Thursday 30 November 2023

Looking Over the Edge by Penny Rogers, a mug of tea and one (possibly two) toasted crumpets

The walls seemed to be closing in around her, the room getting smaller by the hour. In the hallway the striped wallpaper appeared to move, upwards then downwards in a continuous slow crawl.  The radio and television broadcast non-stop bad news; claustrophobia and misery threatened to overwhelm her.  Not stopping to put a coat on, pull on boots or even lock the door behind her, Josie walked quickly away from the house into the cold evening. At first she relished the chilly breeze on her cheeks, the crunch of frost under her feet and the scent of winter fires in her nostrils.

She walked briskly, drawn towards the edge of the village and away from the lights of home. Tarmac gave way to gravel, gravel gave way to tracks. She was heading towards the earthworks where she had played as a child. She knew they were Neolithic and that the ruined church in the centre of the henge was Norman; she also knew that the site was reputed to be haunted, and she’d always hoped to see a ghost there. That winter’s evening she walked the couple of miles towards the earthworks, pulled irresistibly through the dark. The going was difficult; muddy ruts were frozen solid and even by the light of the moon she couldn’t see where to put her feet. In flimsy shoes her ankles turned and the cold seeped into her feet. Wishing she’d at least put on a coat and better still some boots, Josie stopped to take stock, knowing she ought to turn round, go home and get warm.

            A giggle made her start. She wasn’t alone. In the dark she couldn’t make out any shape that wasn’t a tree or a fence. Tentatively she called out ‘Who’s there?’

            No reply. Too late she realised how vulnerable she was. Alone and half frozen in the darkness, she was a long way from home and no one had any idea where she was. Then she saw the lights; in her nervous state she thought they were lights on the Christmas tree, bobbing and dancing on the village green. But the cold reminded her where she was, and the lights were all around her. Another giggle, then a man’s laughter and the lights disappeared.

            Her phone! She always had it with her. She’d ring for help. In her freezing hand the sparkly phone presented a link to reality, to warmth and safety. She pressed the button to make a call; no response, the battery was flat. Terror such as she’d never experienced before overwhelmed her. Too petrified to cry, too cold to move she sank to her knees clutching her arms around her shaking body.

            On both her elbows she felt a hand, two hands she realised, lifting her up. There were clearly two people looking at her with consternation, but she couldn’t tell whether they were men or women, old or young, tall or short. ‘Thank you, who are you?’ She had to ask something. She heard a sigh by way of an answer and realised to her surprise that she was running across the field, no longer cold and frightened but exhilarated in the company of the people who seemed as nebulous as the chilly mist settling over the frozen, water-logged ground.

            She was guided to a bank beside a row of yew trees. The lights flickered around the trees, danced around her. She could not tell where the lights began and the shadowy people ended; the two seemed to coalesce into pictures and shapes. She saw what she assumed were roundhouses, dwellings made of mud, smoke curling through a hole in the centre of the deep thatched roofs. As fast as the scene appeared it dissembled, vanishing with the smoke from the fires in the huts. From the mist writhing around her feet she realised other structures were forming: wooden framed, low roofed and as far as she could see no windows. There were lots of animals wandering around the houses: sheep, pigs, dogs and what she took to be an ox. The smell of livestock and wood fires made her eyes water. Josie rubbed her eyes and turned round to see the ruins of the church, ivy growing over the dilapidated walls and an elder tree thrusting through the remains of a round arch. She was aware of a funeral service being held, conscious of mourners shuffling past her, of a child crying, of a rough wooden coffin being carried from the church. She just remembered waking up in her own bed.


When Josie told me about this I was sceptical.  ‘Ok, so how did you get home?’

            ‘I’ve no idea.’ She paused, looking out of the window as if she was expecting someone. ‘I suppose I must’ve walked, my shoes were wrecked, they went straight into the bin. I just remember waking up in my bed feeling warm and comfortable, and happier than I’ve been for a long time.’

            ‘Do you think you might need to talk to somebody about this?’

            Josie laughed. ‘D’you mean a therapist? A doctor? A counsellor? The Rev Lisa?  No, I know what I saw. The thing is, people have lived around here for thousands of years. Generations have come and gone, lived and died and left their mark. I was lucky to be there when the curtain between our world and theirs was briefly drawn back. I can’t explain it, maybe it was an hallucination caused by the cold and fear, I don’t know. But I do know I have this.’ She showed me a bone, bleached by years in the sun and smoothed by the passage of time. It was probably from a kid or a lamb. ‘I picked this up that night.’ She looked uncomfortable, her fingers playing with the bone, ‘I want to go back one night, look over the edge of time into the past. I wonder if…’

            ‘What do you wonder?’

            ‘Nothing… Let’s put the kettle on.’


It was midsummer before the police, forensic teams, rescue teams, dog handlers, even psychics, had left the area. No one could find any trace of Josie, she had simply vanished. I told them about the experience she had told me about, but no one took much notice of it. In fact one police officer suggested I should have a chat with my GP as the disappearance of my friend might have upset my understanding of reality!


The slow twilight of a summer’s evening lingered long after the sun had dipped below the western horizon. I parked my car in a layby near the ruined church and walked around the banks and fields surrounding it. A barn owl flew across the meadows, silently hunting for its supper, and a gentle breeze wafted through the tall grass of midsummer. On the bank by the line of yew trees I settled down to watch the evening close in around me. The yew trees behind me moved ever so slightly in the breeze, their dense branches rubbing together sounding like a footstep. Josie was standing beside me. I know it was her although I could not discern her features, even her shape. She was simply an ethereal presence in the dim light. I turned towards her and she was gone. The wind dropped completely, the grass unmoved in the now almost total darkness. I was aware for the first time of the moon, serene and full, lighting the way back to my car. I stood up to go and my eye was caught by something gleaming in the grass just where I had seen the apparition of Josie.

            There, by my feet, was the desiccated animal bone that had enchanted her all those months ago. I picked it up and walked slowly back to the layby.


About the author 

 Penny Rogers writes mostly short stories, flash fiction and poetry. She has been published in print and online and had some success in literary competitions. She is a member of the management team for SOUTH poetry magazine and facilitates a very informal writing group in her home town. 
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Wednesday 29 November 2023

Pomegranate by Gal Podjarny, Bailey's

 Nothing like an afternoon light to soften childhood memories. Last week, I opened a pomegranate. I decrowned it, made two circular cuts all around, and opened it into quarters. The red seeds huddling sent me to the past.

Here I am, a scrawny kid, wavy brown hair tied tightly back, sitting on my heels so I can reach the kitchen table. The windows are open, and I can hear the pigeons cooing outside. On this side, beyond the window glass, there are only laundry lines, rows and rows of them. On the living room side, past our balcony with my grandfather’s cards table, Mrs Levy is cleaning her living area. Threadbare carpet rolled up on the sofa, brown chairs upturned on the blue Formica table, the tile floor expansive and sterile. Mr Levy isn’t back from work yet. She has a few more hours of peace.

My mother places four neat pomegranate quarters before me, saying my little fingers are better for the job. The table is covered with blue chequered lino cloth. My mother brings to the table a crisp, bright cucumber and a tomato with the stem still attached, smelling like sunshine. She cuts them carefully. She won’t cook dinner; she never does. Grandma will be over soon with some pots. Into the enamel bowl the seeds go, their deep red discordant to the sickly pale green plastic.


Don’t get a stain on your shirt. It won’t come off.


Back in my new, gleaming kitchen, the memories spill from me, little fingers prying them loose one by one:


Don’t twirl. You might break something.

Don’t be so loud, the neighbours will complain.

I can’t talk to you when you cry. Go to your room and talk to me when you’re calm.


Each of them a ghost of my mother, of me as a child. I’m tethered to these ghosts. Up ahead, I can see the horizon, the soft light of the sunrise. But I can’t reach it. The ghosts of my past hold me back.

Ghosts have no body. That is why anything sensual offends them. The smell of the pomegranate, sour with regrets. The colour of the seeds, a deep blood red. The resistance against my fingers as I pry the seeds loose sends a tingle up my arms then down my back. She was right. Little fingers are better for this. But gentle fingers, wiser fingers, coax the seeds off so they are almost happy to leave the womb of the fruit.

The seeds are all in the bowl. Two small hands raise the pale green bowl like an offering. My mother takes the bowl silently, not even a thank you, let alone a well done. The little girl I was thinks it’s because she noticed I had sneaked a few, no more than three seeds. Perhaps that is why I return every year, a Persephone tied with black magic and ghosts of memories, to my mother’s home, in the desert, where the pomegranates, when you can get them, are always sweet.

I’m old enough, I’ve been through enough, to understand that she can never be what I needed her—still need her—to be. She cannot say thank you. She cannot say well done, I’m proud of you, you are doing well. These shackles, I can see now, not only moor me, but my children. And that I cannot accept.

And so, I murder the ghosts. Slay them with the kindness my mother was unable to show me. I throw a glass to the floor, the delicate one with the painted flowers, one of my favourites. Then, with great care, I clean up the shards, sweep them off the wooden floor with a thick-haired brush.


See? I broke something, and everything is fine. I’m still ok.


I sing at the top of my lungs, one of the old Rock songs, defiant, rebellious. At my mother’s house, we could hear Mrs Levy’s screams even when we closed the windows, but we never complained, although I did ask her once why won’t she hide Mr Levy’s belts.

And I cry on the bathroom floor, lying on the modern harsh tiles, letting go of the tears and with them these ghosts, the unkind words, the admonitions, the restrictions. Cut the cord.

Here, now, there’s a thread of sourness to the seeds. Maybe this pomegranate wasn’t quite ready to be opened. Or maybe this is the price I pay for living so far away from my mother. There is a red stain on my apron. I always put on an apron when I go into the kitchen, even to check the oven. Sometimes you have to pick your battles.

The murder scene is bloody with pomegranate juice. I wipe the white stone counter, wash my hands. It’s like it never happened.


About the author

Gal Podjarny is a student of the human psyche and condition. Her fiction explores the intricacies of identity within the tapestry of relationships. Her first short stories collection, Human Fragments, is now out in digital stores, and you can catch her musings on her blog at


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Tuesday 28 November 2023

Tell Me Something Before You Go by Axelle Dean King , an espresso with a cinnamon stick

Forever kissing in an Edward Munch painting, dreaming of New York and Harry Styles concert tickets.


Hey… you,


Youth looked awfully good on you. It still does. It gives your cheeks that pleasant rouge and puffiness, which you secretly hate - you told me about it over the phone, when you were a little wine drunk in Cape Town. It also gives your voice that characteristic gurgle. The most beautiful colour I’ve ever heard - pepper green and sunlight white. I’d only ever come across it once more.


Every Wednesday, after my shift is over, I go into the forest. Sometimes, I only reach the end of the concrete road, where nature has herself drawn the border between man-made and her own with vines - prickly and dark, brown in autumn and grey in winter. So I sit on the border between here and there and listen. The weeds speak you know, if you’d just listen. They speak of what’s beneath and what’s above.


And on one of those Wednesdays, as I was listening to a tuft of snowbells, I heard something else. A song of sorts. Then I saw it. A little black, orange-beaked bird.

            The common blackbird. So beautiful its chirps are in fact, it inspired the Beatles to write their own ‘Blackbird’. Attributed to Lennon-McCartney (arguably) one of the best music collaborations in all of history, it is inspired by Bach’s ‘Bourrée in E minor’, while simultaneously being a metaphor for the black civil right’s struggle. Blackbirds in socially unjust 1960s southern US.


So a bird, like the orange-beaked friend I made on a random Wednesday and the symphony of a blind man inspired a song that was emotionally charged  enough to make a boulder cry. Still is. 


I typically hate live recordings, but I wish there was one from that first night Linda Eastman spent in Paul’s home. There, McCartney played ‘Blackbird’ for all the fans camped outside his house and his future wife (Did he know that they were going to get married? Does a little thing called faith exist in this world? I don’t know and this is not the place for this discussion, either. But I hope it does.)


How finger-prickling must have this been? To be singing your heart out to the one you love. Perhaps, he didn’t even take much notice of the fans, perhaps this is why some think ‘Blackbird’ is a love song.


I think it can be. I think it has the potential to be both, a strong message in support of equality and a love song. It depends on where your mind is when you listen and are you really listening at all.


I played it for Jerry the next time I saw him. That's what I named him. I am not sure if he liked it. I don't know if he knew I was there, but he chirped and I listened to him. I don't know what he was saying, but I’d ‘Hmm’ along sometimes and if the chirping intensified, I’d gasp. Mostly though I sympathetically uttered ‘You know you're right about that.’ the way you do when you meet someone from Scotland, because can you understand that bloody accent?


Anyway, it became a habit for me and for the next two months I spent an hour once, sometimes twice a week listening to Jerry, not saying much other than the content ‘Hmm’-s. And all throughout I’d look at him as if he’d seize to exist if my gaze wavered.


One Thursday I decided to go visit him for the second time that week and there he was – a few metres from his favourite tree, laying on the concrete a few blackbird steps (about as big as a human one) away from the barbed border of nature, into the human world which killed him.


My friend was now with Lennon. I can only hope that he is as careful at listening to Jerry’s stories as I was once and have half-the-heart to believe that maybe he can understand him. Maybe in that world. Certainly, I couldn’t.


Sometimes I wonder if  that's why I lost you. Maybe you belong behind the border of nature. Maybe I am the truck that ran you over, leaving only bloody tire marks behind. Or maybe it's me and you couldn't live confined by the branches forever.


Either way I lost you. The same way I lost my thumb ring because it's two sizes too big. I haven't gone to the forest where nature swallows concrete lately because I feel it's not my place to intrude on its grief. I wonder if that's why you slipped through my palms, because I didn't beg. Maybe if I asked you really nicely, maybe if I invited you over for tea and brushed your hair out of your eyes, you would have stayed.


It doesn't matter anymore. Every once in a while I check on your Instagram and when I see you I'm not quite sure if it's you I am seeing. Let’s not lie to one another - the photographs of your (almost) naked body aren’t a source of pride. Neither is my pathetic, melancholy-drenched poetry.


Perhaps you really are gone. And I am the fool who stayed behind begging Jerry to make you come back. A spectacle for the Gods. Useless. All that’s left now is the crumbling paper of my leather-bound journal and the black ink. And my typewriter. And somewhere there I am, always writing the penultimate piece about you.


Yours (against my will),


 About the author

Axelle Dean King is a poet and writer, whose work focuses on love, grief, and heartbreak. You can discover more of her work here: 

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Monday 27 November 2023

Raveneau Chablis by Paige Foster, mocha

Previously published in WayWords, issue 1, 2021


‘When we were together, it felt like the rest of the world didn’t exist. It was just the two of us,’ Mary said. She tried to swallow the lump in her throat but this boulder of emptiness wouldn’t go down. She ached all over. 

Someone coughed, distracting her from her too-tight dress and the underwire poking into her side. The soft, dry breath echoed through the church pews, distorting its source and burying it in the crowd. She heard every shuffle and shift echo at maximum volume. 

Mary dropped the pages of her speech onto the podium to stop them from crinkling. Holding them was a mistake. This day, and the week leading up to it, was a nightmare. She wanted to crawl back into bed with Marty and listen to him breathing. Her hands shook and she clutched the pulpit’s wooden edges for strength; her skin pinched inside the unyielding band of her wedding ring—the symbol of their lifetime together. Black print on white paper blurred.

Mary felt the warm reassurance as Lisbet joined her at the pulpit. Lisbet had always been warm: the nurturing rock Jack needed. Mary had loved her from the moment Jack brought her home from college. Jack was their wild child, their youngest, so full of hope, energy, and natural talent. Lisbet emanated grace and strength and Mary knew at their first meeting she was the one; Jack’s person.

‘Deep breath, Mamma Mary,’ Lisbet whispered.

Mary nodded and hoped the sounds of sniffling came from the mourners and not her own overwhelming ache. She cleared her throat. ‘Marty always said we were meant to be. He said we were named for each other and that’s how he knew we’d spend our lives together, even in third grade. Marty and Mary, the extra T was for ‘together’.’

Lisbet squeezed Mary’s shoulders and smiled gently as Mary shook her head and buried her face in her hands. She felt Lisbet lean forward but couldn’t bring herself to look up.

‘She spent hours writing this,’ Lisbet said into the microphone, her voice steady. ‘You all know how amazing my father-in-law was; he’s earned the right for you to hear it in her words.’

Mary sobbed into her palms as Lisbet read the rest of the eulogy aloud. Before she knew it, Jack joined them in the limousine on the way to the gravesite.


Mary was never sure of time after that. It was either day or night. She hadn’t held a job since they were in their early twenties, when he was finishing college. She’d never wanted to go to college herself and he was as accepting and appreciative of her choice as she could hope. He promised to provide for her and their children, to afford their budding family a home and life where she could be the mother she always dreamed. When he opened his accounting firm, she put in her notice at the coffee shop and a year later, they had little baby Martin and a cute two-bedroom apartment. After that, her schedule revolved around the PTA, sports practices, music lessons, and whatever else the boys wanted. She’d always known the date, the time, the week’s schedule. She’d always known until that moment when time stopped.

His pillow still smelled of him: musk and Old Spice. Mary wore his favorite weekend sweater around the house. She melted into it until his scent was a memory.

Eventually, the doorbell stopped ringing. The phone stopped buzzing and Mary was alone in the silence. The four-bedroom Colonial was a vacuum. She even missed the crumbs from his post-dinner cinnamon toast. She hated cinnamon toast. Staring at the toaster, holding half a loaf of over-processed white bread, Mary burst into tears.

The kitchen’s screen door creaked and Mary caught herself on the counter, wiping her face on the sweater sleeve. It was too early for Marty to be home from work… wasn’t it? The sink still had the dirty dishes from breakfast and she hadn’t started to prepare dinner. She couldn’t remember what she’d promised to cook, not that he minded. Marty was always so great about her culinary explorations and encouraged her to try new things. He’d never been a picky eater, except for the cinnamon toast. That was a must.

‘Mamma Mary,’ Lisbet asked softly from the doorway, ‘are you alright?’

‘Hmm?’ Mary turned around, still holding the bag of stale, sliced bread. ‘Oh, we’re fine, how are the girls?’

‘We’ve been calling but we can’t get through. Jack and I are worried about you.’ Lisbet hung her purse on the row of pegs by the door and tucked loose strands of dark hair behind her ear. Her hair seemed so much longer than it had at Kelly’s recital and Mary wondered for a moment how long ago that was.

Mary shook her head, ‘About what, dear? We’re just fine here.’

Lisbet’s shoulders heaved in her sigh and she frowned.

‘Is everything okay with you? Is Jack alright?’ Mary asked. She beckoned her daughter-in-law closer for a hug. ‘I’m just making Marty’s cinnamon toast.’

Lisbet opened the refrigerator and checked a few of the cupboards. ‘Are you getting on okay? It looks like your milk is expired. I can run to the store if you’re not up for it,’ she said.

Mary frowned and said, ‘I always love that sundress on you, the yellow is perfect for your dark complexion.’ She wasn’t trying to change the subject but Lisbet looked like she needed to hear something nice. ‘We can set a few extra places for dinner if you’d like to join us?’

‘Mamma Mary,’ Lisbet said softly, ‘who is we?’

Mary dropped the bag of bread on the counter. ‘Hmm?’

Lisbet gently rubbed Mary’s arms and looked into her eyes. ‘Pappa Marty is dead,’ she said. ‘He had a heart attack at work, remember? We buried him three weeks ago.’

‘I know that,’ Mary said and shrugged out of Lisbet’s embrace. ‘I—he…’

‘Let’s get you cleaned up, Mamma Mary,’ Lisbet said. ‘We can charge your phone and I’ll make you some lunch.’


Mary ventured into a grocery store for the first time in two months and to her surprise, the world had kept turning. Lisbet was a wonderful support but she had her own children to look after and Mary knew she didn’t need the burden of a forgetful mother-in-law with everything else.

Mary loved the grocery store. She loved trying different vegetables and spices. She loved learning new recipes and experimenting. She and Marty planned to see the world, he for the picturesque views and she in her quest to taste everything. They’d talked about eating their way through Asia first and visiting the Seven Wonders. Marty had started their travel fund when little Martin learned to walk.

‘Someday,’ he’d always say, ‘we’ll go everywhere and we’ll see everything there is to see.’

Standing in front of the bok choy, she didn’t realize she was weeping until a tissue fluttered near her face. Like a white flag of surrender, the tissue offered solace and strength.

‘It’s just a cabbage,’ said the woman, ‘I’m not sure it’s worth all that.’

Mary sniffled into the tissue for a few moments after the woman walked away. Everyone in the produce department carried on with their business as if nothing happened. How could they not know, how could they not ache under the crushing weight of an eternity without Marty? Mary worried she didn’t have anyone to cook for and found the microwave meal selection as depressing as the idea of eating one alone.

‘’Taste of Asia’,’ she read aloud and scoffed, ‘Which part of Asia? Why do they have beef flavor?’

Mary had enough. The overhead lights sucked their energy from her soul and the too-sweet jingle blaring from the speakers gave her a headache. The idea of existing was exhausting.

Outside, her cart as empty as when she walked in, Mary stood by the entry and sighed. Marty was everywhere and nowhere at the same time. Mary wondered if the day-to-day was worth all the hassle just to see her grandkids a couple times a month. They weren’t even old enough to understand what happened. They wouldn’t remember him when they grew up. Kind, gentle Marty would be a face in a photograph to the ones he loved most.

She’d loved Marty since she was nine years old, since before she understood what love was. She’d raised three beautiful children with him and welcomed five grandchildren. She’d cooked his meals, washed his gym clothes, and shared a life with him for four decades. Their children had their own families now and Mary didn’t have anyone to cook for anymore.


Mary dug deep as she chewed her way through a box of cardboard crackers. She decided it was her last meal and she wanted to wash it down with the bottle of wine they bought with Marty’s first big paycheck.

When he first opened his business, the accounts were small and his client list lean. As a new CPA, he hadn’t developed a reputation yet so when he landed what he called a ‘big fish’, Marty came home with a bottle of Mary’s dream wine: a 1995 Raveneau Chablis Butteaux. As excited and proud as Mary was for Marty’s achievement, she wanted to save the bottle until his retirement party so they could look back on that moment as the turning point of his career.

Marty would never have a retirement party.

She found the soft green bottle tucked in a low, dark corner of the basement, next to a few other, less interesting vintages. Its golden wax seal intact, the Chablis was a bit dusty but otherwise perfectly preserved. Mary clutched it close to her chest as she headed up the stairs to the main floor.

The wine glass selection was just as important as the wine itself, especially for this situation. Resolute about her own ending, Mary emptied one of the bottom cabinets of their hutch and, sitting on the floor in the dining room, pulled out the box with the champagne flutes from their wedding. Though the Chablis wasn’t a sparkling wine, she couldn’t imagine drinking her final sip from anything less indicative of the love she shared with Marty.

The clock ticked in a final countdown as Mary righted the hutch and changed into her funeral dress. She supposed it really was her funeral and hoped the children would understand. She poured her glass, collected a cocktail of old prescriptions into a dish, and sat down at the antique writing desk they’d inherited from her grandmother. In the top drawer, she found a fancy pen, one her mother gave her for ‘keeping up with correspondence’, as if anyone ever wrote letters on paper anymore. As she pulled out the box of fancy paper, Mary felt something shift inside and a soft thump broke the stillness of the house.

Mary opened the pearled white box to find two passports and a note in Marty’s scrawling hand. ‘Someday, we can actually use them!’ she read and a pained chuckle escaped her lips. ‘Oh, Marty.’

Without another thought, Mary drained her glass, discarded the unused pills, and headed off in search of her suitcase. She was done waiting; someday had arrived.

About the auhtor 

Paige enjoys snuggly blankets and reading about human nature’s dark side. When she’s not devising new ways to torture her characters, Paige loves to explore different cultures to expand her worldview. Paige’s work has appeared in WayWords Literary Journal, Tales from the Other Side, and elsewhere.


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Sunday 26 November 2023

Sunday Serial: The Story Weaver and Other Tales by Sally Zigmund, SNAP DECISION, thin soup




‘Jesus, Mary, what’s all this junk?’

      Bridie Durcan emerged, rump first, from under my bed and brushed dust from her starched apron. ‘No wonder you wheeze.’

‘That junk, Mrs Durcan, is the story of my life. Destroy that and I might as well be dead.’

She wagged an accusatory finger. ‘We’ll not have that now I’m in charge.’

In charge? She’d only entered my life the day before. She was the compromise I’d accepted when I told them I wasn’t going into a home. Me, one of the enfants terribles of the late twentieth century—in a home? Andy Warhol called me his mentor (mind you, he was pissed at the time) and David Bailey told The Irish Times I taught him everything he knew—and more.

 And Bridie Durcan itched to throw it all away.

She returned later with a plateful of something suspiciously like dog food with a side-serving of shamrock, propped me up and spooned it into my mouth, wiping my dribbles with a napkin. Oh, how are the mighty fallen.

‘So you took snaps, did you, before you took the cloth?’ she said. ‘Any good, were they?’

‘Any good? I’ll have you know I was brilliant. None of this digital stuff then, you know. It took skill, deadly poisons swilling about in trays and drying prints pegged across my dark room as stiff as nuns’ knickers.’

‘Is that so? A little less chatting and more eating, if you don’t mind then you can have some afters. You won’t have tasted anything like my rice pudding.’

‘I don’t doubt it,’ I said. ‘Will I need a knife and fork?’

‘And less of your cheek.’


One thing I soon learned about Bridie Durcan was that she never gave up. She burst in the next day, armed to the teeth with brush, bucket, dustpan and a fistful of bin-bags. ‘Let’s blitz this germ factory right now.’

            That was it. I swung my legs out of the bed but I hadn’t reckoned on the lethal hospital corners she insisted on which welded my to the bed. They grabbed my legs as I launched a flying tackle against the offending weapons of mass destruction. ‘Over my dead body!’ I shouted.

My prophecy was almost fulfilled. I ended up on the floor, with my pyjama trousers round my ankles and one of my coughing fits.


We looked though my ‘junk’ after supper. Bridie was unimpressed. Not even by the series Yoko Ono had raved about in Time Magazine. She took no interest in the composition, the placing of shadow and light, the depth of field. A stunning monochrome of Marilyn Monroe elicited a pitying shake of her head and Woody Allen gazing towards Times Square, a sharp, odd little man.’

            Given her limited artistic eye, it wasn’t long before the only item left was an old biscuit tin. She spent so long prising off the rusted lid that I felt dying would have been the more exciting option.

Then. ‘Jesus!’ and a hundred unframed prints sprang free like Jack from a box and slid to the floor.

            ‘Now these are much more interesting,’ she said, stooping to pick them up. ‘Is that your mother? Oh and this must be you—weren’t you the darling boy in your little trousers and school cap?’ On and on she went. I closed my eyes.

It was the silence that woke me. I looked at her. Her face was radiant and she was praying.

            Between her trembling fingers she held a small black and white print. Did you take this?’

            ‘You’ll miss the last bus if you don’t go now.’

‘Well, did you?’

‘Of course I bloody well took it.’

‘Then, look at it, you silly man.’

I snatched it from her. My God.


I couldn’t have been more than twenty. I was on my way home to my flat after a particularly wild party and was probably full of happy pills, magic mushrooms and a lot more besides. It was January, well after midnight, and a mist was rising from the Liffey and drifting through the narrow streets. Anyway, I was soon lost. I staggered about for hours, slowly sobering up and feeling like Hell.

            It began to rain. I turned a corner and there he was. An old man staring into the window of a harp shop, of all places, as if selecting the model to take with him into the afterlife. He was stooped; snowy haired and his eyes couldn’t have been up to much by the way he was struggling to focus. What the hell was he doing out at that time of night?

            My Leica was in my shoulder-bag. It was my talisman then, my fetish, my religion. I couldn’t wait. I wanted that shot. I would have killed for that shot.

Nothing mattered but me and him. It was the first time I’d felt something beyond me, more important than me. He remained oblivious to me as I prowled around him, seeking the perfect shot.

I pressed the shutter once. When I looked up, he’d gone.

            I developed that photograph the next day. I watched the man emerge again like a ghost from the blank paper and take shape and I knew it was the last photograph I would ever take. I put it away with all the others and never looked at any of them again—until now.

            ‘Well?’ said Bridie.

            I didn’t have to say anything. What wasn’t clear then, was now. The man in the photograph; the man my arrogant, selfish, pleasure-seeking self had snapped, was me; me as I am now. White-haired, half-blind, arthritic. Dying.

            Bridie turned her gaze from me to the crucifix above the bed. ‘It was a sign.’


            There’s no ‘maybe’ about it, Father Kerrigan. Now how about a nice mug of cocoa before I tuck you in for the night?’

            I nodded. ‘Only, this time, spare me your hospital corners.’