Featuring 10 stories, 12 poems, photography by Minoru Karamatsu & an interview with author Minae Mizumura
Structo is an independent literary magazine based in the UK. It is published twice a year, operates on a not-for-profit basis and receives no grant funding. Submissions information, as well as subscription and stockist details, can be found at our website. issn: 2044-8244 (print) & 2044-8252 (digital) editor: Euan Monaghan fiction editor: Keir Pratt poetry editor: Matthew Landrum copy editor: Elaine Monaghan proofreader: Heather Stallard editorial team: Will Burns, Dave Schofield, Claire Hunter, Ahmad Makia & Sarah Revivis Smith design: Structo Press online editor: Nat Newman Structo is set in Perpetua and is printed with biodegradable inks on fsc paper by Calverts, a worker co-operative based in London. All photographs, including the cover, remain the copyright of Minoru Karamatsu, while text and other content is protected by a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercialNoDerivs 2.0 UK: England & Wales licence. Nothing in this licence impairs or restricts the individual authorâ€™s moral rights. This issue was powered by chvrches and sunshine.
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This Skin Doesn’t Fit Me Anymore
In Memory of Jibanananda Das
trans. from the Bengali by Manash ‘Firaq’ Bhattacharjee
Before I Was Bourgeois
Structo talks to Minae Mizumura
The Couple That May Still Live on Maple Street
trans. from the German by Richard Dove
The Fisherman’s Wife
Turning Up The Volume
Diagram of my Father’s Voice
Photographs by Minoru Karamatsu
trans. from the Catalan by Anna Crowe
The Day Joe Strummer Died
Cristina J. Baptista
I See You in Triplicate
his editorial has served many purposes over the years. I’ve used it to introduce the issue, to talk about changes at the magazine itself and, occasionally, to complain about the introductions to classic novels. It’s also a useful opportunity to mark significant toings and froings among our team too, and that’s what I’ll be using it for this time. With the recent founding of Structo Press—of which more later—our long-time fiction editor Keir Pratt will be moving away from the regular magazine to lend his skills to that enterprise. Keir was a contributor to the very first issue, and has been on board ever since. He’s had an ever-changing remit and title, which settled on ‘fiction editor’ by the time issue 10 rolled around. His thoughtful rejection letters have gained a reputation which will be hard to match. Thanks Keir. Also moving on to other exciting things are editorial team members Dave Schofield and Claire Hunter. Both will be sorely missed, and we wish them well in their adventures. And finally on the HR front, as Matthew mentions in his poetry preface on the other page, he’s moving over to the role of translation editor after this issue. It’s a role for which he is supremely qualified. Speaking of translations, about Structo Press: earlier this year we founded a small press to publish story collections and novels under that imprint. I’m very happy to announce that our first title is a translation of Mexican author Juan Rulfo’s astonishing story collection El Llano en llamas, and it will be out in the second half of 2017. This is a new translation—the first available outside of North America since it was first published back in 1953—and it’s being made by issue eight contributor, and ex-editorial team member, Stephen Beechinor. I love it when a plan comes together. Enjoy the issue. — Euan Monaghan
Although I haven’t forgotten about those chocolate brownies.
hange is on my mind. On a global level, there are changes and uncertain futures ahead with Brexit, the many armed conflicts across the globe, and the US presidential election. And there are changes for me ahead as I shift to translation editor here at Structo. But I’m thinking most about poetry, literature, and art. In ‘Archaic Torso of Apollo’, Rilke speaks of the power and artistry of a headless statue that, without eyes, still holds the viewer in a gaze. That kind of beauty, Rilke writes, demands something of the viewer: you must change your life. Over the last nine issues, I’ve striven to find work that does just that, as have my colleagues in fiction, non-fiction, and interviews. We’ve been fortunate to find it too and to bring it to you, our reader. That’s driven home for me in the poetry from this issue: there’s a pause before turning to the new thing, here In the time between stations, / near arrival or longing / for departure as dawn [spreads] / On broken ground, we think how our lives look like old newspapers, / books with deckled edges, every letter / a mirror mistaken for a window without a ledge. We survey our lapis Le Creuset from William Sonoma and a robot vacuum cleaner and wonder what became of our younger selves. Music is always a shortcut and something lights up and every note hit home. Change is coming and we let it, choosing / to watch it pass. My heart says: / “This is enough.” — Matthew Landrum
Eliot North this skin doesn’t fit me anymore The animal’s head emerges from a polished oak shield; red-brown pelt stretched over bony skull. The shield is tightly gripped between my Dad’s two hands. It is heavy. The veins stand out on his neck as he braces the weight against his thigh. “What do you think?” he asks. Ed peers cautiously behind the shield and then walks in a circle around it. My reflection sits within two glass eyes. “You can touch him if you want,” Dad says. My hand reaches out to the animal’s nose. It is unexpectedly dry and hard. I trace his nostrils with my fingertip. On his neck the hairs feel coarse and prickly against my palm, but near his ears they are soft and whispery, moving slightly when I exhale. He smells of polish and heather. “Do you think your mother will like it?” Ed nods, so much that I think his head might fall off. “He’ll look handsome, I think, on the wall by the half-landing.” I look at Dad. The half-landing is just a few steps from my bedroom door. I pull the skin up on the back of my hand and then let go. Ed reaches up to grab an antler. Dad gently removes his hand, prising his fingers from the ridges of bone. “Careful now, he’s very old.” I look at the silver plaque at the bottom of the shield and read the words engraved there: Alfred Kingsley, from Kathleen M. Preedy, Sept. 25th 1912. “This woman,” Dad says, “was a huntress. She must have shot the stag and kept his head as a trophy.” My eyes open wider. “I wonder what Alfred made of it?” he says. I wonder what Mum will think. “Right, you two, we need to hide him. Your mother must know nothing about this. It’s a surprise.” We smile. Surprises are fun. “I’ve asked Nicky if we can put him in her bathtub,” he says, as the three of us troop out of the back door and over the road to Chestnut Square, Dad carrying the stag in front of him. It’s freezing outside. Drivers slow down as we walk along the pavement, craning their necks just to see.
Nicky answers the door. She gasps when she sees what is in Dad’s arms. “Blimey,” she says, “You weren’t joking.” We follow her upstairs, all of us in a line, and put the stag in the spare tub, crowding around to watch as he is lowered in. He looks strange rising up through the white enamel. “She’ll not be expecting that for Christmas,” Nicky says. “No, probably not,” Dad says. After we’ve hidden the stag Dad spends the next few weeks steeple-jacking and clearing the chimneys. While he works he tells us how the jackdaws build their nests in the spring, dropping twigs down until one lodges and then dropping more until a nest is formed. “Jackdaws are one of my favourite birds,” he says, “really bright. Not as threatening as crows or rooks, or as noisy and aggressive as magpies.” We watch as he pulls down all the compacted twigs to clear the flues. When he is finished he sets off a blaze in all the fireplaces downstairs. Flames leap up and illuminate our faces as we run from room to room; giddy with heat and destruction. Soon after, snow begins to fall; big, fat, swirling flakes that drag power cables down all over Warwickshire. For weeks we eat by flickering candlelight. Dad ventures out for supplies in the big red Toyota pickup. Our house is the only one in the village with heat. Nicky and her children Ben and Katie write their Christmas cards at our kitchen table, soup warming on the Aga. Copper pans full of water are placed on the hotplate to heat. Ed and I still share baths so we pile in with Ben and Katie in the big tub, Mum and Dad and Nicky forming a warm-water chain from kitchen to bathroom. By Christmas the snow has mostly melted and the lights are back on. Dad unveils the stag to Mum but we never know what she says. What we do know is that he’s staying. Ed and I watch as Dad fixes brackets to the wall. We cover our ears against the sound of the drill, plaster and brick dust falling around our feet. When he finally lifts and hangs the shield, the stag looks like he has always lived there. His antlers branch upwards into ten white-tipped points, ears pricked beneath them and nose blackened with varnish. Dad looks down at us from the top of the stepladder. “They call this the brow,” he says, pointing to the first tier of antlers, “then the bray and the trey,” he continues, indicating the second and third tiers. It’s almost like he shot the stag himself. I climb the few steps to the upper landing and turn round.
Ed slides down the banister. I walk backwards one, two, three paces to my bedroom door and keeping going until I feel the iron and brass bed behind me and climb onto it. It stands over a metre high. As I rest my head on my pillow and look out through the doorway the stag’s glass eyes are level with mine. Dad turns around and smiles at me. “He’s not quite a Royal, only ten. Looks pretty smart, don’t you think?” I say nothing and Dad turns and clears away his tools. Later Ed comes into my room and asks if I will read him a story. He has the Little Bear book in his hand. “Only if you lie under the bed,” I say, “and give me 20p.” “OK,” he says, and fetches me the coin before he crawls beneath the iron bed with his duvet. When I finish the story and before I turn off the light I look out of my bedroom door. Glass eyes shine in the darkness of the stairwell. “Night Ed,” I say, but all I hear is gentle snoring. I turn off the light and lie in the semi-darkness. Street lights glow through the leaded windowpanes, my curtains always open. I drift off but wake with my legs tangled up in sheets, pyjamas stuck with sweat. It is still dark outside. I look under my bed. Ed is still there, breathing slowly and deeply. I lie back on the pillow and stare at the ceiling. Months pass and in spring the house finally releases us. Mum places Persian rugs on the washing line and beats them, clouds of dust rising into the air. In the evenings it is my job to put the geese away, but they scare me. They hiss as I try to herd them inside, opening their orange beaks to show me their pointy black tongues and sharp little teeth. One stupid goose decides to build her nest in the middle of the herbaceous border. We all try to round her up, but she won’t budge. That night when we go to bed I know something bad will happen. In the morning I go out with Dad. He walks straight to the nest. It lies empty. “Here,” I shout. On the green grass lie the pink innards, glistening like jewels. A long tube widening into a sac, all left neatly in a pile. Dad comes over. “Damn it.” “Where is the rest of the goose?” I ask. “The fox will have buried her body. She’ll come back for it later.” I look down and follow a trail of feathers. On the ground lie two white wings opened like fans. A band of muscle joins them where they have been dissected from the goose’s back. They look bigger than I remember. I ask
Dad if we can mount them on a wooden shield, to go next to the stag. Wings spread, pinned and wired as if about to take flight. Dad looks at me. “I don’t think your mother would go for that,” he says, holding the wings in one hand, the entrails in the other. I never mention it again. By the end of summer I’ve grown used to the jackdaws clattering and calling, using the chimney like a megaphone. The sounds change when the chicks arrive and I go outside to look at the roof. I can see them nesting on the twisted chimney tops, the adult birds bringing food for their young before the fledglings eventually leave their nest. One night, a week before I start secondary school, I cannot sleep. The stag stares at me and I stare back as I lie there in my bed. His constant, unchanging presence reassures me. When I wake up the next morning it is dark in my room. I look at my clock. It says 7.15 am. I stare into the darkness, and rub my eyes. My ears pick out a buzzing noise. I push my feet into the blankets and sheets so I’m sitting up. It should be light by now. I get out of the bed and stand next to it. My eyes are drawn to the window. I move a step closer. A black curtain appears to have been drawn across: it moves and ripples and hums. The air feels thick around me. I take a breath and inch closer. Two huge bluebottles scud past my head, the sound of their flight too loud. My mouth opens but no sound comes out. I turn, tearing my eyes from the window, and run from the room. “Mum,” I scream. “Mum!” I run all the way to the kitchen. “Mum, flies, in my room, all over the window, millions,” I say between deep gulps of air. She shakes her head. “It can’t be that bad.” I lead her there and point at the window. “Oh, bloody hell,” and then I know that it’s bad. Mum turns, and mutters something under her breath. I follow her as she goes and fetches a can of fly spray and the hoover. Then I stand behind her and watch as she enters the room, armed like a gladiator going in for the kill. For weeks my bedroom smells of fly spray and death, even with all the windows open. When Dad tears down the paper that blocks up the fireplace a carcass falls into the grate. A baby jackdaw, fallen through the twigs and down the flue onto the newspaper that had sealed the chimney. “Flies laid their eggs on the dead bird,” Dad says, “and then the larvae
hatched, and later the bluebottles too. They must have squeezed out around the edges of the paper, drawn towards the light of the window.” I imagine the maggots crawling over the dead bird. “I’ll seal it up properly this time,” he says. “No more flies, don’t you worry.” The flies that hatched out from the maggots flew past the end of my bed. I am not comforted by Dad’s explanation. He doesn’t seem to understand, so I decide to take a bath. I watch the big tub as it slowly fills, and pour bright blue Radox under the taps. Dipping a toe in first to check the temperature I inch myself in, my skin turning red where the water touches it. I submerge my head and try to forget the flies. My body feels different, like it is not my own anymore. I open my eyes and sit straight up, waves crashing against the sides of the bath. My brother is standing there, about to ask me something. “Get out,” I screech. “Get out,” I slam my hands down. “Get out, get out!” Water and soap fly into his face. Ed turns away, eyes swimming and face screwed up with rage as he runs from the room. I stand up and get out of the bath, my arms and legs shaking. Bubbles cling to my scalded skin. I grab a huge white towel from the rail and wrap it around me before I go to the door and lock it with the old rusty key. When I turn around and catch my reflection in the mirror my face appears twisted, my upper lip curled. I open the towel and stare at my reflection. Dark hairs grow where there weren’t any before. Buds have sprouted on my chest. I quickly close the towel, two pink spots forming on my cheeks. I check the door is locked before I get back in, willing the flesh to melt from my bones as I add more and more hot water. I stay there and let the water cool. Minutes, then hours, pass by. My skin wrinkles, I like how numb it feels. Mum shouts through the door at me. I ignore her.
Bhaskar Chakraborty Translated from the Bengali by Manash ‘Firaq’ Bhattacharjee
in memory of jibanananda das When he comes to mind I don’t send a telegram Something lights up. And I find the heart white like a flag of truce – I did not sleep the previous night and the night before Still there is no fatigue I won’t go to office again, I know, that light isn’t for me. No ordinary flaw of ordinary men for many a year After almost a month police have come to interrogate the theft – Tramline to tramline, today everyone is looking for him Delicate, sparkling, wiped And washed – after a hundred years the house he lived in Becomes national property.
Kim Young before i was bourgeois The cats peed everywhere. Everyone cut their own hair. On Friday nights, I cashed my paycheck and ordered big plates of pasta. I ate every last breadstick. I smoked expensive Dunhill cigarettes late into the night. Mom and Dad worked for the city. I mean, we dutifully cut our grass each weekend and applied a certain shellac to our most precious accomplishments. Then I left home in an old creaky van. We drove to the Scenic Overlook so we could pinch weed near The Old Coastal Road. There are plastic cups and resin and wrappers. There’s a Rottweiler puppy. A girl named Deena sews flower print dresses. I’m only ever just a little stoned. I litter. And smoke and smoke. I keep retuning to The Old Coastal Road. I want to know things because I’m certain I’m better than everyone else. Then I come home, back to Mom’s clean house. I open a checking account. I attend twelve step meetings. I stop carrying my passport in a shoulder bag and sign up for night classes at community college. On weekends, I count stacks of bills for my job at the bookstore and place them neatly into the tills. I get married. The Widow Maker is what causes my husband’s double bypass. The cardiologist uses a ballpoint pen to point to the wonky-looking blob of fat on the screen. I only cry once in that dark room. In the months that follow—the short walks my husband takes every day, the night sweats, his quietness, I think: this is what marriage means. Now that I’m older, I have a lapis Le Creuset from William Sonoma and a robot vacuum cleaner. I birthed a girl who cried for over a year. We eat quinoa and practice strong voices. When I’m combing her hair, I teach her how to stand an everyday sort of pain. Last summer, I lowered my dying grandmother onto a bedside commode. When they removed the body, my daughter kept asking BUT. WHERE. DID. SHE. GO. In the morning, my husband and I leave notes for each other in the bathroom. One is a picture of a young girl at the beach, her hair is still long and she’s wearing a cheap Indian print summer dress. “This is what I look like when I’m falling in love with you,” it reads. It’s a young girl who can live off oatmeal and lentils. Maybe she’s
chasing psilocybin mushrooms with an Odwalla Superfood drink. Maybe she explains the world in terms of orbits and nestlings. She’s hitchhiking again up The Old Coastal Road. I pull my safety-tested Subaru over and she gets in. I promise her my life is meaningful. I take her home, give her the old down comforter, and let her eat my cereal.
Richard Smyth empty air 1 The city is a ragged mouth of unmatched teeth. Dear Sir, I used to write. Old-fashioned but then I used to be old-fashioned. Dear Sir, It has come to my attention. It has not escaped my notice. I have had cause to observe. All this began with the letters. It might have ended with them, too, had things played out a little differently. I sit with my elbow hooked around the side-rail of an iron ladder and look down at the city smiling up at me. Cavities and impaction. Decay. The long clean fang of a new office building. There’s a robin singing somewhere beneath my feet, in the wiry crown of a car-park rowan. It’s still a couple of hours till dawn but then robins sing at all hours. People think that that’s just nightingales – that, if they hear a bird singing in the darkness, it must be a nightingale – but it’s not true. There are no nightingales around here. There aren’t many nightingales anywhere, not any more. Actually the robin isn’t singing in the darkness. There’s plenty of light: streetlamps, billboards, takeaway signs, unblinded office windows. That’s why the robin is singing. Darkness, proper darkness, is almost as hard to find these days as a nightingale. Absentmindedly I wind my watch. I enjoy the crickety noise and grainy texture of the winding. The watch and the letters are how all this began. I let things get to me. It’s a fault, I think. I let things get to me, and then, in trying to put them right, to seek redress, I get carried away – I go too far. ‘Another letter, James?’ Helen said, one morning. She’d seen it on the mantelpiece, propped behind the clock, stamped, addressed, ready to be posted. ‘I’ll stop talking,’ I said, ‘when they start listening.’ They never did start listening, of course – and the thing was, I stopped talking anyway. I stopped talking, and I started doing.
It’s a clear night: stars, a moon, an aeroplane tacking westward. The stone of the tower, off-white and textured like cartridge paper, is cool to the touch. There’s a breeze, but then there’s always a breeze when you’re this high up. I had intended the Comfistay hotel – the tall, glowing prism on the ringroad, with its desolate car-park and lone stop-out robin – to be my last visit of the night but, on dropping to the ground and checking my watch, I realised that I was a little way ahead of schedule; some forty-five minutes of darkness remained. I could have gone home, I supposed. But I always prefer if possible to use my time productively. The university was my first thought. True, it stands at the far end of town from the Comfistay, and uphill, too – but I am physically fit (and getting fitter), so I knew the effort wasn’t beyond me. I took out my notebook, rubbed the university from the top of next week’s list and, inverting my pencil deftly, added it to the bottom of this week’s – that is, tonight’s. So here I am. This isn’t the tallest tower in the city – I don’t believe it held that title even back in the sixties, when it was built, and today it doesn’t make the top fifteen – but, by virtue of the hill on which it stands, it may be the highest. It feels terribly high, but then they all feel terribly high and, after all, it’s just a question of one rung at a time. Helen and I met at university. Not this university, a different one, although I don’t suppose they can really be all that different. We took the same history course. ‘It must have been awful,’ she told our tutor, this girl with a rough-cut bob and slate-coloured eyes that matched her blue-grey dress. ‘Not only to have to live through it, but to believe that it was your fault, too.’ I felt my too-prominent adam’s apple bob painfully in my throat as I watched her. I hadn’t had much experience of girls. What was she talking about? Fourteenth-century England, I think, or some other terrible time in some other terrible place. People suffering famine, plague, war, the worst things you can think of, and all the time being told that they’d done something – no-one knew what, but something – to deserve it. And so even as they starved and bled they set about trying to make up for whatever it was they’d done wrong. They prayed, they held Masses, they whipped themselves. They built great churches with mighty towers. And what good did it do? Well, you can guess. A tawny owl in a tree nearby calls sharply, and I lose my footing. It’s all
right, because I’m gripping the rung above with both hands, but my left foot slips from its rung, and waves for a moment over empty air. Salutary. It’s good to be reminded sometimes of the possibility that I might fall. And if I fall, I’m a goner – no-one knows I’m here. Another owl, over to the west, deeper into the parkland behind the university, shrieks in reply to the first. I’m ready for this one. Besides, I’m at the top of the fragile iron ladder; there’s still perhaps twenty feet of tower above me, but this is as high as the ladder needs to go. The rails bend into ‘Us’ and are bolted to a shallow shelf cut into the stone. There’s a little door in the tower wall. I straighten up, carefully, conscious of the open acres of air at my back. I think – madly, transgressively – of holding out my arms and simply falling backward, as one might drop on to one’s mattress in a new house or, for fun, into a deep snowbank. I don’t, of course. It was only (is only ever) a thought. Before I open the little door, which won’t be locked, they never are, I look up at the sky. Doing so reminds me that ups as well as downs can give us vertigo. I put a steadying hand to the stone of the tower. There are a couple of constellations visible that I recognise. The out-ofshape W of Cassiopoeia; the desk-lamp Lyra. The lurching Y of the Crab. I think of the scholars who work by day in the shadow of this tower; and then I think of the scholars of long ago who would have read so much in this starry sky, much more than anyone, even those with PhDs and radio telescopes, can read in it now. When I pull open the little door and duck my head and step inside I am still thinking about those long-dead scholars, who knew the stars and had no need of clocks. 2 ‘Evening, sir.’ Goodness knows what Gav thinks I do for a living. He’s a security guard, a nightwatchman as he might once have been known, at the Manningly Place building. The first time we met it was an accident – a mistake, I mean, my mistake. I was incautious, having descended the tower, in returning to the road. From his post at the front doors he saw me rounding the building. ‘Oi. Hello. Oi, you.’ I’m no runner. Halfway to the pavement, in the middle of a swath of decorative grass I should probably have been keeping off, I froze, and turned.
I look trustworthy. I can’t take any credit for that. I’m old, I’m slightly built, I’m educated; I am, and have always been, at least moderately well-off – there are no tells, no marks of prison or poverty, in my appearance. Marks of other things, of course. Plenty of those. But nothing to alarm a nightwatchman. He advanced a pace, frowning at me in the false light. ‘You all right there?’ ‘Yes.’ I nodded, grinned what must have been a ghastly grin. ‘Yes, fine.’ ‘Knocking off late, aren’t you?’ He grinned uncertainly. Teeth in a bad way; I could see that from fifteen yards’ distance. I must – this was his guess – have been working a late shift in whatever sort of business occupies the Manningly Place building; I must have come out of the rear door, and now be on my way home (to, he perhaps supposed, a warm home, a loving wife). ‘Yes,’ I managed to say. ‘Yes, rather late.’ And then he was ambling over, hands in pockets, heavy-shouldered and reflective in his manner, and it became clear that a conversation was on the cards. In fact, an unlikely friendship – as they say in the blurbs of paperback novels – was on the cards. Gav was in the army, years ago; homeless for a short while thereafter, and in prison for three years after that. ‘It weren’t as bad as I expected,’ he told me, with a sniff, of his time at HMP Everthorpe, out there in the windswept east. ‘Honestly, it were more’n I deserved.’ He’d learned to lay bricks, in prison. And once a fortnight he’d played six-a-side football. I asked Gav, once, if he thought that prison had made him a better person. That was what it was for, I explained to him; that was why they didn’t flog him or let him rot in irons, that was why they treated him with kindness. It was to help him become something more; something better. ‘Someone else, you mean.’ ‘Well, in a sense.’ He sniffed again. ‘More’n I deserved,’ he said. You didn’t deserve to become a better person? was the incredulous question I wanted to ask. I suppose Gav thinks that being a bad person in the future is the fairest punishment for having been a bad person in the past. I have never looked at it like that. I have never thought that becoming a better person –
kinder, cleverer, stronger, whatever it might be – was something that had to be earned. Worked for, yes. But earned? It sets one wondering about what other things one might and might not have earned, and might and might not deserve. Now, in any case, I know the ropes well enough to see Gav (or rather, for Gav to see me) only when I choose. I chose to, tonight. I feel tired and rather alone. ‘Evening, Gav,’ I say. We take it as read that, yes, I have been working late again at whatever it is I do, up there in the tower. ‘You well, sir?’ ‘As well as can be expected, thank you.’ ‘Chilly night, innit.’ ‘It is, rather, yes.’ Beneath my gloves my hands are raw and chapped. I wear the gloves for climbing, but for manhandling the workings I find that only bare hands give me the required purchase. Chilled iron is not kind to the complexion and, besides that, I caught my knuckle on the thread of the crank and cut open the skin. ‘Nice and toasty up there, though, I’m sure,’ Gav says, lifting his eyebrows with a nice-for-some expression. I smile vaguely. I’m sure it is, too, in the corridors and offices. I have seen this city’s rooftops; I’ve looked down on them from still-higher places like Quasimodo looking down from Notre-Dame. There are teetering cranes, improbably balanced, building up, or pulling down; there are old spires, lichened mansard roofs, dishes and aerials for televisions and I don’t know what else – but more than anything, there are air-conditioning units. Hundreds of them, peopling every roof: slat-fronted steel cabinets, lined up in fours and sixes like petrol pumps or robots waiting in file. Them, and their uncomfortable furniture of metal pipes and chimneys. All for what? Well, for comfort, of course. There’s nothing wrong with that; nothing wrong with keeping out the winter (or the summer). Climate control, they call it. It’s problematic that in controlling our internal climates we are – as I understand it – pushing our actual climate out of kilter, and far beyond control. But change of one sort or another will happen anyway. Looking ahead is hard; it’s difficult enough to keep pace with the present. I speak as one who knows. Look how I spend my nights.
‘I’d better be getting off,’ I say to Gav, rubbing my sore hands together. ‘You do that, sir,’ he says. ‘Get off home. You don’t want to be hanging about here, this weather.’ I don’t, it’s true. But I don’t want to wish away the weather, either. I feel that without it I wouldn’t know where I was. As everything else changes I feel that the weather at least has to stay the same. I know, really, that the weather will change too, eventually. The stars will change if we wait long enough. As I leave, heading back to the road, I glance at my watch: 11:37. Then I glance up at the abstract clock face built on to the south wall of the Manningly Place building: 11:37. We can’t do much, in the face of all this. But we can do something. I wish we could do more. 3 When you look up at a tall tower on a windy day the sweeping motion of the cumulus above can make you dizzy – convince you, almost, either that the tower is falling, or that you are. It’s April, and I find that there have been a lot of those days recently. This is my last job of the night; just as well, as there’s a muddy suggestion of breaking dawn over the estate to the east. It’s just a two-storey climb, this one, and that’s just as well, too, because my God I’m tired. A church, on the edge of the town centre. I find I can forgive churches when they fall behind, more readily, at least, than I can forgive those leaping, future-facing office towers, so urgently, desperately modern – and yet without the gumption to even keep their clocks running to time. It used to drive me mad, that. Hence the letters; hence all this. This one is just ten minutes slow. I’m in the clock-room, crouched in a familiar crouch, feeling familiar aches in my knees and back. It’s a biggish dial, too big for a friction clutch, so I’ve loosened the locking nut and uncoupled the hands. I hold the key to the setting dial in my right hand. It’s old, cold, heavy. I ought to get on with the job, I know, but I don’t. I just stand here. Swifts nest in this tower. I’ve seen them, hawking for insects high above. Just back from Africa. They do all right, swifts. Swallows, which are similar-looking birds, are doing less well. It’s because of us, of course. Swallows feed low down, skimming the tops of tall grasses, only a few feet from the ground: where
we live. We’ve crowded the air here – we’ve filled it not only with ourselves but with stone, brick, glass, steel, more of it every day. More stuff, less space. Swifts, on the other hand, feed terribly high up, where there’s still plenty of empty air. For now, anyway. I don’t suppose they feel safe – wild things never feel safe – but, if they did, I’m afraid they’d be mistaken. Taking up space is what we do. Outward, upward – the difference is only a question of knowhow. That and time, too, of course. The clock is still. Stuck ten minutes behind time: nearer fifteen now, in fact, since I’ve been stood here like a fool. I turn the key over in my hand. What’s fifteen minutes? I think. It’s a heretical thought. It sets my heart beating a little faster, which means that time moves forward a little faster, too. Helen had a fear of heights. Even the walkway from one platform of our local railway station to the other was difficult for her. Early on, when we’d just started going out, I would try to take advantage of her phobia. I’d seek out places to go that required us to cross bridges, climb steep staircases, sit in the gods. She’d never try to back out, would never even complain; she was a brave girl, but not so brave – as I well knew! – that she wouldn’t have to take my hand, or grip my arm, to steady herself, make herself feel safe. Sometimes she’d grip so hard her fingertips would leave marks, but of course I didn’t mind. It made me feel safe, too. Stable, on solid ground. Now it’s pretty clear to me that she knew my game all along. She held my hand at the end, too. When she was frightened. She only held it gently. She didn’t have the strength for much more. And of course on that occasion, too, she left marks. I never took an oath or anything like that, not even to myself, not even in the privacy of my own soul. I just wanted the clocks to tell the right time. That was all. And yet what I’m doing now feels profoundly wrong. This is the dial of the clock in the turret above the covered market. It’s a very pretty turret, tiled bottle-green in the faience they used to make hereabouts. They don’t make anything much hereabouts, now, except money. The hands are uncoupled. I slot in the key. Turn the setting-dial. It’s stiff; my wrist aches. I can feel my pulse in the ball of my thumb and it’s rattling along.
I turn the clock back. It’s not much, in the scheme of things. The swish riverside headquarters of an insurance company displays a digital clock the size of a small car. The squared-off digits are spindly and red. One spot of its central colon blinks to tell the seconds. I don’t even know how to begin re-setting its time. So instead – dispassionately, without malice – I take a half-brick to it. This, I think to myself, is another way of turning back the clock. There’s more to time than clocks. I know that. Tonight, at just after three (though the dial told nine-twenty), I climbed the town hall. I haven’t the skills, yet, to adjust the clock in there: it’s old, and grand, and huge, and just too complicated. I climbed up anyway, I don’t know why. The gritstone I had to clamber over scraped the skin from my palms. And having got to the turret I just sat there. The glowing city at my feet. I sat there for hours – I did no work. I sat there and the stars wheeled by overhead. Everything keeps turning, I know, whatever you do. I can see Gav far below. He’s got a bald spot. It gleams in the pink-white light from the lobby doorway. Vapour from his e-cigarette drifts about his head. He must be coming off shift; a taxi – a black-and-white Dinky from this distance – has just pulled up by the road. This was my last job of the night, too. It’s been a long one; I’m exhausted. I started all this because I wanted the clocks to tell the right time, from a simple sense of rightness, of proper order. And now none of them tells the right time, and it’s all my doing. What changed? It would be foolish to say everything changed, because that should go without saying – everything always does. I lost Helen. Now she won’t change, not ever, not so much as a hair, a fingernail, a freckle (she had a lot of freckles). She slipped out of time, ducked out of its stream, and I kept on being carried along. It has started to give me another kind of vertigo, something akin to motion sickness. I sit on the shelf of concrete outside the service door, twelve storeys high, my legs dangling. On a still night like tonight I don’t feel the need to hold on to the ladder-rail. I just sit. As the eastern sky pales I see dark-grey signatures of smoke or steam rising from the chimneys that fringe the town. Six gulls – too far off and
too starkly back-lit to be properly identified – rise from the still-dark skyline. The bottom line, the fundamental point, is that a man can’t stop the sunrise. Everything else follows from that. But if a man could stop the sunrise? After a while, first light starts to pick out facets of glass in the grey town centre. The varying angles of open windows and glazed facades show sulphur-yellow, here, and gold, here, and here the colour of clear tea. Looking through narrowed eyes I see, beyond the chimneys, beyond everything, the leading edge of the rising sun. I stand up, slowly, painfully. If anyone were watching, they might think that I am standing to welcome it.
“I was fixated by Japanese literature—all I could think about was going back one day, and to write in Japanese.”
Structo talks to Minae Mizumura For the novelist and writer Minae Mizumura, The Fall of Language in the Age of English is more than just an attention-grabbing title—it’s a clarion call. In the book Mizumura examines the place of local and national languages in a world domated by English. It was published in Japanese in 2008 to equal measures of high praise and vocal criticism, with a translation into English following in 2015. The Fall of Language a fascinating book: academic enough to make an impact, but writen with the light touch of a novelist. We talked, in English, in Kyoto. —Euan Monaghan
structo: When did the fall of Japanese begin? mizumura: That’s difficult to say, and some of the reasons behind the fall have nothing to do with the rise of English. But I need to make one thing clear. I’m not saying that the dominance of English is bad in itself, because there has to be a universal language. Every literate society had a universal language that allowed you to communicate with the outside world. There have been numerous regional universal languages in the past: Sanskrit, Greek, Latin, Arabic, Chinese. But as the world got this closely knit—where you can communicate with someone on the other side of the Earth in less than a second—we were bound to end up with a single universal language. It just so happens that English became that language. There was no intrinsic necessity. The reason for its predominance was purely historical: British colonial rule followed by the rise of the United States. And now all countries that use languages other than English have to cope with this situation in one way or another. On the one hand, you have countries that are very conscious of the threat of English, and on the other hand, you have those that are
blissfully unthinking. Japan, I almost think, is the least conscious of all because we’ve never been exposed to linguistic invasions from the outside. We never felt the need to protect our own language and that may be one reason for the fall of Japanese. structo: At that far end of the scale would perhaps be a language like French, which has protections for the language enshrined into law? mizumura: French has been the lingua franca of Europe for the last three centuries, and people are still proud of the past glory of their language. They are trying what they can to maintain the level of their language at its highest. The Japanese people are the exact opposite. I’m not aware of a country which has such a long literary tradition that is as unthinking as Japan about cherishing their written language. I think this has a lot to do with Japan being an island nation in the Far East. The country was farthest removed from the Western powers and so it luckily escaped colonization. It was also pretty far from Korea and China. We never felt we needed to protect anything that’s our own. But I think now it’s crumbling down, and— structo: What is crumbling down? mizumura: The isolation. Geographical isolation started to crumble in the nineteenth century, but we didn’t feel it to this extent until recently. In understanding how a country shapes itself, you have to look at maritime technology of the time. The reason that England has always been so much a part of Europe… [Pause, laughter] … is that with relatively primitive maritime technology you could easily go back and forth to trade, wage wars and so on. structo: You make the point in the book that you could swim. mizumura: Yes, you could swim! But Japan was too distant. We just tried to learn what we could from China, the higher culture. When we opened the door to the West, we switched affiliation and tried to learn what we could from the West, the new higher culture. And then came World War II and the American occupation. Americans thought we should break away from our past which they thought was awfully medieval, and we eagerly did This interview took place shortly after the British EU referendum vote.
as told. They actually even wanted us to get rid of the Chinese characters— and we nearly did so. Even after the occupation forces left, our intellectuals, who naturally repented what we did in Asia, led people to deny everything Japanese. For a long time, you couldn’t say anything positive about Japan. If you dared talk about the importance of preserving the Japanese language or reading the Japanese classics, even the modern classics, you were labelled a reactionary. It was almost as bad as committing war crimes all over again, you know? structo: Did that apply across the arts as well? mizumura: The more the art form could contain a message, the more it applied. Some kabuki repertoires, for example, were banned for a while. The American occupation forces didn’t want anything that they feared might give rise to nationalism once again. structo: You left Japan when you were 12 years old, and spent 20 years outside of the country. Those are some very formative years. mizumura: Yes, very. structo: You studied French literature at university. mizumura: I first went to an art school because that required little English but I was no artist, so I decided to switch to French literature. It was a ladylike thing to learn French at that time. This was in the early 70s. I spent one year in Paris with a French family, then majored in French literature at Yale. I was already married to a Japanese man—I married very young —and he kept on teaching at the university. I had nothing else to do but to go to grad school, so I did. I don’t know if you’ve been to New Haven, but it’s a sad town. At least it was when I was there. You had to go to school, there was nothing else to do! [Laughs] structo: So you had a viewpoint on three languages: looking back at Japanese from the United States, looking at French from the United States, and being Japanese in an English-speaking environment. It’s interesting that Kabuki is a stage art, combining music, mime, singing and dancing. Performers are known for their elaborate and dramatic make-up.
you eventually decided to return to Japan. Was the reason a pragmatic one? mizumura: While I was in American high school, all I did was to read Japanese novels at home. My parents had brought tonnes of them when we moved. If I had come from a country that didn’t have such a huge corpus of literature, things might have turned out differently. I might have tried a bit harder to learn English. But that wasn’t the case. And when you can read adult stuff from age 12, it’s just so much more fun than reading what you’re given at school. Looking back, I think I had a very privileged education in Japanese literature because I had left Japan at a young age. Ever since then, I was fixated by Japanese literature—modern literature—and all I could think about was going back one day, and to write in Japanese. structo: Speaking of French, though, it seems like a lot of books enter translation more widely after having first been translated into French. Are readers in France just more open to the idea? mizumura: I’m sure they are. And they have government subsidies for translations. My book is out in French. Not The Fall but the one before. I was speaking to the editor, and she said that in her long career that particular book was the only one she somehow couldn’t get a subsidy for! The funding is shrinking, though, because the French economy isn’t doing so well. structo: You clearly make the distinction in the book between the written language and the spoken one, and how, throughout history, even if you couldn’t speak a language you might be able to read it. In the mind of many English native speakers, perhaps because international travel is so easy these days, it’s often the other way around. Speaking comes first. mizumura: When Latin was the universal language of Europe, hardly anyone spoke it. But, at some point, Europeans began translating Latin into their mother tongue. They then began writing in it. This led to the creation of what I call “national languages”. The process took a long time, let’s say, from the fourteenth to the twentieth century. As people grew used to writing in their mother tongue, the notion that writing is merely a representation of spoken language began to take root, and now, when you think of language, you first think of spoken language. This tendency A True Novel, a loose remaking of Wuthering Heights
is being reinforced by the new technologies—such as videos—which don’t necessarily require us to distinguish between the written and the spoken. This primacy given to speaking is called phonocentrism: we now put so much emphasis on spoken words that we often fail to examine what writing is, how profoundly it affects us humans, how it transforms us. You really have to separate the written and spoken when you think about language. Of course, pedagogically, it’s difficult to say which one should come first. If you are Dutch or Scandinavian, being exposed to spoken English from early on makes it possible for you to make a smooth transition to reading and writing in English. Their language is so close to English. And if you’re Japanese, such a smooth transition is nearly impossible.
“We now put so much emphasis on spoken words that we often fail to examine what writing is, how profoundly it affects us.” structo: Is English mandatory in the Japanese school system? mizumura: Yes. There was a big controversy but they now started teaching it in the elementary school, just speaking and listening. Most language specialists don’t think it would be effective with Japanese students. Having an hour of English a day for two or three days a week won’t turn them into bilinguals. It’s better for them to start at age 12 or so, because they would then have a solid foundation in their mother tongue and a better comprehension of how logic works. structo: Have any of your recommendations been taken up by officials in the Japanese school system? mizumura: Would any officials listen to a woman novelist? I’m afraid not. But many influential people really liked the book so we may see some changes in the future. structo: It takes time. mizumura: It takes time, yes.
structo: Your second novel is called An I-Novel from Left to Right, at least partially because of the way it’s written. Can you explain a little about where that came from? mizumura: Japanese literature is still written vertically. You see books on mathematics or science written horizontally, but you hardly ever see a literary work written “from left to right”. Because my novel was a quasiautobiographical work about my American experience, I mixed in some English, well, lots of English. It was so much trouble constantly tilting your head to read the English parts! One day someone said: just do everything horizontally! structo: What are you working on at the moment? mizumura: My time has perversely been taken up by English translations. [Laughs] The Fall was my second English translation, and I just handed in my third [translation]. A wonderful translator, Juliet Winters Carpenter, did the translation but I went over everything with her. Now I can finally go back to writing in Japanese. But you see, I don’t write in Japanese because I want to save the language; I do it because I enjoy it. As a fiction writer you basically don’t write in order to make the world a better place; you’re rather egotistical. If you wanted to do some good, you do something else; you work for an organisation that really helps people. structo: Despite having written a book whose original title is The Fall of Japanese in the Age of English, are you optimistic about the future of Japanese literature? mizumura: [Pause] We have to first ask ourselves whether we can be optimistic about the future of the Earth. The viability of Earth itself is a little bit shaky. That would come before being optimistic about Japanese literature. structo: Let’s say for the moment that the world will continue rotating. Do you think that in a hundred years’ time, good novels will be written in Japanese? mizumura: Well, that’s the ultimate question I keep asking myself. Today there are more women writers than male writers in Japan. Established
authors still tend to be male because they are older, but from my generation and younger I think women writers have become more common. And that may not be a good sign for Japanese literature. structo: Why is that? mizumura: Because it means men think they have better things to do. Women are usually paid very low wages in Japan. They are not losing anything by becoming a writer. [Laughs] structo: And on that note! [Laughter] mizumura: But I still think that there will always be people who are destined to write. If we give Japan a hundred years, I’m sure those people would pop up. At least, I should hope so. Let’s end it with that!
Neil MacDonald interstices He wrote himself an island. Will had always liked islands. He was reassured by the presence of shores all around him. They enabled you to see the edges of the world. The outline defined your inline more clearly, provided, of course, that you had a high vantage point, so your gaze circumnavigated the coast. So, he wrote a mountain, right in the centre of the island and named it Mount Mekal. It was a fine mountain; an old truncated volcano, rising like a loaf into the sky, its side excavated by a yeasty accident. The ancient scar was softened now by umbrageous green; exuberant grasses and trees perched crazily like sure goats on precipitous falls. The greenery merged into the forest below that ran almost to the shore. Perhaps it was Will’s decision to plicate the island’s lower reaches that led to what happened; then again, perhaps not. Anyhow, Will liked the word. It meant folded or corrugated. But it carried with it implications and complications. He inscribed the shoreline golden. And, past the gentle breakers, the edge of the world was turquoise, stretching out towards the horizon, and becoming a darker blue in the distance. Beyond the boundary, others had written different things. Up to the edge, it was all his, and no boats could cross the water but those Will wrote. May did not like islands. Once, long ago, when people still travelled, he had taken May to the beach. She stopped on the hotel patio and looked suspiciously at the ocean. ‘That’s an awful lot of water in one place,’ she declared, and went straight back into the hotel. May later wrote herself a prairie; land that stretched remote and level to infinity. Will did not like flat landscapes. He liked edges and lumps. So, as you might expect, Will rarely visited May, and May never visited Will. They messaged each other constantly, and sometimes they met up in a coffee house written by Zoe, a mutual friend. But, mostly, Will was content to write his island. It was his sixth draft. The first version had been too Bali Ha’i, all waving palm fronds and dusky maidens. The fourth draft had been truly strange; a medieval castellated affair, stocked with warlocks and dragons. This time, Will worked with deliberation, step-by-step. He let this island evolve in fast forward. Currents
carved deeper into bays. Wind and rain weathered the sharp teeth of Mount Mekal to softer stubs. He needed something to light his world and so he wrote a sun. And the sun automatically created a sky, which soon filled with flying things. Finches’ beaks elongated and sharpened, adapting to bore into the prickly pears. The populations of pikas and mountain cats reached equilibrium. Will was enthralled by the automatic fecundity of his creation. For an epoch, he was the only human who walked the island, a Crusoe without a Friday, and desiring no rescue. He composed a tree, whose monstrous fruit grew him a house, with a high thatched roof. The veranda afforded a commanding position from which to survey his universe. He created varieties of plants that yielded every delicacy his appetite craved, from bœuf bourguignon to chicken korma. With a plump sheaf of choice vocabulary, he copied succulence into the fruiting trees, indigo and scarlet into the flowers, and abundance into all. But eventually he desired others to see that what he had made was good. It was no use asking May; she would never come. So finally he again authored people, a man and a woman. They were naked and not ashamed. However, and this is the moral of the tale, stuff interacts in surprising and unpredictable ways. There are no limits to automatic fecundity. Implications and complications multiply. One day, Will noticed a sail he had not written, on the distant marches where the sea met the sky. He looked through his spyglass and detected the black Jolly Roger fluttering from its mast. He tracked the ship, but it did not turn in towards his island, and finally it disappeared. Yet, it was disturbing. A few days later Will observed, while harvesting his lunch, that three of the fruits had changed colour and were now the ominous purple of an impending thunderstorm. Beyond the horizon, in the interstices between worlds, eddies formed. Vortices whirled words and phrases from all the writers, and tiny stirrings began, just on the margins of consciousness. Things nobody had written began to appear. A tornado whirled through May’s prairie, carrying off a small girl and her dog along with their entire farmhouse. Wormholes opened and closed, disgorging fay folk, succubae, and arachnids. Dogfights erupted between flights of Spitfires and Messerschmitts. A pair of basilisks took to hanging out in Zoe’s coffee house and vexing her customers with blatant stares. And, on Will’s island, a bloke turned up in the lush green garden where the couple played with their children. The intruder was stern, with fell demeanour. Clumsy wings grew from his shoulder blades, and he wielded
a blazing sword. He turned the family out of the garden, as Will watched, dumbfounded. Enquiries, of course, were held to identify the culprits. A hunt ensued for those poorly honed words that had authored the devastation. Dictionaries were ransacked and great libraries were burnt to the ground. It all culminated in the drawing up of a grand blacklist of ambiguous words, including close, still, and trap. Agreement was reached to eschew plication, and to monitor punctuation scrupulously lest pandas should eat, shoot, and leave. Life began again. Tentatively, Will described a river, simply a river. But already, perforce, he had to create a riverbank that unswervingly kept pace, extending a syllable or two on either side into the void. On the grass, sheep started to graze. Several rough beasts slouched towards Bethlehem to be born. Will messaged May to say that stories escape from us, swap phrases and chapters with each other, and rewrite themselves just as they fancy.
Christine Darragh windfall
Psalm 67, after Rilke
Those who seek, sift you And grasping, reduce divinity To idols and empty gestures. I long for earth’s mindfulness, Which senses spring; and Awakening, blooms in vernal fields. Vain revelation cannot uproot me, For you are beyond reckoning. I only ask this blessing: To feel the spreading dawn On broken ground; fragrant Dew upon a harrowed land.
J.L. Cooper the couple that may still live on maple street A cherry tree receives me at day’s end, in the privacy of my yard. I’m reminded how this wood is the softest I have known. I’ve always thought it’s the shade of the tree, the June shade stretching toward the fence, that offers the sweetest welcome after a day of psychotherapy. The tree is never judging, always predictable, with its perfectly rounded branches and leaves the shape of teardrops. And shade is the master of stretches, obedient to the sun. If I stand in the dappled light, I see shadows within shadows. I’ve just left a session with a married couple. They turned on each other, steeleyed, wringing the last sarcasm out of the moment, until they flat-out glared through their own spit. My office couch was not quite dark enough to suit a re-creation. Divorce was in the air. For a moment, while I was with them, I wanted to be the man in the ice-cream truck going around the neighborhood making children happy. I also find refuge in the macro-world; there are beautiful patterns in my cabinet door that I count among my friends. I needed them today, because witnessing the end of a twenty-year marriage meant visiting a unique silence, where light is not allowed. It always feels like winter, even when it’s best for both. There were endless claims of victimhood, but no apology that mattered. “I was an idiot to marry you,” the wife said, baiting the man she once poured herself into. If she was expecting him to agree, it wasn’t going to happen. Really, the early sessions were leading here all along. “It’s the other way around,” the husband answered, in a flippant, dismissive way. “Don’t you ever get tired of acting, because you used me from the start.” For four months, they’d been talking about how good it was in the early years, but now the venom flowed. Therapy had been moving too smoothly. Something didn’t ring authentic. The permanent lean of cypress trees came to mind, the way they take the constant wind and are sculpted, beautiful in their way, beaten lower and lower toward the ground over the years. With these two, there would be no victim or saint – just two people lost in want, full of each other, swimming against denial. After all the digging in, they couldn’t reflect, grieve, or show minimal concern for the anguish
of the other. Smug indifference prevailed. Neither really held the other back, although both had claimed the same. I couldn’t even find a dirt road to them, and they didn’t tolerate me trying to locate them in the ghost of a shared moment. A storm was on the horizon. They didn’t want a mediator, therapist, minister, priest, or sage. No rabbi, friend, or lawyer. It was more like they sought a glass portal, but a mirror is what they found. Here’s the crunch-time image: they folded their arms over the upper chest while crossing their legs in opposite directions. But it wasn’t quite the same, since a slight asymmetry in mutual avoidance was the quality that prevailed. I wondered if they did this when nobody was around to see. I doubt it. She said yes, he said no. Each stared at a different object in the room. The shade of the cherry tree might have advised me differently, but I didn’t offer a predictable response. I said, “Some couples find their passion in arguing, until it becomes senseless and nobody’s listening.” They needed to be in it together. Gone was the baiting manner of last session. “Did you remember you agreed to pick up the dry cleaning like you promised, or did you forget as usual?” Gone was the sickening rise of the ante. “I’m sure the doctor has better things for us to talk about than the dry cleaning. How about honesty,” delivered with sharpened teeth. So the husband found a walnut bookend to be his studied companion, while she scowled at an empty vase. Both of them noticed my tall cabinet, like it might open by itself, and show them something they needed or missed. I would have been glad to show them the contents: books, photos, favorite quotes pasted to the shelves. Neither would ask what’s in there, but couldn’t take their eyes off the closed doors. Then the wife turned full-on to me, and said, “Can you believe his tone?” And before I could collect a response, the husband said, “I’m done, just pay the man. I want a divorce.” She said, “No problem, you sanctimonious prick. But you have the goddamned checkbook, so you pay him.” I remember my left shoe being most compelling object in the room, but I managed to put my hand up like a stop sign to say it was high time they deviated from their tightly scripted cross-complaints. “In a different light, this could be your finest cha-cha; your one-upmanship is top drawer. Let’s agree that divorce is not always a failure. Plus, I’ve seen good things come from a separation.” I said it calmly, which kind of shocked them. I went on.
“Think carefully about what you need to say to each other right now. You are both in a great deal of pain. Let’s take a moment.” Well, neither of them got up or resumed their rant. Nor did they take back what they said. Neither looked in my direction or scanned the cabinet doors. The eyes went low but there weren’t any tears. The next five minutes were filled with a particular kind of silence: a three-person silence. Strange things happen in this place. They might find each other amid the ashes. I’ve seen it a hundred times – an overture of repair rising from a glimpse of the abyss. Something like, “Nothing I do will please you. Let’s say I picked up the dry cleaning and got you a pretty blouse too. You would find a way to undo the kindness and remind me I should know you hate that style. You’d make it another example of victimhood.” Then the other could say, “I wouldn’t, I swear. You aren’t being honest about how miserable you’ve become.” But today, with this couple, the wife held up three fingers, indicating the number of years since they had sex, or even talked about it. The husband rolled his eyes, always a bad sign, saying he wasn’t the one who gave up, that he grew tired of the report cards she gave. A circle is a circle. I wasn’t there to see the dance, but it was close to the bit they showed. I cautioned them about saying things with intent to hurt each other further, as they’ve mastered this numbing art and can freely visit another room in the gallery of being single, with a chance to enjoy who they want to become. Maybe a magician would have a better perspective. Years later, they might agree this was the lousiest year of a very decent marriage, or a pivotal session where they used the silence for something other than to drown themselves. Now I’m home, talking to a cherry tree at the end of the day, in the shade of another language. Wait! What do I mean by shade of another language? Just a thought about meanings, when words are not enough – like balloons lifting from a carnival crowd. A scrub jay chases the doves from the feeder. I’ve read that mourning doves mate for life. These ones are up in the tree, looking down. I’ve seen their tattered nest, so different than the cup of hummingbirds. Where do I file the day? My cell phone is ringing. It’s probably my answering service. One of the pair I saw today might be calling right now for another appointment, or to say they’re done keeping a huge secret that explains everything, or the silence really got to them, or they’re never coming back, and thank you for the effort. I won’t know any more today. The shade of the cherry tree might know, but it’s merged right into the night.
Ludwig Steinherr Translated from the German by Richard Dove
on vision I see the wickerwork chair I see the coffee-cup in which you are stirring I see – very clearly – the waiter’s face But what about you? Now: just the end of a hair that is touching your chin Now: just your earring that is dangling in the light
Ludwig Steinherr Translated from the German by Richard Dove
coup de theatre or ‘slaughterhouse five’ 1 Your labour began in the instant when the first bomb ripped through the opera-house roof – Just music, we’d thought the bombing of Dresden replicated in musical form – But every note hit home flashed through the anxious listening within you – I pulled you down the stairs through the foyer and out into the balmy September evening – Headlong and helpless we tried to calm the thrusting arms and legs the racing heart beneath yours
Between patent-leather shoes and evening gowns you leant bent double up against a column: a mother in a field of rubble holding her child’s ears shut 2 Later in the taxi the contractions were fainter we couldn’t look at one another even the quiet jazz that wafted across from an open balcony-window was violence
Marc Joan the fisherman’s wife Mrs Parry worked her way down the long bench in the Hospital’s kitchen. She had started, as always, by mashing up tinned cat-food with brown bread, cod liver oil and thiamine supplements. That was for the little ones. Then she had moved onto meals for the ones who could feed themselves. These would get a mixture of cat-food and chopped-up whitebait. Finally, for those that were soon to leave, she prepared strips of raw fish, taken from whatever haul had come in with the boats: pollock or ling, grey mullet or gilthead bream. They always kept something for her down at the harbour. It was the least they could do, given what John had done for them. He’d been the best of them all, and they knew that. Anyway, she never needed more than the fishermen gave her, not even when storms blew chicks from nests and nests from roofs, when people came to her with clutches of little ones in boxes and bags. How many had she saved now, over the years? Thousands, certainly; perhaps ten thousand. She pushed the final scraps of fish from the chopping board into a large plastic bucket, and scraped the flat of the knife over the bucket’s rim. John always used to laugh at her. ‘You fond old thing,’ he’d say, ‘don’t you think there’s plenty of them out there?’ And then he’d go and press his face against the mesh and imitate their screeches, the silly man. And they’d all go quiet and turn to look at him, first with one eye, then with the other, before he laughed again, left them and went off to the boat. Mrs Parry picked up the first two buckets of food, one in each hand, elbowed down the handle of the kitchen door, shouldered it open and walked outside. As she approached the cages, the buckets heavy in her hands, a cold, triumphant ululation of high-pitched whistles and screeches rose up and broke over her and washed around her. The Hospital was set at the top of a steep hill, overlooking the harbour. On a hot day, it was easier for nine-year-old legs than thirty-nine-year-old legs, and Linda pulled impatiently at her mother’s hand. “Come on…” “Give Daddy a chance, dear, you can see it’s not easy.” “Damn thing keeps trying to peck me…”
“That’s because you’re scaring it, Daddy. Stop scaring it.” “If we don’t find this place soon, I’m letting it go. It’ll probably die anyway.” “It’s here! It’s here!” Linda pointed to the sign, Polwennow Bird Hospital, set above the first of several sheer flights of steps leading from the road and up the hill. Her parents sighed, and started this latest stage of the ascent. Linda paused to wait for them about half-way up and, when she turned, she saw over their heads the glittering, shifting waters of the Atlantic. Today, it was a heavenly, welcoming blue, just like in books; but, as any fishermen could have told her, the sea has many beautiful masks, and beneath them all the one merciless face. Mrs Parry heard the tinkle-tink of the bell just as she finished off the morning feed. It was early for visitors, even in the tourist season. She put the empty buckets by the outside tap, and went to the Hospital reception. It was a tiny room, with space for little more than two chairs and a counter. A neat pile of Hospital leaflets waited on the counter, and in the corner stood the mute appeal of a Fisherman’s Mission charity box – a plastic, blackbearded, yellow-coated figure, crowned by a yellow sou’wester, with a neat rectangular slot in the top of his head. A little girl was putting a coin into this slot as Mrs Parry walked in. Mrs Parry smiled at her. “Thank you, my love.” “We found a baby gull! It was in a kind of pit between the road and the houses, and it couldn’t get out! It can’t fly, so Daddy caught it, and it scratched him, but it didn’t mean to.” “Let’s have a look then, my love.” “At my scratches or the bird?” The man smiled at her; he had dark eyes, and reminded her a little of John. “Dad-deee…” They’d bundled the bird in a towel, with just its head sticking out. Mrs Parry unwrapped it now, and expertly caught it around the wings to stop it flapping. She looked it over, carefully, feeling its stubby wings, its thin hollow ribs, its legs with their cold, clawed feet. “It’s a herring gull chick. It’s not injured or anything, so we’ll just feed him up for a few weeks, and then he’ll be fit to go. Whoops!” The baby gull, kicking wildly, had managed to get one foot up to its neck and behind its head, and on the way down one claw had lodged in its own eye. It was now pulling, trying to free its claw, and its eye bulged outwards. Mother and daughter squealed in unison, while the father looked amused. He glanced at Mrs Parry, and winked at her.
“Whoops,” said Mrs Parry again. “Don’t worry, they always do that. No harm done, is there, my pretty?” She carefully unhooked the gull’s claw from its cornea, and held the chick close to her body. The bird was calmer now. “I’ll keep him warm for a while and give him a special feed, and put him with the others a bit later. Would you like to see where we keep them?” Cradling the chick against her belly, she led the little family out of the reception room and around the back, to the collection of cages with their concrete floors and the stink of old fish. She showed them the younger ones first, the fluffy, speckled chicks with soft brown eyes, and then the older ones, with longer beaks and proper feathers, and finally the adults with their cold white plumage and eyes of bile. “What do you feed them?” asked the girl. “Mainly fish, my love. We give them some vitamins too, just to keep them healthy. But fish is their natural diet, you see.” “But that’s not all they eat, is it?” “What do you mean, my love?” “We saw something, on the beach.” Linda shuddered theatrically. “It was horrible.” “I’m sure the lady doesn’t want to hear all this, Linda…” “Oh, but she does. You can’t shock a fisherman’s wife, let me tell you… so, what did you see, my love?” “It was a sheep, on the beach. It was dead, and the gulls were all over it, pulling at it. They were eating it!” Linda looked exultant. “So they don’t just eat fish.” Mrs Parry nodded. “Oh yes, they’ll eat almost anything… but that doesn’t mean it’s good for them… there are some things they shouldn’t eat, not ever. Fish is what they need.” They all looked at the herring gull chick, nestling innocently in her hands. It looked back at them, and opened its beak slightly. “I don’t understand what a sheep was doing in the sea,” said the woman. “Swimming, of course,” said her husband. He grinned, enjoying the weakness of his joke. “It happens,” said Mrs Parry. “Sometimes they get through the fences and onto the cliffs, and then sometimes they fall down them. They’re not too clever, the sheep. It was on Wennow Beach, I suppose?” The family looked blank, so she explained where the beach was. Funny how tourists come here and know nothing about the area, she thought. “Yes, that’s it,” said the father. “Just up from here, the first big beach before you get to the headland with the lighthouse.” Mrs Parry nodded. “Anything that falls into the waters around here will end up on Wennow Beach. Sometimes in an hour, sometimes in a month, depending
on where they go in. But everything comes to Wennow Beach in the end.” She bent down to the little girl, conspiratorially. “That’s why, in the old days, they’d put out lights near the rocks, see? In the dark, they’d fool ships into thinking there was a harbour there, and make them founder on the rocks, and sink… Then a few days later, they’d collect all the cargo washed up on Wennow Beach.” The girl was delighted. “That’s awful,” she said. “But I heard something even worse than that. And it’s true, because they told us in the post office, right here.” “Linda, you don’t need to repeat everything you hear…” “But it’s true, Mum. When I was telling them about the sheep, they told me a man got found there, in the same place, last year. But when they found him, he was covered in gulls…” “Linda, that’s enough…” “His head was covered in gulls.” The girl was big-eyed with the joy and horror of it. “Covered in gulls, just his head, and when they scared them off – it was horrible – they found the birds’d taken his face!” “Linda!” Her mother sounded scandalised, but the father laughed. “There’s nothing more ghoulish than a nine-year-old girl,” he said, amusement crinkling his brown eyes at their corners. Just like John’s eyes. He smiled at Mrs Parry. “Goodbye, and thanks for your help. I can see our little orphan’s in good hands now…” Mrs Parry didn’t say anything, but she nodded at them silently, her lips pressed together so firmly they were almost white, her eyebrows slightly raised. She held the baby gull close, one hand pressing its body tightly against her, the other encircling its neck. As the family filed out and started on the precipitous descent back down to the road, the parents going first, she followed them to the top of the steps, and stood and gazed out. She looked first down to the village, to the Post Office on the corner of the road – old Sammy, the post-master, had never liked John, and John had never liked him – and then she looked out to the sea. On a day like this, it seemed to be sleeping, making its blanket of blue slowly rise and fall with long, deep breaths. When Linda looked back from the top step to wave goodbye, the gull chick was very still in Mrs Parry’s grasp, its neck drooping over the edge of her hands and its half-open beak pointing at the ground, as though feather stubs and squabby, goose-bumped flesh had sprung forth from Mrs Parry’s palms and overflowed, like a small, ugly fountain of youth. Mrs Parry’s expression hadn’t changed, but tears were running, running down her cheeks, and her eyes swelled with the blue-green of the cold, unfeeling sea.
Gwen Sayers night shift A man swaggers towards Fran, accompanied by a triage nurse. The nurse is huge, shapeless, and a legend in the Emergency Room; they say she can pin a bruiser to a gurney with one elbow. The man wears a Stetson, string tie, faded denims, and cowboy boots. Ginger curls escape beneath the hat’s brim, and he carries a leather jacket slung loosely over his shoulder. He’s not old, maybe early thirties, not sick-looking either – more like a broncobuster with an attitude. It’s three in the morning and Fran fights to stay awake. She walks down the corridor towards the Detox area, knocking the gleaming, cream wall with her knuckles. Only her tapping interrupts the silence. From the open door of the nurses’ room, she smells pork heating in the microwave. As she passes the man, their eyes meet. He has midnight eyes, puddles of pitch which don’t match his peachy skin and freckled face. She shivers, feeling the early morning chill ride past with the cowboy. Seven men are sleeping it off on gurneys in Detox, their heads towards the wall and their feet pointing to the wide corridor. Leather straps restrain their right arms. They lie so still they could be carved, marble figures resting on caskets, asleep for eternity. No choirs and incense for them, though, just groans and the pervasive smell of vomit. Fran leans over the nearest man. His beard is matted and his skin pockmarked. He snores loudly. She can tell he sleeps rough because he reeks of damp, grime, and piss. She lifts his wrist to feel his pulse. He wakes, grimaces, and clamps his fingers around hers. Her hand is trapped in a bony vice, his torn nails scraping her skin. She loosens his grip with her other hand, freeing her fingers. She feels a snap, hears the crack as her jade ring hits the floor. She follows the sound, crawling under the gurneys on hands and knees, searching for the ring. She finds half of it, green stone on blue linoleum, cradles it in her hand. The rest is lost in darkness beneath the trolleys. She backs out, clamping the fractured jade in her fist. She returns to the bearded man and continues her examination, dodging his roving left hand. The alcohol on his breath wafts into her face while she listens to his chest. She recoils when his fingers claw her stethoscope.
Her pager calls, tinny, insistent. She is wanted in the Resuscitation Room for the cowboy. He’s an overdose. The jade fragment lodges deep in her pocket with her keys, chocolate kisses, and tourniquet. She closes her hand around it, making sure. Where is he now – the man she loves? An overhead light blinks on and off, and she rubs her smarting eyes. The cowboy looks younger without the hat, his slender body covered by a thin, cotton gown. Mid-twenties, she thinks, my age. He seems helpless, lying on his back in the cavernous treatment room with his arms outstretched on side splints. He has high cheekbones, a narrow nose, an unsmiling mouth. His orange hair is tousled and she wants to tidy it. The gown, which fastens behind, stops at his knees. His legs splay out. There are bunions on his feet, his toes squashed out of shape to fit his pointy boots. Wires lead from his chest to the cardiac monitor. Slow, regular pings match the green complexes which spike across the black screen and slip away. He gazes at the ceiling, his arms fixed by restraints. The nurse has prepared him for gastric lavage. Fran knows the drill well – fluids in each arm, stomach washout, standby for resuscitation. There will be just him, her, and the whisper of death. The nurse flips through the patient’s chart. ‘His name is Chuck Peterson,’ she says. ‘He’s been triaged for lavage.’ Her words are slurred by the gum she chews. ‘He says he overdosed between midnight and two – he’s not sure when – says he swallowed eighteen phenobarbs washed down with a half bottle of bourbon. Major medical has been ruled out and all his blood results and toxicology are pending. He says he has relationship problems, so I’ve referred him for a psych review later today.’ ‘Hi Chuck,’ says Fran, ‘I’m Dr James.’ His flat eyes are the colour of Grandma’s jet necklace, the chain of round beads that held an oval pendant. On the pendant’s face was a lily made of seed pearls. The back had a glass cover that protected a honey blonde plait, hair removed after the death of a young girl. Did she want the necklace? Grandma asked last year. No, said Fran, who believed she would choke with the memory of a dead girl circling her neck. ‘I’m going to run lines into both your arms, for hydration,’ she says. A flicker of attention lights his eyes, followed by indifference. ‘Then, I’ll pass a large tube into your stomach so I can wash out the barbiturates you took.’ His body looks like it’s been spilled on the bed. The boundaries between his cotton covering and the white sheet are blurred. He shuts his eyes and sighs. Fran wishes she could take his place and close her eyes. She is drifting. Her need for sleep numbs her brain, making her thoughts bump into each
other and wander off before she can fully think them. Some of these thoughts are images which she can’t hold on to either. A group of silver fish dance on the wall fleetingly, but when she peers at them they become a flurry of autumn leaves. She hears fragments of conversation and wants to reply – is she talking aloud, or just in her head? She feels her body sway and wonders if anyone can fall asleep standing in the middle of a room, and whether she will fall over if this happens to her. She digs her nails into her palms, prodding her awareness. The nurse rattles in with a metal trolley laden with equipment. Her scrubs strain to contain her body. Fran picks a large-bore cannula. She winds her rubber tourniquet around Chuck’s upper arm and pulls tight. His veins bulge blue. She finds the point where two tributaries meet to form a thick cord, feels the familiar resistance as her needle penetrates his skin. He has moved his head to watch the cannula enter his vein, but doesn’t flinch. She loosens the tourniquet to connect the tubes. There is a rush of crimson which she flushes back into his body with saline. ‘You’re good, Doc.’ His voice drawls, soft and southern. His dark eyes are fringed with lashes the colour of desert sand. ‘Thanks.’ ‘I felt nothing, this time.’ She stands back, frowning. ‘When was the last time?’ He shifts his body and looks around. While she waits for him to reply, she forgets what she asked. His gaze is speculative. ‘What’s your first name, Dr James?’ ‘Fran,’ she says, turning away. She walks around the bed, aware of his black-eyed interest. His other arm is thin and covered with freckles. It is hairless. She searches for a vein, sliding her fingers over his cool skin. She wants so much to lie next to his slim body and go to sleep. This arm is going to be tough. His veins are barely visible. She doesn’t want to use the obvious swelling in front of his elbow in case the needle dislodges. She tightens the rubber ribbon, and aims for a blue streak running up the outside of his arm. She misses and feels the icy clench of failure. ‘I’m sorry, Chuck, I’ll have to do another jab for this one.’ His eyes liven as he watches the line of blood slipping down his arm. ‘Go for it, Fran,’ he murmurs, licking his lips. She swabs his arm. It’s got to be his elbow vein, there’s nothing else there. Blood gushes out, and she secures the cannula with tape. He’s looking at her and she evades his opaque stare. He tries to flex his
elbow, tries to shift the needle. ‘Stop that!’ She hears the harshness in her voice. ‘What, Doc? You scared of having to stick me again?’ He sniggers. ‘I’m not scared of anything.’ Her hand slides into her pocket, searching. There were irises in the Bistro that day, their blooms pouring purple from a glass vase. They were sitting in a booth, side by side, drinking coffee when Adam told her he’d been offered a residency in Boston. Her hand shook as she lifted her mug, splashes of latte dotting the table. She always thought they’d work together after graduation. Tears came. He wiped her cheeks, gave her the ring and said it was made of jade; that in China, where the ring came from, people believed this gem calmed the mind. Wear it when I’m gone, he said, and remember me. Chuck is looking at her intently. ‘But you are. You’re scared of things that can’t touch you, but do. You’re scared of having my blood on your hands.’ She moves the ring remnant between her thumb and forefinger, avoiding his tarry gaze. ‘I’m not scared of anything,’ she repeats. He arches his eyebrows. ‘Sure you’re not; you’re too hick to be scared.’ ‘Why’s it hick not to be scared?’ ‘It shows lack of imagination.’ Her eyes sting and she looks away. ‘You don’t know anything about me,’ she says, wishing the lights weren’t so bright. ‘Of course I do, Fran, I can describe you in five words.’ She wants him to shut up. She could silence him with the nasogastric tube; shove it down his trachea, drown him with lavage fluid and shut him up for ever. ‘Attractive woman – your hair and eyes are good, anyway. Frustrated–’ ‘Cut it out.’ She dips her hand into her pocket searching for the jade. ‘Alright, you need a man.’ Her face reddens and she signals to the nurse. ‘Insecure … and … don’t worry, Fran, you’re too smart to be hick.’ The nurse brings the wide-lumen tube, the bucket, the funnel, and the water for lavage. Fran reaches for the tube, sees her hand without its ring and feels her guts roll. ‘I’m going to pass this rubber tube through your nose and into your stomach.’ He’s attentive, staring at the tube. ‘Then I’ll wash out your stomach by pouring water down the funnel, and draining it into the bucket.’
He smiles at the ceiling. ‘If you need to speak, or want me to stop, please raise your hand.’ ‘I’ll speak now, before you begin. I like you, Fran. I’ve visited this ER before, many times, but I’ve never liked the residents. You’re different. We’re the same, you and me.’ ‘Well, thanks, Chuck.’ She can think of a million differences and not one similarity. In fact, Chuck must be the most dissimilar person to her in the whole world. But she doesn’t care enough to argue. She wants to be done with him, so she can get back to the patients waiting to be seen in Detox. ‘Are you alright with me passing the tube?’ He nods. ‘Then swallow when I say so.’ His body is taut. Only his eyes move, watching her. She rubs lubricant on the tip of the flexible tube. She remembers her childhood – the garden hose – how her father connected it to a sprinkler so that she and her sister could play in the water. A rainbow would shine through the sparkling drops and she would try to reach it. But every time her hands broke the spray, the colours collapsed. She approaches Chuck. His face is impassive and he extends his neck, positioning himself perfectly for the tube’s passage into his stomach. She hates doing this. She wills the tube not to coil, hopes her patient won’t gag. His eyes scan her face as she bends over, easing the tube through his nostril, feeding it down his gullet. Her hair falls forwards and sweeps against his cheek. It’s remarkably easy to pass the tube down Chuck’s throat and she stands back, relieved. His body lies spread-eagled on the table. The thin material of his gown is displaced upwards by his erection. His breathing accelerates and the heart monitor beeps faster. His body arches, his eyes roll up, and his lids flicker. As his body relaxes, he sighs deeply. The first litre of fluid goes in clear and comes out clear. There’s no sign of tablets in the sweetish-smelling, gastric contents. His stomach is empty. He doesn’t open his eyes while Fran pours litre after litre down the funnel. The bucket fills to the brim, a fine froth shimmering on the surface. When the procedure’s done, Fran goes to the reception desk and asks for Chuck Peterson’s old notes. She pages through his thick folder. Seventeen gastric washouts were recorded over the past three years, all for phenobarbital overdoses. Seventeen toxicology results came back forty-eight hours later. All were negative for barbiturates. Dr Coombs, Chief of Staff, breezes in at seven, holding a large coffee cup. He’s in the gym every morning before work, lifting weights. Bulging biceps show it. His waist bristles with antennae from radiophones hooked to his
belt. One is for the Police Department, another for the paramedics, and the third a hot line to the Emergency Room. Fran tells him about Chuck Peterson. How he says he’s overdosed so that he can get his stomach washed out. Dr Coombs listens, his chin cupped in his hand. He stands with his legs apart, radiophones crackling, stethoscope looped over his shoulders, flashlight poking from his shirt pocket, reflex hammer sticking out of his back pocket. Fran tells him how many times Chuck’s done this before. He frowns. The sleeves of his khaki shirt are rolled up to his elbows and he smells aromatic, of aftershave. ‘So, how should we deal with this?’ he asks, scratching his greying crewcut. ‘Blacklist him,’ says Fran. ‘Mark him up, not for lavage, ever. He’s a time waster.’ ‘And, do you think he’s a happy time waster?’ ‘How can he be if this is how he gets his kicks?’ Dr Coombs raises an eyebrow. Fran knows he assesses patients better than most, so she must have missed something. He leans forwards, spreading his fingers on the counter top, staking his territory. His nails are neatly trimmed and buffed to a fine shine. ‘Then, Fran, seeing as he’s not happy wasting people’s time, do you think he’s a suicide risk?’ One corner of his mouth lifts, an almost smile. Fran hesitates, of course not, how could he be? He was so bloody full of himself. But getting your stomach washed out for nothing is crazy. He could have died. Perhaps he lives alone, like her, in gloomy digs. He must be pretty low if his fantasies depend on being spiked by cannulas and penetrated by tubes. ‘It’s possible,’ she says. Dr Coombs taps his pen on the counter top. ‘So, how do you tell when he’s for real?’ ‘I don’t know,’ she says, looking at the linoleum, blue shining under the fluorescent lights. ‘I don’t know how anyone tells when anything’s for real.’ She flicks her broken ring into a trashcan.
Neil Campbell turning up the volume When he was drunk he had no idea about volume. So he sat there and turned her up and she roared like flames or coastline. He sipped his clinking drink and felt its throttling burn before the scenes slipped into green and the horses leaped the fences, their chestnut forms rippling through the rural vista. He flashed back to their first time in the sack when her pale body enveloped him and the dark room filled with starlight, the time they stormed a drunken fairground groping at candy floss and hip flasks of gin and whisky, and the gold coast morning in the last century when they pulled back flowered curtains and saw heatwaves. He watched the ceremony from the shade of condemned trees. Saw the following years of selfless, clinging hugging, the slacking of her jowls and the progress of her starred children. He saw the shining rewards of television, the vacant semblance of success, her choices exemplified by the greying and drying out of her once-lustrous hair. He turned up the volume beyond where it could go and saw her in a purple pistachio of memory, her eyes green as the starfished depths of coral, her smile an emblazoned slice, a knifed rose, her lips a giving, softened sunset moistened by liquor and kisses. With the memory of her music painting the walls like the sun paints the old buildings of broken towns, he lifted back his sodden face and listened as the glorious fragments of his bolted life consoled him with arias and tone poems.
Natalie Raymond diagram of my father’s voice
e.g. Jönsson airport, night – I need to learn to hug like men do in Hollywood. Just like that; except, perhaps, italicized: I need to…, you say, chewing on your slop-filled bun, absent-mindedly rubbing a smear into the fabric of your jeans. We are waiting overnight at the airport, catching an early flight home, and soon the shops will begin to close. – Another espresso? – Could I have a napkin, too? So you have noticed, then – or maybe you just want to wipe your fingers, mouth. I want to, too. The goo is a pale pink, I’m guessing salmon, in sour cream, though maybe mashed-up prawns would be a safer bet. I flop out of my seat and edge my way past our luggage trolley. It’s good to be travelling together, for once: usually when I travel alone I have to drag the trolley around with me everywhere – even into the toilets, which is a hassle. I look back over my shoulder at you, and you wink at me. It makes me think of daisies squinting. You close both your eyes tightly until the lids are bunched up into asterisks of skin, and then relax them again, like flowers unfolding in a time-lapse clip. There’s a faint taste of prawn in my mouth. Or salmon. So this is your story. Everyone has these, like the story about my grandmother and the tomatoes, after the war. My grandmother was a young woman at the time – or not so young, depending on your views on such matters. She was twenty-nine. She had never seen a tomato before. At the market stall, she admired its uncommon redness and thought that it might be an apple. She was sure it was. After she had paid for her pomme d’amour, holding it in her hand, biting down on it, she had the shock of her life. Granny never ate tomatoes again. Not for a couple of years, at least. But your story goes back to childhood, to being a blonde-borderingon-white, in a busy street somewhere in Switzerland, Schweiz. La Suisse, which is not La Suède, but the land of the finicky army knives. This is what I think of when I think of Switzerland: the swish-swoosh sound of the blade cutting through snowy material. The texture of salt in my mouth (is
it migraine, again?) as I stand in the queue for the toilets. There is a heavily pregnant woman in a burqa in front of me: her hands pressed against her belly, veiled in blue. Grey-blue, like a winter sky heavy with rain. For a while, I lived in the part of Malmö where a hijab was as common a sight as an unveiled head, and women covered from head to toe billowed down the streets like sailboats in mourning; stopping to buy tomatoes, perhaps, or tins of fruit. Once, on the bus, the driver refused one of these blacksheathed figures the ride, on account of not being able to see her face. You could be anyone, he argued, and I turned my head, embarrassed, and thought: so could I. But the sound of the knife. The click-and-clack of the tools, like treasure: here is my razor, here are my scissors, here is the light. A busy street in Switzerland, somewhere, because the truth is I know precious little more about the country than those who mix it up with Sweden, Ikea, cuckoo clocks und so weiter. The jumble sale of compulsory education; I try to picture a map, staring, for a split second, into someone’s eyes in the mirror wall above the sinks. All I can think of is Belgium. The slip and slide of languages: French, German, Italian, maybe, or Flemish? There are parentheses around my eyes, pillowcases of skin hanging from underneath them, like washing hung out to dry. Grey sheets. A lowering sky. You were the girl with the white hair, the darling of your parents, casting the narrowest of shadows over the baby in her pram. You were a small child, a premature birth, having shared a womb with a fading twin. A withering hollyhock baby à la Anne Geddes. Gone in a blink. That’s not how it was, of course. Premature babies are rarely that plump, no matter how you swathe them in plush, deck them out, as acorns or Christmas trees, or unlikely mice. There was an old-fashioned Mickey, 1930s’ style, stencilled on the wall of the room where my brother was born. My mother bursting open like overstressed fabric, the Swiss knife again: I am curious, sometimes, about my mother’s cunt. What it looks like now, ravaged by childbirth, three vaginal, one cut-out. Every time the seams ripping, needing restitching, patching up. My mother’s cunt a patchwork quilt, a mind map. My father counting the stitches like he would count the fingers of his babes. The burqa lady steps into a stall. I’m next. The thing about Switzerland, you said, is that they are very conventional. They stick to tradition. They don’t stick out. On Thursdays it’s shopping day, on Sundays you rest. This was a Thursday, and the shops were open till late. The family strolled down the street, taking in the crowd, the bustle, the
rigmarole of an entire nation out shopping on the same solitary day. You were telling me this and I was losing myself in salmon taste, in prawns. I wanted to reach across the armrest and caress your belly. Sleep. Instead, I spoke a story of my own. It’s about Amsterdam, maybe, or Brussels. My parents had taken me on a trip, we used to travel back then, they were young. I was a cute kid, I tell you, and you look at me, cock your head to one side, saying: I can see that. You smile your lopsided smile and I should throw my napkin at you, that would be the thing to do, but instead I hesitate and blush and have to brush back my hair, fiddle with the zipper on my bag. I have to pee. The whoosh of the taps is deafening, exacerbating. It is taking forever. It always does. We had been staying at a hotel, overnight, and my mother and I were on our way down to the entrance, by way of the lift. I was watching myself in the floor-to-ceiling mirror, the back of my head bumping into her crotch. She was wearing a salmon-pink dress, maybe coral, a deep coral, matching shoes. That’s all I remember her nether regions, her voice: oh, I need to pee. I’d like to add pet, love, but I’m not sure. She slipped out of the lift, skipped back towards our room, and the doors closed behind her, encasing me. The seat of the toilet is cool against my thighs. I lean forward, holding onto the door, a nervous habit, as the piss spills out of me. I feel moist at the knees, behind my ears. They found me walking down the street, confused, like a little old person – I have no memory of it. You are asleep when I return with the espressos. I sit down next to you, placing the cups on the small table in front of us. You have slid down the faux leather seat so that your cheek is pressing against it, sticking to it. When you wake your skin will be red there. We will have breakfast and cold espressos besides. Then we will gather up our belongings, kept with us at all times, and head for the check-in desk. In the queue, you will turn around to look at me. As if you knew. Strolling down the street in Switzerland, back in the 1980s, a young Canadian woman approaches the little girl, the eldest daughter, with the fair, fair hair. She has never seen such fair hair before. It looks unreal. And she smiles brightly at the girl and asks if she can touch it. Yes, the girl says. But then I want to feel yours too. So they stand, in the middle of the crowd, one with the bright white
tresses tickling her palms, the other marvelling at the feel of her first cornrows. Afterwards they say thank you. Move on. I take the napkin and dab at your mouth. Scrape away the smear on your jeans with my nail. Bend to stroke your hair.
Each of Minoru Karamatsuâ€™s photographs tells a compelling story. Over the next few pages we let them speak for themselves.
Joan Margarit Translated from the Catalan by Anna Crowe
soviet music Music is always a shortcut. I listen to Shostakovich and my uncle’s oily boilersuit comes to mind. It sports La Maquinista’s insignia. I used to carry his lunch to him in the train locomotive workshop. Sitting beside him I kept him company on that bit of waste ground with weeds and scrap metal. He hoisted a Catalan flag on top of the roof of La Maquinista. The night the police came to the house rumour had it some neighbours had denounced him. A lie, for they were decent people, but it took the folk at home many years before they were able to believe they were innocent. Having the same force as music, calumny is another shortcut. What to do with Shostakovich? With so much dissonance that it’s a farewell?
translator’s note: The Franco régime had outlawed any demonstration whatsoever of pro-Catalan feeling.
military camp Could a game like this, with fascinating moments – the bugle-call of “lights out” on the parade-ground – be the same enthusiasm for killing? Death was not present, as hundreds of welldisciplined lads filed past, singing. Until I closed my fist on a bullet and my fist was a black heart. I couldn’t know at eighteen that reading Keats was to read the orders of an armed horde. That listening to Bach was to listen to a hundred hands clashing guns at a single stroke.
Steve Leckie the day joe strummer died Christmas is always a pain in the arse, but a mid-week Christmas is worst of all if most of your people are on Supervised Consumption of methadone. You have to write out the Controlled Drugs Prescription (unambiguously, without crossings out or alterations, in both block capitals and figures), in such a way as to allow them to go to the chemist on Christmas Eve, be observed by the pharmacist taking the methadone, be given two days’ supply to be trusted with while the pharmacies are closed, come back on the Friday to be supervised again, be given two days’ supply for the weekend and so on, up to and including the bank holiday on New Year’s Day. Honest to God, I know some people who will actually use up a week’s leave just to have the time off before Christmas, so the poor suffering admin staff will be left to sort this all out with the help of the Duty Nurse. It’s a mean trick, but this morning I can see the appeal. That’s why in this strip-lit, open-plan office full of trained and committed professionals, everyone’s scratchy as hell, even despite an avalanche of poundshop tinsel, a tray of Happy Shopper mince pies, and a massive cardboard angel gaffered to the shredder. The posters down the corridor take turns proclaiming ‘Good Will to All Men’ and ‘Now Wash Your Hands’. Mondays are always a pain in the arse, but the Monday before Christmas? Don’t even ask. Fortunately there’s a small room known as the ‘airlock’ between the office and the waiting room, with a hatch for giving out prescriptions and taking delivery of urine test results. There’s a radio in the airlock, and someone’s tuned it loudly to Radio 1 this morning, so we can mouth off and mutter without being overheard by any clients who are waiting to be seen. To make things worse we’ve got this snooty new junior doctor, Abigail Hunter, who knows nothing about drugs or psychiatry, but who thinks that, since she’s the doctor and you’re the nurse, you’re here to learn from her. (She’s got the Jimmy Choo shoes to prove it, and the consultant wrapped round her little finger, next to that tasteful bespoke platinum and diamond ring made by someone called Wendy Ramshaw – ask her nicely and she’ll show you the brochure.) She won’t sign any of these damned scripts until she knows the ins and outs of a duck’s arse about why your client’s on this particular dosage, using this particular pharmacist, what other approaches
have been tried, and if you’ve considered whether or not the service user might be more empowered by having the chance to direct their own treatment. Yeah, I’d like to say, and when they’ve OD’d maybe you’d be more empowered by having the chance to explain it to the coroner. But no, of course – that would be me doing the explaining, not you. Fortunately I think she must have a date or something because this morning she’s signing everything that’s put in front of her, like she can’t wait to get out of the building, so that’s a plus anyway. Later on I’ve got to dash round the corner to Bottoms Up and collect the drinks for tonight. I’m sort of seeing someone new, which is strange after all this time, but good: we haven’t been together very long but it’s the run up to Christmas and she wants to introduce me to her friends. I’ve got to be on my best behaviour but not be a creep, and be spontaneous and at ease with a room full of strangers – never my strong suit – so I’ve made a list of safe stories to tell and pithy answers to the likely questions, a bit like prepping for an interview except I hope I’ve already got the job. Anyway she knows what they like to drink and I’ve got a detailed shopping list, so as long as I can get there and back in the space of a lunch hour it should be OK. I pat my trouser pockets to make sure I haven’t lost either list. She’s into poetry and environmental issues, so I’ve managed to track down a signed copy of Whale Nation, and I hope she hasn’t already got it. Adam works at the desk opposite mine, and I can see he’s upset about something, so even though I’m at my wits’ end I ask him what’s up. He’s been a shoulder for me to cry on a few times, and your status as a decent human depends on not copping out when you’re needed. Turns out he’s recently had a really bad nightmare that he still can’t shake, about being left on the operating table while the hospital’s evacuated during a bomb scare: he’s been strapped down, opened up, left immobile and alone, and is just beginning to feel the anaesthetic wearing off. He still gets ptsd symptoms from some of the stuff that happened when he was younger – helps him empathise with the clients, but I can’t help wondering if it’s a good idea for him to be working in this area. The nightmare sounds like a metaphor for going through rehab, I say, and a light bulb goes on over his head. Adam’s the only one of us who’s been on the other side of the fence, or at least the only one who’ll admit it. My interpretation seems to loosen some pressure for him, though, and he looks a lot less wound up. He’ll be able to start letting go of the nightmare itself, now there’s a meaning for him to focus on. Getting the essentials and putting them in a nutshell seems to be what I do best. It’s a knack, that’s all.
Glad to help, but time’s knocking on and I’ve got Toby Moore at twelve, so I edge out of the conversation as gently as I can, and start preparing myself. Toby Moore, strewth. If you’ve got mental health problems to the point where you don’t cooperate with the psychiatric services, you can be brought into hospital and treated against your will. If you’re addicted to the point where you don’t co-operate with the drugs services, you’re discharged and invited to come back when you’re ready to play ball. If you’ve got mental health problems and an addiction – well, let’s just say it’s a delicate ethical balance. All of which is true, and it’s boiled my brain for years, but a more basic truth is that I’m at the end of my rope with this guy. He’s the definition of what we call A Chaotic Polydrug User. The voices can be scary, but the gear calms them down. The dealer’s selling ‘one of each’, so you might as well have a rock of cheap crack to go with the gear, which feels great to start off with but then it makes you paranoid, so when the voices start to reappear they’re even worse than last time. The only thing that sorts them out is another bag of heroin, but the dealer’s selling one of each, and The Great Addiction Hamster-wheel goes for another spin. Thus, as the Buddha might have put it, arises this whole mass of suffering. Mine’s the sort of job where, when you come back after a week’s leave, you go into the secretaries’ office and ask in a mock-light-hearted tone, ‘Anybody dead and it’s my fault?’ If the answer is ‘No’ you can retrospectively enjoy your time off. I’ve laughed my way through it like everyone else, but it’s only half a joke, and more often than not it’s Toby who’s been on my mind. Also he’s pretty much my age, given a week or so, which always gives me the creeps. I can never remember his clothes: we’re supposed to be able to give a ‘last seen wearing’ list to the Police if it’s needed, but somehow Toby leaves no impression. When you go out to the waiting area to call him, he’ll be over against the opposite wall, curled up as small as possible behind an old newspaper, even if the room’s empty. He’ll cross the room hunched over, in a fast scurry, trying to get out of sight as soon as possible. When you get to the interview room he’s already turned out most of the lights, and he’s sitting in the shadows at the far corner. The stories don’t vary much from week to week. Where’s he been staying? Behind the sofa of a friend of a friend, chewing up the last shreds of acquaintanceship until the day comes when nothing’s left. What’s he been living on? Some local shopkeepers will have noticed a
slight dip in the stock: the packets of bacon and value packs of fish fingers are the easiest things to hide in your coat lining, and fastest to offload at the pub. He’s learned to vary the days he cashes his cheque: you can see the gangs outside the Post Office on giro day, like cartoon cats by a hole in the skirting board. He’s not getting caught like that, not again. Last time they tracked him down it was because of the piles of syringes behind the advertising hoarding opposite the imax. Maybe dealers with a grudge; maybe local vigilantes, protecting the character of the neighbourhood. Anyway, he wasn’t long for this world if he didn’t get off the street. I pulled some strings and called in a load of favours to get him a bed on the in-patient unit – two weeks of decent food, a roof, nobody trying to rob him, the chance to stop using and just get settled on his prescription. Most people have to wait months for that. I went in to see him on the Monday he was admitted and we had a long, meaningful talk about how things could change from now on. The student I was mentoring said she was genuinely moved. By the Wednesday afternoon, he’d walked. Then, just last week, he’d been off his face in the waiting room and proudly announced to the whole wide world that he was the one who’d ripped off the Sarraways. The Sarraways, for God’s sake, only the most feared family of dealers in the city. I was at primary school with Tony, and he was an evil bastard even back then. One afternoon we’d just come out of school, he was about to run across the road and I pulled him back out of the way of a bus. Turns out that it’s saved me from a beating on more than one occasion, even after all this time. The point is, if you rip off the Sarraways you can kiss goodbye to your kneecaps, and here was Toby sounding off about it to a bunch of strangers who all knew someone who would pay top dollar for the information. Finally, after months of no change, I’ve had to give him an ultimatum – clean urine samples from now on, or he’s out. I’ve been to the Team Meeting this morning and they’ve agreed to support me if I decide to discharge him. Part of me feels defeated, part of me wants to punch the air. Mostly, I’m relieved. You can’t help anyone who doesn’t want to be helped, and eventually you have to start looking out for yourself. If someone wants to tap-dance on a cliff edge they can go ahead, but not on my caseload. I’ve been practising my speech. ‘Look, Toby, we need to be able to demonstrate to the commissioners that the provision of a controlled drug is having the effect of improving your quality of life when measured against a number of specific outcomes, including incidences of crime, illicit drug use, and exposure to blood-borne viruses. Based on the fact that your most recent
sample is still positive to opiates, cocaine, and benzodiazepines, there’s no way I can justify continuing your prescription, so I’m sorry but you’ve really left me no alternative but to discharge you from the service. This would not prevent you from being treated in the future, in which case you should ask your GP to re-refer you in six months’ time…’ I’m going through this in my head once more when I remember I told my brother I’d arrange to send the flowers to Mum this year, so I spend a quarter of an hour on hold listening to four bars of Vivaldi on a loop before getting through to Interflora, then can’t remember what we agreed on, finally settling for a mixed bouquet. While I’m giving the Interflora woman my card details, Adam comes in and signals that my next client is here. I give him a thumbs-up, look at the clock, and get together Toby’s file and his final prescription. I’m going into the airlock as the secretary is coming out, and I bump into the door and spill the paperwork. I’m down on my knees gathering it up when the lunchtime news comes on: a brief obituary, a handful of tributes, and on to the next item. I don’t get up: the airlock has vanished and the prescription has gone from my hand. I’m nineteen, it’s May 1977, and I’m down in a cellar club packed full of sweating, heaving, jammed-together, leaping kids, the luckiest three hundred people in the city. Up on the stand The Clash are roaring out of the blocks in a glorious racket gathering all the hope, anger, buzz, and liberation that’s fizzing in the air, and focusing it down into a hard flame. It’s a miracle no-one gets electrocuted because it’s like a shower up there, the sweat’s running down the red and black walls, I’m soaked in someone’s Carlsberg Special but who cares when the world is breaking open and the future is everywhere around us? It’s the fall of Jericho and the descent of the tongues of fire, rolled up together. Any sense of separateness melts in that intense blaze, and it feels like we are all one. At two in the morning we climb the stairs to street level, out into a world that’s wider, scarier, and more fluid than before – alive, crackling with an ungovernable energy, at war with anything that cages the spirit. Tomorrow can’t come soon enough. We all know what happened next. The hope became frustration, frustration turned to rage. The riots came, and the city burned. It was the storm before the lull, for sure: soon enough, as if by magic, the streets were paved with golden brown. And we’re back. When I get up, Toby is standing at the hatch. I can see from his face that he’s just heard the bulletin; his expression is a mirror of my own, and our eyes meet.
‘Were you there?’ I ask. I didn’t know I was going to say that. There’s no need to explain. ‘God, yeah,’ he says, ‘the greatest night ever. Danced myself into the ground. You?’ ‘Down the front with my head in the bass bin,’ I say, ‘couldn’t hear a thing for a week.’ ‘Lucky bastard,’ he says, from his side of the hatch. Yeah, I’m a lucky bastard. ‘Nothing was ever the same after that,’ I say. ‘No, nothing was ever the same. I left home the next week, moved into the squat on Parliament Street, and – well, I don’t need to tell you, do I?’ He laughs. ‘You’ve read the file.’ Yes, I’ve read the file. ‘Anyway,’ he says, ‘the secretary said you wanted to have a word.’ We find an empty interview room. Through the closed door I can still hear some tinny, manufactured top thirty bullshit blaring from the radio. Sugary, shiny nonsense: more tinsel. I feel suddenly far from home. Come on, concentrate. ‘Thing is, Toby,’ I say, ‘Your last sample came back positive to opiates, cocaine, and benzos. As you know, if I’m going to provide a prescription for a controlled drug, I have to demonstrate that it’s leading to measurable improvements in health, drug use, and crime.’ ‘Right,’ he says. ‘So what does that mean?’ The pause is short, but it’s a mile deep. I take a breath. ‘What it means,’ I say, ‘is that you’ve really got to get your act together. This is your last chance. Honest, Toby, I mean it…’
Abigail Carroll enough
After Psalm 131
I do not attempt to map the under-veins of leaves, nor count the pointed needles of the pines. I do not pretend to understand the way worm-loosed loam gives birth to roots, saplings turn sunlight into heartwood and bark. The secret life of the forest—its exquisite machineries, its fertile underground factories— the buzz and drone of beetles, wood ants, black flies, bees, the gutturals of warblers, the song-shouts of jays—these my ear will never comprehend. Instead, I wade through the cool of a stream, sit on a rock like a monk trying to be a child, leaning forward,
stretching out an arm to catch the first red maple leaf of autumn, then pulling back, letting it slip by, choosing to watch it pass. My heart says: “This is enough.”
Cristina J. Baptista kestrels
After Psalm 102
Cover your ears. Nothing I say can heal you. They call this “mental illness”—it looks like nothing I have seen in humans before, a face like a jaguar in National Geographic and hands like falcons’ claws curling around my body as if it were bark. Who knows how long you can go without touching anything but air, even that a disease that scares you—you, so grown and wild and incapable of gathering thoughts. If anyone could hear the loosening in my bones, it’s you with your acute perception and endless propensity for knowing what you shouldn’t. I was never solid earth, but a landslide, aiming for your arms, but you had none—only wings wide as rooms in a church—no doors. Nothing we do will ever make up for what we have done somewhere in this line. Why did no one tell us our lives would look like old newspapers, books with deckled edges, every letter a mirror mistaken for a window without a ledge?
I wish I could take your feathers, plant them as a bush and, when blooming, burn it as an offering. No other novena will do to cure you. I am tempted to pull something loose from this body assembled like a cairn no god can claim, do something to deny that madness is smoke— a screen that lets everything in, warns every fragile bird after it’s too late. Every generation is another falling body, curling into a punctuation mark. It is in dying that words reveal themselves, that sentences spill speedily. In the meantime, we fledglings continue finding every stray seed, smashing things with beaks— the only way we know how to keep the silence.
C.G. Menon i see you in triplicate A lot of things have gone missing, lately. The apples Caroline bought last week, for example, and her favourite necklace, and the leaves that used to be on the sycamore across the road, and her husband, and one of the pink-and-white striped gym socks from Woolworths. Of these things: the apples have all been gnawed away during the recent tearful nights, and their sinews cluster like mice on her bedside table. The necklace is tangled in a blue silk scarf that used to be her mother’s, the gym sock is somewhere in the sliding layers of her knickers drawer, the sycamore leaves are composting on the ground, and her husband is in the water-heater. “It’s been making these noises, you see,” she explains. “My husband… my ex, flushed it out, and it’s never been right since.” Alex listens with his head on one side and a gentle, questioning smile. He would have made a good doctor; had always intended to be one, but when he was seventeen his mother died and he failed his A-levels. He’s the first man Caroline has had in this bedroom – except, of course, for the husband now scratching away at the immersion heater – and his next appointment will turn out to be with Zinat, who has blue eyes and three children and a broken-down washing machine. Zinat smells of rose-water and Weetabix, her children are named after Afghan refugees and Alex will remember the braveness and blueness of her eyes for the rest of his life. He will not remember Caroline, even though the limescale remover he prescribes will dissolve her husband and leave her drifting through the quiet afternoon to cry, and shove her hand viciously into her jeans, and rasp her swollen thoughts up against firemen, or headmasters, or perhaps handsome young doctors named Alex. Caroline’s husband, though, doesn’t stay gone. He knocks on the door at six the next evening, buttoned up sweet as a pin. “Is this an ok time?” he asks. “Just to grab some – necessities?” and Caroline folds her arms, all her necessities ripped loose from their lodgements in her heart, and tells him he can have anything he fucking likes. Ten minutes later he comes downstairs, with a hold-all crammed full of
mistakes. He’s taken his wedding suit – too tight now and punctured by moths – and left his jeans; he’s taken the second book of the Raj Quartet and forgotten the first, which lies dusty on the spare room shelves. He’s jammed a sheaf of paper on top; this will turn out to be not the mortgage documents but Caroline’s enrolment form for a Spanish evening class. It isn’t his fault, this baffled, hurried packing like an Afghan refugee. The knocking of the water heater has distracted him, and he wonders if he ought to get that fixed. In the kitchen, meanwhile, Caroline is gnawing at the shining rind of a Granny Smith, and drinking gin from a jar that once held his home-made chutney. The apple peel has the nutrients, her mother used to say; the peel makes your hair curl, and your nails shine, and spells out your husband’s name on Midsummer Night. But Caroline’s hair and nails are limp, her nutrients lately come from takeaway dinners and candy-coloured multivitamins, and she has just spent a considerable sum of money to dissolve her husband only to have him skulk up to the door the very next day. She has had quite enough of apple peels. “Right. Well, I’ve got this lot, so...” He holds the bag up, awkwardly, and makes a pantomime little grimace to show how heavy it is. “Shall I be off, then?” Caroline doesn’t answer. He will be off, whatever she says, to that other woman; to a dinner packed with nutrients and perhaps even a nursery pudding to follow. Her husband has told her this woman has a child, as though that might make things better, or perhaps worse. The front door clicks shut. He’s gone, then – again – and the world hasn’t fallen in, and she’s still sitting in her kitchen with her apples and gin. She pours herself a complacent second measure for standing it all, for bearing up so well, and then she hears the snap of the letterbox as her husband finds out the least important of his mistakes and pushes her Spanish enrolment forms through. The chutney jar shivers into fragments under her fingers and the second measure becomes a third, and a fourth, and then she is not bearing up at all. Caroline’s second bag of apples is now half-finished, the sycamore tree is a naked shock against the muddy sky, her gym sock is draped stiff and mateless over the clothes-horse, and her husband is in her Spanish enrolment forms. When she’d picked them up from the doormat she’d remembered how he filled them in for her last summer when she sprained her wrist, before the other woman and the water-heater, before Zinat’s washing machine broke down and Alex fell in love; before Afghan refugees and apples and gin.
Her husband winks at her from the pen strokes, tugging at the curl of her name and squatting cross-legged in the letters of what used to be their shared address. He always had lovely handwriting; had wanted to be an artist but at seventeen his best friend failed his A-levels when his mother died, and Caroline’s husband decided to be a doctor instead. Caroline thinks about crumpling him up, dropping him on top of the drying teabags in the kitchen bin, but she doesn’t feel quite up to that. In the end she stuffs him into an envelope and takes him to the post office, where he’ll become Royal Mail’s problem. She buys a stamp from the woman behind the till, a girl with brave blue eyes and a faintly soiled white blouse. Her name-tag says Zinat, she’s flicking through her phone in search of a plumber because she can’t, she really can’t, go another day without doing laundry, and Caroline forgets her instantly. The Spanish class begins a week later. Caroline’s been told to bring a photocopy of her forms, but she imagines her husband duplicated, triplicated, whirred into infinity by the forgettable post-office girl, and firmly shakes her head. That evening she sits in a bright classroom full of half-size chairs and finger-painted eggshells. It smells of chalk-and-school-shoes and gentle childhood bullying, and when Caroline is given a single flashcard with Yo Soy – I Am – on it, she almost bursts into tears from the simplicity of it all. After that she learns Las manzanas son mi comida favorita – apples are my favourite food – and this too makes her cry, because it reminds her that her husband, who is not hers any more, is at that moment packing yet another bag in the house that is not theirs any more. Her conversation partner, a stocky woman with skin like sponge-cake, leans over and pats Caroline’s arm. “Are you ok, love?” It’s so casual, that love, but Caroline is more grateful for it than she can possibly say and so instead she asks, extremely politely, what the woman’s favourite colour is. “¿Cuál es tu color favorito?” When class is over there’s a shuffling of papers, a stamping of boots, and winding of scarves. Some women have already paired off, leaving arm-inarm in a kind of belted, middle-class companionship. The men are more circumspect, ducking their heads with a tender shame as they scamper off into the night. “Hang on, pet.” The sponge-cake woman’s name is Ros, and for class
she’s been given the Spanish name Rosa. Caroline likes Ros, but she isn’t sure about Rosa, who has far less to say for herself. Ros crooks an arm for Caroline to take, and in that nuzzling bump of elbows Caroline can see a friendship, she can see them growing old together disreputably, she can see stout-and-milks and knitted M&S jumpers and cackling, bawdy laughter as they pass blushing young doctors named Alex. This is not quite what she’d been expecting, but she knows this woman’s favourite colour, she knows her favourite food and at the next lesson she will learn how many brothers she has, and from there to the stout-and-milks seems hardly a stretch at all. A month later, Caroline’s husband comes back again. He brings a carful of empty boxes this time, and a list on his mistress’s green notepaper. She’s even printed out a set of little checkboxes for him to tick off each item, and Caroline thinks briefly that it is by these measures that wars and heartbreak are averted, that Afghan refugees are saved and Spanish conjugations learnt. She has never, after all, been truly in the game. “Will be you all right?” he asks, coming into the kitchen under his strange new hairstyle. He wants her to say no, he is already beginning to regret the mistress and the awful, innocent demands of her child. He would like to stay here, to make another jar of the chutney Caroline used to like, perhaps even to fix something around the house with competent masculine strength. But the chutney jars have all been smashed, the water heater is quiet for once, and Caroline is busy beating sponge-cake and smiling down at its pockmarked skin. So instead he goes back to his mistress to be checked off her lists and hung up in her kitchen with the dinner menus, where he will dangle uselessly for several years until one day, to his surprise, he will realise that he has turned out to be happy after all. Caroline, too, is learning about happiness. Ros now comes to her house after class, and on occasion has even stayed the night amongst the Christmas decorations and lonely books that shiver on the spare-room shelves. She once left a pair of pink-and-white gym socks, and these have become so mixed up with the rest of the laundry that Caroline no longer remembers one was ever missing. Ros hasn’t fixed everything, but that would be too much to expect. She’s sorted out the water-heater; took a spanner to it the first night she stayed, and now the limescale has gone for good. But she hasn’t stuck the sycamore leaves back on, nor has she un-shattered the jar that once held chutney, and still, on bad days, holds gin. Caroline’s husband is still there occasionally,
glittering out at her from the oddest corners. He pops up in the bathroom so often that one day she howls her way through a proper spring-clean and only then does he turn back into a half-finished pot of shaving cream and a splaying toothbrush. Ros, sitting in the kitchen with her stout-and-milk, shakes her head. She is canny, Ros, and sees that soon Caroline will no longer need the bawdy elbow-crook of their friendship. She has a little cry over this, for Ros has a story too; had a husband and a plumber and a bravely blue-eyed son of her own, and would have liked them to come into it somehow. But she knows that Caroline isn’t forever, and because of this, Ros has never invited her home. When everything’s been sorted out, when everybody’s been ticked off into their checkboxes and refugee camps and evening classes, she has no intention of finding Caroline in her water heater. And then it’s spring and – the taste for sponge-cake having entirely left her – Caroline is again sitting at her kitchen table and peeling an apple. Ros has long gone, and by now is fast friends with the blue-eyed post-office girl, whose Afghan-named children have lately been drifting, with flower-like mouths, into bad company. Caroline is, to a certain extent, happy again. Her husband no longer peeps out from odd corners and she can go days without bearing up. She still goes to the Spanish class but, owing to a computer mix-up and her failure to produce photocopies of her enrolment form, has had to begin again at the same level. Yo Soy, she says, again and again, and one day soon a fair-haired young man will join the class. His favourite colour will be red, and his favourite food will be cheese, and afterwards he will ask her for a drink and scamper off into the night with her tucked firmly into the crook of his arm. Caroline may one day marry this man and have a child with blue eyes and immense courage, like most young babies. When asked for his name, perhaps from somewhere in her bruised and dazzling mind, Caroline will fish out Alex. Should something momentous happen during Alex’s A-levels, he may put his plans to be a doctor aside and travel instead. Perhaps he’ll get as far as Spain where, having never learnt Yo Soy, he’ll lose himself completely until he meets a blue-eyed Afghan refugee who smells of rose-water and spongecake. She may be training to be a chef, and may even make him chutney in Baltic stained-glass jam pots and, later, when everyone has left everyone else for the last and final time, Alex will always be able to find her somewhere at the bottom of those tiny jars.
Maximilian Heinegg the interim In the time between stations, near arrival or longing for departure, when faith fades into the narrative, so nothing bodes or wears attachment well, when ropes resist their knots, the ship refuses harbor, as skies defy moods’ mooring masts, the wind tears at the tower & I’m lost, beyond the gift of direction, so I watch the sky like an augur, curl my eyes round clouds’ contours, follow a black stream of birds, reading omens in swirling ashtrays. Nothing. I shouldn’t even be looking, but I am.
Maximilian Heinegg sleep Now we sleep in our clothes, our nights tapered to catch as-catch-can, when in the years before children, sleep was simply the end of night, not soft water weathering & sad respect for time. There were days where no one knew where we were, dozing in the blissed-out stratus of a double bed, beyond any grasp, before cell phones, when we ranged by ourselves inaccessible, when discord sat on our doorstep & when we gave no answer, left. The sky gave us a dark bed, & in that darkness praised our sense to rest as plays for ascent were made near us, we missed lustrous chances, friends fell from focus, persuading ourselves all fires can be restarted, forgiving what we knew was selfishness, as we slept in depths so entire as to be unmemorable.
Contributors a– z
Cristina J. Baptista is a first-generation Portuguese-American writer and educator. Most recently, her work has appeared in Structo 14, New Millennium Writings, Painted Bride Quarterly, and elsewhere. Her poem ‘Trouble Woman’ was nominated for the 2016 Forward Prize by Structo. She holds a PhD in English from Fordham University and teaches American Literature at a school in Connecticut, USA. She also sailed during the 38th Voyage of the Charles W. Morgan, an 1841 wooden whaleship that is the last remaining one in the world, and served as onboard poet and documenter of the immigrantwhaler experience. Manash ‘Firaq’ Bhattacharjee is a poet, writer, translator, and political science scholar. His poems have appeared in The London Magazine, New Welsh Review, The Fortnightly Review, Elohi Gadugi Journal, Mudlark, Metamorphoses, Modern Poetry in Translation, The Rising Phoenix Review, Forth Magazine (forthcoming), The Postcolonialist, First Proof: The Penguin Books of New Writing from India (Volume 5), The Missing Slate, The Indian Quarterly, The Little Magazine, and others. His first collection of poetry, Ghalib’s Tomb and Other Poems (2013), was published by The London Magazine. He is an adjunct professor in the School of Culture and Creative Expressions at Ambedkar University, New Delhi. Neil Campbell is from Manchester, England. He was three times included in Best British Short Stories (2012, 2015 and 2016), has three collections of short fiction (Broken Doll, Pictures from Hopper and Ekphrasis) and two poetry chapbooks (Birds and Bugsworth Diary). His first novel, Sky Hooks, is out in September 2016. Find him on Twitter @neilcambers. Abigail Carroll’s first book of poetry, a series of forty letters to Saint Francis of Assisi, is forthcoming from Eerdmans. Her poems appear in Between Midnight and Dawn: A Literary Guide to Prayer for Lent, Holy Week, and Eastertide (Paraclete Press) and in magazines and journals, including The Anglican Theological Review, The Christian Century, Crab Orchard Review, Midwest Quarterly, Ruminate, Sojourners, Spiritus, and Terrain. Her book Three Squares:
The Invention of the American Meal (Basic Books) was a finalist for the Zocalo Public Square Book Prize. She makes her home in Vermont. Bhaskar Chakraborty (1945–2005), like almost all other poets from Calcutta, was a poet of the city. Death also appears like a shadow on his pages—a haunting presence. In ‘In Memory of Jibanananda Das’, he reconstructs the life and untimely death of Jibanananda Das (1899–1954), Bengal’s most celebrated poet after Tagore. Das died after having been hit by a tram, apparently ending his life by suicide. J.L. Cooper is a writer and psychologist in Sacramento, California. He is winner of the Tupelo Quarterly prose open prize, TQ9, judged by Pulitzerwinner Adam Johnson. Additionally he took first place in the Short-Short Fiction category in New Millennium Writings 2013 and second place for an essay in Literal Latte 2014. His short stories and poetry have appeared or are forthcoming in numerous journals and anthologies, including The Manhattan Review, Hippocampus, Oberon Poetry Magazine, Paper Swans Press, Gold Man Review and KY Story. A full-length collection of poetry is forthcoming from WordTech. His website is found at jlcooper.net. Anna Crowe is honorary president of StAnza, Scotland’s Poetry Festival. Her publications include Strangely Happy, poems by Joan Margarit (Bloodaxe, 2011); Six Catalan Poets (bilingual edition, Arc 2013); Peatlands, poems by the Mexican poet Pedro Serrano (bilingual edition, Arc 2014); Lunarium, poems by Josep Lluís Aguiló (bilingual edition, Arc 2016); and Love Is a Place, poems by Joan Margarit (Bloodaxe, November 2016). Christine Darragh is a hand-bookbinder who fills blank pages for much the same reason that wolves howl at full moons. She is a reluctant native of Ann Arbor, MI, and hopes to one day escape, traveling the world and trading hand-bound books for delicious local food. Richard Dove was born in Bath in 1954 and has lived in Munich since 1987. His early English poems were collected in Aus einem früheren Leben. Gedichte Englisch/ Deutsch (2003) and he has since published four books of poems in German. His translations of German-language poets include Michael Krüger (Carcanet/ Braziller 1993, 1998), Ernst Meister (Carcanet, 1996), Joachim Sartorius (as editor and contributing translator, Carcanet, 2006), Friederike Mayröcker (Carcanet, 2007), Ludwig Steinherr (Arc, 2010) and Reiner Kunze (Green Integer 2013).
Maximilian Heinegg’s poems have appeared in Chiron Review, Stone Canoe, and Misfit Magazine, and received the 2016 Emily Stauffer poetry prize from Apogee magazine. His first book of poems will be published this year by the Hydroelectric Press. His music, a mix of rock, modern folk, and adaptations of poems from the public domain, can be heard on iTunes, Spotify, and maxheinegg.com. By day, he teaches English in his home of Medford, MA, and never tires of Beowulf. Marc Joan spent the early part of his life in Asia and Europe, and the early part of his career in biomedical research. He draws on this and other experience for his fiction, which currently is restricted to the more economical formats of short stories and novellas. Marc’s stories have been published in Hypnos, Madcap Review, Danse Macabre, The Apeiron Review, STORGY, Bohemyth and Smokelong Quarterly; and are forthcoming in Literary Orphans. He lives in England with his family. e.g. Jönsson is a translingual, cross-generic storyteller born outside Malmö, Sweden. Texts have appeared in Brittle Star, Litro, Brand, Packingtown Review and the Fish Anthology. Jönsson holds an MLitt in The Gothic Imagination from the University of Stirling, and an MLitt in Creative Writing from the University of Glasgow. Minoru Karamatsu (柄松稔) lives in Osaka, Japan. Find more of his photographs at flickr.com/photos/pandx1. Steve Leckie grew up in Liverpool—where he saw The Clash—and read English at Manchester University. He has worked as a psychiatric nurse for thirty years. He has previously been active in the Bristol poetry scene, and has broadcast on local radio. Steve is currently studying for an MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University. Neil MacDonald has published short stories in Gold Dust, Alfie Dog, and The Opening Line. His historical fantasy novel A Prize of Sovereigns has been serialised by an online publisher. Drawing on experiences working in international aid, he has also published six non-fiction books. He was born in Scotland, raised in Jamaica, and has lived and worked in England, the USA and South Africa. He now lives in a cottage in Surrey, England, together with his wife and the obligatory cat and dog. His author blog is at neilmacdonaldauthor.wordpress.com.
Joan Margarit was born in Catalonia in 1938 and is one of the leading poets of Spain. He is author of more than twenty full collections and translator of Thomas Hardy, Elizabeth Bishop and R.S. Thomas. His work has been translated into Spanish, German, Portuguese, Russian, Hebrew and English. In 2008 he received the Premio Nacional de Poesia del Estado Español, Spain’s highest literary award for non-Castilian writers. Love Is a Place is forthcoming from Bloodaxe in late 2016. C.G. Menon is the winner of the Asian Writer Short Story Prize 2015, The Short Story Award, and the Winchester Writers’ Festival Short Story Prize. Her work has been broadcast on radio and published in a number of journals and anthologies, including The Lonely Crowd, the Willesden Herald anthology, Fugue II from Siren Press, and two of the Words and Women anthologies. Eliot North is a writer, doctor and medical educator who lives and works in the north-east of England. She won the EuroStemCell Poetry Competition 2013 and was commended for the Hippocrates Poetry Prize 2014. Last year she was commended for the National Poetry Competition with her poem ‘The Crab Man’, which she made into a Filmpoem with artist and filmmaker Alastair Cook. She writes prose and poetry, has been published in Firewords Quarterly and is working on a collection of creative non-fiction essays on self-mythology to accompany This Skin Doesn’t Fit Me Anymore. She tweets as @eliot_north and blogs at chekhovwasadoctor.wordpress.com. Natalie Raymond is a poet, actor, and artist living in Los Angeles. She loves cats. A lot. More information on publications & upcoming projects can be found at natalieraymond.com. Gwen Sayers was born in Johannesburg and lives in London. She wrote papers on ethics, law, and humanities while working as a physician, and started writing fiction after leaving medicine. She graduated with an MA in Creative Writing from the University of London in 2015. Her memoir came second in the Fish Short Memoir Prize 2016. Her fiction was shortlisted for the Bridport Prize 2015, and is published in Hysteria 4 anthology. Richard Smyth’s short fiction has appeared in The Stinging Fly, The Fiction Desk, The Stockholm Review, Foxhole, Haverthorn, Riptide, Minor Literature[s] and Firewords. His first novel, Wild Ink, was published in 2014. He writes for the
Times Literary Supplement, The New Statesman, New Humanist, and a few others. He lives in Bradford, West Yorkshire. Ludwig Steinherr studied philosophy and earned a PhD on Hegel and Quine. He has published fifteen books of poetry which have been translated into multiple languages. In 2012 he was a lecturer at the University of Notre Dame. Recent publications include Das Mädchen Der Maler Ich. Collected Poems (2012) and Before the Invention of Paradise (Arc Publications, 2010). He is a member of the Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts and lives in Munich. Kim Young is the author of Night Radio, winner of the 2011 Agha Shahid Ali Poetry Prize (The University of Utah Press, 2012) and finalist for the 2014 Kate Tufts Discovery Award; and author of the chapbook Divided Highway (Dancing Girl Press, 2008). She is the founding editor of Chaparral, and her poems and essays have appeared in Los Angeles Review, Los Angeles Review of Books, Western Humanities Review, MiPOesias, POOL and elsewhere. She teaches at California State University, Northridge, and lives in LA with her husband and daughter.
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this issue for autumn & winter 2016 seven pounds
Issue 16 features 94 pages of outstanding fiction and and poetry, alongside photography by Minoru Karamatsu and an interview with the author...
Published on Oct 19, 2016
Issue 16 features 94 pages of outstanding fiction and and poetry, alongside photography by Minoru Karamatsu and an interview with the author...