The scholarship award includes both €1,500 and mentorship by the UCC Writer-in-residence (who this year is Lisa Harding), as well as scheduled performances at the Eoin Murray Annual Tribute Night (in August) and in a School of English & Digital Humanities event in the autumn semester.
Again we offer our sincere congratulations to Freyja and we look forward to her performance at the Tribute Night in August. Below is Freyja's submitted piece, the very visceral, evocative and imaginative, Wisdom Teeth.
She is growing her new teeth to make up for the lack of love. They won’t fit in her mouth when they finally blooms, but for now new bone peeks shyly out of old gums, painful and tiny.
She can’t see them, only feel them with the flexed tip of her tongue. She attributes to the intruding teeth the status of near personhood.
My wisdom teeth, she thinks almost fondly, even as they ache along the jaw, into the temple.
Where she lives there is a Circle K, a Centra, a pub she never goes into, and a GAA club. It is just her and her budding wisdom teeth, thinking of love.
I have this body, she tells the teeth, and what to do with it?
Today she has done the shopping with it.
The kitchen is barren and filthy, grains of old rice on top of older dirt, the empty fridge humming like a huge fly in the silence.
The big kitchen window is streaky and smudged with the gooey remains of insects. She can see through it to where there is a man standing in the hedgerows at the end of her garden.
Man is a strong word.
He looks more like a human toad standing upright. Even so she is compelled to call it man, though a man would be a much worse thing here.
“Fuck,” she says to herself, unsettled in the kitchen. He beckons, casually.
She’s not sure what to do about it though, afraid to go out to him. She has no one to call.
He’s still staring. Blinks slowly when they make eye contact.
“Am I crazy? Has that happened? I’ve surely lost it.”
But she hasn’t and she knows that.
He lets out a long tongue, catches something out of the air. Looks at her all the while. Waves her over again.
“Fuck it. Alright. Fine. Fine.”
She takes the best knife out of the drawer. Thinks of hiding it but it’s too big to do that well, so she just holds it firm in her right hand. It makes him smile, derisive.
A lot of men she knows smile like that, so she isn’t too bothered by it.
“Sofia. Sweetheart,” he croaks when she gets near him.
“Darling,” he tries again when she doesn’t answer.
“Why are you in my garden?”
The knife held in front of her now.
“Well, what makes it your garden? The fence?” He snorts. “This is my land.”
Sofia’s not sure what to do with that. She bought the house, the garden came with it. This is her land.
But the land’s been here since before she was, will be after. Maybe he’s part of the land, in a way she isn’t. He looks it, dark green and bumpy.
“I’ll be on it when I like,” he pronounces, haughty like he’s far above her nonsense.
“You asked me to come out here,” she accuses him instead of continuing it.
“Well, I suppose it is your land. But I’d like to live on it.”
Her garden is not very big. There is no far-away place she can send him down the end of it.
It’s misty today, the fine silver damp blanketing itself over the mix of greens, long grass and darker bush. He fits in much better than her. She still doesn’t want him there.
He sees the reluctance in the way she twists up her mouth, isn’t brave enough to try to get rid of him.
“I’ll give you something for it.”
“Like what?” she asks, cringes at herself.
He’s got her, then. The tongue comes out again, so there’s a pause before he answers.
“I’m able for anything. I can give you whatever you’re wishing for.”
The reason she believes it is that he’s a four-foot-tall toad man. She wouldn’t otherwise. Plenty of people say things like that, for different reasons.
“Well,” she tells him. “I’ll have to think it over.”
He knows he really has her. Pleased, he bows.
“By all means, love, have a think. I’ll be out here,” and then he waddles away and plonks himself, three-piece brown tweed suit and all, into an especially big puddle of rainwater in the mushy grass.
When she goes in she locks the door, pulls down all the blinds.
If she had someone to consult or marvel with. But it’s just her, sweating in her sitting room, biting her nails.
The ache of the wisdom teeth throbs all along her jaw, into her eye, temple, nose. Even then, she can only bring herself to hate the pain. She is fond of the teeth.
“This is ridiculous,” she tells herself. “Surely I’m crazy.”
She thinks about calling a doctor for a while, but decides not to based on the fear of getting sent somewhere to be medicated. It is better, she reasons, to be mad and see toadmen then to spend the next few years being fed anti-psychotics by some cunt.
And what can he give her? This toadman at the end of her garden cannot provide her with the money that failing everything else she wants.
There’s a precedent for this sort of thing though. Undeniable, that there’s always been thought to be things, green and tricky, in the rocks and stones of this ancient land.
It is night by the time she gets herself to go out, but only just, that bloodless blue still cast over everything like a woven-lace veil. Trees are huge and opaque in this light, swaying minutely.
He’s there, a squat lumpy shape in the grass. He grins gummily when he sees her, can’t resist darting a slimy tongue out to lick an eyeball.
“What’ll it be, so, my love?”
“When you said you could give me anything, what did you really mean?”
“I am able for anything, darling.”
“If that’s true,” and she’s shaking now, trembling in her legs and arms and deep within her belly.
“I wish for love. I want to love and be loved.”
He’s delighted. Trembles deep in his toad stomach.
“Of course! Not a problem, sweetheart. But you know that’s a big one.”
“Yeah, I know, but.” She’ll be sick, maybe.
“It’s just that I’ll need something extra.”
A hot clench of frustration runs through her.
“My garden’s a pretty big one, too, though, I fucking think.”
“You surely understand that it is easier for you to let me live in your unused garden than for me to conjure you love?”
Intimate with the difficulty of conjuring love, she nods. They listen to the soothing coo of a wood pigeon before she speaks.
“What do you want, then?”
“What do you have?”
This is a question that requires reflection.
Her wisdom teeth, as always, ache.
The bones of many unfortunate animals are precious. Why not so for hers?
“You can have my wisdom teeth.”
“Your wisdom teeth.”
“Yeah. They’re my most special teeth. Not everyone even has them.”
“The garden and your wisdom teeth.”
Rustling in the moment’s silence.
“You’re a very generous woman. You know, most women won’t even talk to me. But here you are.”
“Here I am.”
She feels mostly hope. Fear has slipped her mind with the promise of gifts.
“I’ll have to take them out.”
“Could I not get them taken out and come back?”
“No. Definitely not. That wouldn’t do at all.”
“Oh. Ok, fine.”
“You’ll have to kneel.”
She does, feels the cold damp seep into the knees of her jeans, along the line of her shins.
“Open your mouth.”
Again, she does.
From his waistcoat he takes a pair of black gloves. Puts them on his webbed hands with care and attention.
Her jaw is stiff from holding her mouth open. Drool starts pooling and she’s about to close it and swallow when he sticks a gloved hand in.
Rubbery and alive, twisting over her tongue. Strong, bendy fingers settle around the right-hand tooth and yank. There’s no hesitance – he’s just pulling, like a carrot out of loose earth. The roots of it slowly dislodge, making bloody grooves in the gum. She screams, can’t stop, not until he finally tears it out and waves it at her, a pink-white chunk between index finger and thumb.
She tilts her head down and spits.
“Lovely. Just one more.”
“N-” but he’s in there again, iron grip, like a pair of plyers. She can hear of it, the crunch of it vibrating through her skull.
Screaming again, the sound piercing the evening like the calls of large and unknown birds. The way it gives is almost satisfying, when it comes out in one final pull.
And then she’s left gasping and bleeding in the wet garden.
His gloves are slick and dark, shiny and dripping. He puts the teeth with their vicious roots in the inside breast pocket of his jacket.
The holes in her mouth are pouring and hot. She swallows, reflexively, doesn’t wholly hate the taste.
“You did very well,” and it does make her feel better to hear that. She clears her throat – it bubbles.
“Now I want love.”
“And you have it.”
She waits. Spits. Looks around, the statement confuses her so much.
Gags. Spits again. Sniffs. Wipes her nose on her sleeve.
“Isn’t it fantastic?” He’s gleeful. “I already love you so much.”
Outside things are beginning to end. This landscape slit down its belly like a
mackerel, ready to be devoured.
Why this relationship of predator and prey?
And why, of all things, is it the host we hunger for?
The earth beneath our feet has never looked so
appetizing. We shovel it down our gullets in heaping handfuls
It is rich on the tongue and it weighs us down
The greenery does not grow quick enough for this ritual to be anything other than
catastrophic. The grit between your teeth as you take the action of erosion
In these plague-times we ache and retch and cry out in anguis
Keening for all the footprints lost to the bloodwarm soil
This thirst is never-ending
Is nothing here salvageable? Nothing at all?
It doesn’t have to be sacred to be worthy – I think. I think we could make a home here
If the earth will have us
Don’t raze us, please. Please, don’t salt the ground we stand on.
While there is still ground to stand on
We can still grow: thyme, basil, and parsley
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.