Rory Conway: Tomorrow

Mr. Sweeney sat alone on the fourth floor of the library almost directly underneath the sign for the expired books that read ‘PUBLIC DOMAIN’. He sat with his legs crossed and the lid of his pen between his teeth. His hair was overgrown and the humble beginnings of a poorly-kept beard were visible. Outside it was warm. Inside he wore a dark tweed jacket and trousers that rested on him loosely. The sun was bright and illuminated the threadbare carpet. It glared on the dust that came from the carpet with every step.

         “Good afternoon”, the librarian said. The wrinkles around her eyes smiled at him. He had known her for years but didn’t bother to learn her name. He had no reason to.

         “Is it?” he replied. The librarian tensed quickly and returned to her screen. She should be used to him by now. The ageing woman addressed him slyly. “You should be out, no? You’re wasting a day like this.”

         He glanced at her as she spoke mindlessly at him. He hadn’t ever looked at her long enough to see past her tired blue eyes. She had a face that seemed to fade as quickly as the cries of a hungry child. Her fingers were long and told of her age. She wore a modest ring, likely engagement, but had no wedding band. He got back to his work.

Some time had passed. He had flicked through a number of children’s novels before returning ‘We’re going on a Bear Hunt’ and deciding to leave. His eyes pointed from person to person. Students sat, just as countless others had for years, studying for the same exams that occur each year. ‘Why them?’ he thought. A life so easily replicated. He stopped himself. He didn’t want to think this way during the day. They shifted in their seats as he passed them like a cold breeze from the warmth of outside. He noticed but did not care. The door before him opened politely but he didn’t move. He heard a shyly muttered apology and saw the reflection of a young woman in the door. His breath shortened. She seemed just years younger than him but he felt decades older. Her hair was long, like her’s was. Like her’s, her hair was perfectly curled at the bottom to rest just above her waist. He remembered that day they came home from the library together. She wasn’t behaving like herself this day. Her steps were nervous and her eyes wandered from him tentatively. It was the day she decided to abandon their studies and it was the last time they would see each other. She announced with ease her departure.

         “What?” he muttered.

         She repeated herself. His jaw tightened as he shrunk under the weight of the news.

         “I’m leaving,” she said coldly. She explained how she couldn’t ‘fix’ him and that he needed help.

         “I’ll call you,” she promised. He waited for her to call but she never did.

         His feet remained still as he stared blankly at the woman in front of him, trying to swallow the lump building in his throat. She had crossed her arms before reaching into her bag. She seemed awkward and wanted to look busy. She excused herself and he kept moving, but his mind stayed right where she left him.

His head hung low as he walked home against strong winds. Leaden clouds were moving above the trees that lined the pavement. It had gotten dark and he could not escape the echo of her final words to him. The streetlight was very bright in the darkness of his cul-de-sac. It cast light on the impressive home he occupied, and the dignity that he had lost. It was once a fine home. It hosted respectable parties. The walls, plastered blue, had heard the sound of first words and honest laughter. His car that sat parked across the street wasn’t always that dirty. The ivy growing over his windows was once kept at a careful length. The grass outside his home hadn’t always crept up beyond the windows of his front room. The nursery, now with four yellowed walls, was once home to teddy bears and tired eyes at 3 A.M. awake for feeding.        

         He knew he had veered off course but didn’t bother to straighten himself out. What was the point? He never stopped going to the library, but he would sit at night alone. The TV would play something he wasn’t interested in. His books would collect dust and lay untouched. Sometimes, looking at the dull cards that had sat for years on the mantelpiece, he would think. Initially, he would think of the gifts of clothes that would “fit when he’s a bit older” that went to waste. He would think of the money innocent relatives spent on a life never to be lived. He would blame himself for not thinking to donate what was left. And then, he would blame himself for not being the one that was taken. They called it ‘survivor’s guilt’. But he was only a child. He was so harmless and vulnerable, yet so overlooked. How could he be wrong for wishing it was him instead?

The evening had passed and with it the winds grew fiercer. By now he had drunk so much that he didn’t know if he was sweating or crying. The winds on the door grew into a knock and he struggled to his feet. It was his sister. She tried to see him often but he rarely complied.

         “Hi, Jill,” he said. She immediately embraced him and his attempts to forget the significance of the next day failed. She welcomed herself into his home and handed him flowers from the nearest shop and a small card. A cartoon bear held a sign that reminded him she was “Thinking of you!” They sat together for some time but he could never recall what they were talking about. He could tell she was growing frustrated but hid it well.

         “Do you want anything to eat?” He realised he hadn’t offered her anything yet. She followed him into the kitchen.

         “I’ll help myself. Sit down, will you?” She replied as she rummaged through his cabinets. She was wearing an expression that told him she had news she didn’t want to share with him. He was right.

         “I’ve met someone. Finally.” she confessed. “I’ll be moving again. Further, this time. I’ll come and visit when I can, but it won’t be as often. I – I’m sorry.” Her words trailed off as he tried to find something to say. He gave a slight, involuntary sigh. He had the urge to tell her all that he was feeling. He wanted to make a joke of it, lighten the mood, prove to her that he was better. But he would never get better, nor would he ever want to be, he thought. What was the point?

At last, she left. As she floated out the door she rhymed off that he could “call me if you ever need anything” and that he was “doing him proud”. He heard her car door slam shut as the headlights of her car beamed in to his front room. As her engine roared into the distance the silence returned and once again engulfed his home. As he shut the door he threw the supermarket flowers away. But he couldn’t bring himself to toss the card. He read it over and over. Eventually he sat down again and reached under his sofa for the only toy he kept. He held the old teddy for a moment. Its glossy eyes seemed to stare at him and he could see his reflection. He thought of all the toy bears he had been given since he passed. With every one, he was told it would get better with time, but he knew it would never really leave him. He knew in that moment that people would leave and find happiness, something he couldn’t provide, and no one would really stay. But, at least, this would.

He lay alone with the stuffed bear by his side. It had gotten cold but he hadn’t bothered to pull up a blanket. He looked at his alarm clock, whose red lights read 02:36. The cold night breeze outside rattled onto the windows of his bedroom as his mind drifted. He thought of the bear that comforted his chest, moving as he breathed. He marvelled at how animals of such force had been reduced to this. How his son’s life had been reduced to this. He thought of their struggle, always alone and never settling down, but always ready to escape. He thought of how they were lured in with promises, only to be shot down. His chest swelled as he imagined their helpless defeat displayed as a human victory. Like them, he lay exiled from the peace and life he longed for as he submitted to the fatal listlessness that would consume his tomorrow.

Alexandra Carson: Her Muse

The light peeks shyly through the curtains, diamonds sunlight flows, glowing rainbow hues onto the walls and illuminating the French flat, revealing the chic interior that matches the Parisian streets. Hundreds of similar canvases, each with their expressive colours, a wooden easel with slight stains of red and the light slithers across the floor and climbs up the beige walls, the purple curtains and into the bedroom. It is the stage on which her ideas perform. Arisen from her slumber, the dark bobbed woman opens her eyes to the warmth masking her face. Her silk pyjamas slide across the bed as she slithers off to her feet. She makes contact with the freezing floor, silently stepping to her wardrobe, floating, to grab her light brown trench coat. She walks through the open space admiring her quirky furniture and her exciting art. Her portal of inspiration. From her window comes a refreshing gust of air, enlivening the senses and relaxing breath.

The city has a heart, a rhythm and a beat, its blood is its people, and its beat is the people walking, and she can feel this from her balcony. Her eyes are diligently watching over her city, her eyes moving from one person to another, examining each one. Who will be her next victim? She has never painted a boring person. Luckily the streets of Paris cannot produce one. Everyone flows with such grace, each with their own quirky style, not afraid to be an individual and yet fitting the aesthetic of her city. Walking across the road is an elderly lady with her silver hair shimmering in the suit, oversized sunglass making it seem as if she is some Hollywood actress and a monochrome pink outfit. A young blonde woman with a scarf tied into her hair, a dress overall layering her striped shirt ridding her green-blue bike with a wooden basket in the front containing some beautiful flowers; or the elderly gentleman walking with a skip in his step in his bright shirt and tie, beret, dark emerald suit and same coloured trousers that are short enough to show his brightly coloured socks that are long enough to reach into his trousers. Or the young man, she has seen him before; he walks past her flat every morning in his expensive suits, shined shoes and slicked-back hair. Like every other morning, he opens the door to the beautiful bakery; when looking, you’d think the glow was coming from the pastries. She should probably go there one day.

She remembers her first; it was where she gained her passion. It was like love at first sight. She met her first muse years ago when she was a starving artist on the streets of Paris, not a penny to her name, trying to make something of herself. Then he came to her; he saw her talent, and he pushed her to be more. He promised her all the fame in the world she’d be up there with Van Gogh and Picasso; people would flock to get a glimpse of the colour she used. But it never came. Their perfect little life was crumbling in front of them, was nothing they could do. The successes soon seemed so far away, and he blamed her. During the countless nights of arguing, he shouted and screamed insults to her face. To him, her talent disappeared. There was nothing to set her apart; she wasn’t an artist. She just painted.  And he just kept pushing her and pushing her and pushing her until she reached her limit; she hated painting. So the screaming stopped; he was gone. And so she dedicated the last picture to him. However, as it turned out, this was just the first of many. This painting helped her find her eccentric style and the obsession with putting life in her paintings.

The soul in her paintings caught the eye of many, and she was finally recognised for her talents in galleries; critics and fans herded around her artwork to just get a glimpse of the ruby red that characterised her canvas. The fame came at once, and she had the desire to recreate the success and feeling that came as a result of the first, but she was apprehensive. There was no way passion came from her unique process. She was terrified at the thought. And so she made recreations using different methods, and she hated it plain and simple. It wasn’t the same; there was no life in the photos, and models were terrible to work with. They thought they could manipulate her. What did they know about art? Nothing. It was easier this way. Her passion had returned, and the flame only grew brighter with her painting thrown on.

She stops her reminiscing and realises her coffee mug is empty, and so are the streets. It is time to return to the inside of her chamber to continue her work. The painting is always satisfying for her, it is like a form of meditation, and the end product is always worth it. The end product is beautiful, the satisfaction of creating something with her own two hands, everything from the brush strokes to the paint. Every person she paints is personal; she never uses the same paint twice; they are individuals with a story and a part in hers. Every time she picks up her paintbrush, she becomes part of it. She dips her brush in the sweet red sap, thin and flowing, as she circles the brush around. Slowly sliding her hand to the blank canvas, she begins the journey. Sliding her brush from one side to another feels like an elegant dance. She can do it so quickly now; she feels as if she knew this person. She did, but they did not. They were a young woman, tho older than her, with dark hair much like her own. She brings her hand down and round to show her long and thin face. She moves the dark gushing red to contour the face of her muse, her hooked nose and sunken, light eyes.

Stepping back, she admires her work, her eyes following every stroke. She has red paint all over her clothing and face; she loves how it feels, connecting with her artwork as one. The face is exactly as she remembers as if she was alive next to her as if it could speak to her.

She has a spot for her newest creation, and so she carefully hangs it up. She never waits for her paintings to dry. She loves how the red drips down as if it is the blood that flows in the body. She stares at it for a good few minutes; she feels like crying. Instead, she turns around to her workspace behind her and realises it’s time to clean up; the part she hates the most is when she realises the mess in her apartment. She grabs her pots brushes and walks back into the kitchen to grab her mortar and pestle filled with white powder she had ground previously and heads toward the bathroom. She always keeps it locked, and so while balancing the pots, brushes and mortar and pestle, she reaches into her trench coat pocket and brings out an old looking key; it is beautiful and intricate, much like her work. She slides the thin key into the keyhole and turns. Walking into the heavenly white bathroom in front of her is the sink and an antique mirror. She looks at herself, her pale skin, black eyes, and red over her face as if it was her blood. Bending down to the sink, she places everything that is in her hands in the basin. Watching as the water slowly purifies the deep red and black, her sins washed away, baptised into a new life. After cleaning, she sets them to her right to let them dry and then turns to her left. And to her left is her bath and in her bath is a body. A woman with dark hair, a hooked nose, dark and sunken eyes, the same red on her canvas, covered her walls and the woman. She bends down to her bath to ensure her dark eyes are in line with the lifeless ones in front of her, and in her sweet voice, she whispers, “I’m making you immortal, my muse.”

Louisa Fenney: Christ

Crown of thorns, bated breath, ragged pulse.

Crown of thorns, bated breath, flowing red.

Should the dial be reversed by command of the sun,

Should it be held high upon the horizon,

thundering would be all that was heard,

The thundering of a whip,

The crack so distinct, so jarring against his flesh

Flesh, which was the very same to be prophesied,

Flesh that was bound to be sacred and chaste.

Now, it holds no such promise,

Now, eyes remain clouded

Now, cheeks are wet

Mutters escape the lips of those who watch,

Mockingly some stare, they snarl and yap like wild wolves as they feast their eyes upon their bloodied meal

His hands fastened with iron

His ravaged limbs twitch beneath the heat of the sky

‘ Christ, what did you die for? ‘

One beast howls from the pack,

Heads snap,

Tongues are held,

Pulses shudder.

They await their answer,

They expect an up rise, They crave the signal from their wretched messiah.

Jude – Frances Wilson

Hello, little spaceman.

I’m right outside waiting for you with Nana and Papa. I’ve been waiting for ages and ages and ages and now you’re finally on your way. When Mummy and Daddy told me that I was going to be a big sister, I screamed and danced and cried and twirled and Daddy put me up on his shoulders and we went for dinner and I ate loads and loads of ice cream. It was the best day ever. Until now!

I promise you that I’ll be the best big sister in the whole world. I promise that I’ll share all my toys with you and I’ll play nicely and I’ll never ever let any mean kids hurt you. I’ll always look after you.

Is it nice in there? I hope it’s cosy, a little nest for you all tucked in safe, before you come into the world. I don’t remember it at all but maybe you can tell me what it’s like when you can talk. When can you talk? We can talk all day about pirates and princess and Disney films. I wonder what your favourite film will be? Maybe it will be Toy Story. That’s why we call you “spaceman”, like Buzz Lightyear, because of how you fly all around Mummy’s tummy. My favourite is Beauty and the Beast because Belle loves books and she reads lots like me. I’ll read to you, too. I have lots and lots of books in my room and when you’re big enough to read by yourself you can read them anytime you like.

We’ve painted your room already, I hope you don’t mind. It’s blue with stars and rockets, you know, because of the Buzz thing. It was Daddy’s idea. I thought it was really clever. Daddy’s the smartest man in the whole world and he knows all the best games to play. We can put lots of toys in your room when you’re big enough to know how to play. For now though, you just have teddies. I have loads of them, too. My favourite is Snowy the Polar Bear but you can have her, if you like. I think you’ll like it, little spaceman.

*

The whole world stops for a second.

*

The nurse is speaking really quietly to Nana and Papa now. I can’t quite hear what she’s saying. Nana is crying, but I think they must be happy tears. You must be here now.

Papa takes my hand and tells me you’re just visiting. He says you’re not coming home with us. I don’t understand. We have a big room and lots of toys for you. Don’t you want them? I don’t know if we’ve done something wrong or if you want a new family but I just don’t understand. Me and Mummy and Daddy would look after you better than anyone else in the world. I would be the best big sister in the whole universe.

Now I understand why Nana is crying. She was so excited to look after you. Papa says that you have a better place to go to now and that you maybe just weren’t meant to stay with us in the first place. I don’t understand.

Daddy comes out of the room. His eyes are red and his face is puffy. He looks like I do when I cry and I know something is wrong because daddies don’t cry. “Do you want to meet your little brother?”

I nod and I’m scared and it doesn’t feel like I thought it would because I thought everyone would be happy, not sad and I didn’t think I would feel like I had millions of worms squirming around my tummy and I’m so confused when Daddy holds my hand and leads me into the room.

There’s a little blue bundle cuddled up in Mummy’s arms and I know it must be you. You’re so tiny. The world must seem so big to you. Mummy’s face is grey and her eyes are blank and as I make my way over to you, she looks up at me and smiles but it doesn’t look like a real smile.

“Jude,” she says. “His name is Jude.” And she passes the tiny bundle to me.

Little Jude, you’re so small and soft. You aren’t very wiggly for a baby. In fact, you don’t wiggle at all. You’re so still. I think you must be asleep. Your little eyes are closed and your lips look like a little smiling violet. You have lots of little grey eyelashes, more than I can count to. And under your blue hat, you have little wisps of fuzzy blonde curls peeking out, just like me. Ten little fingers and toes, chubby little arms and legs and a tummy waiting to be tickled all wrapped up in a blanket, warm and safe. You look happy. You must be having a nice dream, about clouds and fairy wings and maybe I’m in it too, with Mummy and Daddy and Nana and Papa. I hold you close to my chest and I wonder if you can hear my heart beating.

*

I watch her. I wonder if he would have known how much love for him is inside that tiny little girl.

*

The room is so quiet. Our little house is quiet, too. We live in a quiet house in a quiet street in the quiet part of town. You would like it, Jude. I don’t want to leave you here. I don’t want to leave you behind. I don’t know what will happen next. I’m scared.

*

She holds him in her arms so gently. Our little bundle of dreams and possibilities and so much love and everything in between. Everything that could have been. I don’t know what will happen next. None of us do. But for now, I watch my babies together. My golden girl, holding a little universe in her arms.

*

Time passes so quickly. The years fall away like shooting stars. I grow tall. Dad goes bald. Wrinkles introduce themselves to Mum’s face. The boys are all in primary school now. The year after you was awful, a constant sadness looming over us all. And then we learned that Gabriel was coming. We were so scared, nine months of fear and not getting our hopes up. And then he came. Then came Mark. Then Finn, then Louis. When there’s a tragedy, people speak funny around you. Delicately. Sometimes people just pretend it never happened, ignore the blip in the timeline. But you were never a blip, Jude. You were real and ours and you’re on my mind every single day. I love space and the stars and the millions of universes and sometimes I imagine that maybe in a different universe things would be different and you would still be here. I don’t really like to think of it like that though. I think everything happens for a reason, and that somewhere, out in space, you are flying around in orbit – one of the stars we see at the night. A little spaceman in disguise as the brightest star.