Seven Journals

Short Story by Daniel Laing

Seven Journals

Murano

While visiting a city filled with canals, the name of which I forget, a gentleman thrust a copy of this slender pamphlet into my hands. He made off into the night. Strangers are often handing me bizarre objects and making off into the night. Perhaps they sense I am waiting for an event, that I am perched here with my binoculars, scanning for noteworthy material. I flicked through Murano later that night, in my room, lit up by candles.

Much of this journal is given over to an abundance of crosswords and as such, is probably the most profitable on this list. These crosswords are cryptic to a high degree, clotted with annoying symbolism and anagrams which would take even a cryptographer six days to decipher. I gave up after perhaps twenty minutes of struggle. I had managed hamster and nepotism, but couldn’t wrangle another word from the fifty clues presented to me. The book itself went wheeling through an open window.

We begin with Murano because Murano was the first thing I saw you reading. I was new to Prague and haunted by dreams where my mother was eating my limbs one by one. I avoided sleep as a result and my days had started to stretch far into the nights. The world had taken on a sheen of lilac during this period, for me at least. It was here when you emerged, in summer dress and sandals, legs crossed, working your way through a crossword puzzle.

You were stuck, I believe, and were tapping the pencil against your teeth. I, great master of words, descended in the raiment of my profession (turtleneck, grey blazer) and coughed up an answer. I slept well that night, better than I had done for a month.

Illicit

This is the journal you left on my bedside in winter.

It is white and compact. Monochromatic photographs wedge themselves between stories: pictures of discarded pipes and shattered pallets, the roof structure of warehouses, trains on train tracks, steel bridges with chunky bolts, a lighthouse. The text – and this irritates me – is not justified, so across the page’s right border, an unkempt skyline, all towers and alleys, juts into white sky.

I did not read it immediately, instead I wandered the rooms, checked the shoe and coat rack for visible signs of departure. It was like you had never arrived. After some weeks, perhaps as a wish to remember, a need somehow to feel closer to you, that I read Illicit.

(Books, I realise, are ways for people apart in time to live together.)

Your marginalia littered the free space. You had reviewed each piece with a seven-star system, annotated those of especial merit. I did not purchase another copy of Illicit, but I did submit a number of stories. It was the very last on my list at the time, but I hoped, while you were breaking or travelling in far off places, that you would read something of mine, finish it, and see my name at its bottom – I hoped to pull you back from paradise, to jolt you back to our unmade bed.

Nekuia

Founded in 1974 and disappointingly discontinued in 1990, the Nekuia (pronounced, Neck-ee-r) was home to a number of stylists from the Post-Gothic movement. Its founder, James Lancaster ­– a fine name, although, I suspect, a pseudonym – laid out the post-gothic manifesto in the first issue’s opening pages. I will not quote it here.

While I greatly appreciated much of the prose on display, much of it was overwrought and lacked vigour. Too many voyages to dank European settlements, veiled antisemitism and candelabras for my liking. James Lancaster, it seemed, was a sucker for the fetishes of another time.

Nekuia accepted two of my stories, one about an unnameable chess player, the other about a visit to a county manor during the French Revolution. I have since disowned both stories and consider them a misstep.

You, meanwhile, came upon these stories by accident, sometime before we met. It was only much later you associated my name with them and then, after chasing me around the kitchen, up the stairs, and under a desk, you cornered me in the bathroom. I ascended onto the toilet seat and perched there, a fleshy gargoyle, while you thrust them at me, demanding a signature. I was kind. I am mostly, I think, kind. I gave my signature a certain gothic charm and we spoke no more of it.

The Green-Eyed Beast

‘We only accept stories dealing with themes of jealousy, that is, the want or desire to possess something belonging to someone else. Preference is given to stories in the romantic genre.’

I have never thought it possible for a literary theme to be exhausted; yet, somehow, The Green-Eyed Beast (or the GEB as most circles referred) managed it. And quickly too, within fifteen issues the founder had decided that there was simply nothing more to say on the topic of jealousy and folded.

I came upon this during the time after you left. What had I done with that summer? Well, I had: wandered Prague, drank myself silly with musicians, got lost until I found St. Peter’s bridge a little after 2 a.m., darned socks, bought art, tried to write a short story, read perhaps fifty pages of Magic Mountain, lost those darned socks, drank myself silly again – this time with a travelling circus, climbed onto the rooftop and looked out over the sunset, found myself kissing some girl on a park bench, cried myself to sleep a little, tried again at that short story, drank myself silly a third time – this time by myself and bought three grey blazers of differing pattern; in short, I wasted it, burnt away those days like pages.

But I bumped into you in that time too, on some scarfed gentleman’s arm. His handshake was firm, annoying. You told him I was a writer and I realised I had faded from your life. Snow, I think, was coming down. You wore red. Or blue. I watched you make your way along the embankment, weaving between pedestrians.

Anyway, founded in 1967 by Sebastian Low, it ran monthly for, as stated, fifteen issues. Low’s partner had left him for a married man during the Christmas of 1966, and I do not think I am making some grand deduction when stating that Low would most certainly have founded this magazine off the back of that spurning.

The GEB did not accept my submission for a quartet of short stories, set within a Japanese orchid and featuring three bickering sisters, one long-distance runner, and a lady who owned sixteen dogs. Fortunately, I am an adult now and have grown used to taking these sorts of setbacks in my stride.

Lonesome Dove, an Event!

Sebastian Low, after a period of bankruptcy (perhaps caused by The Green-Eyed Beast, perhaps due to a number of excursions to India), managed to secure a job at a fish market and launched another magazine. I think it should be noted now that Low is not a literary man. He is unpublished, graduated with a degree in architecture and rarely made a penny from his literary endeavours. Look to the magazine’s title for proof. One could perhaps puzzle over those four words for an hour and still not discern what it meant. I wonder whether Low would have been happier, richer and more fulfilled if he had perhaps plugged his commendable energy into some other pass time. Golf, for instance.

Still, Lonesome Dove, an Event! was a decent magazine. Glossy covers, well made, with worthy contributions from Julian De La Red, Ivor Juzowazkia and Anna Lem. After three years running the magazine, Low moved from the fish market – his new boyfriend complained about the consistent fish scales on his fingers, the stench which invaded their sock drawer and, for a long period, how it appeared they only ever ate fish. Low began working as a site auditor for a German construction company. For many, this would have been the end of their life, but for Low it gave a great sense of purpose and so he handed Lonesome Dove, an Event! to one of his more literary friends who, after failing to even request submissions for six months, managed to tank it within a year.

As a side note: Low enforced a strict fifteen-story limit – an ambitious bar to scale month on month. For long periods, even if you submitted after the deadline, you would occasionally be picked by default due to Low’s last minute panic and on two or three occasions, Low had to fill in many stories by himself – these are some of the funniest things I’ve ever read.

I suspect you are wondering where you feature in all this. Unfortunately, you do not feature at all here, but this little snippet always amused me and I suspect you will never read this.

O

In this magazine’s first editorial, Synthia Gosel describes O as the most erotic letter. She goes on at length, is often perverse and at one point mentions the virgin Mary. She is sadly incorrect. The most erotic letter is obviously Q. It is far rarer, has a permanent admirer in ‘U’ and, not to be crude, also looks very much like a vagina.

O is perhaps most famous for its bestiality issue, which drew a great amount of attraction from the press. I remember an issue of Farmer’s Weekly which discussed the ramifications of O’s recent publication on the profits of the automatic trawl to great length, an article I still fish out during certain dark days in September. When not depicting rams being rammed, O featured stories erring on the literary side of snuff. I sent a number of stories to the publication (I was starting to starve and needed the money). They paid well. I would say they were the second most profitable magazine on this list, following Murano and this, I think, gives us a unique insight into the human condition. Or, at the very least, our wallets.

The stories I submitted were under a pseudonym – Mary Radcliffe – but who I wrote about, every glanced stocking and licked lip, was you.

Ukulele Sunset

I remember now buying you a camera, wrapped in red paper for a birthday. The rest of the day we spent photographing our flat. An unmade linen basket – picture. Train leaving town with a plume of ready smoke ascending – picture. Me, alone, looking pensively into the distance – picture. Soon, our apartment was coated in framed monochrome photos. I would look up from my desk and find some spaniel staring back at me, in the kitchen rows upon rows of empty wine bottles, preserved in a gold frame, our laughing friends accompanied me in the bathroom. In the Spring, we bought train tickets to some coastal town – cheap, idyllic – and headed out there one weekend. I took Ukulele Sunset. You took the camera, there was, you said, a Ferris wheel you wanted to make immortal.

While many magazines are known for their content – or, more often than not, their editor who expresses a certain sensitivity through the content – Ukulele Sunset was renowned for its cover. For me, books and records are just as useful for decoration. There are, for example, a number of records I keep simply to stare at. The five issues I own of Ukulele Sunset all possess the most fantastic covers. One depicts a blocky, nouveau art depiction of the cliffs of Dover, another a set of futuristic graffiti, a third the pores of an orange disturbed by many-eyed flies. The content, however, is sorely lacking. And so I was reading just to be reading.

We travelled northwards in our own personal carriage. Our attempts at lovemaking, a wrestling match which for completion would require an advanced understanding of Euclidean geometry, failed. We turned to reading, interrupted intermittently by the darkening of a tunnel. Around us, the train clattered onwards. You’d made it perhaps fifty pages, before resting your head on my stomach and falling asleep. You had on a jumper, no trousers; I was in just my socks. We had begun to fight a little before now and I knew the breaks, the silences were not lulls in the tide, but instead the water drawing out. But still there was this moment, with you resting on my stomach, and the world passing by through a window and I thought that this was not too bad, that this would do, and closed my eyes, just to rest them, and think about you.

About the Author

Daniel Laing

Daniel Laing is a Devon-based writer. Previously, he has been published in Neon magazine. He is currently working on a short story collection.