February 2014: ONE WAY

Graham Hughes railtrack
Photograph by Graham Hughes, taken using the Silver gelatin paper negative process, with photographic paper in the camera instead of film, developed in chemicals, then scanned and inverted. The image was taken using a Yamasaki 240mm lens, on a home-made sliding box camera, on Port Road Whangarei.

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Helen Moat, Broken Ground

Cathal punctured the ground, sending spuds and stones flying, and damp soil filled Esther’s nostrils as the underbelly of land broke free. The potatoes bounced before landing to nestle like eggs in earth. Cathal, green eyes the colour of his religion, looked back at her, guiding the tractor in a straight line.

There were three brothers: Cathal, Sean and Cormac Doherty, with names so alien to Esther they could’ve come from Mars.

Esther and her cousins were gathering potatoes for Aunt in the humpbacks of County Down, a place that narrowed minds and roads between the dips. The Dohertys weren’t from Mars – just three fields away. Neighbours, not friends, needed for the harvest. Papishes, Aunt said.

Esther ached. She moved slow and slower, the tractor coming round again too soon and not soon enough. Cathal halted the vehicle to help her gather the potatoes in her drill. Esther felt the back of his hand touch hers and stiffened.

Aunt arrived at lunchtime with thick-crusted sandwiches, a canister of warm unpasteurised milk and tea so strong you could break your teeth on it. She frowned when the Doherty boys flirted with her nieces, warned the girls off. Fenians, she said.

But at night the cousins giggled in the darkness of their bedroom, picking out their favourite Doherty. Heathens, Aunt said.

Esther thought about her boyfriend with his cropped hair, scratchy jacket and Protestant stiffness and dreamed of Catholic Cathal. And she wondered what there was beyond the narrowed roads and minds.

Helen Moat was runner-up in the 2011 British Guild of Travel Writers Competition and was highly commended in the BBC Wildlife Travel Writing Competition this year. Her writing has been published in The Guardian, Telegraph and Wanderlust magazine. You can read her travel-inspired pieces at her blog.

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Mike Crowl, A Little Peace and Quiet

My morning for a sleep in.

“Bye!” Phil out the door. Georgie in the shower. Daph crashing round in the kitchen ‘quietly’ making breakfast. Sam. Who knows where Sam is, home or abroad.

Georgie blow-drying her hair. Daph doing the dishes, the hot water tank clunking as it refills. Ah, there’s Sam’s door, his footsteps in the hall. Now he’s in the bathroom. Can’t get to the loo until he’s showered, shaved, moisturised and probably waxed, for all I know.

“Bye!” Georgie out the door. She’ll have had her usual breakfast: half a Crusket and a spoonful of avocado.

What the heck is Daph doing in her bedroom? Drawer out, drawer in. Crash. Drawer out, drawer in. Crash. Wardrobe door slid open, slid back. Crash.

Wow. There’s Sam out of the bathroom. Must have done his make-up in record time.

I could go to the loo now, but it’s semi-comfortable here, sheet not quite warm enough but duvet too hot. Couple of magpies quardling. Half an army of sparrows chirping. Some blackbird claiming the morning.

Crash. Daphne picks up the set of drawers and throws them in a heap on the floor. I guess. Lifts the bed off the floor and drops it through the floorboards. Pulls the built-in wardrobe off the wall.

“Bye!” Sam’s off.

A giant hammers on my door. “Just on my way out to the supermarket,” shouts Daph. “Want anything?”

Mike Crowl is a Dunedin writer and musician in his late sixties, who also composes and occasionally acts. He has recently published an e-book called Grimhilda! – a fantasy for children and their parents, and is now working on something completely different, his experiences of going through a prostate biopsy and its aftermath. This is intended for publication – again as an e-book – in April 2014.

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Cathy Lennon, Exit Strategy

Like chickens swallowed by a python they move and stop, kicking their luggage across the cement floor. “Relax,” he says, but there’s a snap to the edge of it. He checks his phone repeatedly. Fluorescent lighting in the corrugated metal ceiling glints off their Press tags, drains colour from faces. Munch-like they are hollows and bones. At the head of the queue, in a kepi and fatigues, a man clutches a machine gun. He stares out at the concrete concourse, past empty luggage trucks. The sky is a hard blue and it fits above them like a lid.

There is a gasp from up ahead, the line disintegrates into elbows and kicking feet. She is pushed from behind and Yohann pushes her back, as though he had never stroked her nakedness. She topples and yelps as her outstretched fingers are trampled. “What’s happening?” she asks, cradling her throbbing hand.

He does not help her up. “The last plane has gone,” he shouts. “The rebels are near. They are sending us back to the hotel.” She looks up at his face, the white-edged lips, the pitiless eyes. She hates him, and this job. She hates what they did. She thinks of her husband and home. Shots ring out and the screams fly around the hangar like maddened crows. When he drops beside her, his eyes are still open. “When we get back,” he had said, “I never want to see you again.” “That goes both ways,” she’d replied.

Cathy Lennon is based in the northwest of England. She has only recently begun sharing her flash fiction and short stories with others. She has been published in print and online, including in the 2013 National Flash Fiction Day anthology (UK) Scraps. She is on twitter: @clenpen.

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Stefanie Freele, The Woman Who Stayed Up Past Her Bedtime

She will not tell her friends how the Al-anon book glided through the air to the mirror she always hated. An urge to show the cracks she created, the shards, the evidence to someone is overtaking her, like an upswell of hail.

The old her – the one before these books and meetings, the one who spied and double-checked and dumped out – would have sobbed. Would have buttered herself in pity. This newer version, armed with brave words like detachment and self-worth, ignored his goodbye, too immersed in her reading.

There has to be another way. An easier way. Every time he vanishes, taking himself to breakfast, considering himself on retreat, he leaves her with reasons she doesn’t believe but needs to bury. Her tears a wrecked spigot, her anger the vulgar beating force of a pile driver looking to hammer alcoholism down to featureless silence: how it was before everyone unhealed.

Who would be impressed with the throwing of text? This, they’d say, is not much of an indication of fighting for yourself. What is progress then? She sweeps the sliver of her trifling rebellion into a corner, covers it with an armload of dirty laundry the size of a small child and turns out the light so she can’t stare at the stain on the ceiling, the one shaped like spilled coffee, the one she’s painted over several times, but knows is still there.

Stefanie Freele is the author of two short story collections, Feeding Strays, with Lost Horse Press, and Surrounded by Water, with Press 53, which includes the winning story of the Glimmer Train Fiction Award. Stefanie’s published and forthcoming work can be found in Witness, Mid-American Review, Wigleaf, Western Humanities Review, Sou’wester, Chattahoochee Review, The Florida Review, Quarterly West and American Literary Review. More at www.stefaniefreele.com.

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Eileen Merriman, Relativity

It’s the second to last day of school, but they’ve skived off to the beach. The sea is peacock blue. Zoe can feel the warm length of Sam’s body beside her. There’s a pebble digging into her shoulder, but Sam’s leg is touching hers, so she doesn’t move. The sun has painted freckles on his cheeks, freckles she’s longed to kiss for the last three years. They’re listening to his iPod, a song about flying at the speed of sound.

Sam has a one-way ticket to London. He says he’ll write to her. His postcards will fade until she can’t read the writing anymore, but she’ll remember every word. Until one day he’ll send a postcard that she’ll tear into a thousand pieces: I’ve met this girl…

Sam says his greatest desire is to discover new things. She’s not a new thing. He asks her what her greatest desire is. She says, you. His laughter splinters into her chest, like shrapnel. She dares to kiss him anyway.

He tastes like the sea. For a moment their cells are aligned, vibrating at the same frequency. Then he is moving away, and all she can taste is jet fuel. He says, Zoe, I don’t want to ruin our friendship. He doesn’t know he’s ruined her.

She’ll hold onto that kiss forever.

Eileen Merriman lives and works on the North Shore, NZ. Her work has been published in previous issues of Flash Frontier. She was recently awarded third place in the 2013 Graeme Lay short story competition.

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D R Jones, P. Skinner

I’d thought the first thing I’d kill would be a starling.

Dad had given me his blessing: “Damn birds wreck the orchard.” He’d handed me the air rifle for my twelfth birthday – a single-stroke pneumatic Ruger.

“Only shoot food and pests,” he’d said.
My little sister’s a pest.
“But don’t shoot slugs,” he’d laughed.
I didn’t get it – thought they were bullets.

Turned out to be a hare, not a bird. I thought it was a rabbit. Didn’t know the difference – still don’t. I’d read about how you squeeze the trigger. Gently. Peter, I’d named him while he’d twitched in the cross-hairs. Not that Peter. His father gets baked in a pie by Mrs McGregor. Peter after my maths teacher, Mr Peters, with stinky breath and polyester pants belted too tight. A real sack of bones, all jangly under scraggled skin.

I’d read in English that the Peter rabbit story was about rules and consequences. I liked my English teacher. She was kind and nice smelling.

Anyway, I’d sliced off its foot to keep. Lucky rabbit. Sorry, hare.

“Respect your quarry,” Dad had said.
I thought a quarry was for rocks.
“This is way better than a slingshot,” I’d said.
After that, I re-named our cat Pete.

Heh. I’ve read somewhere that kids who kill people start out on animals. I’ve also read that there’s more than one way to skin Pete. I’m not sure what that means exactly, but I’ll find out. Mrs Peters, my English teacher, will know.

D R Jones is a writer who lives near Puhoi. He has just finished writing the unauthorised autobiography of Anonymous_Author© and has pledged to write using his real name until the fictional literary voice he created has its memoirs published. Patently, judging by the book’s description, he may be submitting as D R Jones for some time.

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Susan Tepper, Scarab

He grabs my hand and pulls me off the teensy stage, the bar bathed in smoky purple light. It’s the break, we’re halfway through the gig. I hate this night. My throat feels dry from too many high notes. I want to yell stop but this guy clutching my hand is way too beautiful – all liquid, those black eyes sulky deep. Roy, the bass player, jumps down after me still holding his guitar. Dammit! I don’t care who gets hurt. One way or another. Get lost, I tell Roy. What’s your name this other guy is saying in my ear. Carmen I whisper back to him. A lie. I choose it ‘cause it seems to match. I choose it for the best and worst reasons. Though none of that is really clear. We go out into the alley; he lifts my skirt high. People pass by on the sidewalk, close. After, when he gets to his feet, his face looks gold. I picture the scarab beetle my sister wears on a chain. Its shine rubbed off after the first week.

Susan Tepper is the author of five published books. Her current title The Merrill Diaries (Pure Slush Books 2013) is a Novel in Stories. Tepper is a staff editor at Flash Fiction Chronicles where she conducts the author/book interview series UNCOV/rd. Her story ‘Distance’ was a named finalist in the 2013 story/South Million Writers Award. Tepper has received nine Pushcart Nominations and one for the Pulitzer Prize in fiction. More at http://www.susantepper.com.

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Celine Gibson, Now or Never

I’m off to Hanmer…no, not for the hot springs…more the cold turkey. Queen Mary, roll up your rehab sleeves – Junior’s succumbed to the ‘Irish Virus’.

And who could blame me? Dad drinks, Mum drinks. He blames it on her playing around. She blames it on boredom. They’re rural people…enough said.

The paterfamilias hoped boarding school would scupper my boozy inclinations. It did Monday to Friday, but come weekends I’d my voluntary work with Reg, the school gardener – such a poppet. It was too easy. Once I saw he was head down, bottoms up, I’d sneak a tipple from my stash. It’s amazing what can be camouflaged beneath, behind and in shrubs.

I told him I’m scared I’m gay; a Catholic, alcoholic, pimple-ridden poof – who could be so lucky? Reg reckons gardening’s my cure.

No, Reg – Elvis is my cure.

Elvis died last month. I love Elvis (not in that way), got all his records, play them all the time. I saw bits on the telly from his last ever concert, June 26th, 1977. Man, he looked rough – about ready to join Old Shep.

Fortunately I’m vain…Mister Narcissus, that’s me. I do not want to resemble a bloated puff adder at 42.

42!

So, thanks to the King, I’m giving sobriety a shot.

Hanmer’s the last stop at the end of the road; only one way in and out. I admit it, I’m terrified…and I’ll so miss my gardening.

Celine Gibson shares her home with her husband (a bagpiping fiend) and two cats. Writing is her first love, followed by gardening, baking and painting – when time allows.

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Joan Curry, Edith’s World

Edith doesn’t slam the telephone down like most people do. She puts it down firmly. People are so rude these days, ringing her up and calling her by her first name. How do they know what her name is anyway? It’s private, for her friends and family, people she knows. It really upsets her when strangers act as though they know her when she doesn’t know them.

In shops, for example. People peer into her face and say hi, how are you? So rude. She doesn’t know who they are, even when they wear badges that say Shellee, or Debbie. She doesn’t know anyone called Shellee or Debbie. Except in the supermarket. There is always a Debbie being summoned by a screechy voice over the loudspeaker: Debbie, customer query in aisle seven – Debbie, aisle seven!

Even church isn’t safe. The other day she was listening to the choir, watching the dust-motes dancing in the sunbeams, when people suddenly turned in their pews and started shaking hands with everyone else. It was terrifying, all around her, strange people lunging, trying to grab her hand. Teeth. Eyes. Looming.

She was trying to think who they were and how she knew them. She’s been around a long time so it wouldn’t be surprising if she knew a lot of people. That Mrs…um…Thing said just the other day, you’re something of an institution, aren’t you, Mrs…um, what did she call her? Apart from an institution?

Joan Curry has e-published three books – two on writing and one a selection of short stories. She has been a book reviewer for 37 years, writes notes for a nation-wide book discussion scheme, has had articles and features published in newspapers and magazines and has researched and written three books of family history. Her blog is at http://joancurry.blogspot.com.

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Kurt Struble, Where There Were Snakes

When I was a boy, we caught garden snakes in a field next to a place called the Tub Factory over by the railtracks. We trapped the snakes by stepping on their tails. Pinching them behind their heads we picked them up, looked at their flickering tongues and peered into their angry, cold eyes. Their teeth were little bumps. You didn’t bleed when bitten, but they wouldn’t let go. We’d collect six or eight of them in coffee cans, all writhing at the bottom. I took a can home to my mom once. She wouldn’t let me keep them as pets.

The field of snakes was behind the rambling old Eden house with its clapboard exterior that time had painted weathered and grey where seven brothers and sisters lived. Their father Mit, a full-blooded American Indian, was a mean, hard-drinking railroad man cruel to people even outside his family. His oldest son John was a bad apple who combed his greasy black hair into a pompadour, wore cuffed jeans, points, white t-shirts with cigarettes rolled into his sleeve. His half smile and white teeth belied angry, cold snake eyes that said he could kill you if he wanted. People said he even scared his father. Legend was he tied cats’ tails together, threw them over clothes lines and set them on fire.

Later in life he changed his ways, married a nice girl and became a Baptist minister.

Kurt Struble grew up during the 1950s in a small mid-western town. His stories illustrate the adventures of a boy growing up during that golden age of American history. He received his bachelors degree in Liberal Arts from Eastern Michigan University, taught elementary school and ran his own business. He is married and has raised four children. He travels between his homes in southwest Florida and Michigan.

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Jan FitzGerald, The Best Studio Yet

“I really don’t need it,” the previous owner had said, apologizing for leaving a plywood sheet leaning against the inside wall of the shed.

“No problem,” Tony had shrugged, turning to Fran. “This is the best studio yet.”

Fran established her sewing business in the sunny spare room, opposite Tony’s studio, and planted roses outside the door. Sometimes, she could see movement reflected in the studio window. Other times, nothing for an hour or more, and she knew Tony had snoozed off. The non-working state was important in art.

When Tony was painting, there was to be no interruption. The phone could wait. Fran could wait. She’d understood that for years. Likewise, Tony didn’t venture into her sewing room. Some would say it was the perfect marriage – a relationship with an often passionate lunchtime.

It was a quiet neighbourhood. People kept to themselves. When a gust draped Fran’s bra over the grapevine inside the neighbour’s enclosed yard, she waited until the woman went out before sneaking over to retrieve it. That’s when she saw there was more than one way out of Tony’s studio.

She tiptoed to the tiny coal door and listened. Just this once, she had to . . .

She drew in her breath, tapped, then crept behind a bush. Perhaps the door was still hidden by the plywood. A few seconds later the little door opened and Tony crawled out. Wearing only a singlet tied around his neck and one of Fran’s roses between his teeth.

Jan FitzGerald has been published in mainstream NZ literary journals since the 1970s and in Poetry Australia, The London Magazine, Acumen (UK), Orbis (UK) and others. Her latest poetry book is entitled On a day like this (Steele Roberts, NZ). Jan works in Napier as a full-time artist. For more see her website, Painting Poets.

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Mark Crimmins, Chiricahua

You drive over a ridge and descend into forever: desert and a road that bisects it like a knife. An apparition shimmering in the distance, Chiricahua is a citadel of shadow and stone. On the one hand, you’re an avatar of movement as you hurtle across the Sonora, East and West landscapes tracking past you like films; on the other hand, progress towards your destination is so undetectable that you seem suspended in perpetual locomotion. There’s no one with you, no one to talk to, nothing to distract you; and – in spite of the fact that you’re driving a car – you occupy an elemental relation to nature. There is no sound but the purr of the engine and the whistling wind. The only sign of traffic is the javelina that trots across the highway just outside the ghost town of Dos Cabezas. Before you know it, your thoughts – as fluid and synchronous as the present – are coextensive with the horizon, all your thinking has become perceiving, and the god steering the winged chariot of the machine is no longer you. Nothing mars this continuity for an eternity of minutes. Then you start to emerge as the road winds into the foothills. But precisely because it requires so much attention, the climb to Inspiration Point itself seems timeless: you rise, you’re ascending and you’re there.

Mark Crimmins’s fiction has been published in Happy, Confrontation, and theNewer York. He received his PhD in 20th Century Literature from the University of Toronto in 1999 and taught 20th Century Literature at the University of Toronto from 1999 to 2013. He moved to Hong Kong in 2013 to concentrate on publishing his fiction.

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Sue Kingham, Family Outing

“Purse your lips, don’t smile.”

I carefully applied lipstick to the mouth that had read me childhood stories.

“Sure you want this aqua eye shadow?” I asked.

“Yes. It’s pretty.”

“Pretty hideous.”

“I like it.”

“Hold still then.”

Creases around the eye sockets made it tricky to apply. It took me two attempts to fill in the left eyelid and three the right.

“Blusher?”

“Please.”

“Big smile. This goes on the apples of your cheeks.” I coloured the wizened fruits and asked what she was going to wear.

She gestured towards the door, “It’s hanging over there.”

I noticed that the price tag was still pinned to the label; the new look hadn’t come cheap.

“Hey, size 10.” I said. “No chance of sharing clothes with Mum then.”

“No, love.” She adjusted her blond wig in the mirror. “She wouldn’t want to anyway.”

Removing her dressing gown, she stepped into the dress. I helped her with the zip, and then, fiddling with the neckline, she turned to face me.

“How do I look?” she asked.

I pecked her on the cheek and whispered, “Lovely. You’re so brave. Sure you want to go through with this?”

“Yes. I’ve spent the past sixty years in hiding. This is the real me.”

“Okay then,” I linked my arm with hers. “This way, Dad.”

Since the Canterbury earthquakes shook her love of writing back to the surface, Sue Kingham has been busy joining writing groups and attending writing courses. When she’s not writing, she’s mum to two beautiful children and loves to fill her spare time reading.

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Tay Glass, Ruckus

The wilderness could no longer hold him.

His escape required action, consequence. He had to fight every reinforcement the forest could mount; the sediment at his feet pushed against him, moving up the slope of Islington Peak with every bound. Vines and roots tangled themselves around his ankles. The air became thick with carbon dioxide, released in anticipation of his presence by the most sentient of the arboretum’s ancestors.

Ruckus, who was more forest than boy, sensed the adjustments of the wood long before they occurred. He could smell sap pouring into this limb or that. He could hear the roots twisting the soil, trying to gain the upper ground.

The child moved swiftly, no longer captive, but captor, a young prince of the prison that had held him.

The trees cleared, the steep incline collapsed in to rolling hills, in to lush meadows, in to vast farmlands. The forest had no sway here. Ruckus was free.

He came to a halt. His eyes, which were the colour of the forest canopy at night, darted around him for signs of danger. They reflected the sway of the crabgrass in the breeze, the sharp glimmer of sand against the setting sun and the waves.

The waves, he thought, are endless.

The forest air had tugged at him like chains, heavy amidst the stagnant trees. The sharp salt wind seemed to push him forward, into the waves and far beyond them.

No, Ruckus thought, it is not the wind that drives me.

Tay Glass writes things. He has been writing things all of his life (that is to say, since preschool). He has a soft spot for children’s poetry and science fiction. Tay lives in Toronto.

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Jac Jenkins, The Agency

Ianthe did not yet know that her mother’s clean underwear advice was finally going to pay off. In a few minutes she would be bemused and dazed, hovering by my side above the square, looking down at her body sprawled on the cobblestones. I was hoping she didn’t turn out to be squeamish – the ones who can’t look at their corpses take the longest to adapt. I would have to put my other interests on hold.

Now though, she and Velma were deeply involved in, well, nothing. No, that’s not fair. Their friendship had long been solid – apart from that one time when Ianthe got caught out in a bit of ah-ah-afternoon delight with Velma’s husband – so doing nothing together at a cafe after their weekly assist at Hospice could be seen as an engagement in fellowship.

I buffed my fingernails with my robe while I waited for the action. Velma’s guide floated nearby, supercilious and sallow in his white swathes. The men in black were only about 300m away, so it wouldn’t be long before we were called to duty.

The bullets arrived on cue and Ianthe’s head disintegrated in a puff of red. She fell sideways onto the cobblestones, legs draped inelegantly over the chair, knickers exposed to the world. A thin wisp of Ianthe wavered above the body, tethered at the umbilicus. I allowed her a minute of twisting and tugging before gliding down for the clamp and cut.

Jac Jenkins is a poet and flash fiction writer from Whangarei. She works as a librarian but is looking forward to a three-month writing sabbatical in Australia late in 2014, hopefully in a location that challenges her with new experiences. Jac’s writing has appeared in the Northern Advocate, Take Flight and previously at Flash Frontier, and she recently celebrated winning the 2013 Takahē Poetry Competition and success in the Northwrite Collaboration Competition. She was also awarded a NZ Society of Authors poetry mentorship in 2012.

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Judith Pryor, In Full Flight

Do I have to remind you to pick your clothes up off the floor again? Is it really so much to ask? Do you think that I don’t have a million things that I’d rather be doing than constantly nagging you all the time? Like reading the newspaper, uninterrupted, for once. Or taking a long relaxing bath.

Yeah, yeah, you say with your head.

I don’t think you’re listening to a word I’m saying. No wonder with those things in your ears all the time. I’m a mouth moving to you, but my words come courtesy of Beirut. Or Fleet Foxes. Not that I know what they sound like. It’s not like you’d ever share one of your earphones with me.

Yeah, yeah, you wave with your hand.

What if I were telling you something you think is important? Like your favourite band are in town and I’ve bought us all tickets to go? Would that get your attention? Or, your father has left us for a younger woman and you’re the man of the house now? Would that get you to help? Or, I’m about to go postal with the lack of consideration around here and put arsenic in the curry I’m making for dinner tonight? Would that be something you’d remember to tell reporters, the sole survivor of my culinary cry for help?

Yeah, yeah, you roll with your eyes.

You look up.

“Pass the salt, Mum,” you say.

Judith Pryor is formerly a cultural critic and historian. She has spent the last eighteen months at home looking after her young daughter and, besides writing short fiction, is now learning the guitar, blogging about motherhood and feminism on smothered and putting the finishing touches on a children’s novel.

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Rebecca Simons, Paprika Coloured Dreams

The air was full, velvet to the touch, a golden paprika glow. Nostrils flaring she drank in the cardamom-laced sweetness of spices, sweat and heat, as the tears flowed freely. She couldn’t move, invisible cords rooting her to the spot. She woke shivering and pulled the covers higher, her hand brushing the dampness of her pillow-case. Tentatively she reached out and touched the shadowed hollow left behind by her husband’s head, and withdrew. It was no different to yesterday and would be the same tomorrow – the air a cool, watery grey – time a reality that only existed during the hours of sleep. When she left the hustle and bustle of Kolkata for the fresh new land of New Zealand her dreams had been filled with new possibilities, of clean air, space, the freedom to do as she would – the thought of leaving the crush of humanity, heat, sound, making her last days a torture she could hardly bear. Now her dreams had turned into a physical longing to be wrapped in heat – senses filled – to be hustled, bustled, prodded and poked, reminding her she was still alive. At noon she rose to stare at the colourless sky, determining that her dreams would become her reality once more – even if the ticket had said “one way” – this cool land with its distant people no longer able to hold her fast.

Rebecca Simons is an ex-office worker who discovered short story writing while enjoying a mid-life crisis. Although her university years were spent studying European languages and culture, she has found an even greater challenge in mastering the use of her maternal language, English, and hopes to continue with this challenge for many years to come.

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Townsend Walker, A Postcard from Venice in January

Who was in Venice this time of year? She went down the list: Brad (extended business trip in New York), brother (Afghanistan), neighbors (present and accounted for).

Karen recognized the scene on the card: Campo San Polo. It’s where they’d bought masks from the shop of Gianni Cavalier. For her, a traditional white Venetian bauta and for Brad, a medico de peste, plague doctor with the long nose. That night they’d worn them in bed, with uproarious results, repeated from time to time after they got back, though not recently, she regretted.

She turned the card over. Brad’s writing, “Non dimenticarti mai.” A phrase they’d learned on vacation: “I’ll never forget you.” Instead of his signature, a drawing of the mask. What was Brad doing in Venice?

Then Karen remembered Annunziata, the girl. . .no, the woman. . .no, the bombshell at the front desk of their hotel, the one next to Teatro La Fenice. Where they’d seen Don Giovanni. Brad had spent hours with Annunziata mapping out their daily walks. Had the itineraries not been so perfect, Karen might have complained.

Karen called the airline Brad’s firm had an arrangement with. “This is Monica, Brad Foster’s secretary. I received a call from Mr. Foster. He’s lost his ticket and doesn’t remember the day he’s due to fly out of Venice.”

“There must be some mistake, Monica. Mr. Foster bought a one way ticket.”

Townsend Walker is a writer living in San Francisco. His stories have been published in over fifty literary journals and included in six anthologies. One story won the SLO NightWriters story contest. Two were nominated for The O. Henry Award. Four were performed at the New Short Fiction Series in Hollywood. During a career in finance he published three books on foreign exchange, derivatives and portfolio management. His website is here.

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Annette Edwards-Hill, A Dead End

When Pamela found her husband on the kitchen floor he was blue around the lips. He wore a halo of cornflakes, a dribble of milk on his cheek. She felt his breath on her cheek as she bent down to touch him, warm and light. She sighed and picked up the phone. Three digits, two rings. “Ambulance please.” She waited. The fifth call this year; it was April. She balanced the figures in her head: fifty dollars each way for the ambulance, then at least a day in hospital, more time off work, another scan, another “I’m sorry, Mrs Myers, there’s nothing we can do” then home again.

The seizures, they came regularly now, sometimes every night. “We can’t call it a matter of time,” the specialist had told her. “It could be years, or next month.” Pamela went outside and opened the gate. The ambulance arrived in the dawn light, no sirens, but still she saw curtains twitching across the street, a slither of inquiring nose or eye. She watched as the oxygen tank was lifted through the door, her husband rolled onto the stretcher, heavy arms falling then tucked across his body, a struggle to lift his bulk over the patio. She decided not to follow; she’d clean the kitchen first, have some breakfast.

Ten minutes passed. The cornflakes were now swept away and the milk wiped. The phone rang. “Mrs Myers? You need to come now.”

She locked the door and drove.

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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Neil Campbell, Another Good Country

From our tent behind the Kingshouse we could see across the A82 and across the pools of Glen Etive to the granite bulk of Buachalle Etive Mor. The loss of many years before returned more urgently to us as we climbed to the summit of the mountain once again. We fed bread to ravens before walking back down the mountain the way we came. Looking back we saw the mountain rescue bothy standing alone on the valley floor. We stayed another night behind the Kingshouse and the next morning made our way though the mists along the A82 and into the broadening valley of Glencoe.

In Glencoe we stayed at a place called the Red Squirrel campsite and in the evening went for a meal at the Clachan Inn, perched snug in the valley below the bulk of the Aonach Eagach ridge. The climbers rattled their karabiners and sloshed down beer and got more boring by the minute.

The following morning we drove further north, past the Kyle of Lochalsh and the Skye Bridge, with the jagged ridges of the Cuillin covered in mist above the Sound of Sleat. Further on we went, pushing memories back behind the accumulating slides of scenery. The first moment the TomTom said Assynt, our minds were filled with all our favourite MacCaig poems, and we drove onwards towards the north, where we planned to stay at Glencanisp Lodge and then take in the summits of Suilven, Canisp and Stac Polly.

Neil Campbell is from Manchester, England. He has two collections of short stories, Broken Doll and Pictures from Hopper, published by Salt, and two poetry chapbooks, Birds and Bugsworth Diary, published by Knives, Forks and Spoons. His next chapbook of short fiction, Ekphrasis, is forthcoming from Knives, Forks and Spoons.

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Janis Freegard, The Wall

You will not believe what’s happened. You know how I always drive down Bridge St on my way to work? Well, this morning, I’m turning into the street as usual, right, and there in front of me is this massive brick wall – stretching right across the street from one side to the other. Taller than all the houses, totally blocking everything off. It’s insane. And it definitely wasn’t there yesterday.

Anyway, a couple of people are standing looking at the wall, right, so I get out of my car and join them. This one woman tells me, “It just appeared overnight.” She points to this house two doors down from the wall and says, “That’s where I live. Right there, and I never heard a thing. Slept right through. Woke up this morning and there it was. The council knows nothing, the police say they can’t do anything. It’s just there.”

And guess what? I look at the wall more closely and I notice that every single brick has a word etched into it: One. O-N-E. The woman sees me looking. “I went round to the other side,” she tells me. “The other side of the wall. A few minutes ago. I had to drive right around the block.” I mean you can see why – the wall’s way too high to climb over, right, and there’s no gap you could squeeze through at either end. And guess what she says? She says, “On the other side, every brick says ‘Way’.”

Janis Freegard’s work has appeared in many journals and anthologies, including Anomalous Press, Home: New Short Short Stories by New Zealand Writers, 100 New Zealand Short Short Stories 4, Landfall, NZ Listener and others. A past winner of the BNZ Katherine Mansfield Award for fiction and runner-up in the 2012 National Flash Fiction Day competition, she is author of the poetry collections The Continuing Adventures of Alice Spider (Anomalous Press, US, 2013) and Kingdom Animalia: the Escapades of Linnaeus (Auckland University Press, 2011). She lives in Wellington and blogs here.

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Trisha Hanifin, Splinters

That Paul Simon song, she said, I’ve been playing it over and over. You know the one, Hearts and Bones.

The CD cover lay open on the bedside table; she plumped pillows, ran fingernails through her hair, caressed his shoulder blade. The heat of a blush spread up her neck and cheeks.

I wrote the beginning of something once, she said. At the time I thought it had, well – she waved her hand in the air – it had something.

She coughed, reaching for her songwriter’s voice:
Splinters of heart and bone
Woven into sliding time…

He rolled over, sat up, yawned. What’s with the sliding bit? He said. There’s no sliding, it’s all one way, all downhill in a great pissing rush.

There’s no point talking to you, she said, you’re so literal, so liverish. Haven’t you ever felt time slide?

Do we have to analyse everything?

Listen to Paul Simon, she said:
The arc of a love affair
his hands rolling down her hair…

That’s good.

He touched her hair, traced the curve of her upper lip. Yes, but why say it?

It took him a long time, she said, to get it right.

He reached across, picked up the CD cover, read the blurb. All those words, he said then snapped his fingers – it didn’t even last.

A tear rolled down her cheek. Splinters of heart and bone, she whispered, losing her songwriter’s voice, and old Mister Time, all just sliding on down.

Trisha Hanifin lives in Auckland. She completed a Master of Creative Writing from the Auckland University of Technology in 2010 and is currently working on a novel and a collection of short fiction.

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Nod Ghosh, Decline

It happened over the course of a Thursday. At eleven, he thought things were improving. By midday it was clear the decline was only going one way.

He’d felt fine in the morning, even walked to the dairy with Hilda. But by eight, he’d started dropping things. There were gaps between the molecules of his fingers, and in the teacup too. There was no reason why his hand should support the china vessel. With that realisation, the drink crashed to the floor. Terracotta splash marks had dried at the foot of the cupboards when gravity hit him with a thump at ten o’clock. He was laid out on the couch, drifting between sleep and the familiarity of his wife’s knickers on the washing line, when the telephone rang.

“We can’t make it on Saturday,” James’s asphalt voice.

He made the right noises, like someone who cared. Clicking the kettle on, he had the distinct impression his body was turning into a gas. A little unsure of his grasp, and of what drinking tea might actually do to his insides, he exercised great caution pouring out the scalding fluid. He sipped carefully. The liquid appeared to make him solid again. Optimism warmed his shivering limbs.

By three o’clock, he woke to discover he couldn’t see his own reflection in the glass door opposite where he lay. He shouted out to Hilda in a panic, took two tentative steps and diffused through unseen gaps in the floor.

Nod Ghosh lives in Christchurch. Her short stories or poems have appeared in Takahē, Penduline, Christchurch Press and previous issues of Flash Frontier.

 

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