2022 Winner - Aoife Osborne
which saw her write for the Paper Lanterns Young Adult Literary Journal. In 2016, Aoife placed second in her category at the National Newspapers of Ireland Press Pass Awards. She was also shortlisted for the International IMBAS Short Story Competition in 2018 and was a highly commended entrant of the 2020 NYC Midnight Microfiction Competition.
A lifelong reader and writer, Aoife is passionate about books, words and stories. Aoife is a former bookseller, having spent four years working in Waterstones Cork where she established the 9-12 Book Club and furthered her knowledge of the publishing and literature industry. She has also spent several years working with various festivals and arts organisations around Cork where she has fostered a deep love and appreciation for all things culture and creativity.
She is thrilled and honoured to accept this scholarship and to begin this next step in her literary journey. She looks forward to developing her ideas and further honing her craft in the next few months.
Below, we publish a beautiful piece of Aoife's, and one we are sure Eoin would have loved, "Spark". You can follow Aoife's progress over the summer on her instagram account @little.lost.starfish
This is what it feels like
When you realise that you will
It’s a firework imploding in your heart
Sending electric little sparks
From the split ends in your hair
To the cracks in your nails
In shades of gemstones, rubies and emeralds and sapphires
It’s Japanese Knotwood
Growing with your pulse
And any attempt to cut it down
Will only strengthen it.
It’s coffee on a bitter day
Or malt whiskey by a cosy fire.
It’s the piercing powder snow, falling on your face
And crushed shells between your toes
It’s a breeze whispering its secrets to the leaves
It’s a fire that flourishes without effort.
It’s water that flows of its own free will.
It’s the stars which remain still and yet
They are burning
Man’s Best Friend
A man, not over eighty, sat in his tattered reclining chair, by the fireplace in his home. He strained to reach the radio, to turn it up, to hear more clearly the horse racing results. The house was cosy and small, enough for one person to live comfortably alone, which he very much was. His wife was memorialised in photo frames scattered among the house, and his daughter was busy, with her new promotion and an even newer child. His sight had declined over the years. Something about astigmatism, he’d mutter to anyone who asked, but he didn’t mind much, he had his own routine, around his home and around the village, things didn’t change very often there.
His old chair groaned with him when he lifted himself up, as he had remembered the dinner heating up on the aga. He had just found his feet when he heard a knock at the door. Unusual, he thought; as many did not visit him, not without calling, and not at this time of evening. He called out as he shuffled towards the door, to the person behind it, that he would be there soon.
He saw no one at first, when he opened the door. It was raining and the wind was strong; the newspaper had told him a storm with some name was coming tonight. He craned his neck right and left to see who had knocked before eventually looking down, where he saw a dog. A big thing, he noticed, scraggly and scruffy, with thick fur and long ears, almost covering his eyes. The dog sat patiently in the cold, on his doorstep, looking up at the elderly man.
“Who’s there?” the man called out, supposing the dog didn’t knock on the door himself. “This isn’t my dog! He’s not mine!”
The man looked back to the docile creature and thought he was so good to just sit there. He must have sheltered himself from the rain under his overhanging roof and someone presumed him the owner. He couldn’t leave the creature outside, sad and sodden on a night like this, so, he beckoned him inside, and he came in quietly, like a good dog.
The old man went to the kitchen and the dog followed him. He sat at the table, with his dinner, and by his leg the dog begged with his eyes. The man threw him bits of beef from his plate, and it would land on the floor, which he admitted needed a sweep, and the dog would lick it off the tiles, chewing it back in two bites. As he washed the dishes in the sink, with the soapy suds parching his hands, he supposed the dog thirsty, so he picked a chipped bowl from the cupboard and filled it with water. He placed it by the back door, and on all fours, the dog bounded towards the dish, and lapped it up happily until it was half empty, with most of it landing on the floor.
The man placed a ragged blanket on the couch and told the dog to sleep there for the night. The big mass of fur tried to hop its heavy form onto the couch, but it was not a graceful leap, and the couch creaked under his weight. The man stroked the mutt’s head and scratched his chin, which was prickly like a beard, and the dog leaned deeper into his palm, encouraging further affection. He’d never seen a dog enjoy his rubs as much as this big pup did. He gave his head a final scratch before entering the hallway to ring his daughter on the telephone, knowing he couldn’t search for the dog’s owner on his own, especially not in this ghastly weather. She picked up before the final trill ended.
“Hi Sarah, how are you today?”
She sounded stressed. She always did lately.
“Fine. Dad, why are you calling?”
“Yes, Sarah, I don’t mean to bother you, but I need you to drive me in the car tomorrow”.
“Drive you? Where?”
He could hear his young granddaughter fussing in the background as he explained the situation to Sarah. She was, understandably the man thought, confused when she heard this, but eventually her infant broke into a wail that got so bad that she had to agree, and hung up without saying goodbye.
Placing the phone down, the old man saw the dog’s head peeking through the sitting room door. He gave him one more goodnight pet before heading to bed and going to sleep.
He awoke with the dog on the duvet, by the adjacent post of his bed. He was almost certain he had closed his bedroom door last night, but he truthfully didn’t mind the company, and quite enjoyed the creature bounding by his feet down the stairs for breakfast. He shuffled by the coffee table, to make his way to the kitchen, when he noticed his right set of toes suddenly wet. He bent down with great effort to take off his soggy slipper and sniffed it. He immediately winced at the sulfureous scent of pee. He shoved the slipper by the dog’s nose and told him that he was a bold boy. The dog made not quite a whimper, a strange noise which he could not discern as anything he had heard before. The old man soon softened and patted the dog’s head, conceding that he probably should have let him out the back garden before bedtime.
A few days passed and Sarah had still not arrived. The man supposed his daughter forgot about their conversation, she was very busy after all, he noted. He didn’t mind the time spent with the dog; he fried him extra rashers at breakfast and heated up surplus stew for his dinner. At night, the storm would rattle the little house and the wind whistled through the walls. The two companions would curl up by the fireplace after the nine o’clock news and fall asleep together, as the ashes flickered red and turned cold.
It was midday Sunday when the old man suddenly heard a knock at his door.
He answered it, and there Sarah was, frowning at her feet, before looking up to see her father, and then relaxed into relief.
“Dad! You’re okay, I thought you fell or something!”.
“I’m quite alright, Sarah, don’t worry”.
“Your phone wasn’t picking up!”
“Oh, that’s the dog’s fault, he chewed through the wires. He can be a mischievous dote at times”.
Sarah shook her head “Oh yeah, that dog, I remember now. C’mon then, get in the car, I’ll go get the dog”.
His daughter skimmed past him into the house as the old man left into the biting air, pulling a coat onto himself.
“Are you sure you can lift him on your own? He’s quite big!”
She waved him off with a dismissing hand and disappeared into the sitting room, while the old man seated himself in the back seat of the car, so to keep the dog company on the drive. He had to admit he was going to miss the big mutt, if he in fact had an owner. He thought maybe to ask Sarah to get him a dog of his own, if this one had to go, to occupy the empty house, and to perhaps keep watch at night.
Suddenly, the man heard gravel hurriedly crunching in his driveway. It must be Sarah, he thought, as her blurred form fast approached. The closer she came to his sight, the more distressed she was revealed to be. She stumbled inside the car, to the front seat, slammed the door, and swore at the fumbling keys in the ignition. She sped onto the road and away from the house, without saying a word, and leaving the old man to watch the dog from a distance, who sat quietly outside his door. He seemed taller than usual, as if standing up on two feet, and with one paw on the handle.
“Sarah? What’s wrong? Why didn’t you bring the dog?”
“Dad stop it!” she screamed, banging the steering wheel over and over. “Stop it! Stop it! Stop it”
The old man saw panicked tears pricking his daughter’s eyes and was so confused by her outburst, that he didn’t even know what to say. In all honesty, he was startled at the lack of coherency she was presenting. After a few minutes, he placed a hand on her shoulder and said “Sarah, I know he’s a big thing but don’t be frightened, he’s gentle”.
His daughter said nothing, staring intently out the windshield, puffing out a shrill breath. A few moments passed before the old man realised they had pulled in outside their local Garda station.
“Sarah, what on earth are we doing here? I don’t think the Gardai deal with missing pets. We should go back to the house; the dog shouldn’t be on his own.”.
She realised her grip from the steering wheel and looked at her father, up and down, taking him in tearfully. She helped him out of the car and brought him inside the station, ignoring any questions he asked. Together, they sat down at an officer’s desk, and Sarah reported a break-in.
2021 Winner - Maeve Joy Taggart
shortlisted for the 'I'll Show You Mine' journals 2019 prize in non-fiction. Creative writing work has been published in two volumes of The Quarryman, Motley Magazine and The Cherry Revolution. Non-fiction and news have been published in The University Express, Shared Future News, Motley and SpunOut.ie.
Below we publish Maeve's very poignant piece; "To Lockdown and April Showers".
To Lockdown and April Showers
It feels less poignant now. Drum-hammer heavy on the window-sill,
sitting through soliloquy to a promised summer - this is not catharsis.
No love letter to days broken beneath storm clouds and hurricanes,
disemboweled umbrellas discarded from white-knuckled grasp -
you said there would be flowers.
Grow them in the pavement cracks, wound between two streets
graft ivy through the ribs and lungs submerged, breathe into them
these rivers rising in this eternal tide - what time is it?
Almost a year to the day that hours became a metric to measure death,
mass graves for the future dug deeper, stock markets submerged
like days are - beneath water rippled by you, robbed by you but
April, I am being cruel.
Thought-executing fires put out by rain-drops deliberate, doomed
cities pulled back from dread and cocooned - storm-safe seclusion
swallowed and submerged, the seeds sown. It hurts but you’re here,
our lost April of occupied beds and sheets over head -
the flowers are coming, aren’t they?
2021 Highly Commended - Ianna Rosa Román
Ianna Rosa Román 8/26/20
Wind does not know any better but to blow.
It whips up my fiery belly
until I can feel nothing else,
Tongues of white-hot flame reaching up through my chest,
Screaming to my esophagus,
Demanding to emerge triumphant.
I don’t let it.
It wells up inside, clenching my heart in a cotton grip
So angry I wonder if I’ll ever come out again.
I wrap my mouth in linen and
place two coins on my eyes for the ferryman.
When did I learn to keep my rage
Hidden in a music box locked with a silver key?
I’m wound up and all I dare let escape is soft piano melodies.
I hope my dog tooth smile conveys what words do not.
I hope I terrify.
I wait patiently to rip away my soft skin and reveal iron underneath
Impenetrable and horrific in its beauty
All teeth and gore and broken bones.
That will be the day.
2021 Highly Commended - Dara Hanley
Who is this seal-like creature swimming towards me?
He, half bare, though broad as a man
Seeks love, as do I.
To unite is to set free
The suppressed fire of his heart.
His eyes are misted mirrors.
They, glassed colourless crystals, need protection; not exposure.
He, a failure, has nothing to lose.
The water knows this.
Its blueness shrouds him
As does the darkness of his past.
He, flesh-raw, reaches me: grasping; grappling; staring.
Seeing himself in me
He falls, submerging like a stone beneath the surface,
Swimming away to other golden shores
In the hope of finding himself once more.
2020 Scholar - Alana Daly Mulligan
We are delighted to announce our 2020 winner is Alana Daly Mulligan. Alana was in very good company with some highly commended runners up. We greatly look forward to their performance at the tribute night in August, particularly as they are known for their energetic and passionate spoken word.
Alana is the co-founder of Europe’s first poetry festival organised by young people for young people (ages 13-19); The Lit Young Writers’ Festival (2017-present). They were selected to represent Ireland at the Three Dot Dash Summit in New York with the We Are Family Foundation (chaired by Nile Rodgers of Chic). Alana is the co-founder of Modwords Cork: open mic for young artists. (2018-2019).
Alana's short film: 'My Great Aunt Chrissie', won the Best Writing Award at Noiseflicks Film Festival (2017). Their second short film: 'Hands', discussed homophobia in post Marriage Equality Ireland. It was well received, viewed over 20K times online and was shown at a number of festivals, conferences and has been included on a University Syllabus (2018). Alana's third short film 'The Beach Woman; was shortlisted at IndieCork Film Festival (2019).
Alana was commissioned to write for the USI and within University College Cork. Publications include; Autonomy (2018), Solstice Sounds Volume VI (2018), The Quarryman V (2019), University Express, Motley Magazine, and BND Magazine. They have also been included on a Spoken Word map of Ireland and the UK (2018) and have performed internationally at events like: All Together Now, The First Fortnight Festival, Cúirt International Poetry Festival, Cork LGBT+ Pride Festival, The Belfast Poetry Festival, ME, USA, Three-Dot-Dash-Summit, NY, and have acted as support to Stephen James Smith, Neil Hilborn and Shane Koyczan.
Beauty or something like that
They tell you it is there but often is not found by the eyes.
It clots and turns in the throat when hope is lost in reflection.
Because you can’t see it, you don’t believe in it.
And you, you are a cleft lung in some struggle with the air.
With the air, you feel both alive and dying.
And you might be trying but
It is still so hard to fill yourself with other people when you don’t feel like a person yourself.
Yourself. – – – – A person.
Is it the skin or the mind? – – – The voice or the hands?
Is it the lung –– The cleft lung?
You struggle to get the words out. Word’s out you have none.
You are reminded of your cleft lung,
Your tongue –– short with beach glass.
You pass yourself. You don’t know how to ask who or how that person is.
Nor do you want to.
Until they stop you; you stop you. You see yourself. Go to speak with your crystal-cut tongue.But you can’t.
So you do all that is left for you to do: let the ocean in your chest out of your eyes.
Release yourself of salt water. Taste it in your empty mouth. Feel it on your unsure body.
Look at the reflection of yourself in all water felled on your cheeks.
Stop the urge to speak. You can’t right now. Take a breath. Breathe. Breathe.
Listen to the sea. Let her fill your ears. While she might drown you, she feels this too.
She feels you. Alive when you shouldn’t be. Silent when you could be loud.
Don’t be. Just know that in this floating ––floating, you are an ocean. And all good things,
All good things, will come back to you. Come back to you.
And in that, you are beautiful. A beautiful, imperfect reoccurrence once in a lifetime.
2020 Highly Commended - Joy Curtis
In addition to the various committee posts she has held, Joy is also a founding committee member of The Lit Young Writer’s Festival Waterford from 2016-2018. Joy co-wrote the comedic promenade play “How Not to Get Away with Murder” performed by WYA Drama and in 2016, her fiction piece; “Eyes are the Doors to the Soul” was adapted into a short film by the film department of WYA. Joy has also been published in the Waterford Youth Arts Writer’s anthology “Magic is Everywhere” with poem “Time- Twiddler”.
Rays of Sunshine
Calloused thumbs laced with the edge of the white netting and a shard of sun pierced into the browning, tea-stained sitting room. Dust bunnies cascaded down like sand in an hourglass and time was frozen into a moment of waiting; listening at the open window for the yapping of the dirty cream Shih Tzu.
It began with the gate's creaky hinge. Untrimmed nails scratched against the concrete path then dug like football boot cleats into the soft, damp grass. A rude, yellow, streamed sprinkler landed into the patch of lavender tulips that lined the perimeter of the hedged garden. It sounded like rain rushing down a pipe at the side of your house or when your tap pours into overflowing basins. Yet, I was ready, grabbing two burnt-bottom pans and swinging the front door wide open. I let out a roar; banging and clattering the souls of the blackened pots, trying to sheep herd the shaggy pest from my flowers. They had only just bloomed.
Out of breath, I sat down on the bench just under the front window, satisfied my enemy had been defeated. I closed my eyelids and allowed them to enjoy the midday rays of sunlight they deserved. I flinched at the break of silence. The hearing aid in my can-crushed ear detected another intruder’s song. A light and delicate robin’s melody landed on top of the towering hedge. I let it sit awhile with me, my pans far away by the open front door. This openness welcomed a breeze into the house and all the birthday cards rattled on the mantelpiece. One card was pushed from its treasured perch as a baby bird is from a nest. The pages spread like wings trying to fly but sank to the floor, waiting for the recipient to later pick it up and place back. The sender’s signature stung my eyes every time, thinking of him writing and pre-posting this:
Happy 75th Birthday, my love.
I’m sorry I missed it; I know it’s a big one.
Millions of hugs and kisses forever,
Love Ray, your ray of sunshine.’
Ray had always loved the magnificence of birds. He always left food out for them in a little dish in the bird bath. Now it was full of stale green rainfall. I hadn’t touched it in over a year I looked at the robin now. He was very round, a little too well-fed. Still, he was probably hungry.
Attempting to persuade the robin to keep me company in the garden I clasped the rusting lock on the shed and wriggled it free. Musk flooded into the garden and empty soil bags crinkled on the floorboards when I stepped into my garden’s Natural History Museum. The bird feed hid on the back of the highest wooden shelf on the right. My fingerprints clung onto accumulated dust and, grasping around the width of the container, I pulled it towards me. In doing so, an old mirror crashed onto the floor. The pieces cut my reflection into slices of myself. I sighed, wishing for no more bad luck to pile upon me. It didn’t bother me much anymore, as seven years of misfortune couldn’t hurt any more than this year already had. Ray never believed in bad luck. He proclaimed that it did not exist and was imagined out of clumsiness. But that good luck, follows us everywhere, greets us with unbolted doors. Our issue is that we simply forget to thank it for constantly keeping our lives open.
Chuckling, a memory of wings soaring through a freshly painted door climbed back into my peripheral vision.
‘Andy!’ Ray had called down the stairs with a terrifying shriek.
‘What is it, Sunshine?’
Ray increased the volume of his fear.’ Andyyyyyyyyy!’
‘Quick, there’s a huge crow up here, get the brush or something.’
I got out of my coal-stained chair and called up ‘Okay I’m coming, give me a sec.’
He replied ‘Jesus, Andy, it’s shit on the sheets.’
‘Hahaha, it’s good luck’ I laughed from downstairs. ‘Did you open the window, even?’
‘Okay wait...C’mon. Get OUT. GET out. GET OUT.’ I heard screams mixed with flapping wings. ‘It’s gone. Thank God! Wait, no, I only just changed the sheets.’
I can picture him laughing, his eyes wrinkling like crepe paper at the corners of his green eyes. He’s laughing at me now, moving from the shed transfixed to the cheap black bird bath with a plastic hummingbird perched on the side. Watching me scoop water from the dish and draw patterns in the settled green algae. I wish I could hear Ray’s beautiful voice that always echoed absentmindedly around our home. He sang when he washed drip stained wine glasses or matched up the bucket of never-ending odd socks. The chirping of Ray’s Robin filled the silence of the garden now. I appreciate that he flies in to check on me, to make sure I don’t become absorbed by ivy tendrils or leave my gate to rust in relic. It soothes me because my Sunshine sent him. I would love to know if he became a bird. A sparrow, a bluebird or a crow, he wouldn’t care as long as he flew above my heart instead of sleeping under my toes.
Maybe it would have been easier if he wasn’t gone at all. Would it hurt less if he cheated and ran away. At least then there could be a chance he’d pick up the phone. Would it have been less painful if I had run away and left him, weaned away from him like a wailing baby ignored in a crib. As adults we’re never reminded that we all learned the skill of crying ourselves to sleep before we could talk. It’s those midnight secrets we reveal right before we sleep that hurt the most. Mine are always about him. I cover up my loss with stories that help me lift my chest up and down. Sprouting ideas of Ray getting entangled with mobsters and having to fake his death to save me or being cursed into a monstrous form; forbidden to see his true love again. These thoughts are all that consume me, not that dog, not our garden, not even our home. They fill the space in my mind that’s sectioned off for him.
I throw the whole feast of stale bird pellets into the moulded dish. It overflows down onto the ground and I scoop a strong and nutritious portion in my palm. I settle my stiff bones back onto our rotting bench and dream of his spirit landing on my fingertips. I want him to eat from my hands again. Peck me away until I am nothing but a part of him. I rest my eyes, remembering hugs of sunshine and embracing the feeling of his wings carrying my soul towards light.
2020 Highly Commended - Lara Ní Chuirrín
Lara Ní Chuirrín is one of our two highly commended runners up this year in the scholarship. The panel of judges found this years choice the most challenging so far and stressed the fine quality of writing of both of our runners up.
Lara was born and raised in the Gaeltacht in Connemara, and has lived in Cork for the past five years. She writes poetry and short stories that explore states of grief, love, stagnation, and metamorphosis. She has a background in Fine Art, and is currently studying History of Art, and English. Her poetry has been published in a number of local ‘zines, most recently in Bloomers Magazine, a publication of emerging Irish artists, and she has performed poetry at the Sling Slang poetry event in Cork, as well as at various fundraisers and open mics around the city. She has also recently had a short story accepted in The Quarryman, and is working toward self - publishing a ‘zine with fellow UCC students.
After His Own Heart
Martin awoke, as he so often did, at dawn. He woke naturally, roused by the sun spilling through a gap in the curtains. He pulled on his deep blue dressing gown and yellow slippers, and shuffled his sleepy limbs out to the kitchen. He looked out the window as he waited for the kettle to boil, watching the clouds’ mottled shadows move across the fields. He stretched gently, hoping to enliven his weary muscles. At 65, his body was showing signs of being past its prime. His mind was still sharp as a tack.
‘Sharp as a tack.’ He said to the empty kitchen.
He poured some cold water on the spider plants hanging in the window, and put on a slice of toast. Martin liked to call his small home his ‘bachelor pad’, though it was far from what one might imagine upon hearing this phrase. It was the last house on a small road that led to the sea, surrounded by trees and with a bright turquoise door. The window sills were crowded with makeshift flower pots in the form of boots, china cups, teapots, and old buckets. Wedged amongst the flower pots were sea shells and fragments of glass, smoothed by the ceaseless tossing of waves and offered up along the shore, glinting green and indigo treasures that caught the morning light.
Milk and one sugar in his tea, butter and marmalade on his toast, Martin shuffled over to the back door, and opened it onto the yard. Warm sunlight poured over his balding head, welcoming his body to another day. In the yard was his car, a red Toyota that had seen better days, and parked right beside it, his brand new caravan. Well, it was a second hand Burstner caravan, but it was in great shape, and was brand new to him. It was a magnificent shiny white beast, with a blue stripe and a red stripe that ran all the way around its middle. Its logo was a blue and yellow tiger’s head, snarling from above the handles on each door.
‘You’re a thing of beauty.’ Martin raised his tea in salute.
Meeeoowwww. A gentle nudge against the back of his leg.
‘Oh hello Felix, my friend. How are you this morning?’ said Martin through a mouthful of toast.
“Did they feed you at all today?” He dropped his crusts to the ground for the cat, who sniffed them curiously and flexed his claws, before skulking off to sit on the bonnet of the car.
‘Suit yourself.’ said Martin, and he turned back inside.
He made a cup of coffee, and sat at the kitchen table, or his work table, as he liked to call it. He surveyed his latest project, and guessed at how much work was left to do. Most of the structural work had been completed. The houses and pubs had been carved from Styrofoam, painted and varnished before being arranged just as they appeared in the photographs he had tacked to the wall. He had also acquired maps from the local council, just to be certain everything in his model was as it was in real life. The town sloped down to the sea, hugging the coast from the clifftop to the sand. It was not quite a uniform sloping, though, as the topographical map had made clear, and Martin had had to mould the land with papier-mâché before he arranged the buildings. Papier-mâché had made the cresting waves of the sea, too. Martin figured that he was down to the finishing touches now. The sea needed a second coat of paint, to add a sense of texture and depth. The beach needed some seaweed strewn here and there, some gulls fighting over a chip, perhaps. A few more people in the town, maybe, to bring it to life a little more. About three more days’ work. He poked through his shoebox of paints, picking out tubes for the ocean, lining them up along the edge of the table. Cerulean Blue Hue, Phthalo Green (Blue Shade), French Ultramarine, Cobalt Blue, and of course Titanium White and Cadmium Yellow, to highlight the waves that caught the sun.
He was just preparing his brushes when he heard a loud thud, over at the kitchen window. Craning his neck, he peered out the window. Nothing. Clouds gathering on the horizon. He was about to return to his work, when he heard the tiniest sound. A high pitched chirping, coming from outside. Martin rushed out the back door, and around to the kitchen window, and there on the ground beneath the sill, was a small bird, with an orange belly and a blue back and a wing sticking out at a funny angle.
Chirrrp! Chirp chirp!
‘Oh dear.’ Martin bent low, examining the wing as best he could. ‘Oh dear, little fella.’
The bird watched him with one eye, the other seeming to dart around in fear. It tried to get into the air, but only managed to hop around feebly in a crooked circle.
‘Ok buddy, don’t worry, I’ll mind you.’
Martin wrapped his hands gently around the bird, careful of its broken wing. He could feel the poor creature’s heart beating in its tiny chest. It felt as though it may burst through Martin’s thick fingers. Once they got through the kitchen door, the bird started to wriggle and chirrp in his hand.
‘Shhh.’ Martin moved the bird slightly so that his right hand was free, and the bird’s eyes were covered. This darkness seemed to relax the creature. Moving quickly and smoothly, Martin strode to the table and upturned the box of paints onto the floor. He grabbed his work towel and lined the base of the box with it. Then he ever so gently placed the bird into the box, and shoved the lid back on.
‘Right.’ His own heart beat hard in his chest. ‘What now?’
In a moment of divine inspiration he remembered the bird cage, and dashed to the cupboard in the hall. Last winter he had been poking around in Harris’s scrap yard, a marvellous place, full of gems, when had found a bird cage; he quite simply could not leave it behind, it was just such a beautiful object, or artefact as he liked to call it. Pulling it from the back of the cupboard now, all misgivings about its usefulness melted away, and Martin commended himself on having such a keen eye. He brought it into the kitchen and tried to clear a space on the table, knocking his cup in the process. The lower half of the town was flooded with thick brown coffee, threatening the structural competency of many buildings. The coffee bubbled and gurgled as it seeped through the papier-mâché. Martin cast his eyes about for a towel, but the closest one had a bird in it. No matter. The cage was one of those old fashioned ones, with thin silver bars and a domed top. At about 3 feet tall, it towered over the model town, like some sort of alien spaceship. He brought the shoebox over, and opened it slowly, wary of his patient fleeing, but the bird was huddled in a corner, its eyes darting and its breathing heavy. Martin picked it up, towel and all, and bundled it into the cage. It looked so small and helpless. He gently pulled and bunched the towel, fashioning a sort of cave around the bird’s small frame.
‘There we go.’ He said. ‘Much more cosy.’
At the sink he filled the lid of the marmalade jar with water, and walked steadily back to the bird, careful not to spill any.
‘Now my little friend. You’re all set up.’
Martin spent the rest of the day painting, casting an eye on the bird every now and then, who seemed happy enough in his new home. For dinner, he made a lovely garden pea-and-parmesan spaghetti, and to the bird he gave some cooked peas, some raw peas, some leftover fried bacon, a few shavings of parmesan, some orange segments, some porridge oats, and a heel of bread. He did not yet know what birds ate. Martin took his dinner at the crowded worktable, his bowl on his lap, surveying his work. As the day faded slowly into night, Martin watched the shadows cast by the little painted people; the couples and the families, enjoying their little seaside break. The young ones eating ice creams while their parents chatted happily. He thought about parking a model of his new van right there on the main street. Outside the post-office, perhaps. The post office had been badly hit by the coffee spill. It’s painted outside had slid down and sat in puddles on the street below. Its Styrofoam centre sat exposed and stained brown. A few coats of paint and things should be back on track. The promise of darkness, combined with the large dinner and the day’s excitement, had Martin in bed by 9 o’clock.
‘Goodnight my friend.’ He called to the bird as he turned out the lights.
The next morning, Martin woke before the sun, and shuffled to the kitchen. The bird was still asleep in its cage, nuzzled into the towel. Of last night’s many foods, all that was eaten was the bacon and the fresh peas. Martin smiled. A bird after his own heart. He made his tea and pulled from the shelf in the corner his copy of Collins’ Bird Guide.
‘Let’s find out who you are.’ Martin whispered into the breaking dawn.
Having passed through fungi and insects, he flicked slowly through pages of birds, stopping whenever he saw flashes of colour.
‘Hmmm...This book seems to think you’re a bullfinch...Or possibly a Chaffinch...Hmmm.’
Martin looked up from his book, and found the bird watching him.
‘Oh good morning friend. Can you tell me what you are?’
The bird tilted its head slightly, watching him. Martin felt that the bird looked sleepy. He had never seen a bird look sleepy before.
‘Ok, well, we won’t worry too much about it. According to this book, your bright feathers mean that you are of the male variety, and that's enough to able to name you.’
Closing the book, Martin stood up and stretched slightly.
‘So, Frank. Let’s have us some bacon, shall we?’
The bird’s eyes seemed to light up.
Martin rang the local vet, who was of very little use. She said there was nothing she could do, and that all he could do was feed him and give him water. The wing would heal over time if it was going to heal at all. The rest of the week was spent at the kitchen table, painting the model town, and chatting with the bird. Frank was a good listener.
“I’m going on a trip Frank.” Martin informed him one day, as he painted lichen on to the gable end of a house.
“I don’t know if you saw it outside, but I bought myself a campervan, and soon I’m going to take it out on the road…” Frank bobbed his head up and down, his azure feathers shimmering in the light.
“I’ll be like all these fine folks here in this town...maybe you could come along, eh?” Frank Chirped loudly. Martin did not light the fires, or weed the flower beds, nor did he wash the dishes. He arranged for a neighbour to get him what he needed in the shop - coffee, butter, marmalade, bacon, and bird seed.
‘Are you not well Martin?’ She had asked upon delivering his supplies, her neck craning as she peered over his shoulder.
‘Ah, erh, no, it’s not quite that, am, thank you very much Louise, I really do appreciate it!’ and he closed the door in her face. A kind woman, Louise, but not someone to have nosing around right now. He did not need the whole village laughing at him again.
For seven days he cared for Frank, watching with delight as he gained strength, hopping and chirping, and to Martin’s utmost joy, singing. On the morning of the fourth day, Martin awoke to Frank’s song. He entered the kitchen to the sweetest sound, a bubbly string of notes, starting high and descending, falling to a long low whistle. Martin applauded, ‘Bravo!’ which seemed to startle Frank into silence. Martin made him extra bacon that morning. On the seventh day, Martin walked into the kitchen to find Frank flying from one side of the cage to the other, his little claws wrapping around the silver bars. All day he flew around the cage, singing. Martin watched him from the corner of his eye as he painted strands of hair onto holiday-makers on his beach. He watched him and his heart sank. He knew it was not right to keep a flying bird locked in a cage. Tomorrow he would set him free. Martin made him a huge feed of bacon that night, and some fresh peas from the garden. For himself, he pulled a bottle of brandy from the back of the cupboard, cleaned off the dust, and poured himself a generous glass.
‘Here’s to you Frank, our last supper eh?’ He raised his glass. ‘It’s been wonderful having you stay.’
Frank looked at him, head cocked to one side, bacon hanging from his beak.
The next morning Martin slept in. When he came into the kitchen Frank was flying laps around the cage. It was a dizzying sight, a blur of blue and orange. His call was shrill now, insistent where before it had been playful. Martin sighed.
‘Ok friend. I hear you.’
He carried the cage to the back door and stepped out into the late morning. The day was overcast, muggy. The cat slept, undisturbed, on the bonnet of the car. The world was silent, save for the whisper of a breeze rustling the hedges, and the distant crash of waves. Sitting on the step in front of the door, he set the cage down at his feet.
“Well, this is it buddy. Best of luck.” He opened the cage wide, and Frank flew right out. He did a small loop through the air, testing his wings, and then landed gently on Martin’s shoulder, where he sat, singing, for just a moment. Martin’s eyes filled with tears.
‘You’re welcome.’ He whispered.
Then Frank left his shoulder, and flew across the yard.
Martin, through the tears in his eyes, saw a blur of black and white. The blur seemed to have pointed ears, and a long tail. The blur moved quickly from the bonnet of the car, to the roof. It jumped onto the top of the campervan, and into the air, claws flashing.
A strangled shriek, piercing the gentle morning air.
A yard scattered with blue and orange feathers.
A blood stain on the roof of the camper.
A smug cat.
These are some things that Martin will never forget.
Martin wandered back into the house. Dropping the birdcage by the door, he put on the kettle for coffee. As he waited for the kettle to boil, he noticed the dry brown leaves of his spider plants. Changing his mind, he turned off the kettle and poured a brandy instead. He brought it to the table and surveyed his town. Sighing deeply, he sat down and picked up a brush.
2019 Scholar - Rose Keating
Outside of publication, Rose has a strong interest in spoken-word, and has performed at Modwords Cork and Waterford Writers Weekend. Rose has also worked as a columnist for the Waterford News and Star for past three years.
Guide to Hauntings
1. Inherit a house from your aunt Mary.
You were never close to her, but you did not dislike her. She powdered her face with talcum and shaved her eyebrows and wore bright red lipstick, no other makeup. Her lips were thin, and her slash of mouth looked like an open wound when she smiled. She watched, but rarely spoke.
You will not be surprised to inherit the house, because everyone else is dead.
You won’t need the house; you have an apartment of your own in the city. An apartment, roommates, a job. A life. You used to have friends as well, but you haven’t seen much of them since Will. They were his friends, more than your friends. You used to have a Will. You no longer have a Will.
You will not need the house but will decide that you need a break. Pack quickly. Ring work and ask for time off. Put the hoodie that he left behind on and throw your bag into the backseat of the car.
Drive away. Drive faster than you normally would. You will want to play music, to turn the volume up so high that the bass turns your brains to jelly. You will not do this, because the only CD in the car is the mixtape he left in the slot.
Instead, open the windows wide and open your mouth wider. The air will hit the back of your throat like a punch, so hard you choke on it. Let it fill your lungs to bursting point. You would not be able to scream if you wanted to. Try to scream anyway.
When you get there, open the door and be surprised by the amount of dust. Evening sunlight will pour through the open windows of the hall, causing the dust particles to glow. They will hover in the air, like something solid, thick as honey. Breathe in heavy gold. Do not let it back out.
2. Unpack your things.
You will not bring much, just a couple of bags which you drag up the stairs. The steps are a musical instrument, giving off creaks and squeaks and moans with every movement you make.
Place your bags down on the bed of your aunts’ room. There’s many rooms upstairs and you could pick any; it’s a country house, large, sprawling. But you will not. You will take one owned by someone else. The room will be musty, cluttered with her things and will smell faintly of perfume. Put your things in empty drawers. Feel curious about the ones that are not empty.
Drag your hands across the surfaces, pick up the photo frames. Mary is alone in most of them, or with her sisters. Finger the knickknacks. Post cards and porcelain dogs and jewelled boxes filled with rings and feathers and buttons. Open her drawers; starched blouses, beige bras, socks with holes in the sole. You will find a dildo at the very back. You will feel like a voyeur but that will not make you stop.
Root around in her wardrobe. Slip on the black heels that you find, a size too big, sticking out over your tracksuit bottoms. You will find a pile of paper at the back, thin and fragile as flower pressings. Letters. You won’t understand the handwriting; messy, slanted, hectic. You will make out words at random: purple, mine, lungs, sea, run. They will all be signed off ‘Yours’. They are all from the same person, but you will not be able to make out the name. You will catch parts, but never the whole.
Take one of the letters to bed with you, running your fingers back and forth across the paper as your breathing slows. Fall asleep with the lights on, clutching something that does not belong to you.
3. Be woken by a loud noise in the middle of the night.
A deep heavy bang will jolt you from sleep; the shock of it will feel like someone dropping your lungs into snow. Jolt upwards. The room will be black, although you will not remember turning off the lights. Blink into the darkness, dense as molasses.
Slug your way through the treacle dark to the light switch. Flick it on. Jerk back.
Letters will plaster the walls, the ceiling. Hundreds of them.
Ink will run from most of them, leaking on to the walls. Spin in a circle. The clear words will leap out at you- purple, mine, lungs, sea, run.
Be unsure what to do. Feel scared, but uncertain. Should you gasp? Should you cry? Should you scream? Watch yourself from a distant cinema screen. Imagine yourself in a billowing white gown, fainting dramatically into the arms of a dark figure.
Do none of these things. Pick up a pillow, a blanket and your phone. Take them with you to the bathroom downstairs. Lock yourself in the bathroom. Double lock it. Climb into the bathtub with your blanket and pillow and try to make yourself comfortable. Go on to Wills’ Facebook page and scroll through the photos he has been tagged in.
Will, tanned, on the beach. Will at a party, a girl touching his arm, her face blurred. Will lying in the grass in a park, a sliver of stomach showing as he laughs in the direction of a woman with a pixie cut.
Click on her page next. Scroll through her tagged photos. Compare your heights, your waists, the size of her breasts and yours. Her eyes are very blue. Yours are not.
Keep clicking, until the sun comes up. You will not fall back asleep until then.
4. Almost drown in the bathtub.
Roll over in your sleep, breathing in slow and deep. Take liquid into your lungs, wake up spluttering and thrashing.
The bathtub will be full of ink. It will soak through your clothes, into your skin. You will be bruise blue, stained to the bone.
A figure will stand at the foot of the bath, looking at you. The outline of a man plastered in paper.
‘Your breasts are about the same size as hers, really,’ he will say.
The outline of a man will disappear, and letters will float to the floor in his place.
Drag yourself from the bathtub, sopping and heavy. Walk to the kitchen, leaving blue footprints in your wake. Open your laptop and google the word ‘ghost’.
You will find definitions.
An apparition of a dead person which is believed to appear to the living, typically as a nebulous image.
A slight trace or vestige of something.
Vestige; a small trace of something that was once greater.
Did you know that the word ghost finds its origins in the proto-Indo-European root ‘to rage’? That the old Latin word for ghost, ‘spiritus’, was a synonym for ‘breath’? That not all ghosts are dead?
Now you do. You will click, click. Let the words swirl round in your stomach.
Image, spirit, breath.
Something that was once greater.
Parts, never the whole.
6. Talk to the ghost.
Come prepared in battle armour. Spray yourself in your dead aunts’ perfume. Rim your lips with red. Put on a white slip from her wardrobe. It will cling to you in the wrong places; she was a smaller woman than you.
Light candles in her bedroom, play her old vinyl’s that scratch and whine in the gloom. Close your eyes and think of the taste of the night sky.
‘I mean, you could have just said hello.’
Open your eyes. The figure of a man lined with letters at the foot of the bed.
‘Hello,’ you will say.
His head will move up and down, examining you.
‘You don’t look one bit like her, you know. Not one bit,’ he will say.
Think about apologizing for this. Do not apologize.
‘Have you ever heard of a fetch?’ you will ask instead.
The ghost will scratch his head.
‘A fetch? It’s a ghost, the ghost of a person who is still alive, to the best of my knowledge,’ he will say.
‘Are they real?’ you will ask.
‘As real as I am,’ he’ll reply.
‘Are you real?’
‘Is the past ever very real?’
‘That’s a rubbish answer,’ you will say.
He will stop smiling.
‘Yes, yes it is,’ he will say.
7. Summon it.
Summoning is a tricky business. It requires procedure, ingredients, intention. But the man lined with letters will give you the recipe when you ask.
Take the mixtape out of the car and play it so loud that you can’t hear yourself think.
Open a bottle of wine and drink it from a mug while crooning out the words of his favourite song.
Burn a lock of your hair. Takes the ashes, mix them with honey and the blood of a new born dove. Smear the paste across your lips, your eyelids. Take a picture of this and put it on your Snapchat story.
Go outside and strip, wearing nothing but his hoodie. Dance until your feet bleed. Let the moon lick your skin. Howl until the wolves come. Let them fuck you in the toilet of a nightclub while their friends take a video.
Crawl from the club to the forest on your hands and knees and rub yourself in the dirt. Eat every rock in the forest until your stomach splits open. Check his Facebook in the forest while lying in a pile of your own entrails.
Bury your entrails in the ground and wait until a crow claws its way out of the earth. There will be a piece of paper in the crow’s beak. There will be number that you deleted from your phone months ago on the paper. Dial the number.
‘Hello?’ the ghost will say.
‘Hey,’ you will reply. The ghost will sigh.
‘Jane, please stop doing this. I asked you to stop contacting me. Just, just stop,’ he will say. The ghost will then hang up.
The man lined with paper will lead you up to bed, put the blanket over you.
‘Sorry,’ he will say,’ Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.’
8.Banish the ghost.
Gather up all the letters. The words that you can understand will stick into you like blades.
Take all the parts that you understand and scribble them out with a pen until you can’t see them anymore.
Take the letters and place them in the bathtub. Go get the mixtape and snap it in half and throw it in there too. Piss on his hoodie and give it to the crow to eat. Slit the crows throat and drop it in the tub. Delete his messages. Block him on Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram.
Get gasoline from the basement. Pour it over everything in the tub. Set the lot on fire. Watch the whole thing burn.
The man lined with letters will watch you while you do this, looking at you with something that could be pity, or something that could be tiredness.
‘Did you really think that would work?’ he will ask.
‘Not really,’ you will say.
9. Perform a cleansing ritual.
The man lined with letters will not know how to do this and will not be able to advise.
But you will know. You have always known how to do this, even if you weren’t always aware.
Go take a shower, not a bath. Turn the temperature so high it hurts. Scrub at your skin until all your blue bleeds away. Watch the ink wash away down the drain.
Put on an oversized t-shirt that is clean, and your softest socks.
Sweep away the ashes and bleach the bathtub until it gleams.
Pour salt around the boundaries of the house.
Throw out the milk that has gone mouldy in the fridge.
Reply to the concerned texts from Susan from work.
Pack your aunts’ things into boxes.
Make tea brewed with holy water, mint and the memory of bright light on Winter mornings.
Light a white candle in every room.
Let ice melt on your tongue.
Say the word ‘Yes’ over and over until it is the only word the walls can remember.
When it rains, open up all the windows so that the house can remember what the sky tastes like.
Cry until the house floods.
Fall asleep in laundered sheets that smell of fresh linen.
10. Say goodbye to the ghost.
You will meet the man lined with letters on the front porch, not in the bedroom of a dead person.
You will not smile at him, but you will take his hand and hold it. You will sit down on the porch together, and he will put his paper arm around you while you email an estate agent about selling the house.
You will have avoided looking directly at the ghost for the entirety of this trip. You will have looked at the outline of him. The shape of the ghost is all you know, because you don’t know if you will live through seeing the sum of him. But now is the time to be brave.
Look at the ghost. It will feel like thrusting your hand in a deep fat fryer. Keep your hand in the oil until the pain feels as clean and clear as a crescendo. Look at him for five hundred seconds. Or for five hundred years. However long it takes. However long you need.
Do not say goodbye to him in words. Kiss him on the cheek and rise. Walk away.
(Look back, if you need to. You will need to. That is okay.)
Put one foot in front of the other. Do it again. Do this over and over again for the rest of your life.
Climb into your car. Drive away, slower than the way you came.
Take your time coming home. You’ll get there, eventually.
2019 Highly Commended - Molly Twomey
I watch my father lose his father.
Toast crunched, tea drunk,
we unload the dishwasher.
Crouched by him, I gather
serving spoons with silver tongues,
he is losing his father.
Stacking things in order,
flasks at the back, China cups in front.
I pull out the bottom drawer.
A puddle of water,
shaped like a lung.
Black tar in his father.
He wonders why it isn’t stronger,
are the wires overstrung?
I shut the door of the dishwasher.
Honestly, why bother?
With every crumb, our effort undone.
Father pays to drain his father,
I scatter salt in the dishwasher.