HCE received a lot of high-quality submissions for The Brutal Issue – sadly, too many to fit inside the magazine! So we offered some of our shortlisted contributors the chance to be published on our website.

Keep an eye on our social media for more great writing like this, in the run up to the release of The Brutal Issue…

The Wardrobe and the Pillow

Camillus John


He kept a French woman with long hugging arms in his bedroom wardrobe. It’s never a good idea to reveal the truth to people. Honesty should be subjective on circumstance. This, Derek hammered home deep into his subconscious as his days ticked slowly onward towards something, he sensed, quite chilling.
          He couldn’t tell people he kept a tanned French woman in his bedroom wardrobe for his own personal use, now could he? He’d get arrested. When the world got on top of him, he’d open the wardrobe and go in to her. Then he’d clasp his head to her round breasts, as her hugging hands stroked his back, and her French mouth kissed and buttered him with multiple “There, there, theres”. The wardrobe door would close behind and, in the darkness, he would be healed.
          How could he tell his partner of this deep, dark hidden pleasure of his? Even if she was completely imaginary and made-up on the spur of the moment a long, long time ago, when he was having one of his customary breakdowns. Like clockwork. His French fantasy stuck and came out of the cracked woodwork of his wardrobe in stressful times like the here and now in Derek’s life.
          Only a French woman could understand him. A great civilisation. Derek got nervous, and in the eye of these tumultuous storms, his tongue squeezed all sense out of his vocal cords, uncontrollably.
          In the midst of a typical hurricane, Derek would stand and open his mouth; his articulation was awful. His accent came out in stuttered torrents; the green polluted waters of the Liffey, the part that people don’t like. Hate, even. Especially when spat out zig-zaggedly from his throbbing pea of a brain. He spoke and people didn’t understand. At all.
          ‘What did you say?’
          The world teased.
          ‘What did you say?’
          The world shouted.
          ‘What did you say?’
          The world kicked his teeth in.
          The French woman in the wardrobe liked Derek. His partner didn’t anymore, he now knew. He’d figured it all out. They were breaking up, and they were doing so in a most civilised manner. Slowly over a few weeks. Or was it months? He couldn’t remember. His head was fuzzy. He wasn’t sleeping. Was always awake. Tired and awake.
          Derek stood in the wardrobe with his restless head nestled into the topless French woman and discussed things over with her; she needed no translator. Listened. She was smooth. Like the break-up of his ten year relationship. The smoothest break-up in history. It should be in the Guinness book of records for sheer audacity. Politeness personified. There had been no friction, no heated discussions with obscenities thrown like wrestlers across the ring – no – the two of them just came to the inexorable realisation that they had to split up. Just like that. And both knew it and readily assented. A FIFA fair play award all round.
          They were getting used to the idea. Neither wanting to rip it off in one arm-swinging movement, like a band-aid, taking all the hairs from the roots and leaving the skin red raw, maggots pouring out. Instead, they were inching it off slowly but surely, perhaps waiting for it to fall off of its own accord, with the wear and tear of ten years’ gentle living greasing things along.
          Were they kidding themselves thinking that the expected pain could be neatly obviated with this seemingly cool, calm and cunning stratagem? He thought hard and clenched. The French woman in the wardrobe would testify to that, wearing only the scarlet red bottom part of a bikini as her words continued to soothe Derek in his darkness.
          His partner Eve was packing up all of her remaining possessions from the other room. Their bedroom was already clear of her every essence, it stood alone as just his bedroom once more, for the first time in ten long years, echoing. Through the walls he could hear her life being neatly stacked into boxes and rumbling. His too. As a result, he hugged his French woman tighter. She said that people must remain phlegmatic, must cleanse themselves properly in the holy waters when a relationship breaks up, if they prize their sanity and the approval of their conscience, that is. She knew things, lots of things. Things that he wanted to know too and learn off by heart. In French. Hammer into his soul permanently.
          Firstly, into the river of burning you must sink, she said. Legs first, immersing your complete self, dipped preferably from the top of a high cliff. Achilles heel no exception. No exception whatsoever was allowed to prove any rule but her own. She was smoking a cigarette now. She sat on the bed and looked out the window at the approaching sun. Then you must plunge yourself into the river of groans. And then, into the river of forgetfulness, you must lose yourself. That done, all that’s left, is for you to take the black ferry across the river Styx, and march into hell. How long you spend there depends on yourself, sweet child, she advised, brushing her black French hair with her fingers, and lighting up another cigarette as soon as the last one was stubbed. And when you come back from this black place, you’ll be ripe and ready to rush headlong into another relationship once again, as good as mended. HA. HA. HA.
          In the other room, the spare room (soon now going to be completely spare again, with wardrobe and chest-of-drawers space crawling from every wall to give Derek mosquito bites in the middle of the night), Eve was holding back the tears and trying to be strong. Like Derek in the wardrobe. Waves. Coming and going within her person. Coming and going. Like Derek in his wardrobe, Eve kept the cock of a Roman under her pillow, for emergency purposes; equally as imaginary as Derek’s French woman, but vital for her equanimity too.
          They were so alike in so many respects, especially in this little quirk of the imagination. The cock was attached to a body, a Roman, yes, an Italian with a Ciao Bella for everyone on looking, particularly Eve. When she was stressed, she’d pull her Roman by the cock out from under her pillow, and chat and hug and kiss and cuddle with him, until all her worries were fluffed out and forgotten. Her Roman God.
          As she rumbled and filled her boxes, in the present, she took him out from under the pillow again in the spare room, for some sort of succour. But there was business on his face almost immediately, and before she knew what was happening, he walked into the other room, to Derek and his French fancy woman.
          One look told Derek to leave the room fast, which he did. And Derek and Eve watched proceedings from just outside the open door of their quondam bedroom.
          The naked Roman walked towards the French woman sitting on the bed, but his foot got entangled within a small grey rubbish bin at the side. It slammed right down into it and got stuck. The French woman threw some liquid into the bin, and then set it ablaze with her cigarette lighter. His left foot was now on fire. The Roman held himself together with stoic silence and forbearance and tried to remove his flaming foot from the bin with as much haste as he could squeeze into the moment. She then doused the fire with a glass of water from Derek’s bedside locker.
          He wiped his forehead clear of dripping sweat with a sheet and sat himself down on the bed beside her, with his burnt foot sizzling away in recovery mode. She took up into her hands a bottle of moisturiser, and proceeded to rub the cream into the injured foot of the Roman, with due care and attention. She told him to lie flat back onto the bed and think about healing, while she continued with the moisturising process, ever gently. Ever, ever gently indeed.
          Just as he started to relax and close his eyes, she stubbed her cigarette out on his stomach. He groaned out loudly into the room and put his hands up to his head. She shushed him with a warm finger on his lips, and went to work with the moisturiser again. They appeared calm now together on the double bed.
          She asked him to remove her red bikini bottoms, so she could lie beside him on the bed naked, as it would help the healing process, she said. Which he did, with a mundane flick of the wrists. He was still in much pain.
          They lay naked on the bed beside each other, resting up, eyes closed to the sunlight tumbling in and caressing the innermost sanctums of their bodies.
          Derek and Eve stood in the hallway, observing all of this. They were holding hands now.
          The Roman and the French woman appeared to be sleeping soundly, as Derek and Eve gently tippy-toed into the room and stood at the side of the bed. Derek stubbed his toe against the grey rubbish bin, which made a loud clanging that awoke the sleepers in the bed almost instantaneously.
          They opened their eyes and saw Derek and Eve holding hands again. In wild abandon, the Roman and the French woman, reached under the bed. Each produced a long psycho knife into the now cooling, frosty almost, air of the bedroom. They exchanged a lifetime of glances in a second, back and forth, back and forth, and proceeded to stab each other in the guts in the double bed. Screaming in pain.
          Derek and Eve jumped back and saw blood oozing onto the white sheets, which then proceeded to drip down onto the bedroom’s soft taupe carpet, warm under their feet. Derek hugged Eve. Eve hugged Derek. They pulled each other tighter and even tighter into an all consuming embrace that lasted seemingly forever, but which was in fact, about three minutes, all told.
          That it wasn’t real, they both knew. This civilised break-up they were going through – well, very droll indeed.
          Derek didn’t want to let go of Eve’s hand. But he did. Their bed was made up. The blood had disappeared into the ether along with his fancy French woman and her Roman cock. The sheets, one hundred percent cotton, cool and soft, and just the ticket to lie down upon and pull warmth over his head, until it all went away. As simple as that.
          Eve walked out of the room and Derek finally fell fast asleep.

CAMILLUS JOHN was bored and braised in Dublin, Ireland. He has had work published in The Stinging Fly, RTE Ten, Headstuff.org, The Lonely Crowd, Thoughtful Dog, Honest Ulsterman, The Cantabrigian, The Bogman’s Cannon, The Queen’s Head, Litro, Fictive Dream and other such organs of Satan. Recently he killed the Prime Minister of Ireland in fiction in the Welsh literary magazine, The Lonely Crowd, with a piece entitled, The Assassination of Enda Kenny (After Hilary Mantel). He would also like to mention that Pat’s won the FAI cup in 2014 for the first time in 53 miserable years of not winning it.