Photograph by Leanne Radojkovich, an Auckland writer and artist also highlighted this month on our Features page, where she discusses experimenting with new media and sharing her work in unexpected ways with delightful results. You can find more at her website too.
~ ~ ~
One minute the shells were in her hand. Then, in a sudden stumble, were scattered on the beach. Amongst hundreds of similar shells.
The collecting had been taking place all day. The older brothers and sisters had chided her for it, told her that as soon as she got home Mum would throw the shells out, just as she always did. Before the child had even forgotten about them.
This collection was particular. Each shell had some individual feature that connected with the rest. This was a connected collection, she insisted. Her oldest brother sneered at her use of big words. Did she even know what she was talking about? He laughed at her and then, with his six sleek teenage mates, raced to the waves, crashed into them in an upturned waterfall.
She stared at the shells, trying to see which ones had been hers.
A dog, one of those long-haired bouncing dogs oblivious to what they’re trampling underfoot, came rushing in amongst the family, shouted at by its owners further along the beach, shouted and shooed away by the rest of the family, raced after by Danny with joyful hilarity.
The shells were now obscured by sand, mixed thoroughly with shells that hadn’t found favour.
She refused to cry. And who would have noticed if she had? Tears were disregarded even when cuts and falls and breaks occurred.
She gazed at the sand, the shells.
And picked up the first.
Mike Crowl is a Dunedin writer, musician and composer in his late sixties. In January this year he published an e-book called Grimhilda! – a fantasy for children and their parents. A second e-book, Diary of a Prostate Wimp, which deals with his experiences of going through a prostate biopsy and its aftermath, will be published in early May.
~ ~ ~
They taught you how to breathe. They shaped out your lungs and you practised inhalation and exhalation, over and over again, so much that they nicknamed you Aphrodite and lined your heart with gold. But you kept staring at the sun until your eyes burned and till all you saw was white light, like a poisonous heaven. So they scolded you, taped the night over your eyes, and you sat there motionless for hours, staring at a pool of metal not unlike the one in your lungs. Not unlike the tasteless sun.
They scattered your heart away later that night. Ripped half of it from your chest and turned it into dusty confetti till your pulse points felt like emptiness. You told them about stars and they scoffed, twisted your veins until they dulled into silence, and all the blood stuck together like glue.
Stop looking, they said, you’re turning your heart into a stomach ache. Like they knew how it felt to have near miss after near miss graze your skin, spill blood onto the cracks in the floor. So you sat there with a plane ticket in your pocket and when they decided it was time to teach you to sing, you ripped silver from the wallpaper and wrote down all the scattered pieces. Italy. France. Anywhere. And you stuck them onto your lungs for someday, one day, when you’d finally be brave enough to run away.
Emma Shi was the winner of the 2013 National Schools Poetry Award and is currently studying at Victoria University of Wellington.
~ ~ ~
She carried roses at their wedding. Creamy-centred white, lushly perfumed, the thorns removed.
After the reception she placed the bouquet on her mother’s grave.
On their first anniversary he gave her roses, but in other years he forgot.
When she had their first baby – a boy – he presented her with a mixed bouquet; carnations, gypsophila and fern, and three rosebuds just opening, with no scent.
The three girls’ births merited a box of chocolates. She understood, knew he didn’t understand her.
The children grew up and left for other towns, other countries, occasionally alighting like restless butterflies at home before flitting off again.
For their twenty-fifth anniversary their daughters arranged a family party and he gave her an eternity ring. After several glasses of wine he insisted on the two of them dancing, and it was like being newly engaged, laughing as they danced, looking into each other’s eyes, loving each other in that all-sparks-and-stars way the young believe that only they can.
Sparks and stars fade, and sometimes he and she irritated each other, snapped and sniped, but they laughed at the same things, worried about the children, and made love in leisurely, sweet passion, rekindling tiny lights that never quite died.
The children flew home for his funeral, then parted again one by one.
She placed roses on his grave. A creamy white bouquet. When they wilted she pulled the petals and scattered them over the bare hump of earth.
Daphne Clair de Jong, author of almost 80 romantic and historical novels published worldwide, is a past winner of the Katherine Mansfield BNZ Short Story Award and other awards, has had numerous short stories and articles published in magazines and anthologies, and some poetry in literary magazines. She also tutors writing in nearly all genres and runs the world-famous-in-New Zealand Kara School of Writing and Karaveer Writers’ Retreat at her home in rural Northland. Find out more here.
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Every day when I go to the market with my sister to buy oranges and freshly baked bread, I see little Mohammed. He plays in the street near his grandmother’s stall. He has a cheeky face, and large brown eyes. He wears a bright purple shirt and khaki trousers. Sometimes he pretends he is a soldier. He marches up and down. When he was born, there was something wrong. One of his small arms hangs limp, like a dead weight.
This day, I say hello to Mohammed. His grandmother sells old toys that have been scavenged from the rubble of homes around the city. Sometimes they are still in their boxes and the plastic is dirty and discoloured.
The fruit at the market today is speckled and unhealthy-looking but I take some anyway. I buy nuts and dates as well. My sister and I turn back along the street. There is a loud noise. I pull at my sister and drag her towards an alleyway. We shelter, she tightly against me. Bang, bang, bang.
I hear screams, wailing, screams again. Men in heavy black boots run away through the alley, knocking my shopping bag. The nuts are scattered on the ground.
Silence. I take my sister’s hand and edge out onto the street again. I see a flash of purple and a splash of red.
Mohammed’s lifeless little hand lies on the ground, and where his face should be is just red, red, red.
Kate Mahony has an MA in Creative Writing from the International Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University, Wellington. Her fiction has been published in Best New Zealand Fiction Vol 6, Turbine, Takahē, International Literary Quarterly, Tales for Canterbury, Blackmail Press, Blue Fifth Review, Blue Crow Magazine and 4th Floor Literary Journal.
~ ~ ~
All day I thought of Uncle Vic heading home, his legs long in the stirrups, hat crooked, cigarette hanging. I saw the dust shroud, the upturned stones, and shiny railway tracks. Hustling Māori hens and fantails might spook the mare; the Greymouth railcar’s rearing head could make her cold-backed. Vic would stroke her chestnut neck, saying, “It’s OK, girl. It’s OK.”
At Hukarere, Vic might spot Hec Paterson at his farm gate, staring up the road. Vic would remember his best mate, Hec’s son Jack, killed by the Japs in 1942. Hec might nod. Vic would tip his hat.
In the shadow of Waimaunga’s Catholic Church, Vic could catch a glimpse of Moira O’Malley (née Conaghan), haloed in her doorway, cursing at her freckled brood. He’d recall once asking her for a dance and his mother’s swift rebuke: “Stick to your own kind.” Moira might turn away. Vic would sigh.
At midday, Vic would halt outside the Mawheraiti Hotel with its solid door and painted windows. Later he’d appear, whistling, and remount, dodging possum carcasses, flat-back trucks and tongue-lolling dogs — ears flat, looking back. Vic would shout.
Before town, Vic would cross the bridge, the horse’s shoes echoing above the loudmouth river. On paved streets he’d divert past Pete Williams’s place. Betsy Williams would run long fingers through strawberry-blonde hair, a wedding ring gleaming in the afternoon light. Vic would wink.
It’d be late when Vic got home.
“How was your day?” I’d say.
“Pretty uneventful,” he’d answer.
Lorraine Carmody lives on a 4-hectare lifestyle block at the northern end of Canterbury’s Greendale fault line with her husband, three teenage daughters and six horses. She’s a former press communities journalist and is in the second year of the Hagley Writers’ Institute course.
~ ~ ~
The woman bunches up billowing clouds of shirts and trousers. She irons with a steel will, knocking out stubborn creases. She cannot take rumpled shirts to the charity shop. The incessant ironing does nothing to revoke the flatness of her life. She forces her feet into tattered pumps, takes the wash basket outside. On the line, coloured sails take the wind captive then release it, defeated. She pulls the pegs and a clutch of bras falls out of her hand, tangled promiscuous serpents. B-cup-headed cobras, in beige and white.
Simon misfiled his will between “Planning” and “Plumbing”. He’d been dead a week before she found it.
We were meant to go together. You said you’d wait for me, and I for you. Yet you crossed over without a thought. There’s less of me left now. You can see the light shining through the gaps between my bones. How could you leave? She smacks away a tear. The wind whips up a tattoo and slaps her, as she tugs the basket indoors.
The document sits on the table, next to a ring from yesterday’s coffee. She passes her finger over the solemn words. Give the whole of my estate to my wife… As she unravels its meaning, one thing is clear. Simon has made no provision for what matters most. She searches the pages again. There is nothing to tell her how to find him. Nothing to show her what happens to the soul when the body disintegrates and scatters.
Nod Ghosh is a student at Hagley Writers’ Institute, Christchurch. Her short stories or poems have appeared in Takahē, Penduline, Christchurch Press and previously at Flash Frontier.
~ ~ ~
The mad-woman comes in spring. She’s there one day, amongst the scatter of naïve-green bushes on the village rim. Cackling like a chook. The villagers are wary, for mad-women bring ill-portion. And she’s dirty, smells bad. They turn away, hope she goes.
But Mehshed, the mayor, is troubled. What should he do? As a good Muslim, give her shelter in the corral with the goats? Or chase her off, to please the villagers. He doesn’t know.
Summer arrives and the land is golden. The mad-woman is still in the bushes, which are dusty and crisp. Small boys chuck stones at her, scattering gleeful at her harried yelps. Women, pausing at kitchen doors, see her dancing in the white heat of noon.
One day in autumn, men come to Mehshed’s house. The bushes glow copper now, the air sharp.
Sir, we must drive her off, with sticks and dogs, they say.
But in Allah’s eyes she is our sister, Mehshed replies.
She is a witch, she’ll bring a bad winter.
That’s an old wives’ tale.
Mehshed watches the men leave. He sighs.
Winter brings lash upon lash of storm. Mehshed stands in the snow in a cruel evening light. In the distance, the sound of men shouting, dogs barking.
The sound fades with the light. He goes in for dinner.
Out on the road, the mad-woman crouches. Her breath is a frozen whisper, her heart-beat a minuscule cracking of ice. Around her, the bleakness and sadness of winter.
Pat Deavoll is a late-in-life student of Information Design at CPIT. She is also in her second year of study with the Hagley Writers’ Institute. In 2011 she published an autobiography of her mountaineering career, Wind from a Distant Summit, and is currently working on a novel, but a recent discovery of poetry and now short fiction keeps distracting her.
~ ~ ~
I thought I was special. I thought he recognised in me some erudite grain that would one day grow into a pearl of rare beauty. I was wrong. Every person that spoke at his funeral told the same story – the books he plied them with. I remembered the one he held at arm’s length, taunting, trying to decide whether I was ready. His widow handed it to me a few days later.
This diminutive woman grew in strength and stature in that short time. It was as though she had been waiting in the wings and at last her moment had come. She took to managing house, garden, finances, everything. I’m having fun, she would tell me, as she bought new clothes, filled her garden with colour, and laughed.
I admired a single rose the colour of muted sunset in a vase on the glass-topped table. She beckoned. I followed. The rose bush was in a giant terracotta urn. He’s in there, she whispered as she touched her finger to her lips. Sssh.
Barely a year later she had gone. Her family cleared the house, stripped the garden, emptied all the pots. I accepted their offer of two bags of potting mix. They heaved in two blue plastic recycling bins filled with soil, dumped them at my door “From the rose bush,” they said.
I haven’t got the heart to move him on. Besides, it would be a shame to disturb the tomatoes that are just beginning to sprout.
Beverley Teague has been a member of a writing group for almost three years, attracted to the group because of her interest in writing poetry. Flash fiction is her most recent discovery, her newest challenge.
~ ~ ~
I don’t know how to finish.
I don’t really know how I began. One never quite does. Creation is a complicated process.
I’ve never been good at endings. I’ve yet to discover every nuance of my protagonist. The ancillary characters, some of whom I have neglected, need to be reigned in. I need to give each their own place, their own time. Their stories are threads waving in the wind, strands of spider’s silk. Sometimes they tangle together. Sometimes they scatter, find their own direction. That’s beyond my control.
There’s the long-awaited son, the child’s laughter unrestrained and pure. The teenager barely smiles. I need to find resolution or closure, a promise to the reader that there’s hope. There’s tenderness in there, but I don’t want to break the outer shell to find it. Time. I need more time.
His wife stirs the central character, even now. Her taut abdomen and avocado breasts have given way to childbirth and time. Yet when he holds her a gravitational force binds them. Sex sets them free. The climax will bring them both to tears. She will ask him not to leave. He can’t promise her that. It will break him, over and over.
And the best friend, the mother, the students, they’re all in his orbit too. It’s never quite finished but I have to let them go. I’ve never had a deadline like this before.
Matthew Thompson works in the field of haematology, is a prolific writer of flash fiction (opus:4) and enjoys a particular brand of dissociative identity disorder.
~ ~ ~
They’re planning a holiday. Somewhere she hopes, which will be warm and languid and remind her of home.
For him it means hours on the internet comparing airline fares, poring over minuscule photos of hotel rooms, checking his bank balance. Not that he needs worry about his bottom line but habit is habit and a deal is a deal.
For her, it means dreaming up scenarios and planning the clothes to fit the picture.
He comes home to find her standing in front of the bedroom mirror, wearing a yellow bikini. Scattered over the bed are six more sets — pairs? whatever one calls the two halves of a bikini. Apart from colours, they look identical.
She juts a hip, turns and looks over her shoulder, checking her bottom line.
“What’s this?” he asks. “One for every day of the holiday?”
“Because hotels have laundries.”
“Internet shopping,” she says. “Returnable. Just choosing.”
She stares at him but he doesn’t meet her eye. Looks instead at her body, polished wood against the yellow fabric. He steps closer, reaches for the ties of the bikini and she feels the heat of him. Lustful. But it’s not lust she needs. Admiration is her drug.
She brushes past him, scoops the garments together and goes out to the pool, tosses them, then dives. He looks down on her starfish body, bright triangles and twin moons of bikini floating around her like tattered flags. Non returnable.
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 (placing first in the 2012 National Flash Fiction Day competition) 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.
~ ~ ~
I watch the figure as it leaps and twists. One leg is thrust forward, bearing the weight, balancing at the point where it surely must fail. The other is trembling with pent-up energy, still in mid air, still graceful.
White arms reach upwards, sinewy and impossibly elongated, as if to snatch at the fluttering remnants of what was left. The back seems androgynous – lean and muscular, but moving to a dreamy rhythm, the skin glistening where the fitful light catches smoothness. Imagination draws the head, flung back to follow the sure flight of an unseen ball, the face glowing with triumph.
Soon the colourful plumage is in disarray, no longer fresh but drifting – disintegrating.
It’s wild out there in the shredding winter wind.
Joan Curry has e-published three books – two on writing and one a selection of short stories. She has been a book reviewer for 37 years, writes notes for a nationwide book discussion scheme, has had articles and features published in newspapers and magazines and has researched and written three books of family history. Her blog is at joancurry.blogspot.com.
~ ~ ~
Janet isn’t sure if it is her stomach or bladder that has woken her. One must be dealt with before the other. She takes the deep breath that will move her body from the bed and puts her feet on the floor.
Rod lies awake, eyes closed, breathing evenly. He hears his wife’s footsteps as she leaves the bedroom, shuts the toilet door, urinates, water on water. This goes on for minutes, it is torture, water torture he thinks.
Janet has flushed the toilet. She heads to the kitchen, pushes at the door. Is it locked? She turns the handle. Nothing. She can hear the fridge groaning. Calling to her. Earlier in daylight, while grass was mowed, birds called, and in the heaviness of afternoon sleep, she stumbled through dreams of red meat.
Rod has gone back to sleep. He doesn’t hear Janet leave the house, her footsteps as feet crunch gravel, the keys in the lock, the back door opening.
The sun is up. Janet sleeps. Rod notices a faint smell of gravy. He is out of bed, and unlocking the kitchen door. Roast beef sandwiches he thinks. He rubs his eyes and sees half eaten roast potatoes, dried crusts of bread, an apple and his roast beef, lumps strewn across the kitchen floor. There are sandy footprints; the back door is open. He steps back, acid in his throat; his heart leaps in his chest. Then he remembers the smell of his sleeping wife.
Rod cleans. Janet sleeps.
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.
~ ~ ~
Mum loved France.
“The Marais was where we lived in Paris, it means ‘swamp’ but it’s not one anymore. Little tarts, feuillettes aux abricots. They looked like yolks. City Island was the best place for a picnic, with Orangina in little pear-shaped bottles of dimpled glass.”
Wine carves tunnels through my thoughts, flowing through dark passages, splashing against the walls of my brain, passing little glow-worm memories softly sparkling on the walls.
“I loved Marie Antoinette, walked past the Conciergerie every day and imagined what it was like in those pretty dresses in that small dark cell, waiting for the guillotine. The Tuileries, I don’t remember being there, but it’s so fun to say! And the ballet impressionists in the old train station museum and the spiral stone staircases carved out from so many footsteps in the castles.”
I lose sight as I climb the dark stairs. I focus, I see his face next to my feet, sitting sideways on armchairs, his legs by my arms, and I can’t remember the names of the columns.
“You know, those columns with the pinstriped suits? I used to climb on them, playing adventurer.” I tell him to look at the stars to distract him from my arms now hugging his legs, and does he notice the constellation that looks like a brontosaurus?
One more wine and now I can’t remember anything and I never even answered his question, “Were you really named after the French cheese?”
Brie Sherow lives and works in central Christchurch. She had a short story published in Yen Magazine last year and is currently working on several more while studying at Hagley Writers’ Institute.
~ ~ ~
She remembers when she was little, perched on a stool outdoors, her mother winding cotton strips through her hair – a transistor, Kenneth McKellar singing “Danny Boy”.
She’d asked her mother, “What does ‘soft you tread above me’ mean?” The mother explained that after her death, she’d hear her daughter come visit her grave.
Her mother said, “What’s wrong?”
“I don’t want you to die.”
The mother tapped a comb on her daughter’s head, “Silly,” but she said it kindly as she spiralled hair around a clean rag.
In the specialist’s room – “Five percent I’m wrong and you’ll live to one-hundred…ninety-five percent I’m right and it’s pancreatic cancer, so we need to think how to manage that.”
In her mother’s kitchen she splits a pill in half. Tiny beads cascade over a fluff of chocolate mousse wedged amongst peach slivers. Her mother no longer capable of swallowing pills whole. She carries the tray to her, adopts a hideously cheery voice, “Sorry, Mary-Jane, but it’s your favourite pudding again.”
A couple of nibbles are negotiated, the rest she toys with. Baby pearls swirled, smothered, submerged.
Her mother drops the teaspoon, “Growing old is a bugger.”
The daughter nods, but in truth laments a sprinkle of seeds failing to be digested. Already she’s devising strategies for a second attempt; puny punches to push back that day when her mother hears a soft tread above her.
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.
~ ~ ~
Leaning out the car window, she says, You’re a long way from home.
Yep, I say.
Silence as she waits for more.
Does The Lone Ranger have to explain himself? John Wayne? Nope. Those men are men; they take care of things. And there’s no reason why neither of them can’t be a Kiwi like me.
Git along little dogie, I sing, and the woman grins, assuming I’m ordering a huntaway to get in behind. But it’s only me and my heifers. They mosey and pause to glance over at me, indifferent to my lack of Swandri. And none pay mind that my rattlesnakeskin shit-kickers work just dandy as gumboots. All my herd asks is enough grub to fill them up and a spot of cool shade. And shifting to a fresh paddock across the road every few days. I give the straggler a slap on the rump and she saunters in, forcing the others to scatter farther into the field.
I turn and close the gate, tip my Stetson and say, Much obliged, ma’am. She chuckles, starts up her car, plows through the muck, and sets on down the road.
Tonight I’ll hang up my chaps, grab a cold one from the fridge, and rest my bones in the chair Granddaddy brought with him when he settled in Taihoa. And spin some vinyl. I reckon I’ll listen to Tumbling Tumbleweeds and Don’t Fence Me In. And after that, I’ll eavesdrop on the coyotes howling atop the ridge.
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.
~ ~ ~
She slumped in a weathered deckchair, looking over the iridescent blue ocean. It was hot. Too hot. Her clothes felt tight. Greasy sunblock trickled down her neck. Beneath the sunhat her trifocals misted over. Ben was taking too long getting the drinks. What are we doing here, she thought; what’s the name of this place? Retort? Report? No, resort. Dreaming Paradise Resort. A proper holiday, Ben had promised, but she felt she’d been trapped here forever. She was so very tired.
How hard it was to keep her thoughts tidy now, when words and ideas kept tumbling around in her head, instead of lining themselves up in neat marching order. She needed something to thread them on; knitting needles or kebab sticks, a colourful system like the map of the London Underground. Instead, words strewed themselves randomly, like the pebbles on the beach in front of her, and in strange places her weariness felt worse.
All around her people were talking, jabbering in languages she did not understand. Some were even speaking English, but it was full of warbles and hiccups and smiling emptiness.
She gazed towards the water, so shimmery and enticing. Suddenly the sea lurched towards her, rolling forwards eagerly, stretching its welcoming blueness over the beach in a gigantic foaming wave of invitation. People scattered, screamed and fled. She sat transfixed, as the sea beckoned, swept over her, and drew her into its swirling coolness.
When the water receded, her upturned deckchair sprawled empty.
Lindsay Woodlocke comes from Dunedin and shares a large suburban garden with resident family and three cats. Recently retired from teaching, Lindsay enjoys the challenge of writing flash fiction and, when not writing, might sometimes be found learning Mandarin, sculpting or taking tap-dancing classes.
~ ~ ~
She scatters memories like chicken feed and watches as the hens rush over greedy to grab the biggest and best. She remembers the Rhode Island Reds, Buff Orpingtons and bantams of her childhood. Each spring a dozen day old chicks would arrive, cheaping noisily.
The small white hen with the bad hairdo feathers on her head, who hangs back, is a strange breed to her. Cautiously the hen approaches, picks up a grain and runs off with it to a quiet corner where she examines it. Walks round it, pokes it with a foot. She picks it up and rolls it round in her beak, puts it back on the ground and contemplates it, head on one side.
A shaft of sunlight breaks through the apple tree, lighting up the seed. The hen sees it, a shining golden brown. Reassured, she swallows it, and returns for more.
Well fed and contented, she scratches a dust bath for herself.
The woman listens to the quiet clucking as she collects the eggs. She looks at the eggs, thinking each one is like a separate memory. She turns them over, smooths the shells with a finger, frowning as she finds one with chicken shit smeared on it.
“Six eggs and one sunk beneath the nuisance,” her little brother would sing out from inside the hen house.
Indoors, she will wash it, scrubbing off the nuisance. Smiling to herself she closes the gate and leaves to make an omelette for her lunch.
Penny Somervaille writes poetry and short fiction. She is currently one of four MCs for Poetry Live, the weekly poetry event at the Thirsty Dog in Auckland. She has been published in Sidestream Magazine, Blackmail Press, Live Lines and Pot Roast and has read her poetry at Rhythm & Verse, The Library Bar, The Pah Homestead, The Thirsty Dog and The PumpHouse. She lives in Auckland.
~ ~ ~
Edith clambered to the top of the cliff, out of breath, and subsided onto the hollow log. She’d been there many times, escaping from her suburban cul-de-sac. The wide views across the bay and the wind caressing the sea’s surface gave her solace.
Theirs had been a normal enough marriage, she supposed, based on what she’d heard from her friends. The usual pattern of the white wedding followed by an edgy reception; the children and their demands until they flew the coop; and lately the death of physical and then verbal communication, apart from daily banalities, culminating in Harry’s descent into jumbled incomprehensibility.
She wondered where her love had gone. And why. Wrong choice of partner, self-absorption, boredom? Or perhaps, as time passed, love simply hid itself down the cracks in the day’s surface, in the myriad mundane tasks, in the spaces between words.
She thought that if only she could achieve a new perspective she would turn nagging disappointment and the sadness of failure into something noble and enduring.
“Anyway,” Edith muttered aloud “Enough of that. It’s time to say goodbye, Harry.”
Taking a small box from her cloth bag she removed the lid. From the edge of the cliff, with a wide sweep of her arm she launched the contents into the breeze. She watched the grey-white ash scatter against the blue background of the bay below, like confetti at their wedding, she thought. Or dandruff.
Peter Adams won the PEN International first book of non-fiction award for Fatal Necessity, his book about the annexation of New Zealand and the Treaty of Waitangi. After a career in international relations, and many bureaucratic documents later, he is trying the challenge of writing short fiction and poetry. Peter lives at the edge of Wellington harbour, which provides plenty of stimulus.
~ ~ ~
I’m glued to the spacecraft window. The arc of Earth rolls under me like a blue belly. Part of me is pulling away. But I’m not sad. It’s not like what I thought it might be – seeing the pieces of my life scattered across the globe like pins marking some lackadaisical traveller’s journey. My boy in Australia, my girl in Saudi Arabia, the early years struggling in England and later my difficulties in Aotearoa trying to find what it was I wanted, my poor partner trailing after me, always there, colouring those pins. No, it’s not like that at all. Maybe Alice of the Looking Glass could explain it, her neck stretched like spaghetti, her head poking through the clouds and looking over Wonderland without seeing her toes. She knows her toes are there, like I know Aotearoa and Australia and Saudi Arabia are there, beautiful shapes in the blue-green swirl.
For a second I close my eyes and imagine a sperm whale, rising from the waves, blowing white spume.
Perhaps it’s Methuselah, still living.
Gail Ingram writes all sorts of fiction, found in all sorts of places – from Takahē to PoetryNZ. She has been placed in the odd competition, such as last year’s BNZ Literary Awards for her flash fiction ‘Butcher’s Daughter’. She is a butcher’s daughter. She has also dabbled in novel writing. No butchers have appeared yet in her novels.
~ ~ ~
Refuse had gathered by the side of the road. Bags that the council refused to pick up because the maggots were too many for even the hardened stomachs of the rubbish collectors. Letters had been sent to each of the houses in the cul-de-sac but, so far, no one had claimed responsibility.
Over four weeks’ worth accumulated until it became so disgusting that the street called a meeting to decide how to deal with it. All agreed that they had rung the council numerous times. All agreed that it was not their refuse, nor their responsibility. And finally, all agreed to take it in trips. Those with tow bars would take the stuff to the dump and pay for petrol; those without would hire the trailers. Everyone would participate and that way no one was responsible, and no one was implicated.
On the day in question all were present except the Mantels from 10B.
The community was outraged. An agreement had been made and if there was anything they could not abide it was people who broke agreements. The Mantels were irresponsible. Hadn’t the Mantels been the first to deny ownership? Wasn’t it the Mantels who had sat arms crossed at the meeting, and hadn’t they looked at each other conspiratorially when they left?
It was agreed again – a new plan. Bag by maggoty bag, the rubbish was moved to exactly where it belonged and the neighbours waited at their pious windows for the Mantels to come home.
Anahera Gildea, Ngati Raukawa-ki-te-tonga, lives in Wellington with her husband and child. She has been published in multiple anthologies and online. She is currently studying with IIML at Victoria University in Wellington.
~ ~ ~
The archaeologists dug the chocolate soil of your cellar floor, shifted the rubble of bricks and stones, sifted the sandy fill and discovered the sherds, stubborn survivors against heat of fire and weight of demolition.
Typical discarded domestic materials, produced in Britain then scattered to her colonial outposts – props for early settlers playing out a respectable life against an isolated backdrop of Pacific savagery. So the professors profess.
The dig was neat as your prized needlework, black and white photographs of catalogued specimens, remains published for all to see. My reservations evaporate. Soon I’m imagining your meals, table manners and conversations.
I pry, poring over pages of fragments patterned with wild roses and sentimental scenes of prosperous blue and white villages, all idyllic country churches and calm far-off English meadows.
Fragments refitted, experts identify a matching London-style transfer-printed tea service. Popular, utilitarian Regency-ware – only mass-produced seconds though, befitting lay missionaries. You knew your place. Still, a good enough show of civilisation to lubricate social relations with any visitors who trekked to that far Northland bay.
Te Puna. My ancestors endured hardships here for forty years; my virtual dig is ridiculously easy. Click-click. Four identical cups and saucers unearthed. Village scenes of Oxfordshire, says the London antiques dealer.
That’s where you were from.
Worn fragments transform as the pattern stretches like a sacred connection beyond your mission station. No vague memories of distant pastoral England but a palimpsest of domesticity, your last cup of tea sweetened with your county Home.
Alex Reece-Abbott is a New Zealand-Irish writer, published by the Katherine Mansfield Society and in assorted anthologies like Take Tea with Turing and Journeys & Places. She has been nominated for the writing.ie Short Story Awards and winner of the Arvon Prize, CWA Debut Dagger Opening Lines and Liars’ League, and her short fiction has been short-listed for various competitions including the Bridport. Her first novel, The Maori House, was short-listed for several prizes. More here.
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The dishes are all piled up. The cutlery at the back. Rinsed enough so the ants won’t be at them overnight.
It’s amazing the pile two people can make when everything’s prepared from scratch. It would be different if we were out, working during the day, but we are well past that now, thank heavens.
The house has not been updated in 50 years. No dishwasher or pressure shower here. Those dishwashers are too hot and harsh anyway. And noisy.
The plates are all stacked neatly in front of the cutlery. Then the glass ware in front of that. All in order. Pots and wooden chopping boards behind, last in line.
I like to do the dishes first thing in the morning. Before he is up.
I slept in this morning. Stayed up too late reading.
Some of the pots are now outside, with bits of murky water in them. A plate in the middle he’s used for his toast. The plates spread out now into the space where the pots were. The cutlery is all about the place; teaspoons by the coffee, knives on the table, strainer by the jug. Some cutlery is already put back in the drawer, as are some plates. He’s put water into a glass and a bit of a plant he has taken from someone else’s garden. Two cups and a bowl are half filled with water. He likes to soak things.
I sigh. Start again.
Cecilia Fitzgerald lives in Christchurch. She is still awaiting earthquake repairs and remembers vividly striding through the Ashburton Domain, not knowing if she would ever be able to live in her home again, if her family would survive, if she could get bread or petrol, while a voice boomed in her head, “Alright, alright, alright, I will be a writer.”
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I can see it, sitting there, mocking me. The forbidden thing. There is always one thing in a room I am never permitted to touch. Normally it doesn’t bother me. The objects are plain and useless; this one, however, has an air of mystery. Simple brown cardboard walls and a thick wooden lid protect whatever secrets lie inside. Cautiously, I take one step forward, waiting. The room moves, shaking, transforming around me. I can see it. A little girl. I can’t quite make out her face, sleeping on her mother’s lap. The picture morphs. The same girl, older now. Her back is turned. Two more steps. The young girl grows taller almost like a montage. Still her face is hidden. The room itself is moving now a constant flow forwards, images changing with every step. The photo that stops me, one step away from the box, is the crash. That same girl is seated in the back, her head tilted away from me. There is nothing she can do as the cars collide. Her head turns with a blood stained face I could never forget. My face.
Mi Mi McLachlan attends St Andrews College and is in Year 9. She is 13 years old and loves writing and reading.
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They talk about this in history classes – people coming out here from everywhere to avoid famine, war and oppression. New land, new opportunities, new beginnings.
My diaspora reverses that. One son on the Gold Coast, daughters in France and Norway, and the fourth son in Miami. How far do they have to go to avoid me? Even the Gold Coast is far enough – I can’t afford trips there on the pension, and somehow they’re “too busy” to come here.
People always blame the mother. Should have left him, they say. Even the bloody judge said it. What do they know? It’s not that easy. I did my best.
And they’ve done all right – got good jobs. They all went away to university – Otago, the lot of them. Making themselves into a family down there, and now they meet in places on the other side of the world.
And me? Well, I’m doing all right too. People moan about the pension, but when you’ve never had any money before, it’s luxury. No one to waste it on booze or drugs. I have a little book, and I write it all down – what I’m going to spend this on, what I spent that on. And it’s always exactly right, and always spent on me. Like I said, luxury.
Definitely worth the ten years inside, and every now and then I enjoy remembering his look of astonishment and fury when the knife slid in.
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.
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Here and there they fluttered on cold breezes, twirled within the eyes of warm winds. They caught on old splintered gutters and tugged against the worn hulls of drifting boats. In every place that held even the slightest trace of memory, she found them. She caught them in her net woven of heartstrings and fine silk, and every time she felt herself fill up a little more, felt her chest expand, her blood flow smoother. She had been surprised at how empty one felt without a soul. Surprised at how uncomfortable it was, like an itching thirst for something undefinable. She had most of the pieces back now – the tears, the spilled orange juices, the sunrays through the leaves, the smiles, the sands between toes. But she had to find them all. Only then would she smile freely again, and smell the salt and tarmac tang of home.
Tessa Hitchcox is a student in Timaru and will be starting an English degree in 2014 at Otago University.
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A stranger has moved in upstairs. He kneels with a face as blank as an eyeless doll, scraping the labels off words.
Olga feels wetness choking behind her eyelids.
Did I once have a lover?
For a moment she knows. She knows that she knows. Then she doesn’t.
She reaches for a word, her fingers plucking at a thread in the lace tablecloth on which she used to play Scrabble with…. somebody. A man…
She stares at the vacant crossword on the back page of the newspaper.
What are those numbers and black squares? Aztec art?
There is a dark oblong on the floor in front of the lift in her apartment.. The doctor told her son to paint it there and she would see it as a hole and not wander out of the building.
She shuffles over to it. Are they crazy… I could fall down that.
Who is this man emptying the cupboards, stealing the notes from the music sheet? What delicate fingers I have. Did I ever play the piano…
She looks out on flowers someone planted long ago..
I’ve never seen them before… Have I?
Her thoughts are keys that swing out of reach of the keyhole.
The man opens a window. Words flutter out like a song she knows but can’t catch the tune.
Why has he changed the locks, hidden all the photographs?
Why must that wretched woman in the mirror always talk when I’m talking?
Jan FitzGerald has been published in mainstream NZ literary journals since the 1970s and in Poetry Australia, The London Magazine, Acumen (UK), Orbis (UK) and others. Her latest poetry book is entitled On a day like this (Steele Roberts, NZ). Jan works in Napier as a full-time artist. For more see her website, Painting Poets.
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She sat very still, her entire self concentrated on the calm pea-green water and carefully thought nothing. Thoughts were dangerous – she knew that – just like she knew staying still was the key. What she had discovered was the connection between movement and thought – frayed nerve-endings and scattered reality. It was like the sparking bleeding ends of her nerves had been snagged on the traitorous edge of conscious thought, and so every time she moved, breathed, the conscious would unravel some more – it never repaired or remained static, but always unraveled. She allowed the thought that if her nerves, her thoughts, were the length of her sleeve, it would now barely reach past her elbow, frayed edges jarring. She flinched as a pair of ducks landed noisily, spraying water in untidy waves, and closed eyes. Inky darkness instantly enveloped, dragging her down beneath the surface where those voices were laughing, screaming, fingers pointing. She struggled against their pull despite the knowledge that they were always stronger, that they always won. United they whispered, “She’s mad. You’re mad. They will discover your secret and you’ll be locked away forever – no escape, no reprieve, no hope.” She let go, ready to be consumed, smothered, drowned. Nothing happened. Slowly , very slowly, she opened eyes and saw the pond now empty of intruders and cautiously breathed in the dank air. She raised a hand and touched her mouth. All around remained still, whole. She nodded, silently accepting her reprieve, and lowered her hand once more.
Rebecca Simons is an ex-office worker who discovered short story writing while enjoying a mid-life crisis. Although her university years were spent studying European languages and culture, she has found an even greater challenge in mastering the use of her maternal language, English, and hopes to continue with this challenge for many years to come.
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Mariana ate sliced beetroot straight from the can, as if it was a sacrament. The disc, not quite the colour of blood, dripped as she put it onto her tongue; she held it there for a moment, chewed and swallowed.
Greg came in to get his jacket. Mariana’s back was straight, her dishevelled hair tumbling down. Wispy – like baby’s hair, Greg thought. He turned and left for work.
She did not hear his goodbye, entranced by the starlings flying into the macrocarpa hedge, dry grass dangling from their beaks. They landed on the branches and disappeared into the tangle of foliage.
She ate another piece. The beetroot’s strong, earthy flavour was masked, but only just, by the vinegar.
“A hamburger’s only a hamburger if it’s got beetroot in it,” she said. “I’ve eaten a whole can. What does that make me?”
Mariana’s feet were cold. She had no slippers on, only the dressing gown she’d scrambled into to go to the bathroom. In the toilet bowl was her blood. An icy slab had slammed down on her.
Ice numbed; ice froze. Ice kept things the way they were.
Would she begin to feel something? Anything? Her emotions had flown away like the starlings. She wouldn’t try and collect them yet. The thing to do was to settle. Land on a branch where it was safe.
Replenish the blood. Eat beetroot.
Jane Swan’s house and garden run wild because she spends time daydreaming and writing. She is newsletter editor for the Waitaki Writers’ Group. Successes include two Radio New Zealand stories and others published in local and daily newspapers, Alfie Dog Ltd and Essentially Food. She has also been highly commended in the Heartland Short Story Competition and short-listed in the Sunday Star Times competition.
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She reads in the paper that the universe is expanding at an ever-increasing rate. It will grow larger and larger, with everything in it becoming further apart and more isolated, until there is no chance of any material interactions. Gradually all the stars will go out, leaving only a cold dead nothingness. This is, she’s told, an open universe.
After the funeral, when the family have drifted away red-eyed and mumbling, she goes around the house with a cardboard box collecting all the things he’d made her – lopsided mugs, pipe-cleaner dinosaurs, a jamjar snow globe containing a plastic dog, scraperboard self-portrait and, lastly, from her desk drawer, a bundle of cards, shedding glitter, stiff with glue: Christmas, Easter, Hapy Bithday Mummy.
She cannot look at them any more so she puts them in the cupboard under the stairs, right at the back, in the secret darkness beneath the lowest step.
Even as his physical presence is dispersed – scattered in space – so his absence is now condensed, into this one hiding place, this black hole.
She yearns for a closed universe; one in which the expansion eventually slows and where, after an exquisite moment of stasis, space-time begins to contract. Smaller and smaller it becomes, running in reverse, until it finally deflates into itself creating a point of infinite mass containing everything that ever was or ever will be. A place where, at the end, we are all one, and where she and he can become a singularity once more.
Sian Williams is a writer and editor living in Kerikeri who edited Flash Frontier 2012-13. She likes to write small pieces about big things.
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Note from James George, guest editor:
This issue of Flash Frontier is dedicated to the memory of Auckland writer Miles Hughes. Miles was a prolific indie-published author (ten books in five years across several genres, including fiction, non-fiction/reference and young adult) and a tireless and productive supporter of his local indie writing community. He planned and organized speaking and reading events and writing competitions, and contributed through various roles in the Auckland branch of the NZ Society of Authors. He was an example of a person who retired from his first career and then embarked on a second – writer – getting a Masters degree in Creative Writing along the way. He flourished in his new life, and in his new and expanding circle of contacts and friends, until his untimely passing. He will be much missed.
James George is a novelist and short story writer of Ngapuhi, English and Irish descent. He is author of Wooden Horses, Hummingbird and Ocean Roads. He has been short-listed for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, the Montana New Zealand Book Awards and the Tasmania Pacific Fiction Prize, and his work appears in the Best of New Zealand Fiction anthologies and Second Violins (stories inspired by lines from Katherine Mansfield). James has taught and mentored in both AUT and University of Auckland’s Master of Creative Writing programmes. He has also served as chair of the Auckland Branch of the NZ Society of Authors (2012-2014) and as chair of Te Ha, the writers’ committee of Toi Maori Aotearoa (2005-2014).
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Coming in June: sugar stories.
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To comment on this month’s stories, click here and scroll down.
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Coming in June: sugar stories.