Issue X • Rituals
editor in chief general editor general editor poetry editor prose editor drama editor copywriter head of design president treasurer secretary events & social events & social cover art
Welcome to The Inkwell, a creative writing magazine produced by PublishED, Edinburgh University’s creative writing and publishing society. The Inkwell comes out each semester, and in it we aim to showcase the literary talents of students. As a society we also host talks with speakers from the publishing industry, and hold creative writing workshops and socials. We are very proud of this semester’s magazine, and hope you en joy reading it as much as we enjoyed curating and creatingSiljeit!
Imogen Ashfield Sarah-Jane Dale Nyree Waters
Looking out of the window from today’s choice of caffeine den, the annual German Christmas market is being erected in Princes Street Gardens. The sound of sleigh bells is com ing from somewhere; a giant snowman is inflating on the steps to the National Gallery. The Christmas season, with its annual traditions, and festive customs is full of this semester’s theme of ‘Rituals’. Despite my best attempts to find somewhere with no distractions to write this editorial, the magazine’s theme has followed me. That’s maybe why we chose ‘Rituals’ as a theme for this, our tenth, issue; they are an intrinsic part of our dayto-dayRitualslives.are in everything we do, and so perhaps it’s no surprise that the writers and artists who are featured in this issue have covered the broadest of subjects. You’ll find computer nerds, a dentist and an unlikely charity-shopper in the following pages. So find somewhere to settle down and enact a morning, evening, or nighttime reading ritual, and make sure you’ve a copy of The Inkwell in your hand.
She is scuffed dirty, young and yellow fingered From smoking since she learnt to speak. With a louder, rougher voice, No choice but to sit on the seafront with seagulls And chips and books of poetry.
She works behind a counter selling the Stories of nuns, the books often collapse And crush the little crosses before she Can clear them for the punters to wonder About more religious mysteries. The Tenby air is fair and mild and stormy and lashes her Like a penitence as she locks up every night, To traipse home to a teenage sweetheart Now husband who isn’t teenage and was Never sweet.
The bed is cold as church cellars And the bookseller’s fingers are always cold. Especially when brushing the skin of the Sweetheart unsweetened, coffee bitter as Nationalists and evangelists on the seafront. The books collapse, the storms rage. The chips go cold, and all she wants is the Old Coastguard house, above black canons That keep out the night, above lifeboats and Lighthouses, full and sweet and low-ceilinged And dingy and silent, where her sweetheart Would be banished like a dog to the harbour To count the waves, and a new man would stay Warm and wet in the tiny bath, shouting his love Through the toilet door as she half-sleeps in a little Wooden bed, calm as the sand, cold fingered as the dead.
‘It’s Highmarsh Hall,’ I said.
That had been the real killer to get my hands on. The shirt. ‘An item of cloth ing worn by the subject,’ was what the recipe had asked for. I’d pulled it out of a bin in a murky charity shop in the Old Town.
He repeated the name, rolling it around in his gums. He couldn’t have been more than ten or eleven, but he had an oldness in his ways.
not to let the fear show in my face, keeping my features very still and tense.
A boy approached. His skin shone. ‘What’s going on?’ he asked. ‘What’re you saying?’Itried
‘What’s all this then?’ he asked, poking the nearest candle with the toe of his shoe. ‘You cold or something?’
The ring of candles I’d placed around me provided a flicker of light in the darkness of the hall, but not enough to make me feel comfortable. I had all the other paraphernalia spread out before me on the flagstones. Nothing seemed to be happening so I fiddled with the shirt and the tumbler of water.
I reached into my pocket and pulled out the list, checking off every process I’d completed. The final step read: ‘Sit down and wait’, so I did.
The Voice on the Line
‘You‘Nothing.’weremuttering something,’ said the boy. He glowered at me and then glanced around the hall. ‘What is this place?’
‘Not especially.’ I shuffled myself around. I didn’t want to face him head on. ‘I was having the nicest dream. Warm and dry. And now I’m here.’
My breath caught in my throat. There was wet slapping sound coming from somewhere outside the circle of light. I turned this way and that, trying to locate its source. ‘There’s nothing there,’ I whispered. ‘There’s nothing there.’
Trying not to let the boy notice, I checked the list for further instructions. There was nothing about how to make the subject leave once you’d called on them.‘I’ve got this feeling,’ he said, rubbing his throat, ‘of, like, a yawn wanting to come up but just not coming.’ Then he coughed and a hunk of blackness fell from his mouth and into his waiting palm. I did my best to tidy away the items on the floor, but in my haste I spilled a few of the candles. Hoping the deacon wouldn’t notice the wax, I hurried out to my car. There was nothing boy-shaped in the night.
‘I don’t know. What did you do, before?’6
He kept on like that until I lost my temper. ‘If it’s so pokey then why are you hanging around?’ My spoon clanged in the bowl.
‘He just thought it’d be interesting. Ladies and gentlemen, he just thought it’d be Beforeinteresting.’Ileft for work I asked him to be gone by that evening. ‘This is the childrens’ home all over again,’ he said, turning on the dishwasher with his mind.
I asked for some time to shower and dress and he agreed, but insisted on lin gering while I ate my breakfast. ‘Small place this,’ he muttered. ‘Kind of pokey eh? Not exactly palatial.’
He flicked the water from his cheeks. ‘Don’t flatter yourself mate.’
‘Did you follow me home, from the church?’
He reappeared in the bathroom of my flat. I went through in the bright morning and found him washing his face in the sink. I swore in fright and he looked up, trailing black water from his chin. ‘Can you give me a minute?’
I tried to think back to the day before, driving up to Highmarsh, with the box of ingredients on the passenger seat and the list in my pocket. I’d been excited, but what had I been looking for? ‘Just thought it’d be interesting.’
He folded his arms, huffing, looking truly young for the first time. ‘What am I supposed to do all day?’
‘What’re you doing here?’ I asked, clutching my towel. ‘What does it look like?’
‘Oh,’ he exclaimed. ‘Now it all comes out. Why’d you come knocking on my door if you didn’t want to hear what I’ve got to say?’
After a week or so the boy grew bored of tormenting me at home and started turning up at the office too. For the first few days it was just grubby handprints on the photocopier and smears of black bogey on my monitor. Then he mani fested.Ibundled him into a stationery cupboard. I didn’t know if the others would be able to see him, but I couldn’t take the risk. He made it smell damp in there, like the woods. ‘You can’t just show up like this,’ I hissed. ‘You’ll get me sacked.’
‘Get some proper food in would you? Some thick ham.’
‘That’s a cheap question,’ he said and a piece of seaweed fell out his trouser leg.
I started to boil up some pasta for dinner and he demanded I throw in a handful for him. There was no chance he’d be able to eat it, but I couldn’t exactly throw that in his face, could I? We ate our meal on our laps in the living room and, as I suspected, the boy just twirled his around on his fingers, complaining that he didn’t like olives.
‘Just leave it if you don’t like it,’ I said.
I stole through the streets that very night, searching for a working phone box. Kicking aside the broken glass, I called up Elijah. ‘Hello?’ His voice was the sound of tissue paper.
‘Elijah,’ I said. ‘It’s Neil.’
Elijah laughed his dry wheeze. ‘How did it go?’ and then I heard him speak to someone in the background, telling them to give him a minute.
I told him I’d think about it and took our bowls back into the kitchen. He watched me go, perched on the sofa like a crow. I thought about the voice in the background of my call to Elijah. I knew he hadn’t performed the ritual himself in many, many years.
Elijah wished me the best of luck and I walked home in a foul mood. The boy was waiting for me, sitting up on the draining board, kicking his legs. ‘Where’ve you been?’ he asked.
‘Ah yes. They tend to do that. Difficult to get them shifted once they’ve settled in. Not now, I’m speaking to a friend,’ again, to whoever else was with him.
‘It went fine. It’s just… I can’t get rid of it now.’
‘I see,’ I said.
“Soon, but not yet” he said, half-smiling. “I still have far to go.” A silence fell. Had I seem him before?
This was three days ago. His words ring in me like shouts in a tomb. Their truths undiminished. He left to return, the lid of his coffee in one hand, the cup in the other, raised, raised to his Andrewlips.
Dublin-bound, I sat in the lounge seat alone, half-eaten sandwich in hand, water long finished. Other weary-eyed exiles surrounded me; producing pieces of paper and old photos, we diminished
Into shadows of our former selves, unwillingly scanned. Suddenly the seat next to me was taken. A man (early 30s?) sat down with a fellow-traveller’s familiarity; Tired eyes, clothing all crumpled, coffee in hand.
He spoke with a care unexpected. “Where are you headed?” “Home”, I replied, “And you?”
I’ll take you through the daily graces. One grace at a time. Through the rituals of the mind andback again.
White walls, white bath, white wet body. Ceramic cold tiles rippling under a tight bundle of animalsoft curves. Wet, sat on the bathroom floor, tilting and warm as a feathery snore. Light splashes along the walls, over your hair, your nose, your eyelids. Tracing the fissures and fault lines down the cracked tiles. Tracing the tracks and grooves along the tummy and down to the belly button. Inhale. And it all scrubs away...all it takes is a little soap and cold water. Hazy breasts folding into knees as you curve out of the floor with one, deep, yawn. Scrub and smooth it down.
cold water. soap. scrub.
One two three inhale, one two three exhale, one two three till the soft pink eggshell of a morning collapses under a teaspoon. Slight, sweet crack of excite ment. Light.
Trying not to sink back into the saltscarred tiles that could drown you with one ceramic slip, one tumbling ship. Soap clutched in one hand, water stream ing, eyes tightly closed and mind wide open. Teeth bite down, catching the water as it washes away the night fears like oil from a glass jar. They seep away down the drain with a low tumble. Till all that’s left is the forgetting, the lost sensation of a shadow just out of sight. Left aside for the creamgold light.
But there is a pile of cold duvet where he should be...the memory of a treaclesweet smell pressed into the bed where he should be, sticky and rich. Towel slams to the floor. Body slams with it.
It is October and the day has already begun. It will continue to begin, with or without you, within or around you. So I’ll take you through. One grace at a time.
Stepping back into the bedroom and the room is already brighter, more together than when you left it. Demanding that you stay on your own two feet. Demanding that the day arrives. Watch it flood up the curtain, pool around the pillows, your bare toes.
Welcome to grace number one. And through it all, the day is still starting. Clean body now wrapped in a light cotton top, a denim skirt. Shampoo bubbles staining the front. Wet hair hanging loose off the back of the chair, drip drop. Minddrip.
Coffee: richblack.bitter black. Take a sip and maybe you’ll smile with an amberupper lip. A molasses swal low that will kick up your knees, swirl and spark up your mind into the day and out of the dull, dull slump. Out of the dull, slow flump and into yet another crumpled day. Sat outside with a cigarette and a scar. Leaning back on the bench till you feel your bones bleach out into the frame. Faint moment of calm in the ashgrey smoke. Whirling up a silvered storm what with the black coffee, and the spark and the slow burnoutcrash of tobacco tacked to your lungs. tick tock Enjoytack. that one moment of vertigo before the skiddying rush of the world. Oh, our saving graces. One, two three at a time... Welcome to the saving grace. The last of the trilogy. The ‘piece de resistance.’ Close your eyes. Spin around. Count to three and prepare for the grand finale. Trumpets, fanfares and poppycock. Crumpets, jazzglares and odd socks. We
swings and retracts in and out of focus. Fumbled pink between dreams and roundabout daydreams, all tumbled into the giddy hiccup of a morning. I said that I would take you through. Welcome to grace number two.
It’s all you. Go on now. Inhale, exhale, open up wide to that light that start that fresh clean stretch. Facing the mirror, a toothbrush and white smears. Eyes locked back into themselves, so deep you’re not even looking. Sugar lump pieces that slowly maze back together with an inhale and an exhale and a slow tightening of theDeepanchors.breath.
live through these moments and then leave them behind. One indefinite day at an indefinite time. The saving grace?
(Remember your keys). Deep breath. Ticking the boxes till they fold and shyly correct themselves into a jenga tower of Ofgirl.a girl just about ready for the day – if a little of the day behind. With oil stains under your chin, and mascara on your cheekbone. But still, a girl able to walk out of the door with a kiss and a flick to the slam, the Welcomecatch.slidingto the daily graces. Welcome to what we do.
Now he remembers it differently. It has become a joke; an anecdote he tells his friends when he is a bit high, drunk or when he wants to make them laugh and he has his guitar in his hands. The guitar is indispensable because the fish story doesn’t begin with words, but with a couple of chords followed by some agile fingerpicking within a minor pentatonic scale. A, C, D, Eb… He lets the notes, blue and black, capture the attention of those around him before speaking.
He uses his fingers and his hands to draw the somewhat oval shape of the little creature. Clumsy metaphors to paint him blue, with tints of purple scattered here and there and to sketch his dumb eyes and his mouth. It’s self-evident that he can still see the animal crystal clear in his mind.
The Fish Story
It seemed like he had leaped out of his mind. He was spinning on himself and he even did a couple of flips. I knew then that something inside him had connected with the melancholy of the music. He was a fish wounded by the blues.
Everybody laughs because the image is strange and sweet at the same time and because they are obviously also high or a bit drunk. There are other stories from that same time, from when he was a kid which he does not tell. How they slowly took the
The name was terrible because if there was something that the fish didn’t do that was moving. He spent hours, days and weeks in a nearly immobile state. Only his fins, of a semi-transparent grey colour, swung very softly suspended in the water. Sometimes I felt the need to touch him to confirm he wasn’t dead. He wasn’t so I started to think that he was depressed. Shortly after I could prove my theory… for a second he goes back to the guitar: Eb, D, ACA. A dramatic pause; an interlude. It happened on a night during the period we spent living with my auntie. I could barely sleep back then and I would often stay up late looking at Mambo and listening to some music – CDs my parents had kept and lent to me so that I got some distraction. That night I put on a B.B. King album. The first track was a slow one which opened with a sad and painful melody. From the first sound, the body of the fish got tense and as the sounds followed one anoth er, Mambo started to move around in circles, excited, dodging the artificial coral at the bottom of the fish-tank.
Then when it’s finally silent in the kitchen that he shares with three students, he raises his voice: a funny story. When I was a kid, we had this fish at home. My par ents bought it because it was the only pet we could afford. Also because we changed places a lot, we needed an animal that was easy to move and that didn’t bother too much. We named it Mambo. Mambo turned out to be a terrible name for the fish… he speaks without rushing.
But to his friends he only tells the fish story and he lets the music fill in the silences.
When the motel started charging hourly rates, that’s when I said to myself, enough. I remember the boxes and boxes of pots and pans and little shell-people my daugh ter made. I remember how they all fit in those boxes and I cried because it was everything at once. And I remember my daughter asking, but what about Julio? And what about the Fuckman, will we ever see them again? And I said maybe not, but they will be at the motel across the street if we ever want to return at night to listen to the litany of fucks that once lulled her to sleep.
I remember watching her feet scuff at the sidewalk, balance on the cracks, pir ouette as she drifted by our house and past the motel where the Fuckman lived. I remember wishing her good night, knowing that with the window open for the late summer breeze, she would drift to sleep with the flowers on her pillowcase and the Fuckman outside shouting, ‘Fuck, fuck, fuck’. I would think to myself she’s so lucky to walk to school no fear, only caution. So lucky to know that the world holds characters like the Fuckman and Julio from next door, who visits weekly bringing arroz con pollo and asking for loans. Lying about cancer that he doesn’t really have. I cried when I realised that he was healthy; he had been healthy the whole time.
record store from his parents and how the family van became, also slowly, the family home. Before spending some time at his auntie’s, they had lived for some months with his grandparents and later they would live with uncles, cousins and friends. He was very young when he realised that his only option for the future was to go away from the ones he loved.
This time of year I cry as soon as I start sipping my coffee in the morning. I can’t stop until it’s all gone. Because my daughter has been leaving me ever since she could walk. I remember letting her go to school by herself and waving from the window, September 2003, her backpack readjusting without my help. And me feeling as filled with tears as I do now.
IfSoat precisely the right time You should – shudder, or, say, Buck yourself from your sleep From your bed LikeWide-eyedadribbling lunatic Hungry, hurt, confused Like a wide-eyed fawn Stumbling unready into life
Wednesday, October 22nd
Tediously the heart begins to police the body; The fresh bright red of new government Washes in new duties, a new act Summon the king’s armies! Conscript the toes! (Bailiffs arrive rudely at the eyes and nose)
This night I dreamed Of old Georgian ladies in hats, their faces Wrinkled with method – how Properly to eat an egg; How to pass down the avenue of an afternoon
Now is the time for the mechanisms of cleaning, The taking off of odours, The putting on of a brave face Now the last moment of “AndLingeringthere was not perhaps A place I felt safe Except for here In this sanitised white”
Old warmthOld hearthGuilty in your mother’s arms.
TheSo dying embers of dreams Scattered
May burn you also into today, All intemperate, all receding
With the exact right sway and rustle. I dreamed of morning light Golden on spires.
This night I dreamed of Unwritten writings, of Thirsty jerking tears of That mad intoxication turning on the simple non-absence of a word.
Valeria Del Castillo
Micky: A building?
?????: Have a look around. Can you see any clues?
Doctor: What kind of building?
Why Are You Here?
As well as not quite being sure when I am, I can’t say where I am. Some days, maybe. But at least as often, the conversation isn’t that simple.
So I’m only 32, and the woman I feel is only 16 in her head.
“What’s your name?”
“Where are you?”
“What month is it?”
But I’m shambling onto creepy ground. Long story short, the two weeks of full consciousness that had passed since my birthday hadn’t been enough time for my new age to take. I’m like someone writing the wrong date on his cheques after the turn of the year.
Doctor: No. Can you try again?
Micky: Am I in a hospital?
“What year is it?”
“A man’s only as old as the woman he feels.”
Micky: A school?
????? is the woman who asked me if I knew who she was when I regained
“Why are you here?”
“How old are you?”
Doctor: Do you know where you are?
With every passing day — with every change of shift — I’m asked the usual set of questions for a victim of a cerebrovascular insult. The first one is pretty easy; the second one is harder. I wasn’t ecstatic about turning 38. At that point, you’ve got to surrender the ability to describe yourself as being in your mid-thirties. And if you’re in your late thirties, you can’t even pretend to be young any more. I mean, I wasn’t distraught about it. In my head, I was still 17, like it was 1991. That was a very good year. What did Groucho Marx say?
Micky: A school?
????? sees where this is going. Apparently, I’ve been in the States for 16 years and my DNA has mutated into something half-American. But just as my accent is mostly immutable, on some deep level I don’t really give a shit who the Pres ident is. She’ll tell you — even at the best of times, if I don’t give a rat’s ass, I
Micky: Is it the Western General?
Doctor: Do you know which hospital?
One day in the future, I’ll tell myself that I said this because I wanted to be kind, let her know that I valued everything she had done to get me to this point. But I’ll never know — and she’ll never know — if I knew she was my lover. She was beautiful and scared and expectant. I wanted her to be happy and in my life. But I couldn’t assume she was that to me, that I was that to her. An old, broken man like me. I wouldn’t be able to bear the loss.
Doctor: No, you’re in Methodist Hospital in Brooklyn. Do you know why you’re here?
You’re my friend. And helper.”
?????: No, sweetie, just the one.
1983. Is the answer 1983?
In autumn, they pull the siphons from my skull, and the spigot from my spine. I slowly start making fresh memories, but I’m still rubbish at answering the ques tions.“Who’s the President?” they ask.
With her help, I’m doing OK on the questions. I’m pretty pleased with myself. But the questions keep getting harder. Alex Trebek on Jeopardy would be doing gleeful, sadistic cartwheels as I flunk the next two. Although at least my answers were in the form of a question.
I bounce between good days and bad, and my mental presence waxes and wanes. Like a sine curve, but less predictable. ????? would worry that my recovery would be less like a computer rebooting, and more like our Time Warner cable box. I’d just sit there, stuck at a useless point, maybe able to identify ????? as “my friend and helper”, but not able to recall what we always liked to call “Our Thing”.
Micky: Oh god, have I had another stroke?
I don’t know what day it is.
So, once I am able, routine is introduced to my life. The first set of blocks that will let me build stories, memories, narratives. Big, simple, and easy to handle. Every morning, Tenko comes to administer my shower.
Yet Tenko’s oddly tender morning visits become a favourite part of each day. He administers one hell of a shower. The snag is, after being roused at six, I’m ready for a nap at around nine, when it’s time for rehabilitation classes to start. Fatigue is a characteristic effect of the condition. Yet after I’ve gratefully surren dered to Morpheus and his escape by daydream a couple of times, sleep won’t come when the lights go off at 10p.m. I gaze at the ceiling, lying in the prison of my broken mind, all perseveration and fear.
“You don’t like him.”
The shower room is a large cube, the floor and walls of which are bedecked in identical tiling. There is no boundary to indicate where the shower ends and the room
I“Oh!”don’t know what day it is.
Tenko has the thankless task of cleaning up an endless roster of confused, tired, and incontinent patients first thing in the morning, and he does it with ferocious, hilarious efficiency. In the inches between the bed and the bathchair, he gets in an inadvertently expeditious punch to the eye and a wedgie, before comprehensively rolling me down the hallway to the shower room.
So they ask, and I try a little harder.
“Do you know what day it is?”
Still, I learn to count the showers and the therapy sessions.
“He’sremember.British. You should ask who the prime minister is.”
“I… ...don’t know.”
on the water. The running shower and the bathchair hole in which I am sitting switch on that feeling in my bladder. When the flickering of the neurological signals reaches a high enough pitch, I tell my commandant that I need to urinate. He cheerily indicates I should go on the floor, and heads back into the corridor.
“Is it “VeryTuesday?”good.Do you know why you’re here?”
righthimdidShe didn’tHe do wrongher Binary OppositesAliEsrail
In the junkyard sick bed of Generation Y
Where the waves break too soon On apathetic shores The seagulls are crawling with mechanical limbs. We cough up scabs of uncertainty, Sore of Scavengingdespondencyfordiscards and dropped change
The unseen undercarriage of the day. We are children of the dusk Comfort in off white In shadowed corners of dust When light is drained to fade Blurred ghosts on the horizon Tear stained pages Soured milk spilt across laps.
Paving slabs of steel under barefoot steps We are all lost boys in this broken toy shop arcade.
The peacocks are dancing
On testosterone pastures
Sparring in our bullfight backyards. Birds of prey, This is predator territory Guardsmen of themselves on raised lookouts Gnashing their ivories within self-made towers Lock the door and throw away the key. The dumping ground trash can sands Where lost boys play hide and seek Searching for roots to pull up, A space to claw out Soil to sink fingers into so as not to lose hold The drifters on unlaid pathways
As the train pulls into the small dirty hotplate of a station, he jumps onto the doorstep and pulls himself in. I’d probably ignore it as yet another of the million ways the people here use to beat the system. But this is the last station, a deadend. The train stops, people press together and suddenly I wonder if he is a pickpocket...instinctively I clutch my valuables satchel. But as soon as I step onto the platform, there he is, smiling, ‘Auto? Ride to Hampi?’
As I walk around wide-eyed, he lies back in his seat or chats idly with other drivers by the roadside. At the end of the day, he takes me to a temple high up on a rocky outcrop of hills overlooking the river valley. This is a perfect place to watch the sunset. And this time, he joins me and we scramble together through boulders still warm from the day.
Jumping on the train is just one of the many tricks of the trade here – in-yerface, pushy, bordering on stalking. It seems ridiculous to assume that if you’re the first driver to jump at a tourist you’ll succeed... but then again, I end up hiring Lakshan for the day.
His name is Lakshan. Huge ears, unidentifiable age, half-arsed stubble; like most auto-rickshaw drivers he wears a proper-but-well-worn shirt and looks himself pretty worn.
I expect Hampi to be a barren rocky desert bathed in the scorching sun. The road winds up and down reddish slopes, and between giant boulders of rock perched at the brink of a tumble. It swings into coconut groves and dips towards the river banked with fields. It’s exotic, a bit eerie, and beautiful.
‘I hate this view.’ I look at Lakshan quizzically. ‘Is it because you come here too often? Boring?’
The area spans tens of kilometres and is peppered with ruins – palaces, temples, tombs, towers – all remnants of a long-gone empire. Lakshan drives me from one marvel to another, explaining unintelligibly where we’re headed. Some of the time I can half-understand, some of the time I just give up and let my imagination roam.
He keeps on staring ahead at the coconut trees, tiny with distance, like some green feathery creatures swaying in the evening breeze. Silvery-pink glints of pools sprinkled in between, mesmerizing alien fairyland...
‘No, not like that... I like too much. See, you like something too much, you feel
It’s not even a three-minute walk, and already the raindrops start, huge, heavy and surprisingly cold. Lakshan jumps in and it’s as if a spell is broken – the wind starts pommelling us with dust and sand, lightning cracks and the last of the sky disappears.Sostarts
I usually hear opinions of this sort from agnostics or atheists and rarely – if ever – from committed religious people. So I ask him, still puzzled, ‘so are you religious? Do you believe in Vishnu or Krishna, all the stories?’’ ‘No...see, I was not religious but now I am older a bit, I got some trouble in my life, I do pooja more. Some people do more, some less. But people, we all need Brahman in our life.’ And then he continues to confuse me even more. ‘Most people only go to god when there is problem, trouble. They go please god this, please god that, gimme health, gimme money. Why no one ever ask god, are you hungry, are you happy?’ he laughs at his own facetiousness.
‘No no no. God like nature, like a tree or a stone. A tree is too dry – dies. Stone falls into dust. That is god.’ Frankly, I’m not sure if he is sharing some deep personal wisdom, or I am filling in the gaps for a meaning lost in translation. But I am fascinated and I want to ask so many more questions.
‘I think we should go back.’
I get distracted though – it seems to me it has suddenly gotten darker. I turn around instinctively and meet a gust of air like a slap to my face. I cannot help but gasp in awe. A tower of thunderheads is swooping at us with amazing speed, menacingly gobbling up the sky.
‘Well, god is supposed to be all-powerful, no?’
one of the most dangerous rides of my life. The auto-rickshaw has no wipers, it’s a mobile, wobbly wind-trap and the storm is like the wrath of the gods. People in the fields are running for cover, bits of debris flying everywhere, boughs of trees and palm fronds falling onto the road. All this in a dust storm
‘That sounds very... Buddhist. I thought you were Hindu?’ I glance at the red dot on his forehead, a sign that he did his pooja today in a temple in Hampi.
need. Need is not ok. You want all the time, you not happy... That is why I hate it.’ This philosophical pondering coming out in broken English from a worn, uneducated rikshaw driver takes me by surprise.
‘Oh yes, but Buddha was very wise... you know... you see my hand? Five fingers, all different? Just like with people. Look different but Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, Christian – all same hand.’
that cakes my skin and eyes in a gritty irritating layer.
else to do or say – I have no frame of reference for such things. Was it dangerous? Or is it a regular monsoon ride? Should we have pulled over and risked missing the train? I have no clue.
After one especially hearty windblast that tears one of the side curtains down, Lakshan pulls over by a shop and jumps out to get some cigarettes. He starts again only after a shaky smoke. A while later we pass cars queued up, blocking the way, people standing huddled in the middle of the road. I catch a glimpse of a woman’s body, limp on the rough asphalt. And then the rain starts for real, tor rential, soaking, freezing. I am shaking and uselessly wrapping myself in a muddy poncho. It’s now completely dark, save for the white-bluish flashes of lightning. When we arrive at the train station, Lakshan looks ashen. I am both scared andIHe‘Areexhilarated.youok?’nods.don’tknowwhat
He nods again, shoots me a half-smile and drives off. The dirty hot-plate of a station is sizzling and steaming in the cooling rain. And I am left alone with more questions...
Even sleeping volcanoes dream of open arms, lying on the slopes, palms breathing.down,Butthe
The morning observes me in mournful silence as I stretch out of bed, one eye open, the other turned inward; arms outstretched, summoning life with a yawn that sounds like a roaronly silent.Inhale.
making: both enchanter and enchanted.
Street after street streaming like the verses of a song under my toes, my wheels, my railways, as I get nearer to somewhere (every day’s different in the same way).
Open your eyes.
last arms’ prints are buried ten layers deep now. Count to zero.
With my last breath, I pour out my prayers to the ceiling, its mute observation lighting up the fuse.
Hot ashes spring up and stick to the ceiling –syllables unheard as they were unuttered, mixed up into perfect order fused and eyesandbetweensoakingcondensedconfusedanddripping,backintothefoldsthedayandthenighthardeningintosolidsleep,paintedwide-open.I’mashamanofmyown
The potion is still hot, yet ready to be downed –crystals in my eyes.
Eleanor McCullough 31
All his life, Henry Marlow had had an almost morbid fascination with teeth. They seemed to occupy his mind constantly. His father had thought scorn upon this somewhat disturbing fixation but his son, taking no heed of his father’s advice to enter the family firm, had plummeted recklessly into the profession of dentistry. Starting as a simple assistant, he gradually worked his way to the top. It didn’t take too long before he owned a little practice of his own with a respecta ble number of patients. He had married a nice girl, nothing remarkable intellectually or physically, but she had quite an excellent set of teeth.
‘I left some dentures on the bedside table; I was adjusting them in bed last night.’‘Oh, is that what you were doing? I did wonder.’
‘Hello, dear, why are you back so early?’
He usually went off to the office at eight and returned late; she worked at home on a small private computer. He ate his lunches either at work or he went out to a café, naturally brushing his teeth afterwards. They very seldom met up. However, one day upon coming to work, he discovered that he had misplaced the dentures of a patient. He had taken them home to adjust them slightly and he must have forgotten to bring them in again. He had been hoping to finish his adjustments after lunch when he had no patients coming in. So he considered it judicial to skip lunch and retrieve the dentures.
The Last Bite
He felt somewhat strange but this feeling lasted not for a moment. He pushed past her and over to the side of the bed where he had left the dentures. They had fallen upon the floor. How odd? He thought. Another odd thing was that his wife wasn’t dressed yet; she was still in her pyjamas.
He took a cab through the city streets. Ten minutes later, he found himself outside the door of his flat. Upon finding his keys in his breast pocket, he opened the‘Hidoor.honey, I’m home’, he sang out upon entering the house. Rather than hear his wife’s usual answering call, a sound of hurried rummaging met his ears – an almost frantic scrabbling as though hastily collecting oddments from the floor. He advanced through the hall and when he almost reached the kitchen area of their flat, he heard a sound like the opening of the fire door leading to a flight of stairs coming ascending from their bedroom. Just a moment later, his wife came in through the bedroom door.
He walked back into the surgery to examine his drills.
‘Have you been working today, dear?’ he asked over his shoulder, at the same time spying on an apple which lay upon the floor. His wife was now at the open fridge, pouring herself a glass of orange juice (he wished she didn’t drink orange juice; it did nothing for her teeth).
Back at the dentist practice, he ate a light lunch of salad with a glass of water and then meticulously brushed his teeth thereafter. He then pored over the dental records he kept on every patient. He knew that he had seen a similar pair of teeth as the ones that had bitten off that apple in his flat. He should’ve attended to the dentures he had gone home to retrieve but he neglected this task. He looked through all his loggings, even the ones from four years ago when he had first set up his little practice. After three and a half hours of searching, he at last found the set of teeth that would make such marks in the flesh of the apple. He briskly walked out to the front desk where the secretary kept the appointment diary. She had left long ago. Opening the book, he saw that the man would be coming soon to get his crooked teeth seen to. Henry Marlow felt a sliver of vindictive excitement as he awaited the appointment.
‘No, I’ve been pretty busy, all day.’ She did not seem to notice as he bent down and retrieved the apple. It had been bitten but looking at the thin lines made in the apple’s juicy flesh, he saw these lines could not belong either to his or his wife’s teeth. Both their sets of teeth were straight and fine, whereas the person who had bitten this apple clearly hadn’t straight teeth at all. He felt he had seen the teeth that would make such marks somewhere.
A faint noise, a strangled squeak. Words stuck to the walls of her throat, wrestling to get out.
“Hmm,” goes Mom, snipping away.
Now Mom’s scissors freeze mid-snip. A tuft of split-ends drifts onto my lap. The scissors drop with a dull thud onto the towel on the floor.
“She kept insisting you were gonna have twins, though.”
“Dunno. Forgot. But she remembered when you were pregnant.”
Dad’s radio emits muffled speech from behind the closed door. White noise. Light rain splatters steadily against the window. We’re making small talk. It’s nice. Parents are annoying by nature, but right at this moment we’re not yelling at each other, not arguing over my allowance or math homework or anything like
I spin my body around on the stool and look at her face. Her blue eyes are fro zen wide, panic-filled, like when I was little and she always thought I was about to run into the street.
She“Mom?”doesn’t say anything.
“Yeah?” She’s absent-minded today. “What was her name?”
I don’t know how to react. If she were yelling at me I’d just yell louder. If she were nagging I’d shut her out, complain. Instead, she’s just acting strange. I’ve got this knot in my chest, a big tangle of rubber-bands, and I don’t know why.
“I told her I’m an only child.” The knot is getting tighter and Mom’s staring at me with those wide eyes, like she’s pleading for something, like I hurt her, but it was only small-talk and I don’t understand. “Mom?”
I sit on a stool, crammed in the space between the bathtub and the toilet, a faded towel draped over my tie-dye shirt. There’s another towel under the stool, to catch the hair that mom cuts from my head.
into this woman at the café today”, I say, feeling the gentle tugging on my scalp. “Said she knows you.”
She sits on the toilet lid. Her hand is gripping the edge of the wooden side table with the stack of magazines no one reads. White knuckles. She stares at the towel on the floor, the scattered dark blond hairs. A tear traces its way down to
“…What did you tell her?”
Mom and I fight a lot. I’m thirteen; it’s normal. I’ve been told I’m a spoiled brat, and that it’s only natural because all only-children are spoiled brats. I resent that. I have always resented it, but never more than when I catch myself being horrible to her, and I secretly wonder if it’s true. I know that if I could just stop arguing, stop being angry over stupid things like curfews and boyfriends and whether or not so-and-so can spend the night, if I could just swallow my pride, I could let her in on that infinite tenderness that is reserved only for her.
My eyes slide past my mother to the mirror above the sink. I try to imagine his face, like mine but not like mine. The same blue eyes, darker than Mom’s. Or
Julien. That would have been my name, had I been a boy. So my parents always told me. Siblings are an abstract idea to me. Twins even more so. People with siblings share everything. They fight a lot but underneath it all they will defend each other to the death. They are never lonely.
There is a pause. A pause in which I process what is happening. In which my entire existence topples over, crashing to the ground like the twin towers a couple of months ago, except this is not a news report about strangers on the other side of the country. These towers are me; my life. The solid concrete reality that I’m built on, grew up with, have always known to be the true. The things that make me who I am, suddenly blown apart, the pieces now falling into a pile of rubble on a towel on the bathroom floor.
Outside, the mask she wears is constantly smiling. She laughs loudly, continuously. People like her. That’s all she wants, really, only she doesn’t want people to know she’s trying. I know though. Sometimes when we’re in public and she’s just laughing and laughing, I get embarrassed, but as soon as I realise it I feel ashamed of my own embarrassment. Right now, there are no laugh-lines crin kling the corners of her eyes.
“Your brother was a miscarriage,” she says, in a voice so low I can barely hear it. “We were going to call him Julien.”
the edge of her nose. It drips into her lap, pooling into a little dark spot on her jeans.“You weren’t supposed to be.”
She finally looks at me and I recognize the pain in her eyes. The same, private pain that she supresses, every day. The remnants of her own shattered childhood, that I am not allowed to ask about, that she has worked so hard to shelter me from. The same pain that has haunted her, robbed her of sleep, kept her hooked on insomnia medication since before I even existed.
“I didn’t look,” she says again. The pain in her eyes is still there but she shakes it off and puts on an unconvincing smile as she strokes my hair and stoops down to pick up the fallen scissors.
“Complications. I don’t know. I couldn’t look when he came out—There was a beautiful baby girl in my arms. It was enough. I couldn’t look.”
would his have been hazel, like Dad’s?
In my mind, I see my mother surrounded by latex-gloved doctors. She is ex hausted, cradling me, staring down at my own tiny, wrinkled face. I am pink and slimy and brand new. I don’t know anything yet. Behind us, the doctors scrape the scrambled mess of tissue and organs from the operating table into a shoebox. They take it away.
Already, my newfound brother is slipping away. I face forward on my stool and my mother resumes my haircut in silence. Dark blonde tufts fall into my lap and onto the towel on the floor.
Mom is looking at me. She is watching me as I watch myself. “What happened?” I ask. She looks back down at the floor.
I want to know everything. When she found out, how it happened, what my father said. But I look at her and I cannot ask. Somehow I know that this is the only time we will ever talk about Julien.
Perry Jonsson 37
wooden doors open and beaded raindrops lie broken on a leaded roof tile and all the while the soft hum of a subterranean pulse carries bodies through what once was the mountain.
The still air explodes with rubber and twisting steel arteries bleed crimson light into the concrete edifice and each orifice fills with sound and fury the city burns bright and roars with the crashing of a wind that dies suddenly to leave room for silence again.Aran
the city is steel and glass pollution and lights it draws its tangled roots upright in the shadow of two mountains slowly waking as the narcoleptic sun in its endless revolutions pulls a sillouette past each yawning quarter. a hand drawing cobwebs over the shoulder of a sleeping figure smoke rises and twists dark mist against the mountain a leaden finger on a trigger. the city is not like a hillside stone where each face trickles moisture to the mountains core where tendrils bore into each boney crack and every inch a patchwork of green and black. its infinite solid lines without countours or crenellations cold feet track in a thousand leather boots and all but the beggars and the madmen stand somewhereresolute.warm
Reflections on Viasha