June: HOLD MY HAND

Racheal Weti, Koru Kids

Racheal Weti was born in Tauranga, and raised in Mount Maunganui, Hamilton and Te Aroha. Racheal creates art that connects family and her sense of home. Her painting style has developed through the inspiration of her Māori heritage and her love of New Zealand. She says: “I am drawn to the beautiful and natural shapes that surround our wonderful land and all the historical and deep cultural significance of Māori symbols and their meanings.” You can find more of Racheal Weti’s work here.

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Sally Houtman, What Lily Knew

She knew she wanted more. More than wiping down counters and staring into vacant eyes. More than the all-day creak of sensible shoes and the all-night vibrato of her daddy’s drunken rage.

So the first time Elgin Stafford came into the diner on his heavy-booted stride, Lily, with sleeves rolled down to hide the imprints left by Daddy’s fingers, touched her fingertips to her lips while smiling, and refilled his coffee seven times.

Elgin twice more sat in Lily’s station, brushed her hand with his rough and callused fingers, and Lily felt something slack go taut inside. So without regard to pedigree or manners, without regard for the ring that glanced between his left hand’s middle finger and his pinky, that day she let him take her home.

And the next time Daddy cinched his grip around her forearm, called her names reserved for livestock, Lily twisted free and let the screen door slam. With Elgin waiting on the front porch, she hitched her bag over one shoulder, took two steps towards him and let him take her by the hand.

Then, with Elgin at the wheel, her bare feet dangling out the window, they did a gravel-spitting fuck-u-turn right there in Daddy’s drive. Because Lily knew, sure as the sun will rise, that all her double shifts and empty cupboards, all her aching muscles and her promised comforts, could not outweigh what could be held in the curved palm of a stranger’s hand.

Sally Houtman is a Wellington mother of two who spends her days herding words, coaxing them into sentences, paragraphs, and the occasional short story. Once, completely by accident, she wrote an entire book.

~ ~ ~

Rebecca Simons, Three Paths Crossing

We met on the side of a road. It was wet, I remember. You asked me my name I told you it was Lisa. I lied, I don’t know why. You said you were on your way home, something about shift-work at the hospital. I imagined you were a doctor, nurse, hoped you were a cleaner, burgler. The thought made me smile.

A car pulled up behind mine. It was blue, I remember. His concerned face hovered, older than yours. The sky slowly turned from black to grey. You said you had a girlfriend, she would be worried. The man asked about an ambulance and I flinched. My phone was in the car. You reached out, asked me to stay. I looked at the man, face tinted orange by flashing lights. Someone must have called. The thought that I’d be late for work crossed my mind. When your hand dropped back I reached forward and took it. You were shivering and said you were scared. I was scared too. I began to shiver as your hand calmed. The stranger, for that is what he was – not you, somehow not you – took your hand from mine and helped me back to his car. His hands were warm. I told him, I said your girlfriend was waiting. He said nothing. We watched and we waited until they took you away.

We met on the side of a road. His hands were warm, mine were cold. You were gone.

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 language 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.

~ ~ ~

Frances Mountier, Crybaby

Erin was on the field when the quake started. He made a turtle on his hands and knees. When it stopped roaring, they were told to sit with their teacher. The other kids in his class cried for their mums but Erin didn’t. He was so scared he was shivering, but he wasn’t a crybaby.

After a long time, his sister arrived from work.

“Where’s Tommy?” Erin said. Tommy always came.

They started walking home. The footpath was cracked. When it shook they had to freeze and look up to check that buildings weren’t falling. His sister kept letting go of his hand to send texts. They passed Erin’s old kindy and she said, “This is terrible, I’m so sick of this,” in a voice like it was someone’s fault.

“Where’s Tommy?” Erin said. Tommy was fourteen. He would make things okay.

The wall of their house had fallen over the driveway. They could see his and Tommy’s bunks. His toys had fallen off the shelves. He wanted to cry. His sister walked towards the front door. He didn’t want to go but she was still holding his hand. When the door wouldn’t open, she kicked it and said the F-word.

“Where’s Tommy?” Erin said. His voice shook.

Next door only had a broken chimney. The cell beeped and she read it. “He’s okay. Thank God, he’s okay.” She cried as she gave Erin a big hug. Erin wished Tommy was there so that he could cry too.

Frances Mountier grew up in Christchurch and lives in Wellington. She holds an MA in Creative Writing from the International Institute of Modern Letters (2009). Her work has appeared in Turbine, Sport, Takahē, Renegade House, Hue & Cry and JAAM. She is working on a novel made up of numerous ‘tellings’.

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Leanne Radojkovich, Pretty for Jesus

“We want her looking her best for Jesus,” Nan tied a scarf around Mum’s head, knotting it into a rose above one ear.

Mum didn’t open her eyes.

Her eyebrows were gone, her eyelashes too. Without the scarf she was bald as my baby brother.

“I hate Jesus,” I said.

“No, you don’t!” Nan carefully retied the scarf, blinking and sniffing, pretending she wasn’t crying. “Mind your mum while I go to the loo.”

I put my hands around one of Mum’s. Hers was cold, yet the room was hot and full of sunshine. Vases lined the wall. Their flowers glowed as if they’d been coloured-in with fluoro pens. Mum glowed too. I could see the little bones in her hand pale as sprats in the sea.

“You look pretty,” I whispered. She didn’t. She looked angry. Her mouth was a disappointed slit. Maybe she’ll tell off Jesus? Maybe she’ll yell, “Get the fuck outta here,” like she did when Dad got pissed and puked on her shoes.

Her voice opened in my head – I love you.

Leanne Radojkovich’s flash fiction appears in Turbine and several readings are on YouTube. Her short stories have featured in various places from Takahē to Radio New Zealand. She won the Lilian Ida Smith Award in 2009 and gained a Master of Creative Writing the following year (see her Slideshare presentation “Literary Benefits of Linguistic and Cultural Hybridity” for an overview).

~ ~ ~

Anonymous_Author©, Hear Our Voices

1.0 – The Great New Zealand Literary Vignette
The literary vignette has cancer of the eyes. Daring to look up from its
navel, gazing outwards, surveying You in preference to Itself, its
malignant words broadcast the true shapes of lives.

2.0 – Tall Poppy
“‘Tall Poppy Syndrome’ was invented to avoid criticism. Success isn’t your
flaw; your personality is. You’re a jerk. Blaming your fall from grace on
‘Tall Poppy Syndrome’,” Jane mumbles to no one, “is another way you’re a
wanker.”

3.0 – 100% Pure Imperfection
David, who once won advertising awards and is now constantly anxious,
ducks around the corner to smoke a large bowl. Sweating, he returns to his
spot on Queen Street. “Y’know who I used to be?” he spits. He used to be
the small boy who’d fall asleep with his head on his sister’s lap. He
misses Jane.

4.0 – No.8 Wahine
Jane was a ward of the state during the 70s. Today she walks past leaky
homes in Waterview. Workers erecting a wire fence cat-call “Phoooowar!”
Leering men with calloused hands are something Jane’s always been used to.

5.0 – A Common Senseless Approach
Dad died in what was reported to be a home invasion. Brutal and
newsworthy. David learned this via a static-filled radio, between hisses
and scratches of analogue interference. The report was later amended: no
one else was sought in connection with Peter’s death. But by then, David
was already living on the streets.

6.0 – Hand of the Wrong Frightened Crowd
Northland’s forests, Southland’s fields, Westland’s bush, Eastland’s
hills, New Zealand’s homes are in this with us. Jane and David extend their
hands as cancer spreads from the vignette’s eyes into the Yous and Wes

Anonymous_Author© has gone experimental, connecting a series of short vignettes bookended and embraced by a self-referential narrative, much the same way that holding hands creates a closed loop. What led him down this path is unclear – even he is unsure, but it has something to do with speculative materialism, metaphysical conundrum, neurolinguistics, satire, lightness, darkness, purple prose, naive enthusiasm, social realism, self-indulgence, wordsmithery, raw incompetence, hopeless romanticism, jaded cynicism & red wine. AnonAuth@twitter.com

~ ~ ~

Kathy Sewell, The Bond

A page from a newspaper gripped by the invisible wind twirls like a ghost and tangles in overhead branches.

“Come on Gran, this weather will give you chills.”

“Don’t worry about me, I’ve survived four score.”

Stairs groan under our weight as we climb towards the door. Light shines through the leadlight pattern, rainbowing the small porch. I rush towards the embers winking orange in the grate.

Gran hangs our coats on the rickety stand, sits in her faded, brocade chair and removes her shoes stained by the puddles. Her bony toes have well manicured nails painted bright red. I chuckle. She smiles. “It’s one of my life’s little luxuries.”

My sneakers squelch.

“Damn.”

“Take them off. The fire will dry them while we have supper.”

Gran attempts to pull knitted bootees over her painted toenails.

“Come on, can’t you see I’m struggling.”

“Politeness gets a cup of tea.”

“I’m sorry. Darn feet, such awkward appendages to deal with when you age. The mind performs tasks easily while the body struggles. Perseverance is necessary at my time of life.”

“I love your quirkish ways, Gran.’

She takes my hand, “Watch out they’re hereditary sweetheart. Now boil the bloody kettle.”

Kathy Sewell has had a number of stories published and several plays written and performed. She is working on her novel at the moment while completing the last two papers of her BA extramurally at Massey University. She lives on a lifestyle block, is a proud grandma and belongs to IWW, NZSA and Tauranga Writers, and she runs the Thames Writers Group.

~ ~ ~

Vivienne Merrill, Driving

She lets him take her for a ride just before midnight. Even though she knows she shouldn’t. It’s a surprise to find his face on the same level as hers, the grey in his hair, but she just shrugs; everyone lies on Facebook. She’s put on the new top her mother hates, her skinny jeans and heaps of eyeliner. He smiles right into her eyes. She wonders what her friends will say when she posts the photos.

He switches on the CD player, some awful old-fashioned crap and she looks out of the window, pulling a face. The road is wet, the tyres making deep, swishing sounds; the lights from passing vehicles smearing like strange rainbows. She thinks of her parents waking to her empty room and smiles. Shyly, she reaches out to hold his free hand, but he thrusts it between his legs and with force, rasps it up and down. “Babe,” he says. She feels the hot hardness beneath her hand and keeps the tight grip he wants. Even though she knows she shouldn’t.

She turns her head away. They are coming up to a signpost she can’t read. The truck suddenly veers off, down a side road. She remembers her mobile, in the back, out of reach. She asks him where they are going. A stranger’s voice speaks: ‘Shut up.’ The CD ends and as he reaches to reload, he begins a tuneless whistle through his teeth.

She wants to cry. Even though she knows she shouldn’t.

Vivienne Merrill lives on the Kapiti Coast where it is all too easy to beachwalk and dream her days away. Sometimes, when she’s lucky, some of these dreams become stories and poems.

~ ~ ~

Derin Attwood, Law of the Gun

Robert caught up with the cowboy as he crossed the shallow lake to the north of the cantina. He could have been any cowboy, but for the overloaded packs, stuffed with stolen goods. Proof of his crime.

Robert sat still in the saddle, his face stony. “Don’t move,” he called. “You’ve five minutes to live. You’d best use them praying.”

The silence lengthened, broken only by the horses stamping and jangling their harnesses as they shook their heads.

*

The cowboy might have escaped had he not stopped for one too many drinks and a bit of bragging. Others had turned a blind eye to his boasting, but the cantina owner, worried the repercussions would surely affect them all when the crime was discovered, had sent a message to Robert.

In spite of his grief, Robert had dug three graves before help arrived. He had already wrapped the corpses, covering the vicious indignities inflicted on them. He would never be able to close his eyes and not see that scene. After the burial, he left to exact his revenge.

*

Robert’s gunshot echoed around the hills. The cowboy slumped sideways in the saddle, his horse jumped forward and trotted towards the far shore.

Then Robert cried for the three he had buried. He cried for John – his brother – and John’s wife – his lover. And mostly he cried for Annabella, their daughter. His daughter.

Derin Attwood was short-listed for NZ Writers’ College Short Story Competition 2010 and has had work published by a number of magazines and websites including 52/250. Her new novel, Caves of Kirym, was published in July 2011.

~ ~ ~

Celine Gibson, Leaving

Late on a Friday night, my husband, Ian, drove a tack into the wall of your room in Ward 28. I’d rung for permission, but still, the reverberating blows echoing down silent corridors sounded unearthly at that hour.

You slept through it, oblivious. “Morphine,” I murmured. Ian stared at the painting, said, “Beautiful place, Central Otago.”

The staff smiled warmly upon our departure. My husband strove for a casual air with which to carry his hammer.

Tomorrow you would wake to your beloved ploughmen coaxing their Clydesdales to pull a straight furrow.

On my prolonged Saturday visit I asked if you’d noticed the recent installation. You blinked sleepily at the canvas, a tired smile of recognition before drifting off again.

Your sister stopped by, her eighty-five years beginning to show. We stared at the catheter, small streaks of blood. “Is that okay?” I asked, because she used to be a nurse. Aunty Helen was non-committal.

Sunday evening, I sat beside you reading. You woke, a flash of the old you. “Shouldn’t you be home getting your husband’s tea?”

Later, I fed you custard, and, for supper, you allowed a malt Mackintosh between your lips. Good.

Monday morning, that dreaded call. Not yet, Dad. Surely you’ll wait.

I entered your room. “And until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of his hand.” A kindly nun intoning words of comfort, already seeing you home.

I smoothed your unruly eyebrows, reluctant to kiss you goodbye.

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.

~ ~ ~

Maris O’Rourke, Hold my hand steady

On my skin there’s a “beauty spot”. I’ve always had it. It’s round and brown. Quite friendly looking, just like lots of others you see. Nothing to be afraid of. Rather like the doctor’s face, smiling, as he tells me it’s a malignant melanoma. Okay, something to be afraid of. A deceitfully non-threatening-looking, malignant, malevolent melanoma.

Images rush in under my skin, tendrils creeping forth. Growing without me knowing. That frightens me. Entwined around the nerves and bones and flesh without my knowledge. Now inextricably part of me. Growing without me knowing. That frightens me. Tentacles clinging on softly, secretly, stretching up and around, over and under, reaching and curling faster and faster until we are one. That frightens me.

Calmly though I face the way forward. My worst fears now confront me. A thread, a breath, a chance to live or choose to die and know the means. In my mind I clasp the knife, hold my hand high and decide to plunge it swift and deep, clean and hard. Cutting and slicing flesh from flesh. Me from me. Life from death. The surgeon tells me later ‘We got it just in time. You would’ve been dead by Christmas’.

Maris O’Rourke has been published in a range of poetry journals in New Zealand and overseas (including being Guest Poet in Poetry NZ #44) and placed in a number of competitions, including the South Island Writer’s Association National Competition, the Caselberg Trust International Poetry Prize and the Robert Burns Poetry Competition. Her first children’s book Lillibutt’s Big Adventure has just been published by Duck Creek Press and she is now working on her first poetry collection while exploring flash fiction.

~ ~ ~

Tim Heath, Fashionable Hydrangeas

“You’re silly,” she says, watching me plant the hydrangea cuttings.

“Those sticks won’t grow and they’re old-fashioned.”

“Fashionable again,” I reply. “Cheap too — just nicked some from your mum.”

I pat down the cuttings and look up. The sun silhouettes her body. Desire grabs at me. Sun, soil, my wife and I am lost.

“Come here, you bossy woman!”

“No…you’re grubby…and the neighbours?”

But she comes to me and the sun is eclipsed by her hair. Today, in our garden I learn again how strong she is.

“You’re a silly, grubby, wonderful man,” she breathes and breathes.

*

The hydrangeas grow. I become a gardener.

“Why are you hacking at those poor hydrangeas?”

She is sitting in the garden chair with our child. Her dress is damp from feeding.

“Make ‘em grow better…that’s what it said in the paper.”

“Silly man!”

I take her hand. Today, I learn that babies, too, can smile.

“The children want a trampoline,” she says. “If you trim those old hydrangeas, one could go there. “

“Yes…good idea.”

She is surprised I don’t protest. She doesn’t know I love working with the smooth, round stems, the smell evoking memories.

*

I drag the trampoline away and tip it over. It seems so much heavier.

“It was always a clumsy sort of a thing,” I tell her.

“Yes, you dear, clever man, yes.”

Today, she is able to sit in the chair.

I break some dry stems off a dead hydrangea and reach for her hand.

Tim Heath’s main interests are spending time with his eight grandchildren, cooking, gardening, playing golf, blue water sailing and learning to listen. All these things give him more than his fair share of joy, as does the excitement of being able to hear, and having time to obey, the voice that still whispers writing ideas inside his head.

~ ~ ~

Kathryn Jenkins, Kaleidoscope

My podgy little fingers clasped the edge of the coffin and I peered inside.

“Rise’n’shine, Daddy,” I said, “time to get up.” It’s what he would have said to me but he didn’t move.

They said he was asleep forever. I knew but I didn’t understand.

Grandma pried my hands off the coffin and led me away into a black sea of hushed voices and faraway glances while Mother wept.

One day I stopped remembering because I understood. He had abandoned me to a dark and miserable life in the care of a woman who used to be my mother. At sixteen I left home during a thunder storm, vowing never to return.

Grandma found me.

“Your mother’s dead,” she said. “Come home. Say goodbye.”

“There’s nothing to say,” I said but I went anyway, following along from one darkness to another.

I peered into the coffin. I knew, I remembered, I understood. Long unshed tears dripped onto my mother’s face leaving tracks in her carefully applied makeup. Grandma pried my hands off the coffin and led me away into a black sea of hushed voices and faraway glances. I left as soon as I could. Stepped outside into a kaleidoscope of butterflies and the heat of the morning sun.

Katharine Derrick writes mostly for children and has had a 50-word story in Brian Edwards’ Book of Incredibly Short Stories, but as Kathryn Jenkins she is venturing into flash fiction for adults. Kathryn Jenkins also has a contemporary novel building in her mind. A blog site compiling her flash fiction is underway.

~ ~ ~

Sian Williams, Hôtel Montmartre

At Charles de Gaulle they searched his bags – even the customs officer thought he looked furtive – while she felt dizzy in the toilets.

He held her shaky hand on the airport bus. She wished he wouldn’t – it seemed indecent, somehow pornographic.

Their room was on the fifth floor, an attic with a sharply sloping roof, and high dormer windows giving a tiptoe outlook onto air-conditioning units, TV aerials and plastic guttering. There were no distant views of Sacré Coeur.

Everything about the room was mean and cramped: the bed, the wardrobe, the bathroom-in-a-cupboard, even the basin. The room was too small to contain their love which sloshed about on the cheap carpet, trickling under the door and running down the stairs. In a rising tide it lapped at the bedroom walls until it overflowed through the window, upsetting the roosting pigeons and cascading down into the street below where it filled the gutters on either side of the road, washing away cigarette ends and cabbage leaves – and any remaining guilt they had about his wife back in Gateshead.

Afterwards they walked the narrow streets hand in hand. Everything seemed sharper, more clearly focussed than before, as though the world had been slightly off channel and was now tuned correctly.

Suddenly hungry, they went into a fromagerie. The shop assistant asked how much brie they wanted. “Like this?” she said, gesturing with her knife. “Or more?”

“More, please,” they said. “We want more.”

Sian Williams is editor at Flash Frontier. She likes Paris and cheese but refuses to comment specifically on pornographic hand-holding or Gateshead.

~ ~ ~

Michelle Elvy, Daisy Chain

You see them crossing the street – Father and Mother bookending Boy and Girl in the middle, bundled tight in faux-fur jackets with pom-pom hats, Boy’s fringe poking out the front of his hat and Girl’s plaits flapping on her shoulders as she skips along, both swinging locked hands with each other in a rhythm all their own, while their other hands grip parents on either side. A daisy-chain of colour on a winter afternoon.

As they draw near, you see Father, dark-browed and thin-lipped, his irritation with Boy’s incessant chatter written across his face. He is tugging Boy’s hand hard with a hurried stride. Girl follows Boy who follows Father, and Mother is gripping Girl and looking away to the left, a vacant expression on her face which you can now tell has become habit, borne out of measured practice. Her weak smile is cold like the winter day.

You see this and more as they arrive on your side of the street. Toe touches kerb and you feel the break, Father disconnecting, pushing ahead. Boy and Girl holding each other but slowing to uncertain steps. Mother, halfway gone and feeling only a vague grip on Girl’s hand, her gaze elsewhere entirely. You fear that any second now she might let go completely.

They walk down the sidewalk away from you now, the daisy chain broken and the petals falling softly to the ground where they will wilt in the winter sun.

Michelle Elvy is founding editor at Flash Frontier. She likes winter walks and holding hands and, while her gaze is often off to the left, she has no intention of letting go.

~ ~ ~

Please also see this month’s interview with writer and editor Stephen Stratford.

~ ~ ~

Coming in July: stories about the road

8 thoughts on “June: HOLD MY HAND

    • Flash fiction has shown me how to hypothetically plant a story garden without the need for weedy words. It is addictive.

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