Saturday, June 23, 2012

Queer Organs

     Somewhere between the prawn cocktail and the boiled tongue my impetigo flares up and causes Mam to drops her fork and cry out, “Oh, Jesus, your poor face is destroyed.” Mam wipes my chin with a bit of wet tissue paper and says, “There now, you're game ball.”

     Whether it's the pink sauce on my cheeks, or the glaring red pustules, Mam says not to put a finger on my face until she washes it with a wet cloth and applies Sloan's Horse Liniment—the Old Man's cure for everything from the common cold to the Black death.

     The Old Man works a piece of gristle between his false teeth and a low growl comes from his mouth as he struggles with the meat. As I lick the Marie Rose sauce from a prawn he resorts to putting the knife in his mouth to loosen some meat from his teeth and Mam sighs the way she does when I do something wrong. He raises a bushy eyebrow and continues to worry away at his teeth, daring Mam to say something.

     “How many valves are in a prawn's heart?” I ask Mam, afraid I'm eating all sorts of queer organs I know nothing about.

     “Do you know I haven't the foggiest notion,” she says. “But I do know their hearts are on top of their heads.”

     “God, that's fantastic,” I say, amazed at all the wonderful things Mam knows. She learns lots of them from her set of Everyman Encyclopedias on the bookshelves in the dining room. I love the green covers and the gilt numbers on the spines of the encyclopedias, or is it encyclopediae? I think Father Declan said something about Latin plurals ending in —aie in class a while ago.

     When we go home I want to explore the volume that has lots of stuff about astronomy, the formation of suns and how they travel through the universe at dizzying speeds. But the Old Man is our sun and Mam and me orbit about him like two helpless planets, the anger he shows when he's unhappy pitched at us the way he launches the small white golf ball into the stratosphere. But for now I resist the urge to scratch my impetigo and fork another prawn with its dead heart into my mouth.

James Claffey

Bath Time

     Friday night is bath night. Auntie Martha balances me in the sink, her lips pursed, the Pears soap in one hand, my arm in the other. There's not much room in the kitchen because Mam is frying the tea for the Old Man who is at the pub. Eggs cracked in lard sizzle and cigarette smoke mingles with the darker smoke from the stove. Mam is angry because she bangs the skillet about and says “He's worse than fifty children. Away all month and spends all his time nestled up to the bar.” Martha soaps my skinny bones and washes under the place my testicles will be in the future.

     Martha knocks the blue glass ashtray off the edge of the sink and it bounces on the linoleum floor. “Ah, you're as clumsy,” Mam says to her. I wriggle about and Martha drops the soap on the floor, too. “For God's sake, please would you be careful?” Mam cries, rattling the wooden spoon against the stovetop. “Sorry, he's wriggling too much,” Martha says, tightening her grip on my arm. “Stop acting the maggot,” she tells me, and folds me in the towel to dry me off.

     Mam grates the orange Galtee cheddar and crushes the cigarette butt out in the ashtray. The cheese is Da's favorite and he likes to sprinkle it on his eggs with Worcestershire sauce before he forks it into the hole in the center of his face. He doesn't skimp when it comes to food, that's what Mam says when he's away. A man of simple pleasures, she says, too. I only want him to play with me, to hoist me up toward the ceiling and to feel the thrill and the fear of flying in his arms. Instead, Auntie Martha cuddles me in her lap and rubs my head with the rough towel. The Old Man's place goes unfilled as we eat our tea and Mam glares into the emptiness.

James Claffey


     Emer and the girls play hopscotch in the chalked grid on the footpath. Four and seven are rest squares and you can put both feet down before continuing. From the corner of my bedroom window I watch her in the evening sunlight. Her brown shoes are scuffed at the toes and there's a wrinkle in her burgundy school skirt. She goes to Loreto on the Green and gets the bus early in the mornings. Sometimes I walk with her as far as the traffic light and then I make my own way to my school, which is in the opposite direction.

     She says it's okay if I want to take her to the flicks on Saturday morning. It's always a matinee in the Kenilworth and they're showing re-runs of Flash Gordon. The last time we went to the cinema I touched her face and it felt like the sand on the beach at Bettystown—all soft and warm. I was afraid to utter a word, and if we go this week I'm going to try and kiss her. Downstairs I can hear Mam rattling pots and pans for dinner. The Old Man is still away and we're having boiled chicken and cabbage tonight.

     Emer tosses the Mansion Polish tin onto the grid and hope, splits, and hops again before stopping on the seven square. She's playing with Nettie Hanratty and she doesn't like me at all. Mam says her parents are left-footers and not to be trusted. The two girls talk as they play and the stones in the tin rattle as they throw it ahead of them. Emer's wrist is narrow as a twig and the sun catches her wristwatch and sends a stream of light toward the ground. There's a moment of silence in the bedroom as I linger at the window, imagining the kiss we'll share on Saturday morning in the darkness of the Kenilworth. Mam calls me for dinner and I let the muslin curtain trail through my fingers before going downstairs.

James Claffey

James Claffey hails from County Westmeath, Ireland, and lives on an avocado ranch in Carpinteria, CA, with his wife, the writer and artist, Maureen Foley, their daughter, Maisie, and Australian cattle-dog, Rua. He is the winner of the Linnet’s Wings Audio Prose Competition. He received his MFA from Louisiana State University, where he was awarded the Kent Gramm Prize for Non-Fiction. His work appears in many places including The New Orleans Review, Connotation Press, A-Minor Magazine, Literary Orphans, and Gone Lawn. You can read him at

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Monologue at 4:00 am

When you're starting to crash, you got to hang onto something. That sorrow comes rushing down to the bone as your tongue gets sandy and you suddenly have nothing left to say. Your brain starts to play tricks on you like it's a sworn enemy, and your muscles twitch and twist into knots.

Nope. That sorrow doesn't level off until hours later when you've already botched your hook-up with yet another Internet girl in another room of some other motel on the road to hell. After she disappears out the door in her pajamas, all you can remember is your fingers playing like claws over damp skin that felt as lumpy as popcorn tossed on a blanket, dull, black hair, a spider tattoo as big as your fist covering one breast, and your dick wilting under the drugs and the tactile disgust.

It's a cosmic joke, this feeling of perfection the shit gives you at first snort in return for dark hours of tooth-grinding, head-fucking fear. It's like being on a trampoline you can't get off as your chest fills with helium in the middle of a party full of assholes that speak Esperanto. You look past the plastic-backed curtains and notice it's another fucking sunny day and the bitch stole your sunglasses. You turn your back to the light and lick the tiny mirror clean, then the dollar bill, hoping to capture another minute or two of glory.

Put me in a line-up and I promise you, I'll get fingered every time.

JP Reese

The Danger of Talk Therapy

I hate to admit it, but that vocal trill of hers drenches the waiting room in a coat of neon-green paint. That frosty excuse for an upbeat attitude affects me every time I hear it like a dose of salts. Who does she think she is, a cross-dressing Freudian Maria Callas? Shit.

Sometimes, I hear her voice at home in my bedroom like an off-key whistle in my head that just won't quit right when I'm trying to sleep. There's no real music quite like it. It's like an aural drug, but not an antibiotic, not like one of those tangerine flavored syrups that actually fixes anything. Nope, it's more like a screeching hit of meth that sizzles through my synapses like hot match heads. I'm telling you, that woman's noise sinks deep into my chest and rattles me like a phlegmy cough you can't spit out

I haven't slept in days. Look at the stubble on my fuckin' chin! Maybe I can fix it, walk in there tomorrow before her receptionist gets there and complain of insomnia, really push it so I look pitiful, and as the bitch is scribbling a prescription for Lunesta, I'll count to ten, measure the distance between her body and that plate glass and push her ass out the window.

Maybe screaming her way down seventeen stories will give her better pitch, and me? I might just get me a good night's sleep.

JP Reese


Her Welch's jelly jar of pond water surrounds tadpoles scooped from the Madison arboretum's spring plenty. Tiny commas, each glimmers with possibility beneath the pierced aluminum lid. It is 1960. TV commercials show astronauts flying from the earth, sweating glasses of Tang grasped in their male hands, while on Saturday, Johnny Quest saves the world as small cartoon companions mix multi-flavored Fizzies and eat Cracker Jacks during commercial breaks. She wants her own Johnny Quest adventures, but knows they're not for girls.

Monday, bigger brothers in school, she becomes The Lone Ranger in a skort. The concrete of the backyard stoop seems a good spot to place her cache of tadpoles when the Russian Olive tree beckons from the corner of the yard, its branches low enough for a four-year-old's grasp. Lilac flowers perfume the breeze, and violets dot the grass as she climbs. Hand-holds become more and more stick-like. Below, the tadpoles swim round and round, patient in their transformation.

Each new branch dances under her toes. Finally, the wind whisks her hair at the top of the earth.

China, she knows, is only a short glance over her shoulder. She imagines Tonto waiting for her below, amusing himself by plunging face first down the sliding board, war-whoops trailing behind like a red satin sash.

The faint whoosh-wump of the Amana drums faintly through the screen as mother, skirted and Peter-pan collared, irons father's pinpoints; an unfiltered Pall-Mall, its damp end kissed by Avon's pretty in pink, smokes from the ashtray on the dryer. Queen for a Day keeps mom company in black and white from the RCA console as she busies herself polishing Dad's wingtips. Outside, the girl becomes Flash Gordon pursued by Ming the Merciless as her tadpoles swim round and round, growing green skin.

Mother's face lights in the glass for a moment; the screen door shrieks open, scrapes the jar over concrete, and tips it off the edge of the world. Heels divot the damp grass as she lurches forward, arms upstretched just as her girl's shimmering shape takes flight. The tadpoles, past recall, join sharp shards of glass, their prospects as broken as bones set in casts.

JP Reese

JP Reese has poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, book reviews, and writer interviews published or forthcoming in many online and print journals such asMetazen, Blue Fifth Review, A Baker's Dozen: Thirteen Extraordinary Things, and The Pinch. Reese is a poetry editor for THIS Literary Magazine,, and Associate Poetry Editor for Connotation Press: An Online Artifact, She has been a guest fiction editor forscissors & spackle. Reese's poetry chapbook, Final Notes was published by Naked Mannekin Press in 2012. Reese's flash fiction has won the Patricia McFarland Memorial Prize and her poetry The University of Memphis Graduate School Creative Writing Award. Her published work can be read at Entropy: A Measure of Uncertainty,