Plastik Magazine Fiction Journal #1
Fiction Journal #1 Contents *** Crooble - Richard Owain Roberts At the Chapel - Eluned Gramich Some Jellyfishes Live Forever - Rhys Thomas Delinquent - Amy Lloyd Tweets/Poems - Janna Liggan
Richard Owain Roberts
I open the envelopes in my mail tray. I read a letter from a lawyer who says that my child is suing me and wishes to be legally emancipated. I look at the letter. The paper quality seems like it would be marketed as ‘prestige business stationary’, and using it would make people feel confident with their lifestyle choices. I look at my stationary and think: I am not confident with my lifestyle choices. ** My child is minus three months old and lives inside my wife’s stomach. I feel happy that he/she has high levels of self-esteem and a go get ‘em attitude. I feel sad that he/she does not want to pursue an official father-child relationship. I text my wife and tell her that I plan to countersue our unborn child. My wife texts back: okay bb but pls keep me out of this love u xxxx. ** A work colleague called Geoff asks if I would like to join him for lunch. I tell Geoff that I can’t eat any of the food in the cafeteria. Geoff tells me that I can bring my own food. I say, ‘I don’t think so.’ Geoff says he feels bad about my unborn child suing me. I look at Geoff and all I can see is his tie. Geoff’s tie is blue and looks delighted to be at work with him. I don’t wear a tie. I wear a white shirt (£6, Tesco), jumper (£? 2007 birthday present from parents in law), shoes (£12, Tesco). My shirt is very thin. When I stand in front of the mirror in the staff toilet I can see my chest hair and sometimes my nipples. There are people who spend in excess of £20 on work shirts. I don’t know if their chest hair and nipples are visible. I don’t know if their unborn children are suing them. Geoff says something about German techno. I look at Geoff and can’t think of anything to say. I am so confused by Geoff. ** I pick up my phone and dial the lawyer’s number. I feel conscious that I am not very good on the phone and the lawyer will struggle to understand me. I don’t think we’ll have a lot in common, I think the lawyer will be impatient and demanding. I think the lawyer will want to get down to business very quickly. ‘Yes, that is correct: Crooble expects immediate post-womb emancipation, and a basic salary until he graduates.’ ‘He is a he? If it was a boy, I wanted to call him Stuart.’ ‘Crooble does not anticipate any problems with this.’ ‘Yes. Okay, bye. I’m challenging this. Bye.’ ** I am very angry with Crooble. I feel like this situation is absolutely not my fault. Despite this, I feel like some people will still choose to view this situation as
being absolutely my fault. I don’t think I am ever at fault for anything. I can’t think of a single example in my life where I have had 100% culpability for a negative situation. I can think of several examples in my life where I have had 95-99% culpability for a negative situation. I think: stop beating yourself up, you weren’t entirely to blame in any of those situations. ** The decision to countersue Crooble, from a financial and emotional standpoint, proves disastrous. Crooble writes a bestselling book about his childhood. Crooble is a millionaire. Crooble buys our family home and demolishes it. Crooble writes another bestselling book about his childhood. Crooble is a millionaire ten times over. Crooble buys my employer’s business and demolishes it. Crooble writes/directs a screenplay for a hit movie about his childhood. Crooble is a millionaire twenty times over. Crooble becomes a financial donor to right wing pressure groups and adds me to their mailing list super-database. ** My wife dies. My wife is still beautiful when she dies, but that doesn’t stop her from dying. Crooble does not attend the funeral because he has already booked his holidays. My youngest daughter says, ‘screw Crooble!’ The rest of us laugh. My children and I feel very sad for a long time, but we help each other through by talking regularly on the phone and sharing our everyday stories with each other. ** I am dying. Crooble comes to the hospital and brings his wife and four children. ‘This is your grandfather. Look at him. He is just about the worst person you could ever meet. He got a bus driver fired once.’ I am unable to talk because of the magnitude of drugs inside my body and in my brain. I look at Crooble and think: I hate you, Crooble. I look at Crooble’s wife and think: I feel indifferent towards you, sorry. I look at Crooble’s children and think: I feel indifferent towards you, sorry. I close my eyes and think about my children. My wife. The first time I completed a crossword. My wife. My wife. My wife. Crooble. My wife.
At The Chapel Eluned Gramich
When we arrived, the sky had begun to darken over with grey clouds. I had driven us all here from the city: Mam, Mamgu and I. Mamgu sat next to me, and Mam sat in the back, watching the fields rush past, and the houses here and there. It was a long three hours we spent in silence. We were bringing Mamgu back to the farm after Christmas. On the way, Mam wanted to stop at the chapel to put flowers on Tadcu’s grave. It was his birthday today. I parked the car in the lay-by opposite the graveyard and we got out; my mother carrying the flowers we had bought on the journey. Two men in green raincoats were walking down the road past the chapel. Perhaps they were father and son. They smiled and greeted Mamgu and talked about the weather, before carrying on with their walk. My grandmother spent her whole life in the village; she knew everybody. All three of us were dressed for winter. Mam wore a long black coat which brushed against her ankles as she walked and Mamgu had her red knitted cap pulled down over her ears. Still, it wasn’t enough to keep out the cold. Before us was the graveyard, curving alongside the chapel walls. Mam led the way to the metal gate. The grass was uncut and wet from the rain, and it chilled my legs as I walked through it. My mother told me over her shoulder that I should get water for the flowers. I went to the edge of the gate to the disused shed that stood there, nestled between the Chapel walls and the cemetery fence. The door stood slightly open. Inside, the floor was covered in bird droppings; I saw a swallow’s nest half-hidden in the corner. Cobwebs gathered across the ceiling. The empty water bottles were stored on a high shelf; I reached up and took one, carefully avoiding waking up the spiders and insects. The tap was outside. I let the water run brown before I filled the bottle to its neck. As I did so, Mamgu and Mam slowly walked across the grass to the graves at the upper end of the cemetery. I looked up from the running tap, and I saw their figures standing still by the grave. My mother kneeled down to take out the old, dead flowers from last year. Mamgu stood next to her, leaning on her stick, supervising the arrangement of the flowers. “There,” said Mam. “Done.” Mamgu nodded, satisfied. We weren’t alone in the graveyard as I wished we had been. There was a man standing further down, two mounds of freshly turned earth before him. As I came closer, I saw that he was a gravedigger. He was dressed warmly, in a grey coat, trousers, waterproof trousers and a black hat; a scarf muffled his mouth and nose so that only his eyes were visible. He had the radio on beside him as he worked, and an old-fashioned disco song lilted across the gravestones. I gave the bottle to Mam and she watered the flowers. Standing next to Mamgu, I reread the words on the stone. I suppose they were remembering moments from the past, things he had said and done; only I couldn’t remember very much at all. What did I remember? Fragments of this and that – sugar on cornflakes, a felt cap, a smile over a meal, packet of crisps.
Not enough for a whole lifetime. I came back to the words on the gravestone, mingling with the words from the song. It didn’t take long before we began to make our way back to the car. Mamgu held my hand as we walked, hesitant on the uneven surface. Her skin was cold against mine and goosebumps appeared on my forearms. Mamgu stopped to greet the gravedigger, whom she knew. I let go of her hand. Mam and I went ahead as they talked, standing back from a conversation we were not involved in. Then we stopped and waited with the grass soaking our calves. The gravedigger switched the radio off; he was smiling, perhaps because it was lonely work and he was glad to have someone to talk to. The two graves, newly dug, cluttered the graveyard; a brown stain in the pure green. After a few sentences about the weather and the cold, Mamgu pointed at the grave nearest to her: “Who is that for?” she said in Welsh. I felt as if we were intruding on someone else’s life. For a moment, I wished that my grandmother hadn’t asked such a question so openly. The gravedigger didn’t mind at all, and answered without hesitation: “Dai Brynmawr”. Brynmawr was a name of a place near where my grandmother lived. She nodded in recognition. “I knew his brother,” she said. I didn’t know what that meant, and I thought about a love affair, but then I was ashamed because it seemed a childish thing to think of, like that, in a graveyard. Then Mamgu stepped forward slightly and pointed at the next grave. “And that one?” she asked. The gravedigger said a name she didn’t recognise. “I don’t know him,” she said, shaking her head. “Someone out of town. He came from England, but he had family here.” Mamgu shook her head and added, “I wouldn’t know him then.” They said goodbye, and Mamgu said some things about death, about how we were all going there one day, and the gravedigger agreed. Mam was at the gate by now, and I followed the groove she made in the long grass. We waited together as Mamgu slowly came towards us; our gaze resting on her red outline moving against the grey sky.
Some Jellyfishes Live Forever Rhys Thomas
A jellyfish that is immortal. Observed and recorded, lab-tested and peerreviewed; it exists. Upon reaching sexual maturity it reverts back to its polyp stage, folds in on itself, tentacles sucking up into the head. And then it is reborn. *** How old am I? Ah! That would be telling! You know, in the bible the world was very different. Many of the stories take place before Noah’s flood and the land is no longer the same. Things have fallen under the sea and new mountains have come up. Continental drift, tectonic plates. They find fish fossils thousands of miles inland. The say there’s a perfectly preserved triceratops skeleton right on the edge of an oceanic trench, frosted in place by calcifying coral. Forgive me but I hardly think he swam there! If you were immortal you could be born, live your human life, the first eighty years, get through all the hard stuff with family and friends and the way things are so difficult, then you shed all that and evolve to a higher iteration, a new version of you emerging through the folds of time unshackled and free. Loneliness doesn’t come into it, not for me. The jellyfish seldom live forever, they’ve never been observed doing so in the wild. They get eaten mostly, or ill. You have to avoid getting sick. Your cells might not die on their own but if a virus gets in there… Would time seem faster or slower if you lived forever? I had a family once. Never again. *** Children? No, no children. I was just a teenager when it happened. From that day on I knew I’d never have children. Why risk having them when they can be so easily lost? *** A fire. There weren’t enough bedrooms and I was home from university for the summer so they set me up downstairs. The room was so tiny you couldn’t fit a bed in there so I slept on a futon, having to curl my body around a corner at night. I had to pile my books outside the door when I slept and move them back inside come morning when I could fold away the futon and make some space. I hated it and I complained to my parents all the time but if I hadn’t been downstairs I’d have combusted with all the rest. Ash is a fantastic fertiliser. Birth form death, the carbon cycle goes on and on. Imagine if you burned the whole world away. What would grow in its place? But there are carbon pools too, carbon sinks, places where carbon is sequestered for long periods of deep time. Coal seams, oil fields. Immortal jellyfish. I followed them once. I found them swimming in warm waters one bright summer’s day, just at dusk when the sun became Midas and turned the world to gold. They led me into a gully with lots of corners and when we went around the last bend I was looking down on an underwater mountain
range. There were millions of the jellyfish, all swimming around or relaxing on mountain faces and I realised: was their spawning ground. Underwater vents, tubular rock formations, blasted hot steam. It was a paradise but there were no creatures other than the jellyfish, save for a green lizard with a red stripe up its back. I surfaced to take air and dived down and put my hand on one of the vents and could feel the rock vibrating. Then I turned my head and surveyed the landscape here, where the vents were, and was struck by the image not of rock but wood. It looked like a huge tree fallen sideways, the underwater vents not spurs of rock but truncated branches snapped near their bases and being spewed from their openings not water but sap. Sometimes mountains move under the waves, sometimes it is the mountains that survive and make new oceans. Things shift and slide through time. I think if you see something unhappy it is best to burn it away and let it start over, let it be reborn. This is the stuff of immortality. Technically we all live forever, rising and falling in the great cycle like waves. She was unhappy, her family were all unhappy. She never wanted him, she loved me. Who knows where the places in the bible are now? Where are the Mountains of Ararat? Where is the Garden of Eden? And the Tree of Life. Where is it? You shouldn’t think me amusing, or mad. God makes and remakes. He does it with the land and he does it with his creations. Mountains push through oceans, men dissolve into the forests when they die and the forests burn to become something new. And yet some jellyfishes live forever. *** Not really, they died a long time ago. After a while you stop missing them and understand that what happened was part of the great system. *** I don’t miss her either. If she had been with me she could have tasted what I have tasted in the jellyfish paradise. But she chose a different path that needed to be slashed and burned. She wasn’t happy so I gave her another chance. You can do what you want with me. I will outlast any punishment. Prisons will fall to entropy and when they do I’ll walk the world once more, a free man. I know I’ve done something awful in your eyes but you must understand that to remake someone is the greatest gift you can offer. I know this because I have glimpsed eternity, seen the twinkling dot of deep time, drank from the Tree of Life. I have become a God, ready to make and remake as I wish. *** Of course I believe it. *** I don’t think so. They say talking to yourself is the first sign and I don’t do that. But you tell me. You’re the lawyer.
Delinquent Amy Lloyd
When the halls are empty and the school ground’s cleared I leave the toilet stall, thumbing my lighter in my coat pocket. It is cold out and this means the streets are empty all the way to the cliffs where only a few people walk their dogs, heads down and anorak hoods up. I pass by unnoticed.
a freak. I once had what looked like a dead stingray frisbeed at me, while I stood at a bus stop, unwarranted; if there is anything that warrants such a thing. Impossible to walk through out of school hours for calls of “dyke” and “lesbo”, though I’m not half as interesting as they seem to find me.
There’s a sheltered bench that looks out over the sea. We don’t have much of a sandy beach, just rocks and stones and pebbles. Uglier in the grey of the day, a brown sea pushing lazy waves over a monochrome, spiky wasteland. A teacher told us that a boy she went to school with was struck by lightening on this beach, that when they found his corpse, only the bald, smouldering top of his head was visible amongst the rocks, the force had driven him right in to the ground.
In WH Smiths I pick up books I’ve ordered, paying with the stolen money, all gone now, and I leave for home with a bag full of Easton Ellis, Camus and Bukowski. There is not much to stay around for without Rob. We would maybe have gone to the pub with the pool tables where people huff nitrous oxide and sell bootleg videos and chunks of soapbar hash. Or he might have had money and we would have taken the bus back to the city and we’d go around all the department stores and pick the furniture we’ll put in our flat when we move out next year.
Now even in the shelter the wind blows out the flame so I hunch in to the corner to light my cigarette. It starts to rain. I check my phone, I call Rob but he doesn’t answer. There is no one around so I quickly pull off my shoes and tights and take my rolled up jeans out of my bag and put them on under my skirt. With my back to the sea I unbutton my shirt and put on my t-shirt. I am transformed. Lighting another cigarette I fish out the twenty pound note I stole from Mum’s purse this morning. The fair is closed for winter, surrounded by a rusting chain-link fence, the games and rides all boarded up, graffiti. On the entrance to the ghost train, in big red letters, “RIP Tom” because this is where he hanged himself two months ago. The body wasn’t found for weeks, until a bunch of boys saw the boards were loose and broke in to find this bloated, stinking thing dangling from the rafters. At first I didn’t understand. It must be creepy at night, shut down and dark. But then I guess wherever a person decides to hang themselves must be scary, regardless of how many plastic skeletons surround you. These things are generally forgotten by the next summer. Tom isn’t the only ghost in here; a boy had his head torn off when a sign fell loose on the roller coaster, mid ride. When it stopped they couldn’t find the head, it had landed on the roof of a carnival game on the outskirts of the fair. Sometimes around here you can see this man with an asterisk of scars from his nose to his neck and forehead, from where they had to stitch his whole face back on after the accident. At school they jeer at him when he walks past the gates, girls screeching like chimps in a cage. He was behind the headless boy, the ride ran all the way to the end. The town is as miserable as the sea front out of season. Empty ice cream parlours and chip shops, a Blockbuster; a boy from school once shoved a dead pigeon through their return box and set it on fire. And they call me
It was July when my parents took me here the first time. Charmed by the row of multicoloured buildings along the sea front and the pier with its antique stalls, they’d promised it would be better when we moved. I think my mother used the word “vibrant”. They had taken me to the new development of houses where we would be living and we toured a showhome with a ship in a bottle on the bookshelf and a stained-glass nautical window in a downstairs bathroom. Our own house was at the end of the new estate, next door to a dilapidated Victorian place that junkies used for frequent gatherings. They eventually burned it down, the fire blowing towards our own roof so that at five in the morning my family and I stood outside in our pyjamas and coats to watch the firemen work, the rest of the street peering out their windows, pitying us. The police found a body, a man lying on his back upstairs. They said he was already dead when the fire started, the people he was with probably burned the house when they realised he’d overdosed. By the end of the first winter here my parents didn’t walk on the pier any more. Their commutes every day are long and the loneliness tiresome. I am often in the house alone until after six every evening, on a bad day of traffic maybe seven. Locked out of the house, my keys strewn somewhere on my bedroom floor, forgotten. I climb the back fence where my dog jumps at my legs. I insert myself in the damp shed, on the floor with the dog’s bedding, and I start reading. I know that if I don’t think about it too much then eventually time will pass.
out of cracked kitchen floors,
don’t wait. why can’t we just leave well enough alone?
six dirt crusted siblings and chickenless chicken soup
Tweets/Poems Janna Liggan
i gaze up miles of black spotted yellow. she rose, he drops leaves on my upturned face. a flash of floating footsteps and a motion of a tapering, gloved hand.
she woke up shaking tumbleweeds from a dream of bleeding beach houses. wind trickles over her arm hairs
he followed me up to the bar i gave him a half smile and an incline of my head.
something an ex said about me to my current bf in one of my dreams
i gave him a tight dress and riveting conversation.
when she heard she was a heartbreaker
he left me while i was sleeping
i gave him eight lines with no culmination. the low sun glances across the waves she waited to “sober up” before driving rather than chip in for the cab back.
and sharpens with the salt,
split four ways the fare would have been $3.
resting on the horizon
they all waited.
and the wreckage.
and they all died.
Thanks to all the authors but mostly to Richard Owain Roberts who compiled this first collection.