Author: Niall Joseph
Location: Galway, Ireland
Niall’s work has most recently been published in Ireland in The Linnet’s Wings.
His work is born of conversations forgotten, changes witnessed, soil tread and seas sailed, people admired, tragedies mourned, landscapes beheld, arguments drowned, waves crested and adventures survived, opportunities squandered, friends held and memories toasted, cultures absorbed, roots celebrated and betrayed, worlds conquered, deaths escaped, lines crossed and rules broken, on his travels through many countries and even more books as a ‘teacher for hire’. And the need to let some of it out.
The metalflies began their fireshow just before twilight.
I remember because the sky winked at me, all fresh. Simmery glint in his eye over by one side. I swallowed up the sun suggestively in response, pouted brighter than usual pinks and oranges across our edge.
But then they came. More than ever. Black ones from the north, white ones from the south. Buzzing and busying like they thought I gave a damn.
All they mean to me is feeding time. Rare manmeat.
The sky didn't much care for their show either. Soon after curtain he spat a few spider tickles at me, teasing.
I swelled a half-hearted dance in return.
But the metalflies were right there. It was as if they knew. By Europe. Tossing flamy arrows amongst each other, prancing and preening about in the dimming air. Looked nice, sure, full of bluster. But any point to it?
My sky wasn’t interested. I had him all stoked up with my coquettish writhing. His rains were invigorating, poking probes and prods at all the right places.
I strutted sultry, chomped my teeth at him. Tossed up a couple of flourishy waves. Maybe it could mean more food.
He was raring now. I blew him a big wet gusty smooch. He flashed me a bolty grin that goosebumped where it struck.
Roared that deep growl of his, startling the metalflies.
Their flamy arrows paused midflight. They all looked at each other a moment, eyebrows raised. Frantic blinking.
The sky unleashed instinct. Stung sharpened kisses across my every dimple. I whipped and whirled, twisted and bounded, undulating all along the length of me.
From the corner of my eye the metalflies scarpered. Almost all of them.
Almost. One of them fell on me, itching a little.
Later on I’d remember the little pause as the glare broke; the lolling, incongruent listlessness of the fabulous diva costume strapped to his back waving towards me. The ashy metalfly remnants quivering down like burning leaves, billowy on the breeze of that pause; its tail trickling last through the air, a spiralling sycamore seed. So calm amongst it all, something irreal about the descent. And did I spot the rest of them watching, hands over their mouths in torrid realisation?
Whatever; in the moment I just saw a snack for later.
When it happened—both together in a gushing gale of frizzly crackling heat, him sparkling bright as yesterday’s tomorrow, me heaving and ho-ing with the force of it—it was like all Europe exploded a little. Or imploded.
As we settled after, feet all tangled up by our horizon, we were calm. Still as death in the night. Still as I’m sorry. Still as me too.
He went for a smoke. I lay on my back barely breathing.
I’ve seen a thousand of these fireshows before the metalflies started; each begets another a little fancier than the last. They’ve been especially busy here lately, though. Just a few years ago, the last purple patch.
After a while I went to check on my snack. I slurped down the burning leaves one by one, then sought my manmeat.
He’d struggled up onto the metalfly tail, smart bugger. Made of wood; practically the only part of the wrapping that I can’t eat.
I rocked and rolled him a little, but I was tired. It would be hard to disentangle him from that parachute costume, knock him off the tail.
Then I took a closer look.
Dumb freckles. Gawky orange hair like melted cheese.
I’d seen this one before. I couldn’t remember where, but he was one of those cheeky bastards who dance on my toes on their little boards when they think I’m resting.
I remembered he’d gotten cocky one day—when things were fine—ventured a little too far up my leg, woken me. I dragged him out to within reach, but couldn’t knock him off that damn board. He was a gutsy one. He niggled me a few hours before one of their rubberfish scooped him up off me.
Spirited, that was it.
Now he unhooked his parachute, but didn't want to give it to me. He tied it to the tail. I coughed a little onto it, tried to swallow it, slowly. I could only manage so much, the tail held it up.
Maybe I’d let him rest a bit.
Next morning when I spat up the sun he was still there. Hadn't even moved. All tired out from the show, his big exit.
I’d slept like a truce too.
I gave him another couple of nudges, bumps. Sent a little breeze trundling round. That did it. He stirred, peered up and down my vastness. Dragged himself up to sitting.
Yep, it was definitely him. Eyes like planets, the fear in them was hilarious; I knew he remembered me too, but just in case I gave him a big old shove. He hugged the tail, pleaded with me.
I think I liked him.
I left him alone a while. All morning.
We just lay there together.
Every so often he’d glance up at the sky, probably wondering if his friends would be back to finish the show. Maybe thinking of the rubberfish that last time.
That was much nearer my edge, I didn't need to remind him.
I took another little nap.
When I woke Orangehead had another piece of wood from somewhere. He pulled the parachute up out of me and tied the roof of it to this new splinter of hope; making a kind of fan that splayed out over me, due to the difference in drag between the two ends. If the sky ever woke up he would see a bright yellow inkstain on my surface.
Which meant if his friends came back they would see it too.
If they came back. He didn't belong with those idiots, with their chest-beating fireshows, like air to them. Black air. Have they really nothing better to do than keep searching for that show to beat all shows? What a price for a phantasm.
Anyway, the sun was high now, toasty.
Just the two of us.
I was torn. A snack would be nice, but this one had me all curious. What would he get up to next?
He answered me, painstakingly.
First he pulled a knife out of some pouch in his jacket. Used it to cut free a cord, and an eentsy piece of the flesh, from his parachute. Then he ripped a tiny tool from his knife, used his teeth to bend this, mould it. Pierced it through the fleshy smidgen of yellow chute. Tied it to the cord. Tied the cord to his foot. Dangled his foot down into me.
Lay back down, not a care in the world. Sunbathing, he may as well have been.
Teasing me now, was he?
Wouldn’t do any good. None of the fishes out this far come up so close to my surface. I have them well schooled. He could wait all day.
This he did.
And all night.
We slept together. The sky was quiet.
Next morning at sunspit he dangled his baited foot into the water again. He’d pulled it up during the night.
If he kept it in me much longer I could saltchew it, give him a bit of an infection, start off the process.
But a few dummies from the back of the class had come up to check on the fan shadow teetering down into me. Begun dillying around near my surface just like I’d told them not to. Well, none of them would try to eat that, I was sure.
Still he waited. Spirited. You could tell he was near broken though. Me and the sun almost had him.
But it had to happen. Eventually one downright stupid one tiptoed up for just a nibble; Firehead had him out of the water in a flash.
No harm, I thought. Piddling fellow like that won’t sustain him long. He’d have to catch...
He didn't eat the little guy.
Instead he ripped off its head, tossed it back into me. Bloody nuisance. Stuck his little hook back through the tail. Hung the footrod again.
Tail end of an era, lying on a tail, dangling a tail. Who knew they held such salvation? He was clinging to the shreds of life with a love I couldn’t reconcile with the ferocity of last night’s show. If only I had a heart.
Fore long he had himself a bigger fish. I thought he was going to keep upgrading till he caught himself a whale to ride back home, but no. This one went into him quicker than the flamy arrow.
Next day was the same; just the two of us, eyeing each other up. Waiting waiting.
Sun seeping into him like molten lead, weighing him down.
Couple more suicidal fishies. Little guys.
Hope squished under the heel of falling dark. He was weakening. Drying up.
Cloudy, starless night like a hole.
Next day I got bored, and by afternoon I’d decided I wanted him anyway, despite the attachment we’d forged. He just sat there; he was getting on my nerves a bit. And he looked like an idiot now, with that big square of parachute flesh draped over him like a veil. What was he, mourning? Hiding from the sun? It’s always hard to say with these guys.
I rustled up a few twirly waves. He whipped off the veil, the little eyes planeted again. Sky half awoke, drizzled me a few condescending pats. I did try to entice more, thinking this could help, but Cheesehead upturned his helmet and actually drank it. The gall. They are resourceful, I admit.
Just as I was inhaling the sun again, I heard a feeble little busybuzzing off to the right. Fluttercopter metalfly, all by its lonesome.
I was irked, but wouldn’t show it. I couldn’t make out if it was black or white, but then I remembered that by the time they left last night most of them had looked grey.
They’d never spot him anyway. Miniscule thing like him; our time together had shrunk him even more. We were getting dark, that fancy fan spread wouldn’t do him any good now.
But our Sunhead was agitated. Shuffling around. He’d taken off his jacket for some reason. Bundled it between his legs, on the tail. Laid the parachute veil on top of it. He had something in his hands, something small that he’d pulled from the same place he’d pulled the knife. He sat looking up at the sky. Who was dozing, for a change.
What was going on? The drone was skimming vaguely towards him. They couldn’t know; it was just luck, surely?
On it came.
Soon he saw it, ugly and awkward up there on the air.
But not heading towards him, no. It was going to miss him by quite a shot. Then he’d be mine for sure.
So why did he look so excited?
Then without warning he rolled into me soft as fluff, like I wouldn’t notice. He only kept his hands out.
He clapped them together.
Yeah, that’d work. Maybe he was delirious.
Where had that come from?
He put the flame to the sundried square of parachute flesh, and it caught. Just giggly at first, but then more.
Then the jacket.
By the time I realised what was going on Orangehead was actually swimming away from the little firelick rising off the tail.
I had to put it out.
I began to heave, to ho, but too late. They’d seen it.
That spirit was intact, though battered. Maybe they did deserve him after all.
I said goodbye.
Imagine my surprise when we met again a few years later.
They never learn.
Ah well. Feeding time.