CONTINUED… INSIDE BACK COVER
by Damian Le Bas Chapter 1
orn, they took me back from the hospital to a twin unit chalet, possibly Dutch-made. Yes, it was in a field, and yes, there were horses nearby, and chickens that could have been made to fight. But my family were squeezed into this ‘shally,’ not because they really wanted the thin tin walls and the nearby horses, but because they were building a grand old house five hundred yards away, on their own land. Once you own it, the wanderlust is shown for what it is. It is movement by necessity. Now my granddad moved back and forth, the same few hundred yards, and between his wheeled place and the foundations of the new place, he carried new bricks and mortar. They had two geese that used to peck my brazen child uncle as he tried, on weekends, to chore their eggs. One set of piglets had been bought from a dirty farm, so Granddad said, and that was why you’d never keep them clean, no matter how furiously my black haired Uncle Bill scrubbed them with a wire broom. He had hands like knuckles of bacon, and the pigs squealed when he came near, until the lorries and the horse boxes rolling in took care of the squeals. In a year or less I was running up to the horseboxes, wrongly more interested in the white painted livery than the gearbox or the axles. In braces and boots and hands behind his back, the Gypsy boy is almost ready to earn, and never toddles or coos or cries. They bypass that. Reading all the TV pages of the paper in a bookless house, the little boy was blonde, sadly. This is a slight failure: it doesn’t affirm the provenance of the race. I was torn from the paper quickly one afternoon. My uncles had a motorbike and they put me on it in the field. The accelerator was sensitive: I flew off at maybe 20, the fastest I had ever been in the open. Panicking, the accelerator went down even harder, and I swished a little channel through the big stinging nettle bed. They laughed in the field, laughed as I cried about the stings. Granddad smirked, mum gathered me up and put me in a cold bath, and my uncles ran in again and laughed. ‘Am I hard?’ I thought, maybe for the first time, as the raised white mumples on my legs took a long time to shrink. Then one day it was Uncle Bill’s funeral. I didn’t go, went to school instead. Jobie and Golias went, in their boots and braces, custom made crombies and widow’s peaks. When Mum and Dad got back I asked them if they had a good funeral. ‘You can’t really have a good funeral,’ said Dad. Mum was crying. ‘Uncle Bill taught me how to whistle,’ I said, pushing out my chest a little bit. ‘There must have been five hundred Travlers there,’ said Dad. ‘I’m going to the next one,’ I said. I think Mum nodded. It is necessary, or the family forget who you are, especially if you don’t really look like the old ones, the giants and the matriarchs, women who ruled impossibility through grit. I hoped one day they’d find someone I looked like, that the old ones could tell me I looked like.
en years later, another uncle died, and another uncle told me I was the image of his son Jimmy. I knew what it meant. But Mum said it was their way of saying I was one of them. It was a moment hard to come by for a blue eyed boy. I was very happy; I’d thought he’d meant what Mum said he meant. That was Uncle Leslie, and he wasn’t into the Hellenisation of Gypsies. Never lived in bricks. Never had a toilet in his house. ‘Mooter in your own house, them’s gorjie ways.’ When you think about it, shitting in your own house is a bit of a price to pay for having a warmish journey to the bathroom. He used to run out all hours in the rain to the outhouse in his seventies, until the emphysema got really bad. That was Uncle Leslie. I jumped up the back of Jobie’s old Escort van when he’d just passed his test. He had buckets of water and gone off paint. The water had red food colouring in to make it pass for sealant. There were big white solid bogies in the paint. The old woman who needed her outside wall painting saw the bogies. He said loudly ‘Thass the special weather seal madam, it’s textured.’ Jobie had split second lies on tap. She believed it, and he made a few hundred quid that day. He gave me a score and drove home fast along the top road which used to be all woods, maybe it had old bender tents in, Travlers woods. He flew straight onto a roundabout and braked hard then hollered ‘Mewt! Dinlo bastard!’. I was nine. And soon in the Gun Inn: ‘Dinlo shero-cuts these boys got in here,’ said Golias hissedly in the pub. ‘My hair’s long and all,’ I said. ‘Kakker,’ sided Golias. ‘This is me nephew Danes. He’re down a pint quicker than Sam Frankham,’ he bowled. When we walked round the side bar the jockeys brooded over stout. So this is the inheritance of a reputation, and the need to drink the bitter dry, I thought. Jobie skidded up outside in the van, sending a few pea gravel spits into the Estate Agent’s old window. ‘Shark’s mouth, your brother’, said the Landlord, legs white, socks and sandals, trying to imitate the nicknames and the timbre. He made a good job of it, spilling my pint. ‘So what does your nephew do then?’ But Jobie and the biggest Uncle, Jesse, broke the phrase. ‘My mate, whatever’s that smell?’ Jobie boomed. They all laughed at the insult, adjusted by his massive laugh that followed. ‘Drain’s broke,’ smiled the landlord Dave Millyard. ‘Your breath, you mean,’ suggested Jesse. What did their nephew do? Watched, at close quarters, from many miles across fields, thinking the others there did not see the words on mental tickertape in front of them like he did, but communicated more like beasts through suggestions borne on sound and simple emphasis. And there were the physiques and clothes he couldn’t imitate. It makes the personality defensive, and the social manner useless. In that moment Danes would have given all mind and experience for black eyes and hair and a squat chest and laugh, and comfort and a niche at the side bar of that one village.
DAMIAN LE BAS
BISCUIT REVIEWS by William Jackson
The Custard Cream: Caucasian cousin to the Bourbon, the Custard Cream speaks for itself. One of several staple biscuits, it’s synonymous with the very word ‘biscuit’. As with all the greats, it is a snack in perpetual conflict. The sweet/sour war which has been raging since its inception, is what draws one back to the Custard Cream. In my quest for answers, I have demolished packet after packet. This may also be attributable to its perfectly dainty scale. Decorated in such a way as to make it the brogue of the biscuit tin. Best Consumed: On a full moon 8/10
REVIEW ILLUSTRATIONS BY GWEN LEE
The Pink Wafer: Made from reclaimed primary school ceiling tiles, the Pink Wafer is quite the dandy. Un-ashamedly garish and almost risqué, it’s a hit with grandma. I have never quite understood why so many grandmothers embrace this biscuit, and indeed the kind of innuendo and seedy glamour that go with it. Perhaps the instant association with the flamingo alludes to an exotic quality, but it’s more Butlins than Botswana. Ingesting one of these is akin to watching a musical on television under duress. Best Consumed: Under fluorescent light 4/10
The Garibaldi: Despite being raised in a household that referred to the Garibaldi as the ‘squashed fly biscuit’, it holds a place in my biscuit tin. Arguably more rustic than a HobNob, the crudeness of its construction is there for all to see. The Garibaldi comes in sheets, only scored by the machinery from which it was hewn. One imagines hectares of the stuff being slowly chopped in industrial workhouses, the foreman praying for a good harvest. Perhaps a slightly more human approach to manufacture would improve what is a good biscuit. Best Consumed: Out of doors 7/10
DIVING by Nia Davies
In the yellow ecosystem of his bed He makes the formations of sleep-shapes: ballet-toes, hands crossed like dynamite knees tucked in profile and his head curled into feathers as a snoozing swan but there is the phosphoresce of depths the bedroom, made of coral, writhes slow and wavering wallpaper is eclipsed by shoals of mackerel, glimmer-walking in unison in this tubworld, a talent show is performed as if the window’s gleams were a television. bubbles of dreams pooling on the high edge are broken by mere plankton he tries to match reverie with water, but the octopus-plots are overgrown they undo all his good work. And how can he drift now? when the rumpled skein of hushaby is ink-stained at the edges. Out come the lion-fishes tentacles steaming, fresh out of their holes pattering soft claws on his lids the elfin march of these feet shatter all well-made rest. rolled up in waves, the reefs thick in the jumble of his moon-belly rumbling nitrogen narcosis of deep-sea, where nitrazepam does nothing to hypnotise the great blue shadows of whales, passing over like low-flying planes the sand in the nose where earlier he scoured the sea-bed for the next pocket of life. All his feelers are sapped from the nerves upwards His fin stunted, gills clogged. Sharks can’t stop. Their curve is
not obliterated by bounce nor breaker. They are down too deep for ruffles So what can he do? go back and repopulate the seas turn his mulch to cetacean, liquidate his very fibre. brine is oxygen, remember: he is 80% water. Through layers of bed, he could try to push down to the solid below. try to breathe salt and be still. Or should he just fall back to the bottom With a thud. Lie there awhile? Bury his face in, forget the fish forget the plastic bottles floating above green eels - skillet deep on their way to the Sargasso pass over, scintillation on their backs. The blips and stripes of this place are like the clock that tells and dictates and he fears that time. So stay here, in the abyss welcome yourself to pinnacle-green you don’t have to go up it’s not needed.
by William Kraemer
THE PARAMEDICS took their time. We waited at least an hour. Maybe I should have sounded more frantic when I called for the ambulance. I don’t know if that speeds things up. Tim’s leg was definitely broken. I’m not a doctor but I knew it was broken. It looked like he had acquired another knee further down his leg, in the middle of his shin. This new knee was hinged sideways. It was disgusting. We gently straightened it out so it didn’t look so unnatural. Tim screamed. It hurt a lot. We told him it was going to be OK. We told him it was a straightforward injury. People break their legs all the time, they’ll put it in a cast and it’ll be fine. We told him to relax and try to think of something else, they’ll be here in no time. He said it was hard to think of anything else, it was too painful. I asked Fred if he could remember the recovery position. ‘Don’t talk over me like I’m unconscious,’ said Tim, ‘Like I’m dead! You are not putting me in the recovery position. I’m not moving again. It hurts too much. I’ll wait for the paramedics.’ I said I was sorry. I said OK, we’ll just wait for the paramedics. Just then, Tim’s mobile phone began ringing in his trouser pocket. It was a frenetic beat with chipmunk vocals and other squiggly noises. Fred and I stared down at his pocket. Tim lay there staring at his own pocket, his head propped up on my folded jacket. No one said anything. The ring tone went on and on, getting louder. Tim began shaking his head slowly with a look of calm disgust, as if to say ‘Who would phone me now? Don’t they know I’ve broken my leg?’ The music blared on. These tiny phones can really kick up a clamour, I thought. Then Fred began tapping his foot along to the music. I felt a twinge in my gut, like my stomach was grimacing. This toe tapping frivolity was disrespectful with Tim lying there snapped beside us. I slapped Fred lightly on the shoulder with the back of my hand, hoping to reproach without words, and, just like that, the moment my hand made contact with his shoulder, the jarring racket ceased. I felt like I had turned off the music. But of course, the caller must have given up and rung off. Tim sighed with relief. I don’t think he’d noticed Fred’s toe tapping or my shoulder blow. He asked us if we had any water. He said he was thirsty. Fred had a sip or
two left in a bottle in his bag. He got it out and handed it to Tim. Having gulped down the water, Tim asked us to start up a conversation. He said his leg was starting to hurt really badly and he needed a distraction. ‘When my phone was ringing I got so annoyed I forgot about my leg and it kind of stopped hurting. I really need to change that ringtone. It’s so shit.’ Tim’s features screwed up suddenly. ’Fuck,’ he whispered, clearly in severe pain. ‘So come on then boys,’ he went on, summoning a loud, brave voice, ‘lets talk about something, take my mind off it.’ Fred and I exchanged blank looks for a moment and I shrugged. But Fred had an idea. He started telling us about a documentary he’d seen on telly the night before. It was called Goose Steppe and it was about a secret neo Nazi training camp, remote in the grassland plains of Russia. Not so secret any more, I supposed. Fred went on about their strict and austere training regimes. It sounded almost monastic, except instead of lengthy meditation or prayer these Nazis go on endless marches chanting Aryan hymns. ‘What the hell is an Aryan hymn?’ said Tim, from down on the pavement. It seemed to be working, I thought, Fred was taking his mind off the pain. ‘I don’t really know,’ said Fred, ‘but I suppose it’s just what it says on the tin: a hymn praising the Aryan race, championing Aryan ideals.’ Tim nodded thoughtfully a few times and then stopped with a wince and shuffled his pelvis, repositioning ever so slightly. ‘Bunch of fucking mental fuckers,’ he mumbled, staring intently at my shoes. We looked down at him in silence for a while as he frowned at my footwear. Seeing him outstretched like that made me think of the homeless, who lie on the pavement out of necessity. My mind flickered on, by association, to thoughts of the Urban Slumberers, as they are known. These people are not homeless but they still sleep on the streets. In a way, it’s a bit like extreme ironing. It takes an activity usually done at home and does it elsewhere, in public or somewhere unusual. But extreme ironing is just an elaborate joke, isn’t it? Urban slumber, so I hear, is a serious pursuit. People do it as a kind of ritual, a kind of risk taking challenge, and a politicised reclaiming of the streets. And they don’t only do it at night. They go in groups, or alone, and sleep during the day in busy streets, or in quiet suburban ones for that matter. Brief naps or full blown major sleep episodes… Wherever, whenever. They challenge the standard idea of sleep as a – ‘Guys,’ Tim groaned from our feet, cutting off my roving thoughts, ‘Can we start up another conversation please?’ There was a note of controlled alarm in his voice. ‘This leg is really starting to throb. It was helping before when you talked about those Nazis but now you’re both just standing there looking over me. It’s a bit odd.’ He had begun to babble, speaking faster and faster, ‘I feel like an old man on his death bed. Maybe you guys could sit down. But please say something. Come on! And where the fuck is the ambulance?’ I sat down cross legged on the cold concrete next to Tim. ‘Yeah, sorry,’ I mumbled. ‘Yeah’ I said feebly and looked pleadingly at Fred. He shrugged, still standing up. ‘I’m drawing a blank,’ he said. ‘Oh, come on guys. Anything!’ Tim hissed, ‘It could be the most boring thing in the world but it’ll help. Just say something. Or do something. Actually yeah, Fred,
do a little dance for me.’ Fred chuckled at the suggestion and stepped back a few paces, where Tim might have proper view of the spectacle. A grim grin emerged on Tim’s face. Fred could dance. We all knew that, Fred included. We waited as Fred stood still for a moment, pouting in thought, deciding how and what to dance. A moment later he skipped into action. It was a silly dance. It made his legs floppy. Each time a foot hit the ground he’d swivel his body around and shake the other foot about in the air, making the airborne shin appear to bend this way and that. It was like that trick that makes a stiff wooden pencil look floppy by wobbling it between thumb and forefinger. He swung his arms around him in rhythmic semicircles. His mouth hung open, his face exhibiting sheer daftness. It was a clown’s dance. It made me smile. But then I glanced down at Tim. Were these wobbling shins in bad taste? Fred’s legs were doing what I would imagine Tim’s broken leg would do very easily if he was mad enough - if he were anaesthetised enough - to try and dance right then. But no, it was fine. The grimness had faded from Tim’s grin. It was now a smile and no longer a grin, I thought, realising for the first time the difference between a grin and a smile. I checked my pockets, feeling each one in sequence. Phone, wallet, keys: it was all there. Fred continued to flail about foolishly. But my attention was divided. There was something in my left back pocket that my hand didn’t recognise. I dove in to get it and drew out a teabag. It was a rooibos teabag. As Fred huffed and puffed, tongue now lolling in and out of his mouth, I lifted the teabag to my nose and inhaled sharply. It smelled like woodland dust, the same way it tastes. I put it back in my pocket, for later. Fred stopped dancing. He was sweating, short of breath, leaning down onto his knees. ‘I would clap but I want to keep still,’ said Tim, quietly. ‘That was very good. It’s a new one is it? Completely improvised?’ But before Fred could get his breath back to answer, we heard sirens approaching and flashing blue lights emerged from around the corner. Finally, the ambulance.
AN HOUR FROM
THE CITY ONLY
by Kate Elks THEY ARE approaching the desk as an oncoming storm; I know their presence by the absence of light. With heavy awkwardness the unwilling messengers are out of the office doors - after you - and there on the edge of the cigarette garden is a man hunched, vibrating, come home with me, he says. Our colleagues will not make eye contact; they search for the middle distance as he presses his face to my chest. We two are separate in silence on the freeway. I think around the edges, about smooth gear changes and impending summer weather; about where the fuck we are going and when I am likely to get a cup of tea. We don’t do tea in a fucking crisis, he says. In the garage of his mother’s house. Y’know? and then what was I saying? An hour away from the city only, but so much further with shorn lawns lacking trees, valueless fibro and concrete ornament. He says we don’t do trees, and then you’ll see. Just another house. Let’s go. I am to come inside. Fuck the proprieties. Now is not the time for this. He is firm. But he is not firm, not really, he is soft and I am blank, I am curious. The front door opens onto tiny lounge room, cane furniture, stifling in the bright. He slips off his shoes, I copy, a woman in black waves us in; everyone in the room is in black, various shades, even the socked feet; there is the thick smell of coffee and unctuous groups of indeterminate people in black roll around the room. No one is looking, we are two steps into the kitchen, through swing doors, onto the linoleum. Here are the crowded young people in colours, at angles. A boy throws his right arm around another’s neck, thumps with the left hand, open palm, fingers briefly clawed before abrupt release. Conversation is mostly just construction and collapse of facial expressions. We are given juice in plastic cups as muscled boys in tight t-shirts stalk from room to tiny room. One of the boys coils into a kitchen chair as the endless loop walks the hallway. I don’t look at him as the kitchen door bangs; we are alone and into the sudden silence he says I don’t know. I look up and flinch, jerked by the thing in his face. He wraps his hands around the cup of juice in his fist and flexes, he talked about it. Not about it. Y’know. Around it maybe. The door bangs briefly, before and after shots of t-shirt parade. Y’know? It was only about forty minutes from him saying he wasn’t hungry to me going out the garage. He’s holding his cup lightly in his fingertips, rolling it along the table edge. You have no fucking idea, the taste of him. My breath in his body. I have nothing for this boy, this man, with his half formed sentences, the most romantic words he’ll ever say falling useless into the silence. He is gone from the kitchen before I can look up, he has joined the parade, and I use the moment to slip alone out onto the brown lawn, to vomit into the shade of the side of the house, one eye on the shoes lined up in the sun.
NOVEL PAGES 311-312
by Allan Carino 1. Turn to poetry then – dummy. Romancing Apollo – run from the grid 2. She sighs. Never having been the athlete that his father was 3. The transitory night cut apart by the rape or murder cry of the fox 1. of sunset patterned onto the carpet, bed and curve of consequence 2. the slog seems long. Breath rattles. Moves his weight. Managing to pull 3. wakes answering sounds from the dog’s mouth in next door’s garden. 1. to the wake the next day, when sparrows in the gutter sing pop songs to 2. it out of the bag at last, correctly negotiating this divide. And early 3. Sleep won’t synchronise. Dreams don’t match by nature. And that is why 1. Love. Timestamps of the rising sun and world beneath it and the 2. sorties and draft copies of our heroine and on-off hero are made 3. to prefer the sticky vulgar disjoint of the aftermath. Here. Flesh retreats 1. hearts concur. Now first thing seen on the window sill’s a line of sea 2. memorable by incompleteness perhaps. Urea and brine tasted 3. into itself. Worm casts appear across the lawn. The decay of 1. shells enshrining the parting crack of their eyelids to morning. 2. on the tongue, on the mouth on skin. She shudders and moves his 3. ammonium inside the condom on the floor metaphors humane relations 1. And just like that – returning from the height is as calm as waking into 2. fingers down. She hadn’t noted previously the scar on his cheek. 3. and denies elevating attempts of our dissipate actions. A realist’s ease with 1. the sleep of ordinary life. At peace with the pregnant day, still filled 2. His arching back almost echoes the laurel bough outside the window 3. the unused hours of the night being a true expression on the state of lovers. 1. with the moment retained by its release. They start off together 2. bucked on the wind. Youth is this paroxysm. The improbable hope 3. Resting in death’s echo and folded in heat-exhaling sweat and night sounds 1. to the clean tiled bathroom where their naked shapes are framed, regarding 2. to suspend the blaze the sun goes down and over in. Rapt attention ends and 3. these young creatures even cool. Unaware they share their fluids inside 1. the mirror. Yesterday’s clothing, one yellow and one grey striped t-shirt 2. they unbraid, unhanded and unwrested. Her lip in the gully of 3. tender mosquito bodies circling in the midnight air. Alchemy is impossible 1. left among unwashed others across the floor of a used bedroom. 2. his collar bone feels his delicate cough and fresh density. 3. by these definitions. Sleeping Earth breeds atheists to The Emerald Tablet.
FLESH ON CANVAS by Amy Licence
left with his flesh under my fingernails. My body fizzing with rage; limbs daubed with red, blue and green, unashamedly animal for such a quiet, well behaved girl. I hadn’t intended it to get physical; when he’d opened the door that afternoon, paintbrush in hand, my plans certainly hadn’t included mayhem and violence. What exactly was I guilty of? Vandalism? Sabotage? Or worse? I had paid good money for that portrait; it was a commission; surely it was up to me to choose its fate? Running down the stairs, out into the night’s freshness, I heard no sound come from the studio. I had left him lying on the floor, midway between door and canvas, an abstract splurge of colour on warm wooden boards. Reaching the street below, I paused to get my breath. The town spread out in speckled grey before me, gently leading down to the curve of the heavy dark sea. I had not lived here long; no one would miss me if I had to leave suddenly; I could invent an elderly parent further down the coast and pack up my bags if needed. And yet I was such an unlikely villain; a plain, lonely girl renting a characterless flat, wasting away her days in a dull job. No one would miss me; perhaps that was why the portrait had seemed such an attractive proposition. I didn’t dare look down at my hands, down at the slippery red mass between my palms, so I turned and looked back up to the window of the room I had just left. It was almost a month since I’d seen the advert, dialled the number and arranged to meet the man who replied in the soothing voice. It had seemed like a good idea to pay a local artist to paint a portrait of me because at the time I was feeling especially transient; no family, no career, no aspirations to speak of. I was looking for something that would make me seem more than the little I was; I suppose it was egotism that prompted me to call. I had a small inheritance from a distant relative and was looking for a way to spend it; he offered immortality at a fairly cheap rate. We arranged to meet one afternoon in late summer, when the sun was low and the light yellow; it was good light for viewing paintings, especially his. A tall, thin man had opened the door, somewhere in the transitional phase between youth and middle age, a plain tie knotted loosely about his throat. He hadn’t been the type I’d expected, nor had his work, splashed over the walls of his small flat in vibrant, primitive colours. I liked him at first; he put me at ease with his gentle, deft hands and his accepting, non judgemental tone. After we had discussed the basics of style, substance, cost and time, I began to like the idea of him more than that of the picture.
FLESH ON CANVAS
I looked forward to our first session, watching the hands of the clock drag themselves slowly through the afternoon as I answered the telephone and typed up letters for my boss. I wondered how long the picture would take and whether I would be able to sit still enough; I have always been a bit of a fidget. What I hadn’t prepared myself for, what I could in no way have anticipated, was how intimate the experience would turn out to be. He sat me in a low, padded chair; hands in lap, face slightly to the side, feet flat on the floor and began to sketch. At once I felt embarrassed by his scrutiny, the rapidity of his eye, the constant assessment and measurement. No one had ever looked at me as closely or for so long. I tried not to meet his eye; this was a licensed evaluation, not just being looked at by a random man in the street. His purpose was professional; I had given him permission to stare at me, through my skin and into me. I went away from the first sitting exhilarated and walked along by the sea, watching the waves shatter against the swell of the beach. Next time, I would be prepared; more resilient, more confident. I sat for him again three days later. As I settled down into the chair whose contours were now familiar to my body, I distracted myself by letting my own eyes run across the details of his studio; the stacked canvases, dirty sink with tubs of thick, stubby brushes, the wall of photographs, the tubes of intense colour. But his eyes were still locked into every crevice of my being. I hadn’t realised I would find it so difficult, sitting still whilst a strange man traced the lines and contours of my being, seeking out every soft place, every outward defence, exposing my flaws. He asked about the scar on my chin; the scar I’d made falling from a tree house when I was in my teens; the scar I thought I’d concealed. His gaze seemed to push its way insolently through all my defences. I couldn’t stem the rising feeling of violation and its uneasy partner, excitement. For the whole two hour session, until the fading of the natural light, my skin thrilled with the caress of his eyes, the unexpected erotic note of legitimate voyeurism. After the next sitting I asked to see the picture. He hesitated, tried to deflect me, insisted a work in progress was never representative but I batted the warnings away. It was about half done; a vaguely recognisable but as yet undetailed version of me. He had captured the angle of my head and sweep of my jaw well; about the eyes there were familiar lines I recognised from my mirror; the whole certainly had the essence of me. He made some self-effacing comment about needing to work more on the nose and I saw at once that he was right; he hadn’t quite got the sense of it yet; next time he said he would start there. I tried to hang about after my time was up, feeling the weight of his eyes still luxuriating in my limbs, wondering whether I should recline out on the chair and submit to the old cliché of artists and their models but he was already pulling on his coat, reaching for his keys and I found myself hurried out again into the night. I didn’t ask to see the portrait again until today. I must have sat for him eight or nine times more. Each time it was the same; his manner of greeting was polite but distant and I liked that about him, it kept up the pretence of a formal relationship whilst written in his eyes were all the secrets of my vulnerable being. I would adopt my usual position and sometimes he would need to come and adjust me, at first by suggestion and then by hand. He would have to leave the canvas and put his fingers under my chin to tilt my face forward, or else
FLESH ON CANVAS
pull a finger or two into place; once he lifted my foot gently, cupping it reverently in his palm and inching it round to the correct angle. These light touches seemed to be a natural extension of his observation, establishing ownership of me for a few hours and I would deliberately position myself wrongly and fail to understand, to lure him out from behind the safety of the canvas, abandoning my body to his control. If he suspected my clumsiness, he never questioned it; it became part of our ritual. I would sit for him every three or four days, establishing a pattern that increasingly grew into the backbone of my life; the days between floundered in lost hours until the cool white net of the studio drew near. Tonight was to be my last sitting. I did not want to believe him when he sat back and surveyed the canvas and stated that he would soon be finished. It felt like a contract broken, a termination of my existence, my identity. I was surprised that he was not looking for ways to prolong the sitting, surely he could tinker around with the colours, work on the background, find a way to preserve the hot, cool intimacy of our distance. I assumed that he wanted the same as me. My mind led me to seek the answers it wanted; this was his way of moving us to another level, abandoning the pretence of the portrait in order to put us on a more intimate footing. He was being brave, taking the lead. I had dressed myself with care, perfumed and plucked, ready for the anticipated transformation. He seemed no different than usual when he opened the door, brush in hand; I marvelled at his self control as I followed him up to the studio, which now somehow seemed to have become mine through familiarity. For the first time, I watched him as closely as he usually watched me. He seemed to look at me less, no doubt in order to retain his composure; more at the canvas as he dabbed and spotted in the final details. He was not my usual type. Passing him by in the street, I would have seen nothing to make me look at him again, or guess at the caressing power of his eyes and the way they had made me feel. By this time I was no longer interested in the portrait; it had served a purpose but right now it was a symbolic line between us, a line I was determined to cross. When he finally laid his brush to rest, he let out a sigh of contentment and finality. I rose slowly to my feet, stretched my stiff arms up above my head and felt the charge of his eyes rush through my body like electricity. That was when I began to move towards him. It was not so much his rejection of me that caused me to react so violently. It was not the way he stepped back as I drew closer, invading his ring of personal space like a persistent, derailed satellite; nor the way his face turned to one side to avoid meeting my lips. It was bad enough that I had been totally mistaken in his interest for me but I could have raised my chin and left with dignity; it was the image that confronted me on the screen that temporarily caused me to lose my sanity. Leering out in gaudy colours, was the recognisable face of a young woman; the eyes, mouth, hair and even nose were mine but the expression was one of indolent lust, conveyed in a sneer about the mouth, the angle of the lips, the gaze of the eyes: it was like a Biblical depiction of vice; dramatic, disturbing and vile. I canâ€™t remember what I said. Probably something about refusing to pay and being misled by him. He simply stood there sheepishly, failing to defend his work, as if ashamed that he had touched on something hidden and visceral, summoning out the animal in me, murmuring that the picture had taken control of him rather than
the other way round. He had been forced to paint what he saw. I donâ€™t remember grabbing the paint tubes, squeezing the colour over the features of my shame, turning them on him. He tried to stop me, of course. That was how he ended up on the floor, daubed in bright red vermilion and that was how I left him; fingers curled around the canvas. Standing in the street, staring up at the building, I felt the blind violence of his vision rising up within me, twisting my features into those he had painted, as I turned back towards the studio. I could have, perhaps should have, started to run away, through the safety of the dark streets, locking the door of my silent flat behind me while I decided what to do. Something made me wait, as if I had suddenly been blessed with a sense of detachment, or the certainty that all was not yet over and sure enough, in a few minutes my patience was rewarded. I didnâ€™t see him. He must have been standing well back in order to lift and swing the canvas up into the air, but through the window it came, sailing serenely through the air with its tattered colours flapping like a huge, surreal kite. It rose up a little, on its trajectory, before gravity began to pull it down. I had to take a step backwards otherwise I would have been struck by it as it clattered to a halt at my feet. My own twisted features, barely recognisable, stared up accusingly as I picked the thing up and carried it away.
The Moon THE MOON TheMOON TheMoon The Moon The MoonTHE MOON by William Kraemer THERE ARE many moons. Tonight, wrapped in darkness, the moon we have been sent looks as though it might be hanging in the sky on an invisible cord, like a lamp, anchored somewhere in the heavens. But there is no cord. Though it may be a weak, waning moon, still it flies, carrying itself. And it shines with a second hand smile, whose first hand is the hidden sun. This moon rubs itself against the night like an affectionate cat. It offers no warmth to the black air, only a cool glow. A floating lantern in the upside down lake of night, it looks like a benign missile. And tonightâ€™s darkness adores the moon, it hugs the moon, who moves softly and serenely within its folds, as a quiet child squirms in its mothers arms. But there have been scorching moons that screamed a dazzling glare and burned the darkness, offending the night. These moons have harassed the darkness, scaring it to the corners of the night, where it cowers within itself like a frightened dog. There have been many moons and there will be many more. Green moons, blue moons, even blood red moons whose crimson dripped from the sky like wet paint, or like blood. There have been clean and dirty moons, stained and bruised ones. No one knows them all. Though most are rock, some are carved of wood, some of coal. A giant ball of cotton wool has been known to grace the night sky, and there was once even a perfect cube hewn of glass; hewn by whom nobody knows. Many moons ago there was an angry crescent moon whose sharpened tips punctured the sky. Bursting from behind the darkness, light poured out in a shocking tumult and woke the slumbering earth. Sometimes the moon plays truant behind the clouds and the darkness is left to guard the night alone, staring blankly into itself (like a blind old mole squinting into the mirror). Then there are the radical moons who upstage the sun, leaping into the sky by day to blot it out. These mavericks are quickly subdued. None have yet succeeded in taking the throne. Not for long anyway. The sun blazes from behind, a blinding halo as its crown, ever standing its ground. The night can be a quiet place of somnolence and soft murmurs when the moon behaves itself. But it can also be a battle ground. It all depends which moon we are given. You see, the moons live underneath the earth, tightly packed into a thick cloth bag which hangs from the south pole. One at a time they are spat from the bag and sail over the earth, in a perfect arc. This journey is a rare blast of freedom. The cold space is fresh against their skins. They get this one small night of freedom before they are thrust back into the bag for years, for centuries, maybe forever.
WHEN THE LIGHTS ARE ON IN THE HOUSE OF GOD, BUT NOBODY’S HOME
by Conor Ritchie
THE CHURCH huddled in the corner of Marvell Square. A church usually imposes itself on its surroundings, commanding residents and tourists alike to strain their necks and eyes towards its spires. A stone and glass reminder of greater times. Times when people didn’t ask questions, they just listened. But Burtonville First Presbyterian huddled. It was unpopular. Unwanted. It was empty most of the time, even at Christmas. The people of Burtonville were far too busy for all that ‘Church nonsense’. Everything about the church was distant. To even reach it, any would-be worshipper had to cross a featureless expanse of yellowish slate (‘I don’t know why we bother pedestrianising anything,’ Mayor Carson would grumble every time he went to the diner for a coffee. ‘It looks like the goddamned Sahara around here.’) From the sky, it looked like the church and the town hall were the last pieces on an illogically expanded chess board - and, in terms of size and standing, the church appeared to be distinctly on the ‘pawn’ side. The present Reverend of Burtonville First Presbyterian used to care passionately about its lack of presence but, somewhere along the line, he had stopped caring. Frazier Prew had entered the priesthood with a genuine desire to do good. He had been a diligent and enthusiastic seminarian, and had been ‘rewarded’ with appointment in Burtonville. It had seemed a handsome church at the time, with a proud history and a loyal congregation. His less respected peers, the idiot sons and social oddities, were dropped in the middle of inner city gang wars or mosquito laced missionary junkets. But in 1977, Reverend Frazier Prew was sent to Burtonville First Presbyterian, and with it, the opportunity to watch apathy set in first hand. Frazier couldn’t really blame himself - not that this thought occurred to him very often. From the beginning – from his first sermon on ‘the nature of forgiveness’ - he had worked hard at making his Sunday lessons interesting. He never began by mentioning something he had read in the newspaper, he never said that anything in the Bible was ‘as true today as it was when it was written.’ He had even made the effort to work in the occasional, inoffensive joke or humorous reference to a parishioner. It was his firm belief that his sermons rocked. He was also very careful not to fall into the trap that many new ministers (and almost all of those depicted in films) did – namely, Radicalism. He had a wish to do good, but this was tempered by an understanding not to do too much. He had taken the words of Lewis Allen, his octogenarian predecessor at the pulpit, to heart:
WHEN THE LIGHTS ARE ON…
‘When it all comes down to it, you can’t afford to be too ‘left-wing’. I mean, don’t have couples frog marching down the aisle or anything, but you have to keep it conservative. If things are good, why change them? Conserve them. That’s why they call it conservatism. All you have to do is look at all the greyheads out there. Church is for old people.’ ‘Well, I think that’s a slightly…’ Frazier had begun. ‘I know, I know. ‘A defeatist attitude’ – that’s what you were going to say? Well, son, when you’ve been in one community as long as I have, you learn that that’s the case. You won’t see many teenagers here every Sunday… a few maybe, but to be honest they creep me out. Too serious. ‘Teenagers have sex, and drugs, and rock and roll. Why come here? They think they’re invincible. They’re not, but they think they are. Death and judgement is something that happens to other people. And, as you’ll see, most people don’t grow out of this, and into the church, until they’ve lost interest in the sex, and the drugs, and the rock and roll. ‘It shouldn’t be the case but, to most people, church is about death. So most people don’t start coming until that’s all they’re looking forward to. Sort of a spiritual ‘insurance policy’…’ He smiled at Frazier with pitying regard. ‘After all, you don’t start buying car insurance until you’ve got a car, do you?’ ‘So what are you saying?’ Frazier had asked. ‘I have to tone everything down?’ ‘All I’m saying is, keep the old people happy and you’ll have a captive audience.’ So Frazier Prew did, and the ‘greyheads’ kept turning up. They filled the collection baskets, they thanked him every Sunday, and he felt that, even if he wasn’t revolutionising this cosy little community, at least he was keeping some of its goodness alive. ‘It’s like I’m treading water, but with a smile on my face,’ was how he described it to Lewis Allen over the phone, after three years of settling in, and just three weeks before Allen cashed in his own ‘spiritual insurance policy’. Unfortunately, Allen took to his grave any answer to the question that troubled Frazier a few years down the line, and which had plagued him ever since. To captivate the dying generation is one thing, but how was he to fill the seats gradually vacated by strokes, malignant cancers, and harsh Decembers? The teenagers and young adults weren’t growing old fast enough. The generation gap was slowly, but surely, emptying his church. At first, he was convinced that he could turn things around. He sent carefully worded letters to his superiors, asking for advice while not for a moment suggesting that he was incompetent and should be transferred. He began a youth program in order to get the local teenagers involved in church life. Its theme was a clever twist on the popular television series ‘The A-team’ – ‘The J-team’. ‘‘J’ stands for ‘Jesus’,’ he was obliged to explain to basically everyone who passed the hastily constructed day-glo banner. Attendance was slight at first, but reasonably encouraging. However, all too quickly, he realised that the children were only sitting through his quirky evening sermons and passionately directed ‘mini-plays’ in order to get on with the cola and dodge ball games in the parking lot. After a couple of weeks, small numbers began disappearing, along with several of the church-stamped dodge balls. A few weeks after that, ‘The J-team’ was permanently discontinued. Its only legacy was that Fra-
zier began remonstrating every Sunday against the proliferation of unsanctioned, unsupervised dodge ball games in the church parking lot. The kids were bringing their own cola. As the years went on, and the greyheads kept leaving empty spaces in the pews, the need for Reverend Prew to proselytise became increasingly desperate. Ironically, his methods became increasingly half-hearted. Articles in the church newsletters advertised the decline – ‘The Joy of Sharing Church With Your Children,’ was followed by ‘The Necessity of Sharing Church With Your Children,’ then ‘What’s Wrong With Kids These Days?,’ and, finally, ‘Why Godless Teenagers Will Probably Just Have You Cremated.’ Now, it was 1999. Frazier was in his fifties, and beginning to grey around the temples himself. His regular congregation barely scraped into double figures. He’d become thinner, less substantial over twenty troublesome years. His once cheerful face had sunk into a languid expression, and his arms hung like rakes from the short sleeved clergy shirts he’d wear, even in cold weather. To most children, and more than a few of their parents, he was ‘The Skeleton’. He’d all but given up on turning things around, and was happy enough to sit it out until early retirement. His sermons began referencing the newspaper. Things were as true as they had been when they were written. The Burtonville First Presbyterian Newsletter focused on advertising bridge competitions. He was content to ignore a bad situation, huddled in the corner of Marvell Square. 22
WHEN THE LIGHTS ARE ON…
WEEK 4 AT MADAME LA’S
by Lucy Crave
he wind blew hard. His hair was starting to annoy him. He knew he should cut it, but didn’t think it’d make any difference. The crows would still know him. He walked a few blocks further and entered the tiny room he liked to call Madame La’s. The truth is never as golden as Madame La’s. A robotic mannequin brought him a chair, so he sat on it. A speechless parrot spat out a whiskey chaser and the party began. Turntables began to turn. Honky tunes started to fill the room. He didn’t like to dance, but he sure does now! The room begins to fill with happening young girls and malchicks. Russian porters carry large fish through the dancefloor into the kitchen. He follows and examines a mackerel being deboned. A large, lusty woman grabs him by the arm and begins to kiss him. The rest is all a blur. Week 2 at Madame La’s wasn’t so good. The robots were malfunctioning, the parrots were squawking and the large, lustful women were getting violent. He removed his head with an axe and put it in the chef’s hands. Monsieur Valtong wasn’t accustomed to cooking the heads of young English alpha males, let alone those of pale, malnourished, suit wearing believers. The head was back in the hands of its owner. He didn’t much fancy putting it back on, so instead threw it on the dance floor. Tony, malfunctioning robot number three, flicked it up with his left foot and spun it over to the DJ. Fat beats jumped from the stacks and the crowd was pumping. Shame a disembodied head was floating around. Its owner was missing all the fun. Week 3 at Madame La’s started with a bang. He wanted his head back and wasn’t going to squabble over details. A cute devotchka had become quite taken with it and had even chosen a name. This would not stand too well with the true owner’s mother. She created that face, gave it a name, brushed its hair and loved it with all her heart. He knew she was looking down and wanted him to stick up for himself. The bullet exited through the left breast and left the head thief gasping for more. The second punctured her cheek, whilst the third was merely a flesh wound to the right buttock. The walk home was uncomfortable. The wind was blowing, but no longer was he worried about his hair. He removed his tie and secured the scabby neck to his meaty shoulders. A robot skipped along behind, ready to catch his lovely head should it fall. Week 4 at Madame La’s was sure to be fun. All the gang were going to show for his birthday and dance till the sun came up. Luckily for them, something happened to him on the way home that morning. He stopped believing, a sin more fatal than three, four or five bullet wounds. Back home in his bed, he let the ceiling fall down on him. Malfunctioning robots poured water in his grave and watched him slowly float to the bottom of a milky abyss. They’d have cried if they could, but robots never shed tears for strangers. If only they knew what he knew. The secret he carried with him to his watery resting place; Madame La’s just lost the best customer it ever had.
by Ben Robinson I MAGINE THE SHAPE of a cartoon heart, the outline made of houses. Think of the left and right sides as ventricles. The top of the right ventricle, where it forms a near semicircle, was blown away and leaked the townspeople like blood. There were no doubt craters and rubble there, and worse, but these were concealed by white as if a mistake had been lied about. The structures which remained stood untouched and beautiful, as I imagine houses were back then; built as peopleâ€™s homes, rather than to house a populace. In the left ventricle the houses were half sunk in snow with concave drifts arcing from the ground to half way up each home. Iron railings poked upwards from this white sea, like charred and bony fingers. The static white waves formed shapes of cars beside the railings. A small boy, half submerged, knelt behind one of the vehicles; first frozen in fear and then to death. His blue skin had preserved him in limbo and his hair no longer moved in the wind. I wondered what his frozen eyes had seen; what he was hiding from and what scared him so much that he could not flee. Those eyes were like glass and I thought better of touching them, this link to the past and clue to the crime. She still clung to me but could not look at the boy. She pressed her face into my arm as we stood there, becoming whiter, becoming part of the scene. We had to get inside or we would be working out the mystery forever. We trudged up a drift to the nearest house. The glass of the window was old and I punched a hole straight through. I forced open the wooden shutters and unhooked the iron latch. Had I not been wearing gloves it would have taken the skin off my hands. I made an entrance big enough for us both to squeeze through then shut the window, cutting out the howls, and put back the latch and closed the shutters. The wooden floors were strewn with what appeared to foliage but there was not much else to die and create dust. The furniture lacked life and the walls told me the occupants were afraid of expression, or forbidden it. There was nothing to suggest wealth, only honesty, and perhaps explained why no one could remain. It seemed as if the room was too ashamed, or had too much mourning left to do to bear light. The wooden stairs complained as we climbed them like they knew we were intruders. The wet footprints and flecks of snow we left on each step proved we trod with care. What we discovered in the master bedroom invited us to stay the night there. The grey stones of the chimney ran up along the far wall and through the roof. Some of the stones had been removed and a fireplace built around it with a sheet of marble
on the floorboards at its base. A sheet of iron had been installed at a forty five degree angle above the marble to filter the smoke backwards into the fireplace and up through the chimney. I didn’t know if these fireplaces were a standard in all the houses back then or the owner of this one was a man with a ceaseless heart. In the fireplace lay cremated remains of a cosy evening and not enough to repeat it. In the corner sat a small chair which I smashed against the wall on only the second attempt. It splintered with ease and I piled the wood into the fireplace. I took off my gloves, took out my Zippo and set about starting a fire. It was only when red specks appeared amongst the wood did I notice her still shivering, rubbing her upper arms with opposing hands and dancing toe to heel, toe to heel. I got small flames going like hatched orange chicks hungry for wood and then ransacked the other smaller bedrooms for blankets and duvets. When I came back to the master bedroom I piled them before the fire to make them less like sheets of ice and she was still dancing in silence, heel to toe, heel to toe. I took off her coat, her trousers and her boots and placed them close to the fire. I did the same to my clothing, picked up a duvet from the pile, wrapped it round both of us and bundled us onto the bed. We both gasped. For some moments which passed it felt like we were wriggling on a frozen lake until we entwined and began to warm up. The sheet was stiff but soon melted to our shape. We lay facing each other and adjusted our positions to make our cocoon as air-tight as possible. I was warm as I ever wanted to be, pressed up against her coffee skin. ‘Un verdadero hombre’ she giggled. ‘Because I smashed the window?’ ‘Si…’ ‘…and smashed the chair?’ ‘Siii…’ her smile bloomed. ‘…and made fire?’ I asked the last two words in a Neanderthal voice and tickled her precious ribs, growling. ‘Si, usted no es realmente un artista!’ She squealed. By the time the flames had wilted back into the ash and debris I felt like I had never been anywhere else or wanted to. It was warm enough to move around the room naked now. I opened the top drawer of the chest at the foot of the bed and paused, feeling my heart beat inside its cage. It was empty apart from a book my eyes had found lying there like a searchlight illuminating an escapee. I raised the book so slowly with both hands and opened to the first few pages. There’s nothing else in the world that sounds like a turning page, and in that moment I would have killed her to be able to read Russian. I set the book with care on top of the chest and then put my right foot in my boot. I held the drawer open and stomped through it, shattering the wood. I pulled out the frame of the drawer, broke it up by holding the pieces under my boot and pulling upwards, and threw them into the fireplace. The splintered wood breathed new life into the fire and fed the chicks which multiplied. I flicked off my boot and slid back into bed with her.