Richard and Sue have a friend called Roger. He was originally her friend from university and was best man at their wedding.
Twenty years later Roger has got himself in an undisclosed sticky situation and has asked to come and stay in their one bed flat in Tufnell Green. Three consecutive Tuesday nights are all he ‘needs’. Tonight is the first.
‘Put your bags out of the way in our room, Roger,’ says Richard. ‘And I’ll fix you a long one, you look like you need it.’
‘Not too weak,’ shouts Roger from the bedroom.
Richard is waiting with a glass when Roger returns to the lounge.
‘Thanks, Richard, that looks nice and strong to me!’
They clink glasses.
‘Still the same lumpy bed sofa, I’m afraid,’ says Richard.
Roger laughs. ‘So, where’s m’lady?’
‘Getting us a takeaway.’
And they clink their glasses again.
Sue arrives looking windswept around the front door with two brown paper takeaway bags.
‘Here she is, here she is,’ says Roger bounding towards her to give her a hug. As he holds her, Richard rescues the bags.
‘I’ll sort these.’
He glances back at them as he pops into the kitchen and Roger is still holding on.
‘You’ll have to let go of my wife, Roger, or she’ll stab you!’
‘What are you talking about, Richard?’ she says.
‘Food, my wife needs her food and nothing should get in her way!’
‘Oh, Sue, you’re not pregnant, are you?’ asks Roger, letting her go.
‘Huh? Oh God, no,’ she says, laughing.
‘Wine or beer?’ asks Richard.
‘Wine!’ they shout together.
‘Wine, it is,’ he says.
Various whiskies and two bottles of wine later, and they sit at the table in the lounge amongst the debris of empty takeaway cartons and dirty plates.
‘Shall I?’ asks Richard holding up a third bottle.
‘No, I’ve had enough. We’ve had enough,’ says Sue.
‘Two’s company, three’s a crowd!’ says Roger, laughing.
‘I’ll open it then,’ says Richard, laughing too.
‘No, don’t!’ says Sue firmly.
But he does open it. She puts her hand over her glass when he comes to pour, and he carries on pouring over her hand.
‘For fuck’s sake! Why did you do that?’
‘I thought you were being a prude.’
‘A prude? No, I’ve got work tomorrow and I don’t want to go in with a hangover.’
Roger returns with a kitchen roll from the kitchen. He tears off a sheet for Sue and uses a few other sheets to clean the table. ‘Why don’t you two lovebirds go to bed and make up? I’ll sort out the mess. And, anyway, Bertha is waiting for me,’ he says with a wink, indicating the sofa bed in the corner of the room.
‘Bertha? I’ve never heard it called that before,’ says Richard.
‘We called her Bertha when we bought her for our last student house, didn’t we, Sue?’
‘We did. A berth in a storm,’ she says.
‘Not a big girl with big cushions?’ asks Richard.
‘Get to bed, Benny Hill,’ says Roger.
Richard drains his full glass and walks off, waving back over his shoulder.
‘There is a quilt and some bedding in the bag,’ says Sue.’ ‘Do you need a hand putting Bertha down?’
‘No, no, ooh what a carry on.’
‘Is everything okay, Roger?’
‘God, yes. I could ask you the same.’
‘Watch the knife!’ shouts Richard from the bedroom.
The light is on as Richard watches Sue get into bed.
‘Our friend, why’s he here?’
She doesn’t reply.
‘And what is this mysterious ‘sticky situation’?’
‘He said ‘tricky’, not ‘sticky’.’
‘Yes, whatever. Now, can we turn the light off?’
‘What’s the magic word?’
‘Okay, I’ll do it!’ she says, getting out of bed.
He rushes and beats her to it.
Standing together in darkness by the switch he tries to kiss her but she ducks and climbs back into bed.
As Sue sleeps, Richard lies awake and remembers meeting Roger the first time. Sue was an intern and he’d just asked her out.
‘Do you mind if I bring a friend?’ she said. ‘He’s very nice. But you’ve got nothing to worry about.’
‘I’m not worr−’ but before he could finish, she pulled his head towards her and kissed him.
Everything neatly tied up there and then: her attraction for him and her lack of attraction for her friend. There was something lacking though. He remembers his handshake when they first met: soft and wet like lettuce.
It’s morning and Roger and Sue have already left. Last night’s mess is cleared. The breakfast plates and mugs are in the dishwasher and Roger has put the bedding back in the bags and turned the sofa bed back into a sofa. ‘Good man,’ thinks Richard.
In the middle of the sofa seat is a large damp spot. Richard bends down to have a closer look and puts his finger tentatively on the spot. It’s cold and sticky. He recoils, his brain notching up a gear: ‘it couldn’t be? And, anyway, if it was he’d surely try and hide it, and I’m not checking, sniffing’. But he does sniff and closes his eyes when he does, he’s not sure why. ‘Fuck!’ Fucking hell!’ He thinks about checking the bedding in the bag. It feels too much, sordid, but also straightforwardly forensic, a conclusive step down the line to confirming something he’s not sure he wants to confirm right now. But against this instinct, a stronger impulse makes him pull the sheet from the bag. The same spot is on the sheet and when he places the sheet on the sofa the spots merge in a perfect match.
The sheet, the quilt cover, the pillowcase are thrown into the washing machine. He thinks about how to clean the sofa seat and instead flips it over to reveal its dry side, and goes to have a shower.
‘Hello, anyone there?’ Roger shouts through the letterbox.
‘Just wait a minute!’
‘I’ll huff and I’ll puff.’
Richard opens the door in a dressing gown.
‘Gosh, you’ve gone all Gloria Swanson on me.’
‘The silk dressing gown, the darkened room, the curtains shutting out the day. You must tell me where you got it.’
‘Sue bought it for me.’
‘Your wonderful wife has such good taste.’
‘Make yourself at home, I’m going to get changed.’
‘Where is Sue anyway? Getting us another takeaway?’
‘Ask her yourself when she gets in.’
Richard closes the bedroom door. Roger flicks through the cd’s in the lounge and puts on David Sylvian’s ‘Brilliant Trees’. He takes a bottle of red from his bag and uncorks it. He fills three glasses and takes one of them to sit on Bertha.
Sue arrives: ‘Oh, Roger, I haven’t heard that album for ages. His voice still sounds amazing.’
Roger gets up, hands her a glass and pecks her on the cheek.
‘”Pretty boy handsome” you called him.’
‘No, that was you, Sue.’
‘Roger, it was you!’
Roger puts his arms in the air: ‘Okay, guilty as charged, it was me.’
‘Where‘s Dicky boy?’
‘Being moody and magnificent in the bedroom’
‘You tell me, Sue.’
‘This is lovely wine. Where did you get it?’
‘Changing the subject or really interested in my wine selection?’
‘Never you mind. Now, what has Richard cooked for us?’
‘Nothing I’m afraid,’ Richard says returning from the bedroom. ‘I’ve had a really busy day.’
‘Oh, okay,’ says Sue.
‘Notice the rising inflection, the stealthy lightness, the subtle but steely surprise in Sue’s voice?’
‘Don’t start, Richard’.
‘Sue finds it hard to imagine me being busy all day.’
‘Well, I don’t actually.’
‘Now, now, ladies, we all know there are shopping channels to gaze at on the telly, funny cat pictures and porn sites to surf on the net.’
‘Not my style, Roger, but very funny of you to suggest that’s how I spend my day.’
‘God, is it your time of the month or something?’
‘Yes, shut up, Richard, and have a drink,’ says Sue.
‘Okay,’ and he drains his glass in one.
‘Now that’s what I call wine appreciation,’ says Roger.
‘I’ll go and get us something from Khan’s. Leave you two to wallow in your student music.’
‘Can you make sure they put in the chutneys this time?’
‘Will do, my dearest.’
‘And get some more wine, two at least!’ shouts Roger as Richard closes the front door. ‘Now, where were we?’ he says turning to Sue.
Richard takes his time. He has three pints in Boadicea before going to Khan’s, another in Khan’s whilst he waits, and a Guinness and a chaser in the Boston Arms on the way home.
Grace Jones La Vie En Rose is on very loud in the flat when he gets back.
‘The wanderer returns,’ says Roger, now sporting Richard’s dressing gown.
Richard instinctively thinks of the spot; sheerness of material, closeness, the question of underpants: ‘You’re clothed under there?’
‘Strange question, boxers, vest and more besides.’
‘Oh, Jesus, I’m tired,’ says Richard.
‘That busy day you had,’ says Sue coming in, also in a dressing gown.
‘What’s going on?’
‘You took so long that we had showers, finished the red wine, and even had time for a chat and a bop. Now where’s the curry?’
‘Oh, shit, I left it in the Boston.’
‘I forgot, sorry.’
‘You are kidding, right?’ says Sue. ‘Go back and get them.’
‘Oh, leave him alone, Sue, You’ve got bread and cheese, and I spotted a lovely litre bottle of vodka in the freezer.’
‘You’ve been in our freezer?’ says Richard.
‘Not in it, no. But I had a peep, didn’t realise it was out of bounds,’
‘It isn’t, Roger, just ignore my husband, he’s having some kind of breakdown. Either that or he’s pissed. Which is it, Richard?’
‘A breakdown. I’m off to bed. Behave yourselves, turn out the lights after you, and try not wet the bed, Roger.’
‘What did he say?’
‘It’s Dick’s attempt at humour, Roger.’
‘I’ve left a box of tissues by Bertha or you can grab some toilet roll from the bathroom. You know where it is, out of this door and it’s the door opposite the matrimonial bedroom. Well, the only bedroom. Can’t miss it really, unless you use the other door: for the witch’s broom cupboard.’
‘Fuck off, Richard, you’re being obnoxious,’ says Sue.
‘I am, yes. Sorry. I will fuck off,’ and he slams the door after him.
In bed, Richard can hear the dull indistinct murmur of them talking, Roger’s tenor hum a consistent undertow to Sue’s voice, which becomes shriller the more she drinks. As night wears on, the laughter is more hysterical and frequent, knifing him with each spike, but eventually he falls asleep. When Sue finally climbs into bed she tries to wake him. He pretends to be in an immovable coma as she slurs ‘arsehole’, the sweaty acidic vapour of ethanol from her lips making him wince.
In the morning, Sue is unable to go to work and when Richard gets up, Roger has already gone. A bigger damp spot waits on Bertha’s seat.
‘Fuck!’ screams Richard as soon as he sees it.
Sue stirs and rolls in her bed, her senses moronically mixing in a swell, her brain like quicksand.
‘Our friend has wet the sofa,’ says Richard now standing at the end of Sue’s bed. ‘Again!’
‘I’m not talking about spraying toilet seats. Roger is a sexual incontinent and he doesn’t clear up after himself.’
Sue surfaces: ‘What are you talking about?’
‘Come and look yourself.’
‘No! Tell me what you’re talking about.’
‘Roger has been getting his kicks out on our sofa.’
‘Getting his kicks, probably by imagining you, then spurting all over the place. And not clearing up!’
‘Have you gone mad?’
‘Like a rutting dog pissing all over the place and leaving his mark: Roger has always been territorial around you.’
‘Don’t be ridiculous, Richard. Have you been at the Fabreze again?’
‘He’s not staying another night. I’m not having a man in our flat beating away like a gibbon over my wife and then not even having the courtesy to clear it up.‘
Sue laughs. ‘Which is worse, the wanking or not clearing up?’
‘Shut up, Sue. It’s not funny.’
Sue puts on her dressing gown. ‘Okay, show me.’
‘It’s not sperm,’ she says, on seeing the spot.
She feels it.
‘It’s sticky and wet, I grant you. But it’s not sperm.’
She smells it.
‘Not pleasant, but not sperm.’
‘Does all sperm smell the same? Taste the same?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘Is Roger’s different from mine, for example?’
‘God, you are a complete dick, aren’t you?’
‘You said it.’
‘Roger stained the sofa last week too. I didn’t tell you, I just turned the seat cover over to hide it.’
‘Very gallant of you.’
‘I wasn’t expecting him to do it again.’
‘No, but maybe not very hygienic just covering it up.’
‘I didn’t want to deal with it, clean it.’
‘No? But I bet you thought about it.’
‘What’s that supposed to mean? I didn’t know how exactly to clean it and I didn’t want to either.’
‘Nocturnal emissions, my mother used to call my brother’s nightly performances,’ she says, laughing.
‘I’m glad you think it’s funny.’
‘I don’t, I think you’re funny. Your whole attitude to it is funny: funny peculiar and funny ha ha.’
‘What shall we do?’
‘To clean it? It’s not rocket science. Strip off the cover and put it in the washing machine, I’m going back to bed.’
‘It doesn’t strip off. The cover doesn’t strip off.’
‘Shame. Well, good luck, I’m off to bed anyway.’
‘What shall we do about Roger?’
‘Why should I decide?’
‘Because this is your thing; I’ve told you I don’t think it’s sperm. You’re the one insisting.’
‘What if it is?’
‘Then Roger has been pleasuring himself whilst thinking about someone. And I know that someone isn’t me.’
‘Well, who is it then?’
‘Do I really have to spell it out, Richard?’
‘What? No, don’t be ridiculous.’
‘It’s me being ridiculous now, is it? Think about it for a while. I’m off to bed to kill my hangover and I’d prefer it if you left me alone.’
Sue shuts the door. Richard is left staring at Bertha, his brain beginning to spark, a heat rising from his chest and into his cheeks.
Sue is going to be late. Richard is cooking a meal laden with chilli and basil; Roger doesn’t like chilli or basil.
The doorbell rings.
‘Something smells volcanic,’ says Roger.
‘Hope it’s not too hot for you.’
‘Oh, I’m okay with hot food. Okay with basil too these days I’m glad to say.’ Roger looks round the room. ‘Where’s Bertha?’ he asks.
‘We binned her.’
‘Poor old Bertha, well, she had seen better days.’
‘And lots of action, eh?’
‘Do you mind if I have a shower?’
‘Please yourself,’ and then softly under his breath, ‘You normally do.’
‘What did you say?’
Roger returns after half an hour to find Richard pumping up an airbed.
‘Looks interesting, I didn’t know you were so good at pumping.’
‘Never could have imagined it, eh? And why do you sound like a poor man’s Larry Grayson all of a sudden?’
‘I’ve found my inner −’
‘Ken Dodd, very 70s!’
‘And Larry Grayson isn’t? The new bed: is it rubber? It smells disgusting.’
‘Good for spillages and whatnots.’
‘Whatnots, what a lovely phrase, I haven’t heard it since scout camp.’
‘Camp is the word. Something you’re not telling us, Roger?’
‘Enough Tom and Jerry, let’s cut to the chase, Dick my boy.’
‘I’m pissed off that you’ve been wanking all over our sofa imagining God knows what and then not clearing up after you.’
‘Ah, that! I’m insulted you think I wouldn’t clean ‘that’ up . . . I have a condition, a serious but curable condition. I’ve been going to the Royal Free to see a specialist and to have my post-op dressings and apparatus changed.’
‘Don’t ask. I’ll be okay.’
‘And the mess?’ asks Richard warily.
‘Gel, a silicone wound gel. I should have cleaned it I know but I was afraid to make it worse.’
‘You could have tried or said something, at least.’
‘I’m a lazy coward and I didn’t want to worry you both.’
‘Well, you did make us worry.’
‘And fired your imagination, it seems. Have you shared your masturbatory theories with Sue?’
‘She thought I was being ridiculous.’
‘Good old Sue.’
‘It feels silly now, getting rid of Bertha and everything.’
‘You needed to get rid of her.’
‘A glass of wine?’
‘Do I ever say no?’
‘Okay with your condition?’
‘Positively beneficial to my condition.’
The front door opens.
‘What have you two been getting up to?’ Sue asks.
After dinner, the three friends sit on the remaining sofa facing the slowly collapsing airbed.
‘I can sleep on the floor.’
‘Or share our bed?’ says Sue, giggling.
‘As long as I wear a wetsuit, eh, Richard? Or maybe that would look too much like bondage gear?’
‘Richard likes bondage gear, he made me wear a leather catsuit and cat mask on our honeymoon.’
‘Very feline of you, Richard,’ says Roger.
Richard looks at him as the last of the air escapes from the bed and wonders if he’d been lying about his condition. Somehow it doesn’t seem to matter anymore. Roger is laughing and his features look red and coarse as if his face has been burnt by something. Richard wants to cool the heat by running his fingers down his cheeks but realises his hands are hot too. ‘It must be the chilli’, he thinks, and gets up to open another bottle of wine.
Alan McCormick lives by the sea in Dorset, England. His short stories have won various prizes and his fiction has been widely published in print and online. His story, Go Wild in the Country, was in Salt’s Best British Short Stories 2015. His short story collection, Dogsbodies and Scumsters, was long-listed for the 2012 Edge Hill Prize.
He also writes Scumsters, flash fiction in response to pictures by the artist Jonny Voss, and is currently working on the second draft of Holes, his first book of non-fiction. More about Alan.
A few weeks after Charlotte left her boyfriend she selected a celebratory handbag but discovered her credit card was missing from her purse. Kenneth had been raw, scented and occasionally violent, in a way that had marshalled her into passionate submission. She had finally seen that he was an inconsiderate bully, badly programmed as a child.
She checked online and found that forty-two pounds remained in her account, and the other three thousand had been spent or withdrawn over the past few days. She was livid. This was hard won holiday money she might have spent with Kenneth on Corfu, clubbing and staying at a beach hotel and drinking cocktails every night. She wouldn’t have minded paying for him before, but now she was planning a trip to Norway on the fjords - alone - with her new, non-existent handbag. Did he think she was stupid?
She parked outside his block and pressed his buzzer. No answer. She pressed again, long and relentless, remembering how she used to stand burning right here, how once she had gathered a bag of rose petals from the park and cast these on his bed sheets where they had made spellbinding love.
Kenneth leaned out over the railing, bare-chested, his dreads cast down. That mane she used to love was now so scrappy.
‘Kenneth, I need to talk.’
‘I'm coming up.’
She dragged her body up the stairwell. He let her in. She had already bolted herself up tight so that his long lean abdomen and those loose drawstring pants would have no effect upon her. She felt a little undone, but thought she was doing fine. Kenneth said he would make her a cup of tea and, although there was no evidence, Charlotte knew the presence of another woman was on display. That noisy woman had been subdued by the magnified, timeless moments of intimacy when she had groaned, like Charlotte, like a cat.
‘Did you take my credit card Kenneth?’ Charlotte called out to the kitchenette. ‘The money’s all gone.’
‘Give it me.’
‘Don’t have your credit card, Charlotte.’
He came and sat next to where she was hunched on the couch. Charlotte cupped her hot tea. Kenneth lolled back and his hand reached out, making warm contact with her back. She felt the journey of his hand, the architecture of the bones, the electric impulses on their travels out from his brain, his bitten-down nails and the bustling transport of his blood.
‘Don't touch me,’ she said.
She splashed the tea all over him and his grimy couch.
Charlotte did not go to Norway. She did not buy the overpriced handbag, inappropriate for a fjord cruise anyway. Kenneth’s cries had brought a neighbour running to the front door and rushing inside. Charlotte had never seen this woman before. Much older, with loose clothing, loose breasts, but a firm high rump that stood up challengingly. She looked past Charlotte at Kenneth clutching his stomach. Charlotte was now appalled by what she had done and Kenneth’s moans had tapered off.
‘Kenneth! What’s happened to you?’
Kenneth pulled himself up, retrieved the empty cup Charlotte had tossed at him, told this woman he had been clumsy enough to spill his tea.
‘Doreen, Charlotte. Charlotte, Doreen.’
Doreen marched out with her large bottom following close behind. When the door slammed Charlotte sat there for a full minute. Then her hand crawled over and untied Kenneth’s trousers. She got onto her knees and hiked up her dress and steered herself over his exultant instrument; gasped at its clean plunging. Their eyes careered into each other.
After making love they slept. Leaving Kenneth had truly exhausted Charlotte’s body. Her desire and her reason had thrashed together these last weeks; she had lost weight and her colleagues had become concerned. But now, in the bedroom, enveloped in Kenneth’s scent and arms and skin, Charlotte unpicked her rationale. She could easily earn the money again. They would go to Corfu and stay by the beach. She kissed his forehead with its light film of grease after his exertions, marvelling at the way he could drop into slumber the way a bird cruised off a cliff. She wanted to crawl into his dreams.
On the way back from the bathroom Charlotte saw Kenneth’s stuffed wallet on a shelf above the bed. It was at eye height, next to another book he had never read, inviting her to rifle through and prove one of them honest, the other a disbeliever.
She looked over the composition of their bodies, hers nude and standing, his folded in shades of beauty. She stared at the wallet.
Kenneth’s eyes opened.
Catherine McNamara grew up in Sydney, ran away to Paris at twenty-one to write, and ended up in West Africa running a bar. Her collection Pelt and Other Stories was long-listed for the Frank O’Connor Award and semi-finalist in the Hudson Prize. Her work has been Pushcart-nominated and published widely in the U.K. and Europe. She lives in Italy.
‘D’you know what I’m going to tell you,’ declared my father, sweeping the window for the umpteenth time with a folded-up newspaper, ‘if you were to hold up a single pane of glass no bigger than that hand there inside of Windsor Park, do you know what it is? There’d be one bloody fly would go banging its head again it all day long, so there would…’
Mother was less than impressed. His exertions had already overturned one geranium pot. ‘Can’t you leave it find its own way out, Seamus?’
‘If it would, believe me, I’d be delighted to.’ He caught me smirking at my twin sister, Dee. We’d have been seven that summer; the summer they burned Bombay St. Da thought about it, then fired Dee a sneaky wink. ‘Did you ever see a more obstinately stupid animal than a fly?’
‘Aye,’ muttered Mother. ‘I married one, so I did.’ She’d been going through the clothes myself and Dee had packed, tossing some out onto the sofa, folding others in in their place. Jack was watching it all silently from the doorway. He wasn’t going with myself and Dee to stay with the Hamiltons. Jack was going down to Dublin, to stay with Da’s relatives. He was old enough to go on his own. Earlier, he’d shown myself and Dee the ticket for the afternoon train.
‘Would you not squash it and be done with it?’ The more agitated my mother grew, the more East Belfast her accent became; whereas Da’s pantomimes were always pure Liberties.
‘And leave a smudge on the new pane of glass, is it? For the life of me I can’t see why you bothered your Barney having it replaced…’ Another lunge; another geranium teetered. He made a grab for the plant, but his fingers were clumsy and it was their attempt to right the pot that sent it over the edge. It bounced once, overturned, and spewed muck over the carpet.
‘Oh for Christ’s sake, Seamus!’
‘What?’ He frowned. ‘Tsst. Sorry about your precious carpet!’
‘You might help me with these, instead of chasing that blooming fly all around the house.’ A-rind the hice, her vowels were that sharp by now.
‘Alright. Alright.’ Kneeling up, he lifted the pot, tested the crack with his thumb. ‘As you wish. a ghrá mo chroí.’ He set the geranium upright on the floor and began to flick the crumbs of soil onto one huge palm, and from there back under the leaves. We could all see he was making twice the mess he was clearing. Jack was taking it all in from the door. He’d packed his own suitcase the night before.
‘Ach leave it! I’ll do it!’ snapped Mother. Her words made Father redouble the speed of his efforts. ‘It’s alright, it’s done now.’ It wasn’t half-done, so Jack disappeared and came back with the dustpan. Dee had gone over to the sofa. Leafing through the mound of discards, she pulled out her favourite dungarees.
The fly snarled through the air in an elaborate S-bend, then set to butting the central windowpane again and again, ignoring the open one to the side. ‘Christ,’ whispered our Da, still on his knees, ‘if there’s one animal I can’t abide, it’s a fly in the house.’
‘I’m taking these with me Ma,’ said Dee. Like bunting, she’d trailed the dungarees from the clothes pile as far as her suitcase, and was seeing where they could fit. Her case had about twice the amount of stuff mine had.
‘You are not taking those with you. What would Auntie Rose think?’
Upon the mention of Auntie Rose, Da knelt suddenly up, eyes indignant. He was on the point of saying something choice about the Hamiltons and their Protestant notions. ‘Hey Da,’ interrupted Jack, ‘how come they don’t do themselves brain-damage, with all their head-banging?’ Father peered at Jack, as though surprised to find him squatting there in front of him with the dustpan. ‘What? Who has brain-damage?’
‘The fly!’ Da looked briefly at him, and had turned back towards Mother, about to let fly. But Jack pressed on. ‘Would you listen to the bollox…’
Now, we’d never been allowed to use bad language in the house. Never. Myself and Dee stared at one another. Mother froze. Then Da’s hand shot out and caught Jack square in the mouth. He yelped. Hands to his face he looked at Ma. She tugged the dungarees from Dee’s hands and said, in a calm voice, ‘I want no more nonsense out of you young lady. Finish your packing, the pair of you. It’s not a blooming helicopter we have.’
It was years later that I came to understand that scene. It was years later I realised why they wouldn’t let us stay on in that street any longer; why Jack had said what he had said.
David Butler is a novelist, poet and playwright. His most recent novel City of Dis was shortlisted for the Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year 2015, while his short story ‘Taylor Keith’ won the Fish International Short Story Prize in 2014. Other publications include the novel The Judas Kiss (2012), the poetry collection Via Crucis (2011) and the short story collection No Greater Love (2013).
Satadru Sovan Banduri
Night passes by my heart
Morning rings the bell
last night in Net
I lost my heart
Medium :Acrylic on canvas , 49 x 62 Inches
my voyage 4 u has begun to blur the alley of mirage
Medium : Acrylic on canvas , 77 x 49 Inches
Eternal flames have thou set me on, Beloved
unseen [occult] 2
Body chisel gushing through shapeless mounds of gratifying inclination
22 x 22 dimension3 inch
Almighty drench me in the colours of cosmos…
receiving and seeing ...moving in motion
Medium :Triptych round LED translit print 24 x 24 ,18 x 18 & 12 x 12 Inches
crystals spin the light, looms new rainbows in the air...
Medium :Acrylic on Paper 12x 12 Inches
Chant of the profiling.. have to be ...."Cyber -chic"
Medium : Acrylic on canvas 67.5 x 49.5 Inches
Satadru Sovan Banduri
In terms of technique, Satadru is a multi-disciplinary artist – equally at home painting large canvases, creating his own performance art, or creating his light installations.
Having gained his degree and masters in painting from the renowned Santiniketan in 2000, he received the prestigious Fulbright Scholarship at the University of California. It was here, while majoring in Digital and New Media, that he also developed his obsession and understanding of light across creative forms – from painting, to animation and movies and theatre. This understanding is evident in his work shown here. In his striking circular LED installations from his experimentations with the South Asian gender narrative, Satadru combines materials, imagery and light and shape in bringing to life his post cyber movement perceptions. Different works incorporate glass etching, digital imagery and painting, and light refracting glass beads.
Satadru is the recipient of several awards and residencies and his work has also been bought by famous contemporary collectors as well Schema Art Museum ,Korea. He has a strong international exhibition history having shown his work many times in the USA (including the Lincoln Centre in New York, and The Museum of Art and History in Santa Cruz as well Schema Art Museum ,Korea), Malaysia,Korea ,Iran ,Hong Kong, South Africa, Vietnam, Iran and Germany. He has also participated in the Biennales in Iran, Cheongju Internatinal craft Biennale ,Pune and Athens. His work also showcase international art fair THAT ART FAIR, Cape Town, South Africa,Cheongju Internatinal Art Fair South Korea,Joburg Art Fair at South Africa ,United Art Fair Delhi,Art Fair Cologne Paper Art, Cologne Germany,Art Expo MALAYSIA and Indian Art Summit, India.He did many performance as well workshop at Vietnam ,Korea , South Africa , Nepal, India and Bangladesh . Cultural program on cheongju Korea published his performance CD .
He can be reached at email@example.com.
The Lizard's Lifestyle
I am the lizard at the peak of my prowess
in the morning made of burnt skies.
I strode across the long tendrils to the far end of the field
and basked in the polish-shine of day.
My tongue had seizures. The milkiness
of your hatching flies surrounded and I gorged.
Walking crooked, jumping backward,
I fooled the neophyte born.
The night sky was my house, black all the way.
Sparkles would come. I, their beckoner.
I lived green, blending in, and flourished,
super-abound in the slight, invisible among the gruff verdant fields
now drenched in day. The noon sun drifted along with me.
I rode its tail, feeling its fiery legs burning onward.
It will carry me again to the night where I will continue to thrive
in this vivid world of repeating light and dark.
The night sky my house, black all the way.
Heath Brougher is the poetry editor of Five 2 One Magazine. He has published one chapbook, A Curmudgeon Is Born(Yellow Chair Press, 2016). His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Diverse Voices Quarterly, Chiron Review, SLAB, Main Street Rag, Crack the Spine, Lakeview, MiPOesias, Blue Mountain Review, Gold Dust, eFiction India, and elsewhere. When not writing he helps with the charity Paws Soup Kitchen which gives out free dog/cat food to low income households with pets.
Featured Artist - Shehanas C.K.
Shehanas.C.K is an Indian artist formally
Educated in art and crafts in Mahe. She holds a B.A
Degree in English from Periyar University and a Four-
Years Diploma in Art (painting) and Crafts from
Barathiyar Palkali Koodam, Pondicherry University.
Her paintings have been selected for the
International Eminent Modern Art exhibition in Vietnam.
Her collections of paintings are already sold in Delhi,
Japan,Denmark, America, Australia,Bahrain and so on.
Her art work was featured as the cover image of the August 2016 issue of Lakeview International Journal of literature and Arts. More of her works were featured in the journal's Visual Arts section.
She is a mehndi and dress designer as well, with clients from various parts of the world.
She can be contacted through the Strands 'contact' page or email.
One talks of films and death.
Another listens to his heart.
Another is editing his own breath.
Another waits for his body to fall apart.
One talks of intimate matters
to innocent ears. One opens his mouth
to pour out a stream of incoherent letters
written in a friendless house.
One talks of starvation and disease
among birches. Another rides
horses in a circle of lush trees
where a terrible demon abides.
One parses a list of documents
while another dreams and yet another strolls
down a quiet street between events
clutching an account-book of lost souls.
One weeps, another does not.
Another’s mind goes blank.
One must conduct an exercise
where the living march in rank.
There are ghosts in town tonight.
Let the mayor compose a speech.
Let him be effusive, his smile bright.
Let him speak to those words cannot reach.
One must run an orderly town.
One must pay bills while another must beg.
Another must put on a dressing gown
before boiling an egg.
This is a film. This is a body. This
the script and commentary.
This is the moment of paralysis.
This is nothing. This is memory.
George Szirtes was born in Budapest in 1948 and came to England as a refugee with his parents and younger brother following the Hungarian Uprising of 1956. He grew up in London and trained as a painter in Leeds and London. He is the author of some fifteen books of poetry, roughly the same of translation from Hungarian, and a few miscellaneous other books. His first, The Slant Door (1979) was joint winner of the Faber Memorial Prize. In 2004 he won the T S Eliot Prize for Reel, and was shortlisted for the prize again in 2009 for The Burning of the Books and for Bad Machine (2013). There were a number of other awards between. Bloodaxe published his New and Collected Poems in 2008. His translations from Hungarian have won international prizes, including the Best Translated Book Award in the USA for László Krasznahorkai’s Satantango (2013) and his latest book for children, In the Land of the Giants won the CLPE Prize for best collection of poetry for children, also in 2013. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in the UK and of the Szécheny Academy of Arts and Letters in Hungary. He is married to painter, Clarissa Upchurch and recently retired from teaching at the University of East Anglia. For a fuller CV see his website at georgeszirtes.blogspot.co.uk
His latest book Mapping the Delta is scheduled for publication on October 20, 2016 (Bloodaxe), and it is Poetry Book Society Choice for the winter.
The Moon Dream
The moon stares
over the cold mountains
and the dying dusk
in the background.
The leafless skeletons
of chinar trees
haunt the grey sky
in search of lost souls,
when the wind makes
a moaning sound
and sleepless dreams
wander, looking for
There are no stars tonight,
the clouds look like phantoms,
much like these dreams
of molten terracotta; fluidic.
Far below on the earth,
point their fingers at the moon,
asking for it.
The grownups fret and fume
at these childish squabbles;
the children fall asleep
with smiles on their faces.
They dream of a madman
breaking the moon
into a thousand quicksilver balls
on the surface of water in his bowl.
Mohammed Zahid’s first collection of poems is The Pheromone Trail, (Cyberwit, 2013). He has read his poems at Guntur International Poetry Festival 2012, and Hyderabad Literary Festivals (2010, 2013). He is featured in TIMESCAPES, a poetry collection of 22 Indian poets, by Unisun Publications and Reliance Timeout.
His poetry has appeared in peer reviewed journals like The Four Quarters Magazine, Maulana Azad Journal of English Language & Literature of MANUU Hyderabad, Lakeview International Journal of Literature and Arts, and Spilling Cocoa Over Martin Amis. He won the Unisun Publications Reliance Timeout Poetry award in 2010 for his poem Amante Egare.
His own poems in English language and poetry translations from Kashmiri and Urdu feature in Sheeraza, a journal from Academy of Art, Culture and Languages, Srinagar, Kashmir. A major translation work by him on the criticism of Kashmiri poetry is being published shortly by the academy.
He is a Translation Editor of Lakeview International Journal of Literature and Arts.
‘Letting Go’ by Angela Topping
by Maria Heath Beckett
Angela Topping has written her readers a wonderful collection of poems which touch the reader both through evoking her childhood and experiences connected with motherhood, and also by somehow triggering comparisons with our own childhood, perhaps even offering us a sense of an alternative.
We grow up not really knowing how other family lives play out, day to day reality often kept behind the scenes, and the 'stage' on view to the world set with more carefully arranged furniture. Moreover, the interior side of family, the quotidian activities of baking and polishing, for example, have not always been seen as subjects of literature, so we do not always get a real picture of how other families pass their time and interact, and Topping's work is valuable, with this in mind, for her honest and detailed depictions.
I have often felt certain, moreover, that parenthood merits a kind of philosophy, such are the interesting nuances of family and the interplay with society. Family, however, defies philosophy in many ways, in that core experiences often surpass logical discussion, such a the bonding of mother and baby, the grief felt on the death of a loved one, the anxiety of illness or anguished child, and it is into that space that Angela Topping steps with her wonderful poems, finding in poetry the way to explore the depths of love, separation, death and grief, and embody the values at the heart of her family life as child and then mother.
Love, loyalty and shared endeavour shine through these poems, which work both as flawless crystallisation of emotional experience, and yet windows onto deep, raw sentiment. There is a skill to this method, to making the well hewn seem effortless, and Angela Topping has achieved this in her set of poems about 'Letting Go,' a fitting title given that many of the poems explore a facet of letting go, such as daughter prepared for marriage, or the death of a parent, or the sense, even on the birth of a child, that they are passing through and they are a gift but not a possession.
Turning to some of the specific poems, there are many examples of real affection between the poet and her mother and father, for example, in the poem, Sitting with Dad, the comfort of the words:
'I curl up snug behind
the shelter of his back,
snuff the warm scent of him.'
I like the way that the scenes described integrate the father into the domestic space, as we read about him baking, in the poem Pies, placing father in a kitchen setting (and this is going back a few decades) revelling in the deft 'artistry' of his work as he rolls out the pastry, 'a line of flour' on his jumper from rolling out. The alliterative description of the blackberries as 'plump with pleasure', works really well and the 'boozy juices' and 'large slices' convey an ambiance of generosity and abundance. We also see father engaged in other domestic activities such as cutting cheese and polishing, the brass polishing activity clearly a family activity fondly remembered. As a contrast we have the poem, Players Navy Cut, referring to smoking as his way of being 'carefree,' one of many poems that really seem attuned to the true natures of the loved ones described...
It is striking how the family are able to embody their material world with higher values and purpose, just as the poet then imbues the details and events recalled with a kind of essence, somehow incarnating attitudes we could call spiritual, and can certainly class as spirited and deeply humane.
I love the way the fluffy angora baby coat 'glows like a candle flame' (in Bildungsroman) whilst embodying tenderness: 'Mother says, "Keep it on; it's cold out." And then the discovery of mother's handbag, the jewellery box and the dresses clues that both reveal the character of her mother and lead a path between toddlerhood and adulthood, as we have a sense of Topping working out her own identity separate from family, turning 'this way and that', for example, to capture starlet poses in the looking glass. Later, the sense of distance is conveyed in the line, 'I had no TARDIS to travel back to myself.' This is just one of the losses experienced in the poem - the inevitable letting go of the person you were before, together with the world that nurtured you into the person you become - reflected on with a touching grace and acceptance, thus leaving the way open to engage with the unfolding present.
The poems in Topping's collection are excellent examples of 'showing', (instead of spoon-feeding the reader with over-interpretation) and the reader has plenty of space to fill in gaps and extend from these nuggets to a wide, subtle picture of the lives portrayed. Grief, for example, suffuses later poems but is not over-stated, paying respect then to that side of emotion that is somehow felt, and physical and not easy to translate into language. There is a world beyond the one we can meaningfully express in words. Nonetheless the effort to traverse the gap between emotion and an aesthetic written parallel is without a doubt worthwhile, and I feel privileged to take part with this poet in that traversing and the beautiful poetic works to have emerged from her heartfelt, sincere endeavour.
This is a collection I highly recommend, not only for lovers of poetry, but also to give out as a gift to family and friends, which would really be cherished. My copy will remain to hand in my family home, a source of comfort, solace and inspiration.
Angela Topping is the auther of eight poetry collections and four pamphlets. Her work has won prizes, been set for A level and is regularly featured on Poetry Please. Her most recent collection after Letting Go (Mother's Milk Books) is The Five Petals of Elderflower (Red Squirrel Press). In 2013, she was writer in residence at Gladstone's Library.
Maria Heath Beckett was born in North Yorkshire and currently lives in London, UK. Maria has been writing for many years and is now finishing two novels and a memoir and collating her first poetry collections. Some of her writing has been published in magazines and anthologies, such as Tumbleweed Hotel Volume 1 (ed. George Whitman) and In The Company of Poets (Torriano Poets). She has recently had a narrative poem of several pages accepted for an anthology entitled, The Eternal Snow, publisher - Nirala Publications.
by Prathap Kamath
How good is Perumal Murugan’s One Part Woman (Madhorubhagan, 2010)) as a novel? Considering the amount of energy spent on the controversy it originated, this question may occur as redundant. Why take heed of a novel, even if to take moral offence of its propositions, if it is not good enough for serious consideration! Underground or substandard literatures abound in severer heresies and blasphemies. But who cares! So, Murugan’s novel’s claim to significance is undisputable, also given that even the learned judges of Madras High Court have attested to its noteworthiness in their eloquent judgement. Its literary merit has been endorsed earlier by the awards it had won during the time before the controversy erupted. That Penguin chose to publish its translation in English itself is enough to authenticate its merit. Therefore the original question might be discussed only on the slippery grounds of critical impressionism, and the bailout would only be the claim that all judgements are primarily cradled on personal impressions.
A critical judgement on a novel’s generic “goodness” would be conditioned by the reader’s aesthetic expectations and also by his/her criterion of its significance. I shall base my judgement here on Murugan’s novel in the light of two criteria, one aesthetic and the other, its significance. I limit my aesthetic criterion to its unity of impression or effect, and my criterion of significance to the relevance of its theme.
I believe that One Part Woman is an instance of technical failure. That is, it would have been much palatable aesthetically had the author chosen to weed out its redundant and fortuitous passages. Because of their presence the novel reads as disorganized and insufficiently processed. Its readers would have felt impatient with the digressions he resorts to from the moment Ponna begins her fatal journey to the temple at Chapter 22 till the narration of the ‘climax’ she and the novel reaches at Chapter 32 with her falling head over heels for her god/paramour. This journey is the turning point in her as well as the novel’s life, and the novel has reached this point after convincingly building upon the circumstances that have led her to this juncture of moral compromise. This is when the spectre of logorrhoea possesses Murugan; it seems that his need to increase word count overcomes his sense of narrative economy. This malady grips him at a time when he has pushed the reader to the acme of suspense so much so that his/her yearning for relief from its tension is at its peak. Now, the only thing the reader would want to know is if she actually succumbs to the call to mate with a stranger. But Murugan makes you feel as if having to stand waiting in front of the loo for the insider to get out (and it seems he would never) with your bladder full to the point of bursting. Or was Murugan just yielding his sense of proportions to the market needs of the publisher? I prefer to believe in the latter reason. Thus, the novel falls short of delivering its aesthetic promise because of this avoidable clumsiness of craft. Its translated version cannot be evidenced for the quality of Murugan’s language, though Anirudhan Vasudevan, the translator, needs to be appreciated for encasing it well into the English idiom. Murugan’s eye for the details of agrarian rural life and culture is commendable and happens to be the saving grace of the novel.
Murugan’s motivation to write the novel seems to have been more to cash in on the sensational ritual that had supposedly existed at the Tiruchengode Ardhanareeswara temple than on representing the existential agonies of childlessness. The latter, though a universal theme and has caused agony of varying kind and degree contingent on its socio-cultural context, is clichéd as a subject for a contemporary novel unless some peculiar effects of it validates its selection for novelistic treatment in the present. Thus, for instance, it may be evoked to consider the problems of asexual surrogacy which is a contemporary reality in the wake of scientific invention. This factual base in reality is necessary for treating a social subject in a novel that makes no claims of being a fantasy like Harry Potter. Therefore, the thematic significance of One Part Woman should be grounded on the historicity of the said orgiastic ritual that licenses Ponna’s deviation into adultery. Murugan had reportedly written a preface to its original version in Tamil claiming that he possessed documentary evidence of the said ritual. (Interestingly, Penguin did not include this preface in the English translation.) However, he failed to produce the evidence at the peace meeting initiated by government officials at Thiruchengode consequent on the agitations against the novel. The judgement of the High Court assumes that Murugan was coerced into making an apology at the meeting by the violence taking place because of him. However, there is no denying the fact that the practice at the temple in which childless women mated with strangers for begetting child had not existed in the modern times. It has been anachronistically thrusted on the fictive events located in the 1940s in the novel. That which provoked the protests is the author’s unsubstantiated claim regarding the practice’s existence in the novelistic time of 1940s. This might be compared to a situation in which a novel claims within a realistic framework that sati (banned in 1861) was being practised in the mid twentieth-century Kerala or Tamil Nadu with public sanction. Only Murugan’s claim is worse considering the slur it castes on women’s morality. It would have been a greater artistic challenge for him to frame the ritual in his novel within its original historical context. But he chose the easier way by cheating on the reader’s trust in his claims.
Prathap Kamath is Associate Professor of English at Sree Narayana College, Kollam affiliated to University of Kerala. He has published two books in English: Ekalavya: a book of poems (2012, Rochak Publishing) and Blood Rain and Other Stories (2014, LiFi, Delhi). He writes in Malayalam too, and has published in it two short story collections.
Flash Fiction by V.M. Devadas
Translated from Malayalam ('Maanthrikappizhavu') to English by Minu Varghese
The magician was wiping the sweat off his face, seated on a chair backstage after the show, when I approached him. I showed him my identity card from the periodical I work for and shook his hands. When I told him that I wanted to interview him, the magician tried to evade me saying he was the least bit interested in interviews.
'I will not take much time. I want to know only one thing. You can answer me as briefly as you like.'
'Okay then. Go ahead.'
'In your magic performances, you never use birds or animals. I have seen other magicians using rabbits, parrots, sparrows, pigeons, rats and even snakes whose fangs are pulled out. Why do you avoid them?'
'You have observed it right. I never use birds or animals on stage. The birds and animals get killed at times, when as part of completing the act it requires the killing; or by mistake, or when the bird or animal in question refuses to stay tamed. I dare not use them in my shows for this reason. In fact there is an incident that led me to this decision. While I was learning magic, I bought two rabbit kits from the market for my master’s shows. On my way back I walked into a movie theatre with the basket containing the kits. It was the premiere of my favourite hero’s latest movie and it was full house. I forgot to take the basket while leaving the theatre after the show. I remembered about it only when nearing the house of my master. I rushed back but as the next show had begun there was no way but to wait outside till the end of it. By the time I managed to retrieve the basket, the poor animals had succumbed to their fate. I still cannot figure out the exact reason why this happened, whether it was the air conditioning in the theatre or the crowd stepping on them that caused their death. On my way back I emptied the basket in the sewage in the city. I still remember clearly how the snow-white baby rabbits drowned by degrees into the thick, dark, slimy water in the sewage canal. I decided on the spot that I would never use any other life forms in my shows except human beings. I have never felt like killing any creature, other than human beings.'
'Is there any guarantee that magic shows that employ human beings will go flawless?'
'There is no such guarantee. See, these days it takes me less than a moment to levitate the girls who appear in my shows, wearing flashy costumes and bright smiles. Years ago when I did not have the dexterity or speed, it took me real pains to raise a girl in the air.'
'What was that act?'
'Freezing her in the air …then letting her vanish. It did not happen on a stage during magic performance. In place of the magic wand there was a creaky ceiling fan and instead of the magician’s hat there was only a worn and crumbled sari as my accessories at that time.'
'Was it still a successful show?'
'Of course! Goes without saying!'
'This is enough for my column in the weekly. Thank you for granting me your acquaintance and answering my questions.'
'If you have no urgent work at hand please come with me to the stage and be my accomplice in the coming act. You are free, aren’t you?”
Without even waiting for my reply, the magician put his hand around my shoulders and led me to the stage. He removed his hat and bowed to the full house. Then he clapped and his assistant pushed something covered in black to the stage. When the cover was removed, I saw a guillotine. The magician turned towards me and smiled. Then he waved me to the guillotine. I realized that my assigned mission was to stretch my neck into the guillotine while the excited audience clapped. Suddenly the creaky ceiling fan and the worn crumbled sari from the magician’s tale flashed across my mind. At the very moment I just closed my eyes and prayed hard that the mantra that helps one vanish will come to my mind.
First published in the short story collection 'Avanavan Thuruthu' (2016) by DC Books, Kottayam.
V.M. Devadas was born in Wadakkancherry, Kerala, India. He works in an I.T. company in Chennai. He is the recipient of the Geeta Hiranyan Endowment Award of Kerala Sahitya Akademy, Malayala Manorama Novel Carnival Award, Nooranad Haneef Memorial Award, Chandrika Katha Puraskaram, Ettumanoor Kavya Vedi Puraskaram and Cochin International Short Film Festival of India's Best Screenplay Award for 2015. Dildo: Aaru Maranangalude Pulp Fiction Patapusthakam (2009), Pannivetta (2010), and Cheppum Panthum (2016) are his novels and MaranaSahaayi (2011), SalabhaJeevitham (2014) and Avanavan Thuruthu (2016) are his short story collections.
Minu Varghese is a bilingual writer and translator from India. Her MPhil dissertation was on the history plays of John Osborne and Bertolt Brecht. She has taught English Language and Literature in India from 1995 under various institutions of IHRD and is currently working as English Language Instructor in Jazan University, Saudi Arabia. She is the Malaylam translator of the Finnish children’s book (based on its English translation) ‘Simo and Sonia’ by Tiina and Sinikka Nopola, illustrated by Linda Bondestam (Sampark: Kolkata, 2014). She writes poems and short stories in English and Malayalam and is a Translations Editor of Lakeview International Journal of Literature and Arts.