[Prose] Ahead of the Curves

by Robert Gould

Let’s take a step over the magazine soaking in urine. It’s safe to assume that’s urine pooled in the gorges scarring these bathroom floor tiles. Tonight, we’re taking a seat, but we’ll be careful; careful to the point of pedantry. Our tights are only pulled as far as our knees. Nervous fingers sit inside them, fluttering and straining against the black elastic. Our red pumps have only the toilet’s sad ceramic pedestal to partition themselves from that dirty floor. They sit perched, with heels digging into the leaking fissures.

Time spent in these spaces should instill us with modesty. We all perform foul tasks on a daily basis, even the creole socialite who looks up us from her now wet and crinkled magazine cover. She’s been shot from the pelvis upwards. A sheet of cotton-candy-coloured vinyl has been seemingly stretched across her body. A headline of “AHEAD OF THE CURVES” arcs above her like a colourless rainbow. The shadows granted by these new folds made her dull expression appear more loaded. Her eyes seem narrowed yet pronounced, as if peering from behind a hijab. The bubbled paper brought already plump lips into the third dimension. Yet all we can think is even this Goddess, this internationally renowned beauty – even she has bowel movements.

But there’s no one to share in this fresh humility. We’re most likely alone in this train station bathroom, and we’re definitely alone in this cubicle. The blue Formica-like walls of each one curve into the floor, and are clumsily grouted into it. The walls are thick: should there be a struggle, you might not hear it. Should there be violence, blood can’t trickle through.

But let’s have a listen. The cistern above our head sounds hungry. The chain hangs straight as a rod. But wait just a moment – is that weeping we hear? Well, it certainly isn’t snorting. No one could be so disillusioned with their life that they would get high in such a miserable station. Then again, perhaps it was a coping mechanism. These bathrooms are putrid. A single glance could reduce a pillar of society into a degenerate in desperate need of inebriation. Where are the cleaners? What exactly are they being paid for?

Let’s take a step over the magazine soaking in piss. It’s safe to assume that’s piss pooling in between these tiles. Tonight, we’re hopping from tile to tile until we reach the sinks, evading the thin crucifixes of piss along the way. We’ll be careful; careful to the point of pedantry.

A sudden hiss! We shiver. Flick your neck. Follow the sound. We can’t do it, though, can we? There are two sources, two air fresheners at opposite ends of the room; one above the sinks, and one above the hand-dryer. They are timed to coincide. They are timed to conceal.

What are they hiding?

“What are you hiding?” we utter breathlessly.

Two beams of lavender-scented mist working together, unknowingly. Let’s swallow a wad of saliva wrought from terror. Let’s take a walk to the other three cubicles. We have no time for pedantry now; ridding ourselves of paranoia is far more important. Clumps of once-wet tissue paper have been twisted to spell out an expletive on our first door. We’ll push it in and find… nothing at all. We’ll carry on.

The next door bears a big battered sticker promoting organic food. It seems to be the most welcoming of the cubicles, and a look inside proves the theory true. The floor is comparatively clean. There is even a sanitary bin and toilet brush supplied. The only drawback is a smell that grows stronger and stronger as you trace it to the next door…

Crack! Slap! The door bounces back to us after a fierce kick, allowing for only a flash of the trauma inside. But we know what we saw.

A man, crossed legs, a forehead, a bullet hole. Blood splattered like a tribal headdress on the wall behind him. A jumpsuit and a badge.

Here is the cleaner. What was he killed for?

And in this destitute station, who are you going to tell?

[Prose] Spot of Joy

by Robert Gould

Inspired by Robert Browning’s dramatic monologue, “My Last Duchess“.

Lucrezia de' Medici (1545-1561) Alessandro Allori Italian 1535-1607

Transgressive and blessed; my life was boiled down to two points of interest. There is no breeze to shift the dusty stock that remains six feet deep under soil, a neighbourhood of thirsty roots and blind, lumbering larvae. But my legacy is not restricted to a wedge of tombstone; to this day servants give pause as their eyes meet a set resting in taut lids, chancing flagellations from impatient masters – all in the name of tasting my thrills from a painting on the wall.

My dear Duke of Ferrara has the distinction of being the first man to share a chamber with me, and on the night of our nuptials I sat perched on his bed like a pinioned bird. My eyes traced kidney-shaped emblems of iridescent mosaic arcing above chalky pillars. My husband emerged, his naked gut groped by candlelight. From darkness the rest of him followed, still tense and bloated from that evening’s feast.

“And still my hunger persists…” his stroll toward me seemed to say, and I welcomed it. Surely the singular advantage of this requisite union was to be our congress? My Duke may not have been in his prime when his path crossed mine, but all around the palace were memories of his glory, and it was likely my adolescent heart fell for a portrait rather than the man himself. He was late for our first acquaintance, and I recall my father pacing the withdrawing-room, decrying the pitiful manners of my Duke. But I waited patiently, gazing upon a preservation of his halcyon days as I did so. His lips were plump but rigid, his skin was as white as milk, with a chin and cheekbones set to pierce its glutinous film. When my Duke finally did appear, all I could recognise were hard, black eyes that promised me embers of the young man rendered in oil paint.

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[Prose] Perpetual Disappointments

by Robert Gould

Some say it takes a village to raise a child, but I would honestly rather I were raised by wolves than to have grown up in this backwater town. The thought occurred to me as I was hitting the filter of my cigarette. My lips were beginning to scorch, but I kept on sucking and spluttering on the hot smoke. I wasn’t ready to return to my date with the world’s most highly functioning coma patient. I peered through the restaurant’s window. I was impressed by just how trendy its interior was. Between the soft lighting and marble table tops, it was undoubtedly the best establishment in town, but that’s pretty much the equivalent of being the most symmetrical turd in the toilet bowl.

When I returned, Rhys continued to drone on like a hungry whale. I eyed up my wine glass. Barely a thimble’s worth remained. I downed it, hoping this would prompt him to buy me a new one. He didn’t notice. In the hands of anyone else, the subject of your father’s oil company would have been at least mildly titillating. But this boy was dryer than a nun’s vagina. He didn’t converse; words literally crawled out of his mouth with ugly, spastic legs. I had been plotting my escape since I first cracked open the menu. With my glass empty, I could finally smash it to the stem against the side of the table and swing it through my left eye. I’d have to get buried with an eyepatch, but it would be the stuff of legend. Online-dating networks would collapse. No one would want to try it for fear of being bored to death, just like that girl in Wales. I would be infamous. My skin prickled at the thought.

A waiter glided past our table and took my wine glass. Instinctively, I screamed at him.

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[Prose] Sweetheart

by Robert Gould

The elevator hummed as it ascended the spine of a Canary Wharf tower block. Encased within its carpeted walls was Heather, who pinched the grey fuzz between her fingers and mentally likened it to the filter of a low-grade vacuum cleaner. It looked incongruous in an otherwise lavishly furnished building. For a young Welsh migrant, Heather had a convincing air of grace and self-assurance, but even she felt intimidated by the lobby’s amber-flavoured aesthetic. She had done the route a countless number of times, but never alone, and certainly never at an hour as late as this. She was mildly relieved to see a familiar face behind the reception desk as it reduced the risk of her being mistaken for a prostitute, but she was a paranoid drunk, and so a kernel of dread remained.

Her heels hit the marble flooring with a set of hard clicks as soon as she reached the building’s fourth level. This hastiness saw her coat catch on a resident fire extinguisher, loosening it from its hook on the wall. It fell with a dense, echoing thud, and Heather cursed under her breath. She decided not to replace it for fear of creating more noise, as she knew Charles shared this floor with Theodore Wyard, a wealthy but disgruntled geriatric who once divulged a sordid marital history to Heather when she insisted on bringing him a bottle of port as a joint Christmas present from her and Charles. Mr. Wyard invited her in for a nightcap, and three measures later she left his apartment with knowledge of a wife and child who he had left behind in Windsor. It seemed the only thing he retained from this pastoral setting was his love of hunting. Before closing the door on Heather, Mr. Wyard imparted one last fact: if she or Charles were to cause any excessive noise after 10pm, he would detach his antique Browning shotgun from the living room wall and pay them a visit.
“And you can be sure I won’t be looking to borrow some sugar.” Mr. Wyard said with a wheeze before shutting the door.

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[Prose] An Act of Kindness

It was moments such as this that Rose found herself cursing her own habitual kindness. After all, who else could be to blame? Perhaps if she had complimented her flatmate’s new weave with just a little less enthusiasm, said flatmate wouldn’t have felt it necessary to bury her tear-streaked face in her lap in a possible bid to ensure the two could get further acquainted. She probably thinks most Irish people have never seen a weave before, Rose thought to herself. But to Sonny’s credit, anyone bearing witness to how Rose had bounded up and down the communal area of their flat upon spying her friend’s majestic mane would most likely have surmised the same thing.

And yet as Sonny continued to weep in violent convulsions, Rose reasoned that perhaps she was overthinking things. Maybe her friend was legitimately upset. It certainly wasn’t unheard of for Sonny to get a bit emotional after a few drinks. Indeed, by the time they found their Christmas holidays were approaching, it had been a task for anyone in Rose’s flat to recall a night out that didn’t end in an emotional breakdown for poor Sonny. But Rose had hoped this semester would be different. It was her first night back in Cardiff, and she had high hopes – although these were slowly being dowsed by the flash-flood of tears that lay before her. She hadn’t exactly enjoyed her time back in Ireland. As she began to tear up at the departure gate earlier that day, she hoped her father would interpret it as a sign of regret, that maybe Rose felt she had made a mistake in crossing the Irish sea. Not to the extent that she should be pained by this embryonic patriotism – Mr. O’Shea would never wish such turmoil upon his only daughter – but that maybe in four years time, with her degree wrapped up and thoughts of greener grass fading, she might come back home. She had never given him a particular reason to think this wouldn’t be the case, but the truth was she deplored her homeland. She walked the streets of Cork city like a tourist. When she caught up with her high school friends, it was as if they now spoke a different language. She should have been content knowing that those she cared about were perfectly happy to settle within a half a mile of where they all used to play hopscotch together. But throughout each coffee date, all Rose’s foggy mind could do was wonder how her friends could go each day without catching their reflection in the mirror and resenting both themselves and their brazen lack of ambition. While she walked through the airport’s duty free shops, Rose wiped one last tear from her eye, knowing this fit to be the closest she had ever come to vocalising these thoughts.

Rose decided to re-evaluate the situation. What she found curious was that Sonny’s episodes rarely struck during pre-drinks – she usually waited until they were on a dance floor entrenched with their sweaty, grinding peers to have her soul-crushing epiphanies – so why should tonight be any different? She felt it was worth investigating, so she patted Sonny on the head to get her attention. A few seconds had passed before Rose realised she hadn’t accounted for the newly applied blanket of Russian hair that was cushioning her impact. She tried again.

“Sonny? Babe…?” She attempted to sound as motherly as possible, putting her deep, syrupy timbre to good use. Sonny grunted drowsily. Rose propped her up next to her on the bed like a drunken ventriloquist doll. As she saw Sonny’s eyes wander from her own to the many French film posters that adorned her bedroom wall, she knew this interrogation could take a while. She caught Sonny by the shoulders and looked her straight in the eye.

“Sonny! Please. Tell me what’s wrong.” For a moment, Rose thought she had lost her for good. Her eye contact wavered. She winced her eyes shut and rested them on the heel of her palms. But this digression lasted only a moment. After a few seconds, Sonny had regained eye contact, and began to answer the question at hand.

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[Prose] Woman Waits, Seething, Blooming – Part II

Although a response to David Egger’s short story, this continuation has been written so as to be readable in isolation from the original text. 

She stormed into the hallway to catch the beams of her son’s headlights bringing life to the stained glass flowers embedded in her front door. Maria winced her eyes shut and began to mouth her argument with small, sputtering lips. She sighed hard and released the drunken spittle that had been clinging for dear life in between them. She watched it fly ahead of her before wiping her mouth with the sleeve of her nightgown. Yet she felt more moisture crawling and creeping down her body. She took a moment. Brian was still in the car. Was he afraid to come inside? He fucking should be, she thought to herself. She looked around. Ah! It was the drink, of course. She wiped her mouth against her right arm, failing to remember that she was still holding a tumbler of gin and red wine, which she had spilled on her cleavage and nightgown.

She knew that no matter what she had to say to her son, it would be more convincing if she wasn’t holding a still-sizable measure of alcohol. But it was too late: Brian’s key was in the door. It fit perfectly the first time. There was so scraping or dragging it across the vicinity of the lock. He must be sober. The door opened, squeaking comically, almost mockingly. His naturally pale face revealed itself in the light of the hallway. He pursed his dark red lips. His blue eyes shone with worry. He apologised immediately, but it wasn’t enough. Of course it wasn’t enough! She launched into her monologue. It was a lengthy, surprisingly verbose affair, with various peaks of hyperbolically-related misery, although Maria took care to maintain a consistently grim tone throughout. It was only halfway through a fiercely delivered anecdote about her unbearably bleak adolescence that she thought to ask Brian where he had actually been all this time.

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[Prose] Mr. & Mrs.

Her ivory fingers took hold of the glossy wine bag that sat on her lap. It was too late to say anything; the taxi driver had very clear intentions to take on the first speed bump into Sandymount. Both her and her partner were jolted forward upon impact. The handbag that sat on her side took to the air and smacked against the back of the passenger seat.
“Idiot!” she barked. She shoved their housewarming gift into Mervin’s lap before scrambling to the floor to find her beloved Dior. The driver eyeballed her from the safety of his rearview mirror. Her husband squirmed.
“I’m sorry, sir. It’s been a long day. Don’t mind her.” The taxi driver nodded and pursed his lips into a weary smile. She retrieved her bag and glided her fingers along the cubic zirconium-studded trimming to make sure everything was in check. She surveyed the driver. There was no ring on his finger. She turned to hiss at Mervin.
“‘Don’t mind her’? What is wrong with you?”
“What’s wrong with you? It was a speed bump.”
“Yes, it was a speed bump, Mervin. Good observation! Because thanks to this tosser, I’m guessing it’s a pile of rubble now.”
Mervin looked out of his window. The serenity of the suburbs reassured him. His heart sank at the sight of a woman with a pram. Fortunately, his wife was busy degrading the taxi driver.
“And you, sir. I’m aware people of your status don’t get come to Sandymount very often so I can understand your excitement. But you know that stunt you pulled back there? That was not acceptable behavior. You are in Dublin 4. This isn’t Crumlin.”
Mervin was trying to restrain his laughter. He knew his girlfriend to be an elitist, but the truth was he shared many of the same values – she was simply more adept at expressing them. He enjoyed appearing to most people in their circle as the mellow yang to her volatile yin, and for Mervin, it was the perfect relationship.

The driver took the last turn into Gilford Park. Eleanor and Ben’s house was a semi-detached Edwardian gem. She watched the fire in Mervin’s eyes ignite as the taxi pulled up outside their dramatically sculpted gate. The lovingly paved driveway made the pair thankful that they had worn the finest footwear at their disposal. He wore leather Armani lace-ups; she wore strappy Dolce & Gabbana sandals with a dark iguana print. They treaded the grey brick with haste to meet Eleanor at the door. She was shamelessly eager to show off her new home. She took them to the kitchen where Ben greeted them with a one-armed hug. He was shaking a cocktail mixer. He quickly dispensed four mojitos. Eleanor may have been bland as hell but no one could say she didn’t find her calling as an interior designer. Her kitchen was painstakingly coordinated. A warm creamy colour dominated the room, complimented by sky-blue furnishings. Mervin wandered around with an open mouth, ignoring his drink. His wife took a sip. Ben caught her grimace.
“Uh oh. I know that face.”
“Oh Ben, I’m sorry. Mixing just isn’t your forte.”
“I know. I just thought I’d give it a try. Call it part of my mid-life crisis.”
“Would you like some wine instead?” Eleanor chimed in. “We received a wonderful Shiraz from a very happy client of mine.”
“Oh no, don’t trouble yourselves. I’ll make a new batch!”
Eleanor and Ben didn’t need much convincing. Their guest was renowned for her cocktails, and mojitos were her specialty. They all happily took to the verandah while she diced the limes, crushed the ice and ground the medication.

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