November 5th 2015 – Ulster Hall, Belfast
For Christmas Peter made life size models of all his friends and presented the models to them, fully gift-wrapped. The models were made of papier mache, stretched across a chicken wire frame. They were painted in authentic skin tones and for hair Peter used wool scraps salvaged from his grandmother’s knitting basket.
At first he thought about leaving the models nude, (classical statues were always naked or draped about with marble togas), but Peter balked at the idea of sculpting imaginary genitals for people he worked with and had to sit opposite in the staff room at lunch time. He did not want to see them this way and so bought clothes for his models from the charity shops on the Lisburn Road, as close to their actual style as his budget could afford.
Peter thought his friends would be pleased to receive a life-size model of themself for Christmas. It was easy to see that a lot of work had gone into their creation. His friends were not pleased. They looked at Peter with frantic, darting eyes. They asked, “what am I meant to do with this?” They gave him generic gifts like chocolates or cheap wine in return.
November 6th 2015 – Ulster Hall, Belfast
Maureen was feeling tired. Her head had kept her up all night thinking about her sister and all the various ways she was not making a success of her life. The sister was a big shot lawyer. The sister drove a white BMW and upgraded every 18 months for a newer model. The sister had a perfectly adequate husband and two lovers: one who was young and one who was handsome and properly European.
Maureen gave guided tours of listed buildings to those few foreign tourists who’d deemed Belfast safe enough for a mini-break. She did not charge. She relied on tips which meant she was required to be both funny, charming and well-informed at all times, even when underslept.
This morning Maureen was too tired to keep to the script. She made up dates. She fabricated anecdotes. She told a group of Japanese business men that the Queen kept a static caravan in the grounds of Hillsborough Castle for those rare occasions when she felt like roughing it. She did not feel guilty about her lies even when the business men tipped her a twenty pound note and she knew they were not yet familiar with the currency.
With money in her pocket she felt successful like the sister. She thought she might buy a car and, if things kept going her way, later upgrade it for a better car.
November 7th 2015 – Ulster Hall, Belfast
In the month’s proceeding the publication of Flannery O’Connor’s debut short story collection, “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” a large number of American men, (mostly single), wrote to Ms O’Connor in her Georgia home insisting that they were not only good men but also relatively accessible. Some sent black and white photographs of themselves in decent suits. Others wrote lists of their good qualities and attributes as if they were applying for a sort of job. None asked for Flannery’s particular affection though the implication was there, hiding behind casual boasts of academic tenure and well-maintained livestock.
Flannery O’Connor ignored them all. She was a most-determined young woman and knew which fights to pick and which to step around like back lane puddles. It was not her place to defend, or indeed belittle, the American man. She simply wished to write good stories and see these stories published and subsequently read, and if there was any time left over, breed peacocks on her own little farm.
November 8th 2015 – Ballymena
Joel and Cassie Binkley
Even before our son was entirely out of you the midwife was already saying how much he looked like you.
“He’s the spit of her mummy around the eyes,” said your father.
“And his mouth too,” added your mother.
“He has your hair, Sylvia,” said my father.
“And your mannerisms, Dear,” added my mother, (which felt a little like betrayal).
“There’s a not a single ounce of his daddy in him,” said your brother. “Are you sure he’s not the milkman’s?”
We all laughed. Oh how we laughed. But afterwards, when all the family had gone home, I turned our son sideways and upside down looking for even the slightest resemblance to myself. Nothing. Even his toes were yours.
So, I took an eyeliner pencil from your make up bag and drew a single beauty mark to the left of his navel, exactly where mine is.
“Look Sylvia,” I said, rushing the baby suddenly into our bedroom, “he has a beauty mark exactly like mine.”
“That’s just dirt,” you said. You took your thumb, wet it against your lips, and smudged the mark away. Later that evening I began to insist that he took my name.
November 9th 2015 – Belfast
She entered the bookstore with every intention of theft. On the way from new releases to the poetry section, she let her fingers fall upon the unbroken spines of paperback novels by Ian Rankin and Colum McCann. By the stairs there was a display of hardback copies of the latest Edna O’Brien novel. She paused for a moment on the first step. Rested her hand on top of the book and took a deep, settling breath. There was something distinctly Catholic about this gesture. Lately she had been flirting with the idea of Catholicism.
In the poetry section she faked an interest in the work of Mark Doty, then Seamus Heaney and, when she felt her alibi was firmly established, lifted the very expensive, hardback copy of that one, Scottish poet’s new collection off the shelf, flicked to the correct page, and stole the poem she’d come for. She used her phone which was also a camera. If she’d wanted to she could have used the voice recorder function to speak the stolen poem into her phone.
Afterwards, she shrugged for the benefit of Close Circuit Television, as if to say, ‘the thing which I came to buy isn’t here.’ Then she left the bookstore. She wished to be caught shoplifting as she had never broken the law before, but there was nothing to set the alarms off.
November 10th 2015 – Ulster Hall, Belfast
Things I saw on Facebook last night without particularly trying to see:
- One turtle tipping another turtle over.
- People being angry about Starbuck’s Christmas cups, other people not being angry about Starbuck’s Christmas cups and another set of people becoming angry or not angry about how people were reacting to the Starbuck’s Christmas cups.
- A young man proposing with a stick of chewing gum.
- A newborn baby dressed as a piece of Sushi, (California Roll).
- At least five things I really wouldn’t believe.
- Multiple cats balanced on a very small shelf, (possibly just a large handle).
- Jeremy Corbyn.
- A toddler with its foot stuck inside a washing machine in a funny rather than cruel way.
- Ten things to do with leftover cheese/old socks/members of the popular 80s pop band Duran Duran.
- You, with a girl I’ve never seen before, smiling and both of you in wedding clothes.
November 11th 2015 – Ulster Hall, Belfast
It turned out William was wrong about the horses. He’d always imagined his new wife the kind of girl who’d dreamt of horses, who’d spent every childhood birthday wishing for a pony of her own. He could picture her in jodhpurs and riding hat, flying over hedges and stacked fences. She had a face for horses, and thighs to match, and while William had never had the gall to bring this up in conversation, he’d always assumed that his new wife would be looser, less of a tall stick, the minute he got her into the saddle.
He had not asked around. Though his new wife’s parents were dead, there were friends and a brother in Bournemouth he could have called. Instead, he simply bought a moderately-priced horse on Ebay, stuck a bow on its smooth, brown rump and cried, “Happy Birthday Darling, (and maybe Christmas as well. Ponies don’t come cheap after all).”
The new wife shrieked in fear and shrill horror. It turned out William was wring about the horses and also other, more significant things.