottom of it or it’s not of high quality. I bow my head and think back to the time when I was a child in Newbridge, out the back garden, trying to dig a hole to China. If only I’d built that tunnel. I really don’t want to witness Mam looking at her most prized processions with such glee. She puts the bottles into her perfectly fitted cardboard wine carrier and places them in the trolley as delicate as a mother might do when she lays her baby to bed. At the checkout, I plonk the bottles on the conveyor belt first, followed by the food. They clatter together as they move up towards the checkout girl. It’s like the bottles are full of life now, having a chat to each other about how they’re going to destroy Mam later. That, or they are laughing at me. I put my hands in my coat pockets and dig my fingers deep into my stomach, deeper, as each bottle scans. I shuffle by Mam and put the wine into the trolley. I cover it with the family sized crisps to hide my shame. I thought all this would become easier, in my twenties.

February 2017 Competition Winner

Friday, March 24th, 2017

The Heart of India Grey

Lucy Thynne

When India Grey was five years old, Grown-Ups often told her she was a ‘funny’ child. She never knew exactly what this meant, and The Parents wouldn’t give her much of a clue either. She was a polite little girl; distinct, yes; curious also, but she had been well brought-up in her small pocket of London; knew how to smile and ask to leave the table, and with all this in mind, it was impossible for her to comprehend why she had been pronounced ‘funny’. The Grown-Ups still spoke to her with genuine interest in what she had to say, and if they did not go away laughing at her far-stretched stories or fanciful opinions – secretly in wonder, perhaps even jealousy – they would at least admit that she was a very beautiful girl, ‘funny’, in her own sort of way. Her hair was dark, straight and pulled back in her signature red alice-band to emphasise the broad globe of her forehead, milky from many summers spent travelling; its only protection a Lonely Planet guidebook that she insisted on reading to anyone who cared to listen. Eyes wide-set and grey, like sharp, bloodless wet stones, any casual onlooker would declare her some sort of pretentious model, or even film star, from the way she languidly sat or posed, to the way you could only notice the small freckle on her upper- lip when her mouth curled with excitement or curiosity – to India, these were the same thing. She was a Grey after all, and that was not something to be taken lightly.

The Greys were strong, competitive; they knew every card game and how to win. They judged a person by their tennis serve; they had lived through enough tragedies to last several lifetimes, and they dressed unforgivingly. They did not look like kind people from the outside, but that was because they were cautious. They did not want their already broken hearts to be broken again.

You cannot sellotape a broken heart, as her mother had always said.

Three extraordinary events would happen in her life, and at each she would encounter her heart. The first would be when she was just six years old, and had discovered a Tommy gun buried at the foot of their apple tree; pressed its cold, beetle shell to her cheek and contemplated murdering her older brother (just to see if she could). She liked the idea of dressing up as God, coursing electricity through speedway veins and then: snap. Popping a lung like a balloon, a small cross drawn for the heart to pierce; to hold it; to drop it like a peach stone to the ocean floor. Surgeon to patient, patient to surgeon. Breathe into the barrel. See the way the light enters the bullet, arc your back slightly, drink the chamomile sun. Unlatch the clasp, tighten your grip–

India, the strange boy had whispered. Don’t do it.

Little would India know that she had just fallen in love, nor that this would not be the last time he would save her life. She would turn seven under a tiger-lily sky, hand in hand with the boy whose name she could never pronounce; drawing their futures on graph paper to make their print on the world.  Sweets were like heroin and the air was soupy with dragonflies. Mangoes grew like sticky heartbeats and they would guzzle its juice like bears, laughing in arpeggios as he told her of the fiery summers in his home country; the lobster-red suns and glass lakes of her name’s origin. He spoke in quiet lurid breaths and she in excited cries, their bond deeper than the prejudices that drove them apart. She loved the syrupy whisper of his native language, the shh shh of barley around their feet…India would never really let him leave. She made a snow angel in the soil and buried her heart along with the gun. He exited stage-right.

The second would be when she turned 43, diving into the sea to save her daughter who could not swim but wanted to anyway. The sky was drunk on thunderstorms, an alabaster swirl of heliotrope grey. Her husband would hold her head to his chest and tell her that she had done everything she could, but as they pressed their bodies together like emperor penguins in the rain, the absence of her child would shuffle around their feet; take up all the negative space. She could feel the hot little body hug her leg, the soft smell of infancy that she still clung on to. Her hands were numb with cold; rain-stained, and for the first time in her life she realised how stupid she had been, to think she could make her own permanent history, when she, India Grey, was as temporary and small as everything else in the universe. India tried to remember how it felt to be happy. Exaggerated, perhaps, but still, poetic. She wondered why she had ever decided to bring a child into this world, a world that seemed so perfect when she was younger but now seemed war-ravaged, debilitated, torn. It was so much harder falling out of love than in, she thought. A heart-shaped scar split her sternum from where the water had cut through her. She vowed to never grow attached again.

The last would be when India was very old, old enough to start to understand the heart, but young enough to still fall in love. The sky was like spilled gasoline, not artificial, but veined with indigo, moonless, cold, and bright. Her life had been extraordinary, but complex. An eventful chapter, she decided, complete with the curious meetings with both grief and joy, and rich enough to precede the next – to wherever life would take her. Watching the last train draw a thin line of pallid light across the coast, she laughed foolishly to herself as she remembered being called a ‘funny’ child. She was different, that was all, and if anyone wasn’t on this planet then it would very much surprise her. It was an adjective that she wore with a bizarre kind of pride, and suddenly she felt like shouting it against ocean’s endless hiss, bled by its capillary waves. I’m a funny old woman! she wanted to say. And pressing her hand against her chest, she felt strangely comforted by the murmur she found there, the beating of the heart of India Grey.

December 2016 Competition Winner

Thursday, January 26th, 2017

The Redness

M T Ingoldby

There were two men on board; Bren Vandoros, the younger, who was wiry and thin and lashed himself to each task with a young man’s fierce romance for the unknown; who lifted crates far heavier than himself with a merciless tyranny of will over body and bathed his soul in the spray cast over the prow – and Cleto Manjova, the older, who had known nothing but the strenuous demands of the sea; indeed, he had been born a soft lump of coal in the frozen arms of a stowaway found in the hold of a cargo ship. His mother had not lived to see the shore, but he had, and many more since, flinging his spirit across the globe and never venturing further inland than the whorehouses and bars of the harbour towns. Bren could not guess Cleto’s age – he looked perhaps sixty, though with his seemingly inexhaustible supply of tales and cavernous grey eyes he could well be over a hundred. At night the pair would retire, battered, to their single cabin and Cleto would recount stories while Bren listened in rapt and hungry silence, periodically topping up cracked glasses from a casket of nameless ale.
“And when was this?” he would ask.
The old sailor would chuckle throatily. “I tell you, is the same. The sea, always the same.”
Now he spoke of having witnessed a school of orcas tear a grey whale calf from its mother, far from the Arctic shore, and how the mother bellowed such pain that shook their whole vessel and echoed through its timbers. Then the mother had disappeared into that dimension unknown on land; the plunging deep, where light is barred and sound arrives in dull subsonic thuds, like the footsteps of giants. In that moment Cleto knew the anguished mother would never return to the light. The tale ended.
Outside the wind flung silver ripples across the tranquil sea on which their small craft was precariously balanced, a minute speck on a boundless immensity. Bren was struck after each tale by the gruesome thrill of being allowed to exist by the dispensation of an ocean, like some vast beast, too serene to swat the flies from its skin. The grey undulations outside reinforced this idea, like blood being carried through broad subcutaneous veins, converging into the currents that powered the heart of this huge, world-sprawling brute.
The next morning Bren woke above an empty bunk. As usual Cleto was already on deck, assessing the day’s weather. Bren had never seen him sleep, but a man like any other must take his rest sometime, perhaps in the early hours of the morning when the ocean slumbered fitfully around them. Emerging on deck to the bracing vista, juxtaposed against the confines of the cabin, filled Bren with a rare humility. Its power was absolute. He leant over the coarse rail and entertained the youthful fantasy of self-destruction, of giving himself to the sea in glorious surrender, that always took hold before the day’s toil brought out the fight in him. He tore himself away to see Cleto unusually still and gazing out from the rail opposite. The ropes were untouched, still slack in their overnight moorings.
“Cleto,” said Bren.
Cleto turned, though his eyes retained their focus on some remote point and he spoke with strange grating depth. “Boy….” He shook his head.
Bent looked at the sea to account for the old man’s disquiet, but it had quelled and the sky a seamless white. He was spurned once again by Cleto’s finer sensitivity to nature and drooped to ask him, “what is it?”
Cleto took his time in responding. “Signal,” he spoke finally, “came at night. Bad news.”
Bren reflected he must slept very deeply to have not heard the harsh note of the radio through the wall. He waited for the old man to continue.
“Bad news on shore. A sickness there. We stay out or it take us too.”
“What sickness?”
“I know it,” said Cleto. “Called it the Redness. Makes a man mad. Starts in like a rash on y’arm or leg and grows o’ your body til it’s in your head, till all a man sees be red, all he thinks too. Nothing to do but pray for him.” He brushed memories from his trouser leg.
Complications angered Bren: he had set sail to escape them. He yearned for progress, to feel the the ropes tear his hands and to strengthen himself against the nothingness about them. He scuffed his feet on the rough deck. “What do we do?”
The old man indicated he did not know.
“How long?”
“Ah. Could be a week maybe. Maybe more.”
“We should head back.”
“Naw, lad. Only food water for one month, two aboard.” Their voyage had lasted almost three, following a chance encounter at a dockland bar.
“We can ration. I won’t eat. We can fish.”
“Naw,” and Cleto spoke the words the young man was dreading. “Wait. We do this only. Sit tight wait for signal.”
The boat swayed. Bren spat violently and cursed. He wanted suddenly to throw the old man overboard and set course for shore, sickness be damned. Cleto looked at him and knew what he was thinking, which was enough to send Bren pounding back inside.
Hours later when Cleto returned to the cabin Bren had tied a morsel of spoilt meat to a length of twine and attached the other end to the handle of a broom. Cleto said nothing, and Bren felt his disparagement and worked with greater fury to carve a groove into the broom’s end along which the twine could run without slipping. He finished soon and strode out on deck. Cut by the old man’s indifference he knew his victory alone against the dull sea would earn him respect and was in any case preferable to giving in. He cast the line overboard, and waited.
Time slithered by, measured in shades. The sky grew dark in all directions at once, from white to grey to black without one bite or enlivening breath of wind. Bren sat, teeth set grimly to the cold and the bitterness of failure and did not turn even as Cleto emerged on deck to relieve himself off the side. He waited a further hour, lashed the rod viciously in place and crept back inside, where the old man was drinking. Bren passed him wordlessly and that night dreamt of great violence without an enemy or perpetrator.
Two weeks passed without a catch. Each day Bren would ask “any word?” and the old man would break gradually from his repose and shake his head, and Bren would storm from his side in frustration. The sea remained interminably calm: so level the curvature of the earth could be seen plainly. Day swelled and night shrank about them like a vast lung, providing the only rhythm to their bleak monotony.

On a day like any other they lolled in the cabin. Outside the sea trembled. The old man stared into space with eyes as grey and sullen as their surroundings and the young man was watching him. There was a mole on Cleto’s throat to which Bren’s every nerve was poised and alert: it appeared to stare back. It shook with the old man’s breathing and before long it seemed that Cleto knew this, knew he was being watched, and his inscrutable silence was a deliberate ploy to antagonise Bren and mock his futile efforts, his desperate lust for motion, freedom; it drove like a white-hot spike into Bren’s mind a homicidal rage which built until it could no longer be suppressed and rising then to snatch a knife from the drawer he advanced on the old man snarling with the knife raised and aimed at his throat. He crossed the room in two strides. The old man did not move, barely lifting his head to observe his attacker. Bren wavered – then rammed the serrated blade into the old man’s knee. Cleto moaned and hunched over the wound. Bren wrenched away the knife and together they wrapped an old cloth tightly round Cleto’s knee to staunch the bleeding. Neither said a word and Bren plunged out onto the deck and screamed at the sky until the cold air chilled his wrath and brought with it reason. Then he fell to his knees and wept. Beside him, the twine hung still.

Although rationing had not yet been declared, neither of the pair touched the last scraps. The old man did little, moved little, and spent hours at the rail in motionless congress with the slow sea, or lying on his bunk with closed eyes and crossed arms like some regal corpse. Only by his gaze was his unfaded strength belied.
Forced into unwilling alliance with nature, the boy’s antagonistic soul had turned inwards for opposition – he starved himself with ferocious defiance, and inflicted silence on the old man who seemed at all times maddeningly unconcerned. One night a slack ribbon of moonlight was trembling on the water, drawing the eye nowhere, and a vein pulsed in Bren’s temple until he was compelled beyond reason to act, no matter how absurdly, and he swung a knotted rope over the side of the boat and lashed at the water, again and again, the knot pounding the surface and scattering the light into glittering waves and crying out like something maimed he felt the gaze of the old man from the shadow of the limp sail and turned and left the knot like a hopeless anchor in the sea and threw himself inside, his mind boiling.

Under the old man’s impassive gaze, Bren was breaking down.
He was fenced-in, pent-up, spluttering; a tethered firework who cursed in his sleep, flung his thin arms at the air, and all around the vacant wilderness gaped back from the seal of the horizon and by night even the brightest stars appeared as dim and insufficient air-holes in a suffocating sphere. The wind and still sea rustled static and though no more than a hundred nautical miles from land there was no wildlife at all: no birds, no boats, and nothing stirred below them save the glacial crush of the earth on itself. The sea was blank as milk. The sun was a white hole. So far, Bren had dreamt of nothing else.
He awoke at the crest of a guilty wave and came out on deck looking to break the long silence.
“I’m hungry,” he confessed.
The old man was silent.
“Aren’t you hungry, Cleto?” he pressed.
Cleto nodded. “Truly.”
“We should make for shore.”
“Can’t do that.”
“It might be over. Likely they forgot us.”
“Can’t know it.” Cleto still had not turned.
Bren said: “If we don’t eat, we’ll die. Both of us.”
“Yes.”
“You’ll die first. And I can’t sail her alone.”
Cleto nodded at this admission, knowing it had pained the boy. “Could be.”
Now he turned. For the first time Bren could see the doubt behind the man’s determination. It had cost him greatly to turn and the lines in his face were taut and rigid with effort. He had a stoop that was new, and Bren could see plainly his silence and slowness were not a display of contempt, they masked a growing hollowness that if revealed would weaken the boy’s hope. Bren was frightened. He looked away, at the weak, buried sun now only a spectre in the dismal sky. Cleto grunted then headed to the bunk from which he would not move for a long time.

Nothing, as though the bone sky resisted even the distinctions of night and day. Bren slept from habit alone – he did not know when or for how long each time. The immense pressure of an ocean was compressed into their cocoon, horizon to horizon sealed and empty of life. It was hell, absolute, unending, that rendered their very survival a miserable and meaningless erosion of strength and soul, and the slow decline into numbness of every faculty. Absent of life, it was Death. Without death, it was merely suffering. Only by suffering could Bren believe that such a place existed.

Death was close. A husk remained of Cleto. The radio was silent.
Bren stayed out on deck for days at a time. He hated the old man to see him lying there so passive and pale with barely the strength to cough. He had begged the man to let him hoist the sail for shore but Cleto only shut his eyes and grimaced and Bren even now had not the will to act against him.
Bren made the rail his crutch. Sometimes he would moan with hunger, or else cry wildly at the waveless plain, though more often he would peer wordlessly into the deep like an open casket for hours to the exclusion of all thoughts but the surety of death. He suffered greatly, more so than the old man who dozed immobile within; who seemed to accept the dwindling options fate afforded them with docile calm. Perhaps the hunger had slackened his will, as his own grew more acute: A cruel punishment for his powerlessness; and the curse of hope, of believing there was some course yet open by which to remedy their plight, burned in his veins like a slow acid.
He sat heavily, bent over his aching gut. All was calm. And yet some prescience born from sleep made him look out to sea where by some confluence of nature and nightmare a wide V of ripples appeared in the wake of some submerged mass and nudged their vessel awake. He watched as not twenty feet from him a long, broad back blossomed from the smooth surface like the birth of an island. It was life. A jet shot skyward from its blowhole; a huge, battered tail rose in pursuit and sliced downwards without a splash and was gone. The skin of the sea healed so quickly that Bren could not say for sure if it had really broken. It had been a hallucination, a gross phantom broken from the tatters of his mind and loosed upon his sight. He would not believe it. And yet, real or imagined, it awoke in him a strange and powerful certainty, as though the sea had granted him a signal at last – a purpose that he, for all his passion, could not have come to alone. He sat there, gathering resolve, feeling his doubts thaw and ebb and his blood warm in readiness. His lips moved in prayer and finally he rose, the sea shimmering at his back, stumbling once more to the cabin.
Cleto watched him with eyes that gleamed in a body marked for death. They followed the boy’s approach intently. Taking the knife still stained with the old man’s blood Bren lay down next to Cleto’s bunk so he would not have far to move when it was over. There was victory in the dull depths of Cleto’s gaze. Bren lay down and drove the cold blade to the hilt between the ribs above his heart and in agony ground blood from his tongue in a deathly grimace. Red broke over his chest and between his fingers and soaked against his back and shortly then he was dead; fulfilled and bound for a longer and even more mysterious voyage.
At last the old man moved. Raised up on one elbow he tipped himself onto the boy’s body, quenching his face in Bren’s chest. Cleto drank what he could and lay to sleep on the cooling corpse and when night had flown over with a slow beat of its wing he awoke refreshed and took from the hold a bowl and a filleting knife and claimed back his strength from the outlasted flesh. What he could not eat he stored at the base of the boat against the cool membrane of the hull to keep it fresh.
The dormant sea relaxed and resumed and what had gone before was permitted as ever to continue. In two days the old man had recovered the vigour to handle the ropes, raise the mainsail and angle the tiller single-handed towards shore where he would undoubtedly meet another young contender beset by wild intimations of the ever-hungry sea.

November 2016 Winner

Monday, December 12th, 2016

The Christmas Party
By Cheryl A. Van Beek

Through steamy windows sweating in shared anticipation,
red and green bleed into a melting glacier of slippery roads.
Traffic streams, her leather pump burdens the accelerator.
Would she ever get there?
As she drives, she sees herself
already at the party,
hears the carol of voices, liquid foaming,
feels the warmth of crackling hearth flames.
Candle light flickers with spruce and cinnamon.
Clichéd silhouettes kiss beneath mistletoe.
Above all, he was there.
He smiles and leans in.
Pheromones twine with cedar.

Lost in reverie, she misses the yellow light.
Its amber glow floods her eyes as she careens over the edge.
Holly lies unconscious in her merlot-colored velvet dress.
Her maple hair ripples on the ground.

Her subconscious rallies.
Sifting images, it recasts the scene.
A crowd gathers, voices clink like ice in glasses.
Rushing through the slushy brook,
water fizzes like champagne bubbling into flutes.
Amidst strobe lights, firefighters
smother her car’s flames.
Above, sugary snow-wisps whirl
off waxy leaves of mistletoe-entwined evergreen.
Brine and balsam mingle as the paramedic leans in.

CWI October 2016 Winner

Friday, November 25th, 2016

From the Edge

Sue Morgan

Why am I here in the shadows? I stare
At ordinary people in an ordinary scene,
In an ordinary diner, under artificial glare.

A dame in a red dress sporting light auburn hair,
A guy in a derby looking awfully mean,
Why am I here in the shadows, to stare?

The nighthawk sits, seldom a word to share,
A barman in white being so terribly keen,
In an ordinary diner under artificial glare.

A diner designed to swallow all cares,
No ornamentation, bright surfaces clean,
So why am I here in the shadows, I stare?

Her shoulder dips, her fingers declare
That she’s sweet on him, or so it would seem
To this ordinary diner’s artificial glare.

It’s hard to make out they’re having an affair
Particularly now, they know they’ve been seen.
So, why should I care, in this shadow nightmare,
Some ordinary diner under artificial glare?

September 2016 Winner

Monday, October 17th, 2016

Dancing through Darkness

Kevin Doyle

In spite of everything, she still had the cigarette tip resting on the base of her lip with the ash hanging on. She stood over the sink straining the brassica vegetables, gazing out onto her long wide garden through the kitchen window. Her eyes narrowed at the flash of afternoon sun. The steam rose from the sink, causing her eyes to squint into the inhalation of odourless, boiling vapour. I was reminded of the swinging thurible entrenched with burning incense that will be used at her funeral, according to google, in less than twelve months. Her pencil case with tubes was stuck onto her midriff and to break the haunting pain amongst the family I asked my mother-in-law for a HB pencil.

The black Michael Jackson gloves always came out at some stage during chemotherapy to combat the numbing freeze that took hold of her hands and didn’t let go until the chemo poison left her body.

‘At least I’m not itchy and yellow anymore, I’m just turning into a skinny bitch, my dream figure.’

Despite her courageous humour, a black cloud covered my heart as I looked into her yellowing eyes and gaunt cheekbones. Was it only last year she celebrated her fiftieth birthday? I felt a sharp pain, a selfish pain that my year in Australia was cut short.

Three days from Sydney, the wife and I were feeling the effects of travelling via Southeast Asia. I was a former shadow of myself, my muscle mass built up over time from training in the gym all but gone, my physique now reminiscent of Fido Dido, the 7up man. I also had a pot belly owing to the undisciplined delightfully delicious carbohydrate choices I had made. Our aching legs and backs settled into the mattress that had to be made of rocks in central Bangkok, the receptionist’s voice ringing in my ears, ‘No window in room, insects come through, bite bite. Air conditioner broken. Apologies, buy fan. Wind on face.’ In a sweat daze, dehydrated or hungry, I couldn’t decide which side to lie on, my left ear was fully awake as I caught glimpses of the phone call between my wife and her mother. I rubbed her spinning headache away with my thumb, curling it around her forehead until she fully wept herself to sleep. The mother-in-law had got a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. This wasn’t the new beginning we had planned.

We both moved into my mother-in-law’s for four months before we eventually found our own place. She pulled me up on my lazy manly ways and didn’t think twice about letting me know it wasn’t ok to wipe the mirror with my grubby hands after a shower to see myself in the mirror shaving. Or, abandoning my boxers in the bathroom was unhygienic and it wasn’t ok either to leave my porridge bowl with the sticky oats on the side for someone else to clean. It just wasn’t correct she’d say, she wasn’t running a cleaning service. She was divorced ten years now, not used to the mess us men like to leave behind. But it wasn’t all about pointing out my true ape-like features. She could dance.

Sitting in our normal seats one night watching television, Dirty Dancing’s “Time of my Life” came on MTV. I could see her head move up and down to the beat.

‘Nobody leaves baby in the corner, get up out of that,’ I said.

After the first refusal, I brought my mother-in-law up to her feet and gently clasped her frail skinny hands in my palms. Her hair nearly all gone, I looked into her smile and I could see the young lady who would have owned the dance floor a year ago. Moving around the room, I spun her around and brought her into my zone again and we danced till the end of the song. My wife, her daughter, a couple of days shy of her twenty-eighth birthday, cried behind her iPad, continuing to search ‘health foods for cancer.’

Her Jack Russell grew into my greatest distraction during that time. I’m convinced that little creature evoked every good emotion inside everybody during the death sentence period. She couldn’t walk Daisy. Cancer had cemented her to the corner chair in the living room. Walking man’s greatest manipulators in the local park, her dog friends would come up and ask how she was. My subconscious mind would utter the terrifying word ‘dying’, the real world words conjured up something a little more productive. Daisy, the small little narcissist with a coat of snow, would poke her wet button nose up against my bedroom door and head butt her way into the room and expect to be walked straight away. I always caved into her self-important demands. She’d lead the way and by the time we got to the park her tongue would be hanging out to the left nearly touching the shoots of grass rising to meet it and when her beady eyes engaged with mine, I’d bend down on my knees and count down from three and let her off. She’d say hello in her own dog way to the birds, the oak trees and she’d witness a full sky instead of the walls and ceilings she had come far too accustomed to over the past few months. Just before we’d go back to the house, I’d run my fingers through her soft fur and reassure her, everything would be ok.

Visiting my mother-in-law a month after moving out of the house, she was found collapsed on the ground in her dressing grown with pegs in each hand and resting on the pile of clothes she was intending to hang out. The pain in her back and sides and around her whole body was spreading and she screamed for her daughter to get her to the doctor’s to stop the knifelike sensations. This was the moment I knew she would never step foot in her own home ever again.

*****

The warm whoosh of anti-bacterial handwash and the smell of metal at the air-conditioned sliding doors front entrance to the hospital always, without fail, made me shudder. The patients in their pyjamas puffing on their cigarettes in the no smoking zone would make me snigger. Once I’d get further into the hospital the snigger would turn to grief and I always regretted my arrogant judgement when seeing what these patients had to go back into. Let them have their fun. She would hang around the canteen rather than be on the ward and have to face off with her new friends, the others on death row. In her wheelchair, the skeleton sight of life disappearing before my eyes, she would eat little bits of the nutritionally devalued food and sip on tea. The morphine had control of her now and was hiding the real agony of the situation. Family visited regularly, but she was getting tired of all the attention. Tired of cancer. Just plain tired.

When the phone call came, I was doing a sales call in a shopping centre one and a half hours away. My brother-in-law didn’t need to say much, ‘it’s time’ was enough. Running down the escalator, in flight mode, I jumped into my car and sped to the hospital. On the ward, I couldn’t see any colour in anyone’s face but clearly visible was the pure sorrow wrenched across each and every one of their hearts. My mother-in-law, the previous day, said she would let everyone know about a hospice. She must have decided she was doing this by her own rules. Close friends and extended family members went into her single room with tears clenched to their faces as they kept their head down and patted each other on the back and then got out of the discomfort zone, squeezing white tissues as a stress reliever-pleading for the elevator to hurry up. Walking into the room, her breathing reminded me of the first time I ever got winded on a football pitch. It’s a peculiar sound, the noise of death, loud and with a rhythm and rhyme to it, make no mistake about that. At one stage, she sat bolt upright and pleaded something under the influence of massive amounts of drugs, all she wanted was a hug from her daughter and son. The day crept into night and darkness fell on this November night. The family stayed with her for every moment, while the others, me included, stayed in another room full of uncomfortable chairs and a rotten silence. A nurse popped her head into the room I was in and let us know, ‘it’s time.’ The family opened up the doors. Their cheeks were blotched and swollen and there was raw red stinging bags under their eyes. It was over. I hugged my wife the way I squeeze a cut lemon, holding on tight for that last bit of citrus, its bitter taste lingering a long time after. I went into the room and held my mother-in-law’s lifeless hand. I bowed my head. Closed, my eyes. Remembering. Our dance.

August 2016 CWI Competition Winner

Thursday, September 15th, 2016

Goodbye Breeze

Anne Walsh Donnelly

I wasn’t going anywhere on my own. And I was sure that as soon as Peter heard what Mother was planning, he’d put a stop to it. We’d escape from her bellowing and Father’s bleating and I wouldn’t have a crick in my neck from looking at the dirty flagstones in the kitchen. There’d be no more of her towering over me, spitting and saying that scouring the floor was all I was good for now.
“You dirty scrubber…”

“I’ll never let anyone harm a hair on your head,” said Peter, the day he turned my world inside out, on a stack of hay in the lower field.
He was laughing and joking with me as he always was and the next thing I know we’re kissing and his tongue burned mine; in a good way. His hands swept over me and brushed away some of the bitterness that Mother had sown in my heart. I still can’t help wondering how it didn’t hurt that much. But I was consumed by the feel of a man losing himself in me. That and the smell of him mixed with the scent of the freshly mown hay. I never saw a sky as blue as I did that day, and the days after. Even the corrugated iron on his hayshed, where we’d often meet in winter, wasn’t as rusty as it normally would be. But colours are colours. They don’t ever change.

He couldn’t stay long after that first time nor did he ever.
“Herself will be looking for me,” he’d say as he’d wipe himself with a handful of hay or grass or sometimes even my underskirts.
I’d let him go because I knew the sooner he went, the sooner I’d see him again and the picture in my head would carry me through the cow-milking, calf-feeding, butter-churning, Mother’s bullish face and Father’s hollow-sheep eyes. Even when there was nothing to be cross about, she still gave out.

Peter didn’t talk about his wife much when he was with me but I asked him once, “Why did you marry her? She’s so old.”
He was always more likely to answer my questions in the few minutes before he’d pull up his trousers.
“I suppose I felt sorry for her when her husband died. And look at me now, a man with the biggest farm of land in these parts.”
“Only it’s not yours.”
“Maybe not but it’s a fair sight better than trying to farm the boggy scrap of land that my father left to myself and my brother. You could hardly feed one family off it, let alone two,” he said, rolling away from me.
“I’m sorry … I didn’t mean to upset you.”
He stood up, settled his shirt into his trousers and pulled his belt tight.
“It’s okay. Sure, I’ve a grand life now and meeting you has made it all the sweeter.”

As he bent to kiss me, I thought I might be able to prise him away from his wife if I gave him something that she couldn’t. We’d make a new life for ourselves somewhere else and I wouldn’t have to put up with Mother and her briary moods anymore.

A few months later I could feel my body change and it didn’t take Mother long to notice.
“For one that’s always been so scrawny you’re getting a bit fat lately,” she said, after breakfast one morning.
“It’s not from all the food I get here.”
Out of the corner of my eye I could see Father sneaking out the back door.
“When did you last bleed?”
I shrugged my shoulders and scooted out of the kitchen, a bucket of meal for the hens in my hands.

When I came downstairs in my Mass clothes the following Sunday, the crockery on the kitchen table jumped as she battered it with the broom.
“You’re not going anywhere near town looking like that. You’ve brought nothing but shame to this family.”
“It wouldn’t be the first time,” I said.
The broom fell out of her hands.
“Grandmother told me before she died. She wanted me to know that I had a brother or sister. Probably having a much better life than me.”
She flinched as Father’s Ford Anglia roared into life in the yard. I could see him through the kitchen window, shoulders hunched over the steering wheel, waiting.
“That was a long time ago. This kitchen better be tidy when we come home.”

I was mulching mangels for the pigs when they arrived back from Mass.
“Fr. Murphy will make the arrangements,” said Mother.
“We can’t send her to a … a mother-and-baby home,” said Father, as he took off his good coat and hung it on the back of the kitchen door. Mother twisted the gloves in her hands so tight I wanted to grab them from her.
“We don’t have much choice,” she said.
“Maybe the lad that did this will marry her.”
“He’s probably already married.”
“I’m not going to one of those places,” I said and ran out the back door before Mother could stop me.
Over the fields, I belted. I hunted through every shed in Peter’s yard but couldn’t find him. Then his wife came out of the house with a face on her that would sour the freshest of milk.
“Where’s Peter?” I asked.
Her eyes widened and face reddened as she stared at my swollen stomach.
“Be off with you now and don’t come back.”
“I’ll give him what you can’t,” I said and stared into her sparrow hawk eyes.
Then I left her standing at her half-closed door and thought there’d be no turning back now. She’d kick Peter off her farm for carrying on with a young one like me. So I waited for him to come get me. Monday passed and Tuesday.

The front door boomed on Wednesday and I started to gather up my bits and pieces. Only it wasn’t Peter.
“There’s a place available in a home on the north-side of Dublin. Take her tomorrow,” Fr. Murphy told Father.
Mother thanked him in the voice she reserved for Mass.
“I’ll help her pack,” said Father when the priest left.

“Oh, child, please tell me who did this to you?” he said, as he stood watching me put the few bits I had in the little suitcase Grandmother gave to Mother when she left home.
The way he asked nearly pulled Peter’s name out of my mouth and I came close to telling him that I was hoping we’d get the boat to Holyhead and start a new life in London or maybe get on a big ship to New York or somewhere else where nobody knew us. But I kept my mouth shut.
After I had everything in the suitcase, he sat on my bed, dragging his fingers across his forehead. I took hold of them and fingered the cracks that Mother and his wretched farm had put there.
“Do I have to go to the home?”
“I wish you didn’t, but …”
The kitchen door slammed and his hand stiffened as Mother roared up the stairs.
“It’s time the cattle were milked.”
We looked at each other and couldn’t even cry for fear of what she might do if she saw us blabbering. He stood up, clasped the little case shut and dropped it at my bedroom door.
“Can I go say bye to Breeze before I go?”
“You want to say goodbye to the bloody donkey.”
His voice nearly cut me in two. I’d never heard him use a swear word before. Indeed he had a path worn from his forehead to chest and out to his two shoulders from blessing himself every time Mother cursed. I started to sniffle.
“Go out the front door so she won’t see you but don’t be too long.”

Peter was turning hay in the corner field. As I watched him, I wondered if our baby was a boy, would he have the same big hands and mousy hair that Peter had. Then his sheepdog barked. He turned and dropped the pitchfork.
“They’re sending me away.”
“Oh, you poor creature.”
He ran to me and wrapped his arms around my trembling body and I nearly squeezed the breath out of him.
“Don’t let them do this to me.”
“There’s nothing I can do.”
I dragged his hand to my stomach.
“I want to keep our baby.”
He let it rest there for a minute. Something stirred.
“Let’s leave this place,” I said.
“But this is the only life I know.”
I clutched his fingers until they turned white.
“We could make a new life.”
“If I leave here all the hard work I’ve done will be for nothing.”
He broke away from me, picked up the pitchfork and skewered a lump of hay. I grabbed the fork from his hand and threw it on the ground.
“So this farm is more important than your baby and me.”
Behind him a big dirty cloud invaded my blue sky.
“Mother was sent to one of those homes when she was my age … never the same again …,” I said.
He turned and paced the ground between the rows of mown hay.
“I can’t go back to being poor again,” he said
The first drop of rain hit my head.
“I won’t come back.”
He wiped his eyes with the sleeve of his shirt and picked up the pitchfork. Then the rain started to pelt down on top of us.
“I’ll never get this hay saved now.”
So I left him in his field, with his half-turned wet hay. And I hoped it would rise up and strangle him to death, a long slow one; though something told me his wife would do that anyway.

The next day Mother stoked the raging fire and sent sparks all over the hearth. She didn’t even turn to say goodbye. The Ford Anglia stuttered when Father started it and then lurched over every pothole on the gravel road to town. I looked out at the hay yet to be saved, to take my mind off my churning insides. As the grey buildings of the town rose to meet us, Father’s shoulder bumped against mine and I bit my lip to stop myself from crying. We were early for the train so we waited in the car. He rummaged around the inside pocket of his coat and handed me a bulging brown envelope.
“I sold Breeze this morning. Peter gave me a good price for him. There’s enough there to get a ticket to Holyhead and a bit more to keep you going until you get a job.”
“Thanks. She’ll go mad when she finds out.”
“It wouldn’t be the first time,” he said, as he stared out the windscreen.
“Why do you put up with her?”
He turned towards me.
“It’s the only life I know.”
Then I reached over and clung to him until we could hear the roar of the train as it thundered into the station. After he deposited me in the front carriage, with a kiss on my forehead, I watched him walk down the platform and it struck me that he had the same broad shoulders and long back that Peter had. Only Father’s shoulders were a lot lower and his back all crooked and I thought that by the time Peter was Father’s age, he’d probably be just as stooped.

July 2016 Winner

Monday, August 22nd, 2016

Halloween Cider

Kevin Doyle

I am hidden in the silent dark behind fresh smelling peppermint leafy bushes on an ice shattering cold Halloween night. The air tastes crisp and the painful cold of the night sticks pins through my black jacket making my teeth clatter and my cool body shiver. The fireworks shooting in the distance mix together the loud colours red and orange and explode in the sky, the bright colours disappearing very quickly as the night returns to its quiet dark self. The smoke left behind I can imagine smells like Grandma’s fire when she throws in the extra coal and makes the room insufferably hot. We could do with Grandma’s warmth right about now. I can see the last of the children being brought around by their proud parents in the estate and they will be full with different flavoured sweets tonight, the witches and ghosts as well.

Looking down at our Tesco bag for life full with eighteen cans of cider, the three of us open up our first can. My friends Tom and David accompany me on this night. I have been anticipating the clink and gush and the lingering apple smell all week, dreaming about this moment mostly during Mr Walsh’s double Geography on Wednesday afternoon. The reality is the alcohol smells like bleach and tastes like Mam’s fairy liquid lemon. I gulp another swig out of mine. I’m sorry but I have to wince at the light red coloured unpleasant sensation of poison. The other two are acting like they are supping on a can of fizzy pop. I know they are feeling my pain but are hiding it better. Finishing our first can, the little liquid metal froth scum at the end of the tin cylinder is flicked onto the moist grass that I will be playing on tomorrow in my under-14 league game. We all squeeze our first can together, crushing them and make a manly grunt sound. I’m already on the phone and Rock ‘n’ Roll Kid plays out with us all humming the words to ourselves. It may be ancient and I wasn’t even born when it was sung at Eurovision 1994 but it gets the hairs standing up on the back of my neck. The can is having its desired effect. I get a text. I don’t believe it. Sarah, the hottest girl in the school next to us is joining us with her two mates. Time for another tin.

Earlier before meeting in the dark bushes, after my shower, I sprinted to my room to make sure nobody in my family saw all that hairy brown fluff growing under my armpits, which is so embarrassing. I tried to shave it off with my sister’s leg razor, but I made it uneven, raw red and unnecessary pimples developed straight after the insane shave. Drying myself in my room, my chin was sore as I dabbed the towel on it. I looked in the mirror and it was full of little spots, some witch like with green goo visible just in time for Halloween and the others with rice pudding texture deep under my skin impossible to burst. My voice is irritating me these days as well. I sound like a broken musical instrument, properly a saxophone. I want to talk to Dad about all these issues but he’s never in the house, ever. He plays golf a lot with his friend Olivia, who looks like a porn star by the way. I overheard Granny say she shouldn’t be hanging around with married men. She must be a few years younger than Dad as well. I’m surprised Mam allows him to hang with her, considering I am starting to know what men think about daily.

We are apes that have no control, I’m convinced of it. Where’s the evidence? My physical body for one. And two, my pecker. I remember when I used to use it just to pee. There’s never a perfect time to tell Mam about how I feel. She hides her glass of Budweiser behind the toaster when Dad isn’t in the house. She thinks I can’t see it. I never say anything to her because I know it makes her feel enlightened. Maybe I should suggest that the three of them could do things together? Maybe Mam could take up golf? Maybe.

Sarah has arrived and she doesn’t look anything like the stunner I see on my way to school. Her eyes are rolling into the back of her head and the violent smell of vodka off her is deplorable, even vile. Her mascara is smudged and is running down her cheek like the aftermath of mud hitting a window on a rainy day. She is swaying from side to side, her legs just about holding her up. Her words do not make any sense. Put me in central Beijing now and we are at the same level of understanding. It’s a scientific fact, according to my sister, one girl in a group always cries on a night out when drink is involved. I officially don’t fancy Sarah anymore.

The alcohol is really soaking into my blood now and pumping through my apple veins. I’m very vocal and confident now expressing my opinions about people who annoy me in school and general blasphemy splutters from my vocal chords and everything is becoming double. I’ve hidden my feelings about Dad but they are rising to the surface. The picture I’ve hidden in my subconscious has come out of its hiding place and this new character controlled by alcohol is alive inside, unfortunately outside as well. The picture of me peeking out my living room behind my curtain, the cloth hurting my eyelids as I look through the white greasy fabric and see Dad kiss Olivia full on the lips for only a few seconds as they sit in her BMW car, just up from the house, won’t disappear. He swings the golf clubs around his back like nothing has happened and puts on his family act as he enters through the door. The smell of fear always stenches out the house when we hear the crunch of the key in the lock and Mam, my sister and I become shook still, hoping we don’t say anything out of turn to annoy him. I can hear Mam fling her beer into the sink, running the tap at the top level to let the addiction evidence flow down the sink and finally open up the third drawer in the kitchen to pop her Polo mints into her mouth and crunch the sugar minted glucose syrup circles to hide the smell of her escape.

I don’t like the way Tom is edging with Sarah. She is completely not in control of herself or her surroundings. I see him leading her off away from the group around the corner and I know he is taking advantage of her because she has a naggin of vodka already on board, maybe more. My mother warned me about him before. She said his natural dark skin, perfect combed hair and charm is initially appealing but underneath the mask lies a self-obsessed person and is someone who would step on a lot of toes to get to the top. How Mam can say this about a fourteen year old? I don’t know. That said, with Mam’s sentiments ringing through my ears, I shout at him to come back to the group but he keeps walking. The best thing to do with five and a half cans on me is to crack the last one off Tom’s head, he can’t ignore me then. That’s exactly what I do.

I’m a big fan of MMA so I get into their fighters’ stance. Fists clenched, leading with the left and the right tucked behind. My left foot in charge but my secret is my unknown right, hidden ready to be unleashed at the right time. I charge towards Tom and he catches me solid on my jaw straight away, blood getting spat out and some getting swallowed down my throat. I check my teeth and they are all there, thank goodness. I go for another right hook. I think I’m swinging like a professional but I’d say I look more like a drunk thirteen and a half year old with anger issues who hasn’t thrown a punch or kick since the womb. Tom has me in a headlock now and is squeezing me very tight with one arm and smashing me with the other, my nose in particular getting a right thumping. I hit the floor and lay pretend dead. How the night went like this, I’ll never know? I was just defending a girl who was about to go to the unknown. I can feel bile coming up to the top of my throat and I puke up Mam’s roast dinner and poisoned apples. David is the only person left in the group and he pats my back and reassures me everything is ok and to let it all out.

As I’m walking home alone in the frozen silence, I’m thinking I’m going to get in so much trouble when I get home. My sister is out for the night but Mam and Dad are going to kill me. I’m going to be grounded forever when they see the state that I am in and considering I have a match tomorrow as well, boy they are going to be pissed off. On my way back to my house, I get a text off Tom apologising for the fight and I write back to him it’s ok. Looking at my house, Dad’s car is not there. The house is fully locked up but the alarm isn’t on. As I peek through the window beside the front door, I notice the living room light is on. Mam is still up. After three attempts, I finally open my front door and lock it gently behind me. I walk up the hall, knowing my life will change now when I get caught with my face looking like a boxer in round 12 and the smell of alcohol off me will be detected by the poor cover up of chewing gum. I open the hall door and Mam is sitting at the kitchen table on a chair, her forehead flat on the table, two arms collapsed in front of her. Three bottles of wine are in the bin. I take my mother in my arms and she is like a rag doll. She reminds me of a baby, her head bouncing back and forth without control. I leave her on her bed, fully clothed. Her dignity, still intact. I kiss her on her cheek and I retire to my bedroom. I tuck into my bed holding my face. I hear the pounding of rain on the gutter outside my room and the lightning flash is seen in the distance and the bang of thunder’s rumble is on the way. I pray to God my game is called off tomorrow.

June 2016 Competition Winner

Friday, July 29th, 2016

Presents for the Children

Eleanor Kerr

The last part of the Wendy house that he made for his daughter’s birthday was the ladder, with left over wood that was loitering in the dusty loft of his work shed. He had so many girls that it seemed to be always one of their birthdays. He waved at a couple of them playing in the sandpit near the house and they ran inside, giggling. Once the idle discarded planks were startled into regimented lengths by his saw, he started twisting each solid rung between the side rails and roughly nailing them into their permanent position. His few other bespoke designs for the children looked on and cheered him from their seats among the cigarette butts in the shed’s shelving. He thudded the hammer down and stretched.

A prominent zebra wood mandolin for his son displayed itself brightly on a window ledge. He had made it to the soundtrack of the son’s drumming which irritated him from the upstairs window of the house as it always did, a feeling which he tried to bury under enforced joviality, creating a mirage of familial similarity in his mind. However sometimes he felt the boy deliberately didn’t try hard enough to maintain this illusion, and so he was made to endure the knowledge of the disconnect between them. He knew that he stayed in his room drumming and barely came outside specifically to punish him, unlike the girl, who was often around. His big hands dropped the bundle of remaining ladder rungs clattering onto the ledge as he examined the spirit level. These were soon disturbed by the boy’s cat, which sprung onto them from outside and crouched, suspiciously sniffing and twitching its ears and tail. A podgy wad of tabby fur squished over the grain of the wood as its soft chin rubbed against the freshly sanded edges. Sawdust scattered the floor. With his free hand he angrily pushed it away and it retreated to the other end of the ledge. Pausing, he ran his fist along the smooth resilient length of the next rung, knocking on it compulsively, and then glanced outside while rotating it in his hands.

The soon to be birthday girl sat absorbed by her pointed feet stretching out of her orange dress, facing away from the house, on the pinewood swing. As the swing was at the far end of the garden, it was her escape from that ramshackle cacophony of siblings that otherwise consumed her. The siblings, discourteous as ever, nevertheless noisily spilled out of the house back across the garden onto the undulating surface of the sandpit, threatening her retreat, and his own.

Once the ladder had endured an ultimate brutal sanding down, he hoisted its now emaciated frame outside to join the other constituents of the Wendy house, swearing as he almost tripped over some cans and bottles by the bins. This proved too much for the cat’s sensibilities (its ideology was one of intolerance for anything contradicting its policy that large objects should remain still at all times), and it indignantly skulked off and weaved away through next door’s flowerpots. As he passed, the orange dress caught his eye, flaring out and she swung. She ignored him despite his cheerful wink, sulkily scuffing her shoes in the dirt. It was disconcerting. Perhaps she sensed the great void of difference between them too? Perhaps she too thought him inadequate. His new ladder’s hooks caught on the bar inside the Wendy house and he went outside to breathe air free from the overwhelming smell of fresh paint, and to tell her that it was almost ready. She raised her eyebrows at him and pursed her lips into a fleeting smile, working on swivelling the swing around so that the ropes twisted together. He watched her gain speed as she unspun her way back to the swing’s original state of unravelled propriety.

In a way he dreaded the completion of these projects, which at least interspersed his dreary daily monotony with some hammering or sanding. But what about when it was completed and his daily life unravelled again into rage and hopelessness? At least he had these children. He went and got a can of beer and sat by his shed as the evening grew darker, watching them playing in the sandpit by the backdoor. Julie came outside when one of them started crying and reprimanded them for not playing nicely enough. She took the crier inside, frowning over at him and his beer can before disappearing into the house’s innards. She had been especially off with him lately, speaking only in taut sentences, eyeing him suspiciously and judgmentally. With a surge of anger he threw down the can and got up to go inside.

The photos of his children as babies stared accusingly at him in his empty kitchen. His girlfriend had put them up everywhere after the social services had taken each of them away, and they did nothing to help the biting resentment that gnawed at him. As he paced around the kitchen, kicking beer cans out of his way with every few steps, he could hear the next door children laughing through the wall.

It started to rain, and the Wendy house dripped and creaked by the low fence at the end of the garden. The girl in the orange dress eyed it over the top of the fence, its ramshackle façade covered in sticking out nails, and she shivered as she ran up the garden to her backdoor. She could see Aunt Julie illuminated in the brightly lit kitchen, watching her come up the garden from the window. But she could not see anything in the dark kitchen belonging to the man next door.

April 2016 Winner

Wednesday, May 25th, 2016

Birthday

m.nicole.r.wildhood

These thirties shouldn’t be mine yet.
I used to wait for them like I waited for
Christmas morning.

Then, a few years ago, I started to notice
Santa’s skeins of white hair, his rugose forehead,
that his reindeer would have to drop him

off right by the chimney so he didn’t have
far to walk, just like we do with my fragile
grandmother.

Age seemed painful, impossible –
to get and to live with, but Christmas started
to crawl up quicker every year.

This last one – I almost missed it.
I have been executing these extraordinary
disciplines of eating, bathing, breathing,

apparently at Godspeed – how else would I have
gotten here so fast, broken so soon
my pinky-promise to myself that,

as I eagerly grew up, I would never get old?
That I would always crawl
in the car head first not slide in sideways;

always cannonball into the pool
not slip in slowly like you see moms
doing at the edges; always chew gum

and always tremble with bright eyes through each day
between December 1st and the morning where
all you’ve ever wanted was waiting for you

under a sagging fan of pine? The last year I tried
to keep this tinsel-tinged holiday spirit
until my birthday at the end of February was my 29th.

Thirties, from this close to it, seems less
like a pile of gifts under a bright tree
and more like a jaw ache (no Wrigley’s for me)

or a square of maybe gorgeous
but very cold water: I’ve missed
the chance to slide in inch by inch.

March 2016 Competition Winner

Wednesday, April 27th, 2016

Forget-me-not

Colette Coen

It was months since the funeral, and the grass and weeds had taken full advantage of a wet spring. As she drank her morning coffee Cynthia gazed out into the garden. The once manicured lawn now sported dandelions and wild red poppies spread through the beds. Martin had devoted half of his life to it, pruning roses and clipping hedges until a coping stone, broken hip and pneumonia cut him down.
She knew that the neighbours looked on the garden as a sign of her mourning, as if she was too depressed to leave the house and pick up his tools. The young man next door had even offered to help, but she refused and handed him whisky instead of a spade. She had no desire, she told him, to carry on Martin’s futile battle against nature.
She did clear out his shed though, opening the door as if it were the entrance to Aladdin’s cave. But there was no porn, no whisky bottles, no sign of any peccadilloes whatsoever that might have explained its mysterious hold over him. An ordinary garden shed with rakes and trowels and weed killer. An ordinary garden shed which had become more attractive to him than her.
He had found her one May Day morning, face down on the lawn, washing in the dew. He used to understand her ritual, now he muttered ‘Drunk’ under his breath and stepped over her. She spat out the grass, added droplets of salt water to the ground and felt hate for him for the first time. She could not be shaped like a privet hedge, or trained like clematis, so she had been discarded like a dug up annual. Thrown on the compost heap and left to rot, emitting heat and stink as she did.
In July her son visited again from Manchester and spent his entire weekend putting things right. As a child he had created mud patches as he practised his dribbling skills up and down the grass. Now he powered up the lawn mower for the first cut of the season; pulled out the weeds and wildflowers with no thought to their usefulness. And with outward respectability restored, he returned south to his own suburban idyll.
Within a fortnight the weeds had sprouted again, and Cynthia laughed until she cried. The garden had increasingly become a barrier between them. Even on good days when she wanted to enjoy the fruits of his labour, sit with a G&T and a book; throw the odd compliment about his dahlias; he seemed to resent the intrusion. He would Latinate the flower names in response to any query and snap off any attempt at conversation.
There was a time when they gardened together; pouring over library books; making joint decisions in the garden centre; agreeing on a new theme. He used to cut the floribunda for her and for days the house would be rejoice in their colour. But he hated watching the cut flowers die, so he dug out the roses and replaced them with potatoes. Then he pulled up the hydrangeas with their watery hues and replaced them with pebbles, hostas and hardy shrubs. But the worst thing that he did, on the last day they gardened together, was to pull out the swing set and take it to the dump. ‘Robbie’s too old for swings now,’ he reasoned, but she screamed at him as he drove away: ‘We’re not finished with them yet. I’m not finished with them.’
When night frosts were forecast, and her feet remained cold, he would rush out to the garden and lay newspapers and blankets over his precious shrubs. Then he would tramp his mud into her kitchen and soil her sink with his blackened hands.
Even when they were parted by the walls of the house he could irritate her. The gentle snipping and purr of the lawn mower, that had been the sound of their early years, gave way to strimmers and cutters and blowers, all plugged in and turbo charged. There was no peace to be had for miles around, but jukeboxes and bingo callers could drown out the noise.
Autumn came and the leaves lay where they fell and turned to slippery brown mush. Mice settled down for winter in the compost bin, and the vegetables rotted in the ground. She kept herself indoors plumping cushions and dusting ornaments, but also began to search more frantically around the house for evidence that Martin was ever there. It was always her domain, but she had never appreciated how little impact Martin had made, or maybe how little impact she had let him make. She began to question if she had excluded him from the house, in the same way that he shut her out from the garden. Maybe he stopped bringing her flowers when she complained one time too many that the petals made too much of a mess when they shed; or that the smell of the flowers was overpowering the Glade. Maybe she made the house too claustrophobic for him, with all her nick-nacks and needlepoint. Maybe the way she had watched him from the backdoor felt as though she was blocking the way in.
At dawn on the shortest day Cynthia scattered Martin’s ashes on the frost-covered grass, keeping him a thaw away from his beloved soil. She raised a glass to him, then threw back the whisky that she had used to fertilise her life, now realising how it had shrivelled her at the very root.
Next spring she would collect seeds of wildflowers and plant forget-me-nots and bushes that would give berries. She would put up boxes, baths and sugar-soaked sponges and would watch patiently for the bees and the butterflies and the birds to come. They would fly, flutter, sing and pollinate and with new life resplendent, she would move on.

February 2016 Winner

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2016

Takotsubo

Jane Salmons

The takotsubo bides its time
hunkers down on the ocean floor;
stone ventricle waiting
magenta mouth gaping,
a cardiac apex promising love.

An octopus sculls by,
cephalopod eyes
searching for solace
in the murky grey;
eight arms trembling,
suction cups tasting
the cinnamon sweetness of
earthy red clay.

Inside the takotsubo,
it’s safe and warm.
The octopus rests
her soft boneless mass;
three hearts thumping
blue blood pumping.
a haven, a harbour,
a home from home.

In the blink of an eye
her photophores flash;
the sea chameleon’s skin
turns pink
in synch
with the terracotta trap
within whose walls
the creature will die.

Creative Writing Ink February 2016 Winner

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2016

Over my dead body

Daniel Roy Connelly

In death                       my hair is ruled back with a loving brush, lines
are lifted miraculously from my face which wears a look of lightness in
repose, neither of which I boast simultaneously floating the road to my
next-and-final stop

nonetheless                 set fair with a dandy clip and sprig in my lapel
I’m dropping in to catch the general feel of things; busier than I thought.
Thanks, son, for changing me into Ozwald Boateng’s 1999 deep-
purple-moleskine-three-piece

now                             take the two coins away, let me assist with a
waft, watch my eyelids spring asunder, their focus intent on the beamed
ceiling, no trace of movement in the mouth – was that thunder? – repeat
the coins, the kids’ll love it

btw                              if this is someone’s idea of final rest, think again.
Dad’s soul went south, long overdue an eternity of forced creative
labour under careful distant watch.

Is that an erection        in my trousers? Is that why half the town’s
turned up to say farewell one final time to my as-yet-it-seems-not-
completely-passed-over corpse? I must say it looks fine.

Of vital importance       the dead remains: taxiderm me (sand from
Leigh-on-Sea), have me stand in perpetuity in one of Rome’s busier
piazzas, shrouded in Boateng, tourists’ll swear I never-as-much-as-
twitched and leave an abundance of straight-to-trust-fund coins which
will find their way to you,

There                           top end of the coffin, liking very much my
barefoot chic, scrubbing another tear away with your sleeve. I try to
touch your face, son, but I am no longer made of anything. I have only
come because you believe in me still like I told you to that day twelve
years ago when you asked me what you’ll do when I am gone.

Here’s the answer        and I’ll be on my way:
take from this final supine view everything you want to smirk at for the
rest of your life, work it on to the grandchildren: the joke-shop eyes, the
absurd couture, the surprise in the trousers, the fact your financial future
is furled, secured (albeit with many trips to the piazza’s bank), the fact
the empty purple moleskine prank the lid slides over is currently lost in
song all the way to the underworld. That’s what you can do now I am
gone.

Creative Writing Ink January 2016 Winner

Thursday, February 25th, 2016

Throwing Moves

Marion Clarke

Down at the youth club a single mirror ball sends flashes of silver shards around the almost empty dancefloor. I blink when I am blinded for a second and upon opening my eyes, find tiny stars dancing in front of me. I feel dizzy and the Bee Gees explain that this is Night Fever. I gasp and try to capture the moment, thinking that this experience, on this particular evening at the disco in my hometown will stay with me forever. I must therefore remember every detail.

fairy tale
a single drop of blood
on the snowdrop

Four girls are curled together in the centre of the roller-skate-scuffed floor. Through the soles of my feet I feel them making the floorboards bounce in time to the throb of a bass speaker at the side of the stage. They huddle, giggling, then shuffle apart as one girl gets braver and dares to dance her best disco moves, looking over her shoulder every now and then. As usual, the guys are slouched against the peeling walls, trying to look sullen and interesting. They do not dance with any of them…nor with any of us.

We leave, two hours later, with hairdos fallen and our forbidden lipstick long gone, its cherry-flavoured stains erased by Club Orange sipped from thick-rimmed bottles.

We swear to each other that we will never return to that particular ballroom of romance – but secretly we know we will.

sunset on the lough
a periwinkle chiffon
of twilight