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14/04/2020 / Harry Browne

The Crooked Tree by Stephen Brady

The Crooked Tree.jpg

He could hear everything, but dared not open his eyes.

He was being dragged along a rough, uneven path. His hands had been bound behind him, with plastic cable ties. They sliced into his wrists, deep enough to draw blood. From the darkness he heard orders, hissing and curses.

They had come for him at sundown.

Doyle had spent the day patrolling the farmstead, securing the fences and checking on the animals. There was comfort, of a sort, in the routines. He’d checked the trapdoor in the barn. Made sure it was locked, and covered it in straw. Then he had tested the water from the groundwell. He did this every day. He was checking for tampering, not contamination.

Lastly he would look down at the spot by the stonewall, and the mound of earth that lay there.

Around noon, someone had appeared at his gate. The person was clad in standard protective gear, a facemask and goggles. Doyle had stood in his driveway and watched the newcomer. He did not go for the shotgun, which was propped at the front door. Finally, the person at the gate had given a nod. It was impossible to tell what the gesture signified. But he suspected the intent was not good.

The interloper had turned, and walked back down the lane.

Doyle had thought, I don’t know who that was. But it doesn’t matter. I don’t know which gang they’re with, but that doesn’t matter either. They wanted to see if I’m still here. Now they’ll come for me.

On Doyle’s front gate was a hand-painted sign. It read:

PRIVATE PROPERTY

No Food Water or Medical

Do Not Approach

You WILL be Shot

But he had known that would not be enough to keep them out.

 After dark, he had lit the lamps. There’d been no electricity for five months. He had sat in the parlour and tried to ready by the sickly light. They must have surrounded the place, climbed the fences or cut them. He hadn’t heard the gate, so they must have gone over it, or under. All he knew was that one moment all was peace, and the next he looked up and saw a masked face at the window.

He’d gone for the gun. They must have known he would. Because no sooner was he out in the dark hallway than he was jumped by three of them. They bound his hands, bound and dragged him out of his house.

He struggled, but it was no use.

“Private property, ye bastards!”

“Shut up, Doyle,” a muffled voice grunted. “You know that doesn’t count anymore. So you can shut your hole.”

“You’ve no right-”

A couple of them made honking noises, that might have been laughter.

“You’re a Traitor,” said another mask. “You’re the one has no rights.”

“Now shut up or you’ll get a dig,” said the first voice, and Doyle decided to save his breath. There might yet  be someone to appeal to.

They dragged him out the gate and up the lane. All around were the black and silent hills. They took him up the boreen, and hustled him through a gateway. Then he was stumbling on a stony, uneven slope.  He was pulled to his feet and pushed on. He kept his eyes shut the whole time, despite the dark and the uncertain footing. He did not want to see where they were taking him. Because, deep down, he already knew.

Over the past few weeks, Doyle had taken to standing at his door each morning and looking out across the hills. He would do this while holding a mug of tea he had heated on the gas stove. But it was almost possible, standing there in the quiet of the morning, to believe the world was still there.

But even in those quiet moments, he would find his eyes drawn towards one hill away to the north-west, and the crooked tree upon it.

The tree was bent and twisted, a leprous old man of the hills. One branch protruded at a right angle to the trunk. The branch was thick and sturdy. Doyle did not know why, but that tree and that branch troubled him. It haunted even his shallow and restless sleep.

And on this starless night, as they hustled him up the hill, he thought about the crooked tree again.

“This is bullshit,” he said. “Who’s in charge of this?”

“You’ll see,” said a mask. “Now pipe down or you’ll get a belt.”

“You’re to get what’s comin’ to you, Doyle,” said another voice. Angry and scared, the voice of a kid.

These were his neighbours. Or had been, once upon a time. A lot of evil things had happened over the last six months, but somehow this was the worst. And the worst thing about it was that somewhere in Doyle’s mind, was an image of how this was going to end.

They brought him to a flat place, and he sensed that there were more people there. His arms were being gripped tightly, and someone shoved him from behind. He could barely keep his balance. Reluctantly, he opened his eyes.

They were on the top of the hill, and the crooked tree loomed over them. There were about twenty people waiting there. All were wearing facemasks, some crudely improvised. All wore gloves, and many had safety goggles. One or two were wearing full hazard suits. The only light came from a couple of hand torches. The beams were pointed upward at the twisted skeleton of the tree.

They’re using up batteries, he thought. Somebody thinks this is important.

Doyle stood up straight.

“Ye have no right to bring me here,” he said as loudly as he could. “There’s still laws in this country.”

“Shuttup,” said a voice.

“Ye’re nothing but a shower o’yobs.”

“Shuttup Traitor!” Someone punched him in the back.

Doyle struggled, but he was being held tight.

“Who’s in charge here?”

The masks all turned, as one. Someone was standing by the trunk of the tree. He was wearing protective gear like the rest, and some kind of improvised hazard suit made of plastic. A piece of paper was pinned to his chest with some writing scrawled on it. He stepped forward into the torchlight.

“That would be me, Doyle.”

“Who the fuck are you?” Doyle demanded.

A big hand walloped him on the side of the head. “Watch your mouth. That’s the Sheriff.”

Doyle shook his head to clear it. He tried to remain focused on the figure standing in front of him. Behind the goggles were pale blue eyes, just visible in the torchlight. They looked faintly familiar.

“Sheriff,” he said. “Is that right? Who appointed you?”

“Doyle.” The voice from behind the mask was familiar, too. “You need to stop this play-acting. It won’t do you any good.”

“It’s ye who’re play-acting. Ye should all go home.”

“Doyle, Doyle.” The marble eyes looked almost sad. “It’s too late for that. Do you not understand, even now? It’s too late.”

In his confusion, Doyle hadn’t realised that he was afraid. But standing there in the torchlight, in the shadow of the crooked tree, he realised it.

He cleared his throat and tried to speak calmly.

“What do you mean, ‘too late?'”

“You’ll find out.”

“What are ye all doing out here?”

“We’re doing what has to be done.”

“According to who?”

The Sheriff stretched, his plastic suit creaking. Now he sounded almost bored.

“I have charges to read to you, Doyle. You will hear them in silence.”

“To hell with yer charges.”

Something struck Doyle in the kidneys, a stick or baton of some kind. He fell to his knees.

The Sheriff waited until he’d got his wind back. Then he produced a sheet of paper. It was some kind of thick paper with a yellowish hue, and someone had written on it in red ink. It was meant, Doyle realised, to look official.

One of the mob held Doyle by the shoulder, keeping him on his knees. The Sheriff raised the sheet of paper and began to read.

“Charges listed against Patrick Doyle. Herein witnessed and signed by the Community Emergency Committee.

“One: That the accused Patrick Doyle has closed access to his land, instead of allowing it to be utilized for the good of the Community in this time of national crisis.”

“Private property,” he said, and someone thumped him on the back of the head.

“Two: that the accused Patrick Doyle has on his land been stockpiling foodstuffs, fresh water, and medical supplies for his own use, instead of allowing them be utillized for the good of the Community in this time of national crisis.”

“How the hell do any of ye even know that?” Doyle said. A baton was thrust against his throat, and he shut up.

Doyle had indeed been stockpiling, for almost a year. He’d dug out a storeroom under his barn, and had been filling it with supplies. And more recently, he’d been prepping it as a bunker. In case the farm was overrun and looted, by the likes of this mob.

But how had they known that?

“Three,” the so-called Sheriff continued. “That the accused Patrick Doyle has refused to attend any of the Community Emergency Committee meetings called in recent weeks. Attendance at these meetings was mandatory. Therefore the accused has declared himself a Traitor to the Community, in accordance with the Charter of the Commitee. In this time of national crisis, such action is to be considered a capital offence.”

The pale blue eyes rested on his face for a moment. Behind the safety goggles, those eyes looked distant and sad. Those of a master with a disappointing student.

“I know who you are,” Doyle said.

“The accused,” said the Sheriff, “has been found guilty by unanimous vote of the Emergency Committee. He will now stand to hear his sentence.”

Doyle was dragged to his feet. The mob seemed to crowd in closer around him. The beams from the torches wavered, casting crazy shadows in the twisted branches overhead.

“You’re Vaughan,” said Doyle. The hubbub of the mob seemed to falter. “I  know it’s you. I know the voice. You know me, Vaughan. You knew Terri. What in the name of God do you think you’re doing?”

“Doyle.” The voice behind the mask was cold. But it had not lost its lofty tone. “I know you’re aware of my identity. But that’s immaterial. That was before.”

“It’s the same world.”

“No, Doyle, it is not. Community Rule was declared ten weeks ago.”

“By who?”

“By unanimous declaration of the Emergency Committee.”

“I wasn’t there.”

“That’s immaterial, Doyle. You want to dispute it? To whom?” The voice had a smirk in it now that was also  familiar. “Wish to write to your T.D.? Hmmm? The Guards? They’re gone, Doyle. A community has to look after itself, these days. And that’s what we’re doing.”

Vaughan had been Principal of the school in the village. It was a small parish school, boys and girls mixed. Teresa had gone to that school, and Doyle had sat across the table from Vaughan at countless Parent-Teacher nights and looked into those same blue, thoughtful eyes. Vaughan had been clad in a brown suit with chalk on the sleeves, rather than hazard gear. But the eyes, and the holy manner had been exactly the same.

“Pat,” Vaughan would say, the ginger beard twitching in a stop-start smile. “Teresa’s a star. She’s a credit to you. And to Maureen, God rest her.”

Vaughan made a gesture to his lackeys. They dragged Doyle over to the trunk of the crooked tree, and stood him beside it. The torch beams were now being shone at him, into his eyes. He was almost blinded, and could just make out the shape of the Principal eclipsed in the light.

“The accused,” said Vaughan, “having being found guilty on all charges, will now hear sentence.”

“You love this, don’t you?” said Doyle. “You fucking love all this, Vaughan. Fellas like you always do. Waitin’ yer whole life for somethin’ like this, weren’t you?”

“Patrick Doyle, you have been found guilty of hoarding, breaking curfew, and of being a manifest Traitor to your Community. In this time of national crisis these must be considered the gravest of crimes. Therefore the Community Emergency Committee decrees that you be hanged by the neck until dead. Sentence to be carried out immediately.”

 So this is what it’s come to.

Doyle’s guts had turned to ice. But he felt no shock, no outrage. This had been coming, for a long time. This was the end of all the grim news, the breakdown of systems. And he had known. Ever since he’d stood at his back door and looked across the hills at the crooked tree.

A rope was thrown over the branch above. Doyle was manhandled into position under it. The loop was slipped around his neck. One of the masked yahoos was laughing. The rope, hard and studded with bristles, bit into the skin of his throat. He embraced the pain with a kind of bitter gladness, as he was sure it would be the last thing he would ever feel.

“Vaughan,” he said to the shadow in front of him. “You’ll be next. You know that, don’t you? As soon as this shower get sick of you. I wouldn’t give it long.”

“Doyle, Doyle.” The disappointed-teacher act was back. “There is no use in talking. Not any more. Action has to be taken, for the common good. I invited you to join us, and you refused. And now here we are.” The masked head made a nod. “Mr Hangman. You may proceed.”

The rope was pulled taut. It bit into Doyle’s throat, drawing blood. Two of the mob were pulling on the rope from the other side of the trunk. He began to rise. He struggled, but his hands were still tied. His feet left the ground, and kicked out into nothing.

In quick, spastic jerks, he was hauled into the air. When he was about ten feet from the ground they held him there. He kicked and twisted, as his windpipe was crushed. He was dimly aware of the mob standing at the base of the tree, with Vaughan the Sheriff at their head. Silence had fallen, an air of stillness and attention.

He’d watched over her, as she was taken. She’d thrashed, too, burning in the bed. Said awful things, in voices not her own. She’d even called for her Mammy. It was a mercy, in the end.

He had taken her from the bed and wrapped her in an old blanket. There was no-one to call. Nothing to appeal to. So he had carried her, in the quilt, down to the end of the field. He’d prepared the spot a week before. Under the stonewall, in a hawthorn’s shade. He’d dug the hole while all the while pretending he was doing something else. And he carried her there, lowered her down, and shoveled the dirt back in. The sun was setting, bitter on the horizon.

There were no words, because what words were there? He didn’t pause when he was done. He’d just thrown the shovel over the fence and gone back into the house.

His mind was dimming now. His throat was crushed, and the spasming of his limbs was instinct only. But an image was still there, in his head. An image that refused to be banished. It was the hawthorn, the stonewall, and the mound.

From below came a voice: “One last thing, Doyle. The contents of your stockpile will be liberated and distributed to the Community. At the discretion of the Committee, of course.”

He was fading now. His feet had stopped twitching. He tried to turn his head, to what he imagined was the east. A terrible light lay across the hills. The rolling slopes that had marked the limits of his life. That light came through the earth. It was yellowbrown, a sepia luminescence. Many had seen it of late. It was deathlight, the awful glow that transfigures the final sight of the world.

WHERE IS MY HOUSE? The thought pounded away in his darkening mind. IT’S THERE, I KNOW IT IS. WHY CAN’T I SEE IT? WHERE THE FUCK IS IT? WHERE IS MY HOUSE?

16/11/2020 / Harry Browne

Acceptance Of Who You Truly Be by Mort Murphy

Autobiographical
November 16th, 2020

Oh, would that the mountain lifts and
Reveals it’s soul to you
Would that such splendour touch your lips and
Turn you around, to accept your beauty, too

You sleep until the dawn of day, sleep
That you may rush anew, to and fro
Yet Morpheus visits you with dreams so sweet
That your soul‘s wonders you will come to know

The layers of beauty that bestow your youth
Will fade upon time’s scuttling clouds
They are but touchs of the inner grace of truth
A soul-wonder of beauty encased in time’s shroud

Look not, of itself, to dawn’s new glory your heart to lift
Or listen, only outward, to the lapping of the sea
Silently pray for your inner-grace to gift
Acceptance of who you truly be

07/10/2020 / Harry Browne

What I Done On My Summer Holidays by Stephen Brady

Dublin, 1981

His voice had never sounded so cold.
“What in GOD’S NAME do you call this?”
The whole class was stunned into silence.
All eyes were on Benji. And his eyes were fixed on Brother Martin.
“Brother, I-“
“SILENCE!”
Benji Quinn stood before Brother Martin’s desk, like a sacrificial lamb in glasses. The whole of Class 3A was watching in wonder. We were wondering what Benji Quinn, of all people, could have done to raise the Brother’s ire.
“This!” The Brother swept up a copybook and held it aloft. “This… filth! This iniquitous pabulum! You are indeed it’s author, Quinn?”
“Yes, Brother. I-“
“Shut up!” The good brother held the copybook (Benjamin Quinn, Class 3A inscribed neatly on the front), high above his head, as if it were somehow radioactive. But he wasn’t looking at it, or at the 28 boys at their desks. His eyes, full of hot and righteous fury, were zeroed in on the meagre figure in front of him. And I remember thinking, even at the time, how surreal the whole scene was.
Benji Quinn was the class swot. A little squirt with thick glasses and mousy brown hair that was, unforgivably, neatly combed at all times. His uniform was always pressed and immaculate. (The St. Francis Boys’ uniform was a vile brown jumper, white shirt and grey trousers). He didn’t play football and had been seen reading books (books!) on his own time. He was last lad in the school you might think would rouse the wrath of the dreaded Brother Martin.
But despite all of this, we never picked on him. Oh, we slagged him off, called him names behind his back. But we never insulted him to his face, or gave him a dig. We wanted to – we were normal lads, of our generation. But we didn’t. It’s hard to explain why. Benji Quinn had a strange sort of air about him. As if messing with him directly might be bad luck.
Brother Martin, of course, had no such reservations.
“Well, then, Master Quinn. So you admit to being the author of this contemptible screed. Well, well, well. This is a development. Yes. This is a development indeed.” Brother Martin slammed the copybook down on his desk. Then he leaned back in his chair, and laced his fingers over his black-robed front. His sober vestments were stained with chalk and nicotine. “Come over here.”
Benji shuffled closer to the desk. We all watched, fascinated.
“Stand there, ” the Brother ordered. “Pick up that book.” Benji took up his copybook with trembling fingers. “Now. Turn around and face the class.”
Benji did as ordered. He clutched the orange Folens copybook close to his bosom. He faced us, his classmates, as a man might face a firing squad.
Brother Martin, too, turned to the class. “Shut up, the lot of you!” (We hadn’t been talking, but no-one was about to point this out.) “I want you all to sit still and listen to this. Listen, every one of you. To every word.” He glared at Benji. “Master Quinn. Commence reading. Nice and loud, if you please.”
Benji licked his lips. If his mouth was dry, I didn’t blame him. We could see the copybook trembling in his hands.
He began to speak, his thin voice high and sing-song.
“What I Did On My Summer Holidays, by Benjamin Quinn Class 3A.”
So it was the essay!
We had just come back from the summer break, and the first assignment Brother Martin had given us was to write an essay about what we did. Although my little masterpiece was entitled “What I Done On My Summer Holidays,” as I’m sure were most of the other lads’. It was typical of Benji to be the only one who was grammatical.
My effort, as I recall, ran something like this:

What I Done On My Summer Holidays

In my Summer I helped my Daddy at his work. He is a plummer. And it was my Little brother John Pauls birth-day and we had a party. My uncle Joe came for visit and he showed me to tie a fishing rod. I played football with my frends in Saint Endas park and we were Brazil and they were west Germany. We won and I scored two goals.

I went to the zoo with my Mammy as well. The end.

No masterpiece, I’m sure you’ll agree. And the other lads, I’m sure, had all written pieces that were very similar. But we would have expected better from Benji Quinn. An account of a Summer spent at activities both wholesome and genteel. Piano lessons, maybe, or reading Greek myths.
We certainly wouldn’t have expected Benji’s effort to raise the fury of a man who, looking back on it now, was almost certainly halfway to a psychopath.
I was intrigued.
“Continue, Master Quinn,” the Brother growled. He was eyeing the class for the merest hint of inattention. “And louder, if you please.”
Benji cleared his throat and, his voice a little more audible, recommenced.
“What I Did On My Summer Holidays, by Benjamin Quinn. Class 3A.
“This Summer I went to the park with Sparks. And we played ball and we-“
“One moment, Mr Quinn,” Brother Martin said. “Tell us. Who is ‘Sparks’?”
“My dog, Brother.”
“Your faithful canine. Very good. Continue.”
Benji took a breath and plunged ahead.
“We played ball and I got an ice cream and me and Sparks went home. It was a lot of fun. But one day in the morning Mr Ryan who is the milkman was driving down our road and he didn’t see Sparks and he ran him over and Sparks died.” Benji gulped, and continued. “That made me sad because Sparks was my best friend. We buried him down in the garden and my Mammy was crying. She said do I want to get a new dog and I said no thanks. Sparks was the best dog ever.”
He was struggling now, but Brother Martin was undeterred. “Continue, Master Quinn.”
Benji went on:
“After that, I was on my own a lot. I was thinking a lot about things. I was reading a book I got from my Uncle Brian at Christmas and it was about the stars and the planets. In the Solar System,” he clarified. “And I went for walks on my own and read my book and I was thinking about Sparks. And I looked at the stars in the nightime and I was thinking about Sparks. And then I decided that there is no God.
“I went to the zoo with my Mammy as well. The end.”
“Well,” said Brother Martin, his voice an ominous growl. “I’m sure we’re all highly impressed with that account of your doings, Master Quinn. Are we not all highly impressed?”
No-one knew what to say. We just sat in our seats, numb and staring.
Brother Martin stood. That is one thing I’ll never forget, the way he looked when he stood up. He was tall and beefy, a son of Cork, with curly hair like a wirebrush. He was in the “muscular Christian” mould, a common type of the time. He coached the football, hurling and swim teams. If you didn’t run fast enough, he would kick you viciously right above the ankle. He always stank of sweat and nicotine, and never seemed to bathe, shave, or wash his hair. Brother Martin just was. I am happy to say that I have never again in my life encountered such a fifty carat, gold-plated, unconscionable bastard.
And we were all glad that it was Benji Quinn in the firing line, for once.
Brother Martin towered over his victim. He was almost purple with rage. He looked like he wanted to go at Benji with his bare hands. I could actually see spittle running down the side of his chin.
Rabid, I thought. That’s the word. He looks rabid.
“Put down that copybook, Master Quinn. And come over here.”
Benji, suitably petrified, put the copybook down and shuffled towards the Brother. His eyes were on the floor.
“Look at me, Master Quinn.”
With difficulty, Benji raised his eyes. I’m sure they were filled with tears, but he had his back to the class.
“Now then,” said Brother Martin. “There is ‘no God.’ Is that right?”
“Brother-“
“Shut up.” The response made me wonder why Brother Martin had asked the question in the first place. “There is no God, eh? Well. Well, well, well. We’ll see about that.”
Brother Martin opened a drawer in his desk, and took out his cane.
We had all seen it before. It had been used on most of us, but never, of course, on Benji. It was bamboo, about three feet long, and stiff as a girder. Brother Martin used it liberally, often for the smallest of transgressions. Who knew what he might do with it today?
“Now then, Master Quinn. Hold out your hand.”
“Brother-“
“Don’t snivel, boy! Hold out your hand!”
Miserably, Benji did so. Without taking his eyes off the victim, Brother Martin said, “And the rest of you. Attend closely. This is what comes of scorning your Maker.”
Brother Martin swung the cane down on Benji’s little hand, with all of his considerable might.
But a strange thing happened.
The cane passed through the hand of Benjamin Quinn.
That’s the only was I can describe it. The cane came down, swish, and passed right through Benji’s hand. Benji never so much as flinched. The cane hit the floor with a clack sound that echoed through the silent classroom.
Brother Martin blinked. It took him a few seconds to regain his composure, which was always fragile. When he spoke again, his voice was deadly quiet.
“Master Quinn. I strongly advise you not to withdraw your hand again.”
“Brother, I didn’t-“
“Silence. You will stand still like some sort of a man and take your punishment. Or I swear before Peter and Paul and all the Saints of Perdition that what you’ll get will be even worse. Now.”
He lashed the cane down again.
Swish.
And again, the bamboo stick seemed to pass right through Benji Quinn’s hand. We could see it. His bony, delicate little hand, and the stick just went through it like it wasn’t even there. We could feel the puff of displaced air.
I became aware that the sun had come out. Through the dirty windows, the classroom was flooded with improbable, golden light.
Brother Martin brought the cane down again. And again. And again. Each time it went right through Benji’s flesh, as though the boy were an apparition.
“You little bollix!” Brother Martin roared. He brought the stick down again. Swish swish swish. And Benji remained unharmed.
The Brother started swearing, in a guttural mix of English, Irish, and Latin. His big body was twitching, and his face was puce. A man possessed. He swung and lashed at Benji Quinn, not just at his hand now, but at the boy’s torso and head. The cane passed through the lad without resistance, each and every time.
The sun shone harder. The air in the classroom became warm and all was suffused in that golden light. It became hard to see what was happening.
Brother Martin lashed himself ragged, all to no avail. Finally he thundered at Benji to re-take his seat, hurled his cane aside and collapsed back at his desk, sobbing.
Benji walked meekly back to his desk and climbed back into his chair. Throughout the whole drama, not a one of us had spoken. The light that filled the classroom provoked a reverent silence. None of us were looking at Benji. We were looking at Brother Martin, tyrant of St Francis’, as he sobbed and gibbered at his desk.
And I wondered what sort of a transaction we had witnessed. Who had won, at what cost. And how strangely different, from this day on, we were all going to be.

10/09/2020 / Harry Browne

De Facto – Bin Ali Walking towards Karbala by Brid Mary Harnett

To His Highness Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan,
Struggles. Walking through the mall, I see young people who appear to be clear, thinking people sensitive people.
Just today I walk to remember. Today I feel an energy under my feet, and it costs me no effort. My limbs feel strong and I have no pain. I walk with pride. I carry my computer on my back, and it strikes off my back as I walk. There are others walking as well and I am conscious of the fact that I must walk in a straight line. I dislike it intensely when someone juts out in front of me so I have to move and redirect my feet. It is not good to cross someone’s path when walking, but people invariably do just that. It’s like putting a hex on the person’s path you are walking through. I don’t see the point of doing so, after all when I set out to walk, I intend to walk a particular distance for a specific purpose. Today, I did not feel tired or defeated. Habitually, the activity of walking solves problems, the jarring of the feet and the pelvis, imagining the direction of thought waves from the head to the toes and the human neural capacity to work things out. Psychologically the act of walking out one’s problems causes a certain serenity to empower the head. When there are no solutions, the best thing to do is to walk. A group of runners pass by with great energy, sweat and sleeveless t-shirts in 110-degree heat zones. Quite a feat. However, I do feel that it is not so healthy to run in such heat. But, I say, leave the car and use the legs. The walk can be characterised by somewhat subliminal behaviour as the walker moves from one conscious moment to the next in an effort to make sense of whatever riddle he or she might be working on. We look for landmarks, milestones, but it is difficult to live a walk since one foot in front of the other is simply too bland for words. Rather than focusing on heel, toe activity, I prefer to squint at the sun to see what lies behind it. I imagine that visitors from the other realm visit me from there on the wings of a powerful presence. It is clear that they know all about me. I need no introduction to them. They are all seeing now and they know what is going to happen long before the realisation hits me. Today I walk to remember with them in a straight line over a fairly long distance. Ten days of reflection to work out what might have happened then. History is somewhat confused. I guess that is the importance of transparency, otherwise we are victims of our own subjectivity. History is rewritten and the true actualities are lost. The fact is that a genocide occurred over a thousand years ago and we are still reeling. Walking helps. The shift off one leg onto the other, the movement brings with it a kind of progression forward. A page of manuscript juts out from below in the hands of a man in his safe keeping. The weight of value of the information on that page is more than my brain can comprehend. Attempted genocide. But not all tribe members died. Generations later, we are unidentified, we do not know who we are. Their women were paraded in the streets. Believing women were taken as slaves. Believing, god-fearing women were taken as slaves, to vanquish their purity and their belief until the unacceptable became acceptable to them. It is in our speech. We remember.
‘Look at the cut of you’ My aunt used to say. ‘A cut above the rest, ‘They say.
I see a woman whose trunk is severed. I remember a believing woman who repeatedly and fervently implored God to be cleaned with heavenly ice of snow in order not to feel the abhorrence of what she had to experience. The abhorrence of captivity until the truth of real tradition merged into standards of acceptability according to the capacity of the rulers of that time, received in a sense of warped joy. Perhaps, one, two or three of them escaped and lost the way home. Three branches of a tribe and two caravans were travelling. Worse still, the message they carried is lost. If the Tribe of Israel weep for Jerusalem, then I weep for a message which did not reach us yet. I weep for people everywhere who are not able to identify themselves, for members of a lost tribe who defected after suffering defeat, treachery and deep betrayal. People who do not understand their marks, who cannot interpret the meaning of their own selves, their codes, missions and reasons for existence because they do not know, nor do they understand who they are meant to be, like a substrate which cannot latch onto an enzyme, floating about aimlessly in plasma waiting for some miraculous osmosis. The pain of not quite fitting in at the edge of two worlds and two cultures. However, when all is said and done, never bite the hand of the one who nurtures, the one who fed you, the one who raised you, the ones who never turned their back on – me – you, most beloved to me. As I write this, I have trouble keeping my back straight as it cowers and caves to wallow in my own personal defeats. It bends like a hank of mushrooms and when I lie flat on the ground, many people come out of it as I close my eyes. My back threatens to close without ever having been opened. Sit straight they say. Show your full length. But I feel shame to show and to be and this is my nature. It has taken me years of searching to understand myself and now that I do, I do not think that I will ever come out again. And when I consider this thought, I ask myself if I am fulfilled. I have danced, I have sung, I have felt joy, deep pain and torment sometimes in spite of myself. If I had allowed myself to reflect others’ feelings for me, perhaps my heart may have been incapacitated because when I feel love, I rise out of myself and I become very frightened. I have been like this for about ten years now. Since I visited the mosque of the Prophet in Medina and I asked God to keep my heart safe there.
Today marks the new year. It is the month of Muharram. There are many people walking with me in the street from the same house. They pass by with silent recognition. I know them because we all smell the same. They have the same light and exude the same kind of dignity and noble quietude. It’s sundown and I walk.
‘We will start out again at first light” They said.
That’s all they gave me today, but even the trees lowered respectfully, and the wind died down, not a wisp of a breeze and the air was wonderfully clear. My abaya billowed forward and I thought about people in our societies who carry our standards. Jafar ibn Abi Talib is my favorite and I think to myself: If I cannot carry it with my hands and they are broken, I will carry it with my arms, my toes, my fingers and if I cannot carry it then, I will raise it with my eyes. Perhaps he might have thought these thoughts. I carry a white standard, a purposeful standard with strands of this and that. And as I carry the standard of my identity, the dead since long remembered, I remember the most powerful influences in my life. The most powerful matriarchal influences and I think that I am very lucky. I do my best to uphold who they are, analytical, clever and tall. The walk reminds me to overthrow the basal part of my nature. If I can master my own nature, then I will have been successful. When I feel overcome, I know I have failed, not because of anyone else, but because of a lapse in action or spirit. It is a sin to yield for the sake of peace. Then this is my sin. But in a strange way, yielding strengthened my fight and I was able to recover just a little. The trouble with mixed cultures and a diverse background is the difficulty of finding the self. So many uncertainties caused me to hesitate, caused me not to know my own value. I complained to the Creator about myself as if The Almighty had shown me what other people were made of, to tell me that I am not as bad as I lead myself to believe. So much is lost when there is no self-love, when there is no one to validate you, when all people want to do is to tear flesh from your bones, a pound of flesh for being what I am until I match what they are and that is something I do not want to do at all. My identity permeates through every cell in my body and when all is lost, I find comfort in knowing what I am made of as the Creator wishes, supported by centuries of hard-working mothers I term as the grannies.
The feeling of these ten days is more pronounced than last year. I feel a sense of utter loss, but I do not feel despair and I do not feel alone.
‘Syeda,’ They said.
As I write, I think of Kufa, I think of a group of family members on their way home, a home most of them never reached, a group of family members cut down as they travelled to safety and safety was not theirs, torn form limb, shins shaved and sinews removed. The head was severed from the body and each side ascribes ownership to it. I am genetically programmed to yield, to give way and sometimes this is not the thing to do. I look at the red line on my scarf, it reminds me of martyrs. I consider the moving tides of history and how history forges our collective subjectivity, causing us to take sides and yet over and over again, we take the sides of loved ones. Is this a mistake? We will be asked about the message and how we fulfilled it requirements. The Messenger is simply a vehicle of conduit and God is great. Messengers and Prophets are human beings, very special human beings, but not without fault. I imagine Hussein Bin Ali teasing me, telling me- is that all you are able to carry – and you almost die. As I get older, my heart is less capable of love, less capable of compassion, it wants to rest more. It suffers exhaustion, and the defeat of the woman is old age, little by little, it seeps out through the numbness in the hands, through the open mouth and orifices no matter how hard I try to stop it, I cannot. People rise and people fall, nations rise and fall and only Allah is eternal.
The page which I think I see troubles me a great deal and I see so many dangers for the future. It is a strange world of capture and release. A world of trickery, foiled deals and weakened spirits plundered until the heart accepts that which is morally unacceptable. Until people throw their hands up in despair and say, ‘Well, what can I do? It’s not my fault?’ Somewhere on a street there, there exists the remnants of a mansuscript, the real truth, the truth of the real Islam. But on a day, far off long ago, we lost. Two strands of thought; as parallel as the Tigris and the Euphrates which do not run into each other as they flow into the same sea. As I run down the street in the morning, I feel relief as trucks from their places throttle up the highway. Brave truck drivers employed to carry goods for export, raided, disturbed and threatened within an inch of their lives en route, skirmishes and needless violence. Trucks of orange and white and green depicting the personalities of the drivers. I think that there are no braver people than these men in our nation, in the nation of the Zayed, one of the first tribes in existence since the beginning of time. A tribe of tall men. I see them as they alight form their thousand-mile journeys looking pristine and clean.
The abhorrence of the last walk to death. The abhorrence of captivity. The abhorrence of slavery, the wheel of which is so powerful, it drives whole economies and it cannot be stopped. And then I think that the greatest men in the world were slaves or derivatives. We live to remember our ancestors in the walk of Karbala, but the stable door has long since been opened and the horses are irretrievable. And the walk will be done. So walk and listen in silence to hear voices from heaven and their messages to their tribe members, their look, their smell, their dignity. Yet, the past cannot be reconstructed. Have the lessons of Karbala been learned? They have not. On the ground people know who they are and who did what to whom with concerted efforts to stamp out truth, generations of truth in inadvertent ways, through seemingly close relations, false marriages, and usurped positions of power. The sword of Zulfiqar is yet to be retrieved, or did our Lord return it to the sky, because we are not fit to carry it or wield it over our heads. In its unsheathed state, the two sided tongued edge sword of truth and its use is symbolic of the truth we speak with the tongue, the truth we might live in our lives, the truth we spread in our life narratives as in the spirit of continuity we attempt to remember and progress. And what about our legacy? What do we have to leave for our children, except scraps of photos and family stories to make you smile? What will give the next generation meaning? Or are we so focused on technology and skills that it might not matter anymore until we forget? 1000 years later, we are greatly affected and overcome by emotion and struggle. Today my feet are heavy but the road meets them. Nods of recognition sustain me. The marks on my face feel more pronounced than usual and I know something. I know myself in them and there is comfort in that. I feel them very deeply. They are etched all over me, the lines in the palms of my hands move for them. I raise my outer veil and my scarf catches the gentle breeze. It rises and the shiffon blows. They are my life and they are me.
Today I walk on one of the oldest roads out of the city on the paved stone walkways. Scattered appearances filter in and out of view. The walk is well paced, arms swing with a recognizable vigor. There are mostly men on the road and then I see a man holding a baby in his arms and two young girls with very long arms and strong features, thin and graceful of the tribe. I feel comforted. But I notice that they do not listen. Perhaps because they do not look to see. The silence emanating from being alone has not enveloped them and so there is no cloud. I walk and I look at my borrowed shoes, shoes I bought for my daughter. For some reason she hadn’t liked them. Looking at them, I think the silver sequins might be a little over the top. Perhaps this is the reason. The sandals fit the form of my feet. As I walk, I wonder what I might hear from them today. Then I hear them. What is your dissent, they ask? State your case. Taken aback, I think about the reason for my anger without rationalizing it. Part of my anger lies in the confusion of the lack of direction of a lost page in time. But we are told when in doubt do not. And this is my stand. I do not. I cannot because the direction is not clear, it was cut down over 900 ago. I am reminded that despite the cars and the planes, people are the same and circumstances have not changed. Our issues are the exactly the same. Today, my feet sting and they feel heavy. One of my toes is swollen and pink. If at the beginning of these days I have walked to remember, then for the rest of the year I must live to remember.
I had a difficult day today and then I walked. I try to be as serene as possible. I am not going to cry and scream, nor am I going to rev up my emotions at all. I am going to walk evenly paced with a long-armed look of loyalty. I will not try to reach an emotional height. May God clothe me with delight, may God clothe me with pleasure, may God clothe me with splendor. I will not come out of the state of Ihram. But I see the material they are made of; they are made of yellow material. The essence of these perpetrators is yellow. The face of one of them came to me smiling at me last night. I still have not understood the smile.
‘Gringo,’ She said.
I should like to know the reasons people try to hide what they are made of. I am not going to self-flagellate at all. No amount of self beatings can resurrect time for me. I beat my leg once because it was out of synchronization. I felt sorry. I felt it recoil. I thank God for my legs, that they have carried me so far, over vales and hills. They are well trained and have great strength. Perhaps there is more strength in my legs than there is in the rest of my body. Perhaps. Symbolic strength. Rather I will consider what Karbala might mean for me and my life. I intend to do this quietly without offending anyone and without any noise at all to see what will come to me. I earned many gifts from them. God’s pleasure is great upon me, I think the verse goes. I will not share these moments with anyone. These are pure moments God has created for me. I am envious that God would favour any man or woman over me. I often think to myself, take what you want, you can have houses, money, beautiful dresses, but you may not have their favor over me at all. I imagine that I am very close to them. My love for them is so great that I imagine that they are apparent to me, as if they ask about me every day and I beg God, the Almighty in his magnificence that their presences will not leave me or I will be dearly lost. I understand all of them and I understand their representation generations later. Their traits are recognizable in their descendants and I imagine that I can reach their presences through their progeny. Allahuma Sali ala Saidina Mohamed. In sh’Allah, I am their delight as I was the bright light of my father’s eye. Kathar and waterfalls, streams, and rivers – the sound of running water is my comfort. When the world rejects me, the surrounds do not. When the birds flit past they tell me everything. I pray that all of creation will love me. Are we subject to our jealousies? Have we forgotten to fight our basal natures?
Isn’t this what we are supposed to do?

06/09/2020 / Harry Browne

A Lesson From The Dean by Stephen Brady

Dublin, 1729
The corridor was long and narrow, lined with doors on either side. The darkness was oppressive. Likewise the stench that filled the air, of unwashed bodies and disease. The air was filled with muffled shouts and curses.
“Well, Richard,” said the Dean. “How like you the new lodgings?”
The two men were walking slowly through the rancid corridor. Richard clutched his prayer book close and regarded his companion with a jaundiced eye.
“Sir, forgive me. I am much indebted to you for the preferment. And hope to prove myself worthy of the trust the Chancery have placed in me.”
“You wish to say something more, your tone betrays it. Say on, Richard.”
“I don’t know that I should, Your Grace.”
“Come now. I am half-deaf, so if Fortune favours you I shall not hear it.”
“Well, begging your pardon, Sir, but what you said just then. About ‘new lodgings.'”
“Yes?”
“I must say that in our conversations, I often am unsure of whether Your Grace is quite in earnest. Or if he speaks in jest.” Richard’s thin face coloured in the dimness. He was new to the situation, and could not be sure he had not overstepped his bounds.
“My dear Richard,” said the Dean, “you younger Churchmen lack a certain breadth of imagination.”
“I cannot conceive you, Sir.”
“You have not ventured to surmise that I may be doing both, and at the same time?”
Richard fell silent. He had been warned, before his arrival in this benighted city, that the Dean was of a mercurial temperament.
“Look about you, Richard.” The Dean gestured with his right hand, wherein he clutched a leathern journal. “Is this not as fine a place as any for a man to find the work which the Lord, in His wisdom, has marked for him to do?”
“Sir… I mean to say, the post of Chaplain here is a significant one. And I am honoured by Your Grace’s preferment.”
“Stop a moment, Richard. Listen.” The Dean raised a finger to his dry old lips. The two men stood a moment, Richard in some discomfiture, and listened to the muffled din.
“Beggars, “said the Dean. “Cut-purses. Whoremongers. Drunkards. Adulterers. Forgers. Weighers of scales. Rogues of every stripe! And worst of all, the authors of sedition. Could one find anywhere in the Kingdom a finer congregation, more in need of God’s holy word?”
Once more Richard was unsure of how to respond. He knew that the Dean had a name for saying what he thought, in speech and in prose – a dangerous propensity that had made him enemies across the Kingdom, and even earned him the wrath of Queen Anne. It was this redoubtable foe that had seen him confined to this degraded station. Richard did not wish his fortunes to be so infected. He chose to proceed, with care.
“Once more, Sir, I cannot say if you are speaking in earnest. But in earnest I shall answer you. I believe it a signal honour to be appointed Chaplain here. One that I will execute to the best of my powers. And if you cared not for these people, I do not think you would have founded this Institution.”
“Come, come, Richard. You must be acquainted with the scale of the task that awaits you?”
“Nothing is impossible, Your Grace, with the aid of God.”
“Indeed! Man cannot be long preserved from Virtue, as inescapable as Vice. And ever he seeks to cure one ailment with the other.”
“Then charity and prayer shall set him on the righteous path.”
“Do you then hold that men are improvable?”
“Indubitably, Sir. All men are capable of hearing God’s word and being directed thereupon to the pursuit of a Christian life.”
“All men?”
“All men, Sir, save those unfortunates whose wits have entirely deserted them. For such as these the Lord must have a different purpose, occluded to the conjectures of poor Churchmen.”
The Dean appeared to chuckle at this.
Richard clutched his Bible and looked at the floor.
“Sir, I beg your leave to ask you what has so amused you in the words I have just spoken. They were spoken in earnest. As all words on such matters as Sin and Redemption must be.”
“My dear Richard. Why do you imagine I was amused?”
“You appeared to be laughing, Sir.”
The Dean took his arm.
“There is something I must show you, Chaplain. Only upon seeing it will you truly apprehend the task that awaits you. Come.”
The Dean drew Richard down the length of the cell-block. From each door they passed came roars and curses, and odours more violent than the last. From a handful of cells only silence emanated. Richard wondered uncomfortably if those chambers were empty, or if their occupants had transferred already to an environ more rarefied.
“This place,” the Dean was saying, “is not a prison merely. There is surfeit of those, throughout the Kingdom. I envisaged an Institution where those whom the world had sent mad, the destitute of the mind, should receive bed, board, and Salvation.”
“An asylum? I have heard of such noble experiments from London.”
“Aye, sir… to venture to improve the lot of these wretches, who suffer equally in mind and body, is a noble aim. But soft! I am about to impart to you the true secret of this place.”
They had arrived at the end of the corridor, at a heavy wooden door. It was sealed with an iron bolt and a thick ring of bronze, unlike the doors to the cells before it.
“Now, look you Richard,” said the Dean, and folded his hands. He still clutched the leathern book, which, the Chaplain knew, was not a Bible but a sort of note-book in which the Dean was wont to write his thoughts. Richard was curious to look into it, and afraid to. “See you this door, here?”
“Indeed, Sir.”
“Behind this portal is the foulest cell of all. Herein, Sir, are the worst rogues in all Creation. Immeasurably worse than the unfortunates who occupy the rooms behind us! If you would truly seek to do your Office, you must face these inmates. And apprehend the true breadth of their crimes.”
A little light was admitted from a crack in the doorframe. And Pastor Richard could glimpse his Master’s face. The scurrilous scribe was old and sick. One eye was swollen, the face sallow and dotted with pox. He looked as though the gout might have settled in his bones. But the eyes, the sick and healthy ones both, still burned with that light, that troubled Richard so – that vision that saw somehow through the World, as it were a glass. And glimpsed, perhaps, some hidden truth therein. The Dean was a man to whom the world was a jest, the import of which was known to only he.
“Aye, Sir,” said Richard. “With God’s help, I will face what is beyond that door.”
“Excellent!” His masters’ good cheer had returned. “Then I shall show you at last the true face of your Office. And, should we ever meet again, I expect to taste the fruits of your gratitude!”
Before Richard could question that alarming statement, the Dean had pulled open the door, shoved him through, and pulled it shut behind him.
“Sir…!”
Richard quailed and raised his Bible. He expected to be set upon by filthy hands, and torn asunder.
But it did not occur.
It was quiet in the new cell. And it smelled less vile than the corridor. Warm air played upon his skin.
He lowered his book and looked about.
He was outside. The sun shone, low and mellow, on the verdant lawns. Blossom trees ringed the exterior. Above him the cathedral loomed, its spire framed by drifting cloud. And from the river he could hear the cries of boatmen, and the shrill entreaties of the gulls.
Blinking, he turned around. The door was shut, and there was no handle on the outside.
“Your Grace…?”
The Chaplain knocked feebly and received no answer. But he thought he heard, from somewhere deep within, the echo of a sulphurous and corrosive laughter.

28/08/2020 / Tina

More poetry by Roman Rye

Roman is a Polish-Irish artist and poet living in Dublin, Ireland, to view more of his poetry check out his Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/Verse.rye/

As Roman has said, ‘I would love to hear from others interested in Poetry, feel free to message’.

25/08/2020 / Harry Browne

A Rendition of Affection Through the Sheets from The Conduit by Brid Mary Harnett

little-girl-reading-book-in-bed-under-blanket-vector-9567355

On an odd occasion, I used to read between the sheets with the light on to avoid my aunt’s chide about late nights and lights off. Somewhere between the starched cover, the over sheet and a propped-up bolster pillow, was a ‘learn by heart’ something or other as last-minute examination preparations ensued. However, examinations have long since come and gone and dear Auntie Peg is dead. Twenty-five years later, I send my sheets to the laundry in the hope of a return somewhat characterised by a starch fresh smell and sheets that sit just right fit over the bed frame. I have a particular way of making my bed and rather methodical it is too. The sheets have to be smoothed out just right, edged with the new rose-pink woolly rug I bought, topped with the fake Louis the 16th cushions and embroidered with irksome flowers as they are. Yes indeed, this is my effort to contrive a sense of parody in the room, reflective of the more aesthetic refined aspect of my nature, or at least the nature I aspire to cultivate.

However, of late, to lie, or to be between the sheets derives many meanings. My sheets are animated with the presence of honorables in my absence. You see, I have identified the process of ionic transfer through the exploration of imprints on any given set of sheets. Much like a footprint in the sand as the physical self divines it presence and somehow becomes fossilised – not over a period of time, but rather like a wafting karma, to the extent that a trained tracker might be able to identify the wearer of the shoe, the mood of the shoe wearer and so on.

Anyway, between the sheets the process of ionic transfer is part of a larger Artificial Intelligence drive to ‘leak’ information and I speak from experience. Of course, Intelligence Officers work on the quiet in terms of withholding information and the non-divulgence of information.

The process can be delineated as follows: it is as simple as this. Let’s name the agents to facilitate understanding -Agent Carlotta and Agent Montmartre will suffice for the purposes of explanation. Well, Agent Carlotta sends the sheets to the laundry for bleaching, starching washing and ironing. Then, Agent Montmartre pays the laundry man to lie between the sheets once they are washed and ironed and speaks whatever is in his heart in the pursed confines of the in -between sheet space. The sounds and energy of the sweet nothings, chidings, advise or otherwise are trapped in the in-between sheet space, held, starched in and presto, wrapped up and returned to Agent Carlotta’s space. Agent Carlotta follows up by unwrapping the sheets, and as she makes the bed, she lies between the rustled white hew, very silently, until all messages are transmitted to the ears, eyes and mind of her listening ears and heart. This is the process of ionic transfer. It’s a hoot of an activity and done in the spirit of the best of fun. 

Imagine hypothetically receiving messages telepathically from between the sheets by a whole team and all at the same time. How sweet is that. White words from hearts clicked into awareness expounding capacity for beauty and perhaps words from a Peter Pan with a wonderful capacity for innocence. Peter Pan’s winged spirit pinned in place by circumstance – a heart carrying splendour, neither free nor stable, apprehended between the sheets. His heart is made of rose gold and that is what I saw when I looked into him – then.

Alternatively, consider this conduit method as a novel way to uphold the sweetest family connections. In fact, entire tables can be overturned using this method of communication. Sleeping in a hotel is a horrific experience, if the bedding has not been changed – a phenomena you might find in a three-star hotel. It happened that I slept in a hotel of such a calibre – in fact I could not sleep a wink, between the worlds of life and death as I dreamed of the previous resident and about what might have happened in the bed. Never again I say.

The pillow case leaked the narratives of the previous occupant.

23/07/2020 / Harry Browne

Haikus Chasing the Prompts (part 1.) Patricia Doran

Lilacs

1. FOR LILACS
Spring brings the lilac
blooms to gather, purple and white.
Who has the best scent?

George

2. FOR GEORGE (Bernard Shaw)
2.1
His Pygmalion.
Andrey could not sing a note,
she’s My Fair Lady.
2.2
Joan of Arc’s voices,
won battles to crown a King.
She burned as a witch.

Lead Mines Chimney

3. FOR BALLYCORUS MINE CHIMNEY
3.1
Warm granite is gold
glittering steps to the sky.
Ballycorus Mine.
3.2
Crowds gather in towns.
“Nothing is that important,”
said the tower’s ghost.
3.3
Daredevil climbers
cling to curving tower steps.
Old chimney chuckles.

23/07/2020 / Harry Browne

Hoovering the carpet space by Bríd Mary Harnett.

Specks of white fluff on the rectangle carpet 10ft by 5ft. Fluff and hair in a kind of woolly weave and a sandy footprint. Switch down the brush and roll away the yoga mat. Brush out the carpet fringe and see into the pattern of reticent shy blue flowers on a red background. Push across with the hoover and unwrap the flex, back and forward. The suction is not very strong, so I push down a little harder massaging the carpet knots until they are dust-free. The hoover brush veers right and I feel a sting of displeasure somehow pointing to the Ming vase. It needs to be cleaned. A little bit of glass cleaner would not go amiss there. Or maybe the yellow tone of the sting is indicative of something else? Maybe a putdown, a condescending glare or a scolding. I press into the hoover to take out the spite. It straightens. We eat on the carpet, cross-legged. I look into the food and I chew with my backbite molars to know the essence of what went into its preparation. As I eat, I think to myself that humans mark everything they possess. The dynamics of strategic moving animate the carpet design. The joy of the dance, the hand raising, the edge between grace and steely hardball mode. Each pattern on the carpet remembers a flow of life there. The illocutionary force of the most powerful words fluffs out the doctrine of the overseeing lotus. It is difficult to iron out the kinks in the carpet if I push too hard with the hoover brush, the carpet might lose its solid rectangular shape. A hierarchy of floral varieties clasps out the medaled circular middle. As my eyes flit around the carpet to see whether or not the resistant microscopic threads are hoovered away, the intertwining ivy-like stems pull seamlessly on the red background. I listen to hear what will rise from the carpet. Even the velvet wall-hanging droops and creases to hear. Today it chides me with a thorn. The patterned flowers clamour for space held by the gavel-like sceptre, perhaps the reason I don’t like to step near the middle. A crowded design I think to myself. But there is a space of heaven there where I work out. It appears to be lighter at the edge. The hoover passes over it with ease. Some days I am more focused than others in my workout, my daily level-up with myself. I puff and pant until a sweat appears in the middle of my forehead. I evaluate my form in the mirror I keep on the floor as I stretch and bend and today, I almost did the impossible. I almost stood my head, a sign that I have managed to recover a degree of mobility. Flexibility. I have to remove the flex from the socket, it’s not long enough. There is another socket beside the bookcase. The fringes don’t quite want to straighten out at the edge. I hoover in the same direction with the brush and I check that the suction is not too strong. The chair at the outer corner is staunchly propped against the door. I use it as a barre sometimes when I fall out of my standing. I hate to wobble in a one-legged stand. It’s the broken bones in my foot. I just cannot seem to sustain the pose. Maybe that is the cutting edge of the class. I have hoovered the entire surface of the carpet now. I don’t feel like hoovering underneath the carpet. Maybe tomorrow, the carpet will telltale a different story of a raised humdrum existence. The trellises of flowers at the borders of the carpet mark the definitive space where I work out -yoga style. I am contained by it. When I was young my strong forehand used to bounce the tennis ball off the tennis court. Great style they would say, but you haven’t won anything. I remember this as I extend my limbs to stretch just beyond the carpet space every day. Whirr. The carpet has been hoovered. I press the button to wind away the flex of the hoover and I switch off the orange button. I store the hoover away in the cupboard. The carpet is clean and ready for tomorrow’s class.

08/07/2020 / Harry Browne

Dark Oils by Gerard Byrne

The night was cold and the wind blew hard through the unruly trees that lined the poorly kept canal. Oliver stared at the burning embers that not so long ago, was a roaring fire. Unfortunately, he hadn’t collected enough timber to keep him going through the whole night. Drink once again making a lazy man out of him. All he had wanted to do was sit down and get drunk. Now Oliver was paying the price for his flippant behaviour as his body shivered in the cold winter air. Something kept telling him that he was going to die tonight. It was only a matter of time until the elements took him and it would all be over. No more hurting and hopefully the end of his mental anguish.

Suddenly the noise of a speeding car could be heard fast approaching. Oliver was used to joyriders at that hour of the night. As long as they left him alone, he didn’t care what trouble they got up to. The headlights lit up the small cement bridge above him as it passed over at speed. The street lights reflected off the bodywork of a small, yet beautiful red Ferrari. Oliver didn’t think much of it, until something clattered down hard onto the ground beside him. It took his eyes a moment to focus on the flat object. But as he drew nearer, it became obvious, that it was a large painting.

Oliver wasn’t into art, but this was definitely a heap of crap in his opinion. All the colours seemed to be mixed together roughly across the canvas. There was no visible shapes or features. Just a big colourful mess with a thick wooden frame holding the whole lot together. Oliver picked it up for a better look. The title on the bottom read, THE DEVIL’S ADVOCATE. None of it made any sense. But there was one thing he could be sure of. It was gonna make some pretty damn good fire wood to get him through the rest of this cold night.

He tried his best to bend the timber frame to breaking point. But each time Oliver thought it was about to give. The whole thing would just fall to the ground under his body weight. Even injuring his wrist on his third attempt. There was only one thing for it. Oliver just fired the whole picture onto the fire and sat down to watch it burn. The flames licked at the oily canvas as they tried to take hold of the new kindling. Oliver shut his eyes and tried to sleep for a few minutes. That’s all you could get around here if you were lucky.

“HELP ME OLIVER”, screamed a woman’s voice, “PLEASE HELP ME BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE”

Oliver rubbed his eyes and looked around into the darkness that surrounded him on all sides. There was no one to be seen. But that voice sounded so familiar. If she hadn’t of been dead, he would have sworn it was Linda. He put it down to a bad dream and went to close his eyes again.

Suddenly the voice called out again, “IF YOU EVER REALLY TRULY LOVED ME OLIVER. YOU’D SAVE ME”

Oliver jumped up and glanced around for the culprit. But still there was no one to be seen. Somebody was trying to make a fool of him, “I’m not in the humour for your games tonight. I don’t care who you are or what fun you think you’re having at my expense. But it ends now. Have you got that?”

There was silence once again. Oliver was beginning to doubt his own sanity. He couldn’t cope with this tonight. Not now, not ever. He drank to forget. So why was that voice haunting him again ?.

“I’m down here Robert and I’m starting to burn”, came the voice from directly below him.

Robert looked down to see the image of his dead wife, looking up from the flame covered canvas. He rubbed his eyes in disbelief and stared back down to see Linda’s face was still looking up at him from the canvas. But this time, she spoke directly to him, “please get me off the fire before it’s too late”, her innocent eyes doing more of the pleading that her words could ever even achieve.

Oliver sprang into action, sticking his hands into the fire and pulling the flame covered painting to safety. The pain in his hands was excruciating, but he fought he way through as best he could. He waved the frame around in the air until the flames went out and then threw it to the ground. Oliver looked at his badly burnt hands and fell to his knees in agony as the true extent of his injuries finally dawned on him, “oh my god. What did I just do ?”. He grabbed a nearby bottle of vodka and poured it over each hand, before roaring in agony. Oliver curled up into a ball and wished that death would take him soon. His mind was going and from what he remembered in the past from senile elderly relatives, it was a sure sign that his body and mind was on the way out. No way he wanted to end up like that.

“You’re not the man I remember”, Linda’s voice called out again.

Oliver forced his eyes open and stared in the direction of where he thought the voice was coming from, in the hope she was really there. Unfortunately, all he could see was the painting still lying on the ground. But the black burn marks that had covered the wooden frame, were now gone. None of this was making any sense to his clouded mind. He cursed the drink once more. Firing the vodka bottle into the canal, before crawling towards the painting.

He stared at the oozing canvas as the different coloured oils moved around the frame until it formed the face of his beloved Linda. She was exactly how he remembered her from all those years ago. Curly blonde hair, pale skin and deep blue mesmerising eyes that had drawn him in from the very first time he’d met her. But the rational part of his brain tried to make the old man see sense, “you’re not real. My mind must be finally going”

Linda just smiled up at him. Showing off that beautiful set of pearly whites that would have suited any toothpaste commercial, “it’s nice to see you again. Must be years now”

“Thirty eight long years my love”, he sobbed loudly as his heart ached at the memory of her death, “but this isn’t real. I must be dying of the cold or something. This can’t be happening”

Linda’s hand appeared up from the bottom of the frame and moved up the canvas. Suddenly it reached out and rubbed Oliver’s stubbly face, “this is happening my love. You can feel my warm hand on your skin. Can’t you ?”

He gently grasped the back of her hand with his own injured fingers and treasured the moment that he had wished for so many years now, “I miss you so much. I never met anyone like you again. Never found love after your death. I’ve just been going downhill ever since. Look at the state of me. I’m a wreck. You were my life and when I lost you. There was just no point in trying anymore. Would have ended it years ago if I had of been strong enough. Came close many times. Just couldn’t bring myself to do it at the last moment. I’m a failure at everything”

Linda ran her fingers up into his dirty grey hair, “you’re not a failure my dear. You’re a survivor. The reason you’re here right now and at this exact moment, is to help me when I need you most. You do want to help me ?. Don’t you ?”

Tears came to Oliver’s eyes as he never wanted this moment to end, “I’ll do anything for you love. You only have to say it”

Linda pulled him in close with her hand until his face was just above the canvas, “I knew I could rely on you”, her lips touched his and for once in a very long time, he was in heaven again.

Oliver didn’t wanted that tender moment to end anytime soon. But her hand came away from the side of his face and he sat back on the ground to take a much needed breath. He lifted the painting up and leaned it against a nearby tree stump, so that he could still look at his beautiful dead wife who was smiling back at him lovingly, “I still don’t get what’s happening here. How is any of this possible ?”

Linda just flashed her beautiful pearly white smile again, “the lord works in mysterious ways my love. He’s brought me here to you. So that you can help me with something important. You’ll be doing god’s work in a way. I remember how religious you use to be. Bet you still never miss mass ?”

He had given up on the church not long after she died. But he felt it best not to admit to that, “it’s been a while. Not exactly dressed for church these days”

Linda flicked her bouncy hair to one side, “none of that matters now. Time is of the essence and we need to move fast before it’s too late”

Oliver had no idea what she was on about, “where do you have to go ?”

She leaned forward in the painting. Her eyes strangely bulging in the sockets, “pick me up and I’ll guide the way. We need to get there before sunrise”

Two hours later, Oliver was now lost as he wandered the streets, following orders from his dead wife. Her mood slowly changing from kind and loving to bossy and controlling. He was just happy to hear her voice again. Not even the pain in his hands could ruin the moment. Soon they arrived at a large townhouse in a snobby looking part of the city. Straight away Oliver noticed that the car on the driveway was the same red Ferrari from earlier that night. None of this was making any sense to him. But he was too afraid to ask, for fear of upsetting his wife.

As they approached the large front door, Linda called out from under his arm, “put me down on the step carefully”

Oliver lowered the frame down and leaned it against the inside of the brick porch, “what’s all this about ?. Why am I bringing you here for ?. They threw you away. They don’t deserve you”

Linda’s appearance started to turn oily again, as the colours began to shift slowly, “I’m doing God’s work my love and you have as well by helping me. There’s a place in heaven for you now and I’ll be waiting for you there. Standing beside the pearly gates of heaven when you arrive. Now it’s time for you to go now. Just ring the doorbell and make yourself scarce before they answer. Can you do that for me my love?”

Oliver rubbed the oily surface of his wife’s face, in the hope he could feel her skin once more. But that sensation was now gone again, “I’ll do anything you want”, he leaned in and kissed her one last time. Linda returned the favour, but the warm contact between them, just wasn’t there anymore.

Oliver stood up and stretched his painful back, “I miss you so much”

Linda’s face had contorted even more, “we’ll meet again soon enough. Now please do as I say”

He wearily smiled and pressed the doorbell, before making a hasty exit. Never looking back as he heard the front door open and a woman scream loudly. Oliver had done his good deed and hopefully be rewarded in heaven for it.

30/06/2020 / Harry Browne

Greene’s Terminal by Stephen Brady

chimney

The stone steps curled up and up, around the bore of the ancient chimney. Morris had to rest several times on the climb. It was a fine day, and the brickwork was hot to the touch. He felt acutely the weight of the satchel, and the Nikon around his neck. By the time he was half-way up, he was red-faced and sweating. Doctor Finley would have been horrified.
To hell with him, thought Morris. He’s not here.
The brick flue towered over the ruined works, and all the streets beyond. Morris was trespassing: the fence around the site was dotted with warnings. But he no longer cared about such things. The pictures, that was all.
It was after midday when he finally reached the top. And was astonished to discover someone there.
A young man was standing at the edge of the chimney. He was skinny, dressed all in black, and had a mop of black curls. He was just standing there, right on the precipice.
Morris was unsure of what to do. He cleared his throat and said, “Hello there.”
The kid turned around. His face was narrow and pale, the eyes unfocused. He looked at Morris as though he were an apparition.
A moment passed. The wind whipped and whistled, and the young man wavered on the edge.
“You’d want to come in a bit,” said Morris. “Do yourself a mischief, standing there.”
“What are you doing here?” the young man said. A petulant twist in his voice.
“I could ask you the same thing.” Morris sat down, grimacing at the sharp pain in his side.
“My name is Morris. I came up here to take some pictures. See.” He indicated the Nikon slung around his neck. “I’m doing a book about these old chimblies. I thought this’d be a good day for it.” He paused. But he did not return the question.
“That sounds stupid,” the kid said.
“It is, probably. But sure it keeps me occupied.” He leaned over and undid the straps on the satchel. He kept his eyes on the young man the whole time. “The steps have me worn out. So I’m going to have a cuppa before I get started. Join me?”
The young man blinked, and shook his head. It was as though Morris’s words were some garble he was trying to translate into English.
“What… what?”
“Tea,” said Morris patiently. He drew a flask out of the satchel and put it down on the brick. Then he sat back (wincing again at the pain) and looked at his companion. “Sure you might as well. What harm can it do you?”
He took his old tin mug out, and went about opening the flask and pouring the tea. He kept his movements slow and fluid. Leisurely. But his mind was racing.
“Are you fucking serious?”
Morris looked back at him. He’d poured tea into the mug, and into the flask-top. He picked up the mug and pushed the plastic top away from him. “Here. While it’s hot.”
The young man frowned. It seemed he was struggling to process all this.
Finally he moved away from the edge, and sat down awkwardly on the brickwork. For a minute he just sat there cross-legged, the wind tugging at his curls. Morris poked the cup toward him with his foot.
They drank the tea, their eyes never leaving each other. Behind them the shadowed bore of the chimney gaped. The wind played there, making snatches of almost musical sound.
“Hey,” the kid grimaced. “This tastes like shit.”
“Tell me what you really think,” said Morris. “That’s builders’ tay, that is. Good for what ails you.”
His companion put the cup down and looked away, over the city.
“So,” said Morris. “I’ve told you what I’m doing up here. You haven’t returned the favour.”
“Don’t be thick,” said the kid, without inflection. “You know what I’m doing up here. I’d’ve done it by now, too, if it wasn’t for you.”
“How old are you?”
There was a long spell of quiet, and Morris didn’t think he was going to get an answer.
“Nineteen.”
“When I was your age I was in the Army. That was a rough oul’ station, let me tell you. There was times I probably thought about doing what you were going to. I didn’t though. If I did, I wouldn’t be here now, would I? Listening to you insult my tea.”
The young man looked back at him. “What the fuck are you talking about?”
“Just saying…”
“This is nothing to do with you. This is about me.”
“Of course it is.” Morris reached into his satchel and drew out a whitish object in clingfilm. “Do you want a bit of a sandwich?”
The young man eyed the package with suspicion.
“What… what kind is it?”
“Jam.”
“Ham?”
“Jam. Blackcurrant.”
Now he looked at Morris. In the eye, for the first time.”You can’t make a sandwich out of jam.”
“‘Course you can. Look, here.”
“That’s sick.”
“Don’t knock it ’til you try it.”
He proferred a piece of jam sandwich at his companion, who visibly recoiled.
“No…? Suit yourself.”
Morris ate, and sipped his tea, and looked out over the rooftops and spires to the bay. From here, you could just make out the outline of the towers at Ringsend. He thought momentarily of the photographs he could be taking.
“So,” he said, draining his mug. “We might as well come out with it. What has you up here on a grand day like this?”
“I know what you’re doing,” the youth said listlessly. “You’re gonna and try and talk me out of it. Well don’t.”
“Don’t… what?”
“Don’t try and fucking… negotiate with me. It won’t work. I’ve made up my mind. I’m doing it, okay? I’d’ve done it already if you weren’t here.”
“Yeah, you said that before.”
“Well it’s true.”
“I was just wondering what has you driven to it, that’s all. Must be something…” He was going to say “bad” and decided against it… “hard going on. Something that’s a bit of a struggle.”
“So what?” The young man sounded angry now, and Morris realised he was near tears. He tried to think. Showing emotion… was that a good sign or not?
“I’m only saying… try and take a step back. Nothing’s that important, is it?”
“What do you care? You don’t know me. You know nothing about me. And if I told you, you wouldn’t understand.”
“I might.”
“Shut up!” The young man clamped both hands to his head. Eyes shut tight, and tears flowing from them now. His whole body was shaking.
With those eyes no longer on him, Morris moved the flask and satchel out of the way. And he shuffled closer. Close enough to make a grab, if he had to.
But when his buttocks shifted to a different position on the lip of the chimney, his insides flared with agony. Morris tried to stifle his sharp in-hiss of breath, but the kid heard it. He opened his eyes again and stared at Morris from between his fingers.
“What’s up with you?”
“Me? Nothing.”
The kid lowered his hands from his eyes. “You made a noise.”
“When?”
“Just there.”
“No I didn’t.”
“You did. And you’re sweating.”
“Am I?”
“You look like shit.”
“Stop, would you.”
The kid leaned forward and studied the old man intently.
“You’re sick, aren’t you?”
“Look,” said Morris, “we’re not supposed to be talking about me. I’m not the one jumping off chimblies. We’re talking about you.”
“No, I mean it. You look fucking terrible.”
“Everybody’s a critic.”
“What’s wrong with you?”
Morris had four children, all long grown-up now. And he had nine grandchildren. And one thing he had learned in his go-round, one incontrovertible truth, was that you couldn’t lie to the young. You could try, but they saw through it every time. They were nature’s lie-detectors.
“I’ve cancer,” he said. “In me pancreas. I had it a few years ago. It went away and now it’s back, and it’s worse. I don’t have that long.”
“Jesus Christ,” the young man whispered. “You’re fucking dying?”
“I wouldn’t put it like that, but that’s the upshot of it, yeah.”
The kid looked out across the city.
“How long have you got?”
“I’ve had different answers. But probably, less than a year.”
“Fuck…”
They sat there like that, the old brickwork warm against their nethers. And looked out over the rooftops. A church bell was ringing somewhere, drowsy in the haze. For Morris, the pain began slowly to subside. But he knew it would be back, before nightfall.
He wondered if what his companion was experiencing was better, or worse. On balance, he decided, it was probably worse. You had to expect the body to let you down at some stage. But when things got into your head… well, there was no cure for that. The way the world was now, it was a wonder they weren’t all jumping from heights. All the young people. After all, what did they have ahead of them?
That didn’t matter, he decided. There was nothing ahead of Morris Greene but darkness. A black tunnel, like the chimney behind them. And here he was, taking photographs.
“I don’t want to change your mind,” he said, and his voice had lost the light, conversational tone. “If you want to jump, go on and do it. I don’t know what’s going on with you, and I don’t expect you to tell me. Just make up your mind.”
“What are you saying?”
“I’m saying jump, or don’t jump. You’ve already decided anyway.”
The young man got awkwardly to his feet. He stretched his skinny limbs, ran his hands through his hair and looked toward the edge.
“Just one thing, though.” Morris removed the camera from around his neck and laid it carefully aside. He straightened, grimacing at the pain. “If you jump, I will too.”
“Bullshit!” The kid looked horrified.
“I will.”
“No you won’t! You’re just saying that.”
Morris stood up. It took some effort, but he made it. “If you go over, I’ll be right after you. Guaranteed.”
“Bollocks!”
“I promise you.”
“Why…”
“I’m on the way out. Every day it gets worse.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“I should be thanking you, really. You gave me the idea.”
The kid looked confused now, shuffling his feet. He glanced at the edge and then looked back at Morris, his eyes full of resentment.
“And I want you to know,” said Morris, “that it’ll be your responsibility.”
“No! You’re a fucking, like, grown man. What you do is your business.”
Morris shook his head. “If you go over, so do I. It’s on you.”
“Don’t say that!”
“It’s the way it is.”
The young man straightened, and attempted defiance.
“Well I don’t care. I’ll be dead, won’t I? I’ll never know if you even did it or not.”
“That’s right,” Morris said pleasantly. “You never will.”
Very slowly, Morris sat down again. The pain had receded, ever so slightly. Keeping his eyes on his companion, he drew the satchel back to him and opened it again.
The young man grabbed his head and let out a horrid, low groan.
“What’s the matter?” asked Morris. “Can’t decide?”
“Why d’you have to show up? Why? I knew what I was gonna do!”
“Maybe you did and maybe you didn’t.”
“Shut up! You don’t know me!”
“Well… now what’s the matter with you?”
“It’s like… all my thoughts are in the middle of my head! I can’t think! It’s like my brain is being crushed!”
“It’s a big oul decision,” Morris said agreeably. “I put you on the spot, alright. Here, sit down and have a think about it.”
“I can’t think!”
“Well, sit down anyway.”
The young man lowered his hands and looked at Morris. His pale face was streaked with tears but his eyes seemed, slowly, to be swimming into focus.
“What’s your name, did you say?”
“Morris.”
“Morris…”
“Come on. Sit down and let’s think this through.”
The young man wavered. Wiped his face with his sleeve.
“Morris…?”
“What?”
“Do you really eat those sandwiches?”