Hennessy Literary Awards: Crossing - by Dave Rudden
Cormac Roberts looks like he should have a hinge in the middle. He's too tall and none of it's weight; if the wind wasn't shouldering waves against the bulk of the ship it'd pick him up and drive him halfway through an Irish Sea swell.
Fortunately, it settles for rattling his cigarette papers, chasing tobacco sprigs from his fingers. Finally rolled, the cigarette disappears behind an ear where it is immediately soaked beyond all usability, the lighter into a pocket of his hoodie. There they wait. Cormac needs his hands for this.
"In Dublin," he whispers, "the bridges are guarded by black iron angels."
Mae laughs out loud. Cormac is a hair short of 18, eyes earnest and hands spread like wings, thumbs interlocked to provide the spine before flick – and pulled apart. The spotlights of the ferry have the bleached and bony glare of Arctic sunlight but the shyness of a campfire; you can see where they fall, where they stop the dark in border lines, clean as the countries on a map.
There's nothing else to look at bar him and the antiseptic white of the deck, the rest of the world ink but for where the ship chops it to white and ice shavings.
"In Dublin," he says, "you can't cross the city without seeing a story. Without being a story. In Dublin, even the rain is romantic."
They must be halfway across now. The lights of Holyhead have faded, and the ones ahead are just a discolouration, a murk at the hinge of the sky.
"Yes, love but it's still wet, right?" The look he gives her is caustic. She shrinks back into her coat, mock-afraid, her coat-collar flicked up to tickle her nose and lips. He fingers the rollie out from behind his ear and stares at its wormy dampness so morosely that Mae has to bite her lip to keep from laughing.
She sees him like this occasionally, and cannot help but think of the radio in her dad's ancient Nissan, how it would hover lost in the space between channels, swinging static towards coherence. Mae waits patiently. He's never lost for long.
"Yeeess," Cormac says slowly, picking up speed as the words rise up from who-knows-where, "but in Dublin it's tears. A torrent of lost love and poetry." He grins in the blackness. "At home it's just rain."
They cackle. Home is Tintern, and though a part of her loves being from a village that breathes with the year, gets touristy and fat in the summer and gaunt with winter, Mae has never been to a city. Not without her family at any rate, and though Cormac is rooting for his skins again she wants to be inside, flaunting her vagabond adulthood in front of the nanas and the pack of stag lads in the corner.
Cormac's fingers are as long and useless as the legs of a baby giraffe; they'll be out here for hours.
There are whole strategies here for her to learn. Grannies falling out like Roman phalanxes to occupy the few long couches, curl up on padded benches or make nests out of coats and recliners. You can tell it's not their first crossing. The stag party sip cans of contraband, a note of raucous noise in one corner, and she felt without looking the rise of Cormac's hackles as their gazes swept over him. There's a couple who just plonked themselves on the floor near the bar, laying items in neat array as if setting up camp, and Mae's a little in love with the play of thoughts over the bartender's face – "they shouldn't be at that, how do I say it without being a dick, ah it's not worth it" – before he goes and busies himself on the far end of the bar for maximum deniability. The girl's trilby matches her lipstick, and one long-nailed hand rests thoughtlessly on her boyfriend's shoe like a belonging, a kind of matter-of-fact affection. Mae wants to watch them love each other.
"In Dublin," Cormac begins again, trying to shake a froth of tobacco from the corner of a nail, "it's always..."
She waves a hand irritably, and immediately drops it when what little colour Cormac has is shocked from his skin. She's upset him. Sometimes he upsets her, and those times are rare and easily forgiven, but sometimes she forgets a joke he's made or sits across from him rather than beside, and then there's a strange silence and then a bright, strained smile. "No go on, you were saying? I'm sorry, I'm just cold." She shivers theatrically, tries to draw a smile from him, but he's flitting between stations again and she sees the other Cormac; the wan smile, the jerky slump to one shoulder as if he can't decide if he's being hit or hitting, the way his eyes find everything but her.
She waits. He's never lost for long.
"Sorry, you must be freezing. And I am making a majestic travesty out of this cigarette, shall we go in?"
She shakes her head, and lifts his gaze with her own. "I can wait."
Cormac's laugh is nervous, not the mellifluous chuckle that comes when it's him making a joke. Two years of friendship and getting her through her bad weeks with wake-up texts and swift hugs and a thousand florid stories to make her laugh, and he's still like this this when asking something of her.
His tongue darts out, sups at the paper, and the finished scrap, bulked in the middle from too much tobacco hastily packed, is lit. His smile is both tired and triumphant.
"So. The bus downstairs will take us to Bus Áras," the foreign words pronounced carefully and with delight, "where my aunt will pick us up. So much stuff to do, sweetheart. We can just wander, explore, find some pub where the bartender hasn't known us since we were four..."
He's comfortable again now, doing a sly impression of Dai from the local. Tintern has a population of a few hundred but in Dublin they'll be anonymous – well, except for with Cormac's aunt but Mae has been at so many of their family events she's practically family as well, she gets Christmas presents from them and everything and they're good because they always ask Cormac what to buy – and then the city is theirs to do what they like.
She wonders what her family think is between her and Cormac sometimes.
The rain is coming down harder now, little diagonals of static that pool in dips and hollows on the deck. Maybe if Cormac thrust out his patchily stubbled chin the bartender would serve them here, she'd been tempted to try and find somewhere in Holyhead to grab anything, even a bottle of wine, but between one thing and the next they hadn't time.
The rollie's dull glow is flicked overboard, hands once again dug into pockets. She knows he'd rather stay out here; he's one to see romance in watching Dublin grow closer despite the cold and the wet and the fact they're on the wrong side of the ship to see it anyway.
She'd rather see it with everybody. They could make friends with the stag lads, maybe cadge a few cans – Mae had kissed a 20-year old once, there were only so many young ones in Tintern and age differences meant little, Cormac hadn't spoken to her for days.
They could chat to that older couple. The guy relaxing on the bar's green carpet, the girl curled up against him in a coat and the manner of a cat. Though Mae hadn't been able to make out what they were saying she could see it was a world away from how Mae and Cormac communicated – not that she didn't love the way he spoke, she did, in her bad days his voice was all she could follow back – but the couple moved in that beautiful grace Mae always associated with people just a few years older than her. Not quite adults, but enough that some of the gaps had been filled in in your speech and in the back of your head.
Mae often thinks about being in love with Cormac. She's not sure. She knows she'd probably die without him. Surely that's the same thing? He's handsome sometimes, and he makes her smile so much it hurts. It's just that the light here doesn't suit him. Too clean, too unforgiving.
He jauntily offers her his hand, the other wrenching the door open. Heat rides out into darkness on waves of wheaten light.
She checks her phone. A single bar has returned, and she stares at it until she can pick out each pixel and unseen Cormac's outstretched hand turns into a maître d's beckoning swoop.
Mae disappears into the heat and light, and Cormac allows himself one more glance out over the sea.
He'll tell her tomorrow night. There's a little restaurant in Temple Bar, and the night will be like this but dry, just cold enough for closeness, and he'll walk her to the great curve of the Samuel Beckett Bridge and though he doesn't quite know what he'll say, he's never lost for long.
Mae's always been how he finds his way back.
In Dublin, there are golden words underfoot. In Dublin each park is named for holy men and every pub for poets. In Dublin, even the bridges are harps.
A graduate of the Creative Writing Masters at University College Dublin, Dave Rudden's work has previously appeared in Bare Hands, Wordlegs and New Planet Cabaret. He has recently signed a three-book YA deal with Puffin UK.
The first of the three books will be published in Spring 2016.
These poems are from a series based on a group of Jewish people who moved from Lithuania in the late 19th Century to Cork. They lived in an area that became known as Jewtown - by Simon Lewis
THE ZOO, CORK, 1881
At Mass, we heard of aliens
who travelled here by steamboat.
People said they all had beards,
darkened faces and black clothes;
some complained they didn't pray to our Lady.
We were curious,
Took to Albert Road to see.
We joined the crowds
to get a glimpse, called out
when we saw one pass.
They looked up at us, nodded,
went on their way. A little one
stuck out his tongue
and all the crowd laughed
stuck their tongues out too
until his father pulled him back.
He smiled, apologetically,
but his eyes looked sorrier
than any beast I'd ever seen
and I knew these streets
by the railroad and markets
held people just like me
and when Father Kerr arrived
he shooed us off like animals.
On my knees, like Christians, I'm praying
I'll get a break today. There's no lack
of chairs, tables, cabinets in this factory, churned out
for me to stain in the colour Manning shouts at me.
Every bit of me, my hair, body, clothes,
shoes, pillows, bedsheets are coloured
mahogany, walnut, cherry. Rivkeh knows
if I've been painting with maple or ebony,
says they all smell different. It doesn't matter
what she cooks for dinner, it all tastes
of turpentine and she no longer touches me
the way she did before, just jabs at the browns
asking where each one came from.
Tomorrow, I'll sweat again until the finish.
Sarah sits behind the counter,
as usual, sold out of spuds;
knows if she sells them cheaper
they'll also buy their bread, milk, butter
and she knows the men come in to stare
at her bare neck when she turns
to get their ale so, she's learned to say
"a weight of tatties" in her Russian accent
and they laugh, flash a guilty glance,
and tell her to keep the change.
Her sister sits beside the fire,
stitching pieces of satin together
to make dresses for the wives
of men that Sarah sends to her.
Simon Lewis is from Dublin and has been living in Carlow for the last 10 years, where he works as a primary school principal.
He is a member of the Carlow Writers' Cooperative, a local writing group, and has been published in a number of magazines, such as Boyne Berries, Silver Apples and the Irish Literary Review.
He was recently shortlisted for the Listowel Poetry Collection prize and is currently working on his first collection of poems, based on immigration and survival.
How to enter
All stories and poems published in New Irish Writing will be eligible for the 2014 Hennessy Literary Awards. Awards are made annually in three categories: First Fiction (for writers publishing their first story), Emerging Fiction (for writers still to publish their first book) and Emerging Poetry (for first-time poets, or poets still to publish their first collection).
The winner of each category will receive a Hennessy trophy and €1,500. A New Irish Writer of the Year, chosen from the winners of the three categories, will receive an additional prize of €2,500 and a trophy. Stories submitted to New Irish Writing should not exceed 2,000 words. Up to six poems may be submitted.
There is no entry fee. Writers whose work is selected for publication will receive a payment of €130 for fiction and €65 for poetry. Entries (with SAE) to Ciaran Carty, New Irish Writing, the Irish Independent, 27-32 Talbot Street, Dublin 1, with name, phone number and email address (where available). Or email your entry to newirishwriting@ independent.ie.