Supply & Demand

The car rolled up the gravel path. Wiping his hands in his leather apron, Dak sauntered over to the stove and put a pan of water on. He poured white spirits over his stained hands at the basin, and rubbed and old rag into the deep crevices.

‘Mornin Dak, a fine one it is too’

Dak nodded at him as he walked in to his usual spot at the back of the cave, out of the sun. He put a parcel and a letter on the desk and sat down.

‘There’s a few more orders for ya today. These things are gettin quite popular with folk, ya know’

Dak brought the tea to the table and sat down opposite to Jo. He didn’t look up as he poured the tea.

‘I’m running out of stock’

Jo tilted his head upward and took a deep breath in.

‘Well, ya know, supply and demand, and all that. There’s three more orders today, and that makes seven orders outstanding, isn’t it?’

Dak nodded.

‘I want you to know that I never kill any living creature to make these pieces. I respect the life that lived in every skull and every bone I find on this land’

Jo cleared his throat.

‘Oh sure, but- supply and demand Dak. There’s money to be made here and –

He snorted and omitted a jarring laugh that made Dak grimace. It faded once he realised he was the only one amused. He slurped his tea and put it down, looking sideways in thought before starting to talk again.

‘See, these rich folk don’t know what to be doing with their money Dak. It’s the new in- thing, if ya hear me. They want them on their mantles, they want to gift them to their friends on their birthdays, you know? They want them’

Dak stared passed Jo’s head at the wall behind him. He continued.

‘The mayor’s wife was looking for a nice big one. She’ll pay big bucks’

‘Big bucks: Big skull?’

‘Exactly’, Jo guffawed

’How big? As big as her husbands fat belly?’

‘Aw come on now Dak. I’m givin you an opportunity to make some money here! And you know, I earn a pittance with the National Post. Jenny’s wedding is coming up. It’s not easy to reach the level of affair she’s aspirin to’

Dak got up from the table and walked to his bench.

‘I’ll see what I can do. I’ll finish these two by tomorrow, and I’ll have a scout around today. It’s not the right season for roadkill or hawk prey, but I’ll look.

Jo stood up and wriggled his National Postal cap back on his fat head.

‘What about catching a few rabbits in a snare, Dak? Or even a deer for the mayor’s wife?’

Dak turned and walked towards Jo quickly. He stopped abruptly when their noses almost touched.

‘What did I just say?’

He walked back to his bench and stared at the wall until Jo walked out of the cave, past him and down the path to the van. That night Dak dreamed of the Stag. He had met him several times when running in the forest as a child. Each time, the stag had stopped in his tracks and stared into his eyes, penetrating him with an intense love that he’d never experienced again.

The following morning, he lay in bed and watched the sun slide further into the front of his cave before he jumped up and set to work. It didn’t take long as he’d seen his father do it time after time. As he raised the net and tested the ropes, he recalled the morning he had stood with the village looking up into the trees, watching the stag struggling hysterically in the net. A dart pierced his neck. Even once he had given up the stag kept his gaze until the life drained out of him.

Later, Dak stood at his bench and prepared his paints. A tiny skull of a bird sat in a delicate clamp in front of him. He heard the crackling stones under the tyres of the postal van. The van door shut loudly and Dak jumped. A few steps crunched on the gravel before he heard a howl.

‘Dak, what the fuck is this? Get me down right now you fucking weirdo’

Dak’s smile slowly widened.

‘Dak? Dak are you there? Oh come on!!!

A nice big skull.

He turned. There stood the Stag, staring into Dak’s eyes.

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Flour sacks to Petticoats

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The evening’s low sun beating through the box window blinded her. All she could see was the silhouette of a humped figure, stirring like a witch with a cauldron. She could hear the flour sack swishing around the tin basin. The puffing and wheezing sent Eibhlín forward to help. But she was pushed away gently by an arm swiping the air.

Go out and catch the rest of the sun. child. Put your tunic on ye first’.

She fluttered to the corner on her tippy toes and slipped into her canvas tunic. She ran to the door and stopped for a minute to rub her moaning belly.

Granny, do you need me to go to the shop today?’ she hinted, licking her lips.

It’s drippin’ and bread, Eibhlín’

Shoulders slumped, the nymph withdrew and the door closed softly behind her.

Outside, she stood with her back resting on the door for a while feeling the sun on her face. There was no one around. Annie was off with her mother at the fishery and Sean was in big school now so he wouldn’t be on the road until later. She sligged towards the abandoned barn by the stream at the end of the row of cottages, and peered into the gaping darkness to see if there was any mischief in the making. She’d been forbidden to get inside ‘the crock’ since Annie had caught her finger under the indicator switch and lost her nail. She hadn’t cared much for the attention Annie got for her injury. It had been the best hideaway they’d ever had, and she’d spoiled it.

If I see ye near that ould banger I’ll redden ye’

Granny had only reddened her twice: once for saying a curse in school which was fair enough. It had been a bad day. The other was for kicking Jimmy Byrne hard when she was wearing her clodhoppers. He’d deserved it though, the fecker. He never left her alone and he always pretended to be her friend when she had toffee.

Eibhlín’s thoughts turned to food again. Hunger was burning her insides but she didn’t want to complain to Granny. She did her best but there hadn’t been any work at the fishery this week. She only got a day or two when they were busy or someone was sick, or even died. Like when Mary Murphy died of the consumption, after three weeks in bed. Granny got lots of work for a while, until Mary’s daughter took over the job. Eibhlín’s thoughts switched to Granny’s rattling chest. It had been going on for a while now and she refused to go to the doctor saying it was only a ‘bad dose’.

She washed clothes and linen too, for the Undertaker Cullen across on Harbour Road. Mrs. Cullen was an ould bitch and wouldn’t let her daughter play with Eibhlín because she said she had nits. Granny had been furious, and nearly burned the head off her with paraffin, just in case. She had marched Eibhlín over to their front door and announced in diplomatic tones that her child was nit-free. Granny had said that Eibhlín was never to ask to play with any of the Cullens, ever. She supposed she might get reddened for that too.

The sun was going down and the evening chill brought her back inside. She grimaced at the smell of the cabbage bubbling in a small pot on the stove. Granny was sitting by the stove darning, with her skirt thrown over her knees and legs apart, to let the heat in. The sackcloth hung on a line of twine above her, and the smell of the soapy steam was pleasant and fresh.

It’s going to be one lovely smelling petticoat. I can’t wait to wear it to mass on Sunday,’ she beamed.

Granny kept her head down but smiled. Eibhlín knew that pleased her. She knew Granny was determined to get her up and hardy, like she had promised her Daddy.  Granny worried that she wasn’t getting enough food. Darkness passed over Granny’s face and Eibhlín sensed that she was remembering that sad time. She never met her father, or any of her family, but she had overheard Granny telling the tale.  She never spoke of it to Eibhlín. Her Daddy’s name was Joe. He was only twenty two when he’d come down with pneumonia after a hard winter in the fields. She was three and her sister barely born. On his deathbed he had asked Granny to take Eibhlín and bring her up so her mammy might move off to England to start again.

‘What about little May?’ Granny had whispered squeezing his hand tightly.

I’m coming back for her’.

They’d thought it was ‘the delirium’ from the fever and said no more. Sure enough though, little May became ill and died too, just weeks later. A tear escaped and ran down Granny’s leather cheek.

Granny, I’m hungry. Can we eat now?’

Yes Child’, she muttered, slowly making her way into an upright position.

She hobbled over to the pot on the stove and added salt. Her breath caught in her chest suddenly and she exploded with a rasping cough, reaching deep into her lungs. She stood still, holding her hanky to her mouth for a moment, as if trying to prevent another attack. After a moment she stood up and took a deep breath in.

Do you want the water with it?’

Eibhlín nodded furiously. She rocked on her chair in anticipation. Granny sat down at the table putting the bowl in front of her. Eibhlín shoveled the cabbage down her throat with gusto. Not a word was spoken until the dregs were drained. Sitting for a moment and let the food settle in her stomach, her attention moved onto the hard lump of bread sitting on the board, then to Granny who caught her eye, and back to the bread. Granny smirked and pulled the bread towards her, cutting off a bit and slathering it with the dripping Mrs. Hayden had kindly dropped in the day before. She sprinkled it with sugar while Eibhlín bored holes in it with her eager eyes. It was gobbled up within a few seconds.

That’s not good for yer belly Eibhlín’

Eibhlín said nothing. She craved another piece but knew not to ask.

She was stretching up and the neighbours often commented that Eibhlín was a good girl with manners. Although Granny wanted to leave her in school for as long as she could her chest had been so bad lately she wondered how it would all end. She willed herself not to think the worst for months, but it was getting worse, and now every night brought the dreaded fever.

Eibhlín loved Fridays! Usually there was a few bob after the wages had been doled out, and they often went directly from school up the street for a few bits. If it was a very good Friday she’d get a piece of toffee from Curran’s on the corner. Granny would sit on the window ledge puffing and panting while Eibhlín ran in and queued with her tuppence. Today was Friday. Eibhlín ran to the school gates anticipating Granny standing in her usual spot with the mothers, nattering and complaining about the cost of the herrings or the weather. Her shoulders dropped when she realised Granny wasn’t there. She flitted down the ditch as fast as her heavy school shoes allowed. The church bells were ringing loud and continuously in her ears. It occurred to her that it happened only on holy days or when someone died. She picked up her pace and began to run. She wanted to see if Granny was home to tell her about the bells. Letting herself in, she saw no fire had been lit that morning. Alarm ran up through her body. A whimper rushed up her throat and escaped through her lips. Something wasn’t right.

She jumped as the latch opened suddenly. Aunty Ellen entered and looked at her blankly for a moment, as if assessing what she should do next. Sighing heavily, she scanned the cottage. She spotted a flour sack hanging on a hook by the door and took it down. Walking towards Eibhlín, she handed it to her.

Put your things in that’

‘Why? That’s for my Easter dress. Granny’s going to soak it and sew it up for me. She told me.’

Eibhlín was wide-eyed. Aunty Ellen was a cross woman with a permanent scowl. Eibhlín had always had the impression that her Granny wasn’t fond of her.

Lord save us, will ye just do what yer told so we can get on with things, girl’

She arrived at Ellen’s house to old men sitting around drinking whiskey. Women in black were huddled in groups whispering. A man she knew named Pauric kept patting her head and blowing his bulbous nose.

‘Tis a cruel old World, that’s for sure’

She walked from one end of the cottage to the other, searching for Granny between the skirts and legs. She peered up now and then, to check for Granny’s familiar smile. So many strange faces looked down at her. Some were tear-stained; others seemed wistful. She found Ellen in the kitchen stewing tea and cutting bread.

Where’s my Granny. Is she in the infirmary with the consumption?’

Aunty Ellen looked down at her. Her face softened momentarily and she pulled her up from under her arms plonking her on the table.

Now listen Eibhlín. Things have changed. You’re going to live here with me and the boys. You’ll have to be a big girl now and do as yer bid, right?’

She took a big shiny coin out from her apron pocket and put it in front of Eibhlín’s face. She smiled broadly inviting her to take it.

What about a bit of toffee, for the day that’s in it eh?’.

But-’

Her face changed quickly.

Mark my words, I won’t be pandering to ye the way your granny did. Off to the shop with ye and be grateful for what ye have’

Eibhlín grabbed the coin and jumped down from the table.

On the way back from the shop a boy from her class called Joe stopped her.

Looking for half my toffee no doubt.

Sorry for your loss’

‘What loss?’

Your Granny. Lord have mercy on her soul’

She stopped in her tracks. A surge of shock took her and her knees buckled, taking her to the ground.

Book Review: Small Island by Andrea Levy

Small IslandSmall Island by Andrea Levy

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Set in 1948, both Hortense and Gilbert’s desire for living the dream in the ‘mother Country’ land them together in their struggle to make their way in a new World. This World is not the one they thought it was and it takes time to make sense of it all. Their lives intertwine with an English couple who are also stumbling blindly through the war and the aftermath, reassessing their own moral compasses
This is, quite frankly, the best novel I’ve read in some time. Insightful and full of revelations, Levy teaches us a lessons in misconceptions of identity. Along with learning some valuable British and Jamaican history, I rejoiced in such well written characters and was immersed in the evoking plot from start to finish.
Structurally, the novel was not ordered in a traditional way. Each chapter represented the perspective of one character. They were not divided equally nor in chronological order. No, they were strategically ordered in a way to reveal each characters past and how it effected their present circumstances.
I miss this book and would love to read about these characters further on in their lives.

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The Gap by Ira Glass: some wise and inspiring words


<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/85040589″>THE GAP by Ira Glass</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/frohlocke”>Daniel Sax</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

Letting Go

let-go

As he shuffled through the dank hall, the smell of mould invaded his lungs on every tired breath. A dim bulb hung under a seventies lampshade and illuminated the years of peeling paint. The swelling carpet spillages made a sucking noise on each step he made. Through the grease-skinned kitchen he went, averting his eyes from the colonies of bacteria that were thriving in coffee mugs and old take away cartons, strewn on counter tops. Carrying on into the living room, he stepped over stacks of free newspapers from several years ago, that sat on a small sagging stool. Past a set of pots and pans, he reached the three legged coffee table that hopelessly sat on its side, protected by pristine wads of dust, anticipating a once promised makeover. The air was stagnant and silent.

He switched on the small TV in front of him that sat on a veneered bed table with wheels. His mother had used it during her last months. Sensing the afternoon temperatures coming down, he shivered and reached for his cardigan. It was a deep mustard with those sturdy rounded wooden buttons. Where the cuffs were turned up many years ago, right on the fold, it had frayed. The loose wool was wound into a little ball and pushed up the sleeve. There were, of course, hundreds of warmer cardigans and sweaters that he had picked up in one place or another. This one was different though, because it hugged him with memories of finer times. Times when his mother still lived and there were still chances of prospering and making a go of his young life. Times when he was like everyone else, with a decent job and friends, when possibilities of having a family still hung in the air. These were the days before the first depression set in, and since then, there only was before and after.

His mother had given him the cardigan one Christmas. It was the day the pottery factory closed for the holidays. After work, he’d had a few pints with the other office clerks in The Tyne. He recalled leaving the pub festively tipsy, watching people scurry from one shop to another for last minute bits. He had floated home, to his dinner set on the table before him. She had eagerly listened to tales of the evening, throwing her head back in laughter and clapping her hands in delight. A gift wrapped in red tissue caught his eye sitting on the sideboard. Ripping it open, his face and nose scrunched and he pursed his lips into a thoughtful smile.

However did she know he had been eyeing it up in the window of O’ Sullivan’s Drapery?

He had worn it to the dance on St. Stephen’s night where he met Mary, his mousy little bride to be. That was thirty years ago and now both woman had left his life.

Suddenly there was a hammering on the back window. He jumped. The loose panes of glass vibrated in their rotting frames. He stayed still, listening to his heart beat in his ears. He didn’t want to see anyone. He didn’t want to talk to any do-gooders pretending they cared. He waited tensely, without moving a muscle hoping they would go away, but the hammering continued . He scowled and raised himself up in a exasperation.

Why doesn’t everyone just mind their own bloody business,’ he roared loudly as he shuffled out of the living room.

He made his way to the kitchen where he could see an auburn nest with two big eyes peering through the dirty window of the back door.

‘Coo-eey, I know you’re in there Myles. I can smell you’

There was a chuckle and then the hammering continued.

‘Come on Pet, time for a sprinkle of Sonia goodness. I’ve brought the bleach today!’

Myles’ jaw tightened.

Aw shit! It’s that cursed woman again

His sister had insisted she hire a woman to come over every Thursday, after an emotional visit a few months earlier. Susan was one of those annoying ‘fixers’ who vowed to get Myles back on track. She meant well, he knew, but he didn’t want anyone in the house. He had conceded though, because she had wailed on about their mother wanting better for him, how she would turn in the grave if she saw the state of the family home. He scanned the kitchen. Guilt lay heavy like a rock on his already hunched shoulders. Everything hung and dripped from Myles; his fringe was long and greasy and his clothes sagged around his bowed body. His down-turned mouth said it all.

I have a key and I’m not afraid to use it. It’s bloody freezin’ out here, Pet.’

Myles opened the door and let it swing back so Sonia could enter. He bowed his head as he waited for her entrance to come crashing down upon him.

‘Right love,’ she announced, marching in with her jacket half off already.

‘I have more time today so I want to get the kitchen done.’

She swung around and faced him with a big soft smile, looking directly into his eyes. She was a tall woman in her early sixties. Despite the unruly lipstick and eyeliner, which insisted on pushing their boundaries outside the lines of conformity, she had a gentle face. She wore a pencil skirt and a black polo accompanied by shiny stilettos. Her ginger beehive sat in a coiffured arrangement, smoothed and upright. If she had shook her head vigorously it wouldn’t have budged an inch.

Myles mouth had dried up. He licked his lips and cleared his throat.

‘I don’t want you touching anything, or changing anything. Do you hear me?’

She nodded eagerly, still smiling.

‘This is my house and I don’t want you re-arranging anything. Do you understand me?’

There’s nothing for you to worry about,’ she soothed ‘Go back to what you were doing and I’ll get started in here. Have you eaten?’

No, not yet.’

Fingers pushing through his fringe, Myles made his way back through the path to his chair. His lips were pursed tightly and his forehead was wrinkled. He sat picking at his thumbnails, staring into space.

After two hours of crashing and banging and some terrible singing, the living room door swung open. Myles jumped out of his skin for the second time that day. In walked Sonia with a table cloth in hand. She stopped abruptly and scanned the room around her, jaw dropping slightly. Then she continued as if untroubled through the path, past Myles in his armchair, and over to the far corner where a forgotten oak dining table was trapped. It was between a two foot garden cherub and a king-size foam mattress bent into a U shape, somehow.

‘Now then Pet, I’ve made a bit of something to keep you going. I see there’s not much food in, and you don’t want another take away, do you?’

He didn’t look up.

Sonia wiped the table down, took two chairs out of hiding and threw on the tablecloth with one hand like a pro. She turned to face him, hand on hip, cocking her head to one side with a raised eyebrow.

No answer was forthcoming.

‘I’ve made enough for meself,’ she continued as she arranged the table, ‘so you’ll have the pleasure of my company’

She bent forward with a huge grin that was impossible to ignore, and trotted off to fetch the tea, muttering about how it would save her cooking later.

After Sonia had spent some time coaxing Myles out of his chair, they both sat eating a big bowl of stew washed down with a bottle of fine Northern ale. She had talked nonstop about herself, her sad stories of love, her daughter living down South who never called, and how she had stormed out of a call centre job last March and never looked back. Myles had not quite managed to relax but he had enjoyed listening to Sonia’s tales. He was shocked by some of them and intrigued by others. She had gone back to school to complete her A levels at fifty-five years of age – three years older than he was! With responses like ‘I see’ and ‘Oh right’ along with profuse head nodding and shaking, he had somehow made it made it through the meal. It had been some time since he had this type of interaction. He rubbed his eyes, willing himself to keep them open.

Later, swinging her coat on and checking the contents of her bag she prepared to leave. She gazed into a tiny silver compact as she applied her lipstick. She snapped it closed and looked up at him.

‘I’ll give that living room a good going over next week, Pet.’

Myles clenched his fists.

No, no you won’t be doing anything in here. Thanks, but this room is a bit more complicated’

Yes, I can see that.’ She rolled her eyes and smirked.

His lungs expanded quickly and on exhaling, his shoulders collapsed like a beaten dog accepting his fate. He wasn’t sure if he was relieved or disturbed to have Sonia bound into his life like this.

‘Ciao Myles,’ she shouted from the kitchen and he jumped for the third time that day. The back door slammed and the glass shuddered for seconds afterwards.

The work Sonia had done in the kitchen was impressive. Not only was everything sparkling but it had been arranged in a way that he thought he might just be able to work with. All his trinkets and curiosities were still there; some were nicely displayed on the dresser and others were categorised and put in boxes in cupboards. He let out a sigh and his mouth broadened into a smile. It was reassuring that Sonia shared his vision for the house. All the work he had done over the years, browsing, scavenging, even jumping into skips to search, and he had found some fantastic treasures. They all could be used he assured himself. They all have a use and the ones that don’t are collectibles, or just good looking, deserving a place on a shelf. Would she be able to do this without taking his things away from him? That was the worry. He didn’t want her taking anything away from him, violating him like that.

By the time the following Thursday arrived Myles had worked himself up to such a state of anxiety that when the door battering moment arrived he did not know what to do. So he allowed the banging and the cooing to continue until he heard the key in the lock.

‘Well, that’s not very nice,’ he heard her exclaim from the kitchen. Her voice was getting louder, and heavy plods were approaching.

‘Are you ill or summat?’ She now stood at the door of the living room with her hand on her hip, she peered at him for a few seconds.

‘You look like boiled shite. What’s wrong? Have you eaten?’

He stood up and turned towards Sonia, staying at the armchair.

What use is a clean house for me? I have no one. I have nothing. There’s no point. Don’t bother trying to help. Please, just go’

Shocked by his rush of anguish, he gasped. His shoulders began to shake until they were jerking up and down vigorously. The sobs grew louder and louder in his ears. Like a valve being released, he sobbed in grief, in fear and in desperation, drained of all hope. A drip of sweat fell from his forehead down his ashen face. Glancing down, she withdrew. The door closed softly after her.

His head dropped and he sank into his armchair. When there were no tears left he curled up, smothered in his cardigan. He stayed like that for hours until his swollen eyes had given way, and he nodded off into a heavy sleep.

When he woke, he shook his head and peered around the room. Gentle crooning from the radio filled his ears and there was a smell of warm dough wafting through the house. The fire was burning for the first time in years. The flaming logs behind the spark guard were crackling and the table in the corner was set. He shuffled over and uncovered the plate to find a home baked pot pie still warm, and a bottle of fine ale beside it. Opening a note left folded on the table, he read;

Myles Pet,

I’ve changed your bed sheets and shampooed the upstairs carpets.

See you next Thursday. Maybe we’ll get into the living room for a look.

It was signed ‘Sonia’ with a kiss.

He sat down at the table and ate. Feeling the glow on his face from the fire and the love in his tummy, Myles realised that he would have liked nothing more than for Sonia to be there with him eating and recalling stories of her past.

Yes, we’ll tackle the living room next time’

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Book Review: The Secrets of a Fire King by Kim Edwards

The Secrets of a Fire KingThe Secrets of a Fire King by Kim Edwards
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An elegant collection of short stories with unforgettable characters and engrossing plots.
The style is serene and a little slow moving in parts for me, but always worth the wait as each delves into the lives of people that are ostracized by society in some way.
The voices and points of view are beautifully developed from both strong female and male characters and this makes the collection a special one. The variation in plots, too, hold the interest for the reader. All stories have a lesson to learn although not all lessons are obvious. The need for some interpretation is done so well and seamlessly. There wasn’t one story I did not enjoy. My favourite collection of stories…TO DATE!

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