March 1 to March 31
A Reading Life Special Event
I am very honored that Sarah Clancy has kindly honored me with permission to publish this short story
Sarah Clancy has been shortlisted for several poetry prizes including the Listowel Collection of Poetry Competition and the Patrick Kavanagh Award. Her first book of poetry, Stacey and the Mechanical Bull, was published by Lapwing Press Belfast in December 2010 and a further selections of her work were published in 2011 & 2012 by Doire Press Galway. Her second collection of poetry 'Thanks for Nothing, Hippies' Salmon Poetry 2012 was launched at the Cuirt International Festival of literature last year and has been very well received Her poems have been published in The Moth Magazine, The Stinging Fly,Revival Poetry Journal, The Stony Thursday Book, The Poetry Bus, Irish Left Review and have been translated and published in Mexico and Slovenia. She was the runner up in the North Beach Nights Grand Slam Series 2010 and 2011, and was the winner of the Cúirt International Festival of Literature Grand Slam 2011.She was an invited guest at the 2011 Vilenica Festival of Literature in Slovenia and at the Cork Spring Poetry Festival and in Spring 2012 her poem “I Crept Out” received second prize in the Ballymaloe International Poetry Competition.
I will soon publish another one of her great works.
She has also very kindly agreed to do a Q and A Session for Irish Short Story Month and I am very honored by her participation so look for that soon.
"Hold the Front Page"
it isn’t any nicer than the female version. Jack says he’s not anorexic anymore, that he was
when he was younger right enough, but now it’s just his job to be thin. Same as a model or
say a body builder he says his job is controlling his bodyweight, like a jockey. I don’t know
though, me I think someone that doesn’t eat well, like something’s wrong isn’t it? Mind you
I’d never say that to him he’d kill me. Oh no it’s not that he’s got a particularly bad temper
or anything, I think it’s just because he’s probably hungry all the time you know? I get really
snappy when I’m hungry – I mean we all do don’t we?
He’s pushing forty now as well and really anorexia is, well it’s something you think of
teenagers having isn’t it? All part of growing up, like, only most people don’t get it. I shouldn’t
tell you this he doesn’t like anyone to know but sure you won’t say it will you? It started when
he was fourteen; he’d been interfered with. I won’t tell you the details he’d kill me, but you
know that emm what’s it called when people who are kidnapped start to think the kidnappers
are alright? Yea that’s it Stockholm, I think it was like that, like it had been going on so long
he sort of got used to it so he got really sad when the uncle guy who was doing it to him lost
interest, and he told Jack he was too fat and unattractive.
Fucking perve is what I’d call him but Jack says it was because the man was troubled
himself. That’s what I love about him, he don’t go around blaming other people he just gets
on with it, anyway I’ve seen photos and it was only a bit of puppy fat you know? Nothing
that wouldn’t go as soon as he got a bit of chin hair but seems that was what triggered it for
him, the anorexia I mean. He started to starve himself then. He said at first that he was kind
of trying to disappear. His Ma was dead you know otherwise I’d say she’d have made him
milkshakes with eggs in them and shepherd’s pie or apple tart and cream. Well that’s what I
would have done anyway.
It’s funny that we’re together now me and him, I’m such a feeder- whenever there’s a
problem I want to throw food at it. That’s how we met actually; I was the cook on set for
that film about Belsen, remember the one last year about the guy who was trying to save
all the people? Jack had a small speaking part playing one of the inmates. They can only
do so much with make- up and lighting so any time they need an actor for things like that its
Jack they call. He’d be the first to admit that he’s not Oscar material, like he wasn’t trained
in acting and he’s not at all famous but I can tell you you’ve probably seen him on your TV
or in your cinema just you don’t know you did. Funny he doesn’t mind that though, he says
he’s the invisible man. He makes a good living too from it- always has work he does. When
they want to show people in a kind of thin and worn out state it doesn’t call for special acting,
usually he just has to look weak and sort of quiet, Jack can manage just fine at that.
Jack’s not his real name of course that’s just his sense of humour; Jack Spratt; Emaciation
on Demand , he’s got lots of phrases like that. Oh I hope I’m not shocking you, he doesn’t
make fun of the poor people, the victims, but you know he spends his days playing anyone
from hunger strikers to people with aids, to apocalypse film extras and he’s got that black
humour people who deal with all that horrible stuff get. I think he needs it really, a laugh
or two, you know? keep him sane. That’s why he likes me, he said I can always make him
laugh. I made a cake for his birthday and I made it out of chocolate fudge and laxatives so
he could eat it you know? But it just went straight through him. He was really sick mind and
I had to give him electrolytes, he really can’t afford to get dehydrated – got to be careful with
someone that thin. I call him my scarecrow.
I hadn’t much luck with men really before Jack and you know I don’t mind the sex thing ;
to be honest I tried it and I can’t see what the fuss is about, it’s more embarrassing than
anything isn’t it? Stop now stop you’re making me blush, not my cup of tea at all. What do
you call that thing men have, aam you know that makes them want sex, no not horny! jesus
the bar-man will hear you- libido that’s it a bloke doesn’t have much libido if he only eats
600 calories a day. And not 601 mind you Mr Measure- everything that’s what Jack is. We’re
opposites us, when I cook I throw in a pinch of this a dash of that and a table spoon of the
other, same as my Ma did. She said you either have a feel for cooking or you don’t and I do,
I know that. They’d to take all the butter out of the canteen when we catered for that film with
Kiera whatshername. The camera adds ten pounds you know. The camera adds ten pounds
Jack always says that.
Last year when I convinced him that he needed a bit of meat just for health, you know, men
need a bit of meat don’t they,and I got him lean steak and I cut every inch of fat off it and
then grilled it and gave him a little sliver every day with his banana, jaysus that’s nearly all
he eats a bit of a banana, can you imagine a half a banana and a bit of goats milk and that’s
your dinner? Well I started giving him the bits of steak and within a week he was back off it
again. He went on set and for the first time ever the make-up people wanted to put a bit of
shading between his ribs with eye shadow. Oh he hit the roof that day, he came home and
said ‘Martha I don’t want you interfering in my diet any more. It is out of bounds. Out. Do
you understand me? If it continues you will have to move out’ and he said there were no two
ways about it. I went to my mother’s that night but you know he didn’t even telephone me so
I went back the next day.
Ah listen I’ve been talking all the time, am I driving you mad? It’s just that I’ve missed him
so much this last while since he’s been in the hospital. Stress I’d say it is has me blabbing
on like this, jeepers it feels like I know you for ages doesn’t it? Not like we’ve only met. Jack
knew nothing about it you know, he didn’t know what he was getting into with that photo
shoot at all, he’s not political like, oh he’s smart and all, went to university for two years, not
like me or you – sure if I couldn’t cook I’d be waitressing or in some factory – hadn’t I the
lucky break that I got into film? I mean me who would ever have though that I’d be cooking
dinner for that crowd. Did you know that Liam Neeson is a vegetarian? The look of him you’d
think he’d hunt down animals and eat them raw wouldn’t you?
The photo shoot? Don’t tell me you didn’t hear about it? I’ve been so embarrassed I thought
everyone and their mother knew it. Remember that expose that the paper did about how that
war reporter hadn’t gone to the country at all and had only set up the photo here in Britain,
at Heathrow- I mean Heathrow! They got Jack to wear old raggy things and stand behind the
wire of the fence that goes around the Airport and they did a photo shoot. He says he didn’t
even know what it was for but it turned out huge, see some journalist said he was out in that
place what do you call it, Bonsai? Ha ha no those are those tiny trees, what am I like?! What
was it at all, you know oh yea Bosnia that’s it well some place out there anyway he said he
Anyway the photographer and the journalist said they took the photos of Jack in a camp
there in Bosnia and that Jack was one of the people in the camp and they printed them
right on the front page of that paper you know the one the Recorder is it? . And they put
a story about how awful it was and how the UN or the British Army should do something
immediately that it was worse than the Nazis or at least as bad. Here, Jack knew nothing
about this right? Just so you know he wouldn’t do anything like that he just came in put down
his cushions, yea cushions- he brings them everywhere with him on account of being so thin,
he can’t really sit on hard seats and that. He’d get sores, ah I shouldn’t tell you that sorry
– I’m used to it though and you know he’s careful so he doesn’t hardly ever get them. So
anyway he came in and put the cushions down and said I just earned the easiest 500 Pound
ever, half an hour of a photo shoot and I got £500 and the taxi fare. He didn’t know they
were going to try to pull a fast one or anything.
But it turns out that one of the actors in the last film he did, the one about the guy with Aids
who teaches music to the kids in the ghettos – made me cry that film did, brilliant – you
should watch it, but one of the actors right oh I can’t remember her name but she sees the
photo and goes that’s Jack Spratt that is, he’s not from wherever you call it and she rang up
the paper to tell them they’d made a mistake, but you know by then on account of the picture
being so close up and sad like, all Jack’s cheekbones and those dark circles he has under
his eyes and it really got to people , so by the time she rang it was on the telly and they
were talking about it in Westminster and all and then it went totally mad. The newspaper
did a statement saying there was an error and then the other papers all went trying to find
out what’s what and someone spoke to the tabloids and once they got wind of it all about
Jack and what he does and about what the journalists done – they got fired straight away
those two- one of them had even taken the money to go to that camp but he didn’t go! It said
in ‘The Mail’ that it was fear that made him do it. He was out before at some war in Africa
and on account of it affecting him so much he just couldn’t go to another war they said. My
heart goes out to him, that lad I hope he has someone to look after him and cook for him
poor lad sure can’t we all do stupid things?
The worst though was what’s happened my Jack and him not to blame at all; they got wind
of him having been anorexic and being in films and now all the tabloids are gone mad; ‘Who
is the mystery man?’ ‘Thin Ice for Recorder Journalists’ the funniest I thought was ‘Anoracksia ;
Mystery man wears overcoats to hide his skeletal frame’ some of those papers are so clever
aren’t they; ‘Anoracksia’ ha ah . Really though it wasn’t funny -they plagued us, they were
camped at the house and every time we went anywhere they’d shout and yell and take
pictures and Jack just couldn’t hack it.
Here, don’t say this right – it’s a secret, he’s not really on hunger strike, I’ve been giving him
those tiny slivers of steak again and he says it’s okay this time. The strike? Oh it’s just a ploy
to scare them off those fucking paparazzi, he’s clever like that Jack, and course because
he’s already so thin he looks the part. See yesterday’s paper?’ Six and a Half -Stone Man Has
No Time to Lose’ – they got that doctor to say how long he thinks he’d live given how thin he
was already. Do you want another drink? Oh okay I don’t mind if I do, ta so much, wasn’t I
lucky as anything to meet you this evening? I was real down when I came in but you know
talking to you, it’s a load off my mind. You won’t say anything though sure you won’t? I knew
the minute we got talking you was alright, you can tell, my mother always said that you can
tell first go when people are good sorts.
Here, I’ll tell you what my dream is right, when my Jack Spratt gets out of hospital okay, I
think we can sell the story to one of the papers for loads like especially if he keeps up the
hunger strike a few more days and they can say he nearly died over the scandal and all and
then I think if we get that money he won’t have to work no more and the best bit about that
is then he’ll be able to start eating proper again and I can cook. I won’t overdo it I’ll go bit by
bit; I’ll start with easy things like a bit of custard and you know maybe some bread and butter
pudding but before you know it I reckon I’ll be able to be giving him the full roast; Yorkshire
puds, gravy and all and then you know maybe it won’t be such a bad thing that’s happened
in the end. You have to go? But I didn’t even buy you a drink and you’ve been buying all
night, here give me your mobile number – when Jack gets out he’d love to meet you, we
don’t have that many good friends really. Oh okay bye bye hope we meet again someda....
End of Guest Post
This story is protected under international copyright law and cannot be published or posted online without the permission of the author.
I give my great thanks to Sarah Clancy for allowing me to share this story with my readers