Short stories

What About Feathers?

There was a loud knock. It’s that kind of place. There’s always a noise, something falling to pieces, asking to be repaired.

I was working. Trying to write a novel. I’d been trying for years, decades, but now I’d finally got into the rhythm of it. I’d just passed 1000 words for the day.

I walked around and lit a cigarette. Nothing. Work from home sucks.

“Have you seen this? Come and take a look,” said my wife, Amelia.

Not now, I’m in the middle of a really juicy bit. If I leave now I’ll never be able to recapture the feeling.

“Fine, ok, fine,” I said and mooched over to the living room where she was pointing to the window.

“Do you see this?”

I couldn’t see anything, honestly.

“Can’t you see it?”

I strained my eyes, generally unable to see anything in life other than a laptop screen with a lack of words on it, to see what she was on about. It’s a…

“Pigeon. It’s the outline of a pigeon?”

“Poor thing,” she said.

“Look at the fucking thing!” For some reason I was angry. Was my window scratched? Dented. Broken?

We went to the garden. A cold winter afternoon with a sun like stage 3 cancer. God, shut up.

“The cat must’ve got it,” I said, seeing as there was no dead bird anywhere.

“What about feathers?”

“What about feathers?!” She had this stupid fucking annoying way of asking things.

I looked at the patio. Overgrown lawn. Wild bushes. No feathers.

That night, in bed, turned to the side, I kept thinking about suicide. Not mine, because as Emil Cioran expressed, it’s always too late, but the bird’s. I decided that I should write a scene with an unexpected suicide. A lady with hat and feather boa. She’s got it all, except death.

Bogdan Tiganov

Short stories

Soft Technologies

When I first arrived in New York City, I lived for a while in an apartment at 222 East 12th Street. The landlord lived in the basement and had a serpentarium containing a large snake, which he fed white mice and cockroaches. Most days, I would walk over to Tompkins Square Park. It was a year after the riots there but the area was still full of homeless people, drug dealers and crack and heroin addicts living in a Tent City. It was late August, 1989 and I was strolling around the neighbourhood and going to the bars, when newspaper reports and street gossip were telling the story of 29-year-old Daniel Paul Rakowitz, the son of an army criminal investigator, who had lived in the city for four years.

Sexual activity, whether perverted or not; the behaviour of one sex before the other; defecation; urination; death and the cult of cadavers (above all, insofar as it involves the stinking decomposition of bodies); the different taboos; ritual cannibalism; the sacrifice of animal-gods; haemophagia; the laughter of exclusion; sobbing (which, in general has death as its object); religious ecstasy; the identical attitude toward shit, gods, and cadavers

Rakowitz was an eccentric even for the out-there East Village; a priest of his own religion – the Church of 966 – whose familiar was a shoulder-riding rooster cockadoodling along with the punk and the dub. Rakowitz would walk around the park shouting things like, ‘Kill the pigs and feed them to the hogs.’ He made his money by selling marijuana – used as a sacrament in his religion – and believed the people in the park were his disciples. He styled himself the ‘God of Marijuana’. He was also a part-time cook and had worked in various local cafés and restaurants.

It may of course be deplorable that certain tribes take pleasure in eating their oversupply of old people, but never will I agree that such picturesque gourmets should be exterminated; after all, we should remember that cannibalism is the very model of a self-sufficient society as well as a practice well suited to appeal one day to a packed planet. However, my aim is not to bemoan the fate of cannibals, harried though they are, living in terror, the great losers in today’s world. Let’s admit it: their case is not exactly impressive. Anyway, they are on the decline; a hard-pressed minority stripped of self-confidence, unable to plead their own cause.

Monika Beerle lived at 700 East 9th Street. The 26-year-old from Switzerland was a dance student at the Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance and a performer at Billy’s Topless, a strip club at 727 6th Avenue and 24th Street. She and Rakowitz had only been dating a short time and the ‘God of Marijuana’ had moved in to her rooms. On August 19, the couple had an argument in their cramped apartment because Monika Beele had had enough and wanted him to move out, rooster and all

Bodies intermingle with one another, everything is mixed up in a kind of cannibalism that joins together food and excrement. Even words are eaten. This is the domain of the action and passion of bodies: things and words are scattered in every direction, or on the contrary are welded together into non-decomposable blocks. Everything in depth is horrible, everything is nonsense.

Rakowitz sadistically beat her and killed her by ramming a metal rod into her throat. He then stripped her, decapitated her and boiled her head, making soup from her brains. He’d loved the taste and scrawled on their apartment door, ‘Is it soup yet? Welcome to Charlie Gein’s Ranch East… Home of the Fine Young Cannibals.’ He had taken some of the ‘soup’ to Tompkins Square Park and passed it out to the homeless people living there. He boasted about what he had done, but most people thought he was a pathological liar, so dismissed his ranting as just that.

This country is without hope. Even its garbage is clean, its trade lubricated, its traffic pacified. The latent, the lacteal, the lethal – life is so liquid, the signs and messages are so liquid, the bodies and the cars so fluid, the hair so blond, and the soft technologies so luxuriant, that a European dreams of death and murder, of suicide motels, of orgies and cannibalism to counteract the perfection of the ocean, of the light, of that insane ease of life, to counteract the hyperreality of everything here.

He then returned to the apartment – John Joseph of the punk band the Cro-Mags lived a floor below – and put Beerle’s skull and bones in a drywall-compound bucket filled with cat litter that he deposited in a locker at the Port Authority bus station. A few days later, after a tip-off, police, arrested him. On February 22, 1991, he was tried and found not guilty of murder by reason of insanity and moved to a state hospital for the criminally insane where he remains. In an interview he stated, ‘I’m the new Lord, and I will take leadership of the satanic cultists to make sure they do everything that has to be done to destroy all those people who do disagree with my church. And I’m going to be the youngest person elected to the U.S. presidency.’

Steve Finbow

Short stories


Lying in bed last night, cocooned in that sweet hypnagogic haze, drifting, dissolving into sleepy dust, I was suddenly disturbed by my loving, placid neighbors. With closed eyes, with my head osmosing with the pillow, my body osmosing with the blanket and bed, I listened to their incongruous fight. This is what I remember:

Mr. & Mrs. Smith. Court One. Warm up. After twenty-two years it is exorable that my love for you has faded. I never loved you in the first place. I married you for the money. I married you because I was forced into it. Practice serves.  I have been using your razor on my legs for years. I always pour the last dregs of your almond/coconut fancy milk down the drain. I hide that one sock, the one that goes missing after a wash, and if you look in the cupboard in the spare room you will find them, all of them, years and years. I do the same with your car keys, you are not crazy. Even though I accuse you and berate you and call you all the names under the sun for having left toast crumbs in the butter yes it was me. You are Snow White in the bedroom. You are Rumpelstiltskin in the bedroom. Vagina dentata! Memento mori! Stretch. Drink liquid. Eat a banana. Meet at the net. Shake hands. Serve. It was I that broke your mother’s heirloom not the dog. Net. Second Serve. I leave the toilet seat up with the hope that during the night you will fall into the toilet. Fifteen Love. Serve. The last two times we had sex I faked the orgasm waited until you passed out and then used your fingers for a dildo. Fifteen Fifteen. Serve. Bitch! Line Call. Second Serve. Serve. I got so high on drugs at your father’s cremation I thought it is was disco. Out. Line call. Fifteen Thirty. Serve. Those inexplicable holes in your expensive clothing is not the consequence of hungry moths it is my artwork with scissors. Thirty Thirty. Serve. I might have used your toothbrush before bed before work on the soles of my feet for years. Thirty Forty. Break Point. Serve. What. Out. Second Serve. Serve.  Remember Malta. Remember Gozo. You remember those hot sultry nights.  Remember the meal at that sea food place in Valletta. Remember we had to take you back to the apartment. You said you were not feeling right; you blamed the oysters. Well, while you slept, your brother and I walked along the beach. It was on that beach, to the sound of waves crashing, under the moon, under the stars, we made love. And Gozo. Remember Gozo.  Remember Calypso’s cave. We left you sunbathing on Ramla Bay. We said we wanted to visit Odyssey’s Prison. So, we climbed up the hill to the cave. We waved. You returned the wave. In Calypso’s Cave, I sucked him off. Then he sucked me off. And then all together we swam in the sea, under the hot sun. It was extremely romantic! Deuce. Serve. Romantic my ass! It was never a secret. Daniel confessed. He said he hated you and that you were too much, always nagging him, always pestering him like an old pervert. He said that you were all over him like an old grandmother. He gave in just to make you stop. He said you got him drunk on cheap nasty wine. cheap nasty wine! Said you had no taste. He even told me about the drugs. Ad Out. Serve.  I killed the dog. The tennis ball was not a mistake. I stuffed the tennis down its throat. I did it. I confess. I couldn’t take the constant yapping. Deuce. Serve. I have been having an affair with Tim, your boss. We meet Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. At that motel on 5th Street. Yes, he has a bigger penis than you.  He makes me come repeatedly. I even allow him to anal fuck me, which I now enjoy. We are talking about going to swingers’ clubs and parties. And he says by the way you are fired! Ad Out. Serve. I thought about hiring a gun man to take you out. Net. Second Serve. Serve. I have been for the last three months poisoning you with small amounts of rat poison. Game. Set. Match. Mrs. Smith wins.

Paul Kavanagh

Short stories


Cross-hatching of branches against the sky; a Beatles song warping the urban night… How little it takes to conjure his shade, dissolve the years.

     I hear his whistling in the washroom echo the tune I didn’t then know. I lagged behind in everything.

It was l965, my first job. I was sixteen, spotty and shy.  He was…. I never knew how old Keith was. Thinking back, he couldn’t have been so very much older – three years, four, maybe more.  But he was a world ahead.  He was part of the adult world I was sidling into;  he was what I aspired to be.  Even his spots were swarthily sophisticated.

I apprenticed myself to him: his way of knotting his tie, of leaving his collar-button undone, the way he draped his jacket, matador-like, across his arm – I took careful note.   How I envied his accent, his easy adenoidal “Roight, wack!”   We all affected Liverpudlian accents in those days, but ours were ersatz, his, I knew, was the real thing, his living in Slough a temporary aberration – he couldn’t have been born there.

It was hard work keeping up.  I had just mastered the tie and saved up for the Chelsea boots when he soared ahead again – into leathers, zipped boots and helmet: he had bought a motor-bike.   It changed our lives.

A white Ariel, it was, its distinctive front forks the classiest thing I had seen.  It would be there when I arrived in the mornings, parked beside the bike-shed, still quivering. I would lay my hands lovingly on the petrol-tank, squeeze the brake-lever and dream.At five o’clock, I would watch him donning his jacket, zipping himself in while I held his gauntlets, squire to his leather-clad knighthood.  Following him down the stairs, I would listen enviously to the click of steel-shod boots.

Then, while he mounted and spurred the Ariel, I would pedal off frantically to reach  the road, knowing he would roar up behind me, throttle down, and with a hand on my shoulder, propel me along until, at the roundabout, with a shouted “Roight, wack, see yer  tomorrer” he would roar off, leaving me prey to inertia.

One day, I let down my back tyre, pretending a puncture, hoping desperately that he would offer a lift on his pillion.   He offered to mend the puncture.  “Looks like a dodgy valve,” he said with an expert glance, and slid on his gauntlets.  I was glad, though, afterwards.  Something would have subtly changed between us. How could Pegasus have a pillion rider?   My place was still pedalling forlornly behind.  Besides, I would have a bike of my own one day – I was already saving.   Not a white one, though, not straight off.  I would graduate to that.

Something did change that summer, but in a different way:  Keith bought another  bike – a Thruxton 500cc – a racing job, and a battered van, transporter-cum-workshop.   I felt then that I would never catch up.

Week-ends he raced at Brands Hatch.   Monday mornings I would be caught up in his cloud of esteem, sitting on his desk as he relayed the race to the Accounts Department.  One race in particular stands in my mind.   As the flag went down, he couldn’t get started;, he had to run and push, the engine turning just as the leaders caught him up.  He joined them, edging into the pack.  At the finish, he was placed third. Nobody realised he was one lap behind.   In my eyes, that put him indisputably first, his mocking insouciance worth any number of hollow legitimate wins.

I was settling into work by this time, with gumption enough to enter the typing pool alone, to flirt, even, with the post-girl, secure in Keith’s patronage.  Suddenly, his hand was removed.  With a cheery wave and a “Roight, wack, be seein’ yer” he left the firm.

Looking back, I realise that was just what I needed.   My apprenticeship was finished.  After the initial inertia, I picked up speed on my own account.  I would slip off my cycle-clips and click up the stairs, jacket coolly draped over one arm.  I would whistle ‘Eleanor Rigby’ in the washroom.   There were school-leavers to impress, typists to take out.   My confidence, though feigned, was effective.  I knew I would always be one lap behind, but no-one seemed to notice.

    I was still saving hard.  Eventually, I did it – my own motor-bike.  Not an Ariel, but a Triumph Tiger Cub.  Still, it was a start.  Nobody rubbed neatsfoot oil into leather with such voluptuous pride as I.

I commandeered Keith’s parking space by the bike-shed, my oil-drip mingling with his on the asphalt – we were now blood-brothers.  At five, I would click down the stairs, wink at the juniors, and with practised nonchalance, kick up the prop-stand and swing astride.

I was now fully fledged.   My spots had dried up, my confidence increased to the point where I now carried a spare helmet and offered pillion rides to typists.  One of them accepted.  She would giggle and wriggle up her mini-skirt, holding me tight round the waist as I roared off, waving to the lad from Stock Control.

That Christmas, I traded in my Tiger Cub for an Ariel.

I was to see Keith just once more.   He came back to the office to see us all, above all to show us his pay-slip.  He had a job at Ford’s in Dagenham.  On a good week with bonuses, he earned as much as my monthly salary.  He took us out to the car park.  He had bought a Jaguar.

My story now becomes a very ordinary story: I married my typist, sold my Ariel, bought a maisonette, then a semi-detached.

    But Keith, again, was a world ahead.

It was some years before I learned of it. A cliché’d story, but far from ordinary.

     A dark night, a souped-up car, an oily road, a placid tree…

 And me? I still have ahead of me maybe twenty years of slow, frantic pedalling.

David Rose

Short stories


Only Joy ever strapped a watch around my hardon. The Bulova hers – I’ve never worn, except for the moment in question, a watch. She loosened the band two notches. Her wrist that slender.

     Bent the shaft down. Frowned at the crystal to decipher the hour. Only with herculean effort did I hold the wad.

     She chuckled through her frown. Announced: Time to tuck you back in! Removed the Bulova. Angled my rigidity back through the flap into the shorts. Buckled back on her timepiece. Pecked my forehead. Departed the apartment for downtown.

     Leaving me with day empty, load full, page blank.

Willie Smith

Short stories


When I am doing my daily walk, I empty my mind, the flame dances and incinerates, I throw things, I hammer things to nothing, I do all kinds of things destructive, use all kinds of WMDs, I toss the fear of the world being swallowed by a huge bumble bee or the sun being kicked like a football by a super centipede footballer or that all my money will dissipate like the smoke from a cigarette or that I am not really walking and instead I am home worrying about all these things and more, lots more and I am getting fat and ruddy and smell like blue cheese, all these I rid myself of. When I am not walking, I worry. I worry about cancer and what would happen if they started to sell fake cancer. I don’t know who they are but I know a dozen or more people that would buy fake cancer and parade the fake cancer as if the fake cancer was an expensive handbag. I walk every day and I walk always at the same time and I pass the same people and we nod and sometimes we say hello but we never say goodbye. There is a house I pass that always has the windows open. For months I thought there was a perpetual orgy in the house and then I thought the house was full of fascists, they are ubiquitous now, there are so many now of them that when they receive a punch we feel sorry for them, and then I thought the house was full of people that hated me and they waited for me to get near to the house so they could berate me and laugh at me. It turns out it’s a rental and it’s full of students, movie buffs. I started walking because of Kant. I read that Kant always walked the same route at the same time every day and he only stopped the walk when in that strange period they call moribundity. I do not know who they are. I know they come up with some fancy words and fools like me use these fancy words. When I am walking, I throw away words like moribundity because words I feel as I walk are like diseases. They appear, they do damage, and if you are lucky afterwards you say to yourself maybe I should have kept my mouth shut. I do three miles. I do not know how many miles Kant accomplished. I could easily find out. It would take me a second, maybe three. But I don’t want to know. I want to come over slightly ignorant. Is ignorant the right word? You know I am not lazy? I walk three miles every day. A man who walks three miles every day cannot pick up the appellation lazy. I worry that the aliens that will eventually find us will think we are terribly boring and they will prefer our cats or they will simply eradicate us. I fear that the horse I put money on is a donkey. I fear the gin I drink is really water. I fear that my head is full of cotton wool and behind the eyes and between the ears it is black. I know that Kant started his walk at twelve O’clock, after a few cups of tea and a smoke. I only drink tea. I don’t know anybody that smokes a pipe. I don’t know anybody that wears a smoking jacket. I don’t know anybody that wears a cravat. I worry about my penury. I worry that I do not know a poet. I worry that I am all center and no circumference. Kant lived in a big city. The city was once called Königsberg but now it is called Kaliningrad. I live in the city ___________________. The Russian writers used this device, I am told, to create a feeling of realism. I never run. Well, I only run when I am being chased. I run away from police, dogs, and rain. I fear the blue sky will get fed up and leave a Dear John letter or that all the boxers will take a dive or Geza Csath’s books will go out of print or the bass parts of Jaco Pastorius will simply disappear. I was near the end of my walk, drowning in sweat but penurious of worry and fear, when I was stopped by two eighty plus year old women. I stopped because they seemed affable and without a hint of violence. I saw no smashed bottles and sharp knives in their skeletal tanned hands. Their mouths were full of teeth, white and even. They emanated a smell of the Garden of Magalíluismili. I was intoxicated. We see you walking all the time, they said. I told them about my ritual. They were both in better shape than me. What is fear? What is worry? I don’t know. I told you early on that I know nothing. I told you early on, at the very beginning that I throw away all fear and worry.

Paul Kavanagh