Sunday Stories: “the summer I refused to shower”


the summer I refused to shower
by Isobel Atacus

I wake up with a desire to email you. I splash my face with water, cold, sharp, then pick up the bags of recycling to take along to the bins in the local praça

I walk slowly, as if to feel the whole day ahead. 

Pushing bottles through the holes and stamping on cardboard boxes, 

I’m thinking about the way you left. The way my fingers rub against the 

surfaces of rubbish, scrunching plastic into weird contortions, 

as if to express my response 

to you

as if anyone is listening to a single thing I say. 


I think about how there’s no dignity in falling, 

it’s as if my skin has turned itself inside out, all veins and raw emotions, 

unresolved, pulsating


or something similar. 

The way this makes me think of you. 

How I allow my thoughts to drift like this. 


There is a small queue of people behind me waiting for their turn with the bins. 

Everyone is very polite. Everyone seems to understand 

I need to take my time. 

That last text – I can’t remember all that clearly 

but I think you said something incomprehensible, 

(because you often sent me the kind of stream of emoticons my phone model can’t process and so they simply appeared as small rectangles on the screen) 

I fold up the recycling bags and head to the small quiosque for a coffee. 

It is noon.


a blue jumper

5 hours squashed down in the same hard seat

expressions turning on their sides




I somehow want to convey to you: you knew me only by mistakes I made


Sometimes I go to sleep thinking 

about how a human can be a landscape, 

not just through their skin, but their very way of 

folding in and of themselves, 

in time and space; 

with this thought comes a way of speaking that stretches out, somehow. 

There is a kind of intimacy to this; I felt it in your sheer expansiveness, a quality of presence that eluded me, that still eludes me. 

Your voice was higher than your physicality suggested, 

this was grating in a way I found quite pleasing. 

Perhaps your rectangles were simple landscapes, 

translations from one device to another, iridescent and alive. 


I loved your contradictions. 


You told me that my raincoat was the most punk thing. 

A compliment that seeped 

like treacle down my spine – 


The sun is overhead, 

I turn for home and shade, 

pausing at a fruit stall on the side of the road to buy some plums. 

I consider throwing them off the balcony, 

tossing remnants out to

spill, squash flat and juicy on the street. 

I wonder how it would feel 

arriving breathless at the door at 2am, hoping simply for a kiss, 

then ask for money for the bus, and leave. 

Notes, small poems written late at night. 

Living for a living. 




I wonder why I spend my summer drafting emails to your absences, 

leaving me halfway cut through

shot down 

ravished by complexities

that escape my 

ability to understand.


I count the plums slowly. I have bought 17.




I remember when we took a coach ride 

and you bought along a disposable camera 

and we took photos of all the doors with the number 17. 

We were both born on the seventeenth of different months, 

and this felt so prophetic, whilst at the same time simple happenstance 

that would not be rewarded, 

because the campsite wouldn’t let us in. 

We had to camp on the beach 

until the police moved us on and who knew 

how cold it would feel 

with all the salt soaking into our bones like that? 

On that trip I kept pulling my hand away from you and feeling my palms become sweaty with the heat and its concomitant fear of intimacy. I wanted to apologise but instead you told me with a smile how seventeen is the number for wishes and alchemy 

and then I reached for your hand, 

and then later we reached our own gentle resolution

the coach arrived

and we parted. 


I eat a plum. 


I am left with sixteen, a small stone

in my hand


I might plant it.

For now, sixteen feels a safer number to sit with,

less aligned with wishing and more with circumspection. 

I’m curious about it, so I look it up online, and find out 

the number sixteen is about willpower and independence

it’s about seeking wisdom

In Tarot the sixteenth card is the Tower. 




There’s a story about how in the late 50s the filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky travelled to Mexico to meet the artist Leonora Carrington. He wanted to ask her to be his Tarot master. To take this voyage to simply ask a question (a question simple enough to need to cross the seas). When he arrived at her house – it might have been the middle of the night, she might have been naked except for a shawl, sitting on a wooden throne, expecting him – she began to make tea. 

Imagine that everything is always a kind of ceremony, a kind of a test, how strange and symbolic everything must be. Leonora gathered the tea things together, poured two cups, one for herself, one for Alejandro. Then she took a teaspoon and held it next to her left leg, where she had a wound. She cut into or 

squeezed this wound 

until it opened, 

and allowed a few drops of blood 

to fall 

onto the teaspoon. 

She stirred this into the cup she handed to Jodorowsky. 

He drank it down.


I want to ask you who you’d wish to be, Carrington or Jodorowsky? I try to place you between two different camps – the seeker and the sought – but this is impossible to fathom. And I suppose, anyway, you would refuse the categorisation.




I eat another plum. 

Perhaps this is what achievement should feel like, 

ending up where you want to be, 

through only making small decisions, 

such as getting on a boat

such as eating or not eating a piece of fruit. 

With two stones in my hand.

I look at how

Actions have consequences, 

I don’t know 

who first said it in my ear,

or why it feels so naughty

and delicious

or why the consequences

feel as if they are only mine. 


Something has to belong to everyone.

I lay the remaining plums out in a line.




Like the first time we properly met, 

I believe we’d been sending some messages back and forth about books we wanted to read. It was a simple beginning. I hope you remember too, 

how it was on a bench outside a pub 

and you were delayed coming off a bus after Christmas shopping somewhere central

and hadn’t brushed your teeth after a party, 

and I don’t remember where I was coming from

what I’d been doing,

but I know we both sat facing one another, 

straddling the bench in the dark cold December outside the Stag’s Head in Clapton drinking wine with our knees almost touching and talking about awkward interactions and our shared love of writing. The last photograph you sent me a few weeks ago was of the dog that you bought for your father. It is jumping out of a lake in the autumn, with such boundless energy and joy.

I send you a text 

so that we can remember this meeting together

across our different cities.

You reply straightaway 

and add details – 

in a panic you had just purchased a thirty pound scented candle, 

I read out something from an old educational book I had found 

in a charity shop 

about young adults and sex. 

There was a chicken cooking in the oven. 

There was laughter.




The plums are so deep and sensual

in colour, catching the light

in this confused way, as if they

haven’t quite decided whether

they are shiny

or matted on the surface.

I start to rearrange the line

sitting on the wooden floor

of the apartment

rolling them slowly round.

I used not to be able to 

eat plums;

the idea of ripping through the skin

with my teeth

was too difficult.

It was

something about 

how the two textures collided.

how the surfaces rushed up to 

meet my tongue.




Fifteen is the Magician card in tarot.

This feels a more auspicious start.

Tall and graceful

adventurous, and


A few weeks ago 

we crossed the river in a small ferry 

and drank far too much 

in the small tasca with the 

football playing in a corner, 

and we were talking 

and surreptitiously watching it 

even though we had no interest in anything 

except for the wine. 

On the way back over the river 

we stopped for a final whisky and we were 

leaning against a car 

and there was a moment 

I reached for your hand and you didn’t notice, 

or maybe you did notice but still pulled away. 

There was a moment you reached for my hand 

and I started to panic and 

later I cried. 

I walked home 

and didn’t understand. 

It all felt too stupid, too rushed.  

But I know somehow 

that through contact comes time


I am no expert in this. 

It is not a new scenario. 





The Portuguese word for seagulls 

is gaivotas. I like to 

hear them every day, 

and whisper to myself:


The word meets

each sandy tread.

I wander down to the river to 


their heckling, 

their audacity,

hoping it will somehow filter via osmosis

that I might learn to heckle

be more audacious;

Once I threw some chips into the air on the beach at Brighton 

and imagine how the swarming gulls circled, 

and how I never felt so silenced, so alive.




In the mornings when I get up and look at the window, 

I think about a kind of lucid pond, 

whose sides are so intricate and muddy,

dragonflies swarming round

mating, dipping towards the water

and I think about how you disappeared

in the middle of my performance

and how it feels a kind of opening >




I’m back at the river

in the late afternoon

Sending small messages 

without any kind of rhythm or expectation for a reply, 

a way of allowing things to find their own way, to shape themselves. 


to be alone 


like this


We cross between languages as if at some point these separate bodies

might meet.

I bend to the water as if to my own demise – 

each drop is its own sweet symphony – 

It feels as though

Everyone around is sighing, 

as if reaching for their 


Tracing them along the cliff edge, 

caving in. 

The coastline seems scented, 

three seagulls hovering, some sinking ships, too many tides to count.  

And is this how it ends? Or just begins. 

I throw two plum stones into the river, 

one after the other

and watch the ripples




Isobel Atacus is a visual artist who works across text, sculpture and installation. Writing and poetry have appeared: Inland Magazine, The Poetry Society, Notice Bored for Muddy Yard, Vol.1 Brooklyn, MadSwirl, Revista Decadente, The Big Other, Water-Sound-City. Atacus is a contributor to Wrong Wrong magazine, and runs the icing room press. (

Image: Andrea Davis/Unsplash

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