THE THINGS THAT LEAVE US COLD, A PROSE PIECE

 

Part I
          I stood by the open window and watched and waited, surrounded on all sides by the wisteria that clung on as time passed by and forgave nothing. It felt like I was watching the seasons change as the leaves lost their gleam in the sunlight, found their darker shade as the early autumn encroached and finally fell to the ground and withered as winter wound its way onto the deserted street. Our quiet little street with the bench just beyond the gate where I’d watched you, from that same window, smoking outside so you wouldn’t aggravate my asthma, in the rain with a brolly, in the snow with your fur hat, one hand gloved and other taking heat from the cigarette you clasped between your fingers as tightly as I was wrapped around them. Our street which is now graced with a flow of cyclists, can you believe it? Paris, the new city of cyclists, which just gives Parisians one more thing to complain about.

          We cycled together once, do you remember, not here of course, in Nice I think it was, in a field covered in red poppies, you at the helm with your soft blond curls unravelling in the breeze and me on the back, with that silly beret you forced me to wear, legs akimbo and arms wrapped around your waist, carried away by the strength and charm of your laughter which was endless and the smell of lavender fabric softener from your t-shirt which I nestled my nose into as if there was nothing more pleasant in the world to inhale when, in fact, it was you I was inhaling, nothing more all-encompassing than simply the scent of you with my head on your back and the world falling away behind us before we tumbled off the bike and tumbled over each other. You still had grass knotted in your hair when we got back to our hotel that night which, of course, left me embarrassed and you elated as the receptionist nonchalantly pointed it out. And so it was, with the memory of all that had once been so palpable, that I watched and waited, watched and waited, finding a certain hope in the sound of every approaching footstep and then disillusionment in the appearance of every human shadow I realised could not be yours.

          And yet I’d known all along, from the very start, the foolishness of my folly, my frivolous foray into the past. But I’d convinced myself that it was fate that lead me back, not regret, not loneliness, not quite the truth I finally realised as the days became weeks before I folded up the months and packed them away with other, niggling, neurotic memorabilia in the closet, in the dark, in the past. It was brave though, at the beginning, going back up that staircase, those old timber steps which wound their way to that silly door with the stupid key I never got the hang of, not like you, in all your practicality, standing amused at all my clumsiness. It was audacious to open that door into what had become a marooned mausoleum in our absence. The years had only clustered cobwebs onto our acquisitions, trophies, treasures. I lifted dust laden sheets off the furniture as if undressing the room, as if I’d find you beneath them with that devilish smile of yours, laughing at my inability to find you like you did so often, all those years ago, when you’d hide in the shower, behind the armchair, beneath the bed, like a child at play at hide and seek. But you were nowhere to be found and yet you were everywhere at the same time. Your imprint was etched into your seat, your footstool, your side of the bed. It was brave, I’m not lying, simultaneously brave and hard and cruel to an ageing man seeking only a scent of what once was and finding only emptiness in three rooms, teasing me with everything we once believed to be all we would ever need in the world.
          Then slowly life began to move on, as it does; necessities, chores, rendezvous, routines and somehow I found reasons to come away from the window without even realising, new paths that took me in opposite directions to the past which I had been seductively drawn to. At first I’d walked to Montsouris, that park, along the hill you’d always run up before me, because that was you, always ahead, always on front, always seeing where we were going before we actually got there or, at least, before I got there. You at the top cheering me on while I gasped for air and crawled, and I did basically crawl up there, on hand and foot and in that tracksuit you’d bought for me because you knew I’d never have the guts to buy it myself. As usual you knew what suited me more than I did. But distractions came their way and carried me from those painful apparitions, those streets we’d once claimed as our own, walking hand in hand in a time when nothing seemed to matter apart from the closeness we shared amid your humour and my desire, the intimacy we’d embraced in that back room with its red carpet while we entwined limbs, lust and love beneath the sheets of that bed we finally battered to death and the connection we created until we got so lost in each other that I managed to lose sight of who we once were individually.

          Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t that I forgot you entirely, not at all. I’d come back for you, come back to find you, no matter how ridiculous that may sound after so long apart. But somehow it dawned on me that there was a difference between waiting and wishing, and actually living. Losing you had been my greatest waste, perhaps our greatest waste if I can still speak for us both, but I couldn’t let myself waste away anymore while waiting for you too. I hope you can understand that. It was I who’d come back, be it more or less in the shadows, but I wasn’t sure if the light of day would be forgiving to all that had fallen in between us. And yet, even in the bare light of day, your shadow still hung over me, shading me, sheltering me.

          And then he came along.

Part II
          I didn’t go looking for him, if that’s what you’re thinking. It wasn’t like that, well, you know me. I’m not what you’d call the outgoing sort, as I’m sure you remember. It was you who’d found me all those years ago. God, it seems like a lifetime and not just a few years that have whittled away. You’d seen me while standing by the bar with your beer, perusing the evenings prey while I sat, tucked away at the back, blocked in by a group of lively fashionistas, a timid dog feeling older than I should have, trapped and probably terrified.
          But you came to save me. You, with those blond curls. You, in that brown sweater. You, with those pale blue eyes. You, with that look, that brazened determination to push your way through the dimly lit bar, the crowded tables and floor filled tote bags. But you were never one to let anything stop you, you never minded being looked at, being seen, being heard. You remember that time on the metro, someone got on and sang a dreadful rendition of La Vie en Rose, the one song that every beggar, talented or not, thinks every tourist wants to hear and they’re probably right but do the rest of us, the ones who were born here or the ones, like me, who came here looking for a new life, need to hear it also, day in, day out? It was the fourth time we’d heard it that day and it was by far the worst attempt so you stood up and sang it, full voice, full force, trying your best to drown out the accompaniment, much to the applause of the tourists on our carriage and to the dismay and utter horror of every Frenchman on board.

          But that was so you, right there and then, just like it was you back then in that bar, The Open Cafe, mecca to all Parisian men of our persuasion. You, coming towards me, sipping your beer as if nothing stood in your way between you and I, and me, helpless to do anything but be mesmerised by your stare and then, as you came closer, your perfume, but again, it wasn’t the perfume you wore but the scent you oozed all by yourself.

          I met him also in Le Marais, of course, where else do gay men go. I wasn’t looking for anyone, like I said. I wasn’t looking for anything lasting at all. I was looking for something that was nothing. Something that was temporary, no, shorter than that, minuscule, momentary, forgetful. It had been so long since anyone had touched me, caressed me, kissed me, that I was almost choking. Like I was becoming a frozen form of what used to be. A body deserted of all tenderness. I know what you’d say, I can hear you staying it, I’m skirting the issue, trying to make something dirty seem more romantic, less sexual, more visceral but acceptable. I know, I haven’t changed at all it would seem. I went looking for sex. Is that better, does that make you happy? Can that make you happy? I can’t even believe I am here telling you all this. I tell you I’ve come back for you and, in the next breath, I seem to be this sex starved old man willing to take whatever he can under the cover of night.

          Okay, anyway, I’m telling you what I’m telling you. He was there. This time he was in the back of the bar, another bar, that other seedier bar, with the staircase that I hadn’t been able to bring myself over to yet and if I’d had anymore to drink I probably wouldn’t have made it up those steps anyway, so it was probably a good thing that he touched my arm just as I took the first step and stopped me from going any further. He started to talk and tell me things about himself, I have no idea what it was at the time. I was thrown. I was touched, literally. His hand had not left my arm since that first touch and I realised that it was all I needed. Not just to be touched, as exciting and arousing as that was, but, more than that, I’d been seen. Someone had seen me. Do you know what I mean? Christ, you have no idea what I mean, do you? You were never, not for a single day, never seen, not by me, not by anybody. Everyone saw you, no one could ever miss you or want to. But I wasn’t like that, ever. I was more a reflection at times than an actual living person. Not with you, of course, Jesus, no, never with you. But before you and certainly after you when friends stopped dropping by, at first just to give me space and then later it felt like they’d just forgotten that I existed. We had existed to them and then we stopped existing for them and then afterwards, well afterwards I think they put me into the non-existent box too. But suddenly on the verge of finding a moment of nothingness, fast friction in a dark room, someone reached out and took my arm and I couldn’t move, could hardly breath in case it all disappeared too quickly. I wanted to remember the moment for as long as possible so I could recall it again when it vanished.

          I know he was speaking to me because I saw his lips move, lips a touch fuller than yours, eyes your shade of blue but darker. He wasn’t blond though, dark hair, slightly receding which was surprising as he seemed so young. Your height, give or take, slimmer though, not that you were in any way fat, I just mean he was less built, less muscle, less gym I guess, a bit more of a bookworm, not geek but not far from it either. I think I suggested we go upstairs but he wanted to talk, I didn’t want to talk but I didn’t want him to take his hand way from my arm so I let him tell me what he wanted to but the words never sunk in, only the touch, only that tenderness he’d placed on my right arm until eventually I felt it leave me and I shivered, actually shivered. It was august, I’d been back in Paris for over a year, the entire city had taken its usual month-long vacation and it was almost midnight and still 30 degrees and that was just outside the bar and yet, when he took his hand off my arm, I shivered. Funny that, the things that leave us cold in the middle of so much heat.

          But he didn’t leave me. He came back with a drink, two drinks actually, one for him and one for me and suddenly I heard him speak for the very first time. And I listened and he asked me questions and I found myself replying and, as I spoke, he put his hand on my leg and I shivered again. It’s silly, I know, silly, trivial, tiny. I don’t think in all the time we spoke that first night that he had any idea what it meant when his body connected with mine, how beautiful it felt to be touched once again and how painful that it wasn’t you.

Part III
          It rained the first night I walked back to our apartment with him, just as it had rained that first night when you persuaded me to take you home, ever the flirt you were. We had our jackets over our heads to keep us dry, do you remember? One of those tropical rainstorms that graces Paris in August, as if to wash away the dust and heat, though it’s always hot rain, of course, not the full relief the stifling city longs for, mourns for. You can almost see the steam rising from the ground as it falls straight down from the sky. Straight, that’s what I told you that night, which you laughed at, as if I was pointing out the most mundane, the most obvious. But it’s true, and still is. The rain here falls straight from the sky, like water from a shower, not to the left or to the right, not at all slanted, it just drops straight down. You can leave the window open and it never comes in.

          I’d fumbled nervously with the keys to the gate when we got to my building, the building that became our building, the home that so quickly became our home, the one that adapted to you and your sounds, leaned in, to your customs, your scent which still haunts the air on random days. As I persevered with the key, you came behind me, kissed the back of my neck and gently ran your tongue along my skin as if to soak up the rain that fell from the back of my hair but I knew it was just to test me and perhaps in part to taste me. It worked. You had half my clothes off before we’d even reached my first-floor apartment and I scurried with the final lock before the neighbours would hear us, or even worse, come out to find us in such a state of undress and desire. I was not that out, I was not that daring, that provocative, but you managed to bring something out in me, something that had been utterly dormant, a certain appreciation of the unexpected, a fondness for excitement, spontaneity, a carefreeness that was infectious. We made love on the living room floor that first night beneath only the lights of the streetlamps and the comfort of our shadows entwined on the wall. Made love, was it that, I said it was that afterwards, actually I think I thanked you for it in some rather embarrassing, teenage way and you joked that I was merely a good shag which you overly pronounced in your heavy French accent which was all the more erotic. There I was, immediately trying to make it all proper and above board, nothing sordid, nothing naughty, ignoring the silly fact that you’d just picked me up in a bar, taken me home to where we’d stripped each other naked and shaken the leaves on the wisteria outside with our sweaty, salty, sensuous explorations of each other.

          He didn’t kiss me on the neck when we finally arrived, wet through, to our gate. He didn’t rip my clothes off as we climbed our staircase. He didn’t know that each step I took, I felt more and more guilty, that I was bringing him back here, to our place, to our home and possibly into our bed, or maybe even onto our floor. He didn’t pounce on me when I closed our door, didn’t press his body tightly against mine and steal the breath from my mouth with his own lips because he wasn’t you. He stood by the window instead, looking out across the small garden and over the wall into the empty street, just as I had done for the past year. He thanked me as I took his wet coat and hung it in the bathroom next to mine and then took a seat on my armchair while I made tea in the kitchen. I didn’t even have the customary coffee in the apartment. You were the coffee drinker, the true Parisian, while I sipped herbal, fruity teas which you referred to as piss, continuously. When I turned the lights on, he noticed the candles and asked if I could light them instead. I shivered again. That was always your preference. Not the silly scented ones, of course, too prissy for you, just simply so you could watch the shadow of the light flickering on the wall and make up scenes, monologues to connect with their movements. When he said he liked to watch the light flickering I closed my eyes and imagined it was you.
          Was that cruel? Was that too much, too wrong? To be with someone and imagine he was someone else. I held his hand in a taxi while thinking of someone else from long ago, someone said that to me once, years ago, before you, before us, before the emptiness and I thought it to be so horribly unkind. And yet it had become my truth. I didn’t tell him, of course, I would never, I couldn’t hurt someone in such a way, no. But it was how I felt. I was happy to have someone, to hear someone breathing, other than myself again, within our walls, within all that had become our sanctuary and somewhat angry at the same time that who it was in reality was not who it was in my head.

          He had a name, of course, what a stupid statement to make. I don’t really mean it like that, it’s more that I didn’t realise at first that I never used it, never referred to him by his given name. I called him boy, pet, hot stuff when necessary, moody occasionally, but I think that was more me. To use his name would have sounded far too real, far too impolite to you, not like I ever mentioned that to him. I’m not that mindless.
      He called me Monsieur, at the start, which turned into a continuing joke, then a nickname and then my name, as if my own given name became lost and I didn’t mind that, not at all. I’d given you everything I had, including my name so it seemed appropriate that I became just a noun and nothing more.

          And so it went, with the boy and the monsieur; a little story, a little tale unfolding amid all the other daily distractions and, of course, the waiting, well, my waiting.

Part IV
          We’d been living together, the monsieur and the boy, for almost 3 months in our apartment when he first witnessed the illusion he’d created for himself of me being this mysterious, aloof, guarded kind of guy disappear beneath a laundrette and a lot of money. The phrase laundering money was never mentioned so literally before and I saw the shock of who I was hit him, as the mask dropped and the man beneath revealed in his humble state. Somehow he’d formed this misconception that being a writer meant that I had this air of introverted, introspective, subdued magnificence, that my clumsiness was a charm indicative of my mind being elsewhere, dreaming up characters, scenarios, novels in the planning, when in truth I was just hiding out, settling into shadows, comfortable behind the door instead of walking through one and facing people and their complicated realities. Jesus, you know me, I was happiest sitting in my armchair, in my boxers with a book, although you quickly changed the boxers for fitted briefs, house pants and that ridiculous antique artist’s over-shirt which you thought bestowed me with a certain creative look while I thought it to be the perfect cover for a cadaver in a coffin. And yet I still wear it and the boy always laughs at me when I do as if I’m about to make a study of him for a portrait and I get suddenly defensive, can you believe it? I’m finally defending your choice, your taste, your shirt that I only grew to love when you were gone, as if that could somehow bring us closer together. He thinks I bought it for myself. Of course he does, because I told him I did. It was easier telling him that than telling him I wear it because you gave it to me and whenever I wear it I feel like a part of you is wrapped around me. I don’t sleep in it. He likes huggable sleeping positions and I don’t want him to touch you through the shirt. I know, I can hear myself saying it, admitting it to you, of course, not to him, never to him. We are monsieur and boy, sharing a little light on the edge of a life. One of us thinks this is real life while the other is just waiting it out. It’s not all the time, but I still see shadows and wonder, now and then, if they will become you, in time, in hope.

          Anyway, back to the boy losing faith in my mystery. The washing machine broke. Saturday afternoon and you know how I like my routine, fresh bread from the bakery on the corner, newspaper, clean the house, do the laundry and head out while it spins to avoid the vibrations. So I went to the laundrette instead, Madame China was setting out her goods on front of her shop and laughed at me which was her way of saying hello. She’s still utterly incapable of speaking French so she just smiles and laughs, well, more like giggles but it still makes me uncomfortable. What do you say to a giggle?
          Laundry loaded and so I left and headed back to the apartment where the boy was waiting for a promised shopping spree for his birthday. I never have cash on me, these days no one does, it’s pin this, pin that but for some reason I’d taken out 500 euros the day before thinking it would be easier and fun to shop with cash. I was halfway into the bedroom when I realised, in the rush to grab the dirty clothes for the laundrette, I’d also grabbed my jeans. The jeans I’d worn the day before. The jeans I’d been wearing when I took out the money. The jeans which held my wallet. The jeans which were probably in the last stages of a rinse cycle, in the washing machine, in the laundrette, next to the laughing China woman. And in one single moment, everything changed.

          He saw me that day, the real me, a mess of a man on top of a machine, looking more like I was trying to mount it than rid it of money, my money, now laundered money. He saw me and just laughed. I thought he would have panicked, turned and run but he just laughed. He laughed while I cried. The back at the apartment, our old home, his new one, he held me while I sobbed and then he listened while I spoke, broke down, broke it all out, told him everything. Can you believe it? I swear, if the machine hadn’t laundered all my money that day, that ordinary Saturday, I would have stayed, for the rest of my life in the shadows, waiting and wondering. Waiting for you, wondering if you’d ever come back.

          But you never could, never would. It’s not possible. So, finally, I find myself here, standing on front of you. Finally back at the last place I left you. We were beautiful, sometimes a mess, sometimes a disaster, it’s true, but we were beautiful all the same. He knows me now. I let him in, can you believe it? I let him into the world I’d kept prisoner in the shadows and strangely, he, the boy, this creature has found a way to let the light in.

          I’ll still think of you, I’ll still wear that shirt, sit in your chair, I gave him mine. But I might not think of you all the time.

          Well, that’s it, that’s me. I hope you like the roses I brought you. They are white, they are in memory of the light that you once brought to me in a dimly lit bar. I gotta go now, Alex is waiting for me. It feels good to say that. To say that someone is waiting for me now. Alex, that’s his name. He now has a name.

          “Au revoir,” he said as he turned and slowly made his way down the sweeping hill and out of the cemetery, feeling a weight lifted off him. Weight, wait, the waiting was over. Death would come for him one day too, just as it came for the others, even those we love and can’t let go of, but for the moment, death would be the one who had to wait because there was still more life to live.

 

All words and photographs by Damien B Donnelly

AN EXCURSION, THE ALDI OUTING, PART II; 2 EURO A TROLLEY

 

If you missed Part I, click here first…

https://atomic-temporary-23614992.wpcomstaging.com/2020/01/30/an-excursion-the-aldi-outing-a-short-story/

Part II

          We weren’t going till the afternoon, mid-afternoon, which thankfully gave us plenty of time to get a bit of airing into the laundry. They’d been on the clotheshorse for two days now due to the rain and this morning didn’t surprise. Hardly a flood, by global standards, but just look at those shores The Mother said! Thankfully, we had the hot-press and managed to get everything draped around the tank with its boiler jacket looking like it was ready to head out to build a snowman, so at least the clothes managed to get a little hot air if not fresh air.
          We headed out for the bus at 12.30. The cousin was picking us up at 14.40, so that gave us a good hour and 50 minutes to do the shopping, provided the bus didn’t hit any floods. Remember those shores! Unfortunately, it gave us less than 3 good hours of leaving the windows open to get the fresh air into the house before we had to leave it! But we had to go and the air would have to wait.

          It’s 2 euro for a trolley she whispers to me as we are on the walk-up to The Main Event. 2 euro! The Mother said it with the implication that we were no longer in Dunnes Stores or Super Value. 2 euro! How bloody posh, though I imagined The Mother polishing the 2 euro last night with an old pair of knickers, after I went up to bed, till it sparkled or at least half its value was rubbed away.
          In through the double doors we went with the 2 euro trolley and less than 2 hours to navigate the 6 aisles and that all important Hardware Section and she kept saying it- The Hardware Section like it was an exclusive wing of a hotel or private insurance hospital like The Beacon or something.
          She stopped, took it in, looking to see if The Mary had given the right layout and then, looking satisfied though challenged, took of the coat and off we went on the best re-designated route.

          I started on the vegetables, for the up-coming detox, while she ran off to the cake section that The Mary didn’t even tell her about. There was a skip to her almost octogenarian step that a 16-year-old gymnast couldn’t keep up with. I knew we should have eaten before we left.
          She started off buying with a method I call ‘Pull and Fling’- pull everything off the shelves that looks nicely packaged or reminiscent of Dunnes and fling them into the trolley I was trying to steer. It’s not all 2 euro I roared at one point- maybe do a little price check before we need a second trolley for just the two of us and there was me, on the door stop of that food-fasting detox, codename: Starvation.
          However, then came the meat section and all hell broke loose. The Mary had told her about this split-chicken thing you just stuffed in the over, packaging and all, and she was off head-bent on finding one or at least finding a chicken and splitting it herself, right there in the store. Chicken found, she went darker; sausages, pork chops, rashers, duck breast, minced meat and a few filets mignon just to make sure we covered every animal in the store along with a family pack of salmon the like of which the River Shannon has never seen. But thankfully everything had A Good Date on them, I always go for the good date, she says. I know, I mutter under clenched teeth.
          We hit the toilet paper aisle and went for bumper pack; we could have diarrhoea for months and not have to worry. Joy! We didn’t buy the cheap ones, of course, The Mary had advised The Mother to go always for the middle price, not the cheap, not the expensive but The Middle Price so you’ll be safe and your bum will be grateful. They didn’t have her own brand of coffee or washing liquid and that was a bit of a set-back, I thought I was going to have to run and fling everything back onto the shelves and we’d leave empty hearted but thankfully the canned goods came next and there were literally fireworks shooting from her when she realized her precious man-child could now stock up on every pulse possible and all for barely 30 cents a can as she reminded me- I know how much you like your pulses. I began to pray The Hardware Section had a deal in extra cupboard spaces.
          When we realised we didn’t need 2 hours for the 6 aisles we did The Hardware Section twice and picked up every object, inspected it, turned it upside down and over, put it back, took it up and then down again and moved on to the next. I’d love to get some eggs-cups for the microwave, for doing the poached eggs she tells me. Do you think they’ll have them? I looked at her all wide-eyed and moved on as she contemplated a chainsaw that was only 45 euro!

        We reached the wine section and low and behold, don’t tell The Mary, but I was allowed to pick myself, me, the one from the wine bar and France and not The Mary from Thurles, County Tipperary. Although I could already hear the reports that would come back after the tasting; Oh that’s different, yes, different, isn’t it, hmmm, interesting, which really meant- well thanks anyway, but we’ll go back to what we’re used to.

          As we neared the till I had to put my back into pushing the trolley which now felt like a lorry I was forcing uphill with the brakes on. I began to stack our items and noticed how everyone around us took different tills when they saw what I was putting up and what I had still left to unload. Mum was at the other end with bags ready, her bank card in hand and a trickle of perspiration on her forehead. I won’t say what we paid, but that advert on television, in between the ad breaks for Fair City, the one with the shiny family all smarmy about their savings, well the hundreds they were saving felt more like the amount of money we had to hand over. Maybe in Cavan you get a bit more for your money, she says as we struggle out the door with three quarters of the shop.

          I got nothing The Mother says to me as we wait for the cousin, talking about The Hardware Section and I gave her the sad-eye look and blushed slightly when I remembered the mini dumbbells and arm weights I bought myself in The Hardware Section that I already knew I’d never use. Now who’s the edjit!
          And then, just as the cousin pulls up in the car, I’m asked- did we get anything to eat tonight?
          Oh dear! Aldi- we will be back, but hopefully not for another month. And we’d like a microwaveable poached egg cup for next time that maybe we can pay for with the dumbbells.

 

All words by Damien B. Donnelly, with grateful inspiration from the two other members of the Holy Trinity- The Mother and The Mary.

BACK HOME, A SHORT STORY OF THE COMFORTS OF COMMUNICATION AND CONFUSION

 

-Where’s the thing? she asks, her mind racing faster than the push-up response of the recline on the sofa.
-What thing? I inquire, startled out of a semi-induced state of hibernation to save myself from the 2nd instalment of the evening of Emmerdale which was briefly interrupted by 23 minutes of Coronation Street and two visits to the kitchen; the 1st for a cracker and the 2nd for a bag of leftover Christmas nuts…

-Will you be baking anything with those pecans one of these days? came the roar from the kitchen on that 2nd visit and I could hear the excitement in the voice at the thought of an exotic pecan to chew down on instead of the usual insipid old walnut.
-There’s a good date on them, all the same, I always look for a good date, but if you’re not going to use them I might go ahead and eat a few of them and pick up another bag when I’m in the shops during the week, cause I know you like to have your nuts in the press, just in case.

-What thing? I inquire again as she comes right way up on the sofa, one big red hair curler on her head, the others sitting on her shoulders as if waiting to be mistaken for a Beth Lynch tribute act.
-The remote, says she while the phone in her right hand continues to ring. Squares of torn-off kitchen roll, used to cover everything from half-drunk tea to half eaten slices of cake under which the icing seeps into the tissue and you can never go back to eating it, go flying into the air in the frantic flight to pause live tv before the 1st unidentified caller of the evening gives up, hangs up and then calls us back on the mobile, or via messenger on the iPad, all lined up on front of The Mother like the accoutrement required for a Bond Mission; 3, 2, 1, ready, call, answer! Or not, where was the remote?
-Is that it in your other hand? I proffer and she looks and laughs and drops it onto her lap so she can laugh more freely and grab one of the flying kitchen squares from the air and blow her nose with it before relaxing back into her seat as a curler falls down into her nightdress and startles her back into the realisation that the phone is still ringing and we are no longer following what the hell is going on down in the Dales!

She regains control. She grabs the remote. The Woolpack is put on hold!

-Don’t worry, I’m told, we can rewind to catch up on what we missed, and then she accepts the call from the land line and I can hear the voice of her youngest sister, mid conversation to someone we cannot see, on the other end. However, Mum cannot hear so she shouts-
-Wait. Hang on. Wait a minute. Where’s the button? And then she flicks the call onto loud-speaker and I can hear the dust-gathering Waterford Crystal beginning to rattle behind the glass doors of the mahogany cabinet with its fairy lights twinkling with twenty thousand batteries picked up in Penneys last week when she popped into the shops to get me those nuts. I know you love the nuts!

-Where were you? I was ringing. There was no answer. I thought maybe you were in the loo but I knew Emmerdale was on and you’d be watching so you couldn’t be in the loo so then I was going to phone you on the mobile but sure isn’t he after falling asleep like a big fucking lump over there on the armchair with the phone between his arm and his arse. Where were you? Youngest Sister asks again although she hasn’t let in a breath to allow an answer to be proposed.
-I couldn’t find the remote.
-You couldn’t find the remote?
-I couldn’t find the remote and then Damien had me laughing because it was in me hand all along. What’s that down me back? she asks, having forgotten the descending curler amidst all the excitement.
-Oh, Damien’s there with you, lovely. And you’re glad to have him…
-It’s a curler!
-Damien has a curler?
-What? What are you saying, for God’s sake? I think I lost a curler while watching Emmerdale, she says as she taps her head for reassurance. Yes, head’s still there but no hair curler.
-I don’t like it- Emmerdale, full of farmers. What do you think about Sharon and Phil?
-Were you talking to the other one at all today?
-No, or was I? Well, not since this morning, after she’d been out in the field.
-Yes, I know, spoke to her this afternoon. She said she’d been out in the field and then she came back in.
-Oh right, says the Youngest Sister, with a little resentment, as if jealous that that titbit of news hadn’t been shared. She didn’t tell me she came back in!
-No, she came back in alright, because she called me afterwards. Only went out there for 5 minutes.

Silence.

-There’ll be frost tonight, did you know that? Get that water bottle filled. His feet will be freezing next to me, I know they will.
-I know, I was watching the weather. What did you think of her dress?
-Awful. Looked awful on her. She looked better last night in the pink dress when she was telling us it was going to rain all night and yet that never happened. Took the washing in all the same.
-Oh, you did?
-I did.
-Yeah, yeah, right so, yeah.

A moment to catch a breath passes between them where they both respect the fact that neither of them should try and claim control of the conversation at this point.

-Listen, Youngest Sister jumps in with a refreshed set of lungs, Sacred Heart of God, I have to go. The Cat is giving me the eye right now and I know he’s gonna piss all over the floor and he knows I know. Oh Jesus, He’s starting. I’m going, I’ll talk to you so.

And she’s gone. Mum hangs up the phone. The crystal settles down. She looks over at me.

-That was your Aunt.

I know this already, of course, because the phone was on loud-speaker and I wasn’t far enough away like New Zealand not to hear it, but I say nothing and give her that wide-eyed look of surprise that seems to work.

-The cat is gonna be the death of her. She was only on the phone to me there and in the middle of the call it started to pee all over her floor and she only called me this morning to tell me she had washed the floors, just this morning. And there’s the cat; peeing all over the place. I would be…

But the phone rings. The mobile this time. A horrific tune not even a deaf person would pick for their ring tone. She gets up and opens her dressing gown before answering and shakes herself until the big bad red curler drops like an unnecessary appendage from her night dress and rolls across the floor which causes a giggle. Now, ready for battle, she reaches out. She takes the Samsung phone off the table, careful not to disturb the house phone or iPad. She flips the cover over, slides her fingers across the screen, brings the phone to her ear and readies herself for the 2nd call of the night, offering out that usual yet cautionary Hello? which she always gives out even though I know she can see who it is on the screen. But the phone continues to ring. She tries again, this time using her thumb and we have connection. Lord save us!

Sister No. 2.

-I was calling you there on the land line, but you were engaged so I went to call you on the mobile instead, but I had to go to the loo first. Were you on the phone to the other one?
-I was.

Silence. A judgement is made on both side of the line.

-I said that to myself, I said you must be on be the phone to her. I spoke to her earlier after I’d been in the field. The legs are a bit sore now. I thought I’d never make it up to go and pee.

A deep breath from Sister No.2 and The Mother, simultaneously, as if they were both catching errant thoughts.

-She cleaned the floor this morning, did she tell you? Sister No.2 offers up.
-Ah, don’t mention the floor. Indeed she did tell me that she cleaned the floor, sure she called me just afterwards. (Nudge) And then, when I spoke to her later-on, she told me you had called and had been out in the field but sure you’d already told me that. (Nudge to the other) But wait till I tell you, she just called me there and Damien was laughing at me because I couldn’t find the remote for the telly but anyway… you won’t believe this. The Cat’s gone and pissed all over her floor, the floor she cleaned this morning. Ah Jaysus!
-Ah, for Christ’s sake, she just cleaned that floor this morning!

The mobile phone in The Mother’s hand next to her now curler-less head is not on loud speaker but it is on maximum volume so I can hear them both sounding like echoes going into mum’s right ear, out the left and rebounding off every wall in the living room with its glass-doored mahogany cabinet filled with the unused Waterford Crystal decanter and its matching wine glasses, now only 5 after a smash in the sink Christmas 4 years ago by a cousin who only gets offered drinks in a can these days, and those twinkling lights and twenty thousand batteries in a room about 10 foot square but home to no less than 7 lamps, not including the twinkling lights, nor the over-head ceiling light or the many, many battery operated alter candles. We currently have 6 lamps lighting along with the tv and the twinkling fairies and those battery-operated candles. It takes about 30 minutes to turn them all off before bed. The curtains had been pulled earlier, all over the house. 5pm had been designated as a good time to draw the curtains. The windows have different operating hours. They’re usually opened around 11am and a good hour to close those would be 3pm, giving the house a good 4 hours allotment time for letting in The Fresh Air.

-Did she tell you she didn’t like the dress on your woman last night, on that yoke, what do you call it?
-Who, Holly, on This Morning?
-No, last night, your woman with the rain, after the news.
-No, sure I wasn’t watching the news. I was in the loo. Go on, I better call her.
-Go on then, she’ll probably be cleaning the floor cause if he does it then he’ll use the wrong towels, you heard what happened last time, of course.
-Go on with you, I did indeed. Men are fuckers! If I don’t call you later then I’ll call you in the morning. Bye.
-Bye.
-Bye.
-Nighty, night.
-Go on. Goodnight.
-I’m gone.
-Good night to Damien.

And she is finally gone.

-That was your other aunt, she didn’t know about the cat, The Mother says to me. She’s gone to call her now. She didn’t seem interested in your one’s dress. Do you remember, I was calling you last night to come and look at it, but you were in the loo and wouldn’t come out to see it and when you did she was gone. Must have been a poo you were doing, was it?

Welcome Home and good Fuck, I think, but I say nothing and go for the wide-eyed look again. It seems to suit so many scenarios. Maybe that’s why my eyes have felt so strained over the last few weeks, too much of the I-Had-No-Idea look.
The TV goes back on, at last, some distant relative of the late Molly Sugden, once gay, now a father of three children which only he thinks are his, who recently married an ex call-girl who may or may not be his younger sister’s illegitimate child, finally gets to walk into the Woolpack. Regular TV scheduling is now returned to the room and its lit lamps although we have slightly fallen out of time. EastEnders is now being recorded and will be watched somewhere around 22.45 unless he has someone funny or in a lovely dress on the sofa of The Late, Late Show, now renamed The Even Later Show and to be watched on +1, much later.

I think about heading up to my room but all thought is interrupted by the phone. Again. This time it’s the mobile.

Remote. Pause. Change hand. Phone. Finger. Slide. Hello? Still the same surprised Hello that seems to say; however did you get this number and am I speaking to a person or life on Mars?

Youngest Sister again.

-She just called me, the voice bellows into the room and yes, I can confirm that the crystal is once again shaking. It’s the only time it gets to be used.
-I know, she said she would, The Mother confirms while managing to acknowledge all that she already knows.
-Yes, she told me that she told you that she would call me. She said to tell you that she won’t call you back tonight. Her legs are sore! I told her it was probably from being out in the field.
-I know, but what about The Cat?
-Why does she go out into that field?
-The cat?
-No, your sister? She says ‘your Sister’ but it is actually ‘their Sister’.
-What about The Cat? asks mum, ignoring the question and its implication.
-The Cat, oh, he’s gone asleep, bless him, sure he’s only scared, and he’s a beauty. But I got me slipper when he did his business, I got me slipper and hurled it across the room to that lump who’s been snoring this past hour. Little fucker, and I was trying to watch me soaps. You know it’s not good for you, snoring like that. The both of you should see someone about the snoring. Probably why The Cat pisses so much, the sound must scare him!
-Listen to me, what about The Cat?
-He’s asleep, I told you, I woke that fucker to get up and clean it.
-Ah, the poor man.
-Poor man me arse.
-But you know he’ll never clean it properly. Did you tell him which towels to use? Remember last time, Christ, he used the good cleaning towels and ruined them on you?
I don’t care. I’ve had it. I’m off to bed. There’s nothing on the telly. On a Friday night. There’s a man on the sofa there with him on The Late, Late Show and he’s wearing socks that are so bright I can’t even watch so I’m going to bed and he can follow me when he cleans up the mess.
-I’m still watching Emmerdale.
-What, sure that’s over, this ages ago?
-Not here.
-What do you mean?
-Ah, there were calls, I’m catching up.
-Ah yeah, yeah, that’s grand sure, yeah.

I get up and open the door to head up to my room. I can’t sit around on pause any more.

-Are you off? The Mother asks, still with the phone to her ear.
-Yes, I am, I said that already, are you listening? You need your hearing checked, my aunt replies.
-No, Damien, not you, he’s going up to bed. He’s goes up early. He likes to go up early to his room.
-Did he put the blanket on? The Youngest Sister asks The Mother.
-I don’t know, wait, I’ll ask him, did you put the blanket on she wants to know?
-I did.
-Grand, night then. I love you.
-I love you too.

I go in for the kiss. Right cheek. Next to the mobile phone. I can hear Youngest Sister shouting about towels to That Lump now cleaning the kitchen floor.

-Have a good rest.
-You too.
-Sweet dreams.
-You too.
-Night.
-Nighty night.
Don’t forget to turn off that blanket now.
-I won’t.
-Love you.
-You too.

-Did you hear him, he did, he put the blanket on, God love him, The Mother tells The Youngest Sister as I pull over the door into the hallway.
-Ah, isn’t it lovely to have him home to keep you company. Now can you send him up to me to wash the fucking floors?

And yes, I can still hear them talking out in the hallway.

-It is, it’s lovely to have him home, The Mother agrees, now, listen, if you do talk to the other one later or before me in the morning tell her that Damien put the blanket on, I forgot to tell her myself earlier what with all the fuss about the floor. Now would you not just take out the right towels before you go up so he doesn’t ruin the good ones on you again. You can’t keep buying towels because he can’t remember which ones to use. The poor man, what does he know about using towels?
-Go on, I’ll see. Anyway, that’s the story.
-Grand.
-Grand.
-Yeah, yeah.
-Good night.
-Bye.
-Bye, bye.
-Love you.
-Yes, you too, now, bye.
-Bye, bye. sleep well.

And they hang up.

And for a moment there is silence. For a moment. Then I hear her sitting back into the seat, the button clicks on the side of the sofa and I hear her legs go up and she’s in place, reclining and ready. She takes the remote. Pushes the button and she is back, once again, in the Woolpack and this is me, back home.

 

All words and photographs by Damien B. Donnelly

 

AN EXCURSION, THE ALDI OUTING, A SHORT STORY

 

          We’re going to Aldi tomorrow, me and The Mother.

          She started making a list last Sunday! She’s never been before and the excitement is only bouncing through the freshly aired house (we open all the windows at 11am and a good time to close them is 3pm before the cold air gets in). She’s preparing like it’s a first date! She’s looked in the wardrobe twice for what to wear! Her sister wears those jeans with the bit of stretch in them, you know; the ones with the extra bit of comfort. Her other sister only goes to Marks!

           ‘An excursion,’ she’s calling it!
          ‘They have a lovely price on their tins of beans, not the baked kind, the other ones, those foreign ones. I know how you like your pulses,’ she says to me. I giggle- anything with a pulse for me is always of possible potential!
          ‘I hope they have a good date on them,’ she remarks. ‘Make sure there’s a good date on them’ is her staple supermarket comment.
          She’s already arranged a pickup for afterwards and notified everyone in the family either by phone call or messenger the exact details of the where and when, in case we never come back. The plan is to go mid-afternoon, everything is planned mid-afternoon so it gives a good two to three hours beforehand to get ready and the whole evening then to recover and call everyone up to tell them about the day, whether there’s been a planned excursion or not, mainly not, but the phone calls still go out and come in; ‘Did you do the washing? I did! You did? I did! Do you see the rain? I did! You did? I did! She did!
          ‘Will I be able to bring me own shopping bags,’ she asks me?
          ‘Will they take me card,’ she wants to know, ‘you know, me credit card? I’ve never been to a place like this before,’ she tells me and she’s off, calling up the sisters and cousins just to double check!
          ‘Do you have your passport?” I ask her and she looks at me and thinks but eventually catches up!

          Last night she was on the phone to her best friend Mary from County Tipperary. For 35 minutes The Mary took her through the proposed visit; ran her along the layout, each aisle, the best route, the bargains, the spots to rest, read her out the offers of the week, even though they were the bargains for next week! Less plotting and planning goes into a bank robbery. You’d think we were going to an alien planet. I could barely keep it together.
          Then came the run down on the wine. Now, I’m not bigging myself up here or anything but it felt a little off-centre to hear someone in Thurles, County Tipperary call The Mother in Lusk, North Country Dublin, to suggest what wine The Son, me, would like. I say it felt a little off-centre because, of course, between the three of us; The Mother, The Mary and myself, there is only one of us who ran a Bar, in Paris, in France, you know; that country where they make some of The Wine. And I can give you two hints; it wasn’t The Mother or The Mary!

          Oh god! Welcome home and roll on The Excursion. Aldi; we’re on the way and you have been warned!

 

All words by Damien B Donnelly but all thoughts and ideas from the holy Trinity, The Mother, The Mary and Myself.

SHORT STORIES OF FEAR; BETWEEN THE PANES

A short story

The wife.
I am a wife. I am a mother. There is a brown house with a red picket fence surrounding it that has our name upon the old fashioned and outdated post box. I can’t remember ever really receiving post. Real post; letters stamped with fondness and posted with a hope of reply. Now everything is emailed instead of mailed. Things change so quickly and I am slower every time with keeping up. I was single once and lived in a cramped cottage that was cold in summer and stuffy in winter. I used to walk barefoot in the mud out back, after the rainstorms, my skirt hitched above my knees. My brother would try to push me over. He succeeded only three times. That’s how long it took me to learn that I didn’t like being pushed. I adapted quicker back then as if change was easier; a necessity, a requirement of growth, development. When I was 14, we moved closer to town. My mother cried. Father said something about a fresh start. I got to choose my own bedroom now that it was just my parents and myself.
I am a wife. I am a mother. My daughter doesn’t like mud. I thought she would. I imagined she would find comfort in my footsteps. I assumed she would follow her mother to the ends of the earth. That was not to be. You see, she doesn’t like walking. She likes laughing. She can almost choke herself while covering a fit of giggles if she thinks I’m not in the mood. My husband is also not a walker and finds no grounding, no comfort to be barefoot in the mud. Not like my father once did. My husband is funny. My daughter is devoted to funny. I never acquired the taste. My husband is always on the verge of choking.
I am a wife. I am a mother. I have lived for 32 years. I have inhaled the same air as everyone around me but it didn’t kill me. Others have disappeared. Others that shared my air. Others that often begrudged me my very own breath. Sometimes I see their faces in windowpanes, fleeting flickers trapped between the glass, their voices faint and distant as if an echo of what once was entangled inside an echo of what is no longer. When I was old enough to start working and earn my own money my parents vanished. Somethings I guess happen for a reason. It’s all about timing. I used to hang their photographs on the white polished walls of our brown house with its red picket fence until one day, walking barefoot in the back garden, alone, I caught them looking out at me between the panes of glass in the kitchen window. Their appearance was fractured, like a reflection in a mirror after it’s been smashed. It offered me no clarity but only a cold comfort until I dug my toes deeper into the wet earth as if I could push down that which was trying to rise back up. After that day, I took their photographs down in case their memory was bound in some such way within the picture frame, like that final vision I have of them, the last time I saw them fighting for air in that old attic of our new home near the town that would always and forever be shackled to some part of my soul. I never liked being up in that draughty attic. I couldn’t wait to get out. It was so stuffy, like our old cottage, like my dead brother, like my parents. I loved my father very much and he loved me. But love is not something you can always hold on to. Sometimes you need to clear out so you can start fresh.
I am a wife. I am a mother. Before we had our daughter, my husband would spend hours, days, entire weekends with his fingers, his tongue, his penis, exploring every inch of my flesh. He had an insatiable thirst that could never be quenched and I never let it. I wanted him to match me in all that I desired. I gave myself up to him like a vessel to be filled, feasted on, fornicate with. We were feverous. Fucking was not just a nocturnal pastime but our daily need. I was his trainer without him ever knowing it. I had learned how to be a silent master. It is so much easier to get what you want when the other person believes he is giving it all up on his own terms. I can at least thank my father for this. I am a wife in a marriage but the terms have never been shared. He is my husband. He always came when I called.
Until I became a mother.

The mother.
I was a wife. I was a mother. I didn’t enjoy one more than the other. In fact, I can honestly say I only managed to endure them both. I derived no satisfaction, no comfort from those roles my life led me to. When I was a young girl, my own mother cried often behind the door of the pantry. Occasionally, if I approached her slowly, she would let me take her hand. That was her only outlet. That was her moment of releasing all the pain she embodied but couldn’t speak of. Those minutes behind that door, shrouded with the smell of cinnamon sticks and muslin cloths hanging to dry, were the darkest moments of her day. They were my happiest memories. The only time in my life I felt truly capable to comfort and be comforted.
When I became a wife, my husband took me to his family cottage to live. We had fields instead of neighbours. No one saw us. We had animals instead of friends. No one came to visit. We had a stifling stillness instead of the city’s sound and speed. No one heard me scream. The entire building and surrounding landscape of mounting mud and baying sheep became the pantry I cried in. To hide for a moment behind one door wasn’t enough. My pain, my loss, was bigger, I believe, than my own mother’s. I married a man who was bigger than my father. Stronger than my father. I saw this as seductive and secure. But it was all a myth. He was no less than a monster imitating man. At night, I often woke alone on the soiled sheets. Battered and broken I would rise up and watch him from the window walking barefoot in the mud across the back fields. It comforted me, momentarily, to watch him from behind the windowpane as if somehow that solid sheet of glass could shield me from the sinister spirit that haunted his shadow.
I was a wife. I was a mother. A parent is not meant live beyond their children. That is not the natural order but I grew accustomed over the years to understanding that I had been taken far from anything that was natural. Anything that was expected. We lived on a large farm, in a fading cottage, with that mud and those sheep and the stretched-out fields and a sky full of burnt-out stars still shining because no one had told then they were already dead and yet none of that was ordinary.
Ordinary was not the night I woke to a sound so cold, so crippling that I grabbed my husband’s arms to plead with him to hold me in his careless embrace. It sounded like a stick being broken but more fragile, more finite. It caught the cottage in its reverberating echo and all contents trembled in its wake. My husband found the boy. Our boy. My boy.
We had two children. The daughter came first. My husband claimed her early on for himself and later on for something unforgivable. They shared that foreign fondness for bare feet in the freshly formed mud. She liked to hum to herself as I worked in the kitchen even though she knew it bothered me. She never took my hand in the pantry. She never took my hand at all. And I was glad. Even as a baby her touch felt uncharacteristically cold to me. The boy was my son. He came afterwards. I saw his flesh in my blood. I saw my weakness in his silence. I saw his affection when my side became his side. When my reason became his objective. Our offspring could not have been more different. They were stern shadow and stilted light. I encouraged him, as he grew older, to stand his ground. To hold his place against her. I had been wrong.
My husband found him, that night, the night of the snapping wood and reverberating echo, face down in the mud on the other side of the rusty gate. My husband said he must have been sleep walking and somehow climbed the gate and slipped. His neck had snapped in three places, the doctor told us afterwards. But I knew he never liked the darkness. I knew he would never go outside alone in the night. Not even in sleep. Not alone, at least. And so then there was just myself and my husband and his daughter and they grew closer to each other as my son moved further from my vision, now existing only in brief glimpses as light cast confusions onto windowpanes that occasionally carried whispers of his reflection.
I was a wife. I was a mother. We moved closer to town after it happened. A silly brown house with a white picket fence that my daughter would one day, long after, paint red and too many windows that had no memory of my son. I don’t know if a house, a vessel that has housed so many restless souls, can know what the future holds for it but I am certain that the moment we moved in, it sealed our fate as simply as the shutting of a front door. I had no idea at the time how this house would hold us. I spent too long looking in the windows for a glimpse of the past to notice the reflected projections of what was yet to be, already finding a place within the panes.

The husband.
I was a husband. I am a father. I was deceived by the first and saved by the second. I was lost for a long time behind a glass wall I couldn’t see through. All I could see was a reflection of my own desires and it wanted more. But it wasn’t me. It was a shadow manipulated by longing and lust. I was held between the frame of a moment caught in time. I had no past or future. I had only the intensity of the structure I was encased in. My wife had led me there. To that place. That house with its white picket fence she insisted on painting raw red. I had no idea I had become no more than a belonging. A longing she infested so as to own. I was ravenous for her. I was becoming her beast. Feeding from her breast was an intoxication that both fired and confined me. When I was a boy I thought my 8-speed silver racer could take me across the world. Every year the distance extended from the back yard, to the end of the street, into town, across Jackson’s field. I could not get enough. That was all I lived for. To see everything that existed beyond the blue door of our two-story semi in a neighbourhood that grew more and more affluent without ever wondering what else life had to offer. When I met my wife, all of that changed instantly. Our bedroom and our hunger became my only existence. I thought it was a choice I had made. I thought I was free within the foundation of our union. I was wrong. My daughter thought me that. It was she, this fragile, bright, smiling little girl who revealed the truth about what was good and all the rest that slips into your bed, under your skin and sucks the spirit out of you in the same way a serpent injects its venom. I never knew how easy it was to fall victim until I finally realised the thing I was addicted to was vicious.
I was a husband. I am a father. My daughter came as a shock to my wife and a jolt to me. It unnerved her and awakened me. I would wake to the pounding rain in the middle of the night and, from the bedroom window, see her walking naked, her swollen belly exposed to the night’s eyes, in the back garden, traipsing through the mud as if trying to pound her weight upon the earth. As if trying to crush all that was growing beneath her. Later I came to understand that she was really trying to stamp out the life that was growing inside her, the stirring within that had never been her intention. But at the time, I couldn’t see this. It is not always easy to see what’s right in front of you. It was even more difficult to see through our windows. The windows of our house, which in fact was my wife’s house, which had been her parent’s house before they disappeared, had shadows in the corners of them where there should have been clarity. I swore, at times, that there was more restless movement between the panes than there was outside in the world. This coming from a man held captive on the inside without knowing it yet.
Summer came with a different light, it poured in through the windows and drowned out all possibility of shadow in pane and in partner. My daughter was born of the summer sun, a radiance almost bigger than her own little body. Eyes of an emerald and hair the colour of corn. She was an eye opener in every way. She was a summation of all I had once dreamed of and all I had left outside when I first walked through the doors of that brown house with its white picket fence soon to be stained red. I love my daughter. I thought I loved my wife but it revealed itself finally as lust entangled within the curse of something not of this world. Something mixed with mud and murder.
I was a husband. I am a father. It was my daughter’s laughter that cracked the spell finally. It came upon me like fresh air into a stale house when the windows are opened and the air invited in. It was that simple and yet so significant. Every day more laughter. Every year more air, more light to wash down the shadow. And then it started. The end. Even ends have beginnings. We came home from an afternoon movie in town to find blank white walls in the hallway where once faces had watched over us. They were not the Instagram finely filtered faces of today. They were not altered of defects or Facebook selfies. They were faces of those who had come before us. Faces that told stories in their lines, in their captivity within the frame, frozen in their own moment. My daughter noticed them first and it was the first time I saw her cry. The faces in the photographs now missing were the faces of her grandparents she had never seen in life. Lost souls who had once walked through the very rooms we called home. My wife was as dismissive of the pictures disappearance as she was of her parent’s actual disappearance. Why remember a weak mother or a father who had been eaten by his own strength and desire? That was all she said. That was all she was ever going to say on the subject. We are who we are, she told our daughter from the doorway of her bedroom as I tucked the blankets around her tiny frame later that night, pictures just capture a single reflection, like light trapped in the window. You don’t want to be trapped between a sheet of glass, do you?
I was a husband. I am a father. My wife was not who I thought she was. After the lust had settled, after the laughter arrived, I began to be aware of fear. For the first time in my life, at the age of 35, on the edge of a town I never managed to cycle far from on that 8-speed silver racer now being recycled into something someone else will also never use to its full extent, in a brown house with a red picket fence that looks like blood-soaked swords shooting up from the afterlife, I found myself face to face with fear.
After the photographs vanished and we were left with only the memory of their existence on once pristine white walls, my daughter began a fascination with sitting by certain windows in the house. At first I thought she was watching the world and wondering, like I once did, how she could become a part of it. But it was more than that. When she was 9, I caught her, while I was taking out the trash in the back yard, staring from the window without looking out. I can’t really explain what I mean by that, suffice to say I was on the outside of the window, she was inside but she didn’t see me. She saw something else. Something between the panes of glass. A trick of shadow and light I told her when she finally whispered about the movement in the windows to me one day. It’s just the sunlight casting reflections on something which isn’t really there, although in the back of my mind I recalled once feeling something similar. Glass is just something to let the light through, it holds nothing of itself. No Daddy, she told me at 9 years of age, there are people within the panes. I can see them, she confessed. They are not just shadows. Mammy thought she was getting rid of them by hiding their photographs. But it’s not true. Grandma and Grandpa are still here. They tell me things. They show me things that happened but I can’t understand. I can’t always make out the shapes. They are fuzzy like the tv when you don’t tune it in properly. But I know neither of them are happy.
I was a husband. I am a father. I owed it to my daughter to protect her, whatever happened.

The mother.
I was a wife. I was a mother. I was a disappointment in both. Not intentionally, but I failed in both roles nonetheless. I lost a son. I laid his bones in the ground for the earth to comfort in ways that I could not. Now I wonder if he has found that comfort yet. I worry so, because after dying, I realised that I was not yet free. I am still shadow cast upon reflection in pain between the panes of glass that hold me prisoner. That keeps me timeless but without any concept of time passing.
I was a wife. I was a mother. The former was my greatest mistake to begin with. To not be able to see beyond the glimmering pretence of a man so immensely monster was my failing. My mother, in that pantry, with her hand in mine, cried because she had no time to be herself except in tears. She did not know anything more of bruises except for what she kissed on the knees and arms of her children. She did not know what torture meant aside from the monotony of her daily life. She did not know what a monster could rip from you beneath the covers of a marital bed. She had a husband, my father, who drank too much and laughed too little. I would have given anything for such a man as that.
I was a wife. I was a mother. But I was an outsider from the moment my daughter was born. They were the couple, my husband and his daughter. They took the wet walks in the newly fragrant mud in bare feet. They found the broken body of my son, that night when I woke to the sound of something snapping, of a bond breaking. They took the decision to move from the place that held the only memory of the boy who always took my side. They took over the use of the stuffy attic in that new brown house that never felt like a home to me but a sentence to be served. I took control only once in my life. I do not regret my actions, even if the truth later revealed itself as a back-to-front reflection in a picture taken of a moment that shattered my concept of our world, my so-called family and the final crack in a glass wall that could take no more stress.
I was a wife. I was a mother. I opened the door to their attic room one morning when I thought they were out walking. I opened the door and felt my weakness slip from my grasp. I was solid as stone. I was impenetrable in that moment, at the sight laid out on hands and knees before me. There was an old mirror, almost floor to ceiling, that the previous owners had left behind. My daughter and husband were not fond of reflections and all they revealed and had moved it away to the shadows of the attic. It was rusty and the glass had taken a liking to mildew like a man takes to the scent of a woman. But it still had purpose. It still revealed truths that were possibly too difficult for the eyes to see directly. In the ravaged glass I saw my daughter. In that musty glass I saw my husband. He was on his knees before his daughter. She was open legged on the edge of a bed before him. That was how I lost my weakness, finally. I gave it to the reflection in the mirror as I took hold of the old bed pan hanging by the door frame. My husband never had a chance to see his ending begin. With one solid crash, his head split even before it fit the floor.
I was a wife. I was a mother. I thought killing my husband had set us free. I thought I had smashed the monster and only the floorboards would echo with all he had done against us. That was what I thought in those first few minutes. I had killed the monster that had made us meek. I thought that. But I was wrong. I saw it instantly when I looked into the eyes of his daughter. I saw it. In that attic. In that brown house with the white picket fence she would soon stain with the blood of us both. My husband had been a monster but he had planted his seed to root in my body and I had borne nothing of my own likeness and all of his. But she had learned to be more. She had learned to hunger for more. She was already growing tired of being Daddy’s little girl and so she had made him crawl on his knees before her, pleading, begging but even that had grown dull. And then I eliminated him for her. I thought I had lost my weakness but, in part, I had been turned and twisted into fulfilling her desires. Now all that stood in her way was me. Her mother. I knew I had but minutes. Time ticked away from me like the sun descends from day. And she was upon me like the eye of the moon taking hold of the night. Her shadow engulfed me in its clasp. It was cold, like the touch of her skin when she was a baby. But she was no longer a baby and I was no longer for this earth. There was no air. There was to be no more. Or so I thought.
I was a wife. I was a mother. Now I am but shadow. Now I am but a partly forgotten memory of something that once moved. I am the trick you think is light in the corner of your eye when you look out into the world from within. I am at times static and stationary. I am at times a fuzzy blur on the brink of burning out. But I am not alone. I cannot see him but I know he is here with me in between the panes of glass that we no longer have the strength or limbs to shatter. The monster is here, somewhere. That monster I married and murdered.
I was a wife. I was a mother. But it was my granddaughter who finally looked out into the world and saw me trapped between it. I whispered into her thoughts and she whispered into the man who my daughter had tried to turn into her prey. But she had been wrong. She had been so wrong to bring a new life into this world. Evil does always bare its likeness into its offspring, just as goodness does not always bare the brightest fruit. I had given birth to both. She had given birth to a light that was too bright to blanket in the shade.
I saw him, that night, that night the pipe broke at the end of the back garden. It had never burst before but pipes are bursting with water and water can be like a mirror, can be like glass, can show you the truth if you look closely beneath its depths. He was wading through the mud that my daughter loved and he hated, looking for the source but what he found was not what he ever imagined. If you push something down deep in the ground, it will one day find a way to rise back up. No late-night walking, stomping can ever keep fate down for long. I had long since been lost to my body, snared behind the pane but my body was no longer lost to the world. Nor that of my husband and the further he looked for the source of the flooding, the closer my daughter’s husband came to the bones of it all. Our rotting remains came up from hell like a man coming up from air after almost drowning. And suddenly there was the light, crashing against his feet and suddenly, too, her darkness was revealed to him in the muddy waters in his back garden that was once my back garden and had, 15 years earlier, become my grave of utter unrest. He had been looking in all the wrong corners but had finally found, in the depths of night, the truth he had been sleeping next to.
When my daughter returned that night, I turned within the pane of glass from looking outside to a world I was lost to, to looking inside to a daughter I needed to be avenged. He was waiting for her. Standing right next to the bones that had once been mine. The bones that had once been her fathers. He thought he could reason with her until he lost that fight. He thought he could take her until she was on top of him. He thought it was over as her hands chocked the life out of him and I began to see a shadow appearing next to me in the glass. I thought he was finished. I thought evil had finally won. But I was wrong. I had been away from the light so long that I had forgotten how powerful it was. And there it was. In the doorway. And I recalled another doorway and the feeling of my mother’s hand slipping around mine, and the feeling of her tears on my cheek as she leaned her head against mine. And I remembered the comfort I had given her and the comforted folded itself around the memory that I had become. And I whispered to the light. And I reached out deep into the mind of that light. And I offered it comfort as it raised its arms onto all that was comfortless. And the light that was my granddaughter brought its force upon the monster mounted upon her father. And instantly the shadow next to me shifted. And instantly I recognised something cold in its form.

The wife.
I am a wife. I am a mother. But now I am dead. So I don’t know if I can still call myself either. I didn’t know I was dead until I felt the glass press upon my flesh on all sides. I didn’t know I was dead because I could still see the living, picking up the pieces all around me. In losing life, I had lost time. I lost the ability to follow one thought to the next. To define one moment from the other. Suddenly I found myself in a continuum of being present and feeling a descent from my own self, my own processions, my own desires. I was vague when I had always been veracious. I shifted in shape between the sheets of glass, limbs disconnected as if I’d been shattered. Parts of my being belonged to someone else, older, weaker, people once vanished by my own hands. I knew I was dead when I looked at my hand, a hand that wasn’t my hand, and recognised it to be that of my mother.
And then I saw them coming towards me, moving in slow, solid motions to where my reflection had collected into a featureless form on the cold corner of the frosted glass of the front window. I saw them coming towards me with spears of broken wood from the red picket fence I had painted, yielding it like swords. I saw them coming towards me, the man I had married and the child I had pushed out of me, and I knew, right before the glass shattered, that even death had an ending.

The husband.
I was a husband. I am a father. I will never falter again I told myself as we packed up the car with the basic essentials and drove away without looking back at all that lay broken. We did not speak, my daughter or myself. There was nothing left to say. All that once was had been smashed to pieces. All connections, all reflections released as if we’d amputated ourselves from our past. Or so I thought until we hit that turning on the interstate and I signalled left but my daughter said no. We still had one thing left to do. Someone was still trapped. Someone needed us to release them before we could completely release ourselves from the horror we had endured. One shaft of sorrow still stood in a shadow of pain. And so we turned right and eventually fell upon the old cottage, now rotting by the roadside and partially swamped in mud. My daughter knew where to find him. His mother, her grandma had told him where he’d be. And she was right. The window was still there, still unbroken and still captive to the soul of a young boy with a broken neck in search of salvation. I didn’t cry when we killed my wife. I didn’t cry when I smashed every window in that brown house with the red picket fence to send her soul to hell along with her fathers and let her mother find rest without them. But I cried when I broke the last pane of glass that divided fear from freedom.
I was a husband. I am a father. I have a daughter. We have a connection to each other. It is real. It beats. It is palpable. It cannot be shattered. It is more than just a reflection. We are more than just the reflection we see in the mirror, in the glass, in the cold corners where the shadows congregate. It is possible for us now to see beyond the pain.

 

All words and photographs by Damien B Donnelly

SHORT STORIES OF FEAR; WATCHING YOU WATCHING ME

 

 The Dead one

I woke to a mouth already swallowing the claustrophobic earth that mounded itself over my naked torso like crumble over stewed apples waiting to be crisped but I couldn’t feel the warmth of an oven, even buried, as I was, so close to the sparks of hell but, instead of digging down to join the demons dancing in the darkness, I ate my way up and out, through the crunch of earth now meeting the acid of my stomach, past the worms that wanted to wind their wills within this festering flesh still clinging to the bones of a body the day had pushed deep down into the darkness, although nothing works alone; the night has a moon while the day bears that ball of fire which burns through all the possibilities the light can shine upon and so, too, my demise did not happen alone but had his cowardly character carved all over its bloody finality. Oh, how we come and covet and then cum and croak. My name was Benjamin Grant when air was my everything and I wanted to taste all the world had to offer, when I thought I had found it all in him and his horny little hunger I mistook for happiness. Well, now I have no more need for a name and taste only decay, destruction, and a desire only death knows how to discern. And that desire will see his downfall.

 

The Other One, Still Alive

He woke up under a twisted blanket of sharp shadows, startled by a staggered pull of starved lungs begging for air and felt, instantly, the restriction of cold hands upon him, as if trying to close the circumference of his neck, all the while knowing the owner of those hands was nowhere near, all the while knowing what had become of him, all the time reminding himself that that man no longer sought out any air to fill his lifeless lungs in a body that would be nothing more than rotting flesh for fowl figures to feast upon, deep below the daylight, far from sight. He sat there, sweating in the middle of the bed with a fat man snoring beside him and, he imagined with a grim, his Tesla igniting gossip in the gobs of the next door neighbours, a bed once their bed, now his bed, recalling how he had dug, with his own hands, this former lover’s final resting place, a place he hoped never offered any rest, deep in the forest where only savage swine sought shelter, where only callous crows came to caw. He recalled the spot where he covered the cadaver, the one he once so openly cavorted upon, in the coarse, comfortless earth while he cried with a jolt of joy on front of the sudden stillness, the smashing silence that seemed even louder than the muffled screams his boyfriend had made the moment he had pulled the plastic bag down over his head from behind while he had been waiting for him, as usual, just as he had done every morning, for the previous 7 years, by the breakfast counter, in the kitchen. But that morning he suffocated from lack of air and a gulp of coffee he never managed to fully taste.

 

The Dead one

You came into the bathroom, once our bathroom, once our choice of towels and tiles, once the place where I would take you in the shower, against the glass, my fingers in your mouth, my breath on the back of your neck and your body bending into mine. You came in and stood by the toilet, pissing, without lifting the seat, without lifting up the fucking seat. You were still half asleep, totally naked but half asleep. You wore that nakedness often on front of me as if it was something I could never again fit into. You were always standing, posing, looking for the right light to fall upon your flesh. I had thought you meant to tease but now I realise how you saw it more as a torture. You didn’t notice as I moved from behind the door, didn’t hear me step into position behind you, you didn’t even hear me as I sniffed your scent one last time. But there was nothing. I was dead, I didn’t breathe, didn’t sleep, didn’t fuck, didn’t piss, and I couldn’t even smell. You had taken all that from me, a month ago, on an ordinary morning that had barely found its light. You’d grown tired and wanted new attention, someone new to look at with admiration so you could look back and swoon at your own reflection in their eyes. Maybe that was why I chose to break one of the mirrors in the downstairs hallway, earlier, before I’d crept up the stairs and took my position. And then, there I was, standing behind you, not fucking you, not smelling you, no longer a lover of you, raising my right arm, bringing it up and out and around until the shard of glass I was holding caught my reflection just before it found the softness of your socket. Did you have a moment to catch the look in my eyes, watching you, in the glass, before it pierced its way through your eye?

 

To be continued…

 

All words and photographs by Damien B Donnelly

SHORT STORIES OF FEAR; A MATTER OF MUD

 

A Short Story

The Americans and British were bent on finding Jim Morrison while the Irish and Japanese, for some reason, longed to add more kisses to the now ball-less Sphinx lingering over the long decayed body of Wilde, who probably watched down over their stupidity, proffered some wicked wit as their rouged up lips found a free side of the concrete to consecrate. Kissing a carcass is much like kissing an ass, you come away from both with a distinct desire to rinse your mouth immediately.

At one point, somewhere amid the ongoing battle of trees reclaiming the conquered landscape, I took a turn into the shadows and a darkness fell as if a cover had been placed over the sun like one drapes a cloth over the cage of a bird mid song and suddenly the silence is stifling. Darkness comes over you in the same way when unannounced. The weight of its dominance takes on a persona as its very essence runs its icy touch along your skin. Under its spell, and there was a spell upon me, I lost sense of direction, trapped strikingly between the desire to run towards life and the horrid reality that I was standing upon so much death. I didn’t believe in ghosts, not because I was sure they didn’t exist, but because I’d never allowed such superstition to cross my path. But there, in that twist of day and night, amid the moss-covered beds of those who’d long since reached out their hands to eternal rest, everything was open to suggestion.
I twisted and turned over directions in my mind, the routes I had taken that brought me there, literally and figuratively. I’d come for the fun, to find the forever flames of the famous, now fruit for roots and worms. I’d come also to escape the daily drab of life; the 9 to 5, rush hours, traffic jams, gossip, crowded metros and shoulder shrugs. I’d come to death to escape life and lost my way beneath its shadows. I’d wanted something different and found something terrifying instead, mortality. Under the silence of the surreal, I heard bones rotting, flesh festering, souls scratching, my heart beating and watch ticking, teasing me with every minute I’d wasted seeking diversions from the right roads, the real roads. The track trembled before me. Tombs lay broken and open, dark holes reaching into darker realms that only Dante had dared to dwell on in life and all that watched me were birds; black birds, sinister sentinels and not a single dove to drown out the darkness.
I felt my skin tighten around tensed muscles, my pulses pounding around veins starved for blood, as if my whole body feared its finality, foresaw what would one day become of it, here in this place of buried beds and eternal sleeps where the angels creep and mourners weep.
Suddenly I heard a child’s voice laughing and turned and ran towards its distant direction, but my feet heeded not my mind and my footing fell upon a broken branch of nature and the break of my ankle echoed through my frustration as I fell while nature itself looked and laughed at length. I fell upon a grave. I fell upon an open grave and lost sight of the cemetery. I lost sight of the trees fighting the concrete columns. I lost sight of the weeping Madonnas. I lost sight of the stone eyes angels and so, as I plunged down, deep down, I closed my eyes and waited to be swallowed by the bowels of the earth.

With a shock, I jumped up, in bed, at home. My bed, my home, not a grave, not the end, not Dante’s inferno. My breath could not find itself in the confusion, still stuck in the dream, that nightmare disguised as dream, down in the layers of hell. Eventually, in a sweat, I made it to the bathroom and turned on the tap to wash my face in cold water and drown myself back into the security of reality. I looked in the mirror; it was still me, still my refection, my face. I looked down to turn off the tap and noticed the dirty water running down the drain. Then I saw my hands; covered in muck, my body; covered in muck, my feet; covered in muck.
What in hell is going on, I asked myself? What was happening, had it all been real, had I actually been to the cemetery somewhere under the cover of night and nonsense? I looked back into the mirror at my reflection and it smiled back at me. My heart stopped. My skin tensed, just like in the dream. My reflection was smiling but I wasn’t.
I wasn’t anymore.

 

All words and photographs by Damien B. Donnelly

SHORT STORIES OF FEAR; THE STILLNESS IN THE BARN

 

A short tale of fancy and fear.

And so he waved back, and, as if brushing back the years, he remembered when they cycled through the lanes together, well, not exactly together, but in their group; he was there and she was there, though, in truth, it was not this particular woman, the woman who had waved to him as the train passed but the tracks and the wave lead him back there somehow, that time when he watched a girl’s hair in front of him as it caught the breeze and the sunlight above them as wisps of leaves leaned from trees overhead as if to touch her and he remembered how much it hurt. How much he resented nature in that moment, on that perfectly ordinary day in the countryside when everything, it seemed, reached out to touch her but him while he peddled to keep up with her scent, with her hair, with her hands that caressed the handlebars, with all that had always alluded him at such a young age. And he wondered, as he cycled, if she knew how he fantasised about her every move?

Falling back to reality, the train upon which he sat in the crowded carriage continued along its tracks, and the crowds continued their innocuous chatter of babies and breakfasts and lunch dates and reunions and mass projections and program malfunctions, and she, a stranger who’d stopped to watch a train pass and wave at him, momentarily, inexplicably, strapped herself, in his mind, to a memory of another, long since lost, before she continued onwards and away on her bicycle, fading in the fields, now but a tiny glimmer of blonde waves brushing above the bushes of blood red berries.

And he recalled that day, after that dance where she had smiled at him across the floor, across the crowded floor of feet shuffling, of socks showing and leather straps cutting into ankles, of teenagers attempting to be attractive, alluring, aloof and yet she had smiled at him or had he smiled at her, was that the truth and the reason she blanked him the following day as if nothing had ever really happened? Which it hadn’t, of course, except in the meandering mind of the boy who wished and waited and met with nothing more than disappointment which grew into embarrassment before it slipped into anger which lingered for a while, just below the fist, until that other extra ordinary day, three months later, beneath the stillness of the barn, when the world stopped rushing past him and he finally realised what it felt like to hold her in his arms, to catch her scent, like butter and pine, in his nostrils, to have her hair against his cheek and feel her blood on his body.

And as the train pulled into the station that had once been his station, he counted 20 years that had past since that day of death, discovery and detainment. A childhood imprisoned by ferocious feelings and a life imprisoned behind unbreakable bars.

 

All words and photographs by Damien B Donnelly

ONE SMALL STEP, A SHORT STORY

 

I woke up to the sound of the bus bell, ringing out at the end of our block, signalling the first stop for the beach. Kids shrieked with laughter as they played catch in a neighbour’s yard and I heard Ma mumbling to herself as she twisted the knob back and forth on the new washing machine back before it finally chugged into gear like the Saturn V Rocket roaring from Cape Kennedy. In the room next door, Jinni was tapping her tiny plastic horses’ hooves on the window ledge and humming Let the Sunshine In for the millionth time while downstairs, on the back porch, Pop switched off the voice of Nixon on the wireless and replaced him with Davis’ Porgy and Bess on the gramophone. The Dickermans’ had a portable turntable for years now while we still had to make do with grampa’s old gramophone even though we’d more money than anyone on the beach side of Branford hills.
Jackson, Haines and Todd Tierney turned up as Ma cleared away my breakfast tray and the gang were allowed stay all afternoon. Jackson, the only out-of-stater in our little group, had just come back from camp with a newly built Estes Big Bertha model rocket, standing almost 2 feet high. It was big, black, bold and my, oh my, was it certainly yare. I watched from the bedroom window as they set it up in the yard and followed the trail of white smoke as it soared into the air before the red parachute burst out and returned her to the ground. Ayah, I thought, Bertha was wicked enough but, for me, the shiny white Trident model with its sleek line and red stripe was much more akin to Armstrong’s awesome Apollo.
Ma kept the smiles on our faces with afternoon snacks; a long grinder packed with cold meat, lettuce and tomato, her best-in-the-town cherry lemonade and double helpings of apple pie. Pop turned on the Linkletter show and cracked up the volume for the neighbours to hear and Haines ogled at Jinni through the window as she cartwheeled around the yard as if she was deliberately orbiting his imagination. We wrapped the rest of the afternoon up in Monopoly. Tierney, the old nutmegger, cheated twice, Jackson spent almost the entire time in jail, just like his own grampa, and yet, somehow, I still lost even though I’d managed to trade Short Line railroad with gumball-brained Tierney early on and had been the lucky son-of-a-gun to call shotgun on Illinois Avenue before anyone else, and usually only jail is more popular than this place, usually!
The boys set off home after they’d brought me down to the parlour in time for the news so we could check in with our three bravest countrymen. Turned out that our Space heroes were no more talkative on a rocket than they’d been on land. They’d spent their second day in space cooking, sweeping, making coffee and forecasting the weather. Cronkite told us that no news was good news but Jeez, give us a little something, I thought. This was Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon, for real. I’d been dreaming about this moment from lift-off to set-down and no sweeping brush or coffee maker had got in the way of the weightlessness of my body floating through space. The final news report was some story about someone who said sorry to someone else who had once said something about spaceflight not being possible even though someone else had said it would be and now that someone was embarrassed because someone else was actually right and three humans were now in space. Phew!
Pops returned me to bed at 9pm that evening with a tummy fit to burst from Nelly’s creamy clam chowder, whose smell couldn’t even be matched by the blueberry cobbler she’d made us for dessert. Once Mum had helped me with the final duties of the night; toilets and teeth, I took my torch and elbow-crawled my way under the blankets, dragging Pops childhood copy of Amazing Adventures with me. In Pop’s day, when Buck Rogers was called Anthony for a reason I never understood, the coolest toy was Rogers’ Rocket Police Patrol Ship, which he now had locked behind a glass case in this study which smelt constantly of spicy flowers, the lasting residue of his Connecticut shade cigars. I wasn’t often allowed play with the ship, unless a doctor’s visit had left me too unsettled, but I always pictured it in my head when I went swashbuckling with Buck and his galpal Wilma Deering. Rogers had miraculously awoken after a sleep of over 400 years and within days was battling the Han race with rocket pistols and jumping belts. Suddenly it was turning out that science, space and super heroes were more real today than yesterday. A man was now on his way to the moon and there sure was nothing more wicked than that. You know, plenty of people who couldn’t imagine it yesterday now believed in it today. Who knows what else could happen with a little time and imagination, perhaps a crippled boy of today could rise up, all by himself, tomorrow and take one small step.

All words by Damien B Donnelly

Photographs taken at La Lune exhibition, Grand Palais Paris, 2019

This is a reblog of an earlier post.

HUNGER, A SHORT TALE OF HORROR

 

The Man.

The morning was a challenge from the offset. One of those days when I should’ve stayed in bed; the milk had curdled in the crippled cardboard carton so my coffee was black and bitter before I accidentally downed half of it over the front of the shirt I’d spent too long pressing into creases; irons are not for early morning idiots. All the other office shirts were in the basket or, more honestly, on the bathroom floor by the basket; the comforts of no longer being caught up in cohabitation; you can’t be a cantankerous cunt anymore about this chaos Carol! So, as I ditched the idea of looking pressed and presentable and pulled on a pair of chinos, I came face to face, or skull to skull, with my reflection between the bathroom mirror and the other one on the door behind me. Horrifically, after 40 years of being covered in thick brown hair, there was my scalp looking at me through a miserable thin tuft on the back of my skull. That was all I needed; age creeping up on me from behind; fucking hell, just as I was getting back out there again I realized there was less of me to market.

Suddenly, crippled by a follicle challenge, I grabbed a baseball cap! And I’d thought I was carefree and vain-less all this time. Now I understood that carefree and vain-less were cords barely tethered to youth like umbilical cords before the suckers are snipped. Fuck. Something else to worry about. Shaved head or Rogaine? Shaving was surely the cheaper and possibly the more honest option I thought as I pulled the door shut and remembered my bag was still sitting on the counter in the kitchen. When I finally stepped onto the train I remembered I’d left the cap in the bathroom after I’d gone back for the bag only to grow distracted by further investigation of the hairless head, losing another 20 minutes while the cap disintegrated into insignificance as hairs were counted and carefully weaved into something looking like a first attempt nest made by a blind bird who couldn’t give a toss! Fortunately, I wasn’t the only follically challenged 40 something on the carriage, although the rest looked sharper in their tailored suits while I looked like I was trying to reattach that cord to youth. How sweet birds fly by so quickly! Should adults really be allowed to poke fun at themselves in the spirit of Causal Friday’s, I wondered as I looked at my watch and realized it was already well past 10am and I still had another hour of commuting to go? Casual was coming no matter what! No, this was not the best start to a Friday morning, or to any morning. And then, suddenly, there she was, that woman. Fuck!

The Woman.

No one seemed to notice me. Not one single person looked up or over at my less than concealed condition. You could be naked on the underground and the so-called best of British would simply turn back to their digital Daily Mail as if nothing was wrong. But it was wrong. I wasn’t naked but I was a disturbing sight, to say the least. I couldn’t even tell you what I was wearing. I’d grabbed whatever was nearest to my trembling hand and had fled the scene. I was still shaking as I emptied my bag over the turnstile to find my Oyster card. I was still trembling as I boarded the escalator, descending into more and more chaos, as if hell was waiting for me below or was it back there, where I’d run from or was it truly inside me and running was pointless? I slid down by the white defaced walls and past the pressing faces of pressured commuters desperate to make connections in a world that was falling apart. Starry tuned singers caught open mouthed and c-list celebrities tuning up talentless vocal cords glared at me from posters postulating the latest 90’s band of one-hit-wonders to get their Westend debut before they fell thankfully back into obscurity just before the press defecated all over them and their despicable hunger. Their desperate gaze seemed to say more about me than I wanted. I shivered when the train pulled up along the packed platform, feeling more alone than I’d ever felt in my life. Crowds can be the coldest of cages for those of us who know what it is to be an animal.

When the doors shut they seemed to seal out all the air and my lungs gasped at the nothingness and that’s when it broke.

That’s when I broke and the tears burst from my eyes like hot springs through the dessert sand but there was no relief with the onslaught, only a feeling of more and more of less and less. Life had come to a standstill as the wheels turned along tracks that could lead me nowhere. Moving in motions of motionless, soiling every minute, every track in burning tears. Was this what it meant to be on the run? Was this what escape felt like? All your energy fixed on getting somewhere other than where you were while all other forces grounded you in where you’d come from. Moving is just geography, only psychology knows why the mind holds us forever locked onto the moment that broke us.

As we exited a tunnel, light smashed its way through the windows and I thought my skin would literally burn from its intensity. I thought everyone would cower in front of my overly exposed lack of composure. I thought they would. But this was Britain, London to be exact and the underground going overground to be precise. No one reacted to anything on this tiny tube. There was no room on crowded trains for expressions of fear or concern. Stiff upper lips sealed us shut in silence. Resilience rendered us immune to public displays of emotion. And then I saw him. Dark hair, disheveled, distracted by something he seemed to have forgotten, like that immunity I mentioned, but he was looking at me, right at me, there in the burning light of the moving train that wasn’t taking me anywhere and yet he stopped to see me. He actually stopped looking for what he was missing and saw me. Me. And then he came towards me while he rummaged in his trouser pocket for something.

The Man.

Four hours we spent together as the causal morning fell into late afternoon, not at my desk, not in my office, not

under the watchful eye of my boss who spent more time creating nothing than making something, but on a terrace, sitting still as the city raced past us, under pressure to proceed, to perfect, to preform. But somehow, sitting there in the midst of the growing sunlight as spring stretched into summer with a complete stranger, I felt no pressure at all. How was that fucking possible, I asked myself? With Carol and all her concerns and insistances on commitments, that six year sentence with Carol in Colchester (now served and severed), all I’d felt was pressure. They say you need to peal back the layers slowly to get to know someone but Carol took that literally and every day I felt her pulling more and more skin from my already tingling and taunt flesh. Carol, the pressure cooker whose thermostat was permanent broken. Not even sex released a degree or two. Even there she was vocal on where, when and how. For the one thing that actually required heat, she certainly had a way of cooling things down. But here, on a casually passing Friday, on a green wrought iron seat with one leg worn down to a wobble, under a lilac tree that was making someone at the table behind me sneeze, I sat in a relative state of tranquility with a woman who I’d offered a tissue to as the train tore obliviously along its tracks and somehow, in her acceptance of that flimsy piece of pliable paper to mend the pain, we ended up losing a Friday together, telling each other things that didn’t matter, truths that I hadn’t even told friends and yet nothing really of any importance, if that makes sense. We were just two strangers floating through random thoughts, two people sitting still in the middle of a city that couldn’t stop moving.

The Woman.

Jason used to bring me to places I’d never considered of interest, used to, used to introduce me to things I never thought would (things I already knew wouldn’t) be ‘my cup of tea’ as my grandmother was supposed to say, but, in truth, she would say things like ‘what would I be doing in a place like that’ or ‘I’d rather slit my wrists.’ She wasn’t as cultured, so to speak, as my grandfather. That being one of the many reasons my grandfather’s family rapidly rationed their allowances after he refused to marry someone whose parents had a similar knowledge of bulging bank balances and connections considered correct. My grandmother brought him down to earth with a crash and a discovery of hard graft along with a greatly reduced waistline which in turn increased his healthline. My grandmother didn’t give a damn about social status or what the correct skirt length was at the time. Dad once referred to her as the ‘tramp in trousers’- and that was his mother. My grandfather was a good man, tasty, from the little I remember of him and from the tales my father used to tell me, but there were underlying tones that tarnished Dad’s pride in this own father. A regret and an anger, in part, that life could have been easier had other choices been made. A resentment that, as a working man, he had to climb from the bottom up as opposed to taking over prized positions at the top as our cousins did due to the decisions their parents once made based on what could have been called provisions for the future. My grandfather rejected those considerations in order to accept the woman he loved, to embrace her passion for life and truth and utterly unmasked honesty, decked out in trousers or not.

Honesty, I thought to myself, while I gave a stranger a brief outline of my family’s history, at least my fathers family history, in part because I didn’t want to tell him about myself directly, or go into my mother’s less explainable lineage. Perhaps I was trying to tell him the reason behind why he found me standing in a crowded underground flooded with tears, me that is, not the train itself. Perhaps I was trying to cover up all that had happened and hoped that my grandfather’s decisions to go against the wishes of his betters would excuse my morning. Perhaps. Perhaps I just needed to be masked in something other than the remains of the fresh blood I had just showered off my still tingling skin. Perhaps, unlike the tramp in trousers, I needed a mask to seek refuge beneath. Perhaps I took similar refuge behind the tears. It brought me an offer of a tissue after all, and this seat in the sunshine with the briefest of breezes blowing away certain things I don’t want to think about right now. Not here, not in front of him. I should ask him his name at some point, before it’s too late. Although I knew Jason’s name and that made no difference and mother knew my father’s name for more than 30 years and yet that also made no difference in the end, when her true taste took over. Then again, I never knew my grandfather’s real name either. Tasty though he was.

The Man.

We somehow made it all the way back to mine, having avoided the office or any work entirely, about 5pm. I remember thinking it was funny to see the front of the brown bricked house with its aging trunk of the wisteria, now past it’s bloom, still caught in the final caress of daylight. My office hours tended towards late in the night and weekends were either indoors, in cinemas or in pubs forgetting what outside light was like in place of pints to make minds feel lighter. She had somehow followed me home, not followed exactly, I had wanted her to come with me, in fact I was growing ravenous to have her; a hunger I had never felt before, but I don’t think we’d really discussed what to do or where to go. Home seemed to offer a little more privacy for the girl who’d first appeared not that many hours earlier in a torrent of tears. She hadn’t told me what it was all about yet. I guessed a break up and not her choice, if I was being totally honest, while a part of me hoped she was already looking for the rebound. If I’m not being clear, let me take the opportunity now, I had no objection to being her rebound. Or rather, that afternoon, with that shaft of light splitting the window of my lonely apartment, I had no objection to anything!

The Woman.

I felt him stir in the bed beside me, a stranger in a stranger’s room in a city that no longer moved for me or at least a city that I had just moved away from, mentally, if not yet geographically. But it would happen soon, it had before. I till my father died, (can i say died?) we had never moved but his death brought about a change in our lives, his death was a necessity to ensure our survival.

It was now 24 hours since I had severed the cord to my ties here in this city of constant commuters, constantly commuting. But there was no commotion, no chaos, no consequences, I had severed cords before.

Eventually, the man next to me got up and made breakfast. I took a shower silently and let the warm water wash away the last vestiages of the woman I had turned myself into over the past 5 years. The London girl I had become when I thought I had no choice but to escape my past, my

Mother, our bloodline. Back then I had no idea that I had absolutely no choice in the matter. Running was a waste of time. Hunger only increases after a race!

When I wandered out into the kitchen with a towel wrapped around my waist and my breasts bare, I had no thought other than to let him fuck me again. It had been wild the night before, the evening before, the afternoon before. We had been wreakless strangers taking sustenance from a situation neither of us understood or even questioned. And then I noticed the blood on the counter.

Fresh blood, lying, longing, beckoning me towards it and again I was consumed by a hunger that had nothing to do with the human I thought I was and everything regarding the monster I had once tried to hide. The cannibal that Jason had met briefly yesterday morning in the bathroom, after his shower, after he’d shaved, after he’d cut his neck so deeply that the blood flowed down his naked chest like a raging river and when he called me to help him, all I could do was give in to the hunger that had laid dormant for so long. My

fingers found their way to his flesh, to the cut he thought I was trying to close until he felt my lips lean in to the liquid and I began to devour the red river running.

Afterwards, I closed his still open eyes that no longer held the possibility of vision before I found favor with the flavor that lay within the taste of his face.

Back in the kitchen, the man was holding up his right arm with a knife cut in his finger and leaning with his left towards the tap as the morning light stole across the crisp white washed wooden floors. There will be stains, I thought immediately as I came closer to the prey, already wounded, already distracted by the loss of blood. Humans are easier to devour when distracted, are so much tastier when fear twists through their viens.

I turned him around and took his hand in mine, bringing it up to my beating breast as I squeezed his hand tighter and the blood shoot across my bare breasts. It was more than excitement, it was deeper than sex, it was the all I needed, all I tired once to hide and now the only thing I knew I had to become. He was already on the floor before I broke through the first bone with my teeth. The floors were stained, just like I thought.

He’d seen me on the train yesterday morning. He’d smelt it, I’d smelt it; a hunger rising between us. He’d fed on me all night and his desire had been abated. As I walked down the stairs, away from his apartment, I knew my hunger was only beginning and, like my mother still running wild through a city far away like wolves roam the wilderness, mine would never be abated.

All words by Damien B. Donnelly