issue two of
being a new collection of short stories and poems (to say nothing of the essay)
by the Editor
The Difficult Second Issue
like the stereotypical sophomore album, the second issue of our little magazine
This question of realism, let it then be clearly understood, regards not in the least degree the fundamental truth, but only the technical method, of a work of art. Be as ideal or as abstract as you please, you will be none the less veracious; but if you be weak, you run the risk of being tedious and inexpressive; and if you be very strong and honest, you may chance upon a masterpiece.
Euan Monaghan, Editor (Bedfordshire, April 2009)
It is simply the reality of a characterâ€™s thoughts or actions which matters in the end, and not the setting. Indeed fantastic fiction, in all its many forms, has the advantage of more readily being able to take humanity to the extremes of human existence, and once there, to reveal the essential truth of our nature, for better or worse. All the stories and poems featured in this issue are true. A lust for adventure, a longing for the past, the need for love or companionship... all these thoughts are true for all of us at some point or other in our lives. Even Perseus just wanted to impress a girl. This issue which you hold in your hands/are reading on your screens would not have been possible without the invaluable assistance of Keir Pratt and Elaine Monaghan, for which I thank you both. Also, to the author whose entire copyediting process required removing a hyphen and inserting an em-dash, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
All works contained within the pages of this magazine are protected by a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales licence (with the exception of Notes on Realism by Robert Louis Stevenson and War by Luigi Pirandello, which are have entered the public domain). Nothing in this license impairs or restricts the individual authorâ€™s moral rights.
has had its fair share of delays and creative differences. With the first magazine there were no deadlines other than the vague idea that it would be a good idea to publish during the summer, which we did. Just about. This one might be three months later than the January slot originally aimed for, but I think that itâ€™s been worth the wait. This issue contains seven short stories, four poems and a classic essay by Robert Louis Stevenson on the need for realism in literature. That last might seem a bit out of place in a literary magazine which errs towards the fantastic, but it is the fundamental truth in any story which marks it out as being something worthy of being recorded. As Stevenson puts it:
by Guy Mankowski
The Dagenham Dolls
the music skips as Deborah places a sequin on her cheek. She pouts into the
mirror, and then scoops a little blue paint from her compact. Carefully, trying not to move in time with the song, she draws a line across her cheek with it. Then she strikes a pose she saw Annie Lennox once pull in Melody Maker. She’s spent an hour in front of the mirror and she still looks nothing like she wants to. She’s going for a kind of nylon Dick Turpin look, at once glossy and romantic. Her room is a skip, full of Duran Duran records, as if a synth-rock fan in the grips of an acrimonious divorce has taken refuge on her carpet. She siphons lacquer onto her hands and sleeks her cropped blonde hair back. Deborah is sure that from certain angles she looks like Annie Lennox. Although this hasn’t been verified by an independent source, it has been said by people pressured to do so. She looks more like Annie Lennox than anyone else she knows at least, she thinks. If there was ever a night to, it was tonight. She hears George’s voice in the hallway. She is playing with Midge Ure, their cat. Although George looks wild in an oversized frilly shirt, her eyes heavily made up with scarlet paint, the look in her eyes suggests she also hoped to look different. Deborah knows the gap between dreams and reality only too well. These days, perhaps more than ever, she seems to live on its narrow precipice. Her hairdresser Jeanne has sighed countless times as Deborah has pushed into her hands a crumpled picture of the latest New Romantic star. However useless Jeanne feels these efforts are however, she never lets on. Something about the plump prettiness in Deborah’s cheeks reminds her all too easily of the girl she once was, shivering in the Dagenham rain in a blue plastic coat. ‘Well, we can try’ she inevitably sighs. ‘I’ve only got blue peroxide though. It will have to do.’ ‘Make me a vision’ Deborah usually says, as Jeanne spins the chair around and pushes her hands into that tangle of curls. Jeanne can’t help sometimes but admire Deborah’s refusal to be pulled into the reality of a suburban afternoon. Indeed, Deborah has become so skilled at only seeing what she wants to in the world that Jeanne sometimes wonders if she has made it an art form. Most people are infuriated by this ability of hers, but Jeanne sees something childlike in her which she occasionally longs for herself. On her way to work, for instance, Deborah frequently passes a tatty boutique on Camborne Square and imagines it is a glittering Vivienne Westwood. She pretends that instead of being on her way to work, she’s on her way to meet Boy George for Sangria or something equally glamorous. As Jeanne fiddles with the half-empty bottle of bleach Deborah looks around at the other women in the salon. The purple plastic sheets Jeanne has stuffed into their collars make them look like recent additions to a cult. Deborah imagines them as wealthy heiresses frittering away their husbands’ wealth. ‘We dress up to escape reality’ George once said to a cameraman, after he’d pointed a camcorder in their direction at a club. Like Deborah, George resents reality’s possessiveness. Amongst the fumes in the hair salon, adrift in tawdry dreams, Deborah finds herself posing on a dance floor, the taste of cheap alcohol in her mouth, wondering what Dom is carrying in his handbag. Deborah has four allies in her quest for escape. George is a vision of ambitious androgyny, her girlish body usually pinned into an electric blue suit, her painted
fingers clenching a cocktail glass. She has a filthy laugh, blue eyes that Deborah would kill for, and a self-deprecating humor that makes strangers adore her. She works as a pharmacist’s assistant in town, but on nights out tells people she’s a photographer who once snapped Angie Bowie. She has a postcard of the picture that inspired this lie on her dresser, which came free with January’s edition of Smash Hits. ‘I look like an effeminate office junior’ George confides, coming into the room. ‘You look like Debbie Harry’ Deborah replies, as she lays on lip-gloss. Deborah thinks she can sing ‘Don’t You Want Me’ in perfect tune, as well as wriggling like Lennox in time to it. A door slams. ‘Is that the boys?’ Deborah asks. A few moments later Dom picks his way into the room. His skinny legs are wrapped in glossy black fabric, and a cape trails behind him. If anyone asks what he does on a night out, he says he plays keyboards in a band called The Ovary Strings, a band he made up. He hates using his ID, as it displays a photo of him scrubbed and clean, his slightly acne-scarred face painfully earnest pre his Adam Ant years. ‘Did you pick us up tickets?’ Deborah asks. Dom fluffs his hair and screws up his face in the mirror. ‘Of course’ he says. ‘Am I too fat to be New Romantic?’ he wonders. Deborah isn’t sure she fancies Dom much any more. She keeps going out with him because she believes that he is the only one to have seen her talent. When they met he said he worked for a record company and had once shared a taxi with Spandau Ballet. But the truth is he works in a plastics factory which makes audio cassettes. Dom is a short man with an upturned nose and over-eager manner who seems too bright for factory work, but too awkward for much else. He has a way with words though, and at first that had been enough for Deborah. Dom harbors dreams of managing bands, and on the rare occasions that Deborah will let him take her to The Devils Robe to see some, he’s usually convinced of their imminent stardom by their first chorus. To Deborah’s embarrassment, he often offers to manage them as they leave the stage. On the occasions that bands accept his offer, they inevitably desert him after he’s sat in on their rehearsals for a few weeks, nodding along. Somehow though, these fleeting affairs never dim his optimism. Sometimes Deborah senses that he wanted much more from his life than all this. Still, at the moment he seemed the only one who supported her dreams of stardom. He’d even suggested people who could join her backing band. Dale from the garden centre on bass he said, Aiden from the Scout Troop on front vox, and Hamster from the tyre plant on drums. On her lunch break, while sitting on the park bench eating coleslaw, Deborah sometimes scrawls lyrics on the back of Beauty Vouchers. ‘Heartbreak on a Starlight Motorway’ was one she’d penned herself. It was about a New Romantic Juliet finding her coiffed Romeo dressed as a Jacobean Prince at a Tears for Fears gig. She’d sing it quietly to herself while watching the ladies queue up for an Oil and Set and turpentine rinse. They just didn’t understand, she’d think. Although she was yet to sing it to anyone, she was sure she’d become an instant star if the right person heard her keening falsetto. Then all the hours spent in the mirror making herself an outlandish vision would be justified. She wouldn’t be Deborah Orr, Nail Technician, who dresses up in
bright clothes for the Bowie disco any more. She’d be Deborah Orr, cult star on Top of the Pops. There would be no more time spent applying cheap makeup to make her vaguely resemble the vision in her head. Teams of cosmetics artists would sculpt her into anything she’d dared imagine. Her songs would allow her to blossom into the starlet she already was in her mind. She would create wonderful, synthetic art with her voice, fuelled by the relentless desire that burned in her to be something glamorous. ‘I wonder if everyone will be dressed up tonight?’ Julian asks as he makes an entrance. He’s in his pirate-in-lipstick outfit, wearing a hussar style jacket complete with imitation Adam Ant braiding. He throws himself down on a futon and puts his laced hand up George’s neck. Deborah sees George shudder at his touch. ‘What’s up baby?’ he asks. ‘Don’t touch my hair darling’ George pleads. ‘You’ll flatten it down’. As he usually does, Julian smiles a little hard at this rebuff as though keen to be part of a joke. Julian works as a janitor and writes punk haikus amongst the lawnmowers in his lunch break. He is sure they will make him famous, and one day take him away from secateurs forever. ‘The bus driver might not let us on if he can’t tell whether we’re boys or girls’ George says. She pulls on her velvet coat and rubs perfume on her wrist. She thinks of how people will see her in the nightclub and wonder if she runs her own boutique. One with satin couches and ornate gold lamps, she decides. One where the doorways are framed with peacock feathers, and the air is filled with Chanel, mingling with the sound of The Clash on the stereo. Groups of Thompson Twins clones will come in and trace their fingers down ermine garments, gasping to each other at prices while George aloofly looks on. An alarm goes off, signalling that it is time to go. The four flatmates stand in front of the mirror for one last inspection. Dom smoothes the eye shadow above his cheekbones. Julian places his pirate hat on top of his thinning brown mane. George places another silver star on her cheek and flicks her false eyelashes. Finally Deborah, the forgotten star, pouts like Lennox one more time and places a hand on her hip. Deborah turns off David Bowie’s ‘Fame’. This always means it is time to leave. The four of them leave the house, immediately frozen by the Dagenham night. Boys in baseball caps rush past on skateboards, towards women in white PVC dresses lingering outside Yates’s Wine Lodge. The four of them stand at the bus stop, the only ones in lace and velvet amongst the tracksuits. The men read about the credit crunch and the women pull their denim jackets tighter round themselves. Some of the tracksuits start catcalling and a few throw chips at them. ‘It’s 2009!’ one of them shouts. ‘Why are you dressed like freaks? Is it pantomime season?’ The four of them ignore the taunts and keep shivering in the cold, pulling their satin coats around them, their eyes wet from the wind. As always when this happens, they don’t meet each other’s eyes. It is as if the words had never echoed around the tattered bus shelter. The youths stop catcalling after a while and move off to the pub in pursuit of new targets. The four of them don’t look at each other until they have completely faded from view. George is the first to speak, as the yellow lettering from the X15 comes into view. ‘Here it comes!’ she sings, a little too cheerfully. She catches her reflection as she boards the bus, greeted by the
by Maria Marlais
A Million Ways to Spend Your Time
familiar laughter of the football crowd on their way into town. Looking in the mirror she catches a glimpse of the crow’s feet developing around her eyes, which she can’t find on any other passenger’s face. The bus driver takes no issue with the four of them as they make themselves comfortable. Everyone around here knows that they abandoned living in this decade a long time ago.
to walk along the road And dream of colourful ghosts To see the time You have to follow everyone you see You have to stare at them And scream No one gave me permission To be here Look back I have to leave With my eyes open It’s too unreal It doesn’t touch the earth It can’t pass away It’s too unreal To die
by Allison Berger
we’re smoking weed in the corner of my bedroom when the power goes out. I
jump and scream as the room turns to black; you laugh and reach for my hand, your thumb still on the lighter. You take a hit. My youngest sister runs into the room, opening the door far too wide. Billows of smoke escape your lips, traveling into the hallway like a ghost. “Serena!” I say. “Leave us alone, please.” “I need a flashlight,” Serena whimpers, clutching her baby doll. “Or a candle.” “Ask Elizabeth.” “She’s at soccer.” “Where’s mom?” “Still at work.” “I’ll get it,” you say, standing up. Our eyes have adjusted to the dark, and the light from the moon streams in from the windows, dim but useful. As of late, you’ve liked to pretend that my sisters are your own. Ever since last month, after those kids from school saw me holding hands at the park with someone who wasn’t you, you’ve tried with exuberant force to stay firmly in my grasp. But even as the rumors flew around the hallways like mosquitos in June, you never said a word about it to me. No questions, no accusations, no confrontations. I kept my mouth shut as you silently begged to be mine, held my hair in your hands and kissed my face. I continued to lay my lips upon others’ without remorse, but you turned your head and looked away. Your passiveness made me want you less and less, and truthfully, you knew it. You became nothing to me, but I couldn’t let you go. You treated me too well. And I never felt guilty about seeing the other boys, despite dirty looks and back talk from those who watched our situation as if it was being played out on a stage. Elizabeth enjoyed your fatherly company around the house far too much to let you break your own heart, but at the same time she couldn’t let you leave me. Serena craved your attention and your kindness. Our own father had left when they were toddlers; my sisters needed your arms to pop open peanut butter jars, your fingers to unclog the shower drain. The rest of town acted as an audience to my affairs; as each boy came and went behind your back they whispered and booed. Even my calculus teacher shook her head at me while I kept my eyes to the desk during exams. Her persistent staring and inappropriate looks made me lose my concentration, resulting in a sixty-seven percent on my midterm. At parent-teacher conferences she had the nerve to speak to my mother about our relationship instead of my near-failing grades and lack of in-class responsibility. I should have been on academic probation for the way I dismissed my schoolwork, but my teacher made no note of it. “Mrs. Gorgon,” she began, “I’m worried about the way your daughter treats Peter Triton. It’s affecting his school work. Peter has always been such a good student.” “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” my mother said, balking at her rudeness, at this invasion of privacy. Even in such a small town, she never
expected this. “Madeline loves Peter.” My mother was clueless. Always at work, always behind a desk or a planner, she wasn’t aware of the actions made by her daughters. Our family dinners were short and pre-ordered. Four girls, four plates, four take-out containers. Conversation covered the surface and not much else. Upon your return to the bedroom, you carry in a basket of candles and a glass of water from your trek around the house. “Here,” you say, “drink this.” I take a sip as you arrange and light the candles around us. One on the carpet as a barrier between our bodies, another on the bureau by the photos of my family, the third by the window sill and the sway of the curtain. The water feels cool on my throat; my cases of dry mouth are worse than most. You know this; you know me. You know this house. “Where did you find these?” I ask, tucking my hair behind my ears. “Oh, just under the bathroom sink,” you reply, matter of fact. “Smells like ocean breeze, and my childhood.” “And brown sugar vanilla.” “And cool cucumber melon.” “Now I’m hungry.” We giggle childishly, easily amused and stoned out of our minds. We sit with our legs crossed, facing each other in the dark. The light from the candles creates shadows on the walls, on our faces. Your eyes are the bluest I’ve ever seen. Navy colored irises and thick black lashes, I can still see myself in the reflection of your pupils without making direct eye contact. We are quiet for a moment, looking for sounds to slice through the silence. There is no music, no television; only the noise coming from my sisters’ room. The strum of a poorly tuned guitar and the hum of two lonely voices drift through the hall and under the space between my door and the carpet. Elizabeth must be home. You wrap my hair around your fingers and a perfect curl envelops your pinky. Your face looks heavy now, like you can barely keep your chin up without falling over. Your stupid grin gets wider and wider until I can see the crack of dry skin in the corner of your mouth. You look like you can’t move at all. You look paralyzed with the fear of letting yourself be ruined. “You are beautiful,” you say, barely moving your lips. This is kind and this is true, but— “Peter,” my tone rises suddenly, rudely, “Compliments and dime bags can’t heal this.” “What?” Your smile sinks. Powerless. There’s a knock on the door. “What?” I yell, paranoid. I can feel my eyes glazing over. A headache is looming, I can tell. “It’s me,” Elizabeth mumbles. “What do you want?” The door creaks open. Elizabeth stands against the doorway in her soccer uniform. “I’m worried about Slither.” Her pet snake.
“He’ll be fine. Snakes are fine in the dark.” “But what about his heat lamp? It doesn’t work.” “He’ll be fine.” “It smells like pot in here.” “Hi, Elizabeth,” you say. “Hi, Peter,” Elizabeth nods. “Thanks for the ride home from school yesterday.” “No problem.” You avoid looking at my sister, even though you know she won’t hurt you like I can. Like you know I will. “Why does it smell like pot?” she asks. “Why do you know what pot smells like?” I retort. Elizabeth rolls her eyes and leaves, shutting the door behind her. “Bitch,” I mutter. “You are,” you pause, carefully choosing your words. “You are a monster, Madeline.” “I’m sorry,” I say unconvincingly. I’m not ready for those words. My thoughts are jumbled and brilliant. Everything I think seems like an epiphany, but it’s nothing that you want to hear. I look into my lap for advice. The fabric of my skirt dips between my knees, a cotton crater of loose threads. “I didn’t used to be like this. I don’t know what to say.” The flame from the candle on the carpet rises too high; the wicks are thick and uncut, and as I lean over to try to kiss you for reasons I am unsure of, for reasons I can’t control, the scent of the ocean breeze travels up our noses and catches onto my hair. I scream again. It’s me who’s paralyzed now. The fire has singed my split ends and seized the length. In an instant, my locks are halfway gone; the strands sizzle and hiss like angry snakes on my scalp. The smell of burning hair infects my nostrils and irritates my eyes. You grab a sweatshirt from my dirty clothes pile and hit it repeatedly at my head, stamping out the flames. My arms flail and I reach for my unevenly cropped hair, which only seconds ago hung to my waist, and begin to cry. You hold me unfailingly as I sit like a statue, hard and unmoving. *** You told me once that blue eyes see better in the dark, but I think that’s a myth. If it was true, why aren’t you seeing me for who I really am? I’m cramped up in the space between the wall and bed, my arms draped up and over my head, and you have your kneecaps tucked into the backs of mine. Not like spoons, more like folding chairs, as if a leg is broken, unhinged, and they won’t stack quite right. I can feel you pressing into me, but I refuse to turn around. I know I’ll hurt you; I know I’ll hurt myself. We both know what I’m capable of, but you keep trying to get my full attention with your hands and with your eyes. I have stopped crying. “Madeline, please,” you coax, “we can work this out. Please, look at me.”
by Sanju Sharma
You Are Different
The power returns. The lights in my room flicker on too quickly, too bright. I’m startled and my body moves, electrified. I can hear my sisters rejoicing from the living room; a shout and a click from the remote control tells me they’ll be leaving us alone from now on. You graze your hand along my hip and touch the ends of my hair, blackened with soot. I jolt and shift my weight to face you, keep my cheek to the pillow. I let you kiss my forehead, hold my chin between your fingertips, wrap your legs along mine. But I still won’t look you in the eye. You would just die. You would die.
yes, you are different Different from the lot that lives the life More unnatural and artificial, Just to take birth, grow up and then die down, Leaving no impression in this materialistic world... Yes, you are different. The water gets the clarity from the lucidity of your thoughts And takes pride in doing that The ocean became synonymous with the seriousness it possessed; As it tried to reach the heights you hold And succeeded to a great extent... Yes, you are different. As everything you do, You do it in a different way, You look on the things and they feel themselves different, You step into the occasions and they become distinct... Yes, you are different. As the path you select becomes distinct, And your approach makes it more special, For the road to success is always the one you choose And the results come flowing naturally... And yes, you are different. As the word itself gets its definition from the way you are, Sky may turn green, snow may become black but still, They can’t be as distinct as you are because of the very fact that You are different! Yes, you are different.
by Robert Louis Stevenson
A Note on Realism
Robert Louis Stevenson was a Scottish novelist and writer proabably best known for the novels Treasure Island, Kidnapped and the novella the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. This essay was first published in the Magazine of Art in 1883, and has now entered the public domain.
style is the invariable mark of any master; and for the student who does not
aspire so high as to be numbered with the giants, it is still the one quality in which he may improve himself at will. Passion, wisdom, creative force, the power of mystery or colour, are allotted in the hour of birth, and can be neither learned nor simulated. But the just and dexterous use of what qualities we have, the proportion of one part to another and to the whole, the elision of the useless, the accentuation of the important, and the preservation of a uniform character from end to end - these, which taken together constitute technical perfection, are to some degree within the reach of industry and intellectual courage. What to put in and what to leave out; whether some particular fact be organically necessary or purely ornamental; whether, if it be purely ornamental, it may not weaken or obscure the general design; and finally, whether, if we decide to use it, we should do so grossly and notably, or in some conventional disguise: are questions of plastic style continually rearising. And the sphinx that patrols the highways of executive art has no more unanswerable riddle to propound. In literature (from which I must draw my instances) the great change of the past century has been effected by the admission of detail. It was inaugurated by the romantic Scott; and at length, by the semi-romantic Balzac and his more or less wholly unromantic followers, bound like a duty on the novelist. For some time it signified and expressed a more ample contemplation of the conditions of manâ€™s life; but it has recently (at least in France) fallen into a merely technical and decorative stage, which it is, perhaps, still too harsh to call survival. With a movement of alarm, the wiser or more timid begin to fall a little back from these extremities; they begin to aspire after a more naked, narrative articulation; after the succinct, the dignified, and the poetic; and as a means to this, after a general lightening of this baggage of detail. After Scott we beheld the starveling story - once, in the hands of Voltaire, as abstract as a parable - begin to be pampered upon facts. The introduction of these details developed a particular ability of hand; and that ability, childishly indulged, has led to the works that now amaze us on a railway journey. A man of the unquestionable force of M. Zola spends
himself on technical successes. To afford a popular flavour and attract the mob, he adds a steady current of what I may be allowed to call the rancid. That is exciting to the moralist; but what more particularly interests the artist is this tendency of the extreme of detail, when followed as a principle, to degenerate into mere feux-de-joie of literary tricking. The other day even M. Daudet was to be heard babbling of audible colours and visible sounds. This odd suicide of one branch of the realists may serve to remind us of the fact which underlies a very dusty conflict of the critics. All representative art, which can be said to live, is both realistic and ideal; and the realism about which we quarrel is a matter purely of externals. It is no especial cultus of nature and veracity, but a mere whim of veering fashion, that has made us turn our back upon the larger, more various, and more romantic art of yore. A photographic exactitude in dialogue is now the exclusive fashion; but even in the ablest hands it tells us no more - I think it even tells us less - than MoliĂ¨re, wielding his artificial medium, has told to us and to all time of Alceste or Orgon, Dorine or Chrysale. The historical novel is forgotten. Yet truth to the conditions of manâ€™s nature and the conditions of manâ€™s life, the truth of literary art, is free of the ages. It may be told us in a carpet comedy, in a novel of adventure, or a fairy tale. The scene may be pitched in London, on the sea-coast of Bohemia, or away on the mountains of Beulah. And by an odd and luminous accident, if there is any page of literature calculated to awake the envy of M. Zola, it must be that Troilus and Cressida which Shakespeare, in a spasm of unmanly anger with the world, grafted on the heroic story of the siege of Troy. This question of realism, let it then be clearly understood, regards not in the least degree the fundamental truth, but only the technical method, of a work of art. Be as ideal or as abstract as you please, you will be none the less veracious; but if you be weak, you run the risk of being tedious and inexpressive; and if you be very strong and honest, you may chance upon a masterpiece. A work of art is first cloudily conceived in the mind; during the period of gestation it stands more clearly forward from these swaddling mists, puts on expressive lineaments, and becomes at length that most faultless, but also, alas! that incommunicable product of the human mind, a perfected design. On the approach to execution all is changed. The artist must now step down, don his working clothes, and become the artisan. He now resolutely commits his airy conception, his delicate Ariel, to the touch of matter; he must decide, almost in a breath, the scale, the style, the spirit, and the particularity of execution of his whole design. The engendering idea of some works is stylistic; a technical preoccupation stands them instead of some robuster principle of life. And with these the execution is but play; for the stylistic problem is resolved beforehand, and all large originality of treatment wilfully foregone. Such are the verses, intricately designed, which we have learnt to admire, with a certain smiling admiration, at the hands of Mr. Lang and Mr. Dobson; such, too, are those canvases where dexterity or even breadth of plastic style takes the place of pictorial nobility of design. So, it may be remarked, it was easier to begin to write Esmond than Vanity Fair, since, in
the first, the style was dictated by the nature of the plan; and Thackeray, a man probably of some indolence of mind, enjoyed and got good profit of this economy of effort. But the case is exceptional. Usually in all works of art that have been conceived from within outwards, and generously nourished from the authorâ€™s mind, the moment in which he begins to execute is one of extreme perplexity and strain. Artists of indifferent energy and an imperfect devotion to their own ideal make this ungrateful effort once for all; and, having formed a style, adhere to it through life. But those of a higher order cannot rest content with a process which, as they continue to employ it, must infallibly degenerate towards the academic and the cut-and-dried. Every fresh work in which they embark is the signal for a fresh engagement of the whole forces of their mind; and the changing views which accompany the growth of their experience are marked by still more sweeping alterations in the manner of their art. So that criticism loves to dwell upon and distinguish the varying periods of a Raphael, a Shakespeare, or a Beethoven. It is, then, first of all, at this initial and decisive moment when execution is begun, and thenceforth only in a less degree, that the ideal and the real do indeed, like good and evil angels, contend for the direction of the work. Marble, paint, and language, the pen, the needle, and the brush, all have their grossnesses, their ineffable impotences, their hours, if I may so express myself, of insubordination. It is the work and it is a great part of the delight of any artist to contend with these unruly tools, and now by brute energy, now by witty expedient, to drive and coax them to effect his will. Given these means, so laughably inadequate, and given the interest, the intensity, and the multiplicity of the actual sensation whose effect he is to render with their aid, the artist has one main and necessary resource which he must, in every case and upon any theory, employ. He must, that is, suppress much and omit more. He must omit what is tedious or irrelevant, and suppress what is tedious and necessary. But such facts as, in regard to the main design, subserve a variety of purposes, he will perforce and eagerly retain. And it is the mark of the very highest order of creative art to be woven exclusively of such. There, any fact that is registered is contrived a double or a treble debt to pay, and is at once an ornament in its place, and a pillar in the main design. Nothing would find room in such a picture that did not serve, at once, to complete the composition, to accentuate the scheme of colour, to distinguish the planes of distance, and to strike the note of the selected sentiment; nothing would be allowed in such a story that did not, at the same time, expedite the progress of the fable, build up the characters, and strike home the moral or the philosophical design. But this is unattainable. As a rule, so far from building the fabric of our works exclusively with these, we are thrown into a rapture if we think we can muster a dozen or a score of them, to be the plums of our confection. And hence, in order that the canvas may be filled or the story proceed from point to point, other details must be admitted. They must be admitted, alas! upon a doubtful title; many without marriage robes. Thus any work of art, as it proceeds towards completion, too often - I had almost written always - loses in force and poignancy of main design. Our little air is swamped and dwarfed among hardly relevant orchestration; our little passionate story drowns in a deep sea of descriptive eloquence or slipshod
talk. But again, we are rather more tempted to admit those particulars which we know we can describe; and hence those most of all which, having been described very often, have grown to be conventionally treated in the practice of our art. These we choose, as the mason chooses the acanthus to adorn his capital, because they come naturally to the accustomed hand. The old stock incidents and accessories, tricks of workmanship and schemes of composition (all being admirably good, or they would long have been forgotten) haunt and tempt our fancy, offer us ready-made but not perfectly appropriate solutions for any problem that arises, and wean us from the study of nature and the uncompromising practice of art. To struggle, to face nature, to find fresh solutions, and give expression to facts which have not yet been adequately or not yet elegantly expressed, is to run a little upon the danger of extreme self-love. Difficulty sets a high price upon achievement; and the artist may easily fall into the error of the French naturalists, and consider any fact as welcome to admission if it be the ground of brilliant handiwork; or, again, into the error of the modern landscape-painter, who is apt to think that difficulty overcome and science well displayed can take the place of what is, after all, the one excuse and breath of art - charm. A little further, and he will regard charm in the light of an unworthy sacrifice to prettiness, and the omission of a tedious passage as an infidelity to art. We have now the matter of this difference before us. The idealist, his eye singly fixed upon the greater outlines, loves rather to fill up the interval with detail of the conventional order, briefly touched, soberly suppressed in tone, courting neglect. But the realist, with a fine intemperance, will not suffer the presence of anything so dead as a convention; he shall have all fiery, all hot-pressed from nature, all charactered and notable, seizing the eye. The style that befits either of these extremes, once chosen, brings with it its necessary disabilities and dangers. The immediate danger of the realist is to sacrifice the beauty and significance of the whole to local dexterity, or, in the insane pursuit of completion, to immolate his readers under facts; but he comes in the last resort, and as his energy declines, to discard all design, abjure all choice, and, with scientific thoroughness, steadily to communicate matter which is not worth learning. The danger of the idealist is, of course, to become merely null and lose all grip of fact, particularity, or passion. We talk of bad and good. Everything, indeed, is good which is conceived with honesty and executed with communicative ardour. But though on neither side is dogmatism fitting, and though in every case the artist must decide for himself, and decide afresh and yet afresh for each succeeding work and new creation; yet one thing may be generally said, that we of the last quarter of the nineteenth century, breathing as we do the intellectual atmosphere of our age, are more apt to err upon the side of realism than to sin in quest of the ideal. Upon that theory it may be well to watch and correct our own decisions, always holding back the hand from the least appearance of irrelevant dexterity, and resolutely fixed to begin no work that is not philosophical, passionate, dignified, happily mirthful, or, at the last and least, romantic in design.
by Christi-Lee Combstock
Cities of Legend
this tale I have to tell is from a time when I was taking a pleasure cruise through the skyways of the world. It is a story of mysterious meteorology and unknowable geography. A City of Legend. The Saffron Dawn was en route to Timbuktu from Liverpool when the storm struck. It was a strange one, constantly circling the world from Nippon to Nice, striking suddenly and downing and drowning any vessel in its path. It was known as Aerfen, battle ending, from an ancient war which was stopped when it swept away two warring navies. We came upon it above land, a perilous situation to say the least. The wicked downdraught would smash us against the ground with deadly force. The captain was nervous, pacing about the flight deck, his crew secretly praying to their mixed deities for help. We passengers were quietly ushered into a safe section of the ship with a survival bag each; no one was optimistic about our plight. “Ladies and gentlemen, please stay calm, we will be alright!” one of the stewards called, over the other passenger’s fussy and fearful screams. (I was quite calm, quietly thanking my travelling bag’s useful contents.) Just as they were quieting down an almighty drop occurred: we’d been caught in a downdraught! I later heard that the flight crew had been flung from the floor, valiantly holding onto their posts even when their feet were higher than their heads. Soon we met the ground with a shattering crash and once more my fellow passengers commenced to screaming. Disentangling myself from a gent who was looking decidedly green I waded my way through wailing humanity to the exit. My first thought was for my other luggage but I dismissed them as mere fripperies, and eager to learn of our location, I sought out the navigator on the flight deck. The poor man was a mess; his inkpot had been thrown from its holder during our unannounced descent and spilled its contents over its master and his map. “I’m ever so sorry Miss Gearhertz,” he apologised, mopping the ink from his hair, “I am afraid in all the excitement I was unable to get a proper bearing since we entered the storm clouds.” He looked sadly at his maps, “Right now I haven’t the foggiest idea where we could be.” He went back to trying to salvage his maps so I spoke to the captain instead. He was as confused as the navigator, a smear of blood seeping from a wound on his forehead and a mild concussion had rendered him slightly squiffy and incapable of thinking straight. Decidedly disheartened I stepped out into the hallway to be met by a crowd of passengers disembarking through the emergency exit. Following them through we discovered ourselves to be crashed into a clearing amidst lush jungle foliage. The sounds of zoological matters came upon our ears, clicking insects and howling felines, the snort of jungle hogs and the many trills of exotic birds alarming some of weaker constitution who made a beeline for the airship’s cabins and rapidly shrinking balloon. Huge green leaves larger than any privet back in Blighty dangled around the place and flowers in such colours you’ve never imagined bloomed from high above. To be frank the place was a paradise. Sadly the light was failing, the sky painted hues of blood and gold, and my camera was back in my rather unwell-looking cabin (else I’d have some kinematic and photographic proof of this fantastic land). The ship’s first mate advised we retire
to bed, ready for possible egress from the area or repair work on the ship upon the morrow. The next morning a great commotion roused me from a rather excellent sleep considering the circumstances). “Natives!” was the word going around, “Mounted ( on some damned strange beasts.” I sought a better view and was nearly knocked off my feet by the sight I saw. Tribesmen and women in amazingly colourful armour and trouse beautiful spears adorned with glowing crystals in their hands; but what was most amazing, in fact one could say downright flabbergasting, was the creatures which they rode. Never before had I seen such things, apart from some decidedly less vital specimens in the Royal Institute of Geology back in Albion. Dinosaurs! Great blooming lizards with sharp teeth and long claws! Tails whipping in impatience and pacing on the spot! They were like horses or that odd bird the ostrich, with its scrawny neck and long spindly legs. And the tribe’s people were riding the things! The leader of this strange group spoke perfect English (however several crew whose native tongue was Spanish also swore that the strangers spoke Spanish) and were very polite, explaining that they had merely come to investigate the intrusion on their territory. A member of the group suggested that the ship be taken to their air-docks for repairs and so our journey into a fantastic land began. The ship levitated by some strange means, an Ǽther emanating from the crystals on their spears. It was towed behind us the captain and his crew fussing over it as we moved. The City they led us to was as amazing as their mounts. Huge marble columns rose into the sky, black granite slabs paved the way, flecks of pyrite giving them glitter. A waterfall cascaded either side of a grand entranceway, channelled away by ornately carved gutters. The buildings were as fantastic as a palace, each one more beautiful than the next; delicate crystal domes adorned their roofs and silver filigree sketched delicate patterns of birds and flowers across the black, blue and white marble façades. The people of the city stood and stared at us with similar wonder to our own, each entranced by the unusual sights. Strangely, not one of us found language a problem, just as with our escort. Soon our outlandish procession came to a huge bronze framed building; fantastic flying machines unlike any I had ever seen alighting and landing around us, kept afloat by seemingly nothing and made of glass beads, soft wood and feathers of the local birds! These gorgeous things put the Saffron Dawn to shame, a behemoth in comparison, flying in a similar manner to a lead block as they flew like paper on the wind. “We will fix your craft.” the leader of our escort said, “Please, enjoy our city, the people will tell you all that you ask.” With that he turned and left us, a bemused group in an unfamiliar, bustling metropolis. The passengers and crew sought food and rest, the boring lot that they were. I, on the other hand, delighted in the new surroundings, rushing around to sample all the sights and sounds in embarrassingly child-like glee. As the sun set on the second day of our unscheduled adventure I chanced upon an unusually opulent building. Entering, I found myself in a Library that would put the central book depository of the Empire to shame. Books and scrolls were overflowing from
the shelves, tiny gold and silver spheres with iridescent wings flitted between the towering cases carrying huge tomes with ease. As I looked up a planetarium came into view, a giant telescope adjacent, high in the domed ceiling of the building. Walking to the centre of the complex to seek a way to the grand telescope I came across a globe unlike any other I had ever seen before (I apologise for the hyperbole, by this point my mind was running low on superlatives). It was a pure blue crystal, clear so I could see my hand the other side, the continents and raised terrain picked out in gold, the latitudes and longitudes in a fine silver line and the equator a ring of flawless rubies. Diamonds glittered upon the continents marking the premier cities of the earth. However, not London, Paris or Tokyo but El Dorado, Avalon, Tír na nÓg, Atlantis and Yggdrasil. Cities and locations of legend. As I spun the globe in wonder, trying to match the diamonds with locations familiar to me, desperately trying the methods of information internalisation taught at the Academy, an aged librarian approached. “Hello, daughter of Cymru, the engineers and craftsmen report the full repair of the vessel in which you had passage. I bid you to come to the farewell dinner our humble city has laid on for our esteemed guests.” He bowed as if I was the empress herself. “These places,” I said, reluctant to leave such an amazing place, “They are but myths in the Empire, and how did you know of the country I was born in?” I asked. “My lady, these cities are as real as you or I, simply hidden from the prying eyes of those who would exploit them; as for your origin, it is but a skill of my people. Now come, we must hurry to the celebrations!” He hurried me along and out of the wonderful Library, past artefacts of great beauty and amazing views over the valley in which the city was hidden. “What is this place?” I asked as we sped past a map of the continent. “A place between places, a Land with no anchor.” He replied cryptically leading me into a grand banquet hall. All the crew and passengers were already seated, tucking into a sumptuous feast and I must say it smelled divine. I ate my fill and then some; sated I happily allowed myself to be led onto the ship and to my cabin by our accommodating hosts. The next morning I awoke late with a foul taste in my mouth and a bad headache. Assuming it was merely too much good wine the night before, I sat up to check the view. I was heartbroken by the sight that greeted me. Clouds gently rolled by and the telegraphed news update slipped under my door gave the date as but a day since our fortuitous crash-landing. Wondering what in the Empire was happening I left my cabin and accosted the first steward I came across. “Why Miss Gearhertz, it’s lovely to see you up and about after the day before yesterday’s unfortunate incident,” he beamed. When the look on my face made it clear I had no idea what he was talking about he explained. “Your breakfast that morning was tainted, quite by accident I assure you, by a strain of mushroom that secretes a hallucinogenic compound.” He looked ashamed. “They look so similar to the good old mushrooms we all enjoy and grow in the same conditions and they found their way into your breakfast. The effects made it necessary to sequester you in your quarters until they wore off.”
I was aghast; excusing myself I rushed to my room to inspect my things. Questing hands found what I was looking for, a single claw from one of the dinosaurs ridden by our hosts and a feather from the brightly coloured birds that flew around the city. My suspicion was that our hosts snuck some kind of sedative and memory-erasing agent into our final meal and with some unknown trickery returned us to our proper course. Sadly no one else aboard had shared the experience but the claw and feather and the three elapsed days on my chronometer validate my story. One day I will search for those diamond marked places. Those Cities of Legend.
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by Mark Sayles
when he looks at his hands,
A coat of filth covers the primer. Forgotten pink peeks, Tiny slivers of fleshy reminders, The tramp Questions the colour of past, Desperate to remember who he was Before the streets collected beneath his nails. Original skin, Bleed through grime, Shine past dirt, Rebel against choice, this life I’ve chosen to lead. Secondary layer, Protect me from myself. The reason why I allowed you to flourish, It grows in me still. Unwashed digits scramble, To write, A name, The sum of his life, scratched in the earth. She. I had a love, and I crushed it with my hands. The tramp catches his reflection... He hasn’t seen his face in years. Lost in hair and buried in beard, the tramp is trapped, Inside an hourglass, Confined by all that’s been. Dripping with sand and nostalgia, He lies in a puddle gathered at the bottom of the glass, Salty cement lining the walls he has built around himself. The tramp cups his hand and drinks, Her lipstick stuck to his palms, Their mouths, Meshing, Saliva waxing the pavement.
Fingers claw at the surface Carving her name in the trunk of a tree Holding her hand in mime Pretending we were perfect As he remembers, the tramp feels for nothing. The sand is inside, It has filled his hurt and sullied all joy. My organs canâ€™t breathe. The tramp looks at his palms. He rubs out her lips and closes his eyes... ... he can still see her, the sound of her stomach. Scrambling in the dark, grasping for anything that throbs, The tramp feels for female, a fellow vagrant, enveloped by numb, waiting in shadow. Loneliness collides, and they reach beneath, One anotherâ€™s clothes, with filthy, disgusted hands... Touching. Private. Parts. As his fingers reach inside this stranger, the tramp is sucked inside. Wrap me up inside your skin. Let your entrails keep me warm. So I can feel Anything. Pretend she didnâ€™t die, Let me forget, by living through you, the crest of her heart.
by Johnny Lee
Giant White Shadows
oxygen vents and aluminium heat ducts begin to creak inside the Schneeweiß
apartment block, jerking Teddy wide awake. Compressed air hurries around a maze of internal pipe work en route to the space heater, a large industrial metal unit fixed onto the bedroom ceiling. After a few seconds warm air floods from the mouth of the space heater and fills the bedroom with dry heat. Teddy imagines all the apartment blocks in London creaking in unison, an inhuman orchestra of bricks, metal and glass... giant buildings flexing and stretching their morning muscles. It must be 07:30. The space heaters always ignite at 07:30. Teddy unwraps himself from several layers of bedding leaving only two thirds of his body, from mid-shin to belly, covered with an off-white bed sheet that barely contrasts against his pale skin, the light grey mattress, the cream painted walls, and the white ceilings that seal the 10th floor apartment from the floors above. It seems the only disparity in the clinical bedroom is the short crop of brown hair that adorns Teddy’s head, and even that might be considered more of a shade than a colour. A polished aluminium tag on the space heater rim reads ‘From 0 to 50°C in only EIGHT seconds!’ Teddy thinks the slogan might be a slight exaggeration of fact, but he doesn’t need convincing that without the space heaters every single person residing in the Schneeweiß apartment block would freeze to death rather quickly. The temperature in the bedroom increases quickly. Teddy palms the knot of bed sheets away and slips out of bed, standing directly underneath the space heater to warm his body. He takes a pair of folded grey overalls from the floor and steps into them, fastening the zipper all the way from the waist to the neck. He tip-toes from the bedroom out onto a thin hallway before gently closing the door behind him. Opposite, a door leads into a second bedroom occupied by his mother. Both bedrooms are identical except that his mother’s contains a double bed rather than a bunk bed. As Teddy moves past her door his ears pick up the sound of rattling metal, and he almost laughs aloud. The sound emanating from his mothers bedroom is the space heater vibrating loose inside its fixings – ceiling fixings that Teddy tampered with last week when his mother and brother left the apartment to collect their ration packs. Unfortunately his brother returned sooner than expected, causing Teddy to cut short the DIY session in his mother’s bedroom. But despite the mission having been aborted, and in spite of only having enough time to slacken three of the seven ceiling bolts, Teddy still expects the space heater to give up its moorings within a week or two, and then plummet from the ceiling – SPLAT – landing right on top of his mother. That’ll teach the old buzzard! It’ll be the first time her bed has seen any action for a very long time, thinks Teddy, as he moves left along the corridor and into the kitchen. He grabs a faded yellow mug from the drainer, adding a dehydrated coffee cube and a little water, before placing it in the microwave. With no space heater in the kitchen Teddy prefers to warm his first coffee of the morning well beyond hydration point so to properly warm his belly. He unzips a pocket on the outside of his grey overalls and removes a clear bag containing a mixture of marijuana buds, ground tobacco, and a bundle of cigarette papers. Teddy grabs the faded yellow mug, now piping hot, from the microwave and moves toward the large
window, resting his coffee mug on a small plastic table under the window and sets about rolling a special cigarette. Beyond the kitchen window there is only modest light. Although the sun has cleared the horizon it remains imprisoned from view behind thick cloud and the apartment blocks that line the opposite side of the courtyard. Teddy sparks the freshly rolled cigarette and rests his slight body onto the frame of the kitchen window as if he were lowering himself into a warm bath. The smoke separates into three separate plumes, white, grey, and dark yellow, before rising in random swirls and collecting in hazed layers beneath the ceiling. Teddy huffs and puffs away, now very much enjoying the view from the kitchen window which suddenly seems less repressive with hot coffee and special cigarette smoke coating his insides. He imagines the night must have been unusually quiet, for he can’t remember stirring even once. When the wind is high it is usual for noise to drift into the apartment from beyond the high walls that surround London, filling the air with indescribable sound. Sometimes Teddy can make out millions of scattered voices and screams that go on well into the early morning. He speculates unsuccessfully as to how his brother and mother manage to sleep through it all. For years he’s tried to imagine what the source of the sound would look like – he wondered what physical form the Outsiders would have taken. After all, they may not even be human. What a thought! Perhaps they’d have devolved into primitive creatures armed with razor-sharp weapons – bloodthirsty crooks immune from the bitter cold on merit of their pure wretchedness alone. The current rumour circulating the markets is that the Outsiders have been spotted testing the 200m high perimeter walls for fractures. If the Outsiders were to breach the perimeter walls, Teddy expects that the city would be quickly overwhelmed, the fortress conquered, the last bastion of the old world reduced to its knees, the final hideout of decent society uncovered. Freedom and expectation all totally buggered! But these days the horror of what one might find beyond the wall doesn’t fill Teddy with a great deal of fear. After all, he has spent years being afraid of the Outsiders, and no matter how vile the scene outside London, he now realises that the fear of the unknown hasn’t fared him any better than apathy might. In any case, no Londoner has ever set eyes on an Outsider, let alone attempted to communicate with them. Of course there are plenty of loud mouthed folk down in the markets who claim, “I’ve seen one of those crazy bastards, and I tells ya, they’re not like us. They are nuffin but morally loose cave animals!” And who knows, there is every chance that the gossip in the markets is accurate. The possibility of this seems less and less daunting to Teddy, and rather seems only to offer an opportunity to escape the worn-out routine of coffee, smoking, slogging over ration-issued pornography magazines, and shivering a slow death inside room 1000 of the Schneeweiß apartment block. All of a sudden Teddy realises that he is terrifically stoned; he abandons engaging the chatter of his mind to focus on the trickle of coffee weaving its way toward his stomach. Outside, the outline of the sun can now be seen rising behind bundles of cloud that cluster above the apartment blocks on the opposite side of the courtyard. Teddy’s eyes follow the first rays of yellow light that escape
through tiny chinks in the greyness, bouncing between the walls of the frost covered buildings and the cold pavement below. Further fragments of light jink through the cloud; the kitchen illuminates and just a little warmth dances about Teddy’s face, triggering childhood memories. He can still remember playing silly games outdoors before the land froze and the sky faded to grey. Those precious memories of his own childhood: kicking footballs, smashing windows, jumping ropes, stealing sweets, and chasing pretty girls for hours and hours around the streets of London – that childish clamour of claps and squeals and bloody knees... the drone of distant summer memories churning inside his mind. The light increases a little more and the courtyard becomes visible. Presently Teddy can make out the pavement below buried beneath a layer of frost. Stretching his vision to its furthest he watches on as the last scavenger fox of the night scampers back down into the sewage system clasping a large rat between its jaws... and face down on the frosty pavement, in the centre of the courtyard, a young female body lays star shaped, flat-out. Presently the figure begins to fidget – the human body beginning its boot up sequence. The sight of the girl doesn’t cause Teddy alarm; he has borne witness to these scenes before. The body below is Anna Frederickson, a resident of the SchwarzTod apartment block; she is a long term inhabitant of the 5th floor. There is no doubting that she is a drunkard, for only a drunk with vodka blood could survive a night outside in these wicked temperatures. If Teddy slept outdoors he imagines he would wake with frostbitten fingers and toes, chomped skin, a frozen tongue, and a skull cracked like a mishandled glass fruit bowl. But not Miss Frederickson; she is a professional drinker with anti-freeze pumping in her veins and like all hardened drinkers, she has become well adapted to sleeping outside without causing her body too much harm. Slumped against the frame of the 10th floor kitchen window, Teddy watches on as she straightens her spine, rubs the morning crust from her eyes, and scrapes layers of impacted frost and grit from her hands. Suddenly she hooks her head up, and looks straight at Teddy. He carries some hope that in the dim light, and using those poorly calibrated vodka eyes, she’ll only be able to make out a silhouette, but he has a gut feeling that she knows it’s him. Amongst the freezing air and the iced concrete vista of the courtyard, Miss Frederickson rises to her feet. She lifts her right arm up into the air as high as she might, before dramatically dropping it downward in loose spirals, taking a bow for Teddy – a cheap act in the middle of the courtyard theatre. She is a mass of light blonde hair and pale white skin and freckles – Teddy’s favourite actress. Too frigid to move, he fails to acknowledge the odd show of affection and she takes off toward the opposite side of the courtyard, moving clumsily. At the last she turns her whole body toward Teddy, waving her limbs as much for balance as effect, and begins shouting, “You’re not the real Teddy Gerhard you fucker, fucker, fucker!” Teddy notices the words turn to steam as soon as they leave the shelter of her mouth. Teddy hears her muffled screams through the solidness of the kitchen window and somehow, for just a moment, feels her wild excitement, her anger, her vodka-fuelled giddiness. He watches as her fingers weave V signs
by Caitlin Huppe
in the cold air. Her voice rolls into laughter, she stumbles a little and then fades into the shadows cast by the white concrete apartment blocks. Up on the 10th floor of the Schneeweiß apartment block Teddy Gerhard puffs the last of his cigarette, trampling the smouldering remains beneath his foot, before moving away from the kitchen window and leaving his empty coffee mug amongst the plates and cutlery in the sink – his mind focused only on the image of Anna Frederickson. He is confident that she is trouble: she seems to know too much about him, she is a drunk, and probably a junkie too. And yet... she is by far the most colourful scrap of life he has seen since he was a boy, since the wall went up. In spite of all reason, a perfect feeling blossoms into full clarity from somewhere in the vicinity of Teddy’s chest; the rather perverted notion that he should disregard uncertainty, and instead, set about getting to know her.
well hold me down in a cello’s dream She cannot drown Or disagree. What paints “Okay”? some infant’s sigh Commanding the past to sing goodbye. Then let these tresses fall in torrents Across the twisted, lifeless strings.
by Cole Weber
i like to go for walks at night, when it’s dark and there’s nobody else on the
streets. I always half expect, in the back of my mind, that something exciting will happen. Nothing ever does, of course, but I keep going out anyway. This evening I put on my old black trench and check my pocket watch. It’s just past 11:30. Perfect time for a night jaunt. I grab my keys and climb the three flights of stairs down from my apartment. The evening air is cool, but not cold. I look out along the road. Everything is quiet. No lights are on in the buildings nearby, except for a single candle burning in the second story window of a house across the street. The woman who lives there always has one lit. The rumor in the neighborhood is that she had a kid go missing in the Iraq war, so she keeps a candle burning until he comes home. I have never actually confirmed this is true, but it’s a good story, and I think the Romantic part of me doesn’t want to find out and be disappointed if it weren’t. I turn right and begin my nightly wandering. Nobody is out where I am, but I can hear cars a few streets north, and the scream of an ambulance’s siren from the south. A couple of dogs bark just behind me in the west. The few stars that I can make out in the light from the city gleam overhead, it’s a clear night. I feel anticipation well up in my animal brain, waiting, expecting. I pause to look at the stars, but in the city they are almost impossible to make out. There are maybe fifty of them sitting dully in the vast blackness. Most of them aren’t even stars, but satellites. The real sky is much more beautiful. You can’t really understand it if you haven’t been outside of a city for a long time. Once you get away from the lights, the heavens seem to open up, millions of stars and galaxies moving slowly against the firmament. It’s not nearly as nice in the city, but interesting nonetheless. I walk with a slow, relaxed pace, the tapping of my cane in time with the beating of my heart. I have walked past all of these things before, the old Victorian house on the corner of 10th and G that has been for sale as long as I have lived here, the church with a sign in both Spanish and English, the park with a stone gazebo that I like to meditate in occasionally. This is my city. I know it’s side streets and back alleys better than I know it’s main roads. I turn to the south, no particular destination in mind, just walking for the sake of walking. Lights shine behind me as a car passes. I’m not the only one out this evening. I am approaching a busier street, so I turn left again, not wanting to deal with traffic. As I turn, I see a sign nailed to a telephone pole. It reads “Follow me!” and there is small red arrow pointing down the street. There must be a garage sale this way, I assume. I obey its demands, but only because that was where I was headed anyway. I check my watch again. It’s just past midnight. Still early. I keep walking. I look off to the right, down at a gravel driveway. I notice that some words have been scrawled in the dirt. “Are you listening?” they read, and I can’t help but feel these words are referring to me. The rational part of my brain tells me how stupid that it, but the primal part that has been waiting for adventure perks up at these words.
I turn left, deciding that maybe I would like to go visit the flower gardens a few streets north, they always look gorgeous in the moonlight. Suddenly I see, scrawled in bright yellow spray paint on the side of another apartment “Turn back!” Despite myself, I decide to listen to this sign. Not the most logical thing, I’m sure, but my sense of adventure gets the best of me sometimes. As I return to the previous street, I see a plastic bag that the wind has plastered to a tree. It reads “Thank you!” As I continue walking, my brain keeps telling me I am being silly. Signs do not talk, it tells me. These are just random words, the same as those spread around any city, it’s you that is putting them into some kind of order. I may be a little prone to fantasy at times, but this is too much even for me. As if to prove me wrong, the series of signs leads me in a very coherent and seemingly planned route. It never turns and then changes or re-crosses itself. An outside observer might think I had a clear goal in mind as I walk. “Turn left” reads a road sign. “Follow your star” announces a billboard with a line of star-decorated houses behind it. “You’re almost there!” encourages the lit-up marquee of a self-help clinic. Hours later, I find myself halfway across town in a park I have never seen before, my legs sore and tired. I begin to doubt myself. Why did I follow a bunch of stupid signs anyway. I am tired and I have work in the morning. Am I even going to be able to function at the office tomorrow? What will I tell them if they ask why I can’t work? Why am I even out here in the first place? Then I notice the pavilion at the center of the park. Painted on the cross-beam above the main entrance in gold paint is “The end of the road”. I guess I’m already here, I might as well check it out. I walk in, the darkness encompassing me. Even the glow from the street lamps doesn’t make it in here. I fumble against the wall in search of a light switch. Nothing. I make my way forward, feeling my way along the wall, when I kick a thin, cylindrical object. I pick it up and press a button. A flashlight! I look around the building. I am in an empty amphitheater that apparently hasn’t been used by anyone but spiders for years. I take a few steps forward into the center of the theater and notice a glint of light from the ground. Lying on the floor is some kind of sparkling object. I bend down to examine it, and notice words scratched into the dirt. They read “There are a thousand mysteries for every star in the sky.” I return my eyes to the object itself, drawn by the sparkling surface. It is a small orb of black stone with small, star-like white dots along its surface and it is perfectly smooth. I don’t recognize the type, but then I never have been good at geology. I reach out to take the stone from its resting place, and as I touch it, a sublime feeling of joy sweeps over me. I get a feeling of being able to see the whole universe from the outside, and I feel at peace. Surprised by this wave of emotion, I drop the sphere. Was it all the stone’s doing, or just my overtired mind playing tricks on me? I pick up the stone again, and I feel the same emotions as before. This time, however, I am prepared. Some minutes later, I place the stone in my pocket and go back outside, leaving the flashlight on the floor behind me.
I don’t want to walk home this late at night, so I find a payphone and call a cab. I wait for the taxi to arrive, pondering my evening’s adventure. I still can’t wrap my head around everything that occurred, and there are so many unanswered questions. I don’t even know where to begin asking them all and before I can start, the bright yellow taxi arrives. I constantly finger the sphere in my pocket on the ride home, and I arrive home at 3:29 AM. I walk up the stairs, unlock my door, and get dressed for bed. I place the stone on my desk and fall into the deepest sleep I have ever had. The stone is still sitting there when I wake up, and it makes me happy to see it there. To be honest I didn’t expect it to be real. I call in sick and sleep in. When I finally do wake up, I go out to buy a stand for my new stone. Clearly it deserves some kind of special treatment. I did spend an entire night “looking” for it after all. I still don’t know exactly what it is. I don‘t know whether the signs were actually leading somewhere, and if they were, why. I don‘t know anything about the previous night, but I find I don’t care. That would normally bother me, the not knowing, but in this case, it’s nice to have a little mystery.
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*** It’s now the sixth night and sixth day of no sleep. Yesterday I began to act a bit strange at work. Nigel commented that I didn’t look myself. He doesn’t know of course, no one does. I switched off and stopped talking. I’ve never been one to talk things through and explain things, I switch off and enter a state of happiness, an unwelcomed happiness. Nigel must have picked up on this; my jubilant workself that had been released in the past few days, comes as a surprise I’m sure. I’ve met my deadlines and managed to excel more than usual. Congratulations all round. Now it’s another night. I’ve tried different things tonight; I did some work until about one. Then I did some weight lifting, trying my hardest to physically drain myself, force myself
by Joshua Lachkovic
Lost in the Hard Rain
i check the digital clock on my bedside table. Three burning red digits display the numbers five, two and six. I have been without sleep now for the past five days. The day was at the stage when it was no longer so dark you couldn’t see, but there was still no light filling in the spaces to provide a means of interpreting the shapes of objects. Yesterday was still hanging on and tomorrow hadn’t quite begun. I felt lost in between days. I considered those others still awake at this time: the club goers thinking about returning home, workers waking for work, or the other people, like myself, just waiting in a state of unknown; awake for no purpose at all. I look around my room. My eyelids droop and my eyes go soft focus. If I stare at something long enough it merges into something else, as if I was in the depths of a trip. Yet I was so far from that, it was so many years behind me that there was no way it could have been. The lightshade flickered around as if it was dancing and I eventually blinked and snapped out of it. Noise levels increased from the road below, it could be argued that it never died down, but I guess at a certain point you just stop paying attention. I wondered how long this was going to go on, I wondered how long this stage of nothingness was going to continue. I felt sick constantly, yet I hadn’t eaten for days and my stomach felt so empty it was painful. If I thought about food though, the sickness came back and took hold. Most of the night I didn’t even think about anything, I just lay there staring at the pattern on my ceiling and completely ignoring any thought that might enter my head. Time went on, still locked in this stage of morning not quite morning, the same feeling as when flying. When you are in between countries, in between time zones, in between the earth and the sky. You don’t belong to one country; you are infinitely disconnected from existence, disconnected from reality, from relations and friends and disconnected from life.That feeling of flight reminds me so much of the feeling right now, the time between days and in between life. I begin to wonder again, when this will end. I lay there motionless for some time longer. At eight I would have to ‘get up’ and get on with my own life, the life that I pretend is still going on, or at least the life I force myself to believe is still going on.
to sleep. It was no use. I hit the point of collapse, emotional and physical, and dragged myself to the sofa. It was now about half three, maybe four. I was sat in my living room and listening to musically quietly. The record I was listening to began skipping, over and over, its disjointed timing producing one of the most incessant sounds I’d ever heard, but I couldn’t bring myself to get up and move the needle. I sat staring out of the window to the street light that lit up my room providing anyone outside with the perfect view. There were no houses across the street and no one could see in, but I wanted them to. I began constructing a sitcom in my head, something that would play out well in this room. Maybe a film. Designing plot outlines in my head and considering the possibilities. Maybe a comedy about a man who didn’t speak, kept from expressing his thoughts or emotions. The humour would be in its own stupidity. But of course this would never work. Maybe if this insomnia carried on I could film it and just sit here at night watching it play, over and over. A video of me sitting, and then film me watching. I could submit it to Cannes or something. My gaze fell to the wall and I was sure that the posters on either side of the television had switched side. Pulp Fiction to the left of the TV and Reservoir Dogs to the right. It should have been the other way round. I wasn’t a huge Tarantino fan, but they were the coolest posters I could find when I was shopping for decoration. She hated them of course. I couldn’t have been imagining it, the posters had switched. When did I do that? Maybe last night, I can’t remember anything anymore, the past six days were a huge blur, mismatched memories and the constant feeling of disconnection. *** At work yesterday I went a bit strange, had some kind of fit. I got the shakes, went dizzy and started mumbling under my breath. I didn’t really think anything of it until Nigel walked in, bringing me a coffee. I drank it, expecting the jitters to increase, yet strangely they disappeared. He talked to me and asked if I was all right. I don’t recall much of the conversation, passing my behaviour off as a lack of sleep. He said we should go for a drink sometime. I said maybe next week, I had some sleep to catch up on. He said he understood and left me to my own devices; left me to carry on working. So here was another night. Was it day six, night six, or seven? I’m so lost, times mean nothing to me, and days don’t either. I wasn’t sure the day of the week, the month or even the year. Time was just some loop that carried on. Every night the sun set and every morning the sun always rose, or rose behind a thick grey lining. I wondered fleetingly what she was doing. For a few hours I was just sitting and thinking of the objects that lined this room; the television that was gathering dust, the ashtray that was overflowing, and posters which had returned to their original positions. I studied them some more, I must have switched them back last night, but can’t remember doing it. In fact, they looked strange now, maybe it was right before, maybe Pulp Fiction
belonged on the left, it made more sense, somehow. The phone rang, startling me. The sound in my room was so unfamiliar to my ears that it distorted everything, the phone rings sounding like a record player softly playing a few notes on repeat. I pulled myself to the phone; the ringing lasted for ages, it must have taken me minutes to get there and the answering machine still hadn’t picked up. I got to the phone and lifted the receiver, but the change in volume made my ears ring, and suddenly my hearing went dead. I whispered Hello slowly, but no one was there. After a few minutes I heard the dial tone. Returning the phone to its cradle, I heard a gentle hum somewhere, a bass rumble. I must have left the speakers on. I stood up and went to the hi-fi. Nothing was playing though, and nothing was on. I fiddled with the volume switches. None of this would make a difference though as the amplifier wasn’t even on. I switched it on and switched it off, suddenly the bass rumble and hum disappeared. I returned to my sitting position, and began thinking about the horror this sitcom would become. *** They sent me home from work today, said I looked awful. Maybe I forgot to shower this morning. It was a shame because I managed to get some extra stuff done for work at about two last night, Being sent home from work was horrible, I arrived to see my house in a strange light: daylight. It had been a long time since I had seen the flat like this. Dust lined all the surfaces, mugs and cups were stuck to tables and ash was everywhere. It looked like a bomb had gone off. What had gone on here? What strange binge had someone taken part in? Who had fallen asleep and woken up years? What was going on? I sat down and felt like I was drifting off to sleep, but as soon as I realised I was doing this the realisation snapped me back to reality. I heard someone rustling around, maybe she was back. Can’t be. Did Nigel come round, did Nigel come to help me out, did I tell him something? I can’t remember, I really can’t. He must have done though, as he was rustling in the kitchen. I didn’t look over, I just carried on. He began saying my name over and over but I ignored him; I couldn’t be bothered with contact from anyone else, I couldn’t be bothered with communication, it was too late. I eventually told him to shut up and for a while he did, he just started making something in the kitchen, cereal it sounded like. I wasn’t sure. “Nigel”, I said. There was no response and so I got up and worked my way to the kitchen. There was no one there and the rustling had stopped. I began to freak out but as I returned to the sitting room there he was sitting and eating a bowl of Coco Pops. “You scared me”, I said. He murmured something and carried on eating cereal. I sat down on the sofa next to him and couldn’t decide what to do now that he was here. I couldn’t carry on with my normal evening slash night slash nothingness lifestyle; he would judge me too much. We forced conversation but nothing that important was said.
*** They sent me home again, advised that I see someone. Nigel wasn’t in and I said he was at my flat last night. The others said it wasn’t possible he had his anniversary dinner with his girlfriend. Mine was going to be soon. Maybe they had a bust up and he came over. I lay there on my sofa watching the ceiling and I heard something in my bedroom again. I pulled myself together and walked into my bedroom, but there was nothing there. There was, however, a bright light coming from the gaps between the curtains and the window. Christ was it morning, had I been to sleep? I showered quickly, but everything was so slow; my motions were disjointed and my thought process disfigured. I looked towards the curtain again, and there was that bright yellow light piercing through the curtain gaps. I threw on my suit that hadn’t been washed, that looked like it had been slept in. Oh how ironic. I looked at the time, it was two or three. I didn’t want to be fired. I took four Pro Plus to kick start my morning, or afternoon. I remember taking some sleeping tablets last night. Did I actually fall asleep? There was something strange about today though, it was such a quiet day, and the traffic had died down like it was night. I stumbled down my staircase and walked out the front door. Outside the street lights were on, and I couldn’t understand why. There was a definite orange or yellow glow from the sun wherever it was in the sky. My head was down as I locked the door, and as I turned around everything went black. I spun in slow motion and as I was falling to the floor ever so slowly, I realised I had been punched. I opened my eyes just enough to see a boot coming towards my face and as it made contact I felt my nose crunch into a thousand pieces. It was cold outside, a cold winter morning. No, afternoon. Very cold in fact, my suit was nowhere near enough to keep me warm. Another kick landed and I couldn’t quite work out what was going on. I received another to the stomach and wretched but nothing came out. When I wretched my whole inner body and throat felt like it was on fire, with razor blades tearing apart my throat as they were brought up with the bile that remained within. Another kick to the face and another to the back of my head. Blood began to warm my face, it covered the lower half and left side of my face and my cheek felt wet and warm. A strange feeling. This blood that swept across my body made me feel alive, it gave me the notion of consciousness all over again. I could feel something other than the emptiness I had been feeling recently. As the kicks carried on the restlessness disappeared and I could see what was coming. It was the sleep that I had been awaiting for the past week. My face was warm still, hot even, and my stomach no longer felt sick. I felt like I did when I was a young boy: following a long day of football on a cold winter’s day, you would get home and your mother would run you a hot bath. All your aches from the match would wear away and your cold, battered body would heal and relish the heat that the water provided. That feeling was the best high you could ever feel in your life, and I was feeling it now, all over again. I was finally going to get some rest.
the passengers who had left Rome by the night express had had to stop until
dawn at the small station of Fabriano in order to continue their journey by the small old-fashioned “local” joining the main line with Sulmona. At dawn, in a stuffy and smoky second-class carriage in which five people had already spent the night, a bulky woman in deep mourning, was hoisted in— almost like a shapeless bundle. Behind her—puffing and moaning, followed her husband—a tiny man, thin and weakly, his face death-white, his eyes small and bright and looking shy and uneasy. Having at last taken a seat he politely thanked the passengers who had helped his wife and who had made room for her; then he turned round to the woman trying to pull down the collar of her coat and politely enquired: “Are you all right, dear?” The wife, instead of answering, pulled up her collar again to her eyes, so as to hide her face. “Nasty world,” muttered the husband with a sad smile. And he felt it his duty to explain to his traveling companions that the poor woman was to be pitied for the war was taking away from her her only son, a boy of twenty to whom both had devoted their entire life, even breaking up their home at Sulmona to follow him to Rome where he had to go as a student, then allowing him to volunteer for war with an assurance, however, that at least for six months he would not be sent to the front and now, all of a sudden, receiving a wire saying that he was due to leave in three days’ time and asking them to go and see him off. The woman under the big coat was twisting and wriggling, at times growling like a wild animal, feeling certain that all those explanations would not have aroused even a shadow of sympathy from those people who—most likely—were in the same plight as herself. One of them, who had been listening with particular attention, said:
by Luigi Pirandello
Luigi Pirandello was an Italian novelist, poet, and playwright. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1936. War was first published in the short story collection The Medals and Other Stories in 1939, and has now entered the pubic domain.
“You should thank God that your son is only leaving now for the front. Mine has been sent there the first day of the war. He has already come back twice wounded and been sent back again to the front.” “What about me? I have two sons and three nephews at the front,” said another passenger. “Maybe, but in our case it is our only son,” ventured the husband. “What difference can it make? You may spoil your only son with excessive attentions, but you cannot love him more than you would all your other children if you had any. Paternal love is not like bread that can be broken into pieces and split amongst the children in equal shares. A father gives all his love to each one of his children without discrimination, whether it be one or ten, and if I am suffering now for my two sons, I am not suffering half for each of them but double....” “True ... true ...” sighed the embarrassed husband, “but suppose (of course we all hope it will never be your case) a father has two sons at the front and he loses one of them, there is still one left to console him ... while ...” “Yes,” answered the other, getting cross, “a son left to console him but also a son left for whom he must survive, while in the case of the father of an only son if the son dies the father can die too and put an end to his distress. Which of the two positions is the worse? Don’t you see how my case would be worse than yours?” “Nonsense,” interrupted another traveler, a fat, red-faced man with bloodshot eyes of the palest gray. He was panting. From his bulging eyes seemed to spurt inner violence of an uncontrolled vitality which his weakened body could hardly contain. “Nonsense,” he repeated, trying to cover his mouth with his hand so as to hide the two missing front teeth. “Nonsense. Do we give life to our children for our own benefit?” The other travelers stared at him in distress. The one who had had his son at the front since the first day of the war sighed: “You are right. Our children do not belong to us, they belong to the Country....” “Bosh,” retorted the fat traveler. “Do we think of the Country when we give life to our children? Our sons are born because ... well, because they must be born and when they come to life they take our own life with them. This is the truth. We belong to them but they never belong to us. And when they reach twenty they are exactly what we were at their age. We too had a father and mother, but there were so many other things as well ... girls, cigarettes, illusions, new ties ... and the Country, of course, whose call we would have answered—when we were twenty—even if father and mother had said no. Now, at our age, the love of our Country is still great, of course, but stronger than it is the love for our children. Is there any one of us here who wouldn’t gladly take his son’s place at the front if he could?” There was a silence all round, everybody nodding as to approve. “Why then,” continued the fat man, “shouldn’t we consider the feelings of our children when they are twenty? Isn’t it natural that at their age they should consider the love for their Country (I am speaking of decent boys, of course) even greater than the love for us? Isn’t it natural that it should be so, as after all they
must look upon us as upon old boys who cannot move any more and must stay at home? If Country exists, if Country is a natural necessity like bread, of which each of us must eat in order not to die of hunger, somebody must go to defend it. And our sons go, when they are twenty, and they don’t want tears, because if they die, they die inflamed and happy (I am speaking, of course, of decent boys). Now, if one dies young and happy, without having the ugly sides of life, the boredom of it, the pettiness, the bitterness of disillusion ... what more can we ask for him? Everyone should stop crying: everyone should laugh, as I do ... or at least thank God—as I do—because my son, before dying, sent me a message saying that he was dying satisfied at having ended his life in the best way he could have wished. That is why, as you see, I do not even wear mourning....” He shook his light fawn coat as to show it; his livid lip over his missing teeth was trembling, his eyes were watery and motionless, and soon after, he ended with a shrill laugh which might well have been a sob. “Quite so ... quite so ...” agreed the others. The woman who, bundled in a corner under her coat, had been sitting and listening had—for the last three months—tried to find in the words of her husband and her friends something to console her in her deep sorrow, something that might show her how a mother should resign herself to send her son not even to death but to a probable danger of life. Yet not a word had she found amongst the many which had been said ... and her grief had been greater in seeing that nobody—as she thought—could share her feelings. But now the words of the traveler amazed and almost stunned her. She suddenly realized that it wasn’t the others who were wrong and could not understand her but herself who could not rise up to the same height of those fathers and mothers willing to resign themselves, without crying, not only to the departure of their sons but even to their death. She lifted her head, she bent over from her corner trying to listen with great attention to the details which the fat man was giving to his companions about the way his son had fallen as a hero, for his King and his Country, happy and without regrets. It seemed to her that she had stumbled into a world she had never dreamt of, a world so far unknown to her and she was so pleased to hear everyone joining in congratulating that brave father who could so stoically speak of his child’s death. Then suddenly, just as if she had heard nothing of what had been said and almost as if waking up from a dream, she turned to the old man, asking him: “Then ... is your son really dead?” Everybody stared at her. The old man, too, turned to look at her, fixing his great, bulging, horribly watery light gray eyes, deep in her face. For some little time he tried to answer, but words failed him. He looked and looked at her, almost as if only then—at that silly, incongruous question—he had suddenly realized at last that his son was really dead ... gone forever ... forever. His face contracted, became horribly distorted, then he snatched in haste a handkerchief from his pocket and, to the amazement of everyone, broke into harrowing, heartrending, uncontrollable sobs.