RAVEN- Issue Two (07/26/2020)
Updated: Jul 26
Image Source: Saleh Dinparvar/Flickr
Written by Serena Piccoli
to Mojgan Kavoosi,
Kurdish writer arrested in Iran
we’re too busy to notice
the purple yellow violet
sprouting from cement
in our spring
binging on telly
While over there
she sees and speaks
about mass protests
against petrol prices
Cos silence is treason
and gets sentenced to
Though far away from that spring
I’m busy thinking
of the purple yellow violet
sprouting from jail cement
loudly tossing its head
in our defence
Author Bio: Serena Piccoli is a poet, playwright, performer, and a poetry translator, who writes in both English and Italian. Piccoli's work has been published in various anthologies in the USA and UK and published a chapbook of poems, silviotrump, (Moria Poetry, Chicago, USA). Piccoli is a transfeminist, lesbian, and human rights activist, who writes about social issues, such as gender violence, economic crisis, and social injustice. She has also performed very widely at poetry and theatre festivals all over the world.
Written by Hope Parker
“How was it?” he asked. The chains attached to the metal cuffs on his wrists and ankles clinked together as he shifted in the cheap plastic chair.
In this room, the drab gray walls mirrored the patrons it held, all sallow skin and faded eyes, as if the monotone grayness was meant to wash out the people until they all ran together. I shuddered when I thought of Danny in here, fading into the sea of slate and dirty jumpsuits.
“How was what?” I replied. My lower back felt like it was on fire and I forced myself to get up this Sunday and make the three-hour drive to him. I hadn’t been in a few months.
“The wedding. Did everything go well?” His eyes were the color of polished brass, hazel and layered in a way that made you want to tell him all your secrets. Did it go well? Was I happy? It was hard to tell. I was happier when it was the three of us- Laurel, Danny, and me. The three of us were forged together by our restless hearts until we finally accepted that the love we had for each other transcended labels. That was a long time ago- longer than I’d like to admit.
“Yeah,” I nodded. He glanced at the bored guard, distracted by a woman in hysterics in the corner. It was a predictable performance, especially from her. He reached over and squeezed my hand. Today, I was prepared for the shock that jolted through me at his touch. Though it had only happened once since he’d been incarcerated, I thought about that touch for months. The feeling flowed throughout my body, bringing a modicum of excitement to my numbness.
“That it’s, just yeah?” he pried. The guard was still occupied, and he continued to hold my hand across the table. His thumb drew slow patterns in my palm. I wanted to crawl inside of that comfort and live there.
“It was fine, Danny. I wore a white dress, people danced, we paid too much for dry chicken and over-buttered potatoes. I don’t know what you want to hear.” I looked up at the ceiling and pulled my hand back. Even then, I ached. The dam I built in my head to keep back tears threatened to overtake the moment and I tried desperately to rein it in.
Danny’s smile fell. He was trying too hard anyway. To pretend that this was normal? I saw his stubbled Adam’s apple bob as he swallowed. I wondered if he remembered everything about that night just like I had. If every detail still ran through his mind like one of those super HD screens now, where it all feels a little too close and real. I wondered if he loved our wife, Laurel, as much as I still did. We felt her like a phantom limb, knowing that she wasn’t there but feeling the pain of her loss anyways.
“Why’d you do it?” he finally asked. “You didn’t have to get married. You could have waited for me.” His voice cracked, the only physical sign that this broke him as much as it broke me. He was right. I should have waited. I looked away, unable to answer with his eyes studying my every movement.
“I needed the money,” I whispered. Danny stiffened across the table and drew his hand back into his lap. “He makes enough that I don’t have to work.” I ran a hand through my hair, feeling the grease from my fingers settle into the blow-dried strands. When we lived together, I always worked from home. Usually part-time, but eventually Danny and Laurel’s careers took off, leaving me happy to manage our domestic affairs. Getting back into the workforce was more difficult than I could have anticipated. So I chose the easy route and married a man who would do it for me.
“How are things? Are you really making it?” I asked. When he called, he never told me much.
“Yeah,” he teased, a shadow of a smile returning to his face.
“That’s it, just yeah?” I repeated his earlier phrasing back to him, grasping on to the residue of normalcy that permeated our conversations.
“I make $2.00 an hour sorting through the recycle bins in the cafeteria, my day is broken into 2-hour increments from dusk til dawn, and every fucking day I think about what I should have done differently. So yeah I guess I’m making it.” His fist banged on the table, the chains sharp rattle piercing the air. The guard finally looked up at us.
“Language inmate!” He shouted in our general direction.
“Do they even know your name? I’ve never heard any of these guards use it,” I asked. Danny’s shoulders slumped, his body caving in on itself. Bit by bit, year by year, the man that I once knew was draining out of Danny’s body. Some weeks, I barely recognized him. The first week he was incarcerated, he lost ten pounds. I shook so hard that I vomited into the grass when I left, furious at the guards and inmates who got to experience life with Danny when it had been so cruelly ripped away from me. Furious that he was here, and I was out there.
“Probably not. There’s a pretty high turnover rate around here.” I glanced at the clock- visiting hour ended in twenty minutes. Enough time. “Does he know you come?”
“My husband?” Danny waited. Of course, he meant my husband. I shook my head no.
“I told him that I work on Sundays, 10am to 5pm at the bookstore.” The place that Laurel and I met Danny, seven years ago. When a stupid giggly dare to go up and kiss the cute bookseller sparked a fire that neither of us could extinguish.
“Are you ashamed of me?” he whispered, barely audible above the din of children and wives whose lives revolve around this one hour a week. His biceps tensed, defined against the jumpsuit he wore.
“Of course not!” I wanted so badly to reach out and touch him again, to grasp and tear at his skin until I was so close to him that nothing else mattered and I was home again, wrapped around his torso like it was a shield against the rest of the world. I sat up straighter, ignoring the pain that throbbed at my side and back. “My husband wouldn’t understand. I told him that we were separated and that we haven’t been together in four years.”
“It’s not a lie,” Danny replied. I agreed. “He doesn’t know what happened?”
“No. Not about what happened to us, or what happened to you. I told him that my ex loved someone else.”
“Still not a lie.” It wasn’t, but it was a half-truth. We both loved someone else. For a long time, the three of us were comfortable and happy. Unconventional, sure, but happy. Laurel and I couldn’t imagine losing Danny when we got married and he became an equal part of our marriage.
We watched the cancer eat her day by day for almost a year. As she withered away, Danny and I used each other as pillars- we supported each other when one of us couldn’t handle the pressure. We were both grieving a living ghost. The worse it got, when doctors started mentioning words like “hospice care” and “end of life plans” to me in their offices, that’s when I crumbled. Laurel had withdrawn from us at that point, her hollow eyes barely staying open during the day.
When she asked us over dinner to take a pillow and smother her in her sleep so that she could finally let go, I refused. But Danny didn’t. That night, I sat downstairs and sipped my whiskey, ignoring the world while Danny did what he thought was right. If taking her life before the cancer could was what she wanted, that’s what he would do. So that’s what he did.
He told the detectives that I was downstairs, had a few drinks, and fell asleep while he did what had to be done. I corroborated his story and forensic evidence matched with what he said. But I was awake. When Danny finally came back downstairs, tears soaking his cheeks, I knew that Laurel had left us. As much as I hate myself for it, I felt relief. For Laurel, it meant an end to her suffering and I could stop watching her die a little more every day. Legally, I was married to Laurel. But Danny was just as much a part of us as we were of him. That night, we lost a part of what we had, but not all of it. I promised Danny to keep her memory alive and follow through on her dreams for us- a family.
The faint click of a shutter brought me back to the sterile visiting center of the prison. A short woman had a wide smile plastered on her face. “Hope this is okay, I couldn’t help but notice the emotion you two shared and wanted to capture it!” My emotional dam was barely intact. Danny stepped in, let the woman know that this was personal and that was invasive and how’d she get a camera in anyways? She introduced herself as a reporter from the Phoenix Sun Times. He dug deep to find his social graces and pushed her out of our conversation. I wondered how much she heard as I picked at a thread on my t-shirt. She scuttled away.
“Thank you. You always were the one who took care of things,” I told him when she left. “No matter what, you made it better.”
Danny studied me. Without a trace of self-consciousness, he was bold when he loved. Prison continued to defeat him, but he did his best to hide it when I came.
“Why’d you really come today?” He asked. I had hidden long enough.
“Because I can’t keep coming, at least not for a while,” I said, my voice breaking as I said it. Like a knife with serrated edges, my soul was tearing. Each word cut a bit deeper.
“Danny, I’m pregnant.” His mouth formed a small “o,” he made sure the guard was distracted, and stood to hold me. He pulled me close to him. For a split second, I felt every hard plane of him against my soft curves and let myself be enveloped in who he had become. He no longer smelled like pine and mint gum, but like cheap deodorant and sweat. I didn’t care. I breathed him in and felt the cool metal against my bare skin where it connected with his limbs. Dam broken, my tears fell for the first time since Laurel died.
The guard spotted us far too soon and we pulled away. “Wrap it up, inmate! Five minutes everyone!” His voice boomed in the small space.
My shoulders shook as I sobbed, but I had to tell him. “Danny, it’s yours. It’s yours. Remember we tried to conceive, Laurel and I? We saved your samples and I used them. I promised I would.” A million words passed between us without either of us ever making a sound.
“What about your husband?”
“He thinks it’s his and that’s what I need him to think. I moved on because you asked me to, and I care about him, but it’s nothing like I loved us. Please find me when you get out okay? I’ll send my information in the mail.” He promised. I stayed in that chair until the guard escorted him back through the iron bars of the prison, praying that six years would go by fast.
The summer sun still glared when I pulled up to the apartment I rented with my husband. We ate dinner he cooked from a box, I let him make love to me and acted like I felt something, kissed him goodnight and thought of Danny and my late wife. When I woke up the next morning, he was at the table, reading the Phoenix Sun Times with a black and white photo of Danny and I on the cover. The headline read “Triad Mercy Killer to be a Father!” My husband’s eyes met mine across the table.
“I can explain,” I said. Strangely enough, I felt no fury towards the reporter. There was only relief. The truth settled in my mouth, the floodgates opened, and I told my husband the entire story.
Author Bio: Hope Parker is a writer of contemporary romance full-length novels and short stories. Parker has an MFA in Creative Writing from Southern New Hampshire University and currently lives in Tennessee on a hobby farm with her husband and son.
So Close Yet So Far
Written by Kimberly Ray
It was all so close. Was it just a dream for us
to walk along the Thames? Was it all in my head
that we’d walk along the Seine? To breathe in
the spring flower beds, to wrap ourselves in
the warmth of our kisses. The breeze would flow
through my hair, the sun would shine brightly in
our eyes, the energy would flow rapidly between us,
but we’d say nothing at all. For we’d know everything
already as we are one. With a dance of history brewing
at our fingertips, I left love notes where to meet.
Yet, a meeting that would never be. Two pairs of
eyes that would never get to see the
chemistry ignited between these two bodies.
It’s only a pause I remind myself. Leaving more
time to create. For this love won’t rest on a shelf.
This love will prove itself worthy of the wait.
Author Bio: Kimberly Ray is an author/poet, whose poetry often explores the highs and lows of relationships, love, loss, and grief. Ray has published a poetry series, Coffee Shop Sessions, and has work forthcoming in Teen Belle Magazine and 3 Moon Magazine. Currently, Ray is working on her third poetry collection.
The two-legged termites come
Written by Waqas Rabbani
My son, grow your roots
deep in the soil
take seed after my shade is gone
for the two-legged termites come
It pains me to hide you
from the sun
It pains me that you can't grow
tall and stout
beside your old man
it's for your own good
for the two-legged termites come
for a thousand years
I have stood, watchful
in this wilderness
I had no fear of beast or fiend
but my heart trembles now
for the two-legged termites come
Come, my child,
cover your eyes
do not take root
until my shade is no more
hear the sounds
of our falling brethren
let it be your caution
for the two-legged termites come
their wretched metal teeth
and their iron hearts
know no mercy
but fear not my child
I will shield you from their harm
the two-legged termites come
A sproutling awakens to a red sky
in a field of carnage
with murmurs of an old voice
looking up at the sun
A droplet of rain
falls on a leaf
like a tear
full of forgotten pain
uttered in a hushed breath
through the winds of past
a voice echoes
"beware the two-legged termites come"
Author Bio: Waqas Rabbani has been writing for many years and has written for many platforms such as New London Writers, Nation, Eye On Life Magazine, NayaDaur and Brandsynario.
Written by Mike Hickman It was your picture on my phone. I can’t believe you wouldn’t remember. We were working together on the poster for that conference. The one with prizes for researchers, although it was just an opportunity for judging and feeling judged, and I lost it at the bitch who complained about the font colour. We’d put hours into it, and it was our first attempt at anything like it. You must remember that? I can’t actually remember what the poster was about. Something to do with pedagogy perhaps. That was your thing. I’d have gone with whatever you wanted, because – you thought – I was as keen as you were to make a go of the whole proper researcher thing. So, we’re both of us – you must remember this much, I’m sure – we’re both of us determining that we’ll put in for the INSEC Conference because it’s ‘safe’ and they’ve got the ‘poster presentation opportunity’ and neither of us have to speak. If we do it together, we can support each other. We can both benefit. I think I might have put it like that, over lunch that time, when you were telling me about your research interview with the Dean. I’d seen how upset you were when you came out. That’s why I suggested lunch, you know. Did you know? I had your picture on my phone even then. I know. Sad, isn’t it? I’d taken it from the website. Terrible old phone – no internet – I’d snapped it off the screen. Would you believe that? By the time we were working together – in between teaching and marking and going home for more marking and doing it all again the next day and the next – I’d set your picture as my wallpaper. Is that what it’s called? So I could look at it. Whenever I unlocked the phone. Every time. Whenever you weren’t there. And just before we went, that last day before the conference, in your office, when we were about to send the poster to print, I’d put my phone on the table next to me. For no particular reason. Although maybe I liked the thought that you didn’t know. I liked the thought that it would be so easy for you to know. And we were talking about some research thing or other – pedagogy again, probably; maybe assessment; I see you’ve made a thing now out of assessment – and my phone went. It wouldn’t have been Sally. She wouldn’t have been calling me at work by then. And I really hadn’t thought, you know – even despite what I’ve just said – that it would bring the phone to life. I’d left it face-up on the table, like I never did – and there, right there, in front of me – in front of you sitting right beside me – there was the message – let’s say it was a message – and in the background, filling that screen – tiny, then, of course, compared to the ones you get now – was Your Face. You really don’t remember that? But you noticed the phone go. I noticed you notice, and the cold fear that I felt – you must have felt that, too. I wasn’t that good at hiding it, was I? I made some coy excuse. I put my hand out to cover the phone. I snatched it up from the desk, as I told myself that I knew – of course Iknew – but you wouldn’t have known to look. I knew what it meant. You didn’t. You hadn’t seen me. You asked me if it was important. You knew that much. Maybe you’d known about Sally, too. But I got away with it. I thought. I waited to see if I hadn’t. We went to that conference – we got judged – in my case, for all the wrong things – and it was still like I’d got away with it. I can’t quite remember why we didn’t do it again. Perhaps it was being called out on the font colour. And the size. And the layout of the poster. Perhaps it was me being so prickly about it, but we’d done it, hadn’t we, and you had the confidence by then to go it alone. And now you’re out there, I see. Professor, now, I notice. And there’s your picture on the website and your publications and your bio and your email and your number. And it was your picture on my phone. Like it is again now. Maybe I should have shown you?
Author Bio: Mike Hickman is a former academic (allegedly a doctor) and writer from York, England. He has written for Off the Rock Productions (stage and audio), including a 2018 play about Groucho Marx. He has recently been published in the Blake-Jones Review, Bitchin’ Kitsch, and the Cabinet of Heed.
Written by Marshall Gu
When I was six,
My parents took me on my first trip overseas.
We will be in an airplane.
No, you cannot touch the clouds.
I remember the irritation of getting up early;
I remember the excitement of the moving walkway.
I remember not taking my shoes off.
I remember sitting in the boarding area,
Then sitting in the plane,
I remember not moving,
And then suddenly-
That is what I think of
When I think of you:
Waiting, and then taking off.
Author Bio: Marshall Gu is a 28-year-old writer from Toronto. Gu has had short stories and poems previously published by the Dalhousie Review, the Spadina Literary Review and Untethered Magazine. Additionally, Marshall has written music reviews published for Pretty Much Amazing, Popmatters and Tone Glow.
The Embalming of the Spirit
Written by Bernard Pearson
When we have nothing
left that we are allowed to think
Our minds are left to shrink
and sink beneath the waves
And souls become mere slaves.
Author Bio: Bernard Pearson is based in the United Kingdom. His work appears in many publications, including; AestheticaMagazine, The Edinburgh Review, and Crossways. In 2017, a selection of his poetry ‘In Free Fall’ was published by Leaf by Leaf Press. In 2019, he won second prize in The Aurora Prize for Writing for his poem Manor Farm.
Written by Stephen Brophy
I’d the overwhelming feeling back then that I was losing the run of myself. For one thing, I couldn’t trust my own reflection. All the features were there, the same as they ever were, but they weren’t anchored in any kind of tangible reality. It was like staring at a photo negative of myself. I’d become afraid to look for too long for fear he might dissolve altogether.
I was coming slowly unmoored from myself, no doubt.
Spain wasn’t helping. Twice a week, I drove an arctic loaded with computer processors onto the ferry down in Ringaskiddy. I set out from the port of Santander on the far side for Bilbao, Zaragoza, Madrid. Lonesome roads, all.
I’ll tell you now there were voices, like the way you’d get a song stuck in your head and it would play on a loop for days. But they seemed to come vividly, unmistakably from outside of my own mind. The most outspoken of them was shrill and familiar with an unerring ability to cut me in two. Over the hum of the tyres, I’d hear her, over the grunt of the engine, over the radio ramped up to full, ear-bleeding volume. Sweating hot fucking bullets and unravelling, white-knuckled behind the wheel of a forty-tonne weapon on some unending Spanish motorway, with bleary heat rising off the tar and the whole world like a fading mirage around me.
Days unfurled in slippery fragments, intangible moments. I was somewhere in the orbit of reality, but I couldn’t engage. I’d lose time and come back into myself behind the wheel with a screeching headache. Raised out of a waking dream where I watched condensation beading on the wallpaper above an old stove, a pot resting over blue flames.
The real world became a puzzle to solve anew each time I returned. I was once prescribed an orientation exercise to ground myself to the world in these situations. It began with:
Naming five things I could see:
An army of dead bugs peppered across the windscreen. A troll doll swinging from the rear-view mirror. Bare grey mountains. On a blue road sign, that squiggle over the ‘n’ in La Coruña. Spain, it is. But still the fractured memory of the pot stayed with me, water burbling, steam ghosting from its surface. Her voice telling me, ‘It’s the only way you’ll learn.’
In the cab of my truck, I felt the searing heat spread again across the puckered white flesh of my neck, sweat tracing the scarred plains of my chest.
Get out of there, I told myself. And I took out my phone and bring up the fifth thing I could see. A picture of a happy family. My smile seemed real and present in the image and Sarah’s eyes fell softly on the baby who lay placid and oblivious in my arms. And all I wanted to do was hold him then and know that he was real.
Next, name four things I could touch:
The hair on the troll doll, electric purple and bristly between my fingers. The sweaty grip of the steering wheel. The gear stick. The empty water bottles strewn across the passenger seat.
Three things I could hear:
The drone of the engine. The radio host speaking rapid-fire Spanish. The voice telling me to steer into the oncoming lane and be done with it.
Two things I could smell:
The wild cherry air freshener. Seaweed on the breeze.
And finally, name one good thing about myself:
That I haven’t yet given in to the voice’s suggestion.
I sat once staring blankly at a wall of diplomas, in a beige room before a beige man with pale, searching eyes.
‘Childhood trauma,’ he told me, ‘would be the driving factor behind all of this. If you think about that for a minute, what’s the first thing that comes to mind?’
I opened and closed the clasp of my watch.
‘Nothing?’ he said, ‘No trauma?’
I turned my attention to the face of my watch, then to the car park beyond the window, where a lone dog wrestled a scrap of newspaper. Anywhere but his face.
‘Well, that would make you the first then. Could you tell me a little bit about your relationship with your mother, maybe?’
The brittle voice of a younger me spoke so timidly I had to strain to hear it.
‘You can’t,’ it said, ‘it was a secret, remember?’
I turned my face to find the child, but it had cowered away again to wherever it hides. The beige man saw, and nodded solemnly. He chanced some analogy about the mind being the most complex safe in the world and how a deft approach was required to unlock its mysteries. Still I gave him nothing.
‘Okay, well from the referral letter I received,’ he said, ‘all the signs point to –’
I stopped him there. The last thing I wanted was a label on what was broken. You can’t hide from a diagnosis. It leaves no wiggle room for what you can tell yourself.
‘This is reversible,’ he said.
Whatever he said next, he said to my back as I left the room.
Sarah didn’t seem too settled in her own skin the last time I arrived home from Spain. She was always wary of which version of me had come home to her. She asked about the trip and I lied. She asked every mundane question but the one I knew she was afraid to free herself of. Once she had exhausted every false enquiry, a tired sincerity entered her face and she fumbled with the beginning of something real. Something I knew she must have been rehearsing for the length of my trip, dredging up the courage to face the question of my splintering mind head-on. We had flirted with the subject before, but never at any length or with any real conviction, and at my first effort to pivot she would always swerve with me to any safer topic I offered. This time her courage wilted before she even got going.
‘They said on the radio it’s the hottest day of the year,’ she said.
I think she feared the truth every bit as much as I did.
I nodded, and we failed to meet each other’s eyes. Beyond her, in a shaded nook of the living room our son slept in his rocker. I wanted to pick up that tiny stranger from the image on my phone screen and hold his weight and his heat against me. Not wanting to wake him, I leaned in and touched his soft nose and felt the tiny current of his breath against my fingers.
‘Hello, stranger,’ I whispered.
I sat myself cross-legged on the carpet and watched the rise and fall of his tiny chest. My perfect little miracle in his peaceful, untroubled sleep. Outside the window, the sun was blazing high and the kids of the estate launched water balloons across the green at one another and they played out their giddy war dripping wet and screaming with laughter. I was able to take all of this in exactly as it was happening and the fleeting feeling of lucidity was so beautiful that I could hardly stand it. It only served to remind me of what I was missing.
When I looked back, Sarah had stripped down to a pair of denim cut-off shorts and a bikini top and she was stooped low, rubbing sunscreen into her calf,
‘I’ve been looking out at that sun for the last two days,’ she said, ‘Will you two be alright for an hour?’
She capped the bottle of lotion and hovered pensively in the doorway, like she was weighing some major life decision.
‘Okay,’ she said eventually, and disappeared towards the back garden. I turned again to watch the rhythm of our son’s breathing.
Time got away from me and the next thing I knew, Sarah was screaming,
‘Jesus, Eoin, what were you thinking? What are you ever thinking anymore?’
The small fella was up on his feet holding onto the fireguard and reaching for the bright flames. His standing was a new trick I’d missed on the road. Or maybe it had happened on some earlier day before my glazed eyes. She scooped him up and held him tight to her chest. Tears brightened her face. In my haze, I watched the pair of them with the indifference of a show I’d a passing interest in.
Her features didn’t raise any warmth in me. I watched this overburdened woman holding her baby. Eleven years we’d been inhabiting each other’s lives, sharing a house, a bed, and now a son. Eleven years and I couldn’t conjure a connection. I couldn’t grasp a single one of the many threads that bound our histories together. It was an empty chasm, all the way back. She was being drawn slowly away from me in increments, like a memory fading in real time, even as she stood blatantly before me in a wash of hot tears. Then they were gone from the room and I looked down and noticed the coal dust smudged into my hands. I’d no memory of lighting a fire.
I was still between worlds when she came back in. Stumbling, in my mind, through a sea of pine trees, my shadow fading into the dusk. Drawn by the whisper of running water. Roaming through the world alone. Lost.
Sarah’s words snapped me back to real time. She sat on the couch with her arm around my shoulder and the small fella wriggling in her lap. So close to the image on my phone, but worlds away in truth. I was to be admitted the following morning to St. Edna’s psychiatric ward. It was all arranged.
I spent the evening wrestling with the vagrant thought that refused to vacate my head; that I was going to lose them. That through no fault of his own, my son was going to lose his father before he rightly knew me. Or worse still, the worst of all possible outcomes; that he would grow into me. Into a man untethered from the world around him, existing in his own lonesome abyss.
We ate pasta in the living room. Sarah spoke encouraging words that sounded like they were read from a script given to her by the beige doctor. Forks scraped against plates, the small fella hand-fed himself soft slivers of vegetables in his high-chair and my mind churned and darkened.
I waited until she took the last of the dishes to the kitchen. The front door would be too loud, so I carried him out the bay window and into the car. I buckled us both in and rolled down the cooling tar slope before starting the engine.
In the rear-view, he was warm and restful, his eyes flickering towards sleep. There was no separating him from that blanket of his. It was baby-boy blue, sprawled with white stars and soft as a cloud. He wanted nothing more than to be swaddled in it under dimmed light, or total darkness altogether. Wouldn’t it be grand to feel so secure in yourself? I thought, to feel that the world is a safe and reasonable place. I wanted more than anything for it to always be that way for him, for him to never be broken. To be his perfect little self forever.
The drive took us up through the Shehy Mountains. The road was a narrow rut twisting between jagged rock faces. Nimble goats clung to jutting limestone shelves. Boulders pocked the sloped fields as if fallen from the sky in some storm in a time before our history. He was back there dreaming whatever it is they dream about. I’d told him on the maternity ward, while his mother slept, that we’d work it out. That we’d always be there for him, together. I’d spent an hour unloading all my worldly notions on him, swollen with tired emotion and certain of every whispered word. I had been a father less than half a day and I’d it all figured out. But I was already coming apart by then. It’s amazing what you can suppress when it suits you. There are parts of everyone, I’ve no doubt, that are blind to reason. Especially when the truth is at stake.
It all began to slip away from me then up in the mountains. Time fractured and warped as we climbed together into the bright, hysterical sky.
Sometime later, I sat in a wooded area. I came back into myself with a shrieking headache, like a bright storm behind my eyes. In the balmy heat I couldn’t be sure which side of the sea I was on.
Name five things you can see:
The dashboard display lit up like a constellation. A rank of brittle pine stretching skyward. The moon, pale behind thin scraps of cloud. Coiled in my lap, a length of hose running out through a thin crack at the top of the driver’s side window and drooping out of sight.
He was in the back, his little face livid red, crying end of the world tears. The key was in the ignition, but the car wasn’t running. My cheeks were slicked wet, my eyes stung, and I had fourteen missed calls on my phone.
I got out and unbuckled him and cradled him to my chest. I paced in the pine needles under that navy sky, gently swaying him, whispering how sorry I was over and over until his tiny body softened and settled into mine. Then I called Sarah and asked her if the bed in St. Edna’s was still available.
The memories were slow to come. They were tamped down deep out of my reach, for my own protection.
‘Drawing blood from a stone,’ the doctor in St. Edna’s said, but he teased out a couple of drops. Fleeting snatches of memory, like the months after my father left, when the world got too heavy for my mother and she locked herself in the bedroom for days at a time, leaving me to eat crackers at the kitchen counter, watching my Scooby Doo tape on repeat.
I remembered how she warned me more than once when I lifted my head from a school book to tell her some fact I’d learned. ‘One day I’ll be gone,’ she’d tell me, ‘and then we’ll see how much you know.’
There was the memory of how I followed her from room to room, begging to know when Daddy was coming home, until the sound of my voice broke something in her and she poured the pot of scalding water over my chest.
The memories began to pour out and soon I was haemorrhaging truth. I couldn’t stop myself if I wanted to. Then we came to my sixth birthday.
I stood with my mother in a nature reserve, flinging stones from a river bank.
‘Do you know what this river is called?’ she asked.
‘This is the Lee. If you followed it, it would take you all the way into the city.’
The stones in that place were a sunburnt pink, polished smooth and flat by the rushing water. I recall being amazed by how my mother glided them across the surface, how they skipped three, four, even five times before sinking. But no matter how much I mimicked her throwing style my efforts arced limply into the current.
She crouched down and faced me with a softness in her eyes I’m not sure I’d ever seen before, and said, ‘You’ll figure it out, Eoin.’
Then she patted me on the head and walked to the car.
I continued to sink stones until I heard the engine start. I turned to see the car climbing the hill towards civilisation, a suitcase jammed against the back window. She had warned me enough times that I think I understood, even then, that I was watching her driving toward some new life, where I wasn’t necessary.
I was stranded with the therapist on that river bank for weeks. Frozen in time. When we eventually got moving again. I saw a crowd of pines towering above me. They seemed to pierce the darkening sky, hiding the starlight from me. I stumbled all that evening after the current with a tin-foil parcel of sandwiches and an apple-juice box – my mother’s parting gifts – cradled in my arm, watching out for a city that I now know was forty miles distant.
I found shelter in a crevice between two boulders. On a bed of damp moss, I sat hugging my knees, shivering against the cold, hiding from the howls and rustles of night, and watching clouds of my breath bloom and die in front of me.
I was so terrified I couldn’t keep my list of fears straight in my head. In that endless dark, anything was possible. I prayed that she would come back for me, but dawn found me hunkered alone, bawling at the rising sun.
A pair of hikers heard my cries. They fed me protein bars, and carried me in a silver blanket to their car.
From there, the therapist followed my tattered thread of memories from one care home to the next, and on through my history. Eventually, the world began to take shape again. My periods of lucidity began to stretch out until eventually there were whole days without an episode or a blackout. Then weeks at a time.
Sarah doesn’t know about my trying to save our son from himself, from a future I didn’t want for him. I told her I’d just wanted some time alone with him before I went in. I told her I didn’t know when or if I’d ever get that again. I don’t know what she believes.
Since my discharge from the ward I’ve been staying in a hostel in town. I get two visits to the house a week and she says I can take him out on my own again soon.
I’ve taken a job now landscaping with my cousin. He fills the days with talk about conspiracy documentaries. We clear dead flower beds and he tells me how Lyme disease started as a biological weapon that leaked from a government lab in Arizona, or how Paul McCartney died in 1966 and was replaced by a look-alike. His wild chatter is entertaining enough that it keeps my mind from straying too far. The fresh air seems to do me good and the welts on my hands let me know I’ve a day’s work put down. All in all, it beats those lonesome hours in the cab of a truck with only my own thoughts for company.
This week we’re building a deck in the garden of a house that backs onto the River Lee. At lunchtime today I sat on the shore watching the shifting patterns of the surface glittering under sunlight, white foam chevrons drifting past. I absentmindedly took up a flat pink stone and as I glided my thumb across its smooth face, thinking of how the currents had shaped it, how the sluicing waters had moulded it into what I held in my hand, I felt the old darkness begin to well up in me again. I swung my arm and released it into the water. It skipped gracefully across the surface, ripples swelling out from its deft impacts. I counted six hops before I turned my back on it.
Author Bio: Stephen Brophy lives in Cork, Ireland with his fiancée and son. He is currently working on his first collection of short stories. You can find him on twitter at @sbrophy85.