Due to COVID-19, the teams behind the Beyond the Walls anthology have chosen to postpone their 2020 showcase. The ‘Where Ideas Grow’ blog is pleased to be able to share a chosen few pieces with you, written by students at YSJ.
All aboard the slag heap of change –
stand by and watch
as the top meets the bottom
and all equals out;
stand up and stand back
as molten progress threatens
the safety of your three-figured shoes,
as kids in China and India and poor old Taiwan
rise up and rise against the torrents
of a capital gain
from a not so capital idea.
But beware this fallacy as just that –
as kids in China and India and poor old Taiwan
try to rise up but fall back,
deficient bones breaking under
deficiencies of kindness
as the thin-lipped
walking suits of Wall Street
fall to their own knees,
as numbers on screens drop
whilst the number of screams
drop upon deaf ears, hearing nothing
By Tod Barnbrook
Girl to Woman
There’s a little girl,
resting inside of me ever so peacefully,
who if given the chance would leap
out of my soul.
She’d dance to her own tune.
Laugh at anything she wanted
or hum her way round Tesco’s.
Not a care in the world.
She’d eat all the sweets
without worrying about fillings.
She’d wear blue tights, a pink tutu,
and not give a damn.
That little girl would trust
anyone and everyone apart from
She’d be so happy.
That little girl was me.
The woman I have become fights
to get through the workday,
whilst sleep deprived.
She doesn’t hum round Tesco’s,
she stresses and budgets.
She cries at her workload.
Gets up in the morning and
drowns in caffeine,
as a coping mechanism.
It’s not all rainy.
There’s days when I find joy;
in finding a new book,
spending time with friends,
or rather my cats.
I dance round my house
and hum as I work.
There was a little girl now,
She’s a powerhouse of a woman.
By Abbi Davison
Four years in is when the man behind the glass changes. Long after you’d changed, long after you’d given up on believing that it was a matter of perception that would settle in due time. It happens on the dusky, achromatic morning of a nation on the tipping point. You enter your small damp-smelling bathroom to scrub off the sleep and the overnight crust that clings to your skin. Afterwards, you lift your head to gaze into your square mirror, half-fogged, above the sink. The man is there, as he always is, playing mimic to your every gesture with a rugged flare that sinks hooks through your diaphragm, as he always does. You wipe your face dry. You stare at him. And he blinks.
You don’t think anything of it for the initial ten seconds. It’s early. You’re groggy, and your head’s not been in the most reliable place for the past few weeks. You’re a paranoid before you’re a person at the best of times, so you dismiss it as a muddled misperception as you lift your hand to the mirror at the same time, just to be sure.
The man raises no such hand. His face gazes out to you dully, nigh-unrecognisable in its ruggedness. You find yourself staring in mute transfixion, feeling the way that your heart, tongue, and throat meld into a single continuous pulsing stretch of flesh inside your body. You take a step back, barely feeling the way your bare foot squelches through a lukewarm splash puddle.
He, still looking at you, clears his throat. You feel it in your own throat, a clogging rumble that stretches your vocal chords into a long disused position. You have to swallow thrice before the sensation of strangulation abates. He looks on at you with a stilled patience as you gather yourself. Then he says you look spooked. The voice reverberates in that part of your mind that tricks your hypnagogic subconscious into hearing deafening screams, that turns silence into volume. It glides over your mind, hitting notes that you know, yet do not.
That first time, you don’t reply. You make an animalistic, guttural stutter, then spin and scramble out of the bathroom before you can scream. You’re half asleep, you say to yourself as you dress in your bedroom, door barricaded by your desk chair. It’s a waking dream. Nothing happened.
Still, you quickly stop looking into the mirror, and whatever might inhabit that uncertain space of reflection. Just in case you really did see something wrong. Just in case it looks back.
You were right to. Encounter number two takes place the next time you set foot in the bathroom, two days later. Still hungover from a post-election misery binge, you head to the bathroom in search of reprieve from that terrible parliament livestream blaring from your phone. As you wait for the electric bulb to flicker to full strength, you glance over at the mirror.
The man is still there, standing behind the condensation stains with a flatly curious expression. You want to look away from him, but you cannot.
He tilts his head to the side a little, like an owl. He says what’s your problem. Asks if you really can’t handle a bit of news. Says you would’ve celebrated that, once upon a time. You would have celebrated before.
You clench one fist and breathe around a dry throat. The overwhelming urge to swing at the glass, to break, to destroy, to feel angry, seeps through your skin like viral droplets. You blink back tears. You do not feel rage. You cannot. Not any more.
He says come on, get pissed off.
This is not real, you tell yourself. But only in your head. Only where it doesn’t matter.
You stop using the upstairs bathroom after that. Every morning and evening, you bring yourself to the downstairs en suite, where the muted cream colour scheme succeeds in soothing, where the glass doesn’t harm you, where you can breathe.
It becomes routine. Wake go down check the news cycle wash go out come back check the news cycle wash go up sleep avoid the upstairs room avoid the upstairs room avoid the upstairs room. You mystify it, let it grow into a grim Other that looms above your head, tendril fingers seeping through the fabric of your walls and scraping the back of your neck like a cold whisper. You make it powerful.
Four weeks drift by in relative calm before instance number three. You exist in a comfortable miasma, the madwoman who never washes upstairs, going a little batty from living alone, but that’s okay. Until it stops being so, in the new year and new decade, on a day where your mother comes over to stay and the news is dominated by talks of galvanising the ugliest parts of international foreign policies.
She takes the downstairs en suite. You have no room to object. She kisses your cheek, overwhelms you with her perfume. Says how beautiful you’re becoming, as if daily pills constitute beauty. You thank her anyway. This is how she makes her effort.
You don’t talk politics. She sees and hears what fills you with slow-rotting terror and feels a warm rush of relieved pleasure, a fat cat gloating in the victory of the mangled bird in its jaws. You spend the evening watching her soaps with her, then force yourself upstairs for your nightly routine.
He says you’re an over-reactor, as you slip through the door bathed in a clammy sweat. Says you’re delusional.
Your mother snores downstairs. It gives you the bravado to speak. You say shut up. He shouldn’t exist.
He says man up. Scratches at his stubble and scoffs. Glares at you, like a looming magnifying glass honing in on a lone ant.
You force yourself to meet his gaze right back. Ask why he’s doing this.
He asks why you’re doing this. Why you tell yourself he and you are distinct entities. Why you killed him. Why you made this mistake. It’s suicide, you know. Should’ve stuck with the life you threw out.
He frowns, shakes his head, laughs, on and on and on. Like he knows you. Like he’s won. You’re seized by a glimpse of a future where he persists in this cruel stasis, and with a damp creak across the surface of your brain, realise that you can’t stand having this shade leeching off you for a single moment longer. You have changed. He has not. That realisation alone shrinks him to nothing.
You punch the mirror. The glass crunches under your skin, stabs into your knuckles, leaves smudged blood streaks across its surface. Everything falls silent. Nursing your mangled hand, you begin to weep.
At the end of the month, on a day of international transition into new and dangerous waters, you finally replace the bathroom mirror. This new one is perfectly circular and catches the sun in a way that lights up the whole room.
When you look into the reflection, for the first time you only see, and will always only see, yourself.
By Conor Hannon