November: EYE CONTACT

Sandra Whyte, Owl Moon, oil on canvas

Sandra Whyte, a New Zealand artist living in Northland, paints with a unique style of realism, achieved by painting layer upon layer with the finest oil paints. This painting was inspired by Whyte’s dad’s stories of the man in the moon chopping wood and the morepork residing in her friend’s tree. She captured this image of the moon seconds before a lunar eclipse. More about the artist’s work, including commissioned paintings, here.

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Janet Pates, If He Could

If he could, Jeremia thought, he’d design himself a whole, different life. First, he’d give his parents an attitude transplant; make them more like the Prestons next door. Mum was always making sniffy remarks about the Preston kids – no manners, no respect, no shoes. But J escaped over there whenever he could. He liked the benign indifference with which Mrs P plonked the food on the table and said grace – “Come’n get it!” Over there, he didn’t have to keep one jump ahead of the old man.

Next, he’d change his name to something less biblical and easier to spell than Jeremia. Who wanted to be named after a weeping prophet? He’d model himself on Mike Preston. Laughing, joking, nineteen-year-old Mike came to help drench the lambs but, the way Dad spoke to him it was a wonder Mike didn’t tell him to drench his own bloody lambs. Instead he looked Dad in the eye and said, “No sweat boss.” Then when Dad turned away, Mike gave an exaggerated salute behind his back and winked at Jeremia.

Next year Jeremia would be sixteen. He’d leave school, work on the farm for peanuts then marry one of those creepy-mouse girls from church. At least, that was the gospel according to St Dad.

But J had other plans. Next year, he was going to look the old man in the eye and tell him he was leaving. Next year, he would, because he could.

Janet Pates lives in the small town of Tuakau, near the mouth of the Waikato River. She writes for children and for adults, she writes fiction and non-fiction, the latter with an emphasis on local history. In between times, she is trying to create an interesting memoir out of a singularly ordinary life.

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Vivienne Merrill, Contact

Out of the blue forgotten mountains of my childhood – a birthday card. It says Happy Birthday Sister on the cover. I slice out the word sister and sit it on the table. Be good, I say, be nice, but somehow, the letters fuss and fidget, so I cut them out and try to make new people out of them. That doesn’t work so I try to make new words, but they keep shouting sis! sis! And then, resist! resist! so I do. I take a breath and open the card, but other words jump out at me like SPCA puppies and kittens wanting homes. Those eyes! My sister’s eyes are blue, spaced wide, and open. She wants to build a bridge, you say, but all bridges washed away and long ago, in a tsunami of betrayal. I cut up the card into very small pieces and then I mix them with the pieces of sister. Sorry, I tell my dead mother, as I scrunch and scrunch, until they are small enough to gently thread through the eye of a needle.

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.

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Kathryn Jenkins, Crimson Tears

Ben left at dawn. Not wanting to return to our empty bed, I went outside and lay down on the carpet of red stamens coating our sea-front lawn. I watched the sun rise and as it crept higher closed my eyes against the rays piercing my pohutukawa umbrella.

Stamens continued to fall, tickling my nose, my eyelids, my bare arms and legs. I left them where they landed and wondered how long I’d have to lie there before I also became cloaked in red.

I heard the car return, and a few minutes later felt him lie down beside me.

“You were gone a long time,” I said, without opening my eyes.

“I’m always slower without you,” he said, “I never know which lettuce to get or if the avocados are ripe.” He paused. “You could come with me next time.”

“Not yet.”

We lay in silence.

“The doctor says we can try again. That there’s no reason why…”

“Not yet.”

More stamens fell.

“Please, Tara, let me in.”

I turned my head away. “Not yet.”

Soon, we’d both be buried beneath a crimson blanket. A raft of stamens floated down my cheek in the wake of a tear. His hand reached for mine. I started to pull away then stopped. My fingers curled around his, fragile like a baby’s.

Kathryn Jenkins unexpectedly started writing flash fiction as a result of a workshop exercise and has written at least one a month since. She’s still surprised at what turns up on the page and wonders where the ideas come from. Hopefully they will never dry up.

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Carolyn Smith-Masefield, Seeing is Believing

“Off in space again!”

I shot laser-eyes at my mother.

“Go! She’s waiting!”

I engaged my tiniest steps but still arrived. The neighbour’s front door groaned in sympathy.

“In here dear. I’m dying.”

I froze. Dying?? Nah… I grimace. The moonlight’s circling her bald patches.

“You’ve brought my last supper, dear?”

Gross old hedgehog with chin hairs sprouting. I put the dinner down.

“Come close, I’ve had these eyes such a short time.”

“Eh?” She’s like… 100!

“They came from a dead person.”

“Wha?”

“They want to go back.”

“A dead person’s eyes?”

“Not any dead person’s… and technically only the cornea.”

“The blue bit?”

“No, that’s the iris. The cornea goes over the iris.”

“Over…?”

“I had my corneas replaced. The cornea contains two thirds of the eye’s optical power.”

“So?”

“I can see the world back in on itself.”

“I gotta go.”

“I have the corneas of Neil Armstrong.”

“Shit!!”

“My surgery was the day after he died.”

“His eyes would’ve been… ancient!!” I shouted.

“I know, he left his body to science. But he wants his eyes back.”

Mad cow!! “Wha d’ya see?”

“Beautiful… so white. He kept his secret.”

“Secret?”

“He was so excited up there. He didn’t see it until he stepped on it…”

“What?!!”

“Three toes imprinted in the regolith powder.”

“Toes?”

“More like a paw…”

I backed out of the room.

*
At the funeral my mother whispered, “Her eyes were cloudy, wide open but her smile, well…”

My eye twitched.

Caroyln Smith-Masefield writes for sanity, teaches for humanity, lives for equanimity, dresses for vanity but can rhyme with manatee.

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Sally Houtman, Dilation

Wilton likes the names of things. In the optician’s office he leans in close, studies the diagram pinned to the wall. Pupil. Cornea. Optic Nerve. The eye reduced to its component parts. He admires the precision of anatomical drawings, the way they map the body’s topography with primary colours and clean, clear lines.

Touching a fingertip to the drawing, he traces a triangular hollow between the retina and its partnering veins. He blinks, eyes tearing from the administered drops. As his pupils widen, letting in more light, the dissected eye appears to swell and waver. The room takes on a silvery sheen. He steadies himself, eyelids fluttering, searching for visual footing. Width and depth merge to murky blurs.

He blinks hard, eyes squeeze tight, triggering a branching after-image like luminous veins, jittery clefts and ridges webbing outward, splitting, opening into an inward mind’s eye spiral and he feels like he is slipping, heart racing with the sense of something passing, speeding backwards, time, dreams, things lost, images of the before and the forgotten, and he tenses, resisting its pull, but the trapped light pushes deeper, penetrating layers, doing what it will, and in the distance something flickers, a tiny spark of cosmic something, one small speck of star-stuff, and he reaches out, fingers clasping, opening his eyes.

PupilCorneaOpticNerve. An edgeless swirl of words and colours. A muddle, he thinks, but with an awkward, discordant kind of beauty. Like an abstract painting. Or the artwork of a child.

Sally Houtman is a Wellington writer. She began writing fiction and poetry in 2007 and threatens not to stop.

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Gay Johnson, Making Contact

They’d been the bane of her life. One blue, one green. Teased at school, stared at in public: That girl with the weird eyes.

She studies rows of coloured contacts on a pharmacy display. “They’re fun. Playful. May sting a bit – but no pain, no gain,” the shop assistant tells her.

She purchases a pair. Dark brown like treacle, like licorice, like the toffee Milton so enjoyed before he departed, saying she was as crazy as her eyes.

The lenses debut at a party. She knows no one but when Sharif introduces himself she suddenly feels that now she does. She omits to mention the lenses when he compliments her in his prettily-broken English. Her eyes, almost as dark as his, are like “river at night-time”.

Days and dates fly by and her omission weighs heavily. Apprehension stalks her every waking moment – a big cat sniffing out its prey, soon to pounce. She should just come straight out and admit the truth. But the truth is, she’s afraid he’ll think her a coward, or even worse, crazy. Like Milton said.

Guy Fawkes saves the day. A stray firework lands on the tent where she and Sharif consume incinerated sausages – vegetarian for him. Screams and smoke and stinging eyes and “don’t cry, I save you!”

Removal necessitates the awful revelation at last. But Sharif just laughs. And laughs. “Brown eyes so boring, my darling. Everyone at home, brown eyes. I like blue eyes, and green. And what is this? Red?”

Gay Johnson lives on the North Shore of Auckland with her young son and her dog. She has lived much of my life in Ireland and also several years in Japan. She belongs to the International Writers’ Workshop and has published articles in the Irish Independent, NEXT and Woman’s Weekly, as well as stories in The Best New Zealand Fiction #6 and Home.

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Campbell Taylor, Hidden Acts

I once had the romantic lead in a musical thriller where I killed off most of the cast while singing a selection of lounge and soft-pop classics. The finale had me bedding the leading lady, which, perhaps because of the poor houses the show enjoyed, became less and less simulated as the season wore on.

Miss X was quite experienced; a veteran of stage and (small) screen, she was full of tricks to keep the performance “real”. Bowing to her seniority in the craft, I followed her lead between the sheets, acting like nothing unusual was happening.

I asked Mum not to come. Proud of my work, I was nevertheless uncomfortable grinding away in front of her: albeit real or imagined. I had walked in on her and Dad the day before he died. I was five and meant to be downstairs listening out for my Badjelly request on the kids’ radio show, but had scored the elusive character in the breakfast cereal series I had been collecting. They didn’t see me, but I must have dropped AxeMonkey as I left.

Mum insisted on seeing the show, and loudly applauded all my songs from the middle of the front row; I couldn’t miss the look in her eyes as Miss X pulled me in during the climactic scene.

Mum had returned AxeMonkey to me after Dad’s funeral; it’d been in his pocket when the car hit him. Best I wasn’t there, Mum always said.

Campbell Taylor is a phlebotomist and soundman. His short stories have been published in literary journals and on websites in New Zealand, Australia and the USA. Born and raised in Christchurch, he lives in Titahi Bay.

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Jaclyn Bergamino, Cicadas

She could hear his abdomen, even from eight storeys above. She knew he waited for her, dressed in new skin holding the bark of a mango tree. For thirteen years, she had dug and hid, dug and hid, a pale pearl of a nymph sheltered in flooding clay. Prematurely buried. She had fed on rootjuice and waited.

And now, the time for burying herself had gone. She no longer wore the tough soil skin of the past. The brightness of being was nearly unbearable. She was green and larger than herself.

She sat exposed, mesmerized by the equatorial sunlight and the sound of his clicking ribs. She could see him from here, just a speck, but she could tell even at this distance that he looked back at her. Through her ten eyes, he was a kaleidoscope of rounded cicada flecks, mirrored and moving in unison, calling her to the ground.

And then a closer sound. Behind her, ten of the same dark-haired girls with lightning eyes and cloud-coloured skin reached a catastrophic finger in her direction.

She heard him again, dry-fly ribs rubbing together to blot out the sounds of metropolitan traffic and children. The vibrations called to her.

She looked down at the expectant mango tree and imagined the future she would create: millions of shimmery nymphs sprinkling from the branches, raining onto the soil below, christening the ground with their sparkling selves.

There was nothing for her to do now, except let go.

Growing up in the sultry swamps of Florida, Jaclyn Bergamino developed an appreciation for the environment and how it shapes our experiences. Since then, she has taught English and art all over the world. Seeing the world through the lenses of other cultures, in other environments, and through the eyes of her students has shaped and informed her writing. Currently, she is based in Wellington.

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Bruce Costello, I Contact

The scent of his aftershave was still on Christine’s pillow. At two o’clock his face showed in her dream, and she woke crying at the phantom touch of his hand on her bottom. Arid images of life rose and set before her eyes. They faded, and his figure appeared, like a screensaver, until it vanished into blankness, and she was left alone with the awful discovery that her self in itself was insufficient.

In the morning she cursed as she ripped the pillow apart.

A week later she returned to work.

“How are you?” asked her secretary.

“We’ll see if I make it to lunchtime.”

First client was a Mrs Miller, face down, who burst into tears.

Shit, thought Christine, but her lawyer’s mask was in place.

Scattered sentences cascaded from Mrs Miller’s mouth. Christine’s head ached.

“I never used to mind being by myself,” Mrs Miller muttered, looking at the floor. “But now it’s like I have no self to be by. There’s no me to be.”

Christine’s mask slipped. Sensations too deep for words arose and like a tsunami overflowed her features. Mrs Miller’s head jerked up.

The two women gazed into each other and saw themselves.

*

Later, over lunch at a café, they talked and grew angry together.

Heavy rain was falling, but it was dry under Christine’s umbrella as they strode back to the office. When a red BMW drove past, Christine gave it the fingers and Mrs Miller burst out laughing.

Bruce Costello left Dunedin in 2010, retreated to Hampden, joined the Waitaki Writers’ Group and began to write. He has three times won the HER magazine bi-monthly contest and one of his stories features in Pink Magazine 2012. Other stories appear in online journals including Snorkel, Apocrypha and Abstractions, Fiction 365, NIB, Cyclamens & Swords and Alfie Dog Ltd. He was short-listed in the 2012 Victoria Cancer Council Art Awards.

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Lesley Marshall, Transition

Renata’s labour is long, slow, wrenching. Pain followed by pain followed by even greater pain.

The doctor is an isolated patch of calm in the heaving chaos. “I think we might need to try a C-section,” he says.

Anything, Renata thinks, just get it over with.

More pain as the judder-bar wheels carry her to theatre. A prick, then blessed oblivion swamps her.

Afterwards she’s pushed in a wheelchair into the baby ICU to meet her daughter, imprisoned behind Perspex. Tubes bristle from every orifice, and her tiny head and chest are polka-dotted with sensors.

What are they finding out? Do they know what she’s really like inside? Renata wonders. Her daughter – a terrifying stranger she’s afraid to even approach.

The nurse smiles. “Isn’t she lovely?” she says.

I don’t know. I don’t know her.

“We’ll have to be careful but you can have a hold.”

Do I have to?

The nurse opens the incubator and gently lifts out the baby, tubes and all. Ceremoniously she places her on Renata’s lap – a special present, gift-wrapped in technology.

Bruised eyelids lift and navy-blue eyes focus on Renata. A gold-leafed joy imbues her, stronger than anything she’s felt before. Messages pass between them.

You’re here.

Yes, I’m here.

Lesley Marshall lives in Maungatapere and divides her time between teaching and editing, and answering needy phone calls from various children, both biological and surrogate. It makes for a very interesting life.

~ ~ ~

Mike Crowl, It’s Only A Game

Saturday afternoon. Teenage rugby. Near blizzard weather.

“Beauty day for a game,” says the bloke beside me. I think he means it.

The ball slips out of the halfback’s hands, bounces across the field, down and up, down and up. Two lanky youths from opposing teams leap for it in a moment of bone-crunching contact, thunder-crack collision.

“Eyeball to eyeball!” shouts my neighbour. “That’s the ticket!” He grins, revealing a missing tooth.

The two boys are flat on their backs, each completely winded. Parents jostle around. From where I stand, the kids don’t seem to be breathing.

“Move aside!” A rotund man strides towards the group. “I’ve done the St John’s course!”

“He’s never done the St John’s,” says the bloke, still grinning. “Kidding himself.”

One of the boys is moaning, louder and louder. “Look at his teeth,” says an adult. “He’s smashed his front teeth.”

“That’s what you get when you play rugby,” says the man beside me, insisting on drawing me in. “You take the rough with the smooth.”

I realise his nose has been broken at some point, its spine bent to the right, leaving a valley where there should be a mountain. “Looks as though you know what you’re talking about,” I say.

“Bloody oath.” As he steps onto the field, I notice his left ear: it’s more cauliflower than ear. “Souvenirs of war, mate.”

He glances back, giving me the grin again. “Better check on me boy.”

Mike Crowl is a 67-year-old writer, pianist, composer and actor living in Dunedin. He has been writing for publication since 1989, and has written his own blogs since 2005. He wrote the script and music for an original musical, Grimhilda!, which was produced in Dunedin earlier this year.

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Bev Robitai, At the Café

Sitting alone in a café, trying to get a grip.

“Excuse me, are you Miriam?” Pleasant voice, kind face, anxious look. He’s carrying a red carnation. Oh God, he thinks I’m his blind date.

“No, I’m not Miriam, sorry.” Retreat behind my latte bowl.

“Oh dear, it seems I’ve been stood up.” He hesitates. “Could I possibly join you for a moment? Just to save face?” Winning smile, blue eyes.

Contact. Oh, why not?

We chat. Surprisingly comfortable. We linger, talking, laughing. Late sun casts golden light through his hair. Bad luck Miriam, wherever you are.

“Shall we walk along the river?” he says. “Stretch our legs after sitting for so long?” Twilight. Gosh, almost romantic. Thought those days were gone.

“Sure, just give me a moment.”

Quick pit-stop to freshen up. Glance at a newspaper left behind. Is that him? Oh.

Deep breath as I walk out of the café.

“Actually,” I say, “there’s a shop I want to visit first. This way.”

“Of course, no problem.” He smiles and takes my arm. Quite a firm grip. “The riverbank will wait. It’s quieter now most people have gone home.”

“Good.” Hope I sound convincing. We walk another hundred metres towards safety. Is that resistance as we approach the police station? No, he’s perfectly relaxed. Have I jumped to conclusions? The first nice man I’ve met in years and I brand him a mass murderer! What a fool.

We head towards the river as darkness falls.

Bev Robitai lives on the North Shore of Auckland and writes murder mysteries in between wrangling words and editing projects for other writers. She is occasionally interrupted to take photos of houses, but never to do housework. Her books can be found on Amazon.

~ ~ ~

Sian Williams, Badger: A reflection

The road runs deep between the hedgebanks: a dark ribbon striped with moonlight.

A creature snuffles along, head down, shoulders up – a badger, old brock, striped like the night. He passes under a gate and into a field where the cows lie still as dolmen or stand sleeping with their legs wraithed in mist.

Not so long ago they would have dragged him from his sett and baited him, with dogs. Then, no longer barbarians, they poisoned him, with gas. And now they tell us his population density must be reduced again, with guns. He spreads tuberculosis, it’s a known fact.

Yet he is as old as the red-earth hills and has dug-delved-dwelt there since before they came with their Friesians and their Holsteins, their black-n-whites.

If they looked into his dark-adapted eyes they would only see their own reflected back. If they listened they would only hear the wind in the treetops or the clatter of a distant train. But, in the dripping mushroomed copses of autumn, he hears the sighing of love-crazed slugs; under icy Wenceslas moons, he hears the hoar frost encrusting the blackthorn and the whitebeam; and, on hot harvest nights, when the moon hangs low, bloated and bloodied, he hears the passing footfalls of the ghosts of the pagan gods.

Over the high moors the sky lightens, dawn is approaching. In the valley shadow and moonlight – black and white – dissolve into grey. And he is gone.

Sian Williams is editor at Flash Frontier. She has been following with interest the recent debate about badger culling in the UK.

~ ~ ~

Michelle Elvy, The View from Pencarrow

If you stand at Pencarrow long enough, you’ll hear the wind carrying voices of scattered souls, thousands lost on the shores of Aotearoa.

2012
I’ve climbed every lighthouse since you were lost. Up and down, up and down. Keep a sharp eye out. Keep an eye out for ships, for storms, for you.

This storm has no eye, no calm: it lashes manic. I bend myself toward the lighthouse, hunched, stabbing into the wind that dries my skin, shrivels my voice. A wind as sure of itself as I am of never finding you. It carves the hard face of these cliffs, whistles metallic past the iron face of this tower. There’s nothing soft in its dark hum.

I climb the lighthouse steps quickly, look out to sea. I wonder if you know I am watching, watching still.

*

1859
Mary Jane’s eyes search the night. She wonders what George saw as the waves swallowed him: the eye of God? the eye of the Devil? the eyes of his six children, his wife?

She polishes the lenses daily, encased in her cast-iron tower. She touches the cold sure surface as she descends the stairs: pieces pieced together to save lives. Children’s voices screech manic across the wind. She wants to gather them to her and hide them under her skirts. She is married to this headland, to this dark hum.

She climbs the lighthouse steps quickly, looks out to sea. She wonders if he knows she is watching, watching still.

Michelle Elvy is founding editor at Flash Frontier. She has navigated her life along coasts dotted with lighthouses and lost souls. She recently became acquainted with Mary Jane Bennett, the first lighthouse keeper in New Zealand and the only woman to hold this position. Mary Jane Bennett carried out her husband’s position as keeper of the light at Pencarrow Head near Wellington after he drowned at sea.

~ ~ ~

Please also see this month’s interview with poet, novelist and short story writer Keri Hulme.

~ ~ ~

Coming in December: stories about the gift

2 thoughts on “November: EYE CONTACT

  1. Pingback: Cicadas (Thailand. Rewrite) | Lightning Droplets

  2. Pingback: Flash Feature: August 2013 | Flash Frontier

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