On this sunny first Sunday of May the WPN team takes pleasure in introducing to you a young writer by the name of Eoin Madigan.
Eoin was kind enough to send along this wonderfully gruesome piece of short fiction titled Falcata and in doing so has the distinction of being the lead post from authors of the outside world.
When reading Falcata, we highly recommend that you have a cup of hot and heavily sugared tea or coffee and perhaps even a furry animal by your side. (Fish and reptiles are acceptable but not necessarily preferable) This one is not for the squeemish. Enjoy!
I tightened the belt around my arm just below the elbow, grasping it with my teeth. I’d swallowed some ill-gotten clotting pills about an hour beforehand and was counting on their effectiveness. I poured half the bottle of vodka over my tender left wrist and the smell of it dizzied me. The chopping board was on the counter in front of me; dry but still hot from the boiling water.
I held my bruised left hand out in front of me and studied my fingers, rippling them like a wave. With my right hand I picked up the third century B.C. Celtiberian blade, in awe of its cruel weight. The single-edged sword was strange in that it curved forward and the better part of its weight was towards the point. My left hand shaking, I poured the remainder of the vodka over the two feet length of the sword. The horn scales of the weapon’s hilt dug into my right hand as I gripped it. I put down the empty bottle and laid my left hand flat on the chopping block.
I looked at my pale, drawn-out face in the kitchen window. Tears fell from my eyes as I closed them and took a very deep breath…
When I awoke my mouth felt like an ashtray drowned in whiskey and both my hands were throbbing. The left one in particular was booming to the beat of my heart. I looked at it and saw that it was grotesquely bruised and swollen, covered in scrapes and cuts. Minute flashbacks of how I’d gotten them started coming back to me unbidden.
As I lay in bed I had the repeated sensation of having physically thrust something away from me the night before, something maddening or disgusting. I started to feel sick to my stomach but not from the cigarettes or alcohol. It was a purely emotional sickness that overcame me; an unforgiving sun was rising and casting light on what I’d done and it burned.
I vomited profusely into the white nothingness of the toilet. I couldn’t help but feel that my body was trying to escape itself, that it was trying with all its might to get away from me. It wasn’t trying to escape through my mouth or any other orifice, however, but through my bruised left hand.
I had some trouble carrying the slab of beer up to my friend’s apartment with my swollen and battered hands. The left was far worse than the right because even in my drink-fuelled anger I knew the right was more important. Danny opened the door to me and the soft light of his home dripped out into the dark corridor.
‘Good to see you man, how you doing?’ His greeting was warm.
‘Been better, been worse,’ I replied. ‘How are you?’
‘Good, man, good, come on in.’
Tom, Mike and Steve were already sitting round the poker table talking, drinking and smoking. ‘Hey Chris!’ they beamed in unison.
‘Gentlemen,’ I nodded. ‘How are we?’
‘Great, man,’ Steve answered. ‘Sit down, grab a beer, have some food.’
‘I will indeed.’
The beer flowed, the chips changed hands and the food was devoured. Smoke filled the room as the five bright points of cigarettes held vigil round the table. Talk soon turned to women – or the lack thereof – and I caught myself shifting in my seat. I went to the bathroom and splashed some cold water on my face. My eyes were stinging and my body was trembling a little as I remembered things and tried not to all at once.
The cold water tightened the bruised muscles and battered bones in my hands. They were both very stiff now and it was my turn to deal. No one had noticed the bruises as yet and I didn’t want to be drawn out on their origin. Once I’d steadied myself I returned to the poker table.
Somewhat contrary to the unspoken house rules, the boys were talking shop. Mike was telling us of some new drug testing that was going on at his pharmaceutical plant. Tom regaled us with the tale of a difficult customer who wanted his Harley fixed for free at his mechanic shop. Steve was bemoaning his soul being sold in marketing and swore he was out of the place on Monday. I told them that all was well in the world of technical translation.
Danny had, in my eyes, the most interesting occupation of the lot of us: he was a military historian. Given that he was also an accomplished storyteller, he usually waited until last whenever we were going round the table with something. This night he did not disappoint; a sly smile graced his lips as he said, ‘Follow me, lads.’
We trailed into his bedroom and marvelled at the understated décor; the classical ornaments and mood lighting. From under his double bed he slid a large mahogany case which was inlaid with what looked like ivory. He put it on his desk as we crowded round and waited for him to open it. ‘This, my friends, is a falcata.’
He threw open the case and presented to us the remarkable polished blade. ‘It’s the real thing; it was in a terrible state when I got it but I had it restored. It was used for hacking and slashing rather than stabbing.’ He leisurely mimicked the actions. ‘Those Celtiberians were vicious bastards.’
‘How did you get it? Who restored it for you?’ Tom asked, his jaw dropped to the floor, ‘It must have cost a fortune.’
Danny just smiled, arched his eyebrows and tapped the tip of his nose three times. A brilliant military historian, no doubt.
I smiled wryly at this exchange and turned my attention back to the weapon. Danny’s explanations and the others’ questions became background noise as the sword took hold of my eyes. The hilt, which would half-enclose the hand that held it, was a mélange of faded whites and ended in an arched bird’s head. I admired the shape of the blade; its elegant curve, its brutal simplicity. ‘It’s perfect,’ I whispered to no one at all.
I was quickening my pace so she couldn’t catch me in her heels. The sounds of a fading night accompanied their click-click on the flagstones as she shouted, ‘Chris, wait!’
I slowed down but didn’t stop. My jaw was trying to escape my face as she approached and tried to pull me to towards her. I didn’t let her turn me around.
‘Will you at least look at me?’ she implored.
I sighed and turned and looked into my girlfriend’s eyes. They were a little wet but mine were arid. I was breathing heavily through my nose, a bull threatening to charge. That she was wearing a fitted blue dress didn’t help her in the slightest.
‘What’s wrong, what happened?’ Exasperation.
‘You know well what happened,’ I spoke slowly through gritted teeth. ‘That dickhead slaps your arse and you slap his back. How am I supposed to feel about that, like?’
‘I’m sorry it was just a reaction, I didn’t mean anything by it,’ she explained. Her tone and all her gestures were those of a submissive animal. ‘Sometimes when something like that happens I just want to retaliate…’
‘All you’re fuckin’ doin’ is encouragin’ him!’ I burst out.
As the last syllable left my lips I spun on my heel and strode off again. The click-click of her heels shadowed me. ‘I’m sorry!’ she continued. ‘What can I do to make it up to you?’
‘Just fuckin’ leave me alone.’
‘Chris, please!’ She caught up to me and turned me around forcibly by the arm. I leaned back into the shutter of some manicurist’s salon and pushed her away from me. Her face took on an expression I’d never seen before, somewhere between anger and indignation. ‘Do you think it’s easy being a woman, being objectified everywhere you go, on every night out?’ She was screaming now as the tears welled up, inches from my face. ‘I hate assholes like that and sometimes I just literally want to hit back and that’s what I did!’
‘Yes,’ I pushed her away again, ‘and all it fuckin’ does is encourage him to do it again because he knows he’ll get a reaction! How can you not see that?!’ Her emotion was rubbing off on me and I was shouting too, my voice shaking with rage.
‘Look, I said I’m sorry…’
‘Sorry, fuckin’ sorry!’ I smashed a fist against the shutter behind me. ‘Sorry, sorry!’ I continued to mock her, fists swinging in wide arcs at the shutter. ‘Do you know how fuckin’ disrespectful is it to yourself and to me to even dignify that cunt with a response like that?!’ I pushed her away from me a third time. ‘I swear next time I see him I’m goin’ to break his fuckin’ nose.’
My fists were flailing around me now as independent symptoms of my rage, punctuating my invective. My left one was destined again for the gratifying clatter of the shutter, but struck my girlfriend’s face instead.
I stopped silent and let my hands fall to my sides. My eyes widened and I heard my own ragged breathing. She turned her face away from me as tears flooded down and she began to sob. Through her fingers I glimpsed the glowing red patch on her right cheek. My own eyes became fountains in their turn as I made to put an arm around her. ‘Jenny I’m so sorry, you know I didn’t mean that, I just wanted to hit the shutter, I…’
She shrunk from my touch and took a few steps away, fending my arm off with her own. ‘I’m so sorry, Jenny. I’m so sorry, love.’ We were both bawling our eyes out in the midnight street, shoulders heaving wildly. ‘I’m so sorry, Jenny, I never meant to hurt you – you have to believe me…’ She turned away from me.
She flagged down a cab and got in, not saying a word. She left me there to writhe around in the sty of my pride and shame. My left hand was already beginning to pulsate; it was screaming out its guilt for the rest of my body to hear…
The culpable appendage came off at the wrist with a searing gush of blood. I screamed so loud I thought my head was going to shake itself loose and fall off my shoulders. The pain that accompanied the separation of hand from arm was like nothing I’d ever felt. The colour black stormed into my vision from the edges as I struggled to breathe normally. There was an explosive throbbing where my hand had been.
I leaned over the counter to regain control of my body, my face only an inch away from stump and sword and hand. I smiled at the falcata and thought, No lowly meat cleaver for me.
I tossed my severed hand out the window for the neighbourhood dogs to fight over. Serves it right for what it did. I staggered back from the counter and slumped into a kitchen chair, blood all over my jeans and t-shirt. The throbbing was still growing – a balloon about to burst – each pulsation a punch in the chest.
Why in the fuck didn’t I think of painkillers? I wondered, still breathing heavily. It would have defeated the purpose, another voice seemed to answer.
As the blood tried to coagulate the room around me became evermore blurry and unstable. Oh shit, I mused, I forgot to call an ambulance. As my eyes rolled around the bright room taking in broad brushstrokes of colour I thought, I better get on that…
As you can see, Eoin has a unique and compelling style of writing gritty prose and a biting turn of phrase. He also reminds us not to be afraid of our darker side and to embrace our imagination as the limitless and at times frightening tool that it can be. Sometimes letting go of our moral compass can guide us to a wonderful place, figuratively speaking of course.
If you enjoyed Eoin’s work, more of it can be found at http://eoindmadigan.com/.
We’ll be back again next week with a new post. Until then, please spread the word that in honor of the arrival of Summer and backyard BBQ reading, Words, Pauses, Noises is welcoming all outside submissions.