Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

CWI May 2018 Winner

Monday, June 4th, 2018

Christmas Morning

Beatrice Hughes

 

My mother is immortal in the way she holds her cup of tea;

in lamplight, before the sunrise, with her eyes shut.

Her hands could be housing a baby bird, and through years

of love, my father has learned not to fill the mug

all the way to the top. He allows for a strip of ceramic

where she can rub her thumbs, as though moulding

the clay between her fingers.

At six, I would have run forwards into her warmth

but there’s something freezing me inside this moment now.

Limbo before the creaking hallway floorboard rouses her,

I hold my breath to keep us there a little longer.

CWI April 2018 Winner

Wednesday, May 16th, 2018

The Broiler Chicken

Fabiyas M V

 

Her comb is no longer red.

It’s meaningless to preen.

She stands hunched as a deadpan mushroom.

Only flesh matters in her man-made coop.



She cannot forage in freedom.

She’s not a living thing.

There isn’t any wax to seal the pain-pores.

Bedding absorbs her vibrancy.

A dust bath, she longs for.



No cluck.

Nothing hatches.

Her thoughts transform into coral tree thorns.



Reek of feces and death dominates.

Yet her blind mates peck voraciously.



There’s neither postmortem nor FIR.

This is a recurrent licensed murder.

CWI March 18 Winner

Friday, April 13th, 2018

To the clinic at Ouradou, Angola

Jean Cooper Moran

 

My mother gave birth on the red road as I wriggled my way through her long journey,

Kicking and squirming in her soft red cradle,

Drawing the salty liquid in with ease, expelling the same,

Unapologetically unrefined, raw, of no value.

 

Except to the woman who carried me crooning constantly,

Stroking her hand down my bulging cradle with love and no regrets even at the times of greatest pain.

Her hypnotising lalala wound into my crib of fluids

Stilling the shocks of movement as she walked to her goal.

 

She sought rest and helping hands to make her well again.

I sought release, pushing at the prison as my strength grew, uncompromising in my intention, sparing her nothing.

At times she rested, all the many shocks and reverberations stilled in my world.

Stupor overcame us and darkness drew us down.

We were at peace together she and I.

 

She breathed out, in, pulling the sharp atoms of that dry landscape into her chest, Coughing awake, conscious of the cold.

I waited floating in warm oblivion, all movement stilled.

I slept until she woke frantic for food,

Crouching in the bushes retching, snared by her body wastes.

 

If she ate I was unaware, my needs always fulfilled.

If she starved I heard a different music, shrill squeals from her empty gut and hollow spaces.

She vibrated to her hunger, walking without pause,

Staggering from side to side without thought for I, myself,

Lazing in her swaying stomach, feeding ferociously from her vanishing strength.

 

As the day’s heat mounted, degree on degree making a cauldron of her lungs she stopped, leaned down and vomited.

The shocks thrummed in my world of warm repose, waking me and making me kick again.

I pounded her cradle in rage as she fell to her knees,

Careless of my comfort, clutching her stomach.

 

I felt her pressing on my limbs, seeking reassurance that I lived, then all movement ceased.

Perhaps she slept, hitting the ground so eager for oblivion.

I rested, gently floating, stretching my body to its limit then curling once again,

Thumb in my mouth, her heartbeat sounding through my water world and the blood rush hissing in my ears.

February 2018 Winner

Friday, March 2nd, 2018

Skopelos

William Lythgoe

 

I sit outside our apartment

holding a glass of ouzo

that glints in the sun.

 

Across the bay the Old Town

waits for us.

 

Tonight we’ll stroll

back in time

past the supermarket

past the bus station

past the harbour

where the ferry is unloading

 

and on towards the white churches

that stretch up the hillside

to the ruined walls of the Venetian castle.

 

Just past the town hall

we’ll stop

 

and Melissa will welcome us

into her family’s taverna

facing the sea.

 

Her brother, Ianos, will take us

into the kitchen, where their mother

dominates the scene.

We’ll see, smell and maybe

taste what’s cooking

and make our choice.

 

Then sit on blue chairs

at a blue table

and order half a kilo of house wine

and wait

for the goat with plums and onions.

 

Her husband will stroke his moustache,

warm up his creaking accordion

and two or three of their children

will creep downstairs to listen

 

as his song expands

into a blue-sounding stew

of shifting semitones and twisting tempos

they call rembetika.

 

Creative Writing Ink January 2018 Winner

Wednesday, February 14th, 2018

3am

Jack Cooper

 

I watch you flit to wildflowers

along the length of Elgin Avenue;

streetlights blazing in halogen orange.

You float with drunken joy, shoes in hand,

wig torn off in a burst of glitter

that settles where you land.

A moth, at the mercy of the wind

CWI December 2017 Winner

Thursday, January 18th, 2018

Shagor – The Sea by Afia Khatun

The large, plump and well-fed brown speckled ducks laid the tastiest huge eggs, which were boiled and de-shelled, lightly dusted yellow with turmeric, then fried a golden brown on all sides, before being curried in an oil rich red gravy, where they bobbed up and down in the juicy sauce; or they were smashed and whisked into delicious, oniony, coriander fragranced, bright yellow colour omelettes, fried with small, but potent red-hot green chilis, that left a satisfying sharp sting on the tongue, relieving the heavy, drowsy monsoon heat.

The ducks tried to stretch their wide wings in the cramped dark space under the rice store, where they were penned together securely. They quacked incessantly throughout the night, fretting, jostling, and squabbling with each other for space in the small, cramped coup. A few feathers were shed after each ferocious argument or altercation, lightly carpeting the ground. These were scraped away and cleaned in the morning, along with the sticky, chalky white droppings they had adhered to.

In the distance, the sound of a giant horse galloping across the waters of the haor echoed across its black darkness. But for the moonlight reflected across its surface, resting wild waterfowl, migratory birds, and freshwater fish and snakes of all varieties swimming in its secretive depths, for all intents and purposes, the haor appeared to be completely devoid of any human habitation.

The haor was the vast, undulating wetland lake surrounding the village, stretching for thousands upon thousands of miles in every direction, swallowing nearly every inch of verdant land in its path, reducing the small, slow villages of the entire region into irregular microscopic dots of tiny islands on a watery map with no border, boundaries or edges. It eventually joined the other haors of the region, forming a limitless body of water within one gigantic basin. The only signs of human habitation in this formless, shapeless, wilderness were these distant and remote stranded houses, surrounded by clusters of trees, their bright green leaves in sharp contrast to the dullness of the water and the sky.

The haor had grown naturally following the customary seasonal monsoon rains that had started several months earlier in April. The villagers called it the haor, meaning shagor (sea), but dropped the ‘h’, to ‘aor’. The aor was unique to the region, and held many mysteries, including fearful stories of terrified travellers, marooned at night in boats, seduced by beautiful women with long black hair, appearing out of the darkness, offering to guide them back home, as the weak yellow white light of the hurricane lamp, depleted of oil, flickered and died.

There was nothing but swirling dark water as far as the eye could see, and long thin tired white snakes swam out of the aor onto any land they could find, slithering frantically along a slippery muddy courtyard, and up the steps to the house, crowding near the wooden brown door like beggars, forked tongues flickering, seeking refuge from the water. Not poisonous, they were picked up by the tail and carelessly flung into the bushes, thus foiling their escape from the heavy current of torrential rainwater that poured non-stop from the sky, day and night, night and day, for months and months.

The rain could only be properly described as a deluge from the heavens, an outpouring from the skies. The heavy falling raindrops splashed loudly onto already drenched and saturated dark heads, rolling over soaked, rain blinded eyes, to plop loudly to the ground, bouncing up again with the force of the impact, and splashing down again, in a shimmering, iridescent display. The deep, heavy, dense cascade of rain obscured the view completely. Its tumbling roar was deafening, and as it splashed and splattered onto the ground, it dissolved the hard dry clay soil into a light, foaming mass that expanded multiple fold, like a soufflé that could be stirred easily by a housewife with an ordinary wooden cooking spoon.

The pale grey clay soil, soft, wet, watery, runny, muddy, and slippery, squelched under the rubbery soles of cheap flip-flops, creating a suction action, threatening to throw the wearer off balance. Every single step had to be taken judiciously, to avoid a fall. Men wearing red and blue, white and grey, and green and orange chequered lungis, walked painstakingly slowly, as if doing a ballet dance, balancing themselves delicately, holding their lungi up tightly in one brown, clenched fist, and a large black umbrella up in the other hand.

They tried to maintain a dignified appearance, carefully placing one foot in front of the other. Each footstep threatened to bring its owner skidding and sliding, before flying unceremoniously onto their backs, feet flailing in the air, flip-flops flying off their feet. Sometimes, the sole of the flip-flop got stuck in the mud, jerking the plastic toe joint of the sandal out of its hole, forcing the remainder of the journey home to be carried out bare foot, the toe-joint to be re-inserted later, if it hadn’t broken completely. The flip-flops, costing just a few takas, came in a myriad of colours, ranging from red, green, blue and orange to purple and black.

Someone had taken some red bricks from the abandoned building site where the village primary school was supposed to be built, and laid them in a neat line on the muddy ground to create a narrow footbridge. The school building project had started years earlier, but following the delivery of thousands of ochre red bricks that were unloaded from a lorry on the wide and dusty, virtually deserted main highway, and carried two miles along the village road in small hampers by a long line of thin, under-fed, tightly muscled workmen, the planned works had come to a halt with a certain vagueness. The bricks had been dumped unceremoniously next to the existing primary school in a chaotic heap, as if they were throwing baskets of soft brown green cow dung onto the ground, to shape into sticks to dry for burning in the clay stove, and not hard rectangular bricks that had been pressed to order by a large machine miles away in a factory in Sunamgonj, before being dried in a kiln.

Following the delivery of the tons of bricks, the villagers waited expectantly for the well-known and trusted Hindu builder to arrive with his workmen to arrive to lay the foundations of the building, but time passed and nothing happened. They continued to gauge the situation for a few more months, curiously noting the vast mound of newly manufactured red bricks every day, before they began to surreptitiously sneak them away in small unnoticeable quantities to create makeshift elevated footpaths, as if they were a rural highways department.

These red bricks were scattered across the entire village, creating a mosaic of bright brick paths that zigzagged through it, cutting across the multiplicities of family courtyards that formed the stop and start pedestrian thoroughfare, past each household, rich or poor, busy with their daily chores, or sitting perspiring and fanning themselves on the veranda, against the backdrop of the pouring rain.

There was already a long, tin roofed adobe school building on one level. A former resident living abroad had sent money for the bricks, which had been ordered to build a more substantial structure for the school, but the donor of the bricks lived 12,000 miles away, and without direction, the plans, if there had been any, not being within the capacity of the person upon whom the responsibility for arranging the building works had been placed, fell quietly to the wayside.

Flurries of handwritten instructions in blue overseas envelopes arrived, which were read, then folded away tidily in a pile with the rest. The purchase of the bricks, the main construction material for a brick building, did not therefore lead to the materialization of a building large enough to house 200 children, as had been hoped. The huge mound of bricks, as high as the school’s tin roof, lay discarded reproachfully on an empty plot next to it for years, the pupils waiting in expectation, until so much time had passed, they had finished primary school. Since the primary school had not been built, the plans for the building of a secondary school were delayed.

The headmaster, hearing of the planned improvements, waited for the construction of the brick building too. In the meantime, he continued beating up the children who came for lessons with his long bamboo cane. ‘wack, wack!’ Anyone walking past the school could hear the sound of the long rod making contact with flesh, followed by cries and the headmaster shouting, ‘Hey, you! Stop crying!’ The child who had been punished nursed his or her wounds on the narrow village path leading home, and was not seen in school again for a few weeks.

The aor had formed in the deep basins of paddy fields surrounding the village and the only transport now were the wooden noaka boats moored along the long irrigation canal running across the rear of the village. Banana, lychee and jack-fruit fruit trees that had been planted in the back gardens of the houses, bordered the canal.

The vast green mosaic like expanse of lush paddy fields, maturing slowly and changing over the months from tiny pale green shoots, to a forest of long swaying stalks, where a man in a hurry could easily relieve himself without being seen (and often did), was replaced with what seemed like a desolate expanse of deep flowing water, complete with the danger of snakes and blood sucking leeches, the latter of which clamped themselves onto field workers who entered the aor bare legged.

In their search for land, snakes of all sizes swam rapidly past clumps of white lotus plants that had bunched together in vast swathes that floated slowly along the aor, as if searching for a mooring themselves. Wooden boats moved slowly, their long brown oars dipping rhythmically in and out of the water, pushing and swishing against the dense underwater jungle of drowned paddy stalks, pressed back and forth by the waves, on the brink of being uprooted and washed away.

In the morning, the ducks were led to the canal where they spent the day bobbing up and down in a group, waddling back together at dusk in an orderly, but noisy, gaggling single file. The hurricane lamp was filled with greasy smelling kerosene and lit in the kitchen, the knob turned high to increase the soft light for Bibi’s preparation of the evening meal.

It had rained all day and night, and the water from the aor had risen and spilled over into the courtyard. To the consternation of the householder, it continued to creep and rise slowly over the next few days. ‘Bibi, we have to leave! – let us go to uncle’s house – it is higher up.’

The elderly woman was carried along the slippery track to the foreigner uncle’s huge house, with its endless rooms. It was on the scale of a mansion compared to her own small modest home in this out-of-the-way village, one room leading to another, then to another and another, in a maze of square, whitewashed chambers. Most of the year the house was virtually empty, but today, all the villagers had come to the highest ground and huddled together, shaken.

The flood waters had reached the interior of Bibi’s earthen, tin roofed house, and her large round aluminium water pots, that were scoured to a high silver gleam with a handful of straw and clay by the little girl she kept to help her, floated and bobbed in the rising water as if doing a sad dance. ‘Amina!’ she had shouted, ‘where are you? Stop messing! Come and fill the pots. Then come back and start crushing the red chili paste – I have to put the cooking on the stove. The men will be hungry!’

Bibi knew it was just a matter of days before the aor swallowed up the house entirely. The dam had broken and the flooding had been calamitous. The ducks had drowned in the aor, and their lifeless feathery brown bodies floated upside down in the water, swirled around at the mercy of the ever growing current.

Bibi looked back sadly through her furrowed brown eyes. The water rose rapidly each day, and her house with the tin roof, and the two rooms she had built with her own hands with clay and bamboo and straw, shrank further and further from sight, slowly disappearing under the force of the huge crashing waves.

When the waters receded, only an empty muddy patch of ground remained where Bibi’s house had once stood. It was littered with debris and rotting carcasses of snakes, fish and black water rats the size of cats. Everything crawled with maggots. The banana trees she had planted for shade had fallen to the ground. Flies swarmed around in the air. The floor of her house had been made of clay, and when she stepped onto the ground, her feet sank. The grain store holding the year’s supply of neatly packed round baskets of milled rice had been washed away. The stench of decaying animal and plant matter filled the restless hot air. Bibi wiped away the perspiration running down her face with the end of her crumpled white sari.

The flood had ripped the new silver coloured tin roof off completely and Bibi had watched from uncle’s house as it bobbed and swirled around in the water of the aor for miles, like a giant’s hat. Her four poster wooden bed had been tossed and turned by the waves, smashing against other debris, before landing in smashed pieces, at the shores of villages miles away.

Amina, who was 8 or 9, had also returned and was standing guiltily near the decaying limp trunk of one of the trees that had once been green. She was wearing a pair of old faded red shorts, tied at the front with a piece of string. Her small thin brown legs and feet were caked with dried mud and her shoulder length reddish dark brown hair was dry and matted in one piece at the back of her head, like a flat mud-cake. To Bibi’s astonishment, one or two water pots remained, embedded upside down in the mud, only their flat bottoms visible. They had been dented by waves battering them against the wooden bedpost, the door, and finally against the tin roof, before it was ripped away by a huge wave and carried away.

The water pots had banged against the tin roof for hours, singing in a drowning, deep, throbbing, watery, musical symphony, with no audience to appreciate its ironic beauty. Miraculously, the pots had not been carried away by the waves, but had remained upright, bobbing up and down above the spot where Bibi’s small kitchen had once stood, their round shape and graceful narrow necks reminiscent of the poor ducks that had drowned. After a while, Amina spoke. ‘Shall I wash the pots, Bibi?’

‘So now you’re here!’ the old woman groaned. ‘How do you think I can feed you after this…this calamity! Her thin body shook with grief. ‘Where am I going to get food for myself, let alone you!’ She continued, her voice rising, ‘Go! Go! Go back to your bari!.’ Distraught, she looked for something to hold onto, but there was nothing.

Amina, head hanging despondently, dug her big toe into the ground, drawing circles with it in the mud, like the waves of the aor that had circled around them. A tear fell, splashing onto the dried, caked mud plastering her foot, looking up sorrowfully, she said, ‘Bibi, I,…I…promise to be good…from now on.’

Bibi reached her hand out, and the little girl, sliding and slithering awkwardly on her small bare feet across the still slippery ground, came to her, grasping her thin arm. Slowly and carefully, the pair inched their way back to uncle’s house to decide what to do. It had stopped raining and their feet squelched on the wet ground. The pools of water everywhere would dry out soon. The monsoon was over, once again. They had no food, but with the grace of God, had survived another year without being carried away into the haor. They did not know what would happen next year, but for now, they were safe.

Creative Writing Ink November 2017 Winner

Wednesday, December 6th, 2017

Rhinoceros Skin

Shaunna Harper

She beams,
and I hate every one of her lines.
The ones around the eyes,
especially, with their soliloquies of struggle and strife.
Her hands, once a boxer’s
or a dinner lady’s, now crumpled
and puckered like balls of hated paper.

A sixth, seventh swollen knuckle,
clenched into feeble fist,
a fist that once strangled obnoxious teenage hair
and stroked feverish babies to sleep.
Rhinoceros skin, a lion’s heart
and a skeletal core. Emptied
of seeds, nuclei and bile,
just an old haunting ground
where ghosts and the wind
come to chatter.

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.