Prose, issue 4

budapest
rachel blaine
hungary

the dragon’s horde
mikayla meyers
ireland

snapshot: st. petersburg
hannah feustle
russia

the stationmaster’s lodge, february
morgan macvaugh
scotland

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The Stationmaster’s Lodge, February

By: Morgan Macvaugh
I know where the end of the world is. It lies in Stromeferry, at
the foot of a house, by a loch that drinks in the night and leaves
it cold. Mountains, white-capped with snow, but black with
stars, circle it, leaning in to hear the voices seeping past stone
walls.
Protected, my back nearly touching the woodstove, I sit on the
hearth, watching as the ten of us young gather around the gray
men. One with a guitar, the other, our guide, asking him to play.
He grumbles good-naturedly, tugging at the strings and twisting
the knobs until they sing in key.
“A Song for Ireland,” says our guide. His voice is thick with the
moorlands, rising up into the high. He looks to us, eyes glinting
firelight. “You haven’t eard anything til you’ve eard him sing it.
The most beautiful thing.” He says beautiful like bee-U-tiful, like
it’s something to stop stare at and ponder.
The man with the guitar scoffs, but finishes tuning, and parts his
lips. The voice that comes out is slightly rough with age and wrin
-kles, but the tune is silky, and weaves through the couches and
chairs and something in the moment stills us. When he finishes,
the moment is broken, and my youth resurfaces with the others in
loud claps and whistles. The guitar man slips a fleeting smile as
the sound dances and clatters along the wooden floor. Runs a cal
-loused hand through his gray mane. “Well now. A song fer a song.
Who’s got one?”
I blink. The others call out for “Hotel California,” “Brown Eyed
Girl.” “Can you play that?” a girl asks.
“I can play anything if you gif me the tune.”
More songs called out, tunes by Billy Joel, Coldplay. “Rivers
and Roads.” And I’m not sure where it comes from, but then the
words are past my lips. “You know, ‘The Parting Glass’?” And
the guitar man stops and pins me with eyes so pale I think for a
moment he’s blind.
“What did you say?”
The words feel heavy and pointed and the room goes silent. My
cheeks are fire. “’The Parting Glass,’” I ask, “Do you know that
old Irish song?”
“Strangest thing,” he tells me softly, slowly, like thinking aloud.
A smile’s shadow imprinted on his weathered face. “I was listenin
to that on the way o’er.”
And our guide looks between the both of us and brushes his chin
with a slow hand. “Aye, that is strange.”
The man with the guitar sits up in the couch, bends over his in
-strument. “I’ll play it, but you ave to sing it.”
“No, I… Really, I can’t—,” but his eyes are firm and his fingers
are curled over the strings.
“A song fer a song.”
And he plays the first chord and time’s not stopping, so my voice
emerges from my throat and tiptoes around the room, a high, dis
-used thing. His strings call it forward. The fire crackles behind us.
And it seems there is no more breathing; the world ends here.

***
morgan macvaugh is a junior Creative Writing major. She is currently
surrounded by Highland Coos in Scotland, and loving every minute of it.
She would like to give a huge thank you to her family, especially Mac, for
always being encouraging.

The Dragon’s Horde

By: Mikayla Meyers
Dublin is a dragon and on my first night, I rode atop its
head. Pairs of feet still stained with United States soil
flitted across slick cobblestone streets. The night hung
as a black curtain above warm lights—string lights strewn across
street alleys, lamp lights, storefront signs, pub lights. The air
tasted sweet with an earthy metallic. Street music reverberated
between brick and called me over to stay awhile. But there was too
much to hear, too much to see, and the body of the dragon curved
on. We skipped down the streets, a flock of wild, adrenaline eyes
and parched lips. Air-weary travelers, the pub lights lured us in to
music and drink. Once we tired of one, we rushed the streets in
search of another, and another;
The International Bar, Temple Bar,
The Hairy Lemon.
Our hearts were insatiable. After two drinks,
the dragon called me back to its streets. This time, alone. I found
my way back to the music and stood in place for a while to feel
the moist air settle on my cheeks. The first night is what I pictured
it would be like, but it was only night, and I had yet to see Dublin
under the scrutiny of day.
In daylight, the hypnosis of city lights is quieted. The city
becomes something new altogether. In the daylight, I realized that
Dublin is a dragon.
Let me elaborate.
Its body, scales of uneven cobblestone, snake and glide beneath
the untrained feet of a visitor. As feet walk on and familiarity is
lost, the body bends below and guides one street into another, and
another, and another, until bearing has returned. Webbed spines
fray along its jaw, and when the wind blows past, tight and quick,
it makes music. Dusted with bar-light stars and dew from misty
rain, Dublin’s flesh shimmers. It is a dragon with a 120-meter-long
lance for a heart. This lance has many names:
The Spire, The Monument of Light.
The lance has a magic about it.
Light never ceases to shine from its peak. It is the vision of one, unified
Dublin. Butas most hearts are, this one is still conflicted.
Dublin has scars over old wounds. It has notches in its bones from bullets. Their
remnants stare back, blasted into the pillars of the General Post
Office, a building that sits along the dragon’s spine: O’Connell
Street Lower.
If Dublin is a dragon, then what might be its horde? I say “horde”
and not “hoard” because this dragon collects live things. They sit
in heavy jackets and thin jeans on O’Connell Bridge and the ends
of Ha’penny Bridge. Their sleeping bags gather by storefronts and
crosswalks. One man sits and reads from dawn till dusk every day,
another woman asks tirelessly for just enough euros to rent a
hostel room for the night. They take turns with a tub of chalk and
write poetry on the sidewalk.
They write;
Some people look down on me
Because I am Homeless
But who are they to judge
For I bleed blood and
I breathe the same air
So! How can anyone judge
For no one in life is…
—and it sits unfinished in the minds of passersby. They only
looked because suddenly, the concrete was colorful beneath their
feet.
Splitting between the scales are buildings as spikes, meticulously
groomed at a maximum of 60 meters high. The buildings are
full—fit to burst, leaving its horde to camp in the streets. In the
cold and mist of December 2017, the dragon counted 2,385
children in its horde. It counted 3,712 adults and 1,028 families. The
horde continues to swell.
I ventured this dragon alone often. My tastes had changed.
Before, I had preferred a second mind around as back-up in case
my own failed. But in Dublin, I found a comfort in being lost. It
helped slow my world down. It taught me to walk with purpose in
the present, instead of rushing to something in my future. When I
slowed down, the city felt like a dream—real, yet just beyond my
comprehension. Lost, I met with beings from the dragon’s living
horde. Some were on feet consumed by a nervous pacing. Some
sat coiled in their sleeping bags, staring a week into the future. At
the crosswalk by Christ Church Cathedral, a woman rushed to me,
her hair thin and oily, her eyes red from exhaustion.
“Spare some euros please, please, spare some euros please!
Please!”
My response was robotic, trained; it was all I knew.
I’m sorry,
I’m sorry, I’m sorry.
“Just enough for a hostel for the night, please! My father is in the
hospital and I have to visit him, please, only enough for the night!”
I’m sorry,
I have no cash on me.
I’m sorry.
She heard me. She nodded and continued past without a word.
Before Dublin was a dragon, it was a tiger. Crisp businessmen
with eyes trained towards a new frontier brought their dreams to
Ireland. They expanded their companies on Irish soil and watched
as the country’s capital flourished. Ireland became the
Celtic Tiger.
Its citizens, for the first time in a long time, felt secure. They
felt fearless as they shopped in stores, ate out in restaurants, made
down payments on houses yet to be built. The Celtic Tiger assured
its people that they and their spending were immortal, even as the
nation’s economy began to stagger under the weight of progress. It
was a denial that led the nation into a crippling recession. Houses
now sit vacant, cold, unobtainable to the people who then found
themselves scraping for some semblance of stability. When the
Celtic Tiger fell, Dublin resurrected as a dragon with a currency of
its own—a horde in the thousands.
At the corner of Parnell Square is a garden. A long pool of water
stretches down the garden and out at the sides in the shape of a
cross. Flowers bloom when in season, and the grass on the risen
earth is a striking green year-round. At the head of the cross, up a
small climb of stairs, is a monument. At its base are three human
bodies sculpted to appear to be clothed in loose cloth. They are
thin, dejected. The first, a man, lays close to the earth as if near
impact from a fall. The second, a man who looks like the same man
from before, but only at the start of the fall; as if rewound in time.
The third is a woman. She stands the tallest yet leans faintly to the
left. Forming from the backs of all three is a flock of large birds
taking flight. This garden is the Garden of Remembrance, and it
commemorates the lives of those who died amidst the struggle for
Irish freedom. The monument, atop its perch at the head of the
garden, shows the Irish people rising from the ashes of their past.
This garden is surrounded by a fence and locked at nightfall.
Next to the fence, a tent sits pitched into the grass, and clothes
hang haphazardly from a tree to dry.
I was not a stranger to the city at night, but I preferred it during
the day. I made 20-minute trips by bus from Dublin City
University to the city center in front of Trinity College. From noon
until late evening, I wandered the body of the dragon with no real
purpose or direction. In the back of my mind, all I was searching
for were sights, music, and a cup of coffee somewhere hidden
from the rush of jaywalking feet and double decker buses. A handful
of those evenings in the city, I came across the same man.
His hair was grey and ruffled, his beard sticky but not unkempt.
The clothes he wore were stained and torn. His skin looked faded,
wax-like. His eyes stared past everything—past the buildings, the
dumpster, past my body walking by. When I came across him,
he would mumble under his breath—caught in a heated argument
with himself and a phantom that sat not far from his own lips. One
evening, something about him had changed. That evening, he was
pacing feverishly back and forth between the curb of the street and
a locked storefront gate.
“No… No… No!… No…No! No!” He shouted, shaking his
hands like they were crawling with something. I kept moving. I
knew the man as well as a frequent stranger could know him. I
was used to passing him quickly. A step before passing him, he
lifted his arms and bellowed, “I’m not scared of you! I’m not
fucking scared of you! Come fight me, I’m not scared! Fight me!” He
crashed his body into the storefront gate and punched it with a
sharp hook. The gate echoed a light rattle but did not give way. It
was a sudden aggression that startled me. Where my feet should
have sped, they halted, frozen. I looked, but only for a moment.
He seemed to understand that the gate was metal, and he was only
flesh. The man went back to mumbling and leaned against the gate
in defeat. I walked on.
Dublin tries to hide its horde behind the Leprechaun Museum,
behind a bus tour, behind a Carroll’s gift shop on every street.
They sit, invisible, a few yards away from where people stand
daily with smiles on their faces, holding out pamphlets about
angels. Every so often, someone will notice a piece of the scattered
horde along the street. They will bring them a warm cup of coffee,
crouch down, and have a nice chat as if the day was warm and
home was waiting for them both. It is in those small moments that
you can see them smile. Their eyes are glossed from loss of sleep,
but the conversation brings a redness back to their cheeks.
Dublin is a dragon whose scales look different from afar. They
reflect like a mirror, and we see only what we feel we ought to see.
In case you were wondering: yes, I did drink Guinness; yes, I did
go to the pubs; yes, I went to the Guinness Storehouse; but I tire of
responding to an image of the dragon from across the sea. Dublin
is a vibrant city. There are stomping feet in its pubs, music in its
streets, and art blooming in bookstores and studios. Dublin’s body
is old, but its breath is young and changing. And yet, the horde is
still there: living things waiting for the warm season and counting
their euros to pay off a hostel room for the night. The horde does
not always look like defeated bodies strewn across the streets.
When they find themselves with 2.70 euros, sometimes, they take
the bus. Their children return from school to a hotel room shared
amongst two, three, four others. Dublin is a dragon with hypnotic,
fiery nighttime eyes, and with a horde ever swelling.

 

 

 

***
mikayla meyers is a 3rd-year Creative Writing, English Literature,
and Publishing & Editing major. She is from Frederick, Maryland and had
the pleasure of studying abroad for a semester in Dublin, Ireland. After
graduating, she would like to pursue hand book binding and book restoration.

Budapest

By: Rachel Blaine
13:00
I take a bus to Budapest. Before I came to Hungary, the closest I’d
ever gotten to public transportation was the school bus that drove
the mile between my Manchester, Pennsylvania school and my
Manchester, Pennsylvania house. It takes about twenty minutes to
go from my host family’s home in Pálosvörösmart to Gyöngyös,
and another hour to go from Gyöngyös to Budapest. Every time I
make the journey, the ride feels more familiar, but also somehow
more stifling. The bus drivers are always white guys that grunt out
the price for my ticket after I stumble over my Hungarian (“Egy
jegyet Budapestre, kérem.” “Ezer négyszázhúsz forint”—1420
forints) and the other passengers stare when I drag my bag past their
seats; it’s a Tuesday, shouldn’t I be in class or something?
I sigh in relief when I find an empty row of seats right beside
the side door. By the time the bus groans into motion, I’m already
half asleep. Sleep is the only thing that makes the bus rides in any
way bearable.
14:26
The bus station in Budapest is right next to the metro. I put
money into the metro pass dispenser and buy a one-day pass. A
homeless man who lives in the entryway of the metro station
approaches me and asks for money. I tell him I don’t speak Hungarian,
sorry (“Nem magyarul beszélek, bocsi!”), and he switches to
English. I press my wallet against my torso, but something tells
me he already saw the 10,000 forint bill—about 40 US dollars—in
the money slot. I mutter another apology, this time in English, and
pray he doesn’t follow me as I go down to the platform.
14:57
I take the red line on the metro map from Puskás Ferenc
Stadion to Deák Ferenc Tér, the busiest metro intersection in
Budapest. There’s a Starbucks above it that’s always packed with
English-speakers. It’s funny how I only started drinking Starbucks
after I left the US. I order a mocha frappuccino and wait outside
for Chris, Julia, Adam, and Mim to show up. Even though it’s a
weekday, everyone I asked to meet up with responded with an
enthusiastic yes. It didn’t take us long to realize the Hungarian
education system didn’t know what to do with students who couldn’t
speak Hungarian, so we decided to make the most of our school
days by skipping them.
I’m way too early; my straw sucks the bottom of my cup
before anyone else arrives. I realize I have to pee, but I threw out
my receipt. Hungarian public restrooms cost about a dollar to use.
Restaurants usually have a code lock on their bathroom doors,
which they change intermittently. They print the code on their
receipts so that only paying customers flush their toilets and steal
their soap. Budapest has one of the largest homeless populations
I’ve ever seen, and also one of the most intense prejudices against
the homeless.
15:20
Adam is the next one to show up—I can see his hair blowing in
the wind from down the street. He orders the same drink I did with
a bagel, which we split. After that, people start showing up like
clockwork. Julia shows up almost exactly two minutes later, and
then Mim, the only non-American exchange student in our group.
She’s brought one of her Thai friends with her. Most of us are from
the East Coast; Julia is from Connecticut, and Chris and I live
within an hour of each other back home in Pennsylvania. Adam’s
from the states, too, but his home is on the coast of Washington,
and Mim’s from Thailand.
Chris is the last one to show up fifteen minutes later, sweaty and
winded. Despite being late, he’s the one hurrying us along to go
to lunch; there’s some taco place down the street that he’s been
desperate to try.
17:46
Chris directs us to a tram down the block from our lunch
rendezvous. I’ve never taken the city busses in Budapest. They run on
something like train tracks and the roofs are attached to wires that
remind me of telephone lines.
The bus we take is even more packed than the one I came to
Budapest on. There’s seven stops between Deák and our stop, Hősök
tere. Chris and I are the only ones in our group that manage to get
a seat, and it takes three stops until the others can get even that.
Once we’re seated, Chris fishes his bag of tobacco and some
rolling paper out of his backpack. Through the shuddering start-stop
of our trip, he manages to roll two fat, bumpy cigarettes by the
time we reach our stop.
18:08
Dürer Kert feels more like a house than a concert venue
despite the constant hum of sound checks and the graffitied walls
advertising upcoming concerts and lopsided dicks. The two small
venue arenas are on one side of the building, but the other half has
a game room, a dining room, and two sitting rooms, one of which
has wallpaper covered in books that makes it feel like a library.
Chris buys us a round of beers from the bar that separates the two
sides of the place and we find a circle of thrift shop furniture in the
library room. The concert starts in an hour. Mim downs her beer
and says she’s going out front for a smoke. Chris and I follow; she
has the best blueberry cigarettes.
It’s been raining on and off all day in cold, misty sheets that float
in the air and stick to my hair. I can barely feel the cigarette in my
hand even after I light it, and when I exhale I can watch my breath
mix with the smoke. We watch couples and groups of college kids
filter in and out as the bar gets busier and busier. When we come
back inside, our ears are numb, and we can barely navigate our
way through the crowd.
19:10
The maximum person count printed in the doorway of the
performance room is 239, and I’d say the concert we’re at attracted
about 150. The room is by no means packed—not even up front
in the mosh pit.
Chris is drunk by the time the concert starts. The opener for
the band we’re seeing is from our home state, and he drags me
through the pit to the front of the stage, so we can do some
top-secret Pennsylvania handshake with them. They blow us off, though,
and the concert starts before I can escape the pit.
20:33
No matter what country you’re in, the attendance
demographics of indie-punk concerts rarely change. It’s mostly skinny white
boys that are drunk by the second song in the opening set and
try to crowd surf over a group of people unprepared to bear their
weight. This is how I end up getting a shiner on my right eye and
tripping onto the floor.
One of the most important rules in a mosh pit is, no matter how
small, you stay on your feet by any means necessary. Getting
trampled is a very real possibility if you hit the floor. I remember this
rule the second my knees clash against the threadbare carpet, and
in an instance of pure adrenaline, the pain in my skull dissipates. I
still can’t see, but my mind is clear enough to force my feet to push
me up and get me away from the stage.
After I’ve iced the swelling down, Julia hands me her unfinished
beer and buys me another. I’m back in the pit by the time the main
band comes on stage.
22:49
We’re starving when we stumble out of the venue. The streets
are nearly empty, and the frigid air makes everything feel frozen
in time. “There’s a Burger King down the street,” Adam—the only
sober one of us all—says, an arm under Chris’s shoulder to keep
him upright.
Julia and I are the soberest ones besides Adam, and since he’s
a little preoccupied, we take it upon ourselves to order the food.
We talk the entire walk to the Burger King about whether it would
be better to get chicken nuggets or burgers. The drunken consen
sus from everyone else is that we should get both (and plenty of
French fries). We end up getting enough food to cover an entire
table, so the six of us squeeze into one booth at the back of the
restaurant and dive into our smorgasbord-style dinner, reaching
over one another for burgers and ketchup.
Sobriety is coming my way—I can feel it in the blisters on my
feet and the aches blossoming in my legs and, perhaps most
prominently, in the pulsing around my eye. As the last of the fries
disappear and heads begin to grow heavy, Adam asks me if there’s any
more upcoming concerts that I know about.
I yawn, and then smile. “I’m sure we can find something.”

 

 

***
rachael blaine is a first-year student with dual majors in Creative
Writing and Publishing/Editing and a minor in the Honors Program. She
studied abroad in Hungary during her junior year of high school and spent
most of that time going to concerts and petting stray cats.