PINT

by James Bone, with commentary from Teodora Nikolova

It was not without trepidation of the forlorn, knowing looks his arrival would almost certainly produce in his friend’s and acquaintance’s faces, that Sonny Jim ducked into The Alehouse. All throughout the anxiety-ridden walk there he had run through his mind the possible reactions his entrance would incite: a glass erupting against his cheek, a hearty drinking song replete with big-bosomed dancers from the Gentleman’s Club on Berry Street (all on the house, of course, they owe him at least that after the last few weeks), a hushed, horrified silence, with even mothballs stunned into a standstill. Deep down, the rational part of his soul was aware of what the likely reception would entail. Sure enough, he had barely passed over the threshold when he was accosted by a strong gale of pity omitted not through physical contact, but through gloomy glances and not-so-subtle stares from all manner of barstools, tables, couches, slouched sippers and nuanced vantage points. His purported breaking of his lengthy absence from the place that had become, in recent months, something of a spiritual refuge for him and his friends had been the hot topic of the evening, pervading the whispers and wails of the crammed patrons, with the sound of his name followed by half-truths, taking the form of often embellished tales explaining his exile in a variety of exotic ways. Some claimed he ran into legal trouble after details about his chequered past as a petty thief were brought to the attention of his superiors. Others preferred to spin wild yarns, talking of daring expeditions around the world, conserving wildlife in sub-Saharan Africa, or training intelligence officers in the Swiss Alps. Most, if not all, knew the sad, simple reality; it was heartbreak that kept him from his sanctuary. Whether it was acceptance or denial that influenced his decision to return was the question on his closest friends’ lips. Whether he would get pissed and throw a punch at some cheeky chap who dared ask was on most others’. Sonny approached the situation as gracefully as one can with every eyeball in the vicinity hurling itself towards oneself; he got himself a pint.

– What’s good, Tommy?

Tommy the bartender was the only face unmoved by Sonny’s arrival, and for once his trademark stoic, abrupt style of service provided a customer with some comfort.

-You after light or dark?

-Dark, considering the rain

-Right you are

-Sonny where’ve ya been lad? Missed ye we ‘ave ‘ere boy

It was Lonny Gill, a short, portly alcoholic Irishman who sank more pints nightly than he had jaundiced gnashers in his gob. Interesting fact: hates Guinness. He threw his right arm around Sonny’s slender frame, which cut an odd picture; a lanky, slender twenty something beansprout with an old, loud, dribbling fellow three times his age draping himself across him from down below. Still, he was grateful that he hadn’t brought up the Inevitable. Stuck to pleasantries. Liked his style.

-I’m alright Lonny my man, can’t complain. Aye it’s been a while jus’ been busy with all kinds that’s all, I’ll sink a few tonight to make up for lost time and all you know me

The two jostled and joked and verbally jousted like this for a while, with Sonny noticing a sort of posse beginning to envelope them halfway through the jovialities. He turned to face his exiled comrades, and felt a twinge of remorse when he saw his brother, Junior, standing with his mouth creased into a forced grin, the hurt managing to linger ever so slightly behind his eyes, although the tears were there in spirit. Junior Jim was somebody whom he knew he had betrayed; he should have confided in him, leaned on him, relied on him for support and comfort and not cast him aside, treated him with indifference, rendered his attempts at providing him with solace futile by waxing poetic falsehoods through gritted teeth over booze-soaked phone calls, causing him to eventually give up and simply hope the sabbatical would come to an end sooner or later… Now the two faced each other for the first time in over four months, and the wound was gaping, their souls in agony. Sonny stepped forward and opened his arms, relying on the familial instinct to embrace one’s blood to overcome any conscious prejudices his sibling may be harbouring behind his crushed smile. Junior now genie-like, granted him his wish and squeezed his brother tightly, partly out of love, partly out of a secret desire to cause him physical pain. There was a hushed murmur of approval at this moment; the Alehouse patrons had a lot invested in the Jim Brothers and their goings-on. It was almost spiritual; the bonding of their souls bound their friends and drinking companions together in a quasi-mythical way, affording their regular bouts of intoxicated debauchery a dreamlike status, a phrase many of them were prone to using as a justification for the regularity of their drinking sessions, whether that be to a dissatisfied spouse or sceptical medical professional.

 

The uncertainty that had hung in the air now evaporated, replaced by a gleeful hum, a marvellous murmur of chiming glasses and sloshes of ale that resonated throughout the pub, spilling out into the smoking area out front. It reminded him of his first sojourns into the world of the public house, crunching sea-salt crisps between his teeth, marvelling at having ice in his drink, eyeballing the never-ending stream of dark, inviting liquids his Father and friends seemed to put away (they were Guinness or Mild men). Slapping the neon pineapple, hoping for a lucky break. Pissing next to sweaty post-office bears, their once perfect ties now hanging down their back, like a gunslinger without his load. To Sonny then, as it did upon this fair night the city seemed electric; after so much time spent hibernating, trapped inside a cocoon of self-pity, misery and doubt, this nostos, this sprouting of liquor-tinged wings, granted him what felt like a new lease of life. The hands that had torn at his once dashing, now somewhat haggard auburn locks in the previous weeks seemed again to be the pale, miniature hands that flung beermats mischievously, that pawed at Daddy for another glass of coke so he could sip it like he was the old man in the cardigan with half a bitter, peering intently as his crossword. He knew what was left to be done, what would grant this night the redemptive stamp of approval he, now several pints and countless whiskeys deep, so desperately sought; he would apologise for his retreat from The Alehouse. Nothing major, no tears, no grandiose speech would travel through the liberty-tinged air and burst everyone’s bubble; no, a few words and they would understand.

 

Stains

by Stacey Woodbridge, with commentary from Katie Simpson

Camping sucks. Let no one tell you otherwise. My pumps, once white, are now at the mercy of grass stains. Why Mother Nature? Shoes do not grow on trees. To my surprise, the field where we have set up camp is no good for kicking a ball about. Not that there are any kids to kick a ball about with anyway, other than little Henry. There is no one to grumble at about how boring this place is, only old Lee who always has something to complain about. I overheard the landlord welcoming him back, as though he is a regular visitor of High Farm Caravan Park. Honestly, I would rather not be seen talking to the grump. Within earshot of him, I perch on the ground as his current tale unfolds. It’s about war. It usually is with men of old age. He reminds me of my grandfather, spilling out history lessons when given half the chance.

An aggressive manly cough signifies the start of Lee’s spout; “The year was in fact 1930. I was here, right here, over there in that field. Yes, I was! But this, this was when ole man Steel owned that piece a’ land. He would take no trespassers on his ‘sacred’ grounds. No Sir. He had his own means of keeping the enemy out of his fields. Oh, the people around here knew Steel was to be feared but I say he oughta’ be respected. Did a mighty fine one keeping them scoundrels away. Why should it bother me where he came about that arsenal of his? Bloody well worked it did, Yeah!”

His sincere but poorly spoken story was rather entertaining. I find his passion for these adventures to be thrilling and I almost wish I had such exciting things to talk about back home. I consider writing a short poem, about the adventures I’ve been on, but then remind myself I’m only an inexperienced teenage boy. Boys of my age don’t write poetry unless it’s part of the curriculum. My enthusiasm is soon replaced with utter disregard after what Lee muttered next. The old fool must have been delusional at the time or completely made this up. Not for one minute do I believe he saw a head flying through the air over mad Steel’s farm. This poor guy believes it happened.

I tire of listening to Lee so I take my brother’s football for a little kick about. He’s sat on the grass watching me, wondering why I’ve taken his possession without asking or maybe why he couldn’t join me in a game. Instead he’s chuckling away just watching with his gentle off-blue eyes. I suppose I am trying to impress the rascal with my moves. As I launched the ball high into the air, over the fence it goes to the field adjacent to this one. This image of the ball flying through the sky reminds me of the head that Lee was talking about. I picture someone doing as I had with the ball, kicking the head towards the heavens.

On its return, the ball hits the head of a cow whose face tells me exactly how disgusted it is by my actions. This has me in hysterics more. Even little Henry is still giggling, though he is probably laughing just because I am. Finally, I calm myself seconds before witnessing something peculiar, something uncommon for children to endure on their family vacation. I recall my need for an interesting story to tell and begin to think this one would be perfect. This would be a tale of unbelievable events. Now I regrettably take back my insults to old Mr Lee.

Bowing my head in disbelief, I find myself once again looking down on my once white pumps with green splodges and now blood stains too. I doubt even Mum can fix this pair of whites with all the laundry detergents out there. Well, if I cannot hold Mother Nature responsible this time, then who? Mr Brookes, the irresponsible landowner? Did he fail to check the farm over before purchasing it? Did he not know what lay beneath the ground?

Last Night’s Nightmare

by Katherine Maynard, with commentary from Jenny Grealis

My body spilt against yours,
In a bathroom of disrepute/disrepair,
Your tools dismantled me;
Tearing my hair
My dress
My flesh.

Underneath fluorescence I screamed your name.
The magic of skin on skin,
Panting the soundtrack to the break-in,
Months of compliments enchanted me:
Young girl with wide eyes
And wider hips.

Halfway across the world I have been transported back inside myself,
Inside but not reaching deep,
Only my womb was torn
My brain is merely scathed.

I only think of it in a waking dream,
Lips pressed to skin,
Laughter floating to ears,
Hands folded in mine.

You can be inside that space,
And I can hold you in that embrace,
But this body cannot trap the dreams
Of a woman who is without desperation/desecration,
This temple which invites false gods.

Praying at my altar,
Sacrificing all time, energy, blood.
Goddess of lust revered your gifts,
Only to be torn asunder.
Not realising your sacrifice was (my) flesh,
For a wife’s eyes to silently thresh.

A bitch in heat,
A piece of meat,
That’s all I will ever be
To me.

Planting Strawberries

By Betty Doyle, with commentary from Alice Hiley

I like the texture of thick soil –
its wet grit catching under my nails,
its black smear across my knee.

But mostly it is good to feel loved:
to cup the tiny pink seeds in my palm
and feel their dependance – their trust

that I will not scatter them into windfall;
that I will play sun-mother, storm-goddess;
and protect them in frost, watch them grow plump.

Silence

by Charlotte Adamson, with commentary from Srishti Kadu

Everywhere.
Nothingness.
Emptiness.
I hear things,
voices.
Screaming, yelling.
Begging me to let them out.
Begging me to release them from their silent prison
yet I stay silent.
Watching as their bodies contort in pain.
Standing as they reach out at me through the solid bars.
Watching as they call my name in suffered tones,
I stay as silent as a saint.

Yet.
I am no saint
nor sinner.
I am nothing
I am Silence.
Silence is me.

Little Attic Room

by Siobhan Regan, with commentary from Jess Phillips

I love my little attic room atop the spiral stair.
Full of musty books and hidden truths,
no one disturbs me there.

It’s mine, I say, and mine alone,
a place to rest my head and think
of days gone by, and what could have been
for I cannot sleep a wink.

In later months, the cold sets in,
my scattered tears turn to snow.
Through howling winds, thick rafters screech
that they’ll crush me in one blow.

But you can’t, I say, I’m part of you now –
the room and I are one.
From the day the rope slipped round my neck
our marriage vow was done.

Sometimes I dare to ask the dark
who it is you hold at night?
No scream will break what holds me here
now that my feet have taken flight.

You’re mine, I say, and mine alone.
Isn’t that what you once said?
So, my love, does that deal still stand
even now that I am dead?

I love my little attic room, I never want to leave.
Soon you’ll come back and see a sight
to end your sweet reprieve.

Leave Me To The Autumn Wind

by Georgie Kett, with commentary from Matt Tattersall

Swift as a gust of autumn wind you struck,

Flurried, befuddled, my life I found bound.

One brief look, an instant was all it took,

Dry leaves scattered, laid out dead on the ground.

A flush of scarlet lips, the spark of gold,

A drip of warm blood, the rain it did fall.

The feel of your eternal warmth took hold;

Putrid stench, knotting stomach to a ball.

Leaves stop clamouring at our mud-caked feet!

Dissolve in the puddle of tears we cry.

If I should bewitch this rain into sleet,

This autumnal wind may aid me to fly!

Pounding hearts shan’t save our love- no more lies.

My leaves and I flutter in autumn skies.