September 2014: FALLING

the_descent_of_a_decent_man

D R Jones, The Descent of a Decent Man

DR Jones lives and works near Puhoi, overlooking the Mahurangi Harbour. This pastoral setting seems conducive to writing novels, short stories and flash fiction. At present, the second instalment of his genre-defying Anonymous_Author© series is well underway.

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Louise Miller, Dormez Vous

A gentle heat radiates through the duvet onto a leg. Across all this darkness, sunlight from a distant galaxy. The cat. A hand held close to the cheek is his hand, is my hand, is a cheek plasticised. Unincorporated. Un incorporated, un in corp or ate.

The comedian’s mom stands beside him on a jetty out over a placid Californian sea. She is delighted by the camera. It is the 80s, gelato-coloured loose shirts for men, primitive face lifts for the women.

She holds up a photo.

“He always says he was fat as a child. Is this a fat child? Does this look like a fat child to you?”

A sepia child sits on her younger lap, a part of her. A small alert shield. One body, four eyes. Incorporated.

The comedian has this. He is on. A veritable peaking cat on a hot tin roof. Each riff a leap. Each riff saving his mother from herself, saving himself from herself. Such an old role, so wearing on a soul.

Later he returns with his third wife to live in his mother’s house, long after her death. There he chooses to become unincorporated. To take the corp out. To peel off the prosthetic. How does it stretch? It stretches like dough, body dough rising in a warm bed.

Peeling away into this blackness leaving a storm of noughts and ones passing through, passing through.

Louise Miller live and works in Auckland. She has written short fiction for some time but is new to publishing. She blogs at Life in Hydra.

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Timothy Gager, You Buy Too Much Kale

You feed your black rabbit what is not wilted. Still, you keep the kale in the back of the refrigerator, where it sits. “What are we going to do, Bunnyface?” you ask your lover, but the rabbit in the room continues to chew.

“Do you need to get out of here?” she asks, pulling the rabbit out of the cage. There is a dusting of drug powder on the living room table, ten empty bottles in a circle, and the car keys. You place the rabbit on the floor. You could drive away and as you think about it the house gets smaller.

Your boyfriend who sits at that table every night is still asleep in the back room. His whole world is in the front. You are there, often watching the news. You think of the shitty world and how things fall.

“The cage is big enough to fit in the back, if I push the driver’s seat all the way up,” you think. She’s hardly been out of her cage at all and she twitches and shakes, rattles herself out of your arms when you place her back in. She is still chewing. Blankets rustle in the back room. You pull five bags of kale out of the fridge. The cheap cellophane crunches.

Timothy Gager is the author of eleven books of short fiction and poetry. His latest, The Thursday Appointments of Bill Sloan (Big Table Publishing), is his first novel. He hosts the successful Dire Literary Series in Cambridge, Massachusetts, for over thirteen years and is the co-founder of Somerville News Writers Festival. His work appears in over 300 journals, of which nine have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. His work has been read on National Public Radio. More here.

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Kyle Hemmings, Father Dunne’s School for Wayward Boys #1

There must have been a black-holed galaxy of eyes watching us, Father Dunn’s special boys, who secretly wished to be crucified. We tucked our plastic rosaries into our back pockets, where we once kept rainbow-colored condoms. There were awkward confessions in the corner of a room that made us shiver with long-suppressed intimacies. Our hearts would never again be open to visitors.

The proctor with early dementia sang at night through the only open window for miles. Something about stars on a string and how his mother did amazing needlepoint until her fingers went stiff. We told the star-crossed priests with traces of old acne that our mothers did tricks to save our bodies. Our pen knives were confiscated so we sharpened our pencils into weapons.

A young girl wavering between celibacy and punk mother-lust despair visited us each night. In a dim light, she blushed pink. She sowed our loins in different patterns with her brilliant coordination of tongue and complex fingering, then walked away, blending with morning sky. We became a wet dream. With magic marker, we drew vaginas on the wet cheeks of incoming students. Asked who among them were ever caught red handed. We grew more rebellious under our sheaths of lethargy. We sabotaged track and field events with competing schools. After graduation, we committed insidious crimes with a light touch and a good pen knife. We lifted what every straight-edge bleary-eyed sucker thought he could possess: love. We were expelled into the next life.

Kyle Hemmings lives and works in New Jersey. He has been published in Your Impossible Voice, Night Train, Toad, Matchbox and elsewhere. His latest chapbooks are Underground Chrysanthemums from Red Bird Press and Terminal from White Knuckle Press. He loves 50s Sci-Fi movies, manga comics and pre-punk garage bands of the 60s. He blogs here.

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Howie Good, Revising Thoreau

Thoreau only left the woods, his face shaded by a wide hat, to borrow a pencil but found out there was a fire downtown and stayed to watch. Buddy Holly looked right at him at the show in Duluth three days before the plane crash. Now, kneeling like a supplicant, he weeds by hand around the base of the statue of himself, the air vibrating with the lurid farts of the souped-up Mustang that forever rumbles through the suburbs of night.

Howie Good’s latest book of poetry is The Complete Absence of Twilight (2014) from MadHat Press. He co-edits White Knuckle Press with Dale Wisely, who does most of the real work.

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Jane Swan, Under the House

I can tell you don’t believe me by the way you’re looking at me. Think I’m lying when I say that I fell through a crack in the floorboards and I’ve been under the house all day on the dirt floor, staring up at the joists.

I dragged a stiff, half rotten sack over to the little grating to get some fresh air and sat waiting for you to find me.

You didn’t see me when you unlocked the low door to put your bicycle away. You didn’t notice when I crept out, didn’t hear me crying in the bathroom as I tried to wash away the smell that had seeped into my pores – the smell of stale, dried dirt.

You say it’s not possible. How could I be vacuuming one minute, and the next be sliding down, just missing the splinter, angled to pierce my heart?

I know you don’t believe me, but it’s true. I fell through a crack between the floorboards. Look, I’ll show you.

Jane Swan’s house and garden run wild because she spends time daydreaming and writing. She is newsletter editor for the Waitaki Writers’ Group. Successes include two Radio New Zealand stories and others published in local and daily newspapers, Alfie Dog Ltd and Essentially Food. She has also been highly commended in the Heartland Short Story Competition and short-listed in the Sunday Star Times competition.

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Matthew Robinson, Old Vibrations

She’s worried about fire. There’s always a sound, something triggering the fear. “Is that creaking from the fan all right?” and “What’s ticking – no, not the clock; that ticking – what is it?” I admit that I do not know the origin of these sounds and therefore cannot estimate what they portend. We listen together for an agreed upon yet unspoken amount of time before resuming our game of dice. “Did you know this game was invented on a yacht?” “You don’t say.” She wins. I say let’s play again; she says she’s tired. Three hours later, we’re still awake. She’s reading Bradbury, his prophecies on burning, quietly worrying, and I’m sitting nearby holding a book like I don’t know what to do with it, and maybe I don’t. I hope for continued silence, or at least an agreeable sound to perhaps drown out the next objectionable one, but this is an old house, and old houses like this might very well consist of nothing but these kinds of sounds. The thought occurs to me that I’ve spent my entire life trying to remember things I probably never knew, and then I begin to worry, too, as I cannot seem to stop thinking about how, when we first moved into our house, the lock on the bathroom door was on the outside.

Matthew Robinson’s writing has appeared on the web in journals such as decomP, >kill author, The Lascaux Review and others. He lives in Seattle with his dog, cat and girlfriend.

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James Claffey, A Pirate’s Life for Me

There’s a postcard on the silver salver on the hall table. The stamp has the Queen’s head in profile and I know without looking at the address it’s from the Old Man: Dear Wife. Crippling migraine. Increased production. Six more weeks. Find my reward in heaven. Your loving Husband.

Mam is out at the clinic having more tests for the new baby that’s coming before Christmas, so I have to make my own lunch: Ham and Heinz Sandwich Spread on toast. The long-range shipping forecast is on the radio and warns of low visibility in the Irish Sea. From Erris Head to the Belfast Lough and all points in between, a fisherman can’t see the fingerprints on his own hand. One time the Old Man took us to the Bloody Foreland and pointed straight north and said if we’d a powerful enough telescope we’d be able to wave to him on his oilrig.

As I devour the sandwich, I turn the pages of Treasure Island and wonder how the Old Man would fare if pirates took over the oil platform and made all the workers walk the plank? I can see his face at the prospect of the long drop into the inclement North Sea waters. He’d probably curse a bit at the pirates, but in the end say a few prayers, picture the chalice in the priest’s hands and step off into foggy air.

James Claffey hails from County Westmeath, Ireland, and lives on an avocado ranch in Carpinteria, CA, with his wife, the writer and artist, Maureen Foley, their daughter, Maisie, and Australian cattle-dog, Rua. His first book, Blood a Cold Blue, is published by Press 53. More here.

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Eileen Merriman, Three Minutes

The day we went to the fair you wore a yellow dress with red buttons shaped like hearts. You bought pink candyfloss and divided it into three. James ate his fast and you ate yours slow and I didn’t really eat mine at all. James always sat next to you on the rides, so he could hold your hand. I sat by myself. When we got to the rollercoaster James said he didn’t like the way it made his brain rattle in his head and went to buy hot chips. They said the ride would take three minutes.

As the car started moving and we climbed our knees touched and I put my hand next to yours I heard your breath catch in your throat when we got to the top of the track you wound your fingers through mine then we fell my stomach plunged my heart was beating so hard and you didn’t scream not even when we went upside-down and when we stopped moving you smiled there was pink sugar glistening in the curve of your mouth I put my finger on your bottom lip and your tongue darted out to touch it so quick but you looked into my eyes the whole time in three minutes I made you mine

When we got out James gave you a kiss and me the rest of his chips. At the bus stop you pressed something into my palm. It was one of your buttons.

Eileen Merriman lives and works on the North Shore in Auckland. She is currently working on a book (fiction) and has recently completed a Creative Hub creative writing course. Her interests include reading, writing, running and the outdoors.

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P.V. Wolseley, L’Origine du Monde Speaks

Gustave said, “I want to tell the truth,” but I suspected a cover-up: He kept saying to the model, “No one will know it’s you.” When he said, “C’est fini!” I wanted to say, “Ce n’est pas fini! My torso’s twisted!” but of course I couldn’t – Gustave had made sure of that. Whatever truths he wanted to tell, they weren’t the model’s, or mine.

At first I was exposed only for occasional private viewings. I remember fabric being drawn back. A look. A touch. Whispered desires – not mine, obviously.

Now I’m on public display, people mutter instead about my title, brushstrokes and pigments, but few take the time to really examine them. Even if they do, their gaze always returns to the same spot. And no one mentions my back.

Some visitors pretend they’ve stumbled across me by accident. Others sidle up as if I might bite. If my lips could speak, I’d ask, “What are you so scared of?”

Occasionally feminists march up and talk loudly about liberation. At first I thought, “This lot will do something for my back,” but it soon became clear that they had their own agenda; some talked about me without even looking at me.

Sometimes, a sensitive soul stands before me and asks, “Who was she? How did she feel? What she was thinking?” But even as I lie legs akimbo, I can only keep my secrets; the part of me that could tell is forever falling out of the frame.

P.V. Wolseley’s first loves were Boy George and My Little Pony. When these childhood crushes came to nothing, she fell in love with art history, which she studied at the Courtauld Institute of Art, London. She then moved to France, where she discovered a passion for English (absence makes the heart grow fonder). To explore the theme falling, she drew on Gustave Courbet’s controversial masterpiece, which shows a close up of a nude woman’s genitalia.

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Nod Ghosh, Concealed

When Sudeva noticed red-brown lines of blood on her thighs, Thakuma stemmed the flow with cotton.

“What is it Tha’ma? Will I die?”

“Don’t ask such questions, girl,” Thakuma tightened the knot of Sudeva’s hair, twisting it into a chignon.

“There, that is how a grown woman wears her hair.” The old lady held the glass up, pinching her granddaughter’s cheek affectionately. The girl saw a woman’s visage in the mirror.

“Come, there are things to be done. Many, many things.”

That was how it began. Sudeva was transported by palanquin, jostled through spice-scented streets. She dared not smile lest she disturb the sandalwood-paste designs on her forehead. When a bearer tripped on rough ground, she thought they would drop her. The idea of falling into unknown territory was terrifying, yet thrilling.

Sudeva sat in silence, facing potential suitors. Her father spoke to their fathers, fingertips clotted with rice and saffron-bright sabji. Hard bargaining and asinine approbation. Disagreements and sworn alliances. Sudeva was not required to participate.

When the time came, her sisters and cousins applied turmeric to her face, mehendi to her hands. Their intricate patterns blurred through Sudeva’s happy-sad tears. She savoured the last night under her father’s roof.

Long after the giggling girls had been banished to charpoys on the verandah, Sudeva’s mother and Thakuma worked on the palms of the bride-to-be. They concealed letters of her future husband’s name in elaborate designs. In solemn voices, they reiterated wedding protocols, as mehendi paste dried to a crisp shell.

Nod Ghosh lives in Christchurch, New Zealand, and has completed year one of the Hagley Writers’ Institute creative writing course. Nod’s work has been accepted in Catalyst, Penduline, Christchurch Press, Takahē and Express. She was also winner of the Flash Frontier 2014 Winter Writing Award. Nod works as a medical laboratory scientist.

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Peter Adams, Moon Child

“Look, Mummy! The sun is climbing up the sky, but the moon isn’t falling down yet.”

Anthea followed her daughter’s finger to see the gibbous moon hanging in the west like a ripening mango. “You’re right, they’re awake at the same time. What’s happening there, do you think?”

She was walking her four-year-old to pre-school. Skye had been born with the bright moon as midwife, flooding the birthing room during her labour. The passionless IVF process had finally delivered, but stressed the relationship beyond redemption. Anthea was now a solo mum with only her moon child to love.

Skye pondered the situation. “Maybe moon is just staying up to do some twicks, you think?”

“Tricks?”

“You know. Like juggling and so on.”

Anthea suppressed a chuckle at her daughter’s playful vision. “Yes, the moon can be tricky! Remember Rona, in your book of Maori stories? She tripped and fell when the moon hid behind a cloud and spilt her bucket of water.”

“And…and…she said bad words to the moon,” Skye interrupted, and now she’s stuck there forever!”

“But what if the sun pays the moon back and gets up in the dark, when it’s moontime? It’ll be light outside and it’ll be sleep time,” crowed Skye.

As in the land of the midnight sun, Anthea thought. Skye’s astrologic wasn’t so far-fetched. She gave her daughter a hug and they walked on hand-in-hand, looking at the rising sun and the falling moon.

Peter Adams won the PEN International first book of non-fiction award for Fatal Necessity, his book about the annexation of New Zealand and the Treaty of Waitangi. After a career in international relations, and many bureaucratic documents later, he is trying the challenge of writing short fiction and poetry. Peter lives at the edge of Wellington harbour, which provides plenty of stimulus.

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Hobie Anthony, Abandon

The prop plane’s small body bounces and bobs on air pockets; we’re rattling like dice in a cup. I hear a pop and watch a stream of black smoke pour from the engine. We strap together, bound to the single, life-saving parachute. We crouch and stare into each other’s eyes before leaping into the sky. I think I smell your breath. Your hair whips into my eyes on our free-fall descent. We maneuver our bodies, aiming for a moon-lit mountain meadow in the middle of the forest. We cling like magnets, polar opposites spinning in winter’s cold air. My body turns to gaze into the Milky Way. I wish I could sleep on a bed of stars and make love to you in a nebula. I hear you screaming in my ear and I’m brought back to our union, so I pull the cord. The lurch of the parachute jolts me back to reality. Earth-time returns, the ticking on my watch. We float and watch the plane lose altitude on an angular decline. It begins to spiral down. It hits the dirt. The explosion lights the density of wood. We lie in the field and watch the forest burn. The fire warms our bones.

Hobie Anthony was raised on the red clay of Georgia, cut his teeth on the hard streets of Chicago and now grounds himself in the volcanic soil of Portland, Oregon. He can be found or is forthcoming in such journals as Fourteen Hills, Fiction Southeast, The Rumpus, [PANK], Wigleaf, Housefire, Crate, Ampersand, Birkensnake, Word Riot, Connotation Press and many more. He earned an MFA from Queens University of Charlotte. When he needs money, he writes. More here.

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Patrick Pink, Across the border, Icarus carries American dreams in his pockets

Papa sews the wings from boxes of absent men’s clothes, silver space blankets and scavenged strands of barbed wire.

“What if I fall?” I ask, red-faced amongst these men of courage.

“You cannot.” Elias who prides himself an engineer frowns then checks the bed-slat joins to make certain they are light yet strong enough.

Pedro the prophet and Papa’s lonely-times lover says with a wink, “You carry us all. We will lift you over the river and to the sun.”

“This is doomed to fail,” Tomás the lookout grumbles from the nose-smudged window. “And what will we’ve accomplished…” and he leaves the rest unsaid because we know.

“It is done,” Papa says, biting the last thread with loose teeth.

Together the men assemble my freedom.

“Run fast, jump high and trust the thermals.” Elias demonstrates, crouching then leaping Christ-like into a glide.

Tomás shakes his head but clutches my eye as if he wishes to be made a liar.

Bato, you will dance with the angels.” Pedro anoints my forehead and hands with a kiss.

“Papa?” I stand with handmade wings and men’s hopes on my shoulders.

“If you fall, mijo…fall up.”

Together the men sneak me to the concrete roof.

When I leap, the north sky is gunmetal grey but boundless.

Bit by bit, I empty my pockets as the horizon tries to call me down.

Patrick Pink grew up in Chicago, Illinois, and lived significant amounts of his life in Michigan, Texas and Germany before settling in New Zealand. His story ‘Affirmation’ was highly commended in the 2014 National Flash Fiction Day competition.

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Jodie van der Wetering, To the Bridge

The sky is dark and low and I am going to the bridge. I am one body in a sea churning in the tidal pull of traffic lights. Everybody knows the steps to this dance, each dancer instinctively ducking and weaving around their fellows, stepping left and right as they meet.

I don’t.

I dance the footpath dance as badly as any other social interaction, stepping left when I should step right, bumping and fumbling and no-sorry-you-first. I am the misplaced rock that destroys the smooth flow of the stream.

If one person smiles at me I will try once more to learn this complex ballet of gesture and expression and stance that children have mastered but I cannot fathom after a lifetime of study.

On the way the first raindrops fall fat and cold. I pull up my hood as the first warning shots become machine gun fire of sleet. I find a promising doorway and dart inside.

I notice her before she notices me and I stop but she doesn’t and we collide.

I step to my left as she steps to her right and we collide again.

She smiles apologetically and raises her shoulders and bows her head. I recognise this one very specific step in the dance. I perform it daily. An admission of uselessness, a beg for forgiveness, an apology for existing outside the dance.

I fall but not in the way I’d planned.

Jodie van de Wetering is a writer and journalist based in Rockhampton, Australia. Her work has appeared on radio, TV, online and in literary journals including Idiom 23, and on the backs of a great many envelopes.

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Steve Charters, In and Out

He spoke no English. And Gavin little Spanish. Not that it mattered. Clear communication was impossible in the crowded club: lights flashing, music pumping. Anyway, their intentions transcended language – at least the spoken word. Like mimes or mutes they relied upon a smile, a gesture. Later their hands conversed with greater eloquence: touching, squeezing, stroking; sharing secrets, seeking consummation; their tongues were busy too, though silent.

The problem surfaced the following morning, along with other human needs like food and drink. In the cafeteria ordering un té Ingles, Gavin’s tourist Spanish created for a moment the illusion that they might be what they seemed: a couple. By chewing assiduously and smiling he delayed the inevitable moment when they must speak.

A flingette, he supposed, each of them typecast, projecting expectations onto the other. To really connect, in depth, they’d need a common language. How else might they negotiate that vast minefield of visas, accommodation, jobs; arguments and jealousies; separations and reconciliations; families, anniversaries and wills? A lifetime of dependency and compromise was inevitable. But any – dare he use the ‘R’ word? – ‘relationship’ came with baggage; it was a given. And you had to start somewhere. He was cautiously optimistic.

Meanwhile Pepe – Pepe? Or was that the night before last? Carlos, perhaps? Yes, Carlos – Carlos wrenched apart his roll, chewing aggressively with crooked teeth and trapping scattered crust flakes in his mo. Gavin, wincing inwardly, cut his croissant into delicate portions, applied butter and spread confitura impeccably into every corner.

S R Charters grew up in West Auckland. He has won The Macmillan Brown Prize for Writers and been highly commended in the annual CBA short story competition. He is published in Readers Digest and the HarperCollins anthology Creative Juices, and has read from his work at the Going West Literary Festival. He is currently working on a memoir.

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Doug Dautel, Helpless

His world breaks free from its moorings, and begins to slide on the underlying ice. Only a flutter marks the occasion. She looks up, at him. He looks down, too quickly.

He stares at his book, but can’t read it. Now or never. The tension in his shoulders fights him for control of his posture and resolve. He’s learned his lesson with ‘never’. Doesn’t like regret. The ice turns sheer.

His heart pounds with the decision. Sadly he is well acquainted with his own lack of creativity. He doesn’t even like coffee. She smiles. Sliding turns to gliding. He can’t change course. Has no desire to.

Sometime after 1 am the ice foundation itself breaks free somewhere behind him. He’s oblivious, comfortable. Warm.

Somewhere between taste in music and dreams for the future he clears the cliff with a big smile on his face. He feels the earth go missing. Feels it in his stomach. Thought it was his heart.

Somewhere between siblings and childhood memories the avalanche roars after him. It has more grace than he. Less vigour.

The rush of air cradles and slows him. House-sized shards of ice chase him downward. The view is breathtaking.

Doug Dautel is a husband, a daddy and a nascent but aspiring polymath who lives in Auckland. Sometimes he puts pen to paper and tries to put words together. Sometimes they make sense

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Elizabeth Morton, God, fallen:

God lives in a factory unit, between an adult store and a meth lab. his children hoola-hoop in the driveway. skinny dogs yawp at their hips.

not many people believe in God. these days, he watches infomercials from his couch. he smokes fags without filters and chooses menthol so that people don’t filch his stash. he works setting up scaffolding for a painter who buys him beer when he can’t pay his wage. and he drives a panel van with a Jesus figurine on the dashboard, even though he doesn’t believe.

God has a lot on his plate. he drinks six cans of Red Bull a day so that he can make everything happen. God reckons he’s on autopilot most of the time. he drops his toothbrush beside the toilet and a man jumps out a window in Brooklyn. a family in Uganda is incinerated as he spits into the sink. sometimes God gets lucky. he throws brisket to the dogs and rain falls on a cornfield in Kansas. he flicks through the tv guide and two people make out in a Manchester carpark. things like that.

most days, God gets on the piss. God drinks Double Brown at a dollar a can. it upsets his guts, and when his stomach rumbles Christchurch shakes. but he doesn’t know that. God is chillaxed. when he catches our prayers, he rolls them into joints.

Elizabeth Morton is a New Zealand poet and student. She has a keen interest in neuroscience. In her free time she collects obscure words in supermarket bags. She has been published in Poetry NZ, JAAM, Takahē, Blackmail Press and in the upcoming Meniscus.

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Lulu A. Tika, Synapse

Chop chop chop, the steady sound of my knife. Garlic for garlic bread. Brushing butter.

Fingers tingle. A sting, a gash of crimson, then the scene changes to the Rockettes. Christmastime. Sugar Plum Fairies. Me – five-year-old-me – running with Santa hat on head and cotton candy in hand. Seat 16b, an empty seat between a man and a woman.

Lying horizontal on the floor. Wet beneath my hand. Feet, running. Floor, vibrating. Me, spasming, twitching.

Now I’m in my room; there’s yelling downstairs, me and my dad. Me – eight-year-old-me – clambering up the steps, sobbing. The door slams. I run to the bed, bury my head in a flowered duvet. Muffled cries as my shoulders quake.

Silicone against my face. Extra oxygen. Familiar. Shouting. More shouting.

The world blurs. Me – six-year-old-me – with legs dangling from the countertop. My mother teaching me. Her kitchen cleaver steadily chopping garlic. Chop chop chop, the steady sound of her knife. Garlic for garlic bread. Brushing butter.

Dizzy. Mommy! She drops the cleaver. I sway, fall. Eyelids flutter, slipping from consciousness. A gash, a spasm. My mother’s bosom pressed against my head.

Lulu A. Tika is Mexican and lives with her husband and her Pomeranian husky. She enjoys reading, writing and sky-diving.

 

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Annette Edwards, After the Fall

Her father said he heard the radio report first – two climbers roped together on the side of a mountain and another who went ahead and waited. Then almost an hour later, before the 7am news, a phone call, his sister.

Laura lay in bed and listened to the angry floorboards above her bedroom. Her father tallying up the numbers as he walked. The friends lost in the fall and a German who raised the alarm in the dark, a survivor.

Auntie Sue’s lounge hadn’t changed, the same brown suede couch, the mountain scene above the fireplace and the rumbling noise of the trains every hour. When the news came on at six the family was divided. Laura’s uncle held the remote unbudging, her cousin Ricky left the room.

The family crowded into a small lounge, boxes of tissues and armchairs. Laura found herself standing close to the coffin. That night she lay awake listening to the creaking railway lines and thought of his face, combed hair, a suit she’d never seen before, a bruise on his cheek. When she slept she dreamed of stairs made of ice.

Unknown rituals confused her during the funeral. At the cemetery it was colder than she had expected. The sky was dark. An icy wind pushed and pulled at the coat she had borrowed as six friends, feet shuffling through mud, carried him to his grave. Laura queued to throw dirt on the coffin, heard the soft thud of earth and then rain.

Annette Edwards-Hill lives in Wellington. She completed the Poetry Creative Writing workshop at Victoria University in 1997 and a Masters in Art History at Auckland University in 2000. A strange series of events led her to a career as a business analyst but she has a preference for writing fiction over project documentation.

 

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Elysia Rose Jenson, It starts before the drinking

It starts before the drinking. Let’s sidle up to him and sit with him at the bar. The bartender is rolling her eyes because now he is telling her how life isn’t fair. She’s wearing a blue dress as tight as a condom. Her lips remind him of the gash of pink highlighter on an overdue invoice. He distracts himself by scratching at the film of old liquor on the bar with the gnawed down nail of his index finger.

In his car the wheels break up the salt on the road, like a stent in a bad artery. He puts on some country and western music. The bartender sings along. Her voice is too high for Johnny Cash.

At the motel he doesn’t know where to hang his hope. There aren’t any coat hangers. There isn’t a hook on the back of the bathroom door.

They curl on the bed and when he gets out his wallet she says his daughter is beautiful. She gets out a picture of her own kid. She’s stolen some whiskey from the bar. It’s the cheap stuff. It’s yellow as a cat’s eye. When she passes out in his arms he is both fascinated and afraid for her. In sleep you are open to all memories. He finishes the bottle. When it’s not enough, he drinks the Listerine she’s brought in her toiletries bag and posts the empty bottle out the crack in the bathroom window.

Elysia Rose Jenson is a writer, artist and creative arts journalist who has spent the past two years immersing herself in London’s art scene. Her writing has been published in Phoenix magazine and DASH magazine and she was highly commended in the 2014 National Flash Fiction Day competition.

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Mark Crimmins, Solstitial 

Since October she had been sliding into a crushing funk. The problem was how to turn it around. She resolved to take a cue from the god of doorways. Pull a Janus. Turn one face from the past. Set another towards the future. What better occasion than this juncture of the turning world?

She rode the subway to the recently opened interchange and transferred to the new line. For weeks she had dragged herself up the stairs between the malfunctioning escalators like one of Lang’s workers in Metropolis. But on the solstice, the escalators – as though in deference to the gravitational pull of the sun – were working. The electric stairway bore her upwards towards the mosaics of the new station, an omen of effortless ascent.

She took her seat on the second train. Gazed through the window at one of the murals. Counted seven square tiles in a white streak on the head of a pixilated cow. Tallied the remaining units of the year. Three more days of work. Seven days off. Then a whole new year to imprint with her will. A three-hundred-and-sixty-five-chapter counterassertion to the text of the year just writ.

As the train hummed out of the station and the murals blurred past the windows, the bungee cord by which she dangled plumbed its Dantean nadir. Now it would contract. Soon she would be whistling upwards through the retrograde air. Regenerate. Transformed. Eyes blazing with the amrit of possibility. Back on track for the stars.

Mark Crimmins teaches Contemporary Transatlantic Fiction at the University of Toronto. His fiction has been published in Happy, Confrontation, theNewerYork, White Rabbit, Columbia online, Tampa Review Online, Cha, Eunoia Review and Pif Magazine. He is currently completing a book of flash fictions, Intersections: Experiments in Short Fictional Form. He lives in Hong Kong and can be followed at www.markcrimmins.com.

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Martin Porter, Ikebana

The iris is her subject, the lotus her object. She places each into a bed of pins to angle them precisely; the flag upright, the blushing lotus to open into the sunrise. Both buds remain unopened, blind until they drop.

In the mature heat of evening she takes the sickle-shaped basket of rushes, fixes the interior with red maple. In its belly floats a single chrysanthemum, petticoats of sepal displayed perhaps a little too obviously. Through the handle, she watches deer glean amongst the stubble for felled heads of wheat.

She searches the shed for green bamboo stems, cut when young. She finds clusters of malachite growths grasping the twigs of pine, freshly downed by winter squalls. The leafy lichen dries like orange peel in the heat of the house, the mosses fall as frayed balls of shrivelled brown on the black japanned saucer.

The storms have passed and the snow melts under the frail sun. Searching for early blossom, she steps into the garden. The plums and camellia bushes, giving and blousy, are already ripped away. Dressy petals have floated to the ground, wind-gathered to rot in dark corners.

Soon the year will collapse into its finality. Then the days will mature once more and there will be cherry blossom, drifting in the air while the heavens are filigreed by rising swallows.

Martin Porter, born in Jersey, lives a quiet life in New Zealand writing poetry and flash fiction. He has recently had flash fiction published in Bare Fiction magazine, won the Northland New Zealand flash fiction prize in 2012 and 2014 and read at Auckland Library for the NZ National Flash Fiction Day Awards 2013. Some of Martin’s work and accompanying notes can be found here and here.

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Emma Shi, A Moon But No Stars

She said, don’t you worry ’bout me, smiled, and I believed her. So we talked about nothing till she fell asleep on my shoulder and I sat there in the dark, the sound of her breathing all I could hear. A rhythm like the most hopeful prayer, the hitch at the end of every breath, amen, amen, amen.

A week later, she called me in the middle of the night. I was drunk, folding back the edges of my heart and her voice scratched through the telephone – oh god, this hurts, oh god, oh god – and I asked her, why, what? but she just kept on crying. So I fell asleep to the sound of her breaking instead.

I forgot her. I was the first person she called and I forgot her. I was hungover and sick when they knocked on my door, then just sick when they replayed her last moments without me, said, sorry, sorry. Showed me my own cookie cutter heart and how it would never fit against her stars.

What am I going to do with all these empty spaces? she once asked me, and I held her hand in mine until they all disappeared. This and this and this, I whispered, and she squeezed my heart and god, I should have insisted on a closed casket. She said, don’t you worry ’bout me, smiled, but maybe she thought I was only joking when I told her, I love you.

Emma Shi was the winner of the 2013 National Schools Poetry Award and is currently studying at Victoria University of Wellington.

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Stephen V. Ramey, On the way down
In the last yards before impact, Edwin wished for a parachute. He had hoped his life would flash, but all the way down he’d felt nothing but electric ice in his veins, panic pounding at his chest. And now it was about to end. He tried to picture Susan’s face, her dimples, the way her hair curled around his fingers. He tried to recall their kiss last night.Useless. All he could think about was the asphalt rushing up. Actually, it was macadam. He’d learned that last week in his night class. Macadam was invented by Scottish engineer John Loudon McAdam in the early 1800’s and was one of the most durable road surfaces. Asphalt might deform around him, especially on a hot day. It would not spare his life, but could at least preserve his features somewhat. No such luck with macadam.

Stephen V. Ramey lives in beautiful New Castle, Pennsylvania. His work has appeared many places, from The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts to Daily Science Fiction. His first collection of (very) short fiction, Glass Animals, was published by Pure Slush Books in 2013. Find him here.

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Heather McQuillen, It Passes Down

Yesterday, on the bus, these two women behind were talking about a kid who fell awake.

To fall awake you gotta be sleeping way up high, on a bunk say, or on the branch of a tree, or on the wing of an airplane.

They said his mother got no sleep that night. She had to drive him to hospital and wait by his bed while his head swelled. His brain expanded and pressed tight against his skull and every time he moved he spewed.

Can’t have that – kids with swollen heads. Gotta take them down a peg or two. Give ‘em a shove off the airplane wing just to learn ’em their place in the world. That’s what my Dad woulda done. P’raps that kid’s Dad pushed him off the bunk.

When I was four Dad shoved me outa the monster macrocarpa, the one down past the shearing shed. To teach me a lesson about falling. So I’d know how it felt and not try to go so high again.

“Pride comes before a fall,” Dad said, leaning on the hot metal and lighting a ciggie while Mum passed me from the bed of the ute to the orderlies, my leg bent out the side like a grasshopper’s. They gave me the x-ray to take home.

Betcha that kid gets an awesome skull x-ray.

Heather McQuillan lives in Christchurch and has published two novels and a short story for children with Scholastic NZ. She was awarded the Tom Fitzgibbon Award in 2005 and her two books have been selected for the Notable Books List by Storylines NZ. She has been busy teaching for many years and has taken leave in 2014 to develop her writing and learn more about poetry and short fiction. She is a tutor with the School for Young Writers..

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Chella Courington, Narrative Risks

I am sitting by the front window of the French Press, drinking a cappuccino and finishing my short story A Hazardous Beginning. Pages scattered on the table. As usual, I’m stuck at the end.

My first husband is supposed to meet me here. Not that I intend to have a series, but I have trouble calling him Peter. He’ll always be “my first husband.” I’m not sure why I asked him to come. Don’t know why he accepted.

Ten years ago we divorced. He brought me roses every anniversary and said he couldn’t live without me. But I was tired of the yelling. Tired of his sticky yellow demands on the bathroom mirror, refrigerator, and front door. “You will have the clothes washed by tomorrow, you will come in before 7 p.m., you will eat Sunday dinner with my family…you will, you will.”

The night before I left, he gave me a box of chocolates with a sappy card. I cried. He held my hand, “You’re making a mistake.” When we first married, I spread my legs whenever we lay arm to arm, his body a furnace that ignited mine.

My ending still waits. I’m not doing it well. Leaning toward ambivalence most of the time.

The door opens. I hear the shuffle of feet as customers walk to the counter. My own coffee stale. The foam fallen in.

I glance up.

Chella Courington is the author of three prose poetry/flash fiction chapbooks: Love Letter to Biology 250 (forthcoming from Porkbelly Press), Talking Did Not Come Easily to Diana and Girls and Women. Her poetry and fiction have appeared in numerous anthologies and journals including SmokeLong, Nano Fiction, The Collagist and The Los Angeles Review.

 

To comment on this month’s stories, click here and scroll down.

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Guest Editor Christopher Allen on the editing process:

Themes and prompts aren’t everyone’s thing, but here’s why they should be: they get you writing. I do them and submit them as often as I can. It’s great to have them accepted, but it’s equally great just to be writing. A rejected story is something for my “to be edited” pile – and I like editing. The good and the bad, each an element of the other.

Reading the micros this month at Flash Frontier has reminded me that “falling” can mean just about anything to anyone. My favourite stories are those that show how falling can be hopeless and beautiful at the same time, and it’s this chord of ambivalence that I’ve tried to strike in (most of) my choices. The good and the bad, each an element of the other.

Go here to find out more about what led Christopher Allen to flash.

Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O’Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations. Allen’s award-winning fiction, non-fiction and book reviews have appeared or are forthcoming in Indiana Review, Quiddity, SmokeLong Quarterly’s Best of the First Ten Years anthology, Prime Number Magazine, Connotation Press, [PANK], Necessary Fiction, Word Riot, The Lit Pub and many others. A former finalist at Glimmer Train, Allen has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize twice.

Please also see this month’s feature page — Something for Being Adnan Mahmutovic.

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Coming in November: heroes.

And in December: stories with no regrets, guest edited by Owen Marshall.