Simon P. Clark challenges us to:
Write a story either (a) in 1225 words or less or (b) featuring ‘1225’ as its theme
Publish / share it before December 25th, 2014.
The smell of the cold drifted in through the gap in the narrow window, piercing its way through the staleness inside. It was dark, but the sun was beginning to stir and only the whistle of a gentle wind could be heard.
“A new day,” said the man quietly to himself as he surveyed the scene.
He took a deep breath, allowing the cool morning air to cleanse his being, and returned to the sunken mattress in the corner of the room, ritually lighting a clumsily rolled cigarette. A half-eaten takeaway sat on the floor beside the bed, flanked by two empty bottles of beer.
There was a pile of old newspapers and magazines stacked high against the wall opposite him, discoloured and torn. Nestled among them was a blue bible, a gift given to him after he began attending local prayer group. He had become somewhat of a hoarder and his cramped box room was slowly closing in around him.
The man picked up a picture from the bed-side table and examined it deliberately as he smoked. The frame was cheap but decorative. After staring at the image for nearly a minute, a tragic, fleeting smile flashed across his face and he replaced it, carefully. In contrast to the surrounding squalor, the bed-side table stood empty and neat; the picture frame its only tenant. The man would look searchingly at the photo each morning upon waking and sometimes in the evenings too.
There was no room for a closet in the hovel and his few clothes formed a desperate mound on top of the chair next to the front door. He had one good suit, however, which he kept for special occasions, but he rarely had cause to wear it. Not anymore. It hung hopefully in the tiny toilet adjoining the flat gathering dust.
When he was finished his cigarette, the man rummaged through the heap on the chair and got dressed. His clothes were damp and dirty and clung horribly to his swollen physique. He walked gingerly over to the counter and filled the kettle with water. Slivers of the morning light quietly crept in through the window, lighting up his face as he turned it on.
“A new day, with new possibilities,” the man thought, repeating what his guide had told him at the prayer group.
As the kettle boiled he cast his mind back to the last meeting. The group met each week at a youth club in a council estate nearby. They were a diverse group and would have refreshments before engaging in discussion, prayer and meditation. The man’s sponsor, a guy named Joe, had reassuringly told him that every day brought with it a plethora of opportunities.
“We have a shot at redemption every single day,” Joe would beam. “That’s a beautiful thing.”
Even if he didn’t fully believe Joe, such platitudes comforted him and he genuinely enjoyed the social aspect of the group, for he had grown increasingly isolated in recent years. It was by no means glamorous, but it was warm and welcoming there.
A loud click of the kettle snapped him back into the icy filth of his own home. He poured the tea and sat back down on the bed, cautiously slurping from his mug. His eyes were drawn once more to the photo on the bed-side table and a trembling fear suddenly gripped his throat. He started to sob silently but stopped himself and stood up. He gazed out the window.
“A new day,” repeated the man as tears welled up in his eyes. He picked up the photo again, clutching it tightly. It showed the man delightfully hugging a young child.
“Happy Christmas, son.”
By Ryan Kelly
Yesterday evening I attended a talk, jointly hosted by the Humanist Atheist Society of the National University of Ireland, Galway and Atheist Ireland, from the fairly well known Indian rationalist Sanal Edamaruku. Mr Edamaruku is an academic and is the president of the unfortunately named Indian Rationalist Association (I.R.A). However, levity aside, Mr Edamaruku faces the unwelcome prospect of persecution in his home country of India. In spite of this, he spoke calmly and deliberately of his predicament.
He is currently in exile for his “provocation” of the Catholic church in Bombay, whereby through the act of explaining a so-called miracle involving sub-standard plumbing and a statue of Jesus, he incurred the wrath of a number of high-ranking bishops, not least “His Eminence” Oswald Gracias . As a consequence, the church has contrived to have Mr Edamaruku imprisoned for his contravention of laws regarding blasphemy – laws which, no less, date back to the 19th century. The very real threat of three years in prison – and worse – forced Sanal to flee his native country and he has sought refuge in Europe. He was abruptly cut off, indefinitely, from those dearest to him, while attending to the business of a lecture trail overseas. Nevertheless, despite the potential dangers he faces, he has vowed to return to India, saying, rather confidently, that he is on a “mission” against the prevalence of such archaic laws and other such superstitious practices. “The problem we have in India is that we have the 14th and 21st century coexisting,” he said.
His “mission” is what brought him to Ireland. While seeking support against ludicrous legislation in his own case, Edamaruku has simulataneously called on the Irish people to rid themselves of their own law against blasphemy, which prohibits the utterance or publication of “grossly abusive or insulting [material] in relation to matters held sacred by any religion”, which causes “outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion”. As Michael Nugent of Atheist Ireland noted, in closing, at the event, such a law strongly appears to “incentivize outrage”. Furthermore, Mr Edamaruku stressed that the Irish law against blasphemy was increasingly being used as a precedent on which to lay the foundation of an argument for a much more far-reaching law against blasphemy. Such a prospect is simply terrifying.
If the people of Ireland truly value human rights and equality, then it is imperative that they resolutely reject their most stringent and archaic laws, and lend their support to the plight of those who, like Sanal Edamaruku, are suffering their outrageous consequence.
Irish radio host Ray D’Arcy came under intense public scrutiny last week when he said on his morning radio show that the Catholic church had “in many ways…fucked up [Ireland]”. Unsurprisingly, the loudest cries of objection spired from the Catholic church itself, with Catholic communications chief, Martin Long making stern demands that the affable veteran broadcaster issue an apology and a retraction of his rather frank assessment. Long, who interestingly claimed to speak for “all those who hold the Catholic faith dear”, said that the language was deeply insulting and appalling, while the statement was fallacious. D’Arcy, however, remained defiantly steadfast in his conviction and immediately refused to conform to the demands of Mr Long. The silver-haired Kildare native insisted that, while he regretted his use of profane language, no apology for or retraction of his statement would be forthcoming.
A few things stand out about Mr Long’s criticism of D’Arcy’s comments and they raise interesting questions as to the position of the Catholic church in Ireland as the 21st century trundles onwards. Firstly, Mr Long, objecting as a communications chief of the institution of the Catholic church, claims to be a spokesperson for “all those who hold the Catholic faith dear”. Who are all of these people, one asks? Where are they? Where is their outrage? He cannot, surely, be lumping all of those who mark an “X” in the box which defines them as being of the Catholic faith – anecdotal evidence alone shows us that these individuals do not necessarily hold the Catholic faith dear. No, in reality, Mr Long is nothing more than a privately appointed mouthpiece of the Catholic church in Ireland. His criticism of D’Arcy’s comments simply reveal the reactionary nature of a church that has been rightly exposed as one of the most disturbingly corrupt institutions in the history of Ireland.
Interestingly, Mr Long argues that his gripe is not with criticism of the church per se (believe that at your peril), but with irrational criticism of the church, which he describes D’Arcy’s observation to be. Let’s look at D’Arcy’s criticism, then. It is fair to say that the sentiment behind D’Arcy’s comment was that the Catholic church has had a negative impact on Irish society. Far from being irrational, it is a truthful and brutally honest observation – one need only look at the malign legacy of their interference with state affairs: the banning of literature, strident censorship, the banning of contraception and that list is not exhaustive. Such a legacy has undoubtedly had a negative impact on Irish society, or to borrow D’Arcy parlance, it certainly has fucked up this country. The revolting actions and attitudes of certain priests and the Catholic hierarchy towards the children of the nation has also, to put it mildly, left its mark. In this sense, it is Mr Long, then, who is displaying a lack of rationality. By holding up the positive work of the church and brazenly comparing it to the inexcusable legacy of fear and abuse that it has, Mr Long is moving into the realm of the apologist, seeing what he wants to see.
So fair play to Ray D’Arcy for having the integrity to express a truth and bravo for standing up to the fascist intimidation of a reactionary group that is desperately clawing to what remnants of influence it thinks it still possesses.