Submit to Southword





New Irish Voices
Poetry chapbooks by
Roisin Kelly & Paul McMahon



Liberty Walks Naked
by Maram al-Masri, trans. Theo Dorgan



Chapbooks by Fool for Poetry
Competition Winners 2018

Not in Heaven by Molly Minturn
Bog Arabic by Bernadette McCarthy




Richesses: Francophone Songwriter Poets
Edited and translated by Aidan Hayes





Munster Literature Centre

Create your badge






Arts Council



Cork City Council



Foras na Gaeilge



Cork County Council










Lane Ashfeldt is the author of the book of stories SaltWater (Liberties Press). The collection was longlisted for both the Frank O’Connor Award and the Edge Hill Prize, and, ‘Pole House’, a story taken from the collection, aired on Radio New Zealand. Lane’s writing has won several international awards including the Fish Short Histories Prize, and has been widely anthologised.








Now that I run my own business, I weigh things up carefully. Set the pros against the cons. For months before I moved to live here, I stopped in a different European country every two weeks. Call it my R&D phase. Then, after an overnight stop here on the way to somewhere else, I found an excuse to return. Before I knew it I’d been here three months, so when the time came to choose where to settle, there was no contest. The winters here are mild, the coast is beautiful, and the people have a calm, get-on-with-it air about them. The exchange rate was also a factor. My little windfall wouldn’t have gone far in Dublin, but translated into Kuna it was riches. There isn’t much on the minus side. Maybe a few too many women in this town who colour their hair red: give me a natural redhead, or none at all. And the language is a minus, I suppose. Not the easiest. To start with I never even attempted Croatian: why bother when I was planning to move on? But I soon grew to love this town nearly as much as I once loved Dublin: the little dead-end streets that finish in stone steps, the clutter of pot plants in odd corners, the labyrinth of back streets behind the blackened seafront palace. And, guess what, I scored a rent-controlled apartment on the top floor. Once I had my little corner of the emperor’s palace, that was it. I was staying.


Today my Croatian gets me by in the local cafe-bars, even does for the occasional more complex social interaction, should the situation arise. The funny thing is, my English has improved immensely, which is useful now I’m in holiday rentals. People used to have trouble with the old Dublin accent, but these days I could barely order a cup of tea back home. Not that it’s a theory I’ve put to the test. If I was to go back to Ballymun, the tower block I grew up in is razed to the ground. To hell or to Connacht. Or to Ashbourne. When all trace of your childhood is erased from the city of your birth, it isn’t the subtlest of hints about your welcome there. So I took the hint and left. That said, 500k is the sort of hint a lot of people would take, given the option.


I lean on the roof terrace wall, watch the crowds shoaling on the promenade below. It’s just before dusk, and the young and beautiful have commenced their nightly ritual of luring the old, rich and gullible – all of it on my doorstep, just like the sea. More often than not, I look past the human ebb and flow, focus on the pink and purple surface of the seawater. Watch the ripples changing. Tonight, though, I spy the amber glow of a natural redhead darting through the shifting, reconfiguring crowd. She has a man in tow, of course. A woman like that generally does. But the way she moves, it reminds me of someone. Someone unforgettable. Before I know it I’ve pulled on a freshly laundered shirt and am forcing the buttons closed in the lift. I don’t want to let this one get away.




It actually is. It’s her, Saoirse. Barely changed in what, six years? Her scruffy jeans swapped for a white dress, standing right by Franjo’s, my favourite restaurant. I can tell from the way she is ogling the framed menu at the doorway that she’d love to go in, but even with the exchange rate rigged in her favour she can’t afford it. A south Dublin girl, used to having it all, but some things she just can’t have. In fact Franjo’s prices are a bit steep for me too, but fortunately he gives me good discount. And if ever I run up a bill I can’t afford, I work it off in the kitchen, washing up. It’s good for me. Meditative. Makes me value the freedoms I have. As they start to move away, I say: ‘Excuse me, this may sound odd, but... Would you do me a favour? I’ve a table booked, but my guests just texted me to say they are becalmed on the Adriatic. It’s a shame to waste the reservation. Would you please join me, as my guests?’


Saoirse, delighted, glances at her bloke for approval. He looks suspicious.


‘I don’t think—’


‘Oh, but Kevin...’


‘I was so looking forward to some English conversation.’


‘Very well, then.’


‘Thank you.’


Introductions are made. Saoirse genuinely doesn’t seem to know me, which is both a relief and a humiliation. Of course, I use a different name these days, and with my accent softened and the help of that Hungarian nose doctor, I come over different, all right. But let’s face it, right through university I was invisible to her. She tolerated my presence on the edge of a group, but I doubt she even noticed when I left the country. As for her fella, I don’t remember him from Adam. Big fella, but a boring sort of bloke, if you ask me. Grumpy, and a little sweaty in navy jeans that are uncomfortably new. Later, as our starters are cleared away, he removes and polishes his wireframes, and then I do remember. He was at the bank. Kind of guy that kept you waiting ages even if you had an appointment, never looked at you while you were talking, just rubbed his glasses, then turned to you with a half-smile and said how sorry he was not to be able to help, but in the current climate and so on, business loans were a nightmare to approve.




Over the meal they quiz me politely. She more than he. What do I do in this city, how long have I lived here, what would I recommend them to see? We’re on the terrazza, so I wave towards the palace: ‘My favourite place in town.’ She looks up, curious, and asks about the building. Forgetting caution, I admit I live there, invite them for an after-dinner liqueur. I get the bill, thanking Franjo for the referrals he keeps sending me, and together we stroll towards my place.


Saoirse leans on the parapet wall, says how gorgeous it is, she can understand exactly what drew me here. Of course it’s not just the view I love. Or the privacy. It’s the fact that the lower floors of the palace are half collapsed and all blackened over with dirt; the fact some upstart emperor built it centuries ago for when he’d had enough of Rome and it’s still one of the world’s best retirement pads; the fact it’s far from grand now, more a sort of Liberties market by the sea, and yet still... it is what it is. A palace. I stand by the parapet wall next to Saoirse, so close I can see the little blonde hairs glistening against the freckles on her forehead. Those fake redheads, they never get the detail right. Not like this. She smiles at me, then glances anxiously at Kevin who glowers at her. Or maybe at me. I pretend not to notice, offer him a top-up. He is so silent as I mix the cocktail, brooding even, that I can’t help but wonder has he twigged who I am.


He sips the first mouthful, then splutters on his gin fizz. ‘I knew I knew that face. It’s you, isn’t it? The fella who ran off with a fortune.’


‘Um, I don’t quite...’


‘Kind of scum who blames the banks for every evil under the sun, and then you go and pull a stunt like that.’


‘Kevin, please!’ Saoirse admonishes, then looks apologetically at me. ‘You’re being rude to our host.’


‘Our gracious host here helped himself to half a million quid. From my bank.’


Kevin is becoming red in the face, not a pleasant sight. He stands, looms unsteadily over me, then his head descends until it’s on a level with mine. The proximity is nauseating: I can smell the lemon-garlic palamida he ate for dinner. Small flecks of spittle or fish-flesh fly at me as he says loudly,


‘Isn’t that right, Packy, or should I say Mr Dempsey?’


I get to my feet. ‘Let’s rewind and discuss this like adults, shall we?’


He takes a swing at me.




Saoirse hurries over from the parapet wall, places a soothing hand on his arm. He flicks it off. He is trying to look hard, but he only looks like what he is: a banker who once made the rugger team of some posh Dublin boys’ school. Blackrock College, or Belvo. No, Gonzaga, that’s it. With the wusses. I was with the Christian Brothers. I was on the hurling team at Ardscoil Rís, and I can take him on any day. ‘I’ve no idea what you mean,’ I tell him in the same professional tone that he used at the bank, because I know hearing it from me will get on his tits. Let him get riled. It’s pretty obvious, Saoirse despises scenes.


‘Don’t give me that bullshit. You know exactly what I mean!’ He smashes his glass on the stone floor and lurches towards the door. When he has it open, he turns: ‘You know what, forget it. You’re not even worth fighting, the police can deal with you. Saoirse? Saoirse! Are you coming?’


Saoirse doesn’t move.


‘All right. Stay and get mixed up in this. Just don’t blame me if it gets messy. That’s dangerous company you’re keeping.’


The door slams heavily. Tomorrow, my downstairs neighbour will remind me in his immaculate Croatian that the entire palace does not belong to me.


‘I’m so sorry,’ Saoirse says, then shrugs. ‘Although if you’re such dangerous company, I’m surprised Kevin left me alone with you.’


‘I’m really not. Dangerous I mean.’


She gives me this look. When we were students I’d have done anything for her to have looked at me that way. It chills me a little that to her I’m a completely new person. She seems genuinely puzzled, asks what on earth all that was about. Well. People like a little danger now and again, or so they say. Just a little. Life is more fun that way. Unpredictable. So, should I tell her? But if I do, she might stop giving me that look. It all has to be all factored in: the plusses and the minuses, the interest rate, the return on investment. The collateral.


‘Here’s the deal, Saoirse. Your boyfriend’s right, we did meet before. He approved a little bridging loan for me, 50k I think it was. The bank made an error and transferred across half a mill. But large transactions aren’t unusual in the property business, and I was travelling a great deal at the time, so it was some months before I noticed.’ She appears fascinated. I expect she remembers because the boyfriend copped a load of hassle after. I’m surprised he didn’t lose his job, but I’ll bet his promotion prospects were revised down. If not decimated entirely. ‘As Kevin will no doubt find if he looks into it, once my accountant spotted the error, the excess was returned. It took a little time, that’s all. Perhaps his superiors neglected to inform him.’


Quite a bit of time. Three years, in fact. Interest free. But it’s all above board. Any telltale data relating to the ‘erroneous’ transaction has long since been erased. We took good care of that. As a precaution I had Lovro, my lawyer, draft a letter in his exemplary business English to accompany the returned balance. To hear Lovro speak, you would never guess English is his second language — it was meetings with him helped knock my vowels into shape. In the end, word arrived very discreetly from the bank. A telephone call. No further action would be taken: the asset managers were satisfied that the funds had been repaid, even three years late. That was it. Proof my tracks were covered. Even my accountant and Lovro don’t know I caused the error. And I won’t burden Saoirse with the detail. It’s history, just like the bloke who built this palace. Not as old a story as that of Diocletian, but just as buried.


‘So was it a computer error kind of thing?’ she asks.


‘Not sure. Some kind of transaction error, all right.’ It was just luck he was called out of the room a minute, that I had the chance and took it. And luck he never checked. Probably broke a hundred protocols. ‘Like I say, he’ll find out if he looks into it. If he’s senior enough to get clearance, that is.’


‘I’m so sorry,’ she says. ‘These things happen.’ She sighs. ‘I don’t know why Kevin takes his work so personally. Being responsible for loan approvals gives him such a massive hit. He likes to think he knows people inside out, that he can tell everything about them just by looking them in the eye, you know?’


I know exactly.


She smiles. ‘Like he’s God, I suppose.’


If I was to reply, I would have to say that on this occasion his instincts are pretty sound, so I say nothing, just look out across the darkened sea towards Italy, at the warm after-light hanging there. It’s not hard to understand why Diocletian wanted to leave behind Rome and its warriors, and just sit here looking at the sea. An antidote to a lifetime of conflict, both in battle and in economics. And a way to ensure he didn’t go out in a bloodbath, as he came in. Inventing the notion of retirement, Diocletian grew cabbages in his ample back garden, where now a warren of back streets has sprung up. He built his palace facing west so that he would have sunsets every night. And now they’re mine. I think of my imaginary friends, becalmed on their imaginary yacht. I hope they are having a pleasant evening. Perhaps they’re doing the only sensible thing in the circumstances, and shagging each other’s brains out.


I reach for the cocktail shaker. I look at Saoirse, the girl I once dreamed of. She is not that same girl any more, and I’m not at all sure I want the woman she is now nearly as much as I once wanted that girl, but she’s as close now as I’ve ever come to her, and so this time I make sure there’s no mistaking my drift. ‘Would you stay for another?’ I ask. Saoirse smiles. For the smallest second there’s this look, like maybe she does connect me with the past after all. Then it’s gone, gone so far it’s as though it was never there.


‘Why not?’ 


I take her hand. It feels nice. The skin is soft but the hand is firm. She’s a strong woman, this Saoirse, capable of making up her own mind, and she is not stupid. As long as she sticks around, I won’t press her about what she knows or what she doesn’t know. That is her business. The past is the past, and we are perched on top of it, precariously, trying to balance the future.



©2017 Lane Ashfeldt



Author Links


Lane Ashfeldt's website

SaltWater at Liberties Press

Follow Lane on Twitter

More work by Lane in Southword






©2009 Southword Editions
Munster Literature Centre

Southword 6 Southword No 7 Southword No 8 Southword No 9 Southword No 10 Southword 11 southword 12 Southword No 14 Southword No 15