Mayhem Literary Journal is proudly sponsored by Te Whare Wananga o Waikato, The University of Waikato
issue 5

october 2017

issue 5 - october 2017

Moge byc slodka (I can be sweet) - Tania Collins

“I want to be drunk when I wake up on the right side of the wrong bed.” I sing along a bit off-key and do a little dance, sliding across the cold, grey uneven stone floor. You place a hand on my arm to steady me and give me a wink as you sit back on your low stool and lean back on your elbows on the table.

Connor, our newest recruit, is poking at the fire doing more harm than good. He’s wearing a purple beanie he’s stolen from me. It’s pulled down over one ear and one eye. He looks ridiculous tilting his head back to see. “Why are we listening to this crap?”

You roll your eyes and any amusement slips away. The softness you have when you watch me is replaced with a glare aimed at Connor. “It’s lady’s choice.”

It’s a phrase you’ve only just discovered. I nod at the fact you’ve actually used it in the correct context.

Connor’s not as impressed. “I have an inkling it’s always lady’s choice.”

You down what’s left of your drink stand and come over to the bar in a move that places you between Connor and me. You fold your arms and stand just a little bit taller as if your six foot three inches isn’t enough. “What if it is? You will just have to get used to it.”

Oh sweet baby Jesus. I roll my eyes. You’ve got your back to me but I know your expression will be anything but pleasant. It’s always the same performance whenever we get someone new. You might as well just lift your leg and pee on me.

Hooking my fingers into the belt loop on the back of your jeans, I pull you backwards. I might get just the teeny tiniest bit of satisfaction at the fact you stumble slightly. You brush my hand away and turn and glare at me.

I shrug; I’ve built up immunity to your glares. “I need your help in the cellar for a moment.” I turn and walk away knowing you’ll follow. “Connor,” I call back, “Entertain yourself.”

We do a weird crab walk to the cellar. The latch creaks as you reach over my shoulder and lift it. We take a synchronized step back to accommodate the door flinging open at us. I disentangle myself from you and hold onto the wall. Pressing my fingers into the grooves between the bricks I take slow, tiny steps down the too-steep stairs. I can feel you behind me. Watching, waiting, patiently ready to catch me if I stumble.

I take the last tentative step, turn and get straight to the point. “Want to tell me why you’re being all aggressive with Connor?”

You scrunch your forehead in that way you do when what I’ve said is beyond your comprehension of the English language. “What?”

Frustrated, I wave my hands in the air, “Connor. You being all grr argh.” The edge is taken off the statement by my shiver. You shrug out of your hoodie and drop it onto my shoulders.

“I don’t like him.”

“No. Really? I never would have guessed. You’re just so subtle.”

I give you my most innocent look and in return you narrow your eyes and give me the finger. It’s a gesture that is universally understood. You climb over the kegs that fill the cellar; the room is so small that when we’ve had the weekly delivery the only way to work is to climb over. You offer me your hand and help me step up onto a keg then back down.

“He’s loud.” You drop my hand, pass me a bucket and start to move the empty kegs.

“He’s loud?” We’re talking over the scraping of kegs on the concrete floor and water splashing into the bucket. I wrinkle my nose as I step into a puddle of old beer.

Connor is loud. He’s also a human cyclone. He leaves debris in his wake. One night he got out every glass we have and lined them up in size order then walked away because something else distracted him.

“Yeah,” you brush me aside to reposition the Strongbow keg. “He’s loud. He’s just so…...Irish.”

Holding onto the hem of your t-shirt, I step over my full bucket and position myself by the wall to wait for you to finish your rearranging. “Well, that’s what happens when someone is from Ireland.”

You roll your eyes, hook your fingers into the pockets of the hoodie and haul me in. You bend so we’re nose to nose and I can count your lashes. “You’re not as funny as you think you are.” You give me a quick kiss, push me away and start to sweep the newly cleared area.

“We’re never alone.” You say it so quietly, so seriously that I almost miss it. It’s the real issue. Our living space is only two bedrooms and a living room; we’re already living on top of each other as it is.

I shrug. “We’re alone right now.”

You pause in sweeping and give me a look. “Not what I mean. You want to be alone in the cellar?”

I sigh and look around. You have a point. The cellar does lack a certain ambiance. It’s dank and dark and constantly smells like stale beer.

“At least it’s not the toilets.” I’m taking a glass half full approach. “So, besides Connor’s blatant Irishness what else is wrong with him?”

You don’t look at me, just concentrate on sweeping as if it’s the most important thing you’ll do all night and need to get it right. Oh, this is going to be good. Wrapping your hoodie tightly around myself, I wait you out. One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi…

“He doesn’t like football.”

Totally worth the wait. You say it with such disdain that I bite my lip to stop the smile that’s dying to form.

“Oh, the shame! How about you hold him down, I’ll tie him up and we’ll shove him on a plane back to Dublin?”

As you so often do you decide to ignore my sarcasm. “It’s just not right.”

“I don’t like football.” Huge understatement there. “But you like me just fine.”

“That’s different.”

“How?”

You stop sweeping and lean on the broom. For a moment you watch me watching you. You tip your head to the side and you’ve got just a hint of a smile. “You annoy the shit out of me. But I can handle it.”

I shake my head with a little laugh. “You say the sweetest things to me.”

“You want sweet?” You crook a finger and I’m compelled to push off the wall and step a little closer as your smile widens. “Come here.”

Dwie pogrzeby (Two Funerals) - Tania Collins

“Haven’t you had enough cleansing for one day?”

I find you sitting in the empty bathtub, knees pulled up, arms dangling over the sides. Your tie’s tangled around one of the taps; you’ve unbuttoned the top of your shirt and your jacket’s crumpled in the corner by the toilet where you’ve thrown it. You’re staring up at the ceiling mumbling away in Polish but you turn your head and watch me clutch the doorframe and discard my heels.

I’ve caught you at a good time. This is the most lucid you’ll be all night. At some point someone will slip you something to take the edge off, to numb the pain. You’ll know I know but we’ll both pretend I don’t, instead I’ll serve you drinks and watch as you disappear into the bathroom chasing whatever makes you feel better. Until then, you and your mind are still mine.

I shut the door and drown out the sound of Steve Earle singing about losing his heart to a Galway Girl. The murmur of indistinguishable voices drifting up from the pub below us serves as a reminder that we’re never really alone.

“That Priest had it out for me,” you say as I settle on the floor next to the bath. “He purposely splashed Holy Water on me. Nearly took my head off with the thing with the incense crap in it.”

“He wasn’t enacting some kind of intricate revenge plot against you. He was performing a Requiem Mass.”

You squint at me as you sit up from your slouched position and lean over the side of the bath in a bid to get closer. You rest your chin on cold porcelain and I scoot in, leaning my back against the wall.

“I don’t know what you just said,” you say, reaching out and tangling your fingers in the ends of my hair. “At least he didn’t see what we put in the coffin. That would have definitely put us firmly on the naughty list.”

“Santa has a naughty and nice list. Not the Catholic Church,” I point out, “They have Catholic guilt.  Why did you slip a hip flask full of Vodka in there?”

You shrug and walk your fingers down my arm and fiddle with the rosary beads I’ve wrapped around my wrist. You stare at them as if you’ve never seen them before. Earlier you said the beads reminded you of sapphires.

“Thought it might make the afterlife slightly better,” you murmur, your attention fixed on my rosary beads.

“And the tin of cigarettes you rolled last night?” I ask with a tilt of my head and a small smile.

You shrug. “Thought she might need them.”

“She didn’t smoke.”

“They might help her if they don’t let her in right away?”

And there it was. The whole point. The thing we’d been dancing around. It was the fear that sat deep within you.

“Let her in where? Heaven? Why wouldn’t they let her in?” I ask hoping we’ll finally have the conversation we’ve been avoiding.

No matter what you said, you believed in the ideals of Heaven and Hell and the place in between. You feared because of what she’d done she’d linger in purgatory.

“Don’t know. But if they don’t, thought she could pay her way in.” You want her to bribe the one guarding heaven.

“With Vodka and cigarettes?” I’m a little sceptical about this plan. “Do you picture Saint Peter being a smoker?”

You tear your gaze away from the beads and watch me with a furrowed brow. “Who’s Saint Peter?”

“The gatekeeper of Heaven,” I tell you slowly, “Didn’t you go to Catholic schools?”

“We call him something different. Got kicked out of them all.”

“Of course you did.” I roll my eyes but squeeze the hand you’ve intertwined with mine. You give me a smile and it’s almost a real one. Maybe we could stay cocooned in our little bathroom world all night. It’s not meant to be.  Someone bangs on the door; you drop my hand and lumber out of the tub. “Fuck off,” you say as you pull it open. “We’re having a moment.”

Our Uzbeck roommate glares at you before his gaze slides past you and lands on me in a silent question. I’ve barely given him a nod before you slam the door. You crouch in front of me and try for a smile but it’s off and the moment is gone. You’re already retreating.

“Want to get out of here?”

I’d love to. I want it to be just the two of us sitting on the train station platform or in the backfield with a bottle of your Polish Vodka. I know when you ask you mean it but we wouldn’t get halfway through the pub before someone would be calling you back.

So instead I shake my head and you tilt yours in that way you do.

“Can’t. I’ve got to work. I’ve got to get the food out.”

It’s your turn to roll your eyes. “Sausage rolls and cucumber sandwiches. Great. Why is the food at these things always crap?”

“You made the food. It’s comfort food. Could be worse. Could be asparagus rolls.”

“I like asparagus.” You grab my hand and pull me to my feet, pull me into you. I press a kiss to your jaw. You hold the door open for me and follow me out, your hands on my waist as we walk. Your chin lands on my shoulder.

“I’m also on tea duty,” I say. “You can help. If you’re really good you can be in charge of putting the tea bags into the cups.”

“That’s a big responsibility. You sure I can be trusted?”

I smile at you going along with my humour and turn my head to look at you, my cheek brushing yours as I do; “I think you can handle it.”

“What’s with the tea anyway? It’s like they all think it has some kind of magical healing powers.  Are you hot? Here have a cup of tea. Cold? Cup of tea. You’re plotting mass murder? Before you do, have a cup of tea.”

“It’s just tea. Something warm to hold onto, something to do with your hands while you stand and listen as everyone tells you how deeply sorry they are.”

You don’t say anything, just brush your lips against my neck and follow me down the stairs. Your hands drop from my waist, fingers dragging across my skin as they go. The dimly lit kitchen represents a crossroads: I’ll go left to make tea and arrange sausage rolls on a plate while you go right ducking your head under the too-low doorframe that leads into the pub.

I hear someone greet you loudly and ask if you want a drink. Through the slowly closing door I catch a glimpse of that someone not so subtly giving you a small bag that fits in your palm. Your eyes meet mine just before the door shuts.

Contributor's Note

I am currently embarking on post-graduate studies in English. Previously, I lived in England for four years where I loved, lost and hopefully gained a little wisdom. I also may be ever so slightly obsessed with all things Shakespeare.

 

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