[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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[Prose] Claire

By Robert Gould

Claire never thought she would long to be jolted awake. That instantaneous shift from the soft uncertainty of sleep to barbed panic now eluded her. There was no scramble to check her phone for hysterical messages from concerned friends, no rabid recollection of events to thwart her morning. Claire knew exactly where she was, and what she had done. She glanced up and around the hotel room for the seventh time, once again looking for a distraction; once again, the room’s heavy curtains left only shapes to be deciphered.

Dying. How she pined for a way to use this word flippantly, to see the man that lay beside her wake up, look at her, and, mirroring her glazed eyes, her dulled skin, speak of dying in the way she did on a weekly basis. To joke of the lethal concoction that were their combined hangovers, his a little more potent than hers. Now dying seemed a viable option, and would surely be more bearable than what was to come.  For Claire wasn’t incapacitated last night. She wished she had been, of course. It would’ve made her behavior a little more excusable, and a lot less cruel. She knew the man she was with to be married and she knew, from the moment they locked eyes in that awful bar, that he had certain intentions. But for whatever reason, she didn’t rise above it.

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