I had the pleasure of meeting Nuala Ní Chonchúir last year at the 12th International Conference on the Short Story in English in Little Rock, Arkansas.
For me, meeting Nuala and listening to her reading her story, Cri de Couer (from her collection Mother America) was one of the highlights of the conference (part of the story was a song, which she sang so beautifully it brought tears to my eyes). I’d already read Nude, her collection of sensual and poetic short stories set in exotic locations – Paris, Delhi, Barcelona (what more could you ask for?) and knew she was an extraordinary writer, but it’s always a treat when the writer is as wonderful as the writing.
Nuala’s new chapbook of short-short stories (or ‘flash fiction’) Of Dublin and Other Fictions has just been published by Tower Press and she’s doing a ‘virtual tour’ this month to spread the word. I am the lucky host of stop number four, and for this stop we are publishing Fish, one of the pieces from the chapbook (and one of my favourites), and afterwards Nuala will talk a little about its genesis.
Nuala Ní Chonchúir
When you have seen your neighbour in the raw – and he has seen you seeing him – it cannot be undone.
You looked from your box-room window down into Nicholas’s garden but you didn’t expect to see him standing on his puddled clothes, all chest-fuzz and stomach and genitals.
He stood, looking down at his shirt, jeans and boxers, then he lifted his eyes straight up to yours. Fuck. He swiped his hands together, looked at his palms and picked at them – pulling off fish-scales, you guessed.
Half an hour earlier you had driven out of your estate, down the road, past the shops and onto the roundabout. There you saw Nicholas’s lorry, on its side, spilling a sea of fish onto the tarmac. The fish were grey and doll-eyed and the road was completely blocked. Nicholas stood there among them, like a man from the Bible, with his hands outstretched. Some motorists were out of their cars, hanging around, watching. A taxi-driver shouted at Nicholas, ‘What the fuck?’, then he got back into his cab and sulked. Nicholas threw himself onto the pile of fish and wailed. Then, he got up and walked away.
You followed him in your car, off the roundabout, past the shops, up the road and into your estate, keeping to a near-impossible 20 km per hour. Nicholas opened his front door and slammed it hard behind him. Slipping up your own stairs, you went into the box-room and looked down into his garden. He had already stripped and you were full-frame in the window; his head lifted and you couldn’t move. You saw his naked body and what 53 years had made of it. And he saw you seeing him.
So, you slipped your dress over your head, unhooked your bra and wiggled out of your knickers. And then Nicholas saw what 47 years had made of you – your skin, breasts and belly – and none of it could be undone. So you both smiled.
(First published by TheNewerYork here: http://theneweryork.com/fish/)
Nuala says: Flash come to me in different ways and, normally, I find it hard to write to order. Generally my flash stories spring from a first line that swirls in my head and that line may have been prompted by something I have seen, or heard, or have been mulling over.
I wrote this piece in one go – in a sense ‘to order’. In 2011, a magazine (maybe The Stinging Fly?) was looking for people to write short-shorts on one particular day, and this was what emerged for me.
‘Fish’ is set in Rahoon in Galway, on the housing estate where I bought my first house in 1999. Rahoon is grey and gritty, but it’s near the city centre and the sea. Anyway, not once but twice while I lived there, I saw a lorry overturned on the roundabout and both times the lorries had spilled a load of fish. So the image of fish blocking the road was wedged into my head for probably 12 years before I wrote about it.
For some reason the day I sat down to write, it was that image that sprang up and I built a very simple narrative around it. I don’t plan stories before I write them so the pair of naked neighbours just happened and seemed fitting. The story was rejected a few times before being published by the quirky and wonderful The NewerYork.
Information on how to buy Of Dublin and Other Fictions : http://towerpresspublishing.wordpress.com/2013/10/05/of-dublin-and-other-fictions-tower-press-2013-nuala-ni-chonchuir/
Nuala Ní Chonchúir lives in Galway. Her fourth short story collection Mother America was published by New Island in 2012. A chapbook of short-short stories Of Dublin and Other Fictions is just out in the US and Nuala’s second novel The Closet of Savage Mementos will be published in spring 2014 by New Island.