December 2014: NO REGRETS

& should you ever fail to see the insignificant  -- Eryk Wenziak

& should you ever fail to see the insignificant — Eryk Wenziak

Eryk Wenziak is Editor-in-Chief of rIgor mort.US, art editor at A-minor Magazine and art director at A-minor Press. His poetry has appeared in numerous journals, including elimae, Used Furniture Review, HOUSEFIRE, Connotation Press, Psychic Meatloaf and Short, Fast, and Deadly. He has published four chapbooks: 4am, a visual poetry collection published by No Press (Canada); 1975, an experimental poem published by Deadly Chaps (US) which was nominated for a Pushcart Prize; Status Programs | Some Rules For Us To Break, a collaborative writing effort which utilizes Facebook to generate the output of poetry; and You are my anti-spam hero, a collection of spam-email subject headings published by Twenty-four Hours Press (US) and also nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He lives at erykwenziak.com.

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Elizabeth Farris, The Ossuary

When young, she collected seashells. Perfection was essential – no nicks or cracks, the exteriors solid and eternal. The colours were luminous and not yet weakened by the sun. She loved auburn with soft specks of hazel, like that of her favourite suede jacket. The upper tips always spiraled to a point and grasped at infinity. She filled her house with empty houses. A string of shells hung from the doorknob. Glue fixed a ring of glossy paua shells, encircling a mirror so they could be admired again and again. The gentle apricot of another became the inspiration for curtains which she hung, nestled against walls painted like the vibrant sea.

*

An old woman now, when I walk the beach, I collect cattle vertebrae, femurs from short-lived lambs, rodent skulls, a jawbone that speaks of days past. Souls that lived inland, their porous relics rode the river rapids only to be tossed out to sea. And, after a spell of aimless wandering, were washed ashore for me to gather.

I line them up on the deck until the sun has bleached the ashen hues to pure alabaster. The moon pales any tawny blush that remains. And right before they disappear completely, I bring them inside and display them on my windowsill.

Elizabeth Farris lives in Waikanae, wedged between the bush and the Tasman Sea. Her short stories are published in Australian and American anthologies and her stage plays have been performed in the US. She was short-listed for the Manhire Prize for Creative Science Writing in 2009 and was runner-up in the Rodney Writes Competition in 2008.

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Maggie Rainey-Smith, Turning the Worms

We weathered a few storms together. Marriage suited us. We rowed the same boat most of the time almost efficiently. You took some solo voyages and I waited on the shore for the message in a bottle. Then we became land-locked, no paddles, feeding off the compost of yesteryears. Oh, there were worms for sure. New growth too. But it was smelly all the same. The turning over, the uprooting, the discarding and deciding between the weeds and potential bloomers. Now you can buy a tumbling composter, but we were just stuffing it in, packing it down, turning possibility sour.

We made a pact. We would plant a new garden, something coastal, rather than cottage, and to hell with those delicate expensive plants that needed constant watering. Roses we agreed could stay but we eschewed the Rugosas for less thorny opportunities. Fertiliser. We argued over that! Too, the utensils became the focus. A Dutch hoe or the Swoe hoe (too one-sided you decided) so we agreed on a Dego. Forks became our focus for a while, along with the cultivating tool pull or draw hoe versus the cultivating tool push or thrust hoe.

Soon we were ready for a hammock. That bit was easy. Something that would lift us from the ordinary, above the rotting earth, the (some of them stinking) possibilities and we both agreed – let’s rise above it all and sling our hooks from one tree to another, swinging side by side, no time left, no regrets.

Maggie Rainey-Smith is the author of two novels, a published poet and a short story writer. She blogs here and is a regular book reviewer on Beattie’s Blog. She won the 2007 Page & Blackmore short story competition and was short-listed in 2004 and 2013 for the Landfall Essay Prize and the 2004 Takahē Cultural Studies essay competition. Her short stories and poetry have been published in Sport, Takahē, The Listener, New Zealand Books and also on Radio New Zealand. She was highly commended in the 2014 NFFD competition.

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Steven Gowin, Earthquake Weather

Our boys had electrified the city and were ready for the Cross Bridge series, the two local teams.

Home with flagship radio, I looked forward to the game, a once-in-a-lifetime. The weather had gone uncharacteristically mild, warm, unnatural for us.

We’d been married a month. When the earth shimmied, the new wedding glass tinkled; the crystal sang a stanza, maybe two. But firm serpentine underlies our hill, and we lost neither glass nor goblet. A euphoria overtook me.

My wife insisted on driving that night. She taught English in Silicon Valley. But I’d worked at the same college. Most of those kids wouldn’t show during heavy rain let alone temblor; I said no, but only news of ruin convinced her.

Instead, we walked to the wind calmed parklette at the top of our street. From there we could see much of the Northside and most of the Bay. At dusk, we watched the fire’s glow in smoke over the Marina.

Later, on our own dark stoop, we broke out a bottle of Rhône and the new stemware. We spoke quietly. Our neighborhood, our neighbors, whispered too, on their own stoops with their own wine, alone with us in the night, in earthquake weather.

Steven Gowin, a native of Darkest Iowania, but California dual citizen, produces Corporate Video in San Francisco.
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Brenda Anderson, Can We Get You Anything?

The chemotherapy has been useless. The cancer will win, soon. My family ring me and say, “We’re so sorry. Can we get you anything? Just say the word!”

I lie in bed and think.

Yes! I want a special pillow for my now-bald head. When I was young and tubby, Uncle Mortimer used to make me run round the block. “Exercise, my boy!” I’ll give him exercise. Uncle Morty can run round China, or wherever they breed peacocks, and bring me back special feathers to stuff my pillow. I’ll send Aunt Ethel to the top end of Australia, to get the best merino fleece for my pillow. She hates travel. And my big brother Billy can get me the original song lyrics from that band we saw, when we were teenagers. I’ll demand the band members’ signatures to verify authenticity, then scrunch ‘em up and stuff ‘em in the pillow. See, I know what happened after the concert that day. I heard Billy talking in his sleep. The guy who raped that girl got off, because Billy kept quiet, then told everyone I was a liar. Ha! They’ll listen to me now.

I’m OK with dying and, honestly, it’s not all bad. I’ll ask my sister Emmy to embroider the pillow. She’ll love that. I always liked Emmy. She’ll cry, and mean it.

The others will hate me.

I grin, and pick up the phone.

Brenda Anderson’s fiction has appeared in various places including Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, Fiction Vortex and SpeckLit. She lives in Adelaide, South Australia, likes unpopular things like Wagner and this year has seen far too much of the local haematology/oncology ward, while visiting her husband. This story has no basis in fact.

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Tim Jones, Officials

The Minister signalled a “no surprises, no regrets” policy to officials. Senior staff encouraged full and frank debate. Officials expressed full and frank support for the new policy. The Minister expressed satisfaction at officials’ reaction.

Thus encouraged, the Minister embarked on bold new policy initiatives. An evidence-based approach, declared the Minister, is paramount. Officials stood by to support the bold new policy initiatives with well-chosen evidence.

The public reacted positively to the Minister’s decisive, visionary stance. For the first time, preferred prime minister polls showcased the Minister’s name. This was a surprise to the Prime Minister. The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet briefed officials, stressing the correlation between surprise and regret.

The Prime Minister announced a surprise Cabinet reshuffle. In recognition of his bold new policy initiatives and visionary stance, the Minister was promoted to the position of Minister at Large for International Relations. This involved visits to Syria, Iraq, the Ukraine. Officials requested and were granted hazard pay.

The Minister, unfamiliar with diplomatic relations, nevertheless demonstrated an ability to learn from his mistakes.

The Minister attended the American Music Awards when the Prime Minister had a prior commitment to golf. Officials briefed the Minister on the tango, the foxtrot, the frug, the twerk, the Charleston.

The Minister left the second-to-back row and made his way to the front. The Minister danced with Lorde and Taylor Swift. You dance divinely, said Lorde. You dance divinely, said Taylor Swift. Off-camera, discreetly, officials danced too.

Tim Jones is a poet, author, editor and anthologist who lives in Wellington. He was awarded the New Zealand Society of Authors Janet Frame Memorial Award for Literature in 2010. His latest book is The Stars Like Sand: Australian Speculative Poetry (IP, 2014), co-edited with P. S. Cottier. More here

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Maris O’Rourke, Cast-offs

The breakup had been harsh. She’d been carrying it a long time. Her shoulders were stiff with old baggage and her calves taut with unfinished business. She tried visualisations in the moments between sleeping and waking.

She was in a hot air balloon cutting sandbags of resentment from the side to fall and strike dull thuds on a hardened heart. No, that wasn’t it.

She was dancing around a fire, flames gleaming on her hands as she flung out past bitterness, sparks of worn-out guilts glinty in her eyes. No, that wasn’t right either.

She was digging a grave for all her acrimony. Placing the hates and umbrage in tiny coffins and burying them deep below earth and prayers to putrefy. No, that wouldn’t do either.

She was in a yacht thrusting forward from lightened shoulders. All her old baggage was stowed in the clinker dinghy behind her. She leaned over and cast it off, set her hand-made spinnaker of Wonder Woman and reached forward on a zephyr breeze. Yes, that was working.

But every morning the dinghy was back full of her ‘stuff’, fastened to her yacht with a thick rope or sometimes even a chain. Every night she would cast it off with her mantra I am setting myself free and set sail again. But every morning it was back.

One night she decided to try something different and cast it off saying I am setting myself, and you, free. In the morning it was gone.

Maris O’Rourke, a pākehā New Zealander, ‘reinvented’ herself as a poet in 2008. Since then she has been published in a wide range of journals and anthologies in NZ and overseas and placed in a number of competitions. Her various books include the children’s books Lillibutt’s Big Adventure (2012) and Lillibutt’s Te Araroa Adventure (2014), the poetry collection Singing With Both Throats (2013) and a family history e-book Through My Eyes, which is currently underway. An enthusiastic performer, Maris has been featured on Radio NZ’s Nine to Noon and Arts On Sunday, plus many other venues.

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Keith Nunes, With Her Eyes Open

Billie has seen many ceilings from underneath men. The light fittings wrapped around the central bulb are universally the most interesting thing about sex these days – a couple of naked bulbs with men who were against being naked when they did it; grand lighting effects with men who failed to light up the room. But with Jimmy she was all over the place – often on top looking at him looking at her while she came. He called her Billie Mean Bling after the 1970s celebrity tennis star Billie Jean King, and she labelled him her “one in a million man” because he could stay in the saddle long enough for her to have orgasms. She truly loved Jimmy – she was sure he loved her too, for a time. But he left her like he did all his wives and lovers. She felt he’d never be satisfied and basically it was best he was gone.

Anyway, she thought, as someone named Joe something climbed off her, she would keep trying to find the guy with the right attitude and responsive eyes. Her sister kept telling her she was going about the search in the wrong way but it kept her busy nights and it seemed the only way to get close to guys. And thankfully Jimmy’s face was slowly morphing into an abstract of all men – these men who preferred to keep their eyes closed when faced with a wanting woman.

Keith Nunes is a former New Zealand newspaper sub-editor who now writes for the sheer joy of it. Although relatively fresh to flash fiction, he’s been published in New Zealand and increasingly in the US and UK. He lives south of Tauranga with artist Talulah Belle and a coterie of nutty animals.

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Annette Edwards-Hill, A Life Well Lived

On the day Hazel died all her children could talk about was where she would be buried. There was room by her first husband but forty-five years had passed.

“Who can be sure we won’t unintentionally dig him up?” said Robert.

Jane thought it was the right thing to do. He would still be waiting for Hazel. “Forty-five years isn’t much in the larger scheme of things; they made a commitment, for eternity”.

“Till death do us part,” Robert corrected.

Hazel’s second husband was buried in the cemetery on the other side of town. “Military,” said Robert. “Mum won’t want to be in a military grave.” He looked at Jane “for eternity”.

The boyfriend lay only three rows over, alone. But he wasn’t an option.

“They weren’t married,” whispered Jane.

Then Carol arrived, tired and used up on the act of sitting at the death bed and waiting, listening to the gurgles and slow breaths, holding a limp hand.

“Did she say anything?” Jane asked impatiently. “Anything?”

“No,” said Carol. “She was unconscious”.

Robert looked hopeful. “Maybe she wanted to be cremated.”

Carol yawned.

The lawyer had the final word. “With the first husband.”

“He’s down deep,” said the undertaker helpfully. “He sunk so we can put her on top.”

“Oh my God, forty-five-year-old remains,” said Robert, looking worried.

After the funeral Robert shuffled carefully to the edge of the grave while the coffin waited in the hearse.

“Nothing,” he called out “just dirt.”

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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Frank Beyer, Under the Turnstyle

Don’t sleep, first cool night. Get up because it’s light. Drink a glass of hot water at corner. Check out ulcer on my leg; foul, and walking it rubs against rough trousers, hurts. Must catch the bus down to the square. No money to pay, slip under the turnstyle.

The sermon is delivered, usual evangelical types. Really couldn’t say anything about it, enthusiastic, drab. No complaints about the plate of food after, worth the sermon: chicken legs, juicy, two each.

Sit by the entrance of subway stop and hope somebody has booze. Sure enough, there are a few guys from the neighbourhood happy to share.

Gets dark, mood changes, quarrels start; not for me. Suddenly everyone leaves. The rain arrives and they rush off to attend their stuff.

One guy comes out of the subway, don’t like the look on his face. Get in front of him and ask for a coin. Doesn’t respond, stares blankly, disdain on face. I know – I smell.

My punch is effective. Doesn’t fight back at all, just gropes around for his glasses. Put my hand on his throat and he gives me his wallet.

Get out of there. Nobody around who cares, but best to leave. Run, chest burning, leg on fire, didn’t know could still run.

Sober now, smoke crack or eat steak? No – know what to do – get under blanket and hope sleep comes. Dream about a long bus ride up north. Different place, different feeling – no regrets.

Frank Beyer is a Tour Manager for educational trips to both Argentina and China. On these tours he tries not to judge places visited on the quality of lunches provided alone. Frank is from New Zealand and when he has the money (not often) he enjoys Java, Sumatra and the North Island of New Zealand for their volcanic beauty.

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Paul Beckman, Color Coordination Rules

Melborne walked five steps and quickly tapped his left heel with his right toe and continued on. He was in his mid-fifties, dressed nattily and stopped at the same flower stand every morning for his boutonniere – a blue daisy.

One day he added a double tap to the right side of his nose with his index finger whenever he crossed a street. At times he had to shift a bag from right hand to left.

Weeks later he began speaking with a low “mmm” before beginning whatever it was he had to say and that was followed by tapping his pencil eraser against his front teeth while on the phone listening.

Melborne held steady with these habits for quite a while and then one day he stopped at a different flower stand and bought a yellow rose.

He no longer tapped or mmm’d but had taken to knuckle cracking, whistling, ear probing and an occasional hop upon hearing a thunderclap.

Paul Beckman has stories due out in Spelk, Zest, Earl of Plaid, Thrice, Dialogual, Blue Lyra, Connotation Press and Apocryphal & Abstractions, and a new collection of his flash stories will be published by Big Table in early 2015.

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Heather McQuillen, The Stick, the Boy and the Shell

The call of a common stick resonates through long grass, or skims across a beach, to echo in the vacant chamber in the core of a boy. Such is the custom of sticks. A boy pauses, his eyes and palms alert to the trajectories that have brought them to this place, boy and stick. Each of these parts of him touch down in quick succession, eyes first, palms follow and only after that, lagging to keep up, the naming. ‘Stick’ and ‘Mine’.

The longing of a stick and the appetite of a boy conspire to swipe at high leaves and to tool along wet sand. At home time a boy tries to slip the stick unseen into the foot space in the back of the car. When it is denied him his fists screw up and his jaw thrusts. He is told that there are other sticks for other days.

A pragmatic boy, he swerves to negotiation. If not a stick, then pockets filled with shells. If not all, then one. He tarries in his choosing, relishes the straining air between him and his mother. A discarded stick is flung out of reach of other boys onto rocks where waves pull at it. It too must negotiate.

A pragmatic boy, he makes the shell count. His father did not come on this trip. He gifts it to his father to remind him.

A pragmatic boy, he knows there will be other sticks for other days.

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. Her work was long-listed in the 2014 National Flash Fiction Day competition.

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Rita Shelley, Vested Interest

Carla was late on Wednesday. I figured she buggered off with another guy – me being seventy-nine and her not cracking fifty yet. But as soon as she showed up all was forgiven.

Afterwards we had Heinekens and Thai. Then she started in about her son. He’s in jail in Turkey and she needed three thousand to get him out.

I told her again I’m broke.

“Oh no,” she kissed me. “This is loan. I got money coming. I pay back everything.”

“I’ll think about it.”

“This is last time. When my son come back you meet him. He gonna love you.”

After she left I swore no more money to Carla. All I had left was eleven thousand. Christ, my son thinks he’s inheriting eighty-five.

The next day I gave her the dough. Last time.

“Thank you,” Carla said. “You save my life because you save my son.”

I felt like a hero but it didn’t last long. Pretty soon I was kicking myself big time.

Saturday night Carla came over trailing Chanel and lugging a suitcase.

“Say, Carla, you going on a trip?”

“No, silly man, you open and look inside.”

“What the hell? Where did you get this? Oh God, you didn’t rob a bank?”

“Of course not. I got my inheritance from Turkey. Just came. I told you I pay back every penny. You got interest too. Now open this champagne. We celebrate.”

Dr. Rita Shelley, educationalist, grew up in New York City and lived and worked in British Columbia and Idaho. She came to New Zealand to visit family, fell in love and lives permanently in Whangarei with her partner. She’s published academic articles, short stories and slice of life pieces. She relishes flash fiction.

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Patrick Pink, The Hurt That’s Blood

Sister was messed with behind our church by Sunday boys who kept Jesus on their lips but the devil in their pants. That’s how No Regrets was got. No one daddy but a mama who stayed fierce spite the loud whispers and the sharp-corner looks from those holier than us.

I love No Regrets. She can’t hear and she can only turn to bright sunlight but she smells like warm milk and plays with my wild hair with tiny fingers like thirsty cat licks. Sometimes she pulls too hard and I want to shout at her but Big Mama says she’s only learning me through her skin and muscles ‘cuz her other senses ain’t like ours. It still hurts, but No Regrets is family. And family takes it.

Lately, Sister’s been talking to one of those Sunday boys. He sneaks behind curtains and texts ‘cuz Big Mama’s made it known she’ll snip their balls off and feed ‘em to the pigs if any come near. But the boy doesn’t heed so tempts it and for some reason Sister finds this winning.

Without a word, without a looking-back, Sister leaves No Regrets for the holier-than-us boy who may be daddy but may only be part.

Big Mama says Sister’s made her bed and changes the locks and will say no more on the matter.

I lie in the sun and take a long drink of No Regrets and wait for the tug that teaches and the hurt that’s blood.

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, and he is the winner of the Flash Frontier 2014 Summer Writing Award.

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Mike Crowl, The Memorial

Neither gulls nor waders, neither petrels nor egrets. The shore was as empty of bird life as his mind was empty of thought: creative thought, that is. It’s impossible not to think, he thought. On another day that might have made him laugh.

As he walked, he kicked light sand sitting on the surface, sand purpose-made for kicking, or being skiffed off the beach by blasts of sea wind. It caught on his trousers and would later settle on the crib’s verandah, joining thousands of fellow grains stuck in the boards. The verandah. Another unplanned construction added to the any-which-way building: built to shade his grandmother as she shelled peas into a cracked ceramic bowl, or skinned fish caught by one of her children. His uncles.

Where were they all now? Dead to this world, but alive in some way. His remnants of Christianity were strong enough to imagine them in a place handmade for them.

Scuffing along, his shoe caught on a stone embedded in the deeper sand, jarred his foot, jarred up his spine into the back of his neck. Once he might have cursed the stone. He’d learned such a curse was pointless.

He turned; stared at it. The stone was hardly unusual: round on the surface, many crenulations, marking a spot as insignificant as itself.

He knelt, spent the next hour digging it out, carried, rolled it back to the crib, placed it on the verandah.

A memorial to something as yet unexpressed.

Mike Crowl is a Dunedin writer and musician in his late sixties who also composes and occasionally acts. His books include Grimhilda! and the ‘sort of sequel’, The Mumbersons and the Blood Secret amd his non-fiction book, Diary of a Prostate Wimp.

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Steve Charters, Letting Go

I’m skimming the pool. Natalie clatters over the tiles.

“Oh, it’s you, Nick,” she says. “I thought you were Andy. Is he here?”

She’s in full makeup, leotard and the shoes. She stares at my pecs so I know he’s never told her.

“He’s inside,” I say. “Packing.”

Andy’s huge frame looms behind – like she’d mistake me for him.

I skim.

“Nat,” he says. “We weren’t expecting you.”

“We?” she says. “We! What exactly are you packing?”

“Just stuff,” he says.

“What stuff?”

“My things.”

“Your things. Why?”

“I told you, Nat. I’m leaving.”

I know he never.

“No.” She scrunches up. “Noooooo!”

What a drama queen.

They go in the house, his massive arm round her shoulder.

I hear: “We need a break.”

I hear: “Who is she?”

I skim.

*

I’m packing his stuff. She comes in: smeared mascara.

“Can’t you persuade him?”

“Nat, he’s a big boy. He’s made up his own mind.”

“It’s so wrong,” she says. “He’ll regret it.”

“Nat,” I say. “I can’t get into this.”

“You men,” she says. “Sticking together. Like big stick insects.’

She stomps upstairs yelling: “Got all your precious things, Andy?”

*

Me and Andy, shoulder to shoulder, making double-shot espressos. Natalie, herbal tea seeping red in a mug, painting her nails black.

“I hope you boys’ll be very happy together,” she says. “I always knew you’d make someone a great wife, Nick.”

Smug bitch.

I let it go.

I can afford to. Me and Andy together again. Like old times.

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 the HarperCollins anthology Creative Juices and The Rangitawa Collection 2014. He has read from his work at the Going West Literary Festival and is currently working on a memoir.

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Celine Gibson, Constancy

His sons were playing cricket on the lawn. Watching him watching them, she said: “Just tell me you’re sorry it came to this.”

If she despises me, he thought, so much the better. “You know me, my dear – to regret my experiences would be to arrest my development. It would be a denial of my soul.” He placed hand to heart, raised eyes heavenwards. She had to smile; hell’s fiends scorching his heels, yet still the man must perform.

Seeing she did not – could not – hate him, he dropped all affectation; time was short to make amends. “I have always loved you. No matter what you hear… or read. Remember that, Connie.”

Recently, she’d written – somewhat drolly – of her husband’s philandering to a friend: What use being jealous of the person who fills the places I cannot possibly fill? The friend had no difficulty reading between the lines.

But now she must pay the price for looking the other way. Once Fleet Street began churning their salacious headlines, doors would close against her.

Cyril and Vyvyan swung from him as if he were a tree, until he shouted his surrenders, enfolded them in a crushing hug. They wondered why Papa was crying, called after him as he strode from the garden.

Damn those priggish prudes, she thought, if I could turn back the clock, I’d do it all again.

She stepped outside to comfort Oscar’s boys.

Celine Gibson shares her home in Christchurch with a bagpiper and a cat. She is the secretary of SIWA (South Island Writers’ Association) and in December graduates from the 2014 Hagley Writers’ Institute course. When not engaged on her own writing projects, Celine co-hosts and produces a local radio programme called Writers’ Block – a show for writers, about writers.

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Michael Webb, Game Over

The crowd is all around me, baking in the sun, and I keep my knees tightly together and watch him work. I know it’s him – the earnest, flat smile, the easy grace. Nearly a decade later, he still moves smoothly, like he is made of liquid. I have sent the note, I have lied to those I love, and now I watch him. My thighs are sweaty where they are pressed together as I watch the gathering, then the rush and dip and thrust, physics laid out in sweat and dirt.

Then they sigh as one, and it is done, and he is shaking hands and smiling, and the people in my row stand and gather programs and take last sips from cold drinks and began to file out. I know he is headed underground, to shower and change and dress and return to the hotel. I think he will meet me, I’m positive he will do what he asks, but I don’t know, and the anxiety makes me sweat even more as I walk out.

I have decided to do it, to see him and to tell him and to peel off the gauze from an old wound, and it is frustrating not to know what he will do, but I just walk with the others, smelling the peanuts and beer, walking in a straight line, up the steps and away from the orderly geometry of the game.

Michael Webb has worked with chemicals more than half his life, and you might argue they have affected his brain. He writes at innocentsaccidentshints.blogspot.com and you can buy his novel Everybody Loves You Now by clicking here.

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Gail Ingram, Aoraki

She got out of the car, hauled the pack out of the boot and pulled her jacket closer round her shoulders. She’d made it to the start – to the foot of her maunga – her mountain.

From where she was standing, she realized the foothills looked like part of leg – a knee. That was it – it was kneeling into the black beech forest with one leg, and above that, folds of ice fell from the other massive thigh. The power of the mountain shook through her; a wiri went down her spine into her hands, and her eyes felt like they were being pulled upward, skyward.

Up the streaked grey shin she looked. Up the torso, until her neck craned. A cloak of ice shimmered around her, within her, the surrounds of moraine and sky – blue, silver, purple, steel. Up the crease of a hood-like peak that slashed the single cloud hanging in the mazarine sky. She saw a terrible face of snow, neither young nor old, the cheek soft as a newborn, other places scarred with black rock.

“Tena koe,” she said softly, lowering her eyes. “Here I come.”

Gail Ingram’s poetry and short stories have appeared in Takahē, Fineline, NZ Poetry and Cordite Poetry Review, among others. She has been placed in various competitions including the 2013 Takahē Short Story and BNZ Literary Award Flash Fiction competitions. Every now and then she attempts a novel. Her flash was long-listed in the 2014 National Flash Fiction Day competition.

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D R Jones, Yeah, Nah

You could’ve stayed at school past fifth form. Got a trade certificate if you put in the effort.

“Must try harder,” said your reports. You didn’t have to go flatting so young, either. Your mum cried. Like when your dad left – not that you’d remember.

You do remember Hannah, though. Older than you, worked at the dairy. If you’d asked her out that time instead of getting wasted with the boys, she might have liked you back. You reckoned you’d’ve made beautiful babies.

Claire was second best. A shame you got her up-the-duff first pop. Should’ve used a condom, eh? But to bail on her and your kid was pretty rank. Where’s Greg now? Not in school. Not with his mum. Not your finest hour, it’s got to be said.

The summer you picked apples – imagine if you’d taken up the orchardist’s offer: “Want a full-time job? Do a horticulture paper at polytech and you’ll be manager by twenty-five.” You flew from under his wing. Into the arms of your mates, the comfort of a bottle, a tinny, the dole, the T.A.B. Pity you didn’t back yourself over dumb luck.

Instead, life unfolded around you. Its edges disappeared beyond horizons, stranding you off-centre. At fifty, the public you slurs at everyone over a pint, “Nah, no regrets”, the private you shrugs, says to your best mate, “Maybe, but y’know, fate and that”, while the secret you sighs to yourself, says nothing at all.

D R Jones lives and works near Puhoi, overlooking the Mahurangi Harbour. This pastoral setting seems conducive to his 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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Adam J Wolstenholme, Down Goes His Lordship

Driving to Pete’s funeral in Wootton Bassett, his friend Liam told me how he first became interested in killing. As he drove he took hits of Scotch from a hip flask, leaning into the rain-lashed windscreen.

“I’ve wanted to be a sniper since reading about Trafalgar when I was a kid. Imagine you were that Frenchman hiding in the Mizen top of the Redoubtable. Your ship’s been taken, you’re wounded, but still fighting. Then the gun smoke clears and – Look! – there’s a one-armed officer strutting about on the quarterdeck of HMS Victory. He’s Nelson. So you fire – down goes his Lordship.”

Liam had been accelerating during this speech, and now his Sat/nav bleeped, detecting speed cameras. He slowed down.

“They reckon Nelson didn’t live to know he’d won Trafalgar, but that French sniper knew he’d lived to kill Nelson.”

“I thought Nelson knew,” I said. “Didn’t he say, ‘Thank God I’ve done my duty’?”

“Propaganda, mate. He never said that. Hey – you know what soldiers really say, the world over, when they know they’re about to die? Including our mate Pete?”

I breathed in. “Tell me.”

“They say, ‘Mum!’

The engine revved under the protesting bleep of the Sat/nav.

I caught the whisky fumes full in the face as Liam turned to me and laughed. Deep in their sockets, his eyes burned like blue flames.

Adam J Wolstenholme studied Creative Writing and Literature before embarking on a ten-year career as a newspaper journalist. He now teaches English in a secondary school. His stories have been published in print and online. He is working on a novel.

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Helen Moat, Danger Zone

You dared me to scrump in old Jack’s orchard, light fires in the dell and dissect dead mice with your army knife. When you kissed me, your mouth tasted of burned apple and spearmint. That was before you left me for Sally Harris aged ten: older, more sophisticated.

But you were back, goading me over the barbed-wired ditch on a rope-swing. I did what you asked. No questions. No regrets. Just a two-inch trophy scar on my thigh above my left knee where you’d dabbed the blood away with a grubby hanky. I was eleven then, you thirteen.

I didn’t see you until that day two years later by the building site. “Up for some fun on the dumper truck?” you asked. We clambered up the tilted tipper, bracing ourselves for the slap and jolt as it slammed down. Up and down we ran, hearts and legs racing in unison until the dumper threw us of like a rodeo horse. You landed on top of me, laughing, holding on.

Mandy Thompson, Fiona Roberts, Liz Jamison and Heather Williams all came and went, but you returned to me, showing off in your dad’s Mazda in Mace’s car-park: a 360, a couple of spins, an emergency stop just short of the wall. My heart was in my mouth, yours on mine. Sweet sixteen.

You married one of the shiny girls. I married safe John Buchanan. But you caught me off-guard on Carnegie Street one day. More scars, but still no regrets.

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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Fortunato Salazar, October

I’m aware that it’s viewed as farce, and it is farce, contrived farce, the two extremes of my gratifying life. From dusk to dawn I envy the people who envy me, gazing in through the ground-floor glass at the hit-or-miss fabrication of tubules each the diameter of a helium atom. I may win the Nobel; that’s no joke, just ask around. At dawn I commute to my garden and chase away the housecats and feed the rock stars, the rows of Cucurbita pepo. My best hope would raise a groan from the axles of my neighbor’s flatbed. I’ve had to settle for the silver two years running. The same two years that journalists (“Can you help bring a little closer to home the diameter of a helium atom?”) have pestered me about the Stockholm odds. They wheedle for a photo of me dwarfed by tubules with the diameter of helium atoms. The blender cost me more than my Prius. I would like to win both prizes in the same year. I would be remembered for that. I should wear a mask when I dust the furrows. The year of my triumph will come soon or else I will bequeath my garden to the housecats, named Mouse and House. I named them. They breathe in the multifarious dust and probably their lives will be short as a result. But if I win, their names will live on forever in some caption. We will all make a loud noise.

Fortunato Salazar lives in Los Angeles, and his writing has appeared in McSweeney’s, Guernica, Nerve, Wigleaf, Mississippi Review, Los Angeles Review and elsewhere.

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Louise Miller, Three Women

The reasons for her inclusion were predominately charitable. This means her role is limited, her lines few. The midday restaurant scene is a prequel to seasonal festivities. The chill of a beaded wine glass, the sea scented humidity; the air billows with licence and reward. Tiny dishes of infinite variety and design are delivered by a remote acolyte and consumed without comment. She could do the math but dares not.The leading voice is as insistent as it has always been, the tales grown intricate with midlife substantiality. Surely though the old vivacious charm has eroded, revealing brittleness, pitted and vulnerable. The result of a long run to dwindling audiences. The no nonsense second voice, emerging out of the shade, has found a foothold here. Slow and steady may win this race.The iPhone appears with the sauterne. Evidence. Greece, anecdotal anarchy, the dazzling son, the daughter-in-law with tenure still, her delightful family’s holiday island. Then, mid-scroll, woozily she glimpses the Attic sea beyond the plump provider’s now grizzled brow. Indigo. So indigo. A sea craved from childhood.

Below, in its transparent depths, she imagines the female octopus’ eye. Its expressiveness the stuff of a Japanese wood cut. A chemical switch has been thrown. No choices. It tends the luxuriant garden of white mimosa in a bower of last supper shells. In time, she will send her harvest of blossom on its way, rhythmically dispersing fragments of herself into a tenuous future.

Louise Miller lives and works in Auckland, New Zealand. She has written short fiction for some time but is new to publishing. She was long-listed in the 2014 National Flash Fiction Day competition. She blogs at Life in Hydra.

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Andrew Stancek, Corn Chowder

Mom said as long as we chanted our loudest, and wished our heartiest, the seeds’ magic powers would awaken and the three of us would never grow apart.

Thank you, thank you, da-ku-jem
Da-ku, da-ku, thank you,

we chanted, hopping from one foot onto the other, honoring our country, our heritage, and magic. The finches scattered and in my five year-old fist, I felt the beans sprouting magic. Jana, a year younger, clutched fish scraps we would work into the soil. Katka had dropped a few of the kernels of corn while worming her big toe into the earth, but a dozen remained in her cupped palms.

“Corn goes first to grow tall quick,
‘round the stalks some bean magic.
Lovely squash, warrior seed
Protecting sisters, from every weed”

Mom recited.

I stir my corn chowder now, Mom’s recipe from so long ago, always using the three sisters: squash instead of potato, beans and corn, with onion, thyme and chives. Mom understood magic: we never did grow apart. In the morning I’d visited Mom, Jana and Katka in the family plot and after I slurp my soup, I’ll plant a fresh batch of seeds in my garden, maybe for the last time. The beans still radiate their magic and I remember the chant. We’ve had sun and just enough rain this spring. I’ll be glad to see my sisters soon.

Andrew Stancek was born in Bratislava and saw Russian tanks occupying his homeland. His dreams of circuses and ice cream, flying and lion-taming, miracle and romance have appeared recently in Tin House online, r.kv.r.y, The Linnet’s Wings, Connotation Press, THIS Literary Magazine, Flash Fiction Chronicles, Istanbul Literary Review and Pure Slush.

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Nancy Stohlman, The Fortune Teller

The fortune teller looked at my hands, smoothed them onto the table. You lost something, she said.

Yes, I said. I want to get it back.

But you can’t get it back, you know that.

That’s not true. Don’t say that, I said. That’s why I’m here.

Look, she said, pointing to the fleshy part on the outside of my palm. It’s gone. I don’t decide these things but I’m telling you what I see.
So what do I do now?

She patted me hand. It’s just part of your story, now, she said.

Nancy Stohlman’s books include the newly released flash fiction collection The Vixen Scream and Other Bible Stories (2014), the flash novels The Monster Opera (2013) and Searching for Suzi: a flash novel (2009), and four anthologies including Fast Forward: The Mix Tape (2010), which was a finalist for a 2011 Colorado Book Award. She is a founding member of Fast Forward Press, the creator of The F-Bomb Flash Fiction Reading Series in Denver, and her work has been included in The Best of the Web.
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Rupprecht Mayer, At Home

Each day I wake in my house my heart springs forth. My toothbrush is the best that could ever happen to me. A day without my well-fitting clothes I never wish to know. My style of breakfast, self-prepared, I can only recommend. Not once would I care to depart from my daily routine. The furnishings, spare, possess my entire assent. In harmony with myself and the world I spend much time at my practical desk. To be allowed to lunch each noon alone I could never have awaited in my wildest daydream. A successful mid-day nap encourages a joyous leap. I have no idea what one could alter to improve upon these two rooms. Each afternoon fills me with bottomless joy. Early evenings conjure a smile of satisfaction from my face. A modest nightly meal has my consummate blessing. I can imagine nothing more gratifying than the remembrance of good music. Not once has my digestion caused me reason for complaint. The bed I sleep in is of superior quality. I am open to dreams of every sort, but also their absence is a pleasure to me.

Translated by Eldon (Craig) Reishus

Rupprecht Mayer was born near Salzburg. After some twenty years living and working in Taiwan, Beijing and Shanghai, he recently resettled in Southeast Bavaria. He translates Chinese literature and writes short prose. English versions appeared in Blue Fifth Review, Connotation Press, Gravel, Postcard Shorts, Watershed Review, Whole Beast Rag and elsewhere. See chinablaetter.info/rupprechtmayer/.

Eldon (Craig) Reishus lives beneath the Alps outside Munich (Landkreis Bad Tölz-Wolfratshausen). He is an old-school contributor to Exquisite Corpse, an all-around web and print media pro and the German-English translator of numerous films and books. He originates from Fort Smith, Arkansas. Visit him here

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Guest Editor Owen Marshall on the editing/ selection process:

Unlike mathematics, literature is a subjective art, and the answers vary according to the nature, background and predilections of the reader. Another guest editor may well have arrived at a rather different list of pieces for inclusion, and so I commend all those people who submitted work. The fictions I selected impressed me for various combinations of the following strengths – emotional power, originality, a sense of voice, and the willingness to take risks in structure and syntax to achieve impact.

Owen Marshall has written, or edited, over 25 books. He has held fellowships at the Universities of Canterbury and Otago, and in Menton, France. In 2000 he received the ONZM and in the same year his novel Harlequin Rex won the Montana Book Awards Deutz Medal for Fiction. Marshall is an adjunct professor at the University of Canterbury, which awarded him the honorary degree of Doctor of Letters in 2002. He was awarded the CNZM in 2012 for services to literature, and in 2013 received the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in Fiction. Owen Marshall, with Fiona Kidman, will judge the 2015 National Flash Fiction Day competition.

Please also see this month’s feature page — including an interview, blind criticism, favourite shorts and notes on craft.

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Happy holidays to all! Coming in February 2015: whispers.