The Cafe Irreal: International Imagination 

Issue Fourteen

The Santa Fe by Terry Dartnall
Butterflies by W.B. Keckler
Tableau by Jake Elliot
The Accordion by Cat Rambo
Watches by Pavel Řezníček
surd person circular by Brian E. Turner
Black Belt Karate Master (1988) by Ethan Bernard
The Room at the End of the World by Brian Biswas
The Mushroom Incident by Olivia V. Ambrogio
A Call to Arms by A.D. MacDonald
Almost Mythological and Duty by James Grinwis
It Works Differently on Writers by Jeremy Tavares
Running by Sarah Bailyn
Of Forests and Trees and Never Met a Fish Taco I Didn't Like by Robert Leach
A Man Of Many Doppelgangers by Jeff Tannen


irreal (re)views


by Jake Elliot


The incident with the birds occurred nearly eight years ago but it was still a regular feature of local gossip around the quiet London street. The story seemed to smoulder every so often in someone's memory, igniting a series of reminiscences and kindled by nostalgic conversations. Sometimes, journalists--always trainees or new arrivals, the inhabitants of the street eventually noticed--would turn up to find out what lay beneath the curious hearsay and urban myth. Some reporters would collect local eyewitness accounts with increasing eagerness and abandoned scepticism, their keenness only faltering once they discovered how long ago it had all happened. Most would grimace, leave with a couple of desultory thank-yous and return to stories of new shopping developments and muggings. A few individuals continued with their articles regardless, simply intrigued by what they heard. All the residents of the otherwise unremarkable terraced street defined, consolidated and sometimes augmented their role in the tale through these numerous retellings. Often they would recount the incident in relay, one person explaining their story before reaching a dramatic pause on which to hand the telling on to one of their neighbours. The articles that were finally published became almost verbatim transcripts of how these everyday people had come out of their homes on a stormy summer evening, some interrupting meals, others alerted by the strange behaviour of their pets, to find the street littered with the skeletons of tiny birds. The gleaming white bundles of bones lay scattered over pavements, gardens, and cars.


Tyrell worked quickly through the quiet hour before dawn. A slight ribbon of light pushed up from the horizon, paling the orange glow from the streetlights beside him. He had walked slowly and silently down the steps of the Georgian terraced house with the first of four large canvas bags hugged protectively in his arms, glancing carefully around to ensure the street was empty. From the first bag he had taken out a foot, an arm with a crooked elbow, and the top of a head. The subsequent bags contained legs, hands, the upper half of both male and female bodies. He arranged them across the pavement at its widest point so that they appeared to be swimming, breaking surface with kicking heels, or raised elbows, or exposed head and chest, splashing up through the tarmac and paving slabs. The plaster glowed under the streetlights. Tyrell moved around between his work, organising the pieces according to the marks he had sprayed on to the pavement the previous afternoon. As he bent to turn a shoulder into closer alignment with a corresponding half of a face, he was caught between a pair of streetlights and cast two shadows.


He woke suddenly, snapping awake, to find himself lying over his desk, face pressed against the piles of sketches he had been working on. As he lifted his head he saw a blackbird perched on the corner of the desk. It hopped back, tilting its head to one side to observe him. Carefully Tyrell extended a hand towards the bird, palm upwards. The blackbird craned forward, looking inquisitively over the top of his fingers and then it stepped back, watching him for another still moment. When he next moved, the bird took off, darting out of the window Tyrell had left open.


From the window of his studio, Tyrell watched the council workers collecting the last of the bird skeletons, picking them up cautiously with gloved hands or pairs of tongs and dropping them into rubbish sacks before placing them with surprising gentleness into the yawning refuse vehicle. Across the street the young couple who had recently moved into the opposite house were standing in their doorway, an arm around each other's waist, as they talked to a man in a fluorescent jacket. They both gestured around their front garden for the benefit of the official, who was carrying a camera. Tyrell continued the arc of one of the woman's gestures over to his mantelpiece. He had taken one of the bird skeletons for himself, as the rest of the street had done, a collectable rara avaris. His perched in an egg cup, the nearest thing available when he got back indoors, the small shape huddled delicately in his hands. When he turned back to the window, the refuse vehicle had crept forward slightly and he could see a figure standing near to the post box by the corner of the street. She was wearing a tightly belted raincoat and a small cap was set far back on her head. Her coal-black hair was cut in a severe bob. Her skin like milk. For a moment as Tyrell stared at her strong, sharp features he was convinced he was looking at the silent film actress Louise Brooks. Then two of the council workers stepped forward and blocked his view as they threw the last of the sacks of skeletons into the vehicle.

Sea View

Cans chinked gently in Tyrell's carrier bags as he walked home with his shopping. He bowed his head against the sunlight, watching his shadow push away in front of him. From somewhere he could suddenly smell the crisp scent of hops. He looked up and saw a lorry of beer kegs being unloaded into a pub cellar. One of the kegs had ruptured and beer was streaming and frothing over the edge of the pavement and into the road, much to the fury of the publican, who grabbed a broom from inside the pub and began ineffectually sweeping at it. The large puddle of beer, topped with a crest of foam, spread out towards Tyrell, exactly like a wave.


The radio in the corner of the studio, propped on the top of a listing stepladder to aid its reception, drizzled soft jazz through the room. Every so often, it crackled with distortion. Tyrell assumed either someone in a nearby flat was operating electrical equipment or maybe a plane was circling. He walked through the crowd of variously arranged mannequins standing beside the stepladder. Some were still limbless and incomplete, like cast-off versions of the Venus de Milo, others had progressed to life-like simulacra. One at the far end was finished, with a black bobbed wig, eyelashes and dark lipstick. Tyrell raised his hand to stroke the mannequin's cheek. As he did so the plaster caking his hand split and cracked in a miniature seismic upheaval.

Tableau Vivant

Somewhere a car rasped through a missed gear change. He jolted upright and stared anxiously up and down the street, checking for stray dawn-walkers, anyone up too late, too early, any manner of nocturnal itinerants. To his left the ribbon of new sunlight had widened to reach up over the tops of buildings. Tyrell glanced at his watch, pinching his mouth briefly, and hurried on with arranging the last of the three complete mannequins beside the post box. Like the other two, this was decorated in the same manner and dressed in the same style of raincoat, although this one appeared in negative, with blond-bobbed hair and caramel-coloured lipstick. He adjusted the belt of the final mannequin and stepped back, smiling at the three frozen observers as they watched sightlessly the partly submerged swimmers. Unconsciously, Tyrell flicked his fingers across the side of his worsted jacket, daubing it faintly with plaster which shone under the artificial light.

Jake Elliot is a graduate of the Creative Writing MA at University of East Anglia (UK) and has previously had work published in the magazines Flux and Spiked, the anthologies Paper Scissors Stone and Wildthyme On Top, and broadcast on BBC Radio 4.

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