by Xeno Albannach
Imagine if, during the fight for the abolition of slavery in America, some slaves had said, “Before we can be free, we have to decide what kind of free people we want to be. Will we be capitalist, or socialist? Do we want a republic or a monarchy? What style of clothes do we want to wear?”
Imagine if a person living with an abusive, violent, controlling partner would not consider leaving until they had decided exactly what they wanted to do with their life after leaving. “Before I can get away from being battered and belittled, I have to decide what job I’ll do, what I’ll read, what media I’ll watch, what I’ll wear, what I’ll do in my leisure time, who I’ll be friends with…”
If this seems absurd, it is. But it is a line of thinking that people in Scotland — including such writers as Gerry Hassan and Ewan Morrison — subscribe to.
In the 2014 Independence Referendum, Morrison switched from Yes to No, saying he had changed his mind because the SNP had offered no plan for Scotland after independence. Since then, Hassan has made the same argument, saying “Political and social change cannot just be about abstracts such as ‘independence’.”
Try replacing that with, “Ending slavery cannot just be about abstracts such as ‘freedom’.” It’s not really a replacement, because it’s the same thing.
And it’s an argument that misses the point in every way.
First, it would be presumptuous of the SNP to try to set policy for a country that might not choose it as its government. While at this point it is likely that the SNP would be re-elected, it would be antidemocratic to base a nation’s entire policy or constitution on such an assumption.
Second, and more important, independence is not an abstract, any more that freedom from slavery is an abstract.
In 1992, the late Alasdair Gray published a short book called Why Scots Should Rule Scotland. Some reviewers were surprised that the book never mentioned the answer its title suggested it would give, but instead gave a short history of Scotland. Some of us, however, understood that the history of Scotland was all the answer that was relevant or needed.
What will Scotland be after independence? Whatever Scotland decides to be. And that can only be decided when Scotland is independent. When asked, “What do you intend to do after I take my boot off your neck?” there is only one sane answer:
Take the boot off my neck.
by Bart Lessard
Cannot hear the falconer? Can so!
What business is it of his, or of yours,
Whether my gyre widens at all?
Also, the beast had this to pass along:
“Whom are you calling rough?”
by Barry Graham
I don’t feel bad about it. I wish I did. I know I should. But I don’t, though I kind of feel bad about not feeling bad. Like when one of your relatives dies and you don’t feel bad because they’re dead, you feel bad because you don’t really care that they’re dead. That’s kind of how I feel.
Not just that, of course. I feel bad about Tony’s friends getting in trouble, and I’m scared the cops might realise that Tony knew them and that I’m Tony’s girlfriend and that I worked for Greaves and then we’ll be in trouble as well. I feel bad about that. But Greaves? I don’t feel anything. I don’t even feel all that happy, though I thought I would. I just kind of feel like it was right, like he got what he deserved. Maybe not exactly right, but fair. It feels like it was fair.
* * *
Greaves thought he was God’s Gift. That was as much the fault of the girls at the bank as it was his fault. They thought his carry on was funny. I couldn’t believe them. I’m not a feminist or anything, but I couldn’t believe women would find it funny, a wanker like that doing things to women they worked with.
I’m a temp typist. My agency said I’d be needed at the bank for six weeks, but it turned into four months. That was fine by me. I liked it there. A lot of the time there was hardly any work to do and I could just mess around online. Funny, considering that this was the bank’s head office and I was doing the typing for four different managers. And you should see what they were getting paid. The more important your job is, the more money you get and the less work you have to do.
Greaves didn’t work any harder than the other managers, so he didn’t give me any more work than they did. But he was a total arsehole, just a horrible, arrogant arsehole. Sometimes if you asked him a question he’d throw his head back and give this long, nasty laugh like you were dirt and there was something funny about you. And he wouldn’t answer the question.
Once I asked him what time he needed some memos typed by, and he did that — haw—haw—HAW — and put his dirty hand on my shoulder and then just walked away.
I was angry at him doing that, him thinking he could do that to me because I was only twenty and female and only a temp. So, next time he walked past my desk, I had another question for him.
“Mr Greaves, what are you going to use for a face when Quasimodo wants that one back?”
All the other typists and even my supervisor laughed, but this time Greaves didn’t. I thought he’d do something about it, maybe complain to my agency and ask for another temp to replace me. He didn’t. But I soon realised he wasn’t letting it go.
About a week after I said that to him, I sent a memo to all four managers, telling them I was taking Friday afternoon off, so if they had any typing for me to do they’d better give it to me first thing on Friday morning, and if they had anything really big they should give it to me the day before.
On the Thursday, Greaves walked up to my desk. “Hey. Ruth. I’ve got something big. Do you want it now?”
“Okay," I said. “When do you need it done?”
“Oh, I don’t have any typing for you to do. I just said I’ve got something big. That’s what you asked in your memo.”
I stood up and made to say something or do something, but then the other girls — even Linda, my supervisor — started laughing. Laughing at that. Christ.
“Grow up,” I muttered, and sat down again.
“It’s probably too big for you,” Greaves said. “You probably couldn’t handle it.” Then he walked away and went into his office as the girls all started laughing again.
“I want something done about him,” I told Linda.
“Come on. He was only joking. He’s not doing you any harm.”
I wrote a memo to Greaves, telling him that if he ever spoke to me that way again, I’d report him for sexual harassment. He didn’t reply. I thought that might be it, that he might get me fired, but he never said anything. I could have just left. That’s why I like being a temp — if you don’t like a place you can just leave and get your agency to put you somewhere else. But it was a couple weeks before Christmas and things are always slow around then. If I left, I might not be able to get anything else until after New Year. Besides, it was the easiest job I’d had, and I wasn’t going to let one arsehole manager drive me out.
He did it, though.
You couldn’t smoke anywhere in the building. That was fair enough; there was hardly anybody who smoked. But I smoke like a crematorium. So I used to grind my teeth or chew gum until my lunch break and my morning and afternoon breaks, then go outside and get enough nicotine inside me to keep me going.
One morning I got a memo from Greaves telling me not to leave the building during my short breaks. I went into his office and asked him what he was playing at.
“None of the other typists go outside during their breaks. Why should you?”
“None of the other typists smoke. I do.”
"We have a no—smoking policy.”
“I know. That’s why I go outside.”
He smiled at me. “Not anymore. You can conduct yourself like everybody else. You can leave during your lunch break. During your other breaks, you stay in the building.”
“You can’t tell me what to do on my break. My break is mine. I’m not at work then.”
“No, but you’re being paid. You’re still paid for your time. So I want you to remain in the building in case you’re needed.”
I couldn’t handle that. I used the thought of the breaks to keep me going through the mornings and afternoons of cold turkey. Without it, I’d start sniffing glue.
I tried to fight Greaves, but nobody else was interested — not the other managers, not my supervisor, not the other typists. I was just an obnoxious little temp with a big mouth and no sense of humour.
So I left. I was lucky and my agency found me another job, starting the next day. But I didn’t feel any better. I felt as if anybody with plenty of money and no dress sense could do what they liked to me and I couldn’t do anything except give in and walk out.
The day I walked out of the bank, I went to Tony’s house and told him what had happened. He went mental. Then he calmed down and said, “What does this Greaves look like?”
“‘Cause I’m going to wait outside the bank and kick his fucking head in when he comes out.”
“No, you’re not. I don’t need you getting into trouble. With your record, you only need to slap somebody and they’d lock you up.”
He laughed. “I know. I’d love to fuck him up, though. Prick.”
“So would I. But I don’t want you doing it.”
He looked at me. “Serious?”
“Fucking him up?”
At first I wasn’t sure. Then I was. “Yeah. Why?”
“I know some guys that would do it. You’d have to pay them, but they’d do it cheap if I asked them.”
I waited to see if I was still sure, and I was.
* * *
They did it for a hundred and fifty. Seventy-five each. That wasn’t in the newspaper. The rest of it was.
They got Greaves outside the bank and started kicking him. He fought back and shouted for help. One of them stuck a knife in his back and then they ran away. Greaves’ lungs filled up with blood and he died just after the ambulance got him to the hospital.
The two guys got picked up by the cops a few blocks away. They’d got rid of the knife, but one of them had Greaves’ blood on him. It was only about ten minutes after they’d done it.
Before he died, Greaves told the ambulance men that the guys had asked, “Are you Martin Greaves?” before they attacked him. So the cops want to know why. Tony says the guys won’t tell them anything, but the cops aren’t always stupid.
Now it’s Christmas Eve. Earlier tonight I was doing some last—minute shopping, getting some presents — one for Tony, one for my mum. The mall was really busy, lots of people with their kids. It said in the paper that Greaves had a wife and three kids. I wonder what he was like with them. I wonder if they knew what he was like at work.
I thought about them, but I still couldn’t be sorry. I didn’t think Greaves would get killed — Tony said they’d just give him a kicking — but I can’t be sorry about him. The cops said it was “a brutal and cowardly murder,” but I don’t see how it was. Greaves was brutal and cowardly. He thought he could do what he liked because he was in charge, but he was only in charge at the bank. Other people are in charge in other places. But people like Greaves and the cops and the papers only think it’s fair if you do things the same way as they do. And they do things the way that suits them. What I did to Greaves maybe wasn’t right, but it was as fair as what he did to me.
I’m going to my mum’s for Christmas, then Tony and I are going to his sister’s party at New Year. If the cops are going to find out what we did, I hope it doesn’t happen until after that.
man in ra library
usin wan ay ra computers
shouts at ra screen
"a'm gonnae gie er
a sair fuckin face"
by Tracy Taggart
Esther is sixteen years old. She is dying. For the last year, her father Charles has taken her to clinic after clinic looking for a diagnosis and a cure. She has lymphoma. The only hope for a cure is chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant. Neither is available nearby or affordable elsewhere. Esther and her family live in a mud hut with no electricity. She is the eldest of six—soon to be seven—children. She lies in the bed she shares with her siblings. It is an agony for her to even turn over. She is bone thin, and developing bed sores on her hips from lying too long on her side. She doesn't eat much, but when offered rice and lentils today, was able to take a few bites. She does not complain, but the moans she cannot always suppress keep the family up at night.
Sandy is a farmer, and a resident missionary. Charles works as a laborer on the farm, and through him Sandy has come to know of Esther's plight. Sandy senses Esther's end is nigh, and comes to me for help. She is hoping to ease the pain and suffering of these final days. I agree to prescribe and administer medicine for pain.
Pablo, a surgical technician on the team, hears Esther's story and asks to accompany Sandy and I on a visit. We walk the half mile or so, Sandy greeting neighbors along the way. On arriving at Esther's home, Charles and family usher us inside. Esther is grateful for the company, and puts on a brave face. I examine her, confirm the diagnosis and prognosis, and explain that we have brought medicine to ease her pain.
She cringes when she sees the needle. I reassure her it will only hurt for a moment, then her pain will subside. She submits. Her father holds her hand as I inject the medicine into her shriveled thigh. I explain that we have brought several doses, and will return to administer them each evening so that she and her family can rest. Pablo says a prayer, and we depart, having done all we can for her.
The next two days are consumed with surgery, but Sandy keeps me updated on Esther's condition, as she has been making regular visits. Another, more effective medicine is added, but it causes itching. I give Sandy my personal stash of Benadryl to combat this side effect. On the evening of the third day, we learn that Esther has died. This is the reality of life here.
by Ivy Abbott
Everyone is talking about the flood waters rising.
“It hasn’t been this bad since 1915 when they had to lift their skirts and walk on planks in the downtown areas for a week. A little boy drowned!”
“A hundred years flood,” they say with awe
I am scared, like them, but it’s a familiar feeling with me.
Seems like I’m always slipping my banks
Careening towards the edges and flowing over them because, even if I wanted to, the path I have worn is no longer a place where I can move, not really
I’m too much
I’m angry and this job, this life, this country keeps proving too wrong. I cannot fit.
Why would anyone build so close, knowing what rivers do?
In the good times, we forget what havoc we get from an angry river
The ocean side view is the good life until the hurricane approaches.
I don’t know why but my friend owns one of those big snakes, a constrictor.
Recall the urban legend of how they measure their owners when they get big enough. Stretching long and smooth against them in the bed, the length a serpentine body against the unsuspecting sleeping man in the dark. Let us see if the one who has fed them for over a decade will now be a meal, if the time proves right to consume.
I certainly have not felt like a caterpillar, cocooning into a primordial goop of nothing to reform into a masterpiece with wings.
The flood will recede and eventually you will be lulled again into the return of idyllic shores. You’ll tell cautionary tales to your children about the time the river slipped its banks. Or you dream about what you might tell your children about what you did when America began to fall. Like you’re a hero for not stepping in and being pulled away. hash tag resist. hash tag me too.
One time I got under my porch for some maintenance and there was an empty pack of smokes and a dry snakeskin. I don’t smoke, but I know how the eyes get cloudy unexpectedly, just before you need to burst your skin
The smokes were from a stalker. A rapist.
I’m cold all over but I understand.
It’s nothing personal. “You just mean nothing. I measured and it was time.”
by Johnny Shaw
Context is for suckers. It’s more interesting to pull a random page from a book and let it stand on its own.
Today’s selection is page 37 of Meth Mountain by Coil Branch, published by Simulacrum Press in 2013.
In 2016, it was later revealed that Coil Branch was the penname of Winthrop Thornycroft III of Whiteville, CT, an MFA student at Yale University who received a high six-figure advance for Meth Mountain, his debut novel. The publisher called it, “an authentic look at the bottom of the American barrel.” In a 2017 interview for Ambitiosior Magazine, Branch stated, “The reason I write about the poors is because they don’t have any of the complex troubles of those that face the burden of wealth. They are a simple folk, dirty-faced and gullibly pure.”
(The following excerpt is reprinted with permission from the author.)
was tough. Tough as nails. Tough as old leather. Tough as a poorly cooked steak. Tough as that one piece of crackling that feels like it’s going to break your tooth. That’s how tough he was. He knew it. Everyone knew it. Even that sumbitch, Buford Morehouse knew it. Travis Haymaker was not just a man’s man. He was a man’s man’s man.
The tales echoed down from the Sugarbush Mountains, along the Cottonmouth River, all the way down into Poverty Valley. If his red pickup cleared the tree line and headed down into the holler, it was best to stay indoors. Because when Travis Haymaker was in town, trouble followed. And mayhem usually followed trouble. And then subsequently, death was definitely close behind. Travis Haymaker, trouble, mayhem, and death were like an ordinary lunch. Travis Haymaker was the spinach salad. Trouble was the vichyssoise. Mayhem was the duck confit with ramps. And death was the poached pears in raspberry sauce. Four courses of the apocalypse.
* * *
If Trask Porter could only get a new set of engine parts for his pickup truck, then everything would work out fine for him and his. He was about to finally pay off his debt to the Haymaker family. Unless they asked him for some unexpected demand of him, he could finally go straight. The six years he spent in prison had taught him a valuable lesson about crime. It didn’t pay. Except in prison time. Which wasn’t a viable unit of currency.
Trask had his trailer and his girl and his dog and his truck. If a man needed more than that, he didn’t know what it was. White lightning moonshine, maybe. Or his faithful shotgun, Thelma. But right now, he just needed those engine parts to make his engine work.
Watching the sun rise, he wadded up a big wad of chewing tobacco and jammed it into the side of his mouth. Some people got sick and nauseous when they tried chewing tobacco, but not Trask. He had been chewing since he was eight years old.
“What for you doin’ outin’ here on the veranda, Trask?” his girl Ruthie Ann asked from behind the screen door. She wore her short shorts and gingham top tied in a knot at the front. Her pigtails made her look younger than her fourteen
by daishin stephenson
i am walking through a muddy field. ridges and ruts from large vehicles litter the landscape.
i step in a puddled rut, my sandal lost to its muddy depths as i pull my foot free.
a wind gust blows into my face. i turn my head. a brutalist tower stands to my left. i wonder where it came from and walk towards it.
the entryway doors, built of glass and steel, are open. i walk inside. the interior of the lobby is clean. instead of furniture, piles of rubble punctuate the space. a rabbit sits atop some debris. it appears old: cutouts and nicks on both ear edges, the short hairs growing there are illuminated by window light; bald patches dapple its body. it is wearing an ascot.
the rabbit asks, “why are you here?”
i answer, “i walked through the doors.”
by Xeno Albannach
Scotland is in an abusive relationship with England. Abusers control the people they are abusing by colonising their minds, until the abused speaks the language of the abuser, sees only the abuser’s reality. It happens to abused partners, and it is happening to Scotland.
I hear supporters of Scottish Independence, even members of the SNP, discussing whether Scotland needs to go ahead with “an illegal referendum,” i.e. one not sanctioned by the English government. In using the language of the coloniser, we agree to the coloniser’s power. We buy into England’s mythology, its view of itself as the boss, or master, whose permission we need. If we think of a unilateral referendum as illegal, then we accept England’s authority, and we are defeated right from the start, because, from the start, we live in England’s reality, not our own, believe in England’s authority, not our own, negotiate on England’s terms, not our own.
That which is given can be taken away. We must tell, not ask, England. Until we do, no matter how overwhelmingly we vote for the SNP, Scotland will continue to get the government and the policies England votes for. Scotland’s present situation, when it comes to elections, reminds me of a joke:
A man goes to prison for the first time, and his cellmate is a large thug. He tells the newcomer, “Your worst fear is right — you’re going to have to have sex with me. But I’ll give you a choice: you can either be my husband or my wife. Which one do you choose?”
Trying to make the best of the situation, the man says, “Okay, I choose to be your husband.”
“Good,” says the thug. “Now, bend over. Your wife is going to fuck you up the arse.”
Until we declare, not ask for, our independence, we will continue to be fucked, no matter which of England’s “choices” for us we select.
© DOCKYARD PRESS