October 8, 2021

by Jake McAuliffe

Read this piece

The lightning storm approaches through the long grass. I fasten the two dozen windows, the one dozen doors, ready to wait out said storm in case of strikes and the death which follows.

It is just me in the locked house. I grew up here, with one VCR and five hundred tapes. They are here, still, the tapes. They have been hoarded. I do not remember personally hoarding them. Someone else, then. It is just me and the tapes in the locked house. A hush curves inside the barrel-wood walls––the long grass growing nervous. I’d rather not hear it, the nerves of natural things. So, I will watch them, the tapes, I will wait it out, the storm.

1: Mom is seventeen and bouncing me on her lycra lap,

my eyes find the camera and the cameraman asks if I’m having a good time.

I’m glad he asked

and burned a hard copy.

14: Backroom McDonalds birthday party,

the cordoned area a Viking longship, we are the kid Vikings

in haggard corduroy pants.

32: Black mould invades from the ceiling with fizzing limbs.

There’s a boy or girl on the bed, yes, it’s a boy on a bed in the centre of the shot

and the black mould is being pulled, biologically,

the black mould is biologically compelled to the centre

of the shot

of the room

of the boy––

which I suppose is the heart, or the lungs––

so what this is

is a boy, some uncredited, indeterminate boy,

being eaten alive, waiting for god knows what, and god knows

how one would get black mould out of such a place as a


or a lung.

As for the tape, we moved a lot,

we were familiar with security deposits and watching our backs in that regard,

I think that’s what this tape is.

110: The rifle is locked into my gangly elbow crook,

the gun range is outdoors, desert-based,

the shot is wobbling.

‘Sugar’s low’, the cameraman whispers to someone off camera.

He says it in a particular tone,

it’s the most intimate thing I’ve ever heard,

broken by the rifle crack, the bullet thumping dunes some way off.

112: I miss the context for this tape making tea,

watching the storm making circles,

but I catch the end, wherein a dog licks the lens and the cameraman kicks the dog.

119: Side-street in Prague, as introduced by the cameraman,

Mom stands seven feet away and there is no debate on whether she should,

like it’s a natural force, the push of a camcorder exerted on

biological organisms where we must stand well back,

where we must be in full figure to be fully captured

and I can barely see her face. It seems the cameraman agrees

                                                                                                     and he zooms,

                                                                                                                       and he zooms,

                                                                                                                                                 utilising the full 32x optical                                                                                                                                                             zoom––which nobody can                                                                                                                                                       handle by hand––and up this                                                                                                                                                               close I can’t see a thing.

150: This tape is not very long: the end of a quarrel,

the camcorder used as a deterrent,

and I like seeing the tension evaporate, but

by now the storm is making ribbons of the long grass and

there’s this pressure

like I’m squeezed inside some contracting thing and

there’s this sense

like I should have moved on.

1: Mom, seventeen.

Lycra catching sun.

A question.

I’m laughing.

Everyone is, too.



Jake McAuliffe (he/him) is a cancer biologist from Cork, Ireland, and is now a two-time contributor to Overheard. His first ever story was about talking foxes and to this day most of his stories feature talking animals. He was nominated for Best Microfiction 2021. He lives in Galway with his partner and chatty cats. @JakeMcAwful on twitter.