issue 39

The car

photo  betül vargün    

photo betül vargün

 

words rebecca tantony

In the beating heart of an engine unused, I wait

She tells me she will wait opposite the pub. Tells me the registration number and that I need to climb in the back seat. The front’s piled with books, she says, water-bottles, maps. I open the door, squeeze in beside a suitcase and two sleeping bags. She turns around, says, “Great to met you Aisha. I tried to pack light but it's three months on the road, you know, It’s like I need to bring it all in case I never came back”.

It’s strange how a stranger can wear the face of familiarity, remind you something about home.

“Good to meet you too Josiane.” I reply. Take it all in; the smell of cumin, the roof covered in postcards – hams and flamenco dancers in Seville, ornate temples in Oaxaca, snapshots of friends strung up like rosaries. I take her in too. Late twenties perhaps. Heavy smile, light voice. 

I was only going as far as France. A month before I had fallen for a man and wanted to try and recreate the weekend of romance we’d first found. Those melted evenings – cheese and wine on the balcony, our mouths speaking in tongues. A friend said she knew someone driving through Paris, so I thought I would catch a ride with Josiane into that unknown future.

“A road trip. Exciting”, she says, clips in her seat belt, sets the wipers back and forth. I think we’re about to pull away so I try find my belt too, then see she wants to catch my reflection in the mirror, so I stop fumbling. “Nervous too”, she adds, “I just listened to a news report about The Jungle. Apparently loads of Eritrean teenagers are trying to rebuild it, and I was like shit we’re gonna be driving past there. Maybe we’ll never leave. Just keep helping them, brick after brick, rebuild something from the rubble”. I shuffle. “How long will you be in France?”

“I’m not sure,” I say. Sometimes it’s a few days, in other moments I never leave. My French lover and I make children, I learn to cook foods fried in butter, how to say expensive words. “It’s a strange time to be leaving, with Brexit and all. Maybe they won’t let us back in”. I smile weakly.

“Yeah, more than ever. I wonder how many times I can go and come back again with nothing to offer on my return. I’m always leaving. It’s like there is a version of me out there who laughs louder than  I do here”. 

Recognition: that feeling of home again. A place. A person. A room. A moment. Your own skin. I point to the postcard, “But we, you, have all these memories”.

She turns back to the front, clips her seat belt in again, “Yeah we have so many memories”. Flips on the indicator. “Let’s have a road-trip song, something to remind us of the moment we left”. She shuffles through her CDs, “This is the one, it was playing in a cafe when I met this woman in Marrakech”. Some Arabic pop music speeds through the speakers. We listen. After a while she says, “Her name was Asha. She was from Palestine originally, had only been in Morocco for two months”. She taps the wheel, I stare into the mirror, watch her eyes steer between mine and the road ahead. “She left. Because she had to”.

I’d like to say that next we opened up like windows, stories of ourselves filling the few empty spaces of that car. That our leaky-exhaust-pipe-mouths talked through the length of that journey. That we arrived in Paris. I kissed her farewell, twice, because I was a continental woman now, with a French lover famous for his “little deaths”. But it didn't happen like that. In fact, two days later my French lover texted to say he’d met someone new.

Instead, just as the music stops, she sits staring out in front of her, as if looking at this unworn world – this new place just noticed, or perhaps an old place never before seen. After a while she unclips the belt, grabs her backpack, opens the door, gets out the car, and with the key still in the ignition, leaves. Just walks, into the buzz of our electric city. And I sit there, stunned, watch her go like I’ve just lost part of my own being. Who knows what had brought us here together? All the trips taken, all those left behind. I sit in the hum of that car, the beating heart of an engine unused. I wait. But she never returns. In fact, I think I am still there now. In-between places, like at an airport, neither leaving or arriving anywhere. Just a memory for us both to keep, formed and lost, somewhere along the way. 

 

Rebecca Tantony is a poet and writer of flash non-fiction, who loves hanging out with her cat Chicken and radio singing at traffic lights. @rebeccatantony, website: www.rebecca-tantony.com

 

Fear and pigeons

illustration:  ester garcia

illustration: ester garcia

Be afraid, be very afraid. To mark Halloween, we asked our writers to confess what scares them the most. For Alice Snape it's pigeons that are her biggest fear...

The one fear that has remained constant throughout my life is my fear of pigeons. In fact, all birds really, but pigeons are the ones that are always there, lurking in front of my every step, unwilling to move out of my way – why don’t they creep and coo near someone else? Why aren’t they scared of me?

Pigeons constantly reinforce my terror on a daily basis, so it can’t possibly be irrational. Even back when I was revising for my GCSEs, one flew into the conservatory through an open window. I had my revision desk all set up and was convinced the bird was out to get me. It flapped around all over my notes, until my dad had to come home from work, and let it out. All I could do was close the sliding doors and cry in a ball on the floor.

And now, I see them everywhere. I don’t understand how other people can brazenly walk through a group of the flappy, grey rodents as if there is nothing in front of them. When I see one, I scuttle around, cross over the road, stamp my feet loudly – avoidance tactics. Occasionally, I scream out loud. Over the course of my life so far, four pigeons – yes four – have even flown into my head. My head! Flapping around with their grubby little claws tangling into my hair. I have been pooed on more times than I can count, and I don’t care that it might be lucky. I don’t feel lucky. 

I guess the fear is born out of anxiety, I am an anxious person. I was an apprehensive child, always fretting and worried about the unknown. And in this changeable, unrecognisable world that we currently reside, those worried concerns flood back to me, all embodied in the physicality of that horrid pigeon form. Who will deny climate change next? Who’s responsible for Irma? How will I meet by next work deadline withouthaving a panic attack?

It doesn’t matter if they are the flying, dirty rats with one foot that seem to outnumber humans in London, or the big fat wood pigeons that live a life of luxury in the countryside or the pigeon fancier’s variety. Because I hate them all. I hate them, because I don’t know what a pigeon is about to do, it can’t communicate with me in a way that I understand. I can’t control where it steps. The pigeon has no regard for my personal space. It just coos that horrid  that horrid sound, flapping with no direction. One could sneak up on me at any moment with its flailing wings, beady eyes and sharp beak. And I would never be ready for it, even though I am forever dreading its appearance. 

See what our other Oh Comely writers are afraid of in issue 39

Women with tattoos

Jay Rose.jpg

portrait eleni stefanou, Women with Tattoos

People are drawn to tattoos for different reasons – because they find them beautiful, empowering, therapeutic or a tangible way of holding on to important memories. Eleni Stefanou is taking photos of women and their ink, and sharing their stories on a blog as a visual love letter to tattooed women everywhere

 

Jay Rose, 23, tattoo artist, Glasgow

“Some people think of tattoos a ‘second skin’, but I find that concept quite strange. The minute a tattoo is on my skin it becomes a part of me and I often find it hard to remember what it was like to not have it. Looking back at old photos is becoming increasingly weird, especially since I’ve become more heavily covered. For me, getting tattooed isn’t simply about decoration – every tattoo I have means something. That’s not to say tattoos without meaning are anything less, but for me each tattoo is marking a journey and allowing me to become more secure within myself. I have tattoos with friends, for family and inside jokes.

“It was getting my stomach, hand and back tattooed that were the biggest steps in really bringing my vision to life, they were turning points for me. Those were the big tattoos that started to really frame my body and connect the dots if you will. I felt myself become so more comfortable in my own body after that.

“With every tattoo you collect, you also step into a journey with your chosen artist. You put your trust in them. For example, I chose tattoo artist Hannah Pixie Snowdon to tattoo my entire back. I am a rather small human being and it was important for my back piece to be worn – and not for it to wear me. Its evolution has been both a representation of my growth as an individual and Hannah’s growth as an artist – it was the first back piece she ever created. As for physically getting it done, I squirmed, cried, winced and in parts it has become my worst nightmare come to life.

“I am a tattoo artist myself, and I’ve had a lot of emotional experiences on my artistic journey. The other week, for example, a lovely woman had emailed me wanting a tattoo with a little nod to her mother who had recently passed away. Her mother had been diagnosed with bowel cancer and doctors had discovered a brain tumour within the same week. My mother was diagnosed with cancer in September last year and it’s been a hard journey, so this is something that struck home. She was a really lovely girl who had been through something that I could empathise with.

“And that, for me, is what makes tattoos so powerful and healing. They can unite people through shared experience and allow someone to mark a tragedy in their life and then recover from it.”

 

Read four more stories of women and their tattoos in issue 39 of Oh Comely

Contribute your personal stories to issue 39

illustration: Jisun Lee for issue 37

illustration: Jisun Lee for issue 37

We're looking for your contributions for issue 39, out in October.  

Writers, we have a challenge for you this issue. We're looking for original first person stories that take place within one room. 

We're intrigued by the possibilities and hope that you will be too. 

To be considered, email a 100-word outline of your idea to ohcomely@icebergpress.co.uk, along with two samples of your work by Friday 14 July. Please state 'Issue 39 contributions' in the subject header. 

Unfortunately we don't accept fiction or poetry samples. We do try and get back to everyone but we're a really small team so it might take us a while. 

We look forward to hearing your ideas! 

We're always interested in your personal writing. If you have a story that you'd like to share with us, regardless of theme, email us at the address above with your outline and samples.